Category Archives: Announcements

Check Out the Writing-Award Winners From the 2016 National Association of Real Estate Editors’ Conference!

The Annual National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) Conference just concluded in New Orleans, bringing together real estate writers, journalists, and industry experts from around the United States.

As always, the announcements of NAREE’s 2015 journalism and book award winners were event highlights.

Here’s a sampler of the writings that caught the judges’ eyes:

  • Josh Salman, of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, discussed flaws in administration and oversight of the EB-5 investor visa program, which many non-citizens use as a way to get a U.S. green card, in many cases by buying into sometimes dubious real estate investments.
  • Ken Harney, Washington Post Writers Group, revealed “Why an agent might refuse to show a house (the low commission).”
  • Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post examined the idyllic plans to upgrade Washington for the 2024 Olympics, and explained why, even without having won, the effort could still transform the city.
  • Emilie Rusch, Denver Post, looked into how legalization of marijuana has gobbled up empty commercial real estate in Denver, Colorado.

sell1_1_1And Nolo picked up an award as well: The book “Selling Your House: Nolo’s Essential Guide,” by Ilona Bray won gold in the annual Robert Bruss competition, which recognizes excellence in books covering the field of real estate.

NAREE’s judges commented that the book is a “clear, thorough handbook on selling a house” and noted that the helpful tips serve as “good preparation for those who may not have been in the market for a while.”

EEOC Files First Lawsuits for Sexual Orientation Discrimination Under Title VII

LGBT flag

Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed its first two lawsuits against a Pennsylvania employer and a Maryland employer for sexual orientation discrimination. The EEOC’s actions are not too surprising, given its recent decision in July of 2015, in which it held that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation was illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The EEOC’s decision is seen as controversial by some, as federal courts have historically found that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII (unlike “sex” or gender, which is protected). However, over the years, some courts have offered limited protection to LGBT employees under Title VII—primarily by holding that it is illegal to discriminate against employees for not living up to gender stereotypes. For example, a federal circuit court held that a gay male employee who was harassed by coworkers for being too “effeminate” could proceed with a Title VII claim of sex discrimination. In light of these decisions, and the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage, the EEOC might be hopeful that courts will similarly step in to protect LGBT employees from employment discrimination.

Federal courts are not bound by the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII and will decide the issue independently. However, until the issue is decided by the courts, employers should be aware that the EEOC is processing charges of sexual orientation discrimination filed by employees (and in rare cases, filing suit against employers on behalf of employees).

About half of the states—including California, Illinois, and New York—already have laws that prohibit private employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation. However, a ruling that sexual orientation is a protected class under Title VII would mean that private employers in all states will be prohibited from discriminating against LGBT employees.

How Much Would a Small Interest Rate Hike Affect Your Total Mortgage Costs?

Scissors_Cutting_MoneyThe world is watching and waiting to see whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this month, or at least by the end of 2015.

A rise in the “federal funds rate” will translate pretty quickly into higher mortgage interest rates, affecting any prospective homebuyer who can’t simply pony up a few hundred thousand dollars in cash. (The fed isn’t the only driver of mortgage interest rates, but it’s a factor in the mix.)

Given that nearly a decade has passed since the fed raised this rate, most experts don’t believe it will do anything more than inch it up. This isn’t a time for shock strategies.

The prospect of a rise in the rate nevertheless raises a question for prospective homebuyers. How much would a small rise in mortgage interest rates affect the amount you ultimately pay for your mortgage (assuming you choose a fixed-rate loan)?

The answer can be found by having some fun with Nolo’s “How much will my fixed rate mortgage payment be?” calculator.

Let’s assume you’re buying a $500,000 home, putting 20% down ($100,000, ouch) and will therefore be taking out a $400,000 mortgage. The reported 30-year rate on Bankrate.com today is 3.96%.

According to Nolo’s calculator, your monthly payment on this loan would be $1,900, and the total interest you’d pay over the life of the loan would be $284,161.

Now let’s assume interest rates go up a notch, to 4%. That would take your monthly payments to $1,910 and your total interest paid by the end of the loan term to $287,478 — $3,317 more than you would have owed in our first example. Not awful, over 30 years.

Let’s keep going, and take those interest rates up to 4.5%. (Could happen!) That would boost your monthly payments to $2,027 and your total interest paid by the end of the loan term to $329,627. Things are starting to look more serious.

What about 5% mortgage rates? They’re still within the realm of where experts predict rates might go in the coming months or year. A mortgage at 5% on your $400,000 loan would come with monthly payments of $2,147 and bring your total interest paid to $373,021.

Them’s real dollars. With a seemingly small rise interest rate on the day you close on your home, from just below 4% to 5%, you’d be looking at owing $88,860 more in total interest by the time you’d paid that loan off.

Of course, if housing prices were to go down as a result of the rate hike, that would offset part of the problem – but no one seems to think they will.

Now might be a good time to get serious about buying a home. A trusted mortgage broker can also help you think strategically about how to finance your purchase.

NEW PROPOSED REGULATIONS FOR “ABLE” ACCOUNTS

IRS recently issued proposed regs which implement a new Federal law authorizing states to offer tax efficient “ABLE” accounts to folks with disabilities who became disabled before age 26.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account provision was designed to enable people with disabilities and their families to save for and pay for disability-related expenses.

Contributions in a total amount up the annual gift tax exclusion can be deposited to an ABLE account annually, and distributions are tax free if used to pay qualified disability expenses.

Check out IRC Section 529A for the details.

TIME TO CHANGE YOUR WITHHOLDING?

Taxpayer situations change from year to year for a variety of reasons – new job, house purchase, additional dependent(s), windfall income and/or changed deductions. Depending on your situation, this might mean you should consider a change in your withholding so you hit the necessary target of required annual pay-as-you-go payments, without allowing your employer to overwithhold, which will result in your achieving nothing more than making an interest free loan to Uncle Sam until you later file and collect your refund.

Thus, if this is you, check out Form W-4 and give an updated version of the form to your employer. Check out Publication 505 and also consider going to www.irs.gov where you will find a handy withholding calculator which may be of help.