Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · The Reality of Realty - Always...
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The Reality of Realty - Always look before you leap when when buying a home

Michael E. Marotta - February 19th, 2004
Buying a home, or selling one, is usually the largest economic transaction of your life. Yet, buyers and sellers are generally in the dark about the most basic questions ñ or even where to find answers. Helpful real estate professionals will try to guide you through as much of the tangle as possible. Others will take advantage of your ignorance ñ and they can have a moral obligation to do so.
For instance, do you know the difference between a “client” and a “customer”? By law, an agent has a fiduciary obligation to a client. Nothing special protects a customer. This means that when you buy a home, the seller’s agent labors under moral, ethical, and legal mandates to extract every penny you are willing to pay. With some broad and general exceptions, the seller’s agent is also bound to keep quiet about any defects in the property.
On the other hand, as a seller, you cannot assume that every agent in the same office as yours shares your interests. If you are having an open house and the host is not your own contracted agent, you could be talking freely to a buyer’s agent who will seek out defects in the home and weaknesses in your bargaining position. They will use this new information to lower the price you will get when you sell -- and as a buyer’s agent, they are obligated to do exactly that.
The fact is that realty is an arcane agora. Centuries of conflicting interests -- among public bodies as well as between private entities -- have delivered a patchwork of laws -- and of traditions that can be stronger than laws. Typical of this is the fact that you might not even know if your agent is a “REALTOR®” -- a word not recognized by law in Michigan.

TAARing and Feathering Their Nest
Real estate is the most reactionary sector of the economy. We call it “real estate” for reasons that go back to the Middle Ages. In medieval law, only land was real property and title to it came from the king. Even in the post-industrial cybernetic era of rockets to Mars, we say that a man’s home is his castle.
You cannot have a medieval society without guilds, and realty has the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Only members of NAR can call themselves “REALTORS®.” Brokers or sales associates who are not must call themselves something else. The National Association of Real Estate Brokers uses the word “realtist.” The NAREB was founded in 1947 by African-American professionals who were refused memberships in local associations of REALTORS®. Today, both the NAR and NAREB are racially integrated.
What sets NAR apart from NAREB is the multiple listing service (MLS). The MLS is a computerized database of properties for sale. The list is available only to members of the local associations of REALTORS®. In our region, that mean the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® (TAAR).
“The MLS allows competitors to cooperate in selling property,” says Judith Lindenau, executive vice president of TAAR. “It is an offer between members to cooperate for the sale of property. We provide a safe place for competitors to cooperate.”
The environment is so safe that Lindenau can think of no significant retail residential agent or broker who is not a member of TAAR.
A lesser version of the Multiple Listing Service is available to the public via the TAAR website, www.taar.com. This is, after all, the information age. Just about all realty brokers and many agents have websites.
Interestingly, TAAR was a pioneer in the computerization of the MLS. Almost 25 years ago, they created a computerized database forerunner called BORIS, the Board of Realty Information System.

Medieval Yet Modern
Despite the hoary origins of property laws, progress is possible. For example, suppose, an agent is driving a client around, showing homes, and the client makes a racist comment. What should the agent do? According to Gwyn Besner, a trainer for the Holloway’s Institute of Lansing, you stop your car right there, tell them the deal is off, and let them out right there. Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, age, family status, or marital status, or gender.
Michigan is called a “dower” state. This means that every male who enters into any agreement involving real estate must disclose whether or not he is married. This is to secure his wife’s “dower rights” to their property. However, she is not equally required to include him in her property transactions. That is called “curtsey” and it applies in some of our neighboring states, but not here. In Michigan, half of everything he owns is hers and everything she owns is hers, also. No medieval queen had it so good.
This inevitable tension between archaic legal structures and 21st century society is probably the true source of frustration that many people feel when they buy or sell a home. We live in a world of push-button gratification, but the actual buying or selling of a house typically proceeds at a horse-drawn pace, usually demanding about six months of personal involvement. For many people, getting to that stage can take years.

Ducks in a Row
In the five-county Grand Traverse region, the average house stays on the market about 140 days before it is sold. Aggressive and experienced agents can reduce that to 135 days. Most people cannot look at more than four houses in one day. Most people can go to open houses only on weekends. This restricts the seller’s opportunities, of course.
Making an offer on property is three-step process. First, the buyer makes an offer in writing and that offer is delivered to the seller who either accepts it or rejects it. Finally, that acceptance must then be delivered to the buyer. If the seller makes a counter-offer, this is actually a rejection of the original offer, and starts the process over again. The buyer can back out of an offer before the seller’s acceptance arrives.
Offer and acceptance do not close the deal. The mortgage lender can need a month to process a loan application. Many buyers are surprised to discover errors in their credit reports. Fixing these can take a couple of months. Therefore, the process of buying a home often begins by shopping for a mortgage lender, filling out applications, verifying credit reports, filing taxes, paying off and closing out credit cards. From the seller’s point of view, the process can begin with a series of inspections and repairs to make the property competitive.
The title insurance company might also need a month. The seller needs to provide title insurance for the buyer, a process that can take longer than expected if the title company finds problems. When a title company issues an insurance policy, they are promising to defend their research work in court. They will provide the lawyer if your title is challenged. For most people, it never comes up. Only when someone else’s undead relative materializes on your doorstep to challenge your title do you appreciate the value of title insurance.
In Michigan, a title company manages the process of closing the sale. The title company has no interest in either side of the transaction. They only want to assure themselves that all the papers are in order.
Shopping for a title company is an action item that many people ignore. A real estate agent might have one or two title companies they say they “like to work with.” According to the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), agents cannot receive compensation from title companies for bringing them business. However, some title companies win loyalty from realty agents by providing them with free marketing tools such as brochures and postcards. However, it is the buyers and sellers who pay the title companies. Rates and services vary.

Gathering Intelligence
Buyers and sellers tend to be at the mercy of real estate professionals. Historically, that unfair position has been the motivation for a powerful tradition of business practices and state laws that protect the consumer. It starts with agency disclosure. When you buy or sell a home, every professional you meet will tell you up front who they work for and where their interests are. You need to listen to that disclosure and you can ask for it in writing.
As the challenges to buying or selling a house begin to mount, most people wish they had known more before they started. Your Grand Traverse libraries have dozens of books on the subject of real estate. There are also websites. The Atlanta Board of REALTORS® produced a video seminar called “The Home Stretch“ that aired on PBS television and is available on VHS tape.
You can find several books on how to buy or sell your home without an agent. Reading them will tell you what is required and how it gets done. As a result, you will be better prepared if you choose to hire an agent.
Michigan law allows you to buy or sell five houses a year without a license. You can do it only for property that you own. You cannot do it for hire or for others (with some minor exceptions, such as being a court-appointed executor). By federal law, if you have lived in a home for two years of the last five, you can sell it for up to $500,000 (married couple) without paying capital gains tax. If you find that buying and selling houses is a lot fun, you can make a profitable hobby out of it. You might even turn professional. Realty is a career that appeals to extroverted, optimistic people, but anyone can make a niche. According to the NAR, 60% of all full time agents, and 67% of part-timers, are women.

Writer Michael Marotta is a sales associate with Century 21. He last wrote for the Express on the topic of local currency.



Why Buy a Home?

Tax advantages are one of the main reasons that people own homes. In the early years of a mortgage, most of the money pays the interest, not the principal. This is deductible on your income tax. An accountant can show you whether or not this is really best for you. However, it usually is for most people.
A second major reason for owning a home is the equity you build. After seven years of paying rent, all you have is cancelled checks and receipts. In Northern Michigan, it is generally true that many homeowners find their break-even point in the seventh year. A house is a thing of value.
The third reason -- probably the only real reason for most people -- is “quiet enjoyment.” Quiet enjoyment actually means just the opposite: you can be as noisy as you want in your own home. You can have kids, either children or goats or both.
The average home in the five-county region prices at about $159,000. The conventional loan for that requires $32,000 down and about $1,300 a month in mortgage, taxes and other fixed costs. However, thanks to the Republicans in Congress, there is now “The American Dream Downpayment Act” to grant about $5,000 to $7,500 toward down payment and closing costs to make ownership even easier for first-time buyers. This is just the latest in a long history of state and federal programs to facilitate and subsidize home ownership. In Traverse City, a not-for-profit foundation called Home Stretch helps qualified low-income families acquire their own homes.
Generally, the recommended path is to start small with something you can afford, build equity, and trade up. There are “zero down” mortgages and “pick your payment” mortgages. In order to get a miraculous mortgage deal, you need to bring something to the table: lots of cash, or great credit, or great expectations, or some combination of them.
You might prefer an old home, a manufactured home, a condo or a duplex. You might find a half-built house to complete. There is a federal program to lend money for the purchase of a non-working farm, ideal for someone who wants to live in the county but who has no intention of agriculture for a career -- and you can put your land into a conservancy. No matter how much money you have or don’t have, if you want to live in your own home on your own land, there are at least 700 realty agents in the area who want to help you.
The dollar value can represent several years’ wages. The emotional value is beyond price. To gauge what is involved remember that in reality, it is only “a house,” but in realty we always call it “your home.”
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