Saturday April 18th 2015

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Wednesday Word: Fair Housing Month FAQ

Photo credit hud.gov

Photo credit hud.gov

This week, we will take at look at some of the most frequently asked Fair Housing questions. As a reminder, if you ever have a question or are unsure if what you are doing will violate the fair housing statute, simply contact the MAR Legal Staff via the Legal Hotline.

Q.        When I first meet with a prospective client, I like to ask them a series of questions to better build a relationship, and to establish their wants and needs. Are there any specific questions that I should avoid asking?  My office takes Fair Housing laws seriously, and I want to be sure that we are following the laws.

A.        As a real estate agent, it is important to understand the wants and needs of your clients, and quite often, learning this information is the result of well-intended questions and conversation. It is always important, however, to keep Fair Housing laws in mind when speaking with your clients. Specifically, M.G.L. c. 151B Section 4 states, in part,  that it shall be unlawful to …”cause to be made any written or oral inquiry or record concerning the race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation …  age, genetic information, ancestry, marital status, veteran status or membership in the armed services, blindness, hearing impairment or other handicap or because such person possesses a trained dog guide as a consequence of blindness or hearing impairment, of the person seeking to rent or lease or buy any such accommodation or land.”
A recent case held a broker liable for asking his Venezuelan client the question: “Where are you from?” Although the broker in this case claimed to be making small talk and insisted that his question was non-discriminatory, the statute is clear: an inquiry concerning national origin is a per se violation of the Massachusetts Fair Housing Laws.  REALTORS should always be mindful of this section of the law when speaking with clients and prospective clients.

Q.        My Buyer-Client is purchasing a rental property that was built before 1978. There is a family currently renting the home, and one of their children is under 6 years old. The Seller/Landlord has never inspected the property for the presence of lead paint. We have a lead inspection scheduled for next week. If lead paint is found, what must my client do to comply with the lead laws?

A.        If lead paint exists in the home, your client will have to delead the home or bring it under interim control. You should remind your client that it is illegal to evict or refuse to renew the lease of this family because of lead paint. Additionally, the parents cannot waive the rights of their children to live in lead-safe housing or agree to assume to risks of lead exposure.
The Lead Laws provide that new owners have 90 days from the date of taking title to bring the home into compliance.  Since there is a signed lease in place, the tenants will have to be relocated for the time that certain deleading work is taking place inside the home, and the landlord is responsible for the reasonable moving costs and temporary housing costs over and above the rent of the home being deleaded. During the time the home is being deleaded, the tenant remains responsible for paying the normal rent they would pay for this period as their share of the cost of temporary housing. The Lead Law states the temporary housing must not cause undue economic or personal hardship to the tenant. You should remind your client that a state tax credit of $1,500 per unit is available to abate the home.

Q.        My Landlord-Client has been renting an old Victorian to a couple for the past several years. When they rented the apartment they did not have any children, and chose not to have the property tested for lead. The couple has now informed my client that they are expecting their first child. How can my client be sure to follow the Lead Paint laws?

A.        Since there has not been a transfer of ownership, and the tenant is already living in the unit, there is no “grace” period in the law after a child under 6 moves in.  Prior to the birth of a child, the home must be brought into compliance with the Lead Law. On the day the child is born or moves in, the landlord becomes liable for failure to comply. You should also remind your client that it is illegal not to rent or to evict a tenant based on the fact that she is pregnant.

For more information on Fair Housing, please visit the MAR Legal Resources Page.

(Please note: This blog post was prepared by MAR Legal Staff: Michael McDonagh, General Counsel; Ashley Stolba, Associate Counsel; and Justin Davidson, Legislative & Regulatory Counsel. Edited by Christine Howe, Legal Affairs & Finance Administrative Assistant)

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Power up and launch your mission at the Wells Fargo Cinemeeting

wells fargo cinemeeting small
Don’t miss the eighth annual Wells Fargo CineMeeting broadcast to select movie theaters nationwide on April 30, 2015.

Learn valuable lessons from two of America’s pillars of hope, courage and resilience, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. Also appearing will be Brian Buffini of Buffini & Company and Greg Gwizdz of Wells Fargo . REALTORS® can expect to come away with a better understanding of the housing market, as well as systems to transform your business and have your best year ever.

Date: Thursday, April 30, 2015
Time: 2:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.
Location: Regal Fenway Stadium 13
201 Brookline Ave.
Boston, MA 02115

Go to www.wellsfargo.com/events for more info and details on how to register for your seat.

PS. Don’t forget to stop by the MAR table when you’re there!

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March 2015 Future Indicators Report: Buyers Were Thinking Spring as Pending Home Sales Went Up

The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR) reported today that spring market started to gain traction in March as pending home sales went up over 14 percent from the same time last year according to the March Future Indicators Report. While both REALTOR® Confidence Indexes are at 12 month highs, they were still down slightly from March 2014. This month’s “Hot Topic” question shows that a significant percent of REALTOR® clients discussed condominium living after the record winter.

Here are the March 2015 highlights:

Pendingchart3.15

  • Single-family pending home sales were up 14.4% compared to March 2014
  • Single-family median price was up since March 2014 (to $320,000)
  • Condo pending home sales were up 12.1% compared to March 2014
  • Condo median price was up 3.0% compared to March 2014 (to $309,108)
  • Pending sales have been up 24 of the last 25 months

REALTOR® Market and Price Confidence Indexes:

Confidence Index
March 2015
March 2014
% Change
 Market 69.18 69.50  -0.46%
 Price 78.88 79.69 +1.21%
  •  The RMCI has been down 15 of last 16 months
  • The 12th straight month that the RPCI has gone down
  • March 2015 is the highest the RMCI has been since March 2014
  • March is the fourth time the RPCI has been at 70 or above since August 2014
  • Measured on a 100-point scale, a score of 50 is the midpoint between a “strong” (100 points) and a “weak” (0 points) market

Click link to read the full release: Buyers Were Thinking Spring as Pending Home Sales Went Up in March

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Social Media Monday: How to hone your skills section on LinkedIn

Ostersund, Sweden - August 3, 2014: Linkedin webpage on a comput

The skills section of your LinkedIn page matter more than ever, according to Mashable, as the business-oriented social platform “recently tweaked its search engine so that you can filter by the skills on a user’s profile (i.e., your LinkedIn Skills affect your search rankings).”

The top ten hireable skills according to LinkedIn are predictably techie skills, but REALTORS® can still take advantage of the updated search engine on the site by honing in on the most important and frequent skills in the industry.

Read on to get specific tips on perfecting your skills section from a LinkedIn expert on Mashable.

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Wednesday Word: Fair Housing Month-Massachusetts Edition

HUD_house-in-hands

 

As part of our Fair Housing Month-themed Wednesday Word articles, this week we will be focusing on Fair Housing in Massachusetts.

To recap, the Federal Fair Housing statute prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex and (as amended) handicap and family status.

The state of Massachusetts also adopted its own Antidiscrimination Law, M.G.L. c. 151B, which prohibits discrimination in advertising, public housing, and actions taken by real estate agents, landlords, mortgage lenders and brokers.

The classes protected under the Antidiscrimination law are as follows:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Gender Identity
  • Handicap – mental or physical
  • Marital Status
  • Marital Status
  • Veteran History/Military Status
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Children
  • Public/Rental Assistance

The Law is stricter than the Federal Statute and includes more protected classes which is why it is important to review the law or contact the MAR Legal Hotline if you are ever unsure if a question or advertisement violates the statute.

The following are a few highlighted areas of practice where complaints and violations most often occur.

Rental Housing

Rentals remain the primary area of fair housing complaints and violations. Specifically, families with young children continue to be denied housing due to a landlord’s refusal to make the apartment lead safe. Refusing to rent to a family with children is a violation of both fair housing laws and Massachusetts lead laws. Similarly, landlords who refuse tenants based upon their receipt of public or “Section 8” assistance often find themselves in violation.

From time to time, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the two state agencies that enforce fair housing laws in Massachusetts, will post summaries of recent cases from which very important lessons can be learned. Often times these cases will involve real estate licensees and not just landlords. Fines and penalties for violations of fair housing laws can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. It is encouraged that you check these websites periodically to keep yourself up-to-speed.

Neighborhood Steering

Although rentals remain in the spotlight for risk, caution must be used in listing and selling as well. Always avoid steering customers and clients to particular neighborhoods based up the ethnic, religious, or racial makeup of a community. When advertising a property for sale, remember to describe the property that you are selling and not the individual buyer who you think might be attracted to that home.

Do Not Discriminate, with these Exceptions

A predominant fair housing guideline is to always avoid showing preference to a customer or client based upon their status in a protected class and always treat everyone equally. However, it should be noted that there are cases where discrimination can be legal. Take two common examples: a landlord can legally discriminate against a prospective tenant for a variety of reasons, including a criminal background, poor credit, or because they smoke cigarettes. This is not illegal so long as the landlord screens all tenants with the same methods or criteria and is not basing their decision on the prospect’s status in a protected class.

Reduce Your Risk and Comply

Occasionally, the state and federal government will send fair housing testers to real estate brokerage offices. To avoid complaints or violations, it is recommended that you do the following: be familiar with fair housing laws and stay up to date on any changes; be sure that your office has a fair housing policy and ensure that your office displays the appropriate fair housing notices available through HUD and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). An annual training requirement for all brokers and salespersons is also highly recommended.\

(Please note: This blog post was prepared by MAR Legal Staff: Michael McDonagh, General Counsel; Ashley Stolba, Associate Counsel; and Justin Davidson, Legislative & Regulatory Counsel. Edited by Christine Howe, Legal Affairs & Finance Administrative Assistant)

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Social Media Monday: Boost your LinkedIn profiles views by 475%

Ostersund, Sweden -August 3, 2014:  Linkedin website under a mag

Every month MAR highlights a different social platform in weekly Social Media Monday posts. This April, we’ll be focusing on LinkedIn, the social site for professionals that’s all about networking, connection and visibility in your industry.

To get a leg up on your LinkedIn strategy this month, read this refresher from Mashable: “How to increase your LinkedIn profile views by 475%,” or skim the bullet points below:

1. Find the right group – There are countless groups of professionals in every industry on LinkedIn. We recommend you join the MAR LinkedIn group to keep up with your fellow MA REALTORS®.

2. Get the lay of the land – Read over the last week to month’s worth of posts in the group’s discussion feed to get a feel for the type of conversations that go on there. Take note–what are the most successful posts?

3. Join a discussion - Collaboration and conversation are key in LinkedIn and dinner parties. Don’t be the obnoxious guest that just jumps in are tries to dominate the conversation–respond to others’ discussion topics first.

4. Start your own discussion - Open-ended questions and industry news topics are highly successful in LinkedIn groups. Invite others to share their expertise, and do not use this as an opportunity to shamelessly self-promote.

Read the entire article, “How to increase your LinkedIn profile views by 425%” on Mashable.

We look forward to you testing out your new skills in the MAR LinkedIn group!

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