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Top Real Estate Agents in New Orleans: Finding the Realtor Unicorn

Buying and selling homes are two of the most significant investment transactions in which most people engage.  With a marginal difference in price (even just 1%) potentially translating into thousands of dollars, no wonder home buyers and sellers in the New Orleans area fret about finding one of the best real estate agents. And with so many agents in the business—literally thousands in Louisiana and hundreds in the New Orleans area alone—finding a top realtor can be a daunting task indeed.  Fortunately, some guiding principles can make narrowing the field of candidates a bit easier.

Here are Athena’s top five tips on finding the realtor unicorn to sell or buy your home in the New Orleans area:

1.  Understand how real estate agents operate. Real estate agents (technically called “Salespersons” under Louisiana law) are required by the rules of the governing authority in Louisiana, the Louisiana Real Estate Commission, to be affiliated with a real estate brokerage and under the supervision of a “broker.”  For this reason, when you list your house for sale, the listing agreement is technically with the brokerage for whom the agent works.

But make no mistake: with most brokerages, agents operate with tremendous independence, rendering your listing contract with the brokerage a mere technicality.  With rare exception, real estate agents are independent contractors and “run the show” in their dealings with clients.  Of course, reputable brokerages like Athena Real Estate have their agents undergo rigorous training.  Just don’t expect that an agent’s broker will be involved in your specific transaction.  For that reason, it is all the more important that you choose a competent, well-trained real estate agent to represent you.

By the way, while most people use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between a real estate “agent” and a “realtor.”  Everyone with a Louisiana real estate license is an “agent,” but only those who are members of the National Association of Realtors are “realtors.”  As becoming a realtor requires additional training and certification, make sure the agent you hire is also a realtor.  (Reputable real estate companies like Athena require that all their agents maintain membership in the National Association of Realtors through a local chapter such as the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors.)

2.  Education and experience matter. The barrier to entry to becoming a real estate agent in Louisiana is relatively low: you have to be 18 years old, have a high school degree or GED, take a 90-hour course (available online), and pass an exam.  Compared to other professional certifications, this is an easy hurdle to jump, enticing droves of candidates to get their real estate licenses with the prospect of making substantial commissions.  Unfortunately, with the floodgates open to all kinds of licensees, the quality of agents in Louisiana run the gambit—from highly-qualified, well-trained, and competent agents with professional degrees, to high-school dropouts who got their GED’s and passed the real estate exam only after failing it five times.

We don’t mean to say that a graduate degree is a pre-requisite to being a good real estate agent, and there are certainly agents out there without college degrees who have been very successful in the business.  But, in our experience, education and experience do matter.

Thus, when you interview agents, ask how long they’ve been licensed.  (And verify what they tell you by searching for their license information on the Louisiana Real Estate Commission’s licensee search page.)  And ask about their educational background and work experience.

Because of the way real estate brokerages operate—with the brokerage taking a cut of every commission dollar an agent earns but paying the agent only when a deal closes—they have every incentive to take on any agent who walks through the door.  For the brokerage, there is only financial up-side to taking on an agent who, despite being less-than-competent, might manage to squeeze in thousands of commission dollars a year.  With the quality of agents on their roster so unpredictable, most real estate “brands” have little meaning to clients apart from the individual agents they hire.

But top real estate companies do things differently.  At Athena, for instance, our doors are not open to any agent who has a license.  To ensure quality representation of our clients, we interview and vet all candidates who want to join our team.  And we bring on board only those who have the education and training necessary to be among the top real realtors in New Orleans.  Above all, Athena agents must exhibit a high degree of professionalism and integrity.

3.  Beware of an agent’s workload. Give a task to a busy person, and it’ll get done?  Not necessarily.

Of course, one of the most significant factors to consider when choosing among the best New Orleans real estate agents is his or her experience and success in the industry.  By and large, there is a reason why the “billboard” agents have been so successful in the industry: they have repeat clients because of a proven track record of success.  But agents are human, and everyone has a breaking point where too heavy a workload causes the stretched-too-thin agent to lose focus on your deal—or pawn you off to an underling.

If you ask an agent whether he or she is too busy to focus on your deal, chances are you will be given a self-serving response: “of course not, you will be my top priority.”  Agents not only sell houses but sell themselves, and acquiring your listing requires a strong pitch about how important you’ll be and how equipped the agent is to handle your listing.

The solution?  Contact a referral service or reputable real estate brokerage who is in touch with each agent’s strengths and weaknesses, workloads, and personalities to ensure a good match with you and your deal.  At Athena, we pride ourselves on strong central management and regularly give clients recommendations for agents who are best suited to a particular deal.  Our clients then have the opportunity to interview candidates and select the best fit among the best agents New Orleans has to offer.

4.  Understand team structures. On a related note, well-informed home buyers and sellers need to understand how real estate “teams” work.  In Louisiana, realtors are allowed to form “teams” who work cooperatively together to service clients’ needs. Each team ordinarily has a leader who assigns work on deals to agents under his or her supervision.

Often, team leaders are the “face” of the team—on billboards, in social media, and generally in marketing to clients—but most of the work is done by other team members.  Like someone hurt in a car accident who hires a “billboard” lawyer but is then pawned off to another attorney, clients who hire mega-agent Tammy Smith may be surprised when they don’t hear from her again until the closing (if there is one).

Don’t misunderstand: teams can be very effective.  If well-organized and not overworked, a team structure can allow agents to be highly responsive to clients’ needs and effective in their representation.   It’s just a double-edged sword; what can make a team structure great—defined roles among team members—can also allow the “leader” you hire to take ride-out your deal in the back seat.

Well-managed real estate companies like Athena mitigate against this “down-side” of team structures by supervising agents’ workloads and matching the right agents with the right clients.  Unlike some individual agents—who fight for every listing no matter if it’s the right fit for the client—top New Orleans realty companies develop management structures that foster “win-win” relationships among the brokerage, agents, and their clients.

5.  Insist on robust social media marketing. Like it or not, social media is here to stay.  If you have any doubt about this, just check out this site on the pervasiveness of social media usage in our country.   Even if you’re not a fan of social media, it’s beyond dispute that social media offers fertile ground for marketing real estate listings.  In fact, the “reach” of social media advertising (number of views per marketing dollar spent) blows print advertising out of the water.  And with the ability to target particular areas, demographics, and people likely to buy or sell a home, the pin-point accuracy of social media marketing is unparalleled.

In the real estate industry, however, there is a gaping generational gap among agents dividing them into two categories: those who are super proficient in social media marketing, or those who don’t (or may as well not) do it at all.  If you hire an agent in the latter category, you are selling yourself—and your wallet—short.

Best to know these types of things up-front: when interviewing a candidate make sure they are apt in social media marketing, and ask to see examples.  Better yet, use only agents with real estate companies like Athena who train and require their salespeople to be proficient in social media marketing.

With so many real estate agents “hanging their shingles” in the New Orleans area, it can be difficult to sort through the pack to find one of the best.  But by considering the guiding principles outlined in this article, you can strike out the vast majority of agents who simply won’t pass muster.

At Athena, we ensure quality representation by screening candidates and working only with competent, qualified real estate agents.  Among our agents are lawyers, MBA graduates, and other qualified professionals.  And, taking nothing for granted, we require that our agents undergo training and keep a close eye on the transactions agents with our brokerage are handling.

To learn more about Athena or be matched with a candidate who best fits your transaction, give us a call and ask for one of the owners.  We’ll work with you to find the best fit among our top agents.

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Athena hosts its second annual crawfish boil

With great food and drinks, caricature paintings for the kids, and a tremendous group of people, Athena’s second annual crawfish boil was a huge success. Team-building events like this–and our commitment to top-quality representation of our clients–are what make Athena Real Estate one of the top real estate companies to work for in the New Orleans area and Louisiana at large.

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Athena’s newest team member David Waldvogel is a smart choice as your real estate agent

David Waldvogel is excited to bring his passion and construction knowledge to Athena home sellers and buyers. “I can help my Athena clients visualize how a home or business can transform into exactly what they want,” he says. “With my construction background, I can also give them an educated estimate of costs.”

David’s roots in real estate and construction are deep: he grew up in a family whose business is real estate development and property management and after graduating from Slidell High School, he focused on real estate courses at the University of Southern Mississippi. When he and his wife moved to New Orleans after Katrina, David went into construction management, where he excelled in project management, documentation and contract negotiations.

“Many of my construction projects were renovations and restorations,” he said, “and I gained an in-depth knowledge of real estate in all the neighborhoods and business areas of New Orleans.”

David decided to join Athena, a top New Orleans real estate brokerage, because of the excellent commission package it offers, strong recommendations from other real estate agents, Athena’s modern branding, and the technology and support it offers its agents.

David, his wife and three children live in Lakeview near her parents. They are active in the Saint Dominic school and church community. His backyard BBQ pit is a favorite meeting place for family and friends.

David is a people-person who is driven by a desire to use his knowledge to help people realize their dreams. For anyone looking at real estate in the New Orleans area, he’s a smart choice.

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For a dose of good advice, talk to Athena agent Gina Baglio

Athena is delighted to announce that veteran agent Gina Baglio has joined our team!

Gina is an experienced real estate agent who knows New Orleans. Born in Metairie, she has been in the area all her life and knows Kenner, Harahan, River Ridge, Gretna, Harvey, St. Charles and St. John Parishes, and everything in between. As the mother of three kids and wife of a football coach, she is particularly good with information on schools and community amenities.

Better yet, Gina knows how to upgrade and renovate a home. She and her husband have built and remodeled three homes, so she knows the process first-hand.

Best of all, Gina never misses a detail. She developed that trait in her 20 years as a Registered Nurse. She is very good at “diagnosing” a home and its potential, and once an offer is made, she makes sure that the documentation proceeds without a hitch.

“I’m easy-going as a person,” she said, “but I’m a stickler for details. Whether I’m guiding a would-be homeowner or minding a sick child, I make sure everything is done exactly right.”

Gina was born in Metairie and went to Archbishop Chapelle before earning a nursing degree at Southeast Missouri State. Her career as a Registered Nurse has primarily been in pediatrics. She started her Real Estate career in 2014. She and her husband, a football coach, have three children. They are active in school and community events.

Gina transferred her real estate license to Athena because of its highly competitive commission package for Louisiana agents, Athena’s reputation as one of the best brokerages in the New Orleans area, and the technology and support offered to its agents.

Gina is not only highly professional, but also a warm and caring person. For buyers and sellers of real estate in the New Orleans area, she is a dose of the right medicine. Call or email Gina to get started!

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Real Estate Listing Previews: When It Might Be Too Soon for the “Coming Soon”

We’ve all seen it. A real estate agent, eager to promote a new listing, proudly announces on social media that the listing is “coming soon.” When used appropriately, good “coming soon” announcements can be effective. Potential buyers are intrigued at the possibility of beating a listing to the market. Like a movie teaser trailer, a “coming soon” announcement can plant the seed of curiosity that might blossom into an offer.

However, preview listings also present hazards for real estate agents and their clients. In addition to running afoul of state and local laws and regulations and the rules governing realtors, a preview listing might not be in the client’s best interest. An agent, overzealous for a full commission, might push the preview listing a bit too hard to quickly snatch an unrepresented buyer and cut another agent out of the deal. When this thwarts the client’s opportunity to fetch a higher sales price through a fully marketed listing, the preview listing serves only the agent’s needs — not the client’s.

Striking a balance between the interests of the agent and client might be delicate in this context, but the rules governing preview listings are not so complicated:

  1. Owner authorization is required. Under Louisiana law, agents cannot market a property without first obtaining written authorization:

No broker or licensee sponsored by said broker shall in any way advertise property belonging to other persons as being for sale or rent or place a sign on any such property offering the property for sale or rent without first obtaining the written authorization to do so by all owners of the property or their authorized attorney in fact.

This effectively requires the agent to have a signed listing agreement before marketing the preview listing. In addition, as with all real estate advertisements, the preview listing must be done in the name under which the agent’s broker does business and under the broker’s supervision.

  1. Realtors must post listings on the MLS in a timely manner. The rules governing realtors often require listings to be posted on the multiple listing service within a certain time after the client signs a listing agreement or the listing otherwise becomes “effective.” Under New Orleans rules, for instance, listings must be posted within 72 hours of the effective date of the listing. 
  1. The agent’s interests must not be put above the client’s. Agents owe a fiduciary duty to put their clients’ interests first. If the “coming soon” announcement is used to “hook” a dual agency — and a higher commission for the agent — at the expense of the client, the agent has breached his or her fiduciary duty.

In short, “coming soon” listing announcements are a good tool when used appropriately. Agents should take care to follow the rules of their local realtor associations — and the law — to avoid violating obligations to their clients.

At Athena, we always put our clients’ interests first — it’s in our culture. To learn more about Athena, call or email us. We’d love to hear from you.

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Athena Supports Parents and Teachers with School Supply Giveaway

Athena is proud to announce its 2018 school supply giveaway promotion designed to support parents and teachers with the ever-increasing cost of school supplies.

For a chance to win, like the Athena Facebook page, share Athena’s Facebook page post on this promotion, and tag a parent or teacher in the comments.  If you already liked our page, just tag someone and share the post — feel free to tag yourself!  The winner will receive a $250 gift card for school supplies!

By the way, for those wondering why teachers are included, teachers often pay for classroom expenses out of their own pocket, and Athena wants to help!

The rules, terms, and conditions to our giveaway can be found below.

THE RULES.  

How to Enter:

LIKE us on Facebook.
TAG someone in the comments that deserves the giveway.
SHARE our post.
Enter on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Athena-Real-Estate-1262526690438751/

If you have already liked our page, this step is complete, and you only need to tag someone and share our post to be entered.

You must be 18 years old to enter or have a parent or guardian’s permission.
You must be a legal resident of Louisiana (USA).
You must agree to the terms of these official rules.
Athena giveaway sweepstakes are not a solicitation for referrals or recommendations for its services. At Athena Real Estate, we believe in giving back to the community, and we create these giveaways solely for the benefit of others.

 

Official Rules:

NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN

Participation constitutes entrant’s full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules. Athena giveaway sweepstakes submission period commences on the day of the post and ends at 11:59 PM (PST) on the expiration day listed in the post. The winner will be announced the following week. The contest program is sponsored by Athena Real Estate, which is located at 6050 Ponchartrain Blvd. Suite 200, New Orleans, La 70124.

Eligibility: Athena Real Estate giveaway sweepstakes (the “Promotion”) is open only to legal residents of the state of Louisiana who are 18 years of age or older or who has written consent from a parent or legal guardian. Entrants must also be a U.S. citizen who resides in Louisiana at the time of entry. Employees, contractors, directors and officers of Athena Real Estate (“Sponsor/Administrator”) and its respective parents, subsidiaries and affiliated companies, distributors, licensees and the advertising, fulfillment, judging and promotion agencies involved in the development and administration of this Promotion (collectively, “Promotion Parties”), and their immediate family members (parent, child, sibling and spouse of each) and those living in the same households of each are not eligible. Void elsewhere and where prohibited by law.

Promotion Period: The Promotion commences on the day of the post and ends at 11:59 PM (PST) on the expiration day listed in the post. The winner will be announced the following week.

How to Enter: (all entrants acknowledge their information will not be used or sold for other marketing or promotional purposes.)
During the Promotion Period, go to the Athena Real Estate Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Athena-Real-Estate-1262526690438751/ then Tag someone that deserves the giveaway. Entrants must like the Athena Facebook page, comment on a giveaway post and tag someone.

Entrants under 18 years of age at time of entry must have parent or guardian’s approval to enter contest. If it is discovered that approval was not granted, that entry will be disqualified or forfeited.
LIMIT ONE (1) ONLINE ENTRY PER PERSON.
Prize & Odds: One (1) winner will be randomly selected and will receive the prize, which is listed in the post. Prize winnings will be sent to the winner within 1-6 weeks after the Promotion Period ends. No substitution or transfer of prize is permitted except at Sponsor’s sole and absolute discretion. All taxes, and all other costs associated with acceptance or use of the prizes, are the sole responsibility of the winner. Arrangement for delivery of the prize will be performed after winner validation. Odds of winning the prize depend on the total number of entries received.

General Rules – Athena’s Giveaway sweepstakes – Summary of submission rules and guidelines:

All submissions must be entered during the official time frame of the Promotion to be eligible.
Comments must be Rated G and clean in topic. Sponsor reserves the right to remove and invalidate from this Promotion posts or comments that Sponsor determines in its sole discretion are inappropriate.
You must be 18 or older to participate or have written consent from a parent or legal guardian.
All federal, state and local laws apply. Winners will be notified through Facebook. Each potential winner may be required to sign and return an Affidavit of Eligibility and Release of Liability and a Publicity Release and an IRS W-9 form within ten (10) days of attempted delivery or prize will be forfeited. The return of any prize/prize notification as undeliverable or failure to respond to notices or return any documents in a timely manner, as determined by the Administrator, may result in disqualification and an alternate winner may be chosen. By participating, participants agree to release, discharge and hold harmless Promotion Parties from and against any and all liability or damages associated with this Promotion or acceptance, use or misuse of any prize received in this Promotion. Promotion Parties are not responsible for any typographical or other error in the printing of the offer or administration of the Promotion. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for the Sponsor and their agencies to use winner’s names and likenesses for purposes of advertising and publicity without further compensation, unless prohibited by law. By participating in this Promotion, participants agree to be bound by the Official Rules and decisions of Athena Real Estate’s Management, which shall be final in all matters relating to the Promotion. Promotion Parties are not responsible for lost, late, misdirected, illegible, incomplete, non-delivered or postage-due mail; or for printing, distribution or production errors or for technical, hardware, software, or telephone malfunctions of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, or failed, incorrect, incomplete, inaccurate, garbled or delayed electronic communications caused by the user or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or utilized in this Promotion, or by any human, or other error, which may occur in this Promotion. If, in the Administrator’s sole opinion, there is any suspected or actual evidence of tampering with any portion of the Promotion, or if technical difficulties compromise the integrity of the Promotion, the Athena Real Estate’s Management reserves the right to void suspect entries and/or modify and/or suspend and/or terminate the Promotion and/or conduct a random drawing to award the prizes in a manner deemed appropriate by the Administrator. In the event of a dispute regarding the identity of the person submitting an entry, entries will be declared made by the name appearing on the online entry. Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any individual who tampers with the Promotion or acts in a disruptive manner. This Promotion is offered only in the United States and is governed by the laws of the state of Louisiana. By entering, entrants irrevocably consent to the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the state of Louisiana located in Jefferson Parish for any action, suit or proceeding arising out of or relating to this Promotion.

Waiver: By participating in this Promotion, participant waives all rights to claim punitive, incidental and consequential damages, attorney’s fees or any damages other than actual out-of-pocket costs incurred to participate. Each winner waives all rights and indemnify Sponsor against any loss or liability resulting from the Prize.

Winner’s name and photograph may be posted on Athena Real Estate’s Facebook page.

Sponsor: Athena Real Estate, which is located at 6050 Ponchartrain Blvd. Suite 200, New Orleans, La 70124.

Facebook is not a sponsor of the Athena Real Estate’s sweepstakes and any entrants agree to release Facebook from all liability related to the contest.

Athena Real Estate’s Management reserves the right to modify, change, or cancel this promotion at any time, without notice.

Disputes: Each entrant agrees that: (i) any and all disputes, claims and causes of action arising out of or connected with the Athena Real Estate Giveaway sweepstakes, or any prizes awarded shall be resolved through the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the state of Louisiana located in Jefferson Parish shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, and exclusively by the United States District Court of Louisiana, or the appropriate Louisiana State Court located in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; and (ii) any and all claims, judgments and awards shall be limited to actual out-of-pocket costs incurred, including costs associated with entering the Contest, or statutory damages, but in no event attorneys’ fees. All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of the Official Rules, or the rights and obligations of the entrant and Sponsor in connection with the Sweepstakes, shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the state of Louisiana, without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules (whether of the state of Louisiana or any other jurisdiction), which would cause the application of the laws of any jurisdiction other than the state of Louisiana.

 

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Five Best-Kept Secrets for Negotiating the Best Home-Buying Deal

For most of us, a home is the most expensive single asset we’ll ever purchase.  Because home purchases are usually financed, purchase price differences can sometimes be hidden in what appears to be a minimal increased monthly note.  But when it comes time to sell your home, having an additional 5%, 10% or more in equity translates into big money in your pocket.  The best time to get that equity: when negotiating the purchase.  Here are five of Athena’s best negotiation tactics for buying a home.

  1. Find out how much the seller paid for the home and the balance owed on a note.

Regardless of the market forces that may have affected the value of a house after the seller purchased it, the seller is likely convinced that the house is worth more — probably a good bit more — than the price he or she paid. The seller’s “bottom line” is driven by how much he or she “clears” after paying the balance on a mortgage note, commission, and closing costs. These factors — the seller’s purchase price and the mortgage note balance — will likely drive his or her flexibility in purchase-price negotiations. Before you invest a lot of time negotiating, learn what drives the seller’s decision-making process.

Your realtor should be able to provide you with the last purchase price of the home, particularly if the seller bought it through an agent. Otherwise, in most parishes in Louisiana, purchase-price information is published on the tax assessor’s website. The Orleans Parish tax assessor, for instance, offers a public database that lists the purchase price of houses, the names of current owners, and property tax information.

In contrast, the balance on a mortgage note is generally not public information. However, with a little detective work, you can usually “guesstimate” with fair accuracy.

If the seller took out a loan to purchase his or her house, the lender filed a mortgage in the public records. Ordinarily, this mortgage states the exact amount of the loan and includes a copy of the note, which states the interest rate. With this information — assuming regular payments — you can calculate the current balance.

But how do you get a copy of the mortgage papers? There is always the old-fashioned way: go to the Clerk of Court’s office in the parish in which the house is located and ask to see the records for the property (using its municipal address).

If you’re not inclined to spend a few hours sifting through public records, note that most clerks of court make their conveyance and mortgage records available online. To access the records, you will need to pay for an account, as well as for each page you want to print. If you are friends with an attorney, consider asking him or her to access the records for you.

  1. Find out why the seller is selling.

Any particular reason for selling can substantially drive how much of a “haircut” the seller is willing to accept off the listing price. A couple going through a divorce, for instance, likely has to sell quickly to avoid redundant housing expenses. On the other hand, an “empty nester” looking to downgrade may have little incentive to sell quickly (and may, in fact, resist selling the family home that invokes fond memories). Knowing why a seller wants or needs to sell can be invaluable in your purchase-price negotiations.

But how do you find out what drives the seller? In many situations, if you (or your agent) ask, the seller’s agent will tell you. A “broker’s open” is often a good opportunity for your agent to chat casually with the seller’s agent and conduct subtle fact-finding.

Otherwise, investigate online. A seller’s social media page often leaves “clues” as to his or her reasons for selling. Was there a recent death in the family? Is the seller moving for a new job? Did the seller have a new baby, necessitating a bigger pad? Learning the seller’s motivations — and potential time pressures — can help an informed buyer gauge how hard to push for a rock-bottom purchase price.

  1. Search for properties with multiple listing-price reductions.

Reducing a listing price several times — especially in rapid succession — is often a sign the seller is motivated to sell. To get the best deal, look for properties with multiple listing-price reductions. Also, agents for sellers willing to negotiate for a substantial “discount” on the listing price often leave clues for buyer agents in the listing of the property. A seller’s agent might remark, for instance, that the seller is “motivated” or that a buyer should “make an offer.” Unfortunately, these remarks are usually made only in the “agent remarks” section of the Multiple Listing Service, so you will have to ask your agent to specifically look for them.

  1. Don’t get into bidding wars. Just don’t.

When a seller aggressively prices an attractive property, buyers often get into a “multiple-offer” situation. When that happens, the seller’s agent frequently calls for the buyers’ “highest and best” offers. The seller then accepts the highest offer made, without countering.

Under these circumstances, buyers often adopt an auction mentality, wanting to “beat out” the competition. Because the property is viewed as “hot,” buyers are in danger of overvaluing it in their desire to win the auction. In our experience, multiple-offer situations often result in an overzealous buyer overpaying for the property. Don’t get into bidding wars.

  1. Negotiate in stages.

Any real estate transaction presents the opportunity to negotiate in multiple stages. Of course, the first stage involves offers and counteroffers for the purchase price. After that, property inspections may reveal defects in the property that allow for further negotiations and a purchase-price reduction. Likewise, if the property doesn’t appraise for the contract value, the seller would be hard-pressed not to reduce the price in accordance with the appraisal. Take advantage of such opportunities.

If you’d like to learn more about these and other strategies Athena’s highly trained agents use in representing buyers and sellers, give us a call or shoot us an email. We’d love to work with you.

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Papering the Deal: Record Keeping Requirements for Louisiana Real Estate Agents

As real estate agents, we know all too well about the mounds of disclosures, agreements, forms, and other documents used in our trade.  It’s not unusual for a real estate deal to involve over a dozen documents, not to mention internal paperwork that a broker may require.  But what documents are Louisiana agents required—by law—to keep, and for how long?

In 2017, the Louisiana Real Estate Commission (“LREC”) substantially expanded the obligation of brokers to maintain transaction-related and other documents for a period of five years.  As brokers are now required to institute policies to ensure compliance with these provisions, the law will “trickle down” to agents to require that they maintain sufficient records.

Under the new LREC rules, brokers (and agents) must keep the following records for a period of not less than five years:

  1. disclosures;
  2. listing agreements, buyer representation agreements, other written agreements that authorize licensees to advertise or represent property for sale or lease, other written agreements that authorize licensees to receive compensation;
  3. contracts and related addenda;
  4. receipts and disbursements of compensation for services as defined under R.S. 37:1431(24) (i.e., those constituting “real estate activities”);
  5. property management agreements;
  6. appraisal, broker price opinions, and comparative market analyses;
  7. sponsorship agreements and termination paperwork; and
  8. independent contract agreements between brokers and sponsored salespersons.

See 46 LA AADC LXVII, § 1803.

While the rules do not require that they be kept electronically, records must be in a format “readily available” for the LREC.  Documents kept scattered throughout emails and printed out likely would not be “readily available” under this provision, but hard copies kept in a file categorized by transaction likely would.

These rules were published in the Louisiana Administrative Code (and on the LREC’s web site) on May 20, 2017 and apply only going forward.  For records kept before publication of the rule, the prior LREC rules would apply to basically require that agents maintain agency disclosure records and any records of compensation.

Athena recognizes that the new rules adopted by the LREC impose substantial additional requirements on agents that will make their jobs more difficult.  That’s why we developed our Agent Dashboard system that allows agents to upload and track documents for each transaction, submit documents to Athena’s management, and even request payment of a commission check by ACH transfer.

To learn more about the technology Athena offers its agents and other support that sets us apart, give us a call or send us an email.  We’d love to talk with you.

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Negotiate Your Best House Buy

Keep your emotions in check and your eyes on the goal, and you’ll pay less when purchasing a home.

Buying a home can be emotional, but negotiating the price shouldn’t be. The key to saving money when purchasing a home is sticking to a plan during the turbulence of high-stakes negotiations. A real estate agent who represents you can guide you and offer you advice, but you are the one who must make the final decision during each round of offers and counter offers.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.

1. Get prequalified for a mortgage

Getting prequalified for a mortgage proves to sellers that you’re serious about buying and capable of affording their home. That will push you to the head of the pack when sellers choose among offers; they’ll go with buyers who are a sure financial bet, not those whose financing could flop.

2. Ask questions

Ask your agent for information to help you understand the sellers’ financial position and motivation. Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale? Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages? Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed? Have there been other offers? If so, why did they fall through? The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

3. Work back from a final price to determine your initial offer

Know in advance the most you’re willing to pay, and with your agent work back from that number to determine your initial offer, which can set the tone for the entire negotiation. A too-low bid may offend sellers emotionally invested in the sales price; a too-high bid may lead you to spend more than necessary to close the sale.

Work with your agent to evaluate the sellers’ motivation and comparable home sales to arrive at an initial offer that engages the sellers yet keeps money in your wallet.

4. Avoid contingencies

Sellers favor offers that leave little to chance. Keep your bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Do keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

5. Remain unemotional

Buying a home is a business transaction, and treating it that way helps you save money. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating.

Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

6. Don’t let competition change your plan

Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions—such as waiving an inspection—that aren’t in your best interest.

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Are Mortgage Points Tax Deductible?

When you took out a mortgage to buy your home, did you pay points? You may be able to deduct that prepaid interest on your federal tax return — but only if you meet a long list of rules.

The points you paid when you signed a mortgage to buy your home may help cut your federal tax bill. With points, sometimes called loan origination points or discount points, you make an upfront payment to get a particular rate from the lender.

Since mortgage interest is deductible, your points may be, too.

If you itemize your deductions on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040, you may be able to deduct all your points in the year you pay them.

Some high-income taxpayers have their total itemized deductions limited, including points. You can read more about that in the instructions for Schedule A.

Lucky for you, the IRS doesn’t care whether you or the homesellers paid the points. Either way, those points are your deduction, not the sellers’.

Tip: Tax law treats home purchase mortgage points differently from refinance mortgage points. Refinance loan points get deducted over the life of your loan. So if you paid $1,000 in points for a 10-year refinance, you’re entitled to deduct $100 per year on your Schedule A.

The Fine Print for Deducting Points

The IRS rules for deducting purchase mortgage points are straightforward, but lengthy. You must meet each of these seven tests to deduct the points in the year you pay them.

1.  Your mortgage must be used to buy or build your primary residence, and the loan must be secured by that residence. Your primary home is the one you live in most of the time. As long as it has cooking equipment, a toilet, and you can sleep in it, your main residence can be a house, a trailer, or a boat.

Points paid on a second home have to be deducted over the life of your loan.

2.  Paying points must be a customary business practice in your area. And the amount can’t exceed the percentage normally charged. If most people in your area pay one or two points, you can’t pay 10 points and then deduct them.

3.  Your points have to be legitimate. You can’t have your lender label other things on your settlement statement, like appraisal fees, inspection fees, title fees, attorney fees, service fees, or property taxes as “points” and deduct them.

4.  You have to use the cash method of accounting. That’s when you report your income to the IRS as it comes in and report your expenses when you pay them. Almost everybody uses this method for tax accounting.

5.  You must pay the points directly. That is, you can’t have borrowed the funds from your lender to pay them. Any points paid by the seller are treated as being paid directly by you.

In addition, monies you pay, such as a downpayment or earnest money deposit, are considered monies out of your pocket that cover the points so long as they’re equal to or more than points.  Say you put $10,000 down and pay $1,000 in points. The downpayment exceeds the points, so your points are covered and therefore you can deduct them if you itemize. If you were to put nothing down but you paid one point, that $1,000 wouldn’t be deductible.

6.  Your points have to be calculated as a percentage of your mortgage. One point is 1% of your mortgage amount, so one point on a $100,000 mortgage is $1,000.

7.  The points have to show up on your settlement disclosure statement as “points.” They might be listed as loan origination points or discount points.

Tip: You can also fully deduct points you pay (for the year paid) on a loan to improve your main home if you meet tests one through five above.

Where to Deduct Points

Figured out that your points are deductible? Here’s how you deduct them:

Your lender will send you a Form 1098. Look in Box 2 to find the points paid for your loan.

If you don’t get a Form 1098, look on the settlement disclosure you received at closing. The points will show up on that form in the sections detailing your costs or the sellers’ costs, depending on who paid the points.

Report your points on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040.

There are two things related to points that you can’t deduct:

1.  Interest buy-downs your builder paid

Some builders put money in an escrow account (as a buyer incentive) that the lender taps each month to supplement your mortgage payment. Those aren’t considered points even though the money is used for an interest payment and it’s prepaid. You can’t deduct the money the builder put into that escrow account.

2.  Interest payments from government programs

You can’t deduct points paid by a federal, state, or local program, such as the federal Hardest Hit Fund, to help you if you’re experiencing financial trouble.

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