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TOPA: Protection or extortion?

Inadvertently reducing the amount of housing available to renters

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Anita Bonds, gay news, Washington Blade
Anita Bonds, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Anita Bonds looked into how TOPA went from protecting tenants to hurting homeowners. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Last week, I had the privilege of attending my first D.C. Council meeting as part of a contingent of roughly 200 real estate agents, attorneys, tenant advocates and homeowners.

The topic: D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) of 1980.

The premise of the Act was a noble one. In response to burgeoning gentrification within the District it gave a tenant the first right to purchase the home in which he resided upon being informed by the owner that it was being sold. Notification procedures, transparency requirements and lengthy deadlines would ensure the tenant would have sufficient time to negotiate a contract, obtain financing, and settle on the home.

Embedded in the law was a provision whereby the tenant could transfer her purchase rights to another individual if she chose. What began as an avenue for the tenant to secure a qualified buyer who would allow her to remain or receive a reasonable stipend from the seller to assist her in moving to a new location devolved into a “pay to play” situation.

Real estate agents began to see abuses of the Act. Tenants would seek substantial sums of money for their rights to purchase, which resulted in a new way to earn a living, both for the tenants and for the attorneys who represented them, and often held a sale hostage while negotiations took place.

With the assistance of the District of Columbia Association of Realtors (DCAR), TOPA finally found its way into local television news. A three-part investigative series prompted the D.C. Council, spearheaded by Council member Anita Bonds, to focus on how the law had gone from protecting tenants to hurting homeowners, raising the cost of housing, and reducing D.C. housing stock for the very tenants TOPA was designed to protect.

As a result, a task force made up of real estate agents, attorneys and tenant advocates was formed. Two amendments to TOPA were ultimately sponsored by members of the Council and became the reason we were all seated in Room 500 of the Wilson Building on the morning of Sept. 21.

The TOPA Accessory Dwelling Unit Amendment Act of 2017, sponsored by Council member Bonds and six other members, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, provides for an exemption from TOPA requirements for certain owner-occupied residences with accessory units such as basement apartments, carriage houses and converted garages. It also caps payments to tenants in those units at $1,500.

The Home Sale Facilitation Amendment Act of 2017, sponsored by Council member Brianne Nadeau, reduces the lengthy timelines currently in effect, streamlines the process, and exempts single-family dwellings that are the seller’s primary residence from TOPA requirements.

The Council meeting began with testimony from the co-chairs of the DCAR TOPA Task Force. As local title attorneys, they explained the impact of a confusing and costly process, the difficulty in confirming compliance, and the uncertainty of a timely sale.

Tenant advocates from AARP and the Legal Aid Society spoke out against the amendments, arguing that TOPA promotes homeownership, yet they, the title attorneys, and the real estate agents all agreed that it was seldom that a tenant bought the property they inhabited using the provisions of TOPA.

A homeowner adversely affected by TOPA tearfully told a horror story of renting her home to a family of three who proceeded to allow unauthorized people and pets to live there, broke appliances and fixtures, lived in filth, and failed to report leaks that resulted in mold. Repairs to the property totaled $7,000.

Despite being offered an additional sum to relocate, the tenants refused. The homeowner, who is now retired and living out-of-state on a fixed income, is still unable to complete the sale of her home. Her sentiment, that she would never again rent a D.C. home to anyone, was echoed by others who testified or sent letters to be read into the record.

A local attorney whose business is to seek out tenants who have been served TOPA notices proudly testified that, for a one-third contingency fee, he negotiates an average of $30,000 for the purchase of a tenant’s TOPA rights and often obtains debt forgiveness of up to $20,000. At this point, the audience erupted in anger.

Is it any wonder that people are shying away from renting their D.C. homes and looking for investment property in nearby Maryland or Virginia?  Ironically, in an area where 52 percent of residents are renters, TOPA laws, instead of protecting tenants as intended, are reducing the amount of housing available to them.

So where do we go from here? A mark-up of the proposed amendments, a vote by the Council, and a 30-day review by the U.S. Congress. Stay tuned.

 

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at Real Living| At Home. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her at [email protected], or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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1 Comment

  1. Eva-Maria von Bronk

    October 2, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks, Valerie. That pretty much summed up the meeting I attended (although I left after 3 hours after realizing that I wouldn’t be able to speak). We manage rental properties for mostly “individual” owners and his law definitely hurts all of us….

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Real Estate

How to prepare yourself in this seller’s market

Millennials are putting down the avocado toast and picking up mortgages

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Just because it’s a seller’s market, doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to buy.

For the first time, Millennials are cutting back on spending money on multiple streaming subscriptions, $10 drinks, and avocado toast. They are dipping their feet into purchasing their first home. The current market conditions can be tough for some buyers though, so being prepared is more important now than ever. 

The first step in the home buying process is finding the right real estate agent. Your agent should be trustworthy and someone who is knowledgeable about the area, sales contract, and local programs that may be able to save you money. Once you find the perfect agent, ask them to refer you to their preferred local lenders. When talking with lenders, not only should you focus on interest rates, but also ask about their in-house processing and underwriting. This may be able to give you a competitive advantage against other offers. 

Once you’ve decided on your lender, they will need several documents to help them determine your eligible purchase price. Now is the perfect time to get your documents in order, including 30 days of pay stubs, two years of tax returns and/or W2s and 1099s, and two consecutive bank statements. Providing these documents in a timely manner can help expedite the pre-approval process and prevent delays once you’re under contract. The lender will also look at your median credit score from the three major credit bureaus. Since your credit score has a direct effect on your interest rate, it’s important to pay close attention to your score. If your credit score needs a little help, talk to your Realtor and lender to see if they have recommendations on how to boost your score or programs that may be able to help.

After you’ve been pre-approved, it’s time to look at properties. With these current market conditions, properties typically don’t stay on the market for very long. Depending on the type of property, some may only be on the market for a few days. Doing your due diligence at the beginning of your home search can help save you time and focus on the properties that really fit your criteria. Now is the time to make that wish list, visit neighborhoods, research schools, and get a really good idea of what you’re looking for. In this market, it’s very important to see a property as soon as it hits the market. By fully understanding your search criteria in advance and making sure you’re available to see properties after work or on a lunch break, you will be better prepared to make an offer when “the one” hits the market. 

The most common question I get now is, “should I wait?” In most cases, the cost of waiting can cost you. With historically low interest rates and housing prices continuing to increase, now is still a great time to purchase real estate. Being prepared, patient and having an informed Realtor and lender on your side will definitely help in this market.

Teddy Rojanadit is a licensed Realtor in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland with Bediz Group at Keller Williams Capital Properties. Follow him at @teddydcrealtor on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. He can be reached at [email protected] or 202-664-3736.

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Real Estate

The five-step downsizing plan

Set goals and a budget — then de-clutter

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Before you downsize, you’ll need to de-clutter your home.

Are you considering downsizing? For any number of reasons, this might be a decision that makes sense at this point in your life. 

Perhaps you have children that are now grown and have moved out, or you entertained large parties and those days have passed, now having more space than you can use. Maybe you simply want less home to take care of and fewer chores on your to-do list. Perhaps you’d like a smaller mortgage, so you can put the extra money toward other things. Or possibly, you’re willing to pay a slightly higher mortgage so that you can have a smaller home in an area where you’ve always wanted to live. Whatever your reasons, if you’re thinking of downsizing, having a plan can be extremely valuable. Those preparing to downsize may find that following this helpful five-step plan can make the process a smooth and successful experience:

Think through your goals: This may seem like an obvious step, but it is one that people often overlook. As you think about downsizing, take the time to sit down and come up with a detailed list of your goals. Ask yourself the necessary questions that will help you to narrow and focus your search. These are questions like: What’s important to you in life — being close to family and friends? Living in a place you love? Having easy access to medical care? Access to an international airport? Spend some time thinking through your priorities and desires. How much of a mortgage will you be able to pay, particularly if you are retiring or anticipating increased health care costs as you age? Maybe you’re able to live mortgage free with the sale of your larger home.

How much square footage would you feel comfortable caring for? How will you prepare for the move? Thinking carefully about your future by working through important questions like these can help you move closer toward a concrete vision of your ideal downsizing situation and provide peace of mind and confidence during the process. 

• Look for a location you love: Location is an important aspect of any real estate transaction, but this can be especially true when downsizing. What are your reasons for downsizing? Thinking this through may help you to choose a location that is ideal for your needs. Are you downsizing because you are getting older and health issues are a concern? If so, choosing a location close to a city center where you can easily access medical care might be important. Are you downsizing because you’re tired of living in a large home in a suburban area and want easier access to amenities that a more urban environment may offer? If so, looking for more walkable neighborhoods closer to a larger metropolitan area might be important for you. Are you retiring and downsizing because you want to live in that gay-friendly city that you’ve always loved? Focus your home search there. 

• Be sure to budget: After you’ve thought through your goals and decided on a desirable location, you’ll want to spend time closely looking at your financial situation and coming up with a realistic budget to achieve your goals. Meeting with a financial professional to review your assets and debts, what you might make from the sale of your current home, and what the total costs of downsizing might be can be tremendously helpful, and can ensure that you make your move with financial confidence and security.

Don’t forget to declutter: Certainly, downsizing means you’ll have less space – and this means less room for extra stuff. Before your move, take advantage of the downsizing process as an opportunity to let go of items you no longer truly need or use and to make space for new things and experiences. It is important to get started on this process early. Often, when people are downsizing, they still overestimate the amount of room they will have for extra items. Don’t make this mistake. Taking the time to sit down and think about what will fit within your new space removes the stress of later having to dispose of those belongings after you move.

Find the right agent: The importance of this step in your downsizing plan should not be overlooked. Whether you are staying relatively close to home or moving across the country, you will need an agent who knows the community you’re interested in and can help direct you to neighborhoods and homes that will best fit your needs. This can particularly be true when you are an LGBTQ home buyer or seller and you want to ensure that you find not only a house that you love, but also a community where you can feel truly at home. Working with the right agent can reduce your stress, save time, and greatly increase your overall satisfaction with your real estate experience. Wondering how to find exactly the right agent for your needs? At GayRealEstate.com, that’s where we come in.

Whatever your real estate needs – whether you are looking to buy, sell, upgrade, or downsize, at www.GayRealEstate.com, we are here for you. We are passionate about connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers across the country with agents who are talented, experienced, and committed to helping their clients achieve their real estate dreams. In any real estate experience, having an agent who knows and loves their community and who values each client, and understands that client’s unique needs can be invaluable. We are dedicated to delivering that experience every time. You deserve nothing less. We look forward to helping you soon.

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Real Estate

Interest rates are down, even in this seller’s market

That shouldn’t discourage buyers

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Don't be scared off by this seller's market.

While it is true that in the last year, home sellers have been attracting multiple offers, as homes with more space, outdoor space, located close to parks, water features, and convenient transportation became highly desirable after most of the world stayed home in a global pandemic, home buyers still have reasons to look for a new home. 

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell four basis points from the week prior to 2.98%, according to Freddie Mac‘s PMMS. Within the past almost three months, mortgage rates have only peaked above 3% one time.

Even as recently as a few years ago, many buyers were finding rates closer to 3.75%, 4%, or 4.25% depending on their credit and income. Even a change by one percentage point can alter the monthly payment for a home by up to a few hundred bucks a month. The benefit to having a mortgage is that you can lock in your monthly payment, known as PITI (Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance) and the only variables are the condo fees or HOA fees (if there are any) and other utilities.  

If buying a home has been on your radar lately, it might be worth talking to a reputable lender who has a good knowledge of the DMV market. Even if it’s not part of your plan for the year, speaking with a lender sooner rather than later can help you devise an action plan to increase your savings toward a down payment, paying off certain bills or debts to help increase your credit score, and just in general do a financing “clean up” to position yourself for purchasing when the right time comes.  

I have no crystal ball, but my suspicion is that as the world opens back up, and people have more options to travel, attend concerts, go to weddings, etc., the pent up demand for housing might relax a little, and buyers might be able to squeeze into the market with a little more ease. 

I will be offering a home buyer seminar on Tuesday, July 13 with a local lender on Zoom.  If you want more information please contact me and I can send you the link to access.

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with The Rutstein Group at Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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