Helpful COVID-19 Resources And Information For REALTORS®

The National Association of REALTORS® and its NAR Commercial Affiliates have been compiling helpful information and resources for REALTORS®. This page features highlights of the various programs and resources available to real estate agents impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. We will do our best to keep this page updated with any additional resources that may be of value to our members and the industry.

NAR’s ‘Right Tools, Right Now’ Program

NAR’s ‘Right Tools, Right Now‘ initiative makes numerous valuable resources available to the association’s 1.4 million members at reduced or no cost.

Members TeleHealth

Members TeleHealth, part of NAR’s ‘Right Tools, Right Now’ initiative, provides around-the-clock access to non-emergency healthcare from more than 2,300 board-certified U.S. physicians. Common issues addressed through telemedicine include allergies, asthma, rashes, joint aches, flu and nausea, among others. Beginning April 2, NAR is funding two months of services for members who currently lack access to telemedicine and enroll in this program by April 15. Recognizing that the opportunity will likely draw significant interest from its members, NAR has also negotiated a discounted rate for those who wish to retain coverage following the two month, no-cost period.

“As we continue to solicit input from our members regarding COVID-19’s impact on their lives and businesses, NAR is grateful to be able to offer expanded access to potentially lifesaving telemedicine services,” said NAR President Vince Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco, CA. “Medical professionals are urging Americans who are sick to stay home, and telemedicine is playing a critical role protecting our communities and our health care workers. We continue to encourage members to limit their exposure and decrease the chance of spreading illnesses to others.” Learn more about this Members TeleHealth.

Coronavirus SBA CARES Act

NAR’s Federal Advocacy team has been working closely with Congress and the Administration to ensure the interests of REALTORS® and their clients are protected in any federal action in response to COVID-19. Many REALTORS® are small businesses, or work with them as clients. In the most recent relief package passed into law, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or CARES Act, there were significant provisions aimed at assisting small businesses during this difficult time. The CARES Act appropriates more than $360 billion total for new Small Business Administration (SBA) programs – the 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program loans and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) advance grants program. View FAQs and learn more from NAR.

CCIM: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources and Guidance For Commercial Agents

CCIM Institute has prepared a resource page for commercial real estate professionals to provide additional professional guidance around Coronavirus (COVID-19). This page hosts information about FEMA extensions, Tax Extensions, and updates on other legislative advocacy issues.

SIOR: COVID-19 and CRE: What You Should Know

As CRE leaders around the globe, you are feeling the impact of COVID-19. SIOR has provided a collection of resources available to you to keep you up-to-date on latest news and industry impacts.

IREM: COVID-19 Resources and Information for Property Managers

If you are a property manager, this page from IREM is filled with resources for dealing with the impacts of COVID-19.

dynamic duo

Dynamic Duos: Cost Segregation and Section 453

The old west is known for its dynamic duos. Buffalo Bill and Anne Oakley. Frank and Jesse James. Earp and Holliday. John Wayne and Anyone. And of course, the most famous dynamic duo… cattle drives and beans. But there is one Dynamic Duo that is here today and can help ranchers and farmers in an amazing way.

The latest Dynamic Duo is cost segregation (CS) and Section 453, and it provides farmers and ranchers with an amazing opportunity to accumulate more wealth. Here is how the Dynamic Duo works.

Cost Segregation and Land Real Estate

Depreciation is a huge opportunity when owning income producing real estate. Depreciation can be used to shelter income from cattle or farming operations. What if there was a way to increase depreciation and shelter more income. That’s a good thing, right? Absolutely and that’s exactly what CS does.

So what is the first half of the Dynamic Duo, cost segregation? A cost segregation study (CS case study on Vermont family farm) is an engineered based study approved by Congress on each of the assets in a real estate transaction. This could be an irrigation system in a farm or a structure in a cattle operation to wiring in a building.  The purpose of CS is to bring more accelerated depreciation to the property which will result in higher deductions in the early years of the business, keeping more money in the business owner’s pocket because of reduced taxes.

A cost segregation study can increase the rate of return which could help a farmer or rancher sell a property or make the property more attractive to buyers.  At the same time, a CS study can help a seller because the study may be able to shelter more income which would increase the rate of return when that’s a main concern to a buyer. A good CS program can also lessen taxes because more depreciation shelters more income so there is less income to pay taxes on.

That’s the good news but now there is also some not so good news. When using cost segregation to accelerate depreciation, that depreciation must be brought back in for tax purposes when selling. Having said that, you can transact a 1031 exchange and defer the accelerated depreciation, but the accelerated depreciation will count against the replacement property that you buy so there will be less available depreciation. But don’t worry – there is still good news. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a good reason to write this article.

cowboys sunset

Section 453 and Land Real Estate

The seller still has opportunities to defer the accelerated depreciation and that’s why Section 453 is the second half of the Dynamic Duo. Just call me Buffalo Bill…or John Wayne. Either works. What if you could use cost segregation to shelter income and reduce taxes and then defer the accelerated depreciation recapture tax for as long as the property owner would like.

Section 453 can be a great opportunity when the farmer or rancher wants to sell and retire or wants more real estate. If he wants to retire, our Section 453 tax deferral strategies can defer the capital gains tax, state tax, depreciation and accelerated depreciation recapture and the Obamacare tax on the gains on his sales proceeds for as long as he would like and the tax deferrals and the income generated from the deferred taxes can be passed on to his heirs. Also, by deferring taxes, the seller can generate a much larger lifetime retirement income than if he paid taxes first. Seller wins.

Let’s change gears and now the property owner wants to sell and buy another property. Our Section 453 tax deferral strategies can often work better than a 1031 exchange. Here’s why. When selling and using a 1031 exchange, you do not get a new depreciation schedule but rather, the non-depreciated portion of the original property plus the increase in the new property. For example, say the original property that is bought for $1 million is depreciated at 80% and sells for $4 million and using a 1031, a $5 million property is bought. The depreciation on the new property will be the 20% of the original property and $1 million on the new property. You can use a Cost Segregation Study, but the benefits will be limited because of the limited depreciation of the new property.

However, using our Section 453 proprietary trust, you can sell your property and then at any time in the future, buy another property of any kind for any price. Whether the new property is more than $4 million or less doesn’t matter. The property owner can defer the accelerated depreciation in addition to the capital gains tax, state tax, and the Obamacare tax on the sale of the old property and complete a new cost segregation study to shelter more income from the new property. Sheltering more income also reduces taxes and accumulates wealth. Another win for the seller, Buffalo Bill and John Wayne.

The bottom line is that the Dynamic Duo can be a great opportunity for brokers to help their clients keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets and provides opportunities to reduce taxes and make properties more attractive when buying or selling. So, get to know the Dynamic Duo. Let’s call Groot to make us some beans but preferably without all the cattle. Best wishes and Happy Selling!

About the Author: David Fisher is the managing partner for Creative Real Estate Strategies, a national firm that can defer taxes on highly appreciated real estate when a 1031 isn’t appropriate or can’t be completed. He has been an RLI sponsor since 2006 and has sponsored over various RLI events nationwide. He can be reached at 713-702-6401 or david@cresknowsrealestate.com.

Wire Fraud – Protect Your Business and Your Clients

Wire fraud is a growing problem for everybody involved in real estate transactions.  This article will discuss Business Email Compromise (which may culminate in a theft by wire fraud); what Business Email Compromise (BEC) is and why it is important for you to know about; as well as what you can do to identify potential problems to protect your business and your clients.

What is Business Email Compromise (BEC)?

phishing imageBEC is also known as phishing or wire fraud.  Frequently, a fraudster poses as somebody else (possibly a known person, a potential client or business associate) to gather sensitive information and/or install malware onto your computer.  Once they hack into somebody’s email, they usually wait in the background of a transaction.  Software is often used to scan the content of emails and alert to an upcoming transfer of money.  Just before money is to be transferred, they come out of the shadows and attempt to divert the money to an account under their control.  Remember that email addresses and telephone numbers can be spoofed.

Why Land Agents Need To Know About BEC

BEC is the most prevalent wire fraud scheme targeting businesses today.  It has been reported in all 50 of the United States and in 177 countries.  Real estate agents, title companies, law firms, sellers and buyers (in real estate transactions) are the most targeted for wire fraud.  Although your email and computer system may be secure, somebody else’s in the transaction may not be.  It only takes one person in the transaction to be hacked to introduce a risk of loss that can affect everybody!

BEC is a fast growing problem and has been described as the modern day bank robbery.  However, it is much more lucrative and the criminals are less likely to be caught.  According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (iC3), from 2015 to 2017 there was an 1,100% increase in reported victims and a 2,200% increase in reported losses.  Between October 2013 and July 2019, over $10 Billion of losses were reported in the United States.  Since some businesses are afraid of reputational damage, the actual losses may be higher than what was reported.  The FBI estimates there is an average of $8 Million in losses each month in real estate transactions in the United States.

The FBI estimates there is an average of $8 Million in losses each month in real estate transactions in the United States. 

As a result of this growing threat, to protect your business and your clients, be suspicious and at high alert.  Whenever the movement of money is involved, assume that somebody’s email has been hacked and you may be communicating with a fraudster!

How To Protect Your Business and Your Clients From BEC

A wire fraud causes numerous damages to you and your clients in addition to a loss of money.  As mentioned above, the fraud may cause reputational damage to a business or its agents.  There is also a considerable impact on efficiency.  A lot of time and emotional energy can be expended trying to get the money back, checking computer systems, changing passwords, etc.

Even though tactics change, there are a few common “red flags” that you should be aware of:

  • Multiple or changed wiring instructions. Wiring instructions are rarely changed because business bank accounts are not frequently changed.  Some bogus reasons that have been given for changed wiring instructions may include: “the account has been closed” or “the account has been placed on hold by the bank and is not effective at this time”.
  • Bad Grammar. Many (but not all) fraudsters are foreign and may misspell words, use a word or phrase incorrectly or not as commonly spelled or spoken in American English.  For example, “authorisation (British) vs. “authorization” (American).
  • Unusual Wire Recipient. Generally, deposits and closing funds are wired to accounts in the name of a settlement attorney, an escrow or title company or the real estate agent holding earnest money.  Any other payee on the account should be considered to be a red flag.
  • Changed or spoofed email address. The changes may be subtle and missed if somebody is in a rush.  For example, instead of Baker@TheTitleCompany.com the email address might be changed to JohnBakerTheTitleCompany@gmail.com or there could be a very subtle change to the name such as John.Baker@yahoo.com to John.Bakar@yahoo.com.  However, sometimes the fraudsters are able to hack into the actual email account and send emails form it.
  • Does the communication make sense in the context of the transaction? For example, is the “settlement agent” asking for a wire so they can send a check for the closing?

wire fraud security

So, What Can You Do?

  • Be cautious if the person on the other end of the emails wants to rush things. Fraudsters want to create an urgency and cause you to rush because that increases the chance you will miss “red flags”. For this reason, it has been noticed that many attempts take place on Fridays and at the end of the month because of the increased transactional volume.
  • Only send information to the person(s) who need it. Be cautious with “reply to all”.  The more people that are on an email string the higher the chance that your email goes to a fraudster.
  • Be cautious before clicking on a hyperlink sent by an unknown person and “hover” over links before clicking to see a preview of where it will take you.
  • Keep all software patches on and all systems updated.

If you discover you are the victim of a fraudulent incident, immediately contact your financial institution to request a recall of funds.  The longer you wait the more likely the funds will be lost forever!  As soon as possible, file a complaint with the iC3 at www.ic3.gov.  You can also obtain internet crime prevention tips and crime schemes at the iC3 website.

James Miller, EsqAbout the Author: Jim Miller, Esq., is an Associate General Counsel for Investment Property Exchange Services, Inc. (IPX1031).  IPX1031, a Qualified Intermediary, is a national leader in 1031 tax-deferred exchange transactions and a wholly owned subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial, Inc. He is also an instructor for RLI’s Tax Deferred 1031 Exchanges LANDU course. For questions or more information on exchanges, call (888) 771-1031 or visit the website at www.ipx1031.com.

soil

Sifting Through The Science of Farmland Soil Health

“Under All Is The Land” – the motto of the National Association of REALTORS® could not better encompass the enormity of that statement so succinctly. Indeed, the essence of all we do is upon, within, and determined by the land; its location, structure, depth, topography, and a myriad of other land factors that dictate and influence our lives and, certainly, our livelihood. We build our homes, cities, factories, and roads on the land, and put the lines and pipes to serve them under it. We till and farm and irrigate the land to feed ourselves and much of the rest of the world. We draw imaginary lines on the land and fight wars over it. Land is literally and figuratively our foundation. Of particular interest to the land brokers who comprise the REALTORS® Land Institute, is that portion of the land we call soil.

“It’s not dirt, its soil!”

“It’s not dirt, its soil!” is an often used distinction between what you plant your crops in and what you track into the house on your boots. While the words are colloquially used interchangeably, the study of soils is a fascinating exploration into the resource beneath our feet. Land brokers, particularly those involved in farm sales, can benefit from some basic soil knowledge. Many farm brokers were raised on farms and work in the ag communities where an understanding of “good dirt” is common. The underlying reasons, those identified by farmland soil science, are important to the users of the land, particularly farmers, and means that those who broker that land should also have a basic understanding of the elements of soil health.

Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil and comprises the elements that make crop production possible. Topsoil is a very valuable and precious resource – it takes 500 to 1,000 years to create a single inch of topsoil that can be lost in minutes to erosion or improper management. Soil is developed from parent material (rock) over the span of millennia by the ongoing natural actions of weathering: wind, water, heat, cold, freezing, thawing, chemical and biological action, topography, and time. Constant, careful, and deliberate management measures must be applied to property manage our topsoil resource, keep it healthy and productive, and prevent unnecessary loss due to erosion.

The largest man-made environmental disaster in the U.S. was the great Dust Bowl of the 1920s and ‘30s. Because of mismanagement, and a lack of foresight and understanding, a vast area of the central U.S. was devastated by loss of topsoil due to improper farming practices and sustained wind which resulted in economic collapse and the largest relocation of our population in U.S history, as farms went broke and people left the land. This is not just past history that can be acknowledged and forgotten, because without vigilance, it could happen again. In just the last 5 years, virgin grasslands in sensitive, arid areas have been plowed and planted with the expectations of profits from high commodity prices. When those prices inevitably adjust downward, those fragile soils may be subject to excess erosion.

dust bowl dirt

In the wake of the Dust Bowl, the Soil Conservation Service was formed by the Federal Government to research the causes and prevention of massive soil erosion and take steps to train landowners, make relevant law and policy, and buy back and set aside formerly privately owned land for restoration. The establishment of our system of National Grasslands came about by these efforts. Other government efforts that offered landowner incentives to take highly erodible lands out of production produced programs such as the original Land Banking program and the decades-old Conservation Reserve Program, still in use.

The efforts of decades of the soil conservation movement are evident throughout U.S. farmland with the use of terracing, tiling, contour farming, grass waterways, strip farming, retention of crop residues, irrigation management, and numerous other practices that are a part of modern American agriculture.

Soil is very much alive. The makeup of topsoil includes the geosphere (rock and parent material), the biosphere (millions of bacteria, fungi, worms and other life), and the atmosphere (air and pore spaces for water movement, and oxygen for chemical and biological action). A healthy soil is teeming with life. Preserving and enhancing a soil environment that can host and encourage biological action is a goal of proper soil management.

Management and the health of topsoil are critical and include proper tillage methods, prevention of soil erosion, and retention of crop residue to enhance organic matter content. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service, is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides information, education, services, and assistance to landowners to develop and maintain conservation plans. Most crop price support, crop insurance, and cooperative assistance programs offered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) require that a landowner must have an NRCS approved conservation plan as a condition of participation in the program. NRCS is also responsible for creating and updating the Soil Survey, a valuable source of information in both printed and on-line digital form (more on that later).

nrcs soil texture

It is common for a farmer or landowner to discuss soil types in terms of the soil’s texture, such as a “loamy” soil or a “clay” soil. Soil is comprised of three soil texture types, all based on the size of the soil particles. The three basic soil textures, in order of size from largest to smallest, are: sand, silt, and clay. A loam is a mixture of varying amounts of sand, silt, and clay. Specific soil textures are determined by using a soil textural triangle based upon the percentage of sand, silt, and clay in a particular soil sample (see illustration). NRCS provides an online calculator that is a great resource for calculating soil texture.

Soil health and fertility status is best determined by an on-site sampling of soils, usually in a grid pattern, submitted for laboratory analysis.

The soil test lab report provides valuable information on the makeup of the soil, its pH (acidity or alkalinity), and cation exchange capacity (CEC). CEC is a determination of the ability of the soil components (primarily clay and humus) to allow for the absorption and transport of soil nutrients from the soil to the plant roots. It is essentially a measure of the soil’s ability to hold nutrients and feed the plants. Fertilizer recommendations are based on the results of a proper soil test. Variations of soil types on a farm, and even in a particular field, can be identified and accounted for. When the information is translated to geo-spatial formats, current precision agriculture technology using GPS location equipment has the ability to make on-the-go adjustments for varying soil types and fertilizer needs.

A farm broker often needs to provide soil information on a property to prospective buyers. As always, the landowner, manager, or operator is a good first source, particularly if they utilize the services of a crop production adviser who analyzes the soil conditions periodically. A very good general source of soil information is the USDA/NRCS Web Soil Survey, an online resource that provides information on most U.S. soils. A broker can readily create a soils map, from the Web Soil Survey, and accompanying summary of soil capability, average expected crop yields, and more.

The Web Soil Survey has links to a vast amount of soil information, education, and a tutorial on using the survey. A handy green “start” button opens the survey itself. The process is started on the Area of Interest (AOI) tab by defining the subject parcel as a specific area which narrows the parcel search to the level of section, township, and range. Other methods to find and define the AOI are street address, GPS coordinates, and other reference maps, in addition to the Public Lands Survey System legal description. Once the map is zoomed to the general selected area, a specific location is automatically plotted on an aerial map utilizing the AOI tool to define rectangular or trapezoidal parcel boundaries. Once the Area of Interest is defined, a click on the Soil Map tab creates a map of soil types shown on the subject parcel. Once presented with the soil map, a click on the Soil Data Explorer tab provides an extensive selection of soil attributes, analyses, and limitations on use for the area defined. Ag lands would utilize info such as crop production capability classes, expected yields, and erosion susceptibility. One can also find info and potential limitations in regard to septic system leaching fields, road construction, and other engineering and construction topics. Once the map and information is selected, the user clicks on the Shopping Cart tab to obtain the map and report in digital form for download, or in printable form. The information is free, despite use of the term “shopping cart.”

For the brokers who wish to provide basic soils information for a particular parcel, the Web Soil Survey is a quick, easy to use tool that provides the ability to create a comprehensive soil map and report for any listing. This is a good way to work with your clients to provide valuable information on a sale property and impressive data to prospective buyers. More specific information and education can be obtained locally at the nearest USDA Farm Service Agency. Most counties in the U.S. have an office and can direct you to the best sources of information, including a locally or regionally available soil scientist.

A comprehensive understanding of all things soil related would require much study and education, but a great deal of this valuable information can be obtained, analyzed, and presented for free through the programs explained here. Hopefully, you will have gained a bit of historical perspective and direction. If you are a landowner trying to sift through soil science, it is important to Find A Land Consultant with expertise on the subject, like an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC). If you are a land agent and interested in learning more on this topic, make sure to take RLI’s Agricultural Land Brokerage and Marketing and Land 101: Fundamentals of Land Bokerage LANDU courses.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 edition of the Terra Firma land real estate magazine published by RLI.

Kirk Goble, ALCAbout the author: Kirk Goble, ALC, has been a Colorado licensed real estate broker since 1988 and founded The Bell 5 Land Company in 2000. He specializes in farm, ranch, land, and water brokerage. He is a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, The Greeley Area REALTOR® Association, and the REALTORS® Land Institute. Goble was awarded the Land REALTOR® of America by the REALTORS® Land Institute in 2013 and is a LANDU instructor for RLI.

Building Your Land Agent Brand

Building your land agent brand can be a challenge in a saturated market, where many people think they can be real estate agents, and many of those agents also think they know enough to play the land game. Differentiating yourself from the social media savvy rookies who may be all hat, no cattle, is a newer battle land agents face today. However, the ongoing dilemma is sharing your unique advantages from even the seasoned agents, whether you share the same brokerage firm or are an independent agent competing with big name firms.

The foundation of consistently communicating your distinct value is a well-designed brand promise. You must be able to communicate not only the problems you solve, but how you solve them uniquely, in order to get people to part with their cold, hard cash.

The formula is simple: your name + solves this specific problem + uniquely this way + for these specific people.

However, filling in the formula with your details is not-so-easy. In fact, most people get stuck on the uniquely this way and for these specific people parts. Some of the vanilla answers business professionals use in an attempt to differentiate include claiming, “exceptional customer service” or “very experienced” as their unique way of solving problems, and identifying “anyone who wants to buy and sell land” as an ideal customer.

The reality is, countless agents in your market, let alone the country, could likely claim those exact same things. So they aren’t unique, nor are they specific. It is essential that you dig deeper, evaluating who your best clients are and what they all have in common. When you find the sweet spot of clients you enjoy working with and who are also your most profitable clients, it is time to study those people and try to replicate them through your branding and marketing efforts.

A Tale of Two Brands

To illustrate how a clear brand promise can increase your reach and revenue, consider the power of two high-end brands that consistently gain market share, despite their substantial price tags and limited audience: Rolex and Louis Vuitton.

You will never see them market, nor advertise in the same places as Wal-Mart or Dollar General. Wasting time and money advertising to the eyeballs that are interested in budget-friendly retail is not in their best interest. They are clear on who their exact ideal customers are so they can:

  1. Share their brand promises through compelling storytelling that emotionally triggers their ideal customers.
  2. Visually uphold their brand promises in a way that delights their ideal customers.
  3. Deliver on their brand promises in a way that meets the high expectations of their ideal customers.

How to share your brand promise through compelling storytelling

Your personal story holds all of the clues you need to differentiate yourself. By following the breadcrumbs you have left behind in life, patterns will emerge that combine your personal satisfaction and your ability to effectively contribute to people and situations. Consider all of your professional and personal experience when reflecting on what makes you unique. For example, if you have served in the military it communicates that you have achieved a special kind of discipline and dedication. You are likely to attract others who have or do serve in the military, as well as those who especially respect people who have military service. Does serving your country have anything to do with selling dirt? Not exactly, but it is a piece of your story that can create an emotional connection with your ideal customer.

Perhaps you have political experience, empowering you to navigate the law and key stakeholders involved in a deal. Or maybe you not only broker the land sale, you also offer land management. Or perhaps you are the third or fourth generation in your family to be a land agent. How do you think that stacks up against a rookie when you can reference a lifetime of multi-generation land conversations at the dinner table?

Be intentional about telling such stories through your blog posts, videos, social media, website copy, while networking, in media opportunities, when speaking, or through any other marketing activity you pursue.

land agent branding

How to Visually Uphold Your Brand Promise

Rolex and Louis Vutton both have visually compelling brands that invite prospects and customers into their story of luxury, prominence, and success. They are sharing a glimpse of what it feels like to sport their products. Their visual branding is designed to evoke an emotional response to trigger a purchase.

Of course, another reason why it is important to understand your target market is to understand what other brands they enjoy, thus giving you a roadmap of how to visually stimulate your ideal customer. You can simply ask your previous and current clients what their favorite brands are via a survey, or you can simply observe along the way. For example, if your ideal customer wears an Apple Watch, has an iPhone, and is concerned about how close the nearest Whole Foods is to the property you just showed them, you can do a quick scroll through those websites and social media profiles to get inspiration for your own visual branding and messaging. Whether it is font selection, the amount of white space, color selections, or the style of images, you can easily use those visual cues to help you craft your own visual brand.

Remember, you can’t illustrate a book until you write the story, so be sure the visuals for your unique visual brand represent your unique brand story. The visual side of your brand is merely an aid to telling your brand story. Importantly, your branding should always be consistent, so be sure whatever path you choose is the one you remain on day in and day out through all marketing channels.

rolex branding

How to Deliver on Your Brand Promise

If a Rolex watch or Louis Vutton purse had any issues, undoubtedly, its owner would know the respective company would fix it in short order. They are trusted to deliver on their brand promises of quality, excellence, prominence, and more. In the same way, you must make it clear that you will always deliver on your brand promise.

First, you must do good work. While that seems obvious to the experienced land agent, it is unfortunately not the norm. Simply doing what you say you will do will go far for your brand reputation. Further, be sure to secure testimonials as soon as you delight your customers. Allow your customers to toot your horn for you and reap the powerful benefits of peer reviews. Be sure to note any awards, certifications, education, and media coverage you received, as appropriate, which are also forms of social proof that you are great at what you do. While you may feel like you are bragging, any such announcement is a small blip on the radar of the average person who consumes an incredible amount of content each day. If you do not share your successes, how do you expect anyone to choose you instead of a less worthy agent who may not look out for their best interest? Save your potential clients from a lazy or inexperienced agent for the job by simply sharing the proof that you will have their best interest at the forefront of all you do.

Clear Branding Equals Clear Marketing

When you are clear on your brand you become clear about how to strategically market your brand for results. Understanding who you serve, what problems you solve, and how you solve them uniquely, empowers you to position yourself through targeted campaigns and strategic networking. You can’t be everywhere, all the time. Not every social media channel is for you, nor is every magazine, conference, or website somewhere you should invest time and money, as your ideal customers are not everywhere, either. Further, when you are clear on your brand, you can get clear on your internal processes and train your team to uphold your brand promise, as well. Remember, no one wants to be sold to, yet your ideal customer wants to buy from someone who attracts their business. If you effectively share your brand story and the results it gets, you will become the only option in your ideal customer’s mind, eliminating competition altogether.

Amber HurdleAbout The Author: Amber Hurdle Consulting empowers companies to strengthen their brands from the inside out through talent optimization. They do this in three ways: By working with leaders on their personal brands, so they become self-aware and see and harvest the greatness in others. By using a scientific, repeatable method to recruit, retain and inspire top talent, amplifying world-class employer brands; and by leveraging those strong leaders and a “best places to work” environment so that happy employees are serving happy customers, ultimately elevating their business brands. Amber is married to Geoff Hurdle, ALC, and together they have three children and a fur baby: Kristen and Brittany, also in the land business, Derek, a junior in high school, and Nashville Gibbs the Cavapoo, who continuously works on being Instagram famous. Learn more at amberhurdle.com.

Washington DC

News & Notes From Inside The Beltway: A Land Legislation Update From The Hill

Despite the rancor and polarization in Washington, D.C. these days, there is good news coming out of the nation’s capital. The following two issues show that positive developments can still happen to encourage economic development and protect property rights.

Qualified Opportunity Zones

The Qualified Opportunity Zones (“QOZ”) program was enacted in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to encourage economic growth in underserved communities through tax incentives for investors. Along with those tax benefits, it presents opportunities for real estate investment and development in those communities. American states and territories, including Washington, D.C., nominated areas (by census tract) to be designated as QOZs in 2018, and the IRS and Treasury finalized the designations that year. This temporary program (set to expire on December 31, 2047) presents opportunities for real estate investment and development in distressed communities. There are several potential tax benefits to investors who invest in a QOZ, if all requirements are met:

  • First, capital gains reinvested (within 180 days of a sale to a nonrelated person) into a QOZ are tax-free as long as they are held in the program, through 2026.
  • If held for five years, the tax ultimately paid on the reinvested gains is reduced by 10%; if held for seven years, that reduction is increased to 15%.
  • In addition, gains accrued on deferred gains funds while invested in a QOZ are tax-free if they are held for at least ten years.

Investments in “Opportunity Funds” (O Funds) may be gains from a previous sale (within 180 days) and/or non-gains funds, but only reinvested capital gains are eligible for the tax benefits. If both gains and non-gains funds are invested, they are treated as separate investments and will receive different tax treatments.

  • To qualify for the tax benefits, investments into a QOZ must be made through an O Fund, which may be a partnership or corporation organized for the purpose of investing in QOZ property. The requirements for an O Fund are:
    • Must hold at least 90% of the assets in QOZ property (which can be stock, partnership interests, and/or tangible property used in a trade or business within a QOZ, such as real estate);
    • Must certify with the Treasury and IRS, via a self-certification filed with federal tax returns (Form 8996).

Finally, the “QOZ business property” that an O Fund invests in must be “substantially all” in a QOZ, which under the proposed rules is met if 70% or more of the property is in a QOZ. The statute also requires that after an O Fund acquires QOZ business property that it be either “original use” (new) or “substantially improved,” which means investing at least as much on the improvement as was paid for the used asset. “Original use” commences with depreciation, so an unfinished asset purchase by an O Fund in a QOZ can qualify for original use as long as it has not been depreciated yet. In addition, vacant or abandoned property can be considered original use if it has been in that state for at least five years. The proposed rules state that the basis of the land a business sits on does not need to be included for the substantial improvement requirement, thus reducing the required investment amounts.

On December 12, 2018, the White House issued an Executive Order establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, chaired by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson and comprised of 13 Federal agencies. The Council will focus on ways to revitalize low-income communities, through streamlining coordinating existing Federal programs to economically distressed areas, including Opportunity Zones. In May 2019, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a notice that it will be offering new incentives for multifamily property owners to invest in Opportunity Zones.

Knick v. Scott Township, PA Supreme Court Case

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark property rights decision on June 21, ruling that the federal courts are open to decide landowners’ claims for a Fifth Amendment “taking” of property by local regulatory agencies. In Knick v. Township of Scott, the nation’s highest court reversed a 1985 precedent that had forced property owners to first bring takings lawsuits in state courts, which acted as “gatekeepers” to block the claims from ultimately getting to federal court.

The 5-4 ruling in Knick holds that suits arising under the Takings Clause can be brought as an initial matter in U.S. trial courts, and then appealed as of right in U.S. circuit courts – just like any other alleged grievance to vindicate protections in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Such matters are no longer relegated to state judges for resolution. Federal courts are now proper venues to test the constitutionality of aggressive land-use decisions by local regulators, and can decide whether landowners are owed “just compensation” for a property taking.

Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion corrected the litigation dilemma for property owners trapped between the state and federal judiciaries. “The takings plaintiff thus finds himself in a Catch-22: He cannot go to federal court without going to state court first; but if he goes to state court and loses, his claim will be barred in federal court,” Roberts wrote. “The federal claim dies aborning.”

Roberts added, “Takings claims against local governments should be handled the same as other claims under the Bill of Rights. We now conclude that the state litigation requirement imposes an unjustifiable burden on takings plaintiffs, conflicts with the rest of our takings jurisprudence, and must be overruled.” The attorney representing the property owners before SCOTUS remarked that Knick “reject[s] barriers that unfairly deny property owners their day in court [and] sends a message that property rights are just as sacred as all other rights.”

Russell RiggsAbout the Author: Russell Riggs is a Senior Policy Representative with the National Association of Realtors in Washington, DC. For the past 23 years, Russell has advocated on behalf of Realtors on energy, environment, property rights, immigration and natural resource issues before Congress and federal regulatory agencies.

Russell also serves as the Advocacy Liaison to the REALTORS Land Institute, NAR‘s Global and Business Affairs Group, and NAR’s Resort and Second Home Group. Prior to his position with NAR, Russell held positions with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Council of State Governments, the National Governors Association and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Russell holds a Bachelors degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, and Masters Degrees from Tufts University and New York University.

land market outlook

Seeing 2020: Land Market Current Conditions & Outlook

The longest economic expansion in U.S. history continues to churn out more output and job additions with each passing month. November 2019 marks 125 consecutive months of growth and the momentum factors hint at the trend continuing into at least spring of 2020. Then what? A recession? Not likely, except for one policy error.

Though the populace is intensely polarized politically, as related to the economy, U.S. consumers are indicating high confidence. The consumer confidence index was 125 in September, well above the 100 neutral mark seen throughout 2019. For reference, the index has been under 100 for nearly a decade starting from 2007. The solid expression of confidence about the economy is without a doubt due to the very low unemployment rate of 2.7%, an all-time high in total household wealth in the country as the stock market boomed, and record high real estate values. The prior peak in the net worth of all households was $70 trillion in 2007 right before the last recession, sunk to $60 trillion at the depths of the foreclosure crisis, and then rose to $113 trillion as of mid-2019. Quite an incredible feat, though we should be reminded that wealth holdings have become much more concentrated at the top. All this could mean good things for the land market outlook in 2020.

Consumers consequently are opening up their wallets. Consumer spending rose 2.6% in the second quarter of 2019, after adjusting for inflation, and has been the prime engine for GDP growth over the past few years. Spending on consumer durable goods – with a long product life span – has been even stronger at 4.4%, attesting to the longer- term positive assessment of the direction of the economy. There is no over-borrowing to fuel personal consumption. Finances are coming from an employment growth of 2.15 million net new jobs, rising wages from $27.30 per hour to $28.09 over one year, and higher wealth by a few trillion dollars. Miraculously, there are more job openings today (7 million in August 2019) than the number of unemployed (5.7 million workers).

However, there is not as happy a story for businesses. Corporate profits are indeed very high, especially after cuts to the corporate tax rates a few years ago, rising from $1 trillion in 2008 to nearly $2 trillion now.

This partly justifies why the stock market is near record highs. But even with healthy financial conditions, companies have been less aggressive in spending the cash for machinery, factory expansion, and other investments.

Business investment spending contracted in the second quarter of 2019. Spending on equipment barely changed, but spending on commercial building fell by 4.7% from a year ago. Though assuring no oversupply of commercial real estate construction, the fact that businesses are pulling back is concerning and raising the question as to why.

gdp growth land market outlook

The timing of businesses getting cautious is directly related to the raising of tariffs and hostile rhetoric towards international trade. In fact, many companies in their public statements during quarterly earnings calls say they are cautious because of uncertainty related to trade prospects. REALTORS® specializing in commercial real estate have witnessed that trend as leasing activity markedly slowed in the second quarter to only 3.1% growth compared to better than 10% gains in 2016 and 2017, and 5% gains in 2018. Moreover, even business travel has weakened, as evidenced by falling occupancy rates at hotels, which is now at 72.4%, a full 100 basis points lower than from a year earlier.

The most troubling aspect is the actual slowdown in global trade. U.S. exports fell 1.7% recently while U.S. imports grew by only 2.6%. When both exports and imports decline for a few straight quarters, then a recession is near certain with job cuts. In a growing economy, both exports and imports should be rising by at least 5% per year. This slowdown in trade has had repercussions elsewhere. Just about every notable economy is experiencing slower economic activity in 2019 compared to recent prior years. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut its global growth estimate to 3.2% for 2019 after having forecasted 3.6% earlier in the year. The economies of the world appear to move in sync, like a rising tide lifting most boats — and the movement reverses when trade restrictions are put in place. The stock market has nearly always cheered at the promise of a trade agreement and sunk following the rhetoric of a trade war and retaliations of more tariffs. More positively, it is becoming clear that both the U.S. and China are looking for a deal. In such a case, business spending could boom.

One promising sector that could help with future economic growth is real estate construction. America is facing an acute housing shortage – for both single- family owner occupancy and for multifamily apartments. Home prices and rents have been rising far in excess of wage growth for five straight years.

Vacancy rates are at historic lows. The underproduction of new homes over the past decade has cumulatively resulted in around five to six million housing units that are needed today. Even in a normal year, only around 1.5 million new homes can be constructed. Therefore, increased construction needs to occur for multiple years. In 2020, specifically, housing supply is expected to improve, with housing starts expected to hit 1.4 to 1.5 million, up from 1.275 million in 2019.

With home builders still likely to be constrained by what they call the 5Ls — labor, land (lots), lending (financing), lumber (raw materials), and restrictive laws (regulation) — housing starts will still not match the demand from household formation (1.2 million), or the replacements for demolished or obsolete housing (about 450,000). All that means more demand for land and lots.

“…more demand for land and lots.”

In the commercial market space, industrial properties have outperformed retail spaces, arising from the stronger growth in online shopping and quick distribution warehouse needs. Investors are paying much more for industrial flex/warehouse properties on account of low rental vacancy rates and the sustained demand for e-commerce sales. Given that warehouses can be built in off- center sites far away from downtowns and population centers, the demand for land will grow in outlying regions.

In the meantime, the interest rates will be at near historically favorable conditions. The Federal Reserve will more likely cut its fed funds rate a notch in 2020 rather than increasing. It just means that 10- year Treasury yields will remain low at around 1.6% and the longer term borrowing rate at under 4%. In future years, watch what happens to the federal deficit, which is expected to be near $1 trillion in 2019 and projected to surpass $1 trillion in 2020. The total federal debt level, adding of all past deficits, will reach 100% of GDP in a few years, well above the 60% that many economists consider as manageable.

The bottom line summary is that while the economy is experiencing the longest running growth period in U.S. history, there is no reason why it has to falter. The economy is expected to finish 2019 with only moderate growth of 2% due to soft business spending activity, after having notched up a solid 2.9% in 2018. For 2020, a recession is not in the cards, but this assumes some type of truce in the trade war. A trade agreement will be better still and will lift business spending.

“…expect continued job creation, income growth, and rising demand for land.”

Construction spending has to rise to relieve housing shortages and low vacancy rates in commercial real estate. Therefore, expect continued job creation, income growth, and rising demand for land.

Lawrence Yun NARAbout the author: Dr. Lawrence Yun is chief economist and senior vice president of Research at the National Association of REALTORS®. He directs research activity for the association and regularly provides commentary on real estate market trends for its 1.4 million REALTOR® members.

forest

Digging Up the Dirt on Land Contracts and Seller Financing

I sell LAND for a living, and I am often asked if the seller is willing to finance the property. Many times the answer is YES. Financing land can be problematic unless you are working with a lender who specializes in these type loans, for example, Farm Credit Banks. So, for the most part, the buyer has two options:

1) finance through a bank or lending institute

2) Seller/Owner Financing

A land contract (also known as Contract for Deed) is a contract between the buyer and seller of real property in which the seller provides the buyer financing in the purchase, and the buyer repays the resulting loan in installments.

Advantage Seller – Speed because no bank is involved. Sellers in some cases can get a higher price for their property and the principal and interest payments go to the owner instead of the bank. This can make your Return on Investment (ROI) look very appealing. If the buyer fails to make payments, the seller/owner takes back the property and keeps the payments made by the buyer.

Advantage Buyer –  Speed because no bank is involved. Having your credit checked repeatedly can negatively affect your credit score. Some buyers have marginal credit and financing through the seller makes lots of sense and saving fees related to a conventional loan such as appraisals, origination fees, etc.

When closing, the attorney will prepare documents (promissory note) that state the terms of the loan such as down payments, interest rates, term or length of the loan, due date for payments, and penalties for non-payment. If payments are not made, the seller/owner will begin foreclosure on the property. There are two types of foreclosures and the type will depend on the state you live in.

Judicial Foreclosure – Foreclosure by judicial sale, commonly called judicial foreclosure, involves the sale of the mortgaged property under the supervision of a court. The proceeds go first to satisfy the mortgage, then other lien holders, and finally the mortgagor/borrower if any proceeds are left. Judicial foreclosure is available in every US state and required in many (Florida requires judicial foreclosure). The lender initiates judicial foreclosure by filing a lawsuit against the borrower. As with all other legal actions, all parties must be notified of the foreclosure, but notification requirements vary significantly from state to state in the US. A judicial decision is announced after the exchange of pleadings at a (usually short) hearing in a state or local court in the US. In some rather rare instances, foreclosures are filed in US Federal Courts.

Non-Judicial Foreclosure – Foreclosure by power of sale, also called non-judicial foreclosure, and is authorized by many states if a power of sale clause is included in the mortgage or if a deed of trust with such a clause was used, instead of an actual mortgage. In some US states, like California and Texas, nearly all so-called mortgages are actually deeds of trust. This process involves the sale of the property by the mortgage holder without court supervision (as elaborated upon below). This process is generally much faster and cheaper than foreclosure by judicial sale. As in judicial sale, the mortgage holder and other lien holders are respectively first and second claimants to the proceeds from the sale.

This arrangement can be a win-win for both the seller and buyer. This is just another vehicle to help a buyer get into the property they want and help the seller achieve their goal of moving some property at a great price!!

This post was originally published on The Dirt Blog.

Kent Morris, ALC, is a Registered Forester and Associate Broker who has experience in fields such as timber appraisals, harvesting, thinnings, and timber sales.

new land agent

New Land Agents: Overcome These Barriers and Get to Work

Overcoming Expertise Barriers

Decide on your specialty – We believe the best foundation for finding your niche is to go with what comes naturally to you and what you have plenty of life experience with. It’s imperative that you have confidence in your ability to market and represent the real estate and the clients you choose to work with.

mentor

Find your mentorFind someone that does what you want to do, really well, and join them. Rural real estate will throw you a new curve on a weekly and, sometimes, even daily basis.  If you can align yourself with a solid team and/or an experienced Broker within your specialty, you’ll remove the majority of the risk factor and frustration for everyone involved just from their experience and willingness to help.  Nothing is more exhausting than having an inexperienced Broker floundering on one side of a land deal that doesn’t know how to troubleshoot, problem solve, and keep everyone moving in a positive direction, causing one side to do most of the work in the best interest of their own clients.

Take Courses – Organizations like RLI provide courses, like those part of their LANDU Education Program, that can give new agents the expertise they need to get started and thrive in the land industry as an agent. Make sure to seek out these opportunities and to continue learning throughout your career.

Overcoming Cost Barriers

Vehicle/Fuel costs – If you choose a niche that you’re already living, chances are you have the appropriate vehicle.  Just clean it up and make it presentable. Again, if you join a team, they may have a company UTV available for showing properties. Fuels costs can be somewhat alleviated by having a plan in place to pre-qualify your buyers as far as their wants and needs and their ability to finance. Don’t waste your time in a truck with someone that doesn’t have the stack to purchase the properties they’re asking to see.

Marketing costs within a team can be shared and the experienced Broker can advise a new agent on what works and what doesn’t saving a lot of unnecessary output. Your team or established Broker will usually have a marketing plan in place with appropriate websites and subscriptions that come with no added cost to their Brokers.

Land real estate allows us to make a living at something we’re made of.  It gives us the ability to spend our work days with people that love the same way of life as we do.  It’s absolutely rewarding and can sometimes be brutally hard. Just be prepared to gather more lifelong friends than you could ever imagine, and be sure you protect and treat every one of them like they’re family.  Submerse yourself in education and always do the right thing and you’ll have an amazing career in land real estate!

Clint Flowers, ALCAbout The Author: Clint Flowers, ALC, is the top producer nationwide at National Land Realty, a member of the REALTORS® Land Institute, their RLI Alabama Chapter, and the Chair of their 2019 Future Leaders Committee. He was the NLR Top Producer Nationwide in 2016, 2017, and 2018. He also won the 2017 APEX National Broker of the Year award for Timberland and was in the 2018 APEX Producers Club.

Lisa JohnsonAbout The Author: Lisa Johnson, ALC, is the Owner/Principal Broker at Horsepower Real Estate. Specializing in Farms, Ranches, and Equestrian Properties in Western Oregon, her and her team of land Brokers are among the top rural agents in the area. Lisa is a member of the RLI Pacific Northwest Chapter, and a 2019 Future Leaders Committee member.

timberland agent

A Day In The Life Of A Timberland Agent

One of the reasons consulting forestry, and now land focused real estate brokerage, has been so appealing to me is that the job is not monotonous. Each day presents new challenges and, while experience helps navigate those challenges, timberland agents are constantly learning and coming across new things. It is hard to describe a typical day because each one is unique. There are certain characteristics that make timberland brokerage a unique specialty.

I worked as consulting forester early in my career before transitioning into land agency. These early experiences prepared me for the more technical aspects of timberland brokerage. Brokers need a strong knowledge to help them allocate value among the component parts of properties. The value in timberland can be thought of as comprising two major components: the underlying or bare land and the timber growing on the land (there may also be improvement value). The agent must be able to quantify the timber portion separately from the bare land in order to form an accurate purchase or selling price.

timberland agent in forest

The first step in this process is accurately describing the timber on the property. This usually starts with a current forest stand map that details the acreages associated with each unique stand. A forest stand is an area of similar species composition and age. We prepare for the initial tract visit with an aerial photograph of the tract, and the first visit involves touring the property to identify the stands and stand boundaries. We then describe those stands in terms of species composition, age, site quality, silvicultural treatments, and any other relevant features. We take this field information back to the office and, using our GIS system, create an accurate and up-to-date stand map with associated acreages.

We then decide if the property requires a full timber inventory (cruise) to accurately value the merchantable timber. Ideally, all merchantable stands of timber will be inventoried prior to a purchase or sell. This gives either the buyer or the seller confidence in the timber value of the asset. If this is not possible, or the party does not want to incur the expense, an experienced forester or broker can provide estimates of the per acre value based on a thorough inspection of the property. Walk through or “ocular” estimates are not as accurate but are significantly lower cost, and may be sufficient depending on the goals of the buyer/seller.

The timber inventory should detail all of the species, forest products, and volumes in each timber category. If the agent is not a forester, they should seek to establish relationships with local consulting foresters in their work area, so that he or she can be engaged to perform timber inventory and appraisal services clients when needed. Pre-merchantable stands, those too young for commercial sale, have value that should be estimated as well. These can be valued if the agent can determine the age, species, and site preparation invested in planted stands or natural stands of timber.

timber forest

Agents specializing in this area of the land business need to have a strong knowledge of timber markets in their work area. They should know the area mills, what products they purchase, how the trees are merchandised (cut up when harvested), and current market pricing of all forest products for the market. In my area of North and South Carolina, I work in five unique timber markets within a 200-mile radius, and the values for the same forest products can vary greatly between each of these markets. If you are going to advise investors on where to purchase land, and help them forecast future timber markets, it is imperative to be networked with consulting foresters, procurement foresters, timber dealers, and mill representatives. These relationships will keep you updated so you can help your clients make good decisions. Armed with a deep understanding of the markets and forest product pricing in the area, a broker can use the timber inventory data to estimate the value of the timber on the property with a reasonable amount of certainty.

Equally important is the ability of the broker to value the underlying land on the timber investment. There are two primary approaches timberland brokers can use to value the land:

  1. Comparable sales. The sales comparison approach is the primary method used for smaller acreages that have less potential for regular (annual) cash flows. The broker should have a strong understanding of recent timberland transactions in their work area with as much detail as possible to estimate the bare land price realized in each sale (the allocation). This allows the agent to make an apples-to-apples comparison of sold tracts to the subject property. Land focused real estate brokers and local rural appraisers can help agents obtain comparable sale information. Professionals are usually willing to share information with other professionals, so be sure you return the favor to those who assist you.
  2. Land Expectation Value (LEV). The Land Expectation Value (LEV) approach involves using discounted cash flow analysis (DCF) to derive the net present value (NPV) of the net income stream produced by a property over time. The LEV approach does require some specific knowledge to complete accurately – primarily a way to project timber growth into the future. Generally, this approach is reserved for larger transactions with many acres and forest stands involved, those likely to generate annual or at least semi-regular cash flows through frequent harvest events. To complete this approach, the analyst will need to understand the client’s investment parameters as well, including likely holding period and required return. Specialized training and knowledge is required to value a property using the LEV approach.

Timberland is a specialty, and this is a very high level overview of the types of task a timberland agent might work on in a given day. The REALTORS Land Institute offers and excellent introductory class, Timberland Real Estate, as part of their LANDU Education Program. I recommend this course as a first step for those who seek expertise in timberland.

Chris Miller, ALCChris Miller, ALC, is a land broker and consulting forester for American Forest Management, Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina.