Marin Association of Realtors – Top 5 2014 Accomplishments and Farewell

Good day MAR members!

Wow, that was fun!

Happy Holidays to all of you! And a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy 4th day of Kwanzaa and Merry Festivus. Everyone got along at our house, I survived and I’m hopeful that all of you did as well. What a beautiful past week we’ve just enjoyed! For me, the happiest thing is that the days are once again getting longer. At our house in Cascade Canyon, this time of year the sun maxes out (minuses out?) at going down around 3:00 behind the ridge. That was a little over a week ago, and we’ve already got about 10 minutes more afternoon sun due to sun angles, slope angles, and other physics phenomena that I don’t totally understand.

As you may have gathered these past 12 months, sun indeed makes me happy! I even learned in college in Utah that on cold winter days you can still sit and be warm in the sun if there is no wind. It’s not particularly productive to try to race home by 2:00 so you can have an hour in the sun, but whatever it takes, right?

And it’s my last Monday memo of the year, and a bit of reflection is in order. Thank you in advance for your indulgence.

My little MAR odyssey started in 2010 when Dick D’Augustino, a Frank Howard Allen colleague, called me to tell me he was retiring and sought me out to replace him on the MAR Local Candidate Recommendation Committee. After thinking about it for a moment or two, I enthusiastically agreed and so it began.

In the summer of 2011, Dave Smadbeck called me and suggested that I consider being on the MAR Board of Directors. After initially opting to pass on the opportunity, I decided it would be an honor to serve.

In the spring of 2013, David saw me at an open house and invited me to attend CAR Legislative Day in Sacramento to witness the work of our statewide association first-hand. I really loved that perspective, and I had the opportunity to get to know some of our other CAR leaders in Kay Moore, Kathy Schlegel and Katie Beacock.

Later in the summer of 2012, Dave again called me, and asked me to consider becoming the President-elect in 2013, which would lead to the Presidency in 2014. That was nearly 2 1/2 years ago, and it’s been a marathon ever since. After wavering initially, I ultimately decided that the extra work would pay off for my career in the long run.

What a run it’s been!

Now it’s my turn to hand the gavel over to MAR’s 2015 President Matt Hughes. Matt and I joined the board at the same time in 2012. Matt is incredibly dedicated, and I know he’s going to have a terrific year as President. Congratulations Matt Hughes!

As the clock has wound down on 2014, reflecting on my year as President has occupied my thoughts through this holiday season.

MAR 2014 TOP 5 LIST

So what did we get done? Well, lots of items were on our radar, but I’ll net it out with the following list:

1. Hiring Andy Fegley as CEO of MAR. We started this process in September of 2013, when our previous CEO Edward Segal moved to Los Angeles to take over the much-larger Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS®. After a long process, we met Andy and offered him the job in late January of this year. His first day at MAR was March 1. Andy has upended the operations of MAR, in a very good way, and his impact on the organization is still unfolding. All processes have been streamlined, and as a result we passed a budget last month that reflects a 6% reduction in operating costs while at the same time having more money allocated to member services next year. We also reformed MAR’s health care benefit plan, with substantial savings. In recognition of the MAR staff’s impact on the organization, Andy and his team were awarded with the MAR Making a Difference award earlier this month. MAR is being run as a business that takes itself seriously.

2. MAR focused on support of local control with planning decisions. This has been the dominant story in the county the last two years, and I saw the light early in 2013 during the Plan Bay Area wars. Before the IJ came out against it, and really before it became fashionable, I introduced a motion early in the summer of 2013 that MAR be opposed to Plan Bay Area because it circumvents local control over planning decisions. The MAR Board of Directors agreed, and it passed unanimously. Thus we began MAR’s policy leadership on this subject, going to numerous community meetings and ultimately testifying before multiple California Assembly and Senate committees in MAR’s successful support of Assemblyman Marc Levine’s AB1537, which passed this summer and lowered the minimum density in Marin from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre for affordable housing projects. MAR also authored a housing policy for the association in 2014.

3. MAR successfully worked with the City of San Rafael to reform its Residential Resale Inspection process. This problem was at a fevered pitch during the first third of this year. Personnel changes in the San Rafael building department resulted in an organization that was completely out of synch with what was reasonable and what they were chartered to do. Again, I give Andy a lot of credit here, as his behind-the-scenes lobbying of the senior officials at San Rafael opened a new way of doing business at MAR. After lots of meetings, and much collective heartache for our entire membership, San Rafael passed a new policy this past summer which has improved the process substantially. I was getting 5+ calls a week on San Rafael in the spring last year, and I’ve not had 5 calls in the last quarter. I’ll call that progress.

4. Re-engaged a dialogue between MAR and BAREIS. No, we’re not holding hands and singing holiday songs together, but it’s difficult to describe or overstate the change in the tone of the conversation between these two organizations. To put it mildly, last year at this time, the organizations were barely speaking. Our prior CEO had been “dis-invited” from attending BAREIS board meetings. MAR’s members’ feedback and occasional cries for help were met with little reciprocation. We started 2014 with our third BAREIS Class B Director in three years, with great concern from previous Directors that our feedback went nowhere.

At the beginning of 2014, I was getting about 5-10 calls a week with feedback on our MLS partner. And none of the feedback was to tell me how great they were doing. Much has changed this year. MAR CEO Andy Fegley has met with and created a two-way dialogue with his staff counterparts at BAREIS. Andy and I attended the BAREIS Strategic Planning session last spring, and we shared a lot of frank feedback with BAREIS. Dave Egan has done a great job as MAR’s new Class B Director on the BAREIS Board, and much of BAREIS’ fine structure has been revamped in our members’ favor. It’s not perfect, as members are still frustrated about getting credit for off-market sales and the ongoing issues regarding the BAREIS exclusion form. But it’s a new era, and the dialogue is much more bi-lateral. My phone has quieted down considerably on MLS matters.

MAR has no direct authority over BAREIS, but I’ve worked to raise the profile of the importance of the upcoming BAREIS Class A Director election. For the first time in a while, we have a contested Marin election, with incumbents Frank Soda and John Hassler up for re-election for their two seats against candidates and MAR Members Brent Thompson and Larry Paul. Ballots for this election will be mailed out early next month, and I strongly encourage MAR Members to pay attention and vote for the two best candidates.

With MAR’s successful effort to get the Palsson injunction repealed last year, for the first time in a generation, Marin brokers control their own destiny as it relates their MLS partnership. This control is slowing reaping improved relations with BAREIS. There is lots of work still to be done, but open and partially responsive communications is a big start.

5. Member communications. We can always do better, but both I and MAR staff have worked hard to keep the membership informed of what we’re working on and what to be thinking about. I’ve tried to respond to every email and phone call…sorry if any fell through the cracks!

2015 AND BEYOND

I’ll let 2015 MAR President Matt Hughes set his agenda and priorities for next year. I’ll still be on the board for one more year, but Matt is your top MAR Warrior starting on Thursday. There is still much work to be done on the various sewer lateral ordinances. Matt is very focused on Member Services, and you’ll see the first fruit of that focus in the soon-to-be launched new MAR website. Matt’s fingerprints are all over that initiative, and many others. You’re in good hands.

So I’ll leave it at that.

It’s been a huge, gigantic, monumental, thrilling honor to serve as your President of MAR this year. I’d like to thank Matt and the rest of the 2014 Executive Committee, Treasurer Arun Burrell, Secretary Yoko Kasai, and Past President Jack Wilkinson (a true MAR warrior, someone who has given so much to the organization for much of the last 30 years). And to the rest of the 2014 MAR Board of Directors, thank you, thank you for your support through this rewarding year.

To the MAR Membership, thank you for giving me this opportunity, and thank you for staying in touch. Your feedback has changed my perspective on various issues, and that feedback is so very important. When something was up, I generally got a finger on the pulse of the Association’s collective thinking very quickly. The membership was curiously consistent in its feedback, whether in support or concern for a subject.

Keep those cards and letters coming to Matt Hughes in 2015. Matt is going to do a great job, and I leave you with a very competent successor. As for me…woo hoo…back to civilian status!!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week, and a super-successful 2015!

Blaine
Blaine Morris
2015 President

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Ross Valley Sanitary Point of Sale Update – A Step by Step Process

Good day MAR members!
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Solstice, and Merry Festivus!
And welcome to the Tuesday, late-edition version of the Monday Memo. We have some new, late-arriving info about the Ross Valley Sanitary District and their “pressure test”, and I also thought you might be a little light on holiday reading material…so here you go…

I feel downright Merry, and it has little to do with the fact that this is my penultimate Monday Memo…#51!

As I write this memo this [yesterday] morning, an old friend is shining down on me at my desk! Where have you been, dear old sun?? It feels like I’ve not seen you since it was 70 degrees on Thanksgiving day. This must be how it feels when the sun comes out in Seattle. They kept teasing us with predictions of the sun this past weekend, but mostly it was teases. This feels for real. I think the word that sums it up best for me is, “Ahhhhhhhhhh”.

I admit it, I’m a SoCal guy. I’m not ideally wired for this. I love my mid-winter sun. The drought, weather-wise, was pretty darn nice for me. As I always say, “If it’s gonna be a drought, you might as well enjoy the weather.” Checking in with MMWD this [yesterday] morning, it appears that we are just a hair under 200% of rainfall for this point in the season. The reservoirs are at 99.95% of capacity. By the time you read this, they will quite possibly be at a full 100%.

A couple of days of sun and whatever hillsides are not yet electric green should be there. Life is good!

ROSS VALLEY SANITARY POINT OF SALE UPDATE

Another round on this one, with new info as late as Monday afternoon…and sorry it’s a long memo this week, but lots to report here on the home stretch. Longest memo ever, I’m embarrassed to say. Your reward will be an unofficial and convoluted step-by-step process at the end of this. Happy holidays.

Last Wednesday night, another rainy night in Marin, was the final Ross Valley Sanitary District Board of Directors meeting of the year. The sewer lateral ordinance was on the agenda, with notice, for the first time since it was passed back in July. I went to a board meeting in October and pleaded with the board to put the matter on the agenda, and blessedly they finally did so two months later…two weeks before the ordinance is to go into effect.

So, on that rainy Wednesday night, while many of you were cozy in your home or out doing some holiday shopping, the fearless MAR trio of myself, CEO Andy Fegley and Treasurer Arun Burrell braved the elements and treated ourselves to a joyous holiday visit at the Central Marin Police Station with our friends from Ross Valley Sanitary. The lone sewer-lateral subject on the agenda was to remove the requirement for the infamous and wasteful “pressure test” from the beginning of the point-of-sale proposed timeline, and instead move it to the end.

The day before the meeting, one of the top agents in the county called me, with the subject being “theory is now meeting reality.” Her assistant called me several days before, asking about the status of the ordinance, and I suggested that they follow the rough outline of it for an upcoming Ross Valley listing. So, with Amesos Plumbing and the seller onsite, they settled in for the point-of-sale process.

The camera went down, and according to the agent, the line didn’t look too bad. The old advice would have been “keep an eye on it”, the same advice with many systems on a not-new house. The plumber said in the old world, or under the Sausalito or Belvedere point-of-sale ordinance, this line would pass. The plumber then told the homeowner that to be compliant, she would need to do a $700 pressure test. And that she would not pass the pressure test. This top agent asked the Amesos plumber how many RVSD-compliant pressure tests he has done? Twelve the plumber answered. How many of those twelve passed the pressure test? None.

Plumbers have been telling me this for the last six months, that none of the laterals would pass the RVSD pressure test. The net of the pressure test is that your Ross Valley sewer line will need to perform in a pressure test just like it did when it was brand new. Again, the pressure test that any lateral greater than 20 years old will need to pass is the same pressure test a brand new lateral needs to pass at the end of the installation permit. Yes, that’s right, your Ross Valley homeowner will need to pass an “as-new” pressure test, or it will need to be repaired or replaced.

So that’s the message our team took to the RVSD Board Meeting last week: I told them that they didn’t pass a point-of-sale ordinance, they passed a mandatory replacement ordinance if your lateral is more than 20 years old. I’m going to say this several times more, just so it will sink in with everyone. I’ve come to realize that the infamous “pressure test” will not be needed most of the time…a complete waste of money. Rather than going to the “pressure test” stage, everyone is just going to have to replace their lateral if it’s more than 20 years old.

But wait, there’s more!

Several weeks ago, MAR received the RVSD draft Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). There were a half-dozen or so questions and answers.

Hidden in the FAQ, and nowhere in the ordinance, is the RVSD requirement that if you share a sewer lateral with a neighbor or neighbors, you will need to disconnect from the shared lateral and run a new line to the sewer main. This is onerous enough, but I asked about shared laterals that go across a neighboring property, with no recorded easement. Perhaps the property was built in 1915, before there were such things as recorded easements? You’re telling me that if the shared line goes across my neighbor’s yard, and under his pool deck, or under his beloved oak tree, and there is no recorded easement, that I have to get the neighbor to grant me permission to dig up his yard, or jackhammer out his pool deck, or cut down his oak tree? What if he says no? I can’t sell my house? I have to hire a lawyer and sue my neighbor? To replace a working albeit shared lateral?

Whoa…

I met with one of the board members before the meeting at his house and shared this story. I also shared that this board member, who has a 25-year-old sewer lateral, will most likely have to replace it when he sells his house. I told him that this ordinance was not just a mandatory inspection, it’s basically a mandatory replacement ordinance. He didn’t disagree.

Yesterday afternoon, MAR CEO Andy Fegley and I met with Greg Norby, the General Manager of RVSD and his staff to go through the latest draft of the still-incomplete FAQ. We again discussed the shared lateral business. They got very quiet, and everyone in the room agreed that it’s a very tough and onerous requirement. They told us that these get ugly at times during the remodel process, which already triggers this requirement. We all agreed that there will be some terrible, horrible, expensive outlier situations. But it’s not going away.

The scenario above with the shared lateral is admittedly an outlier, but it most definitely will come up. Um, excuse me, it’s already come up. Last Thursday, another top agent called me about a Ross Valley property he has in escrow. The sewer line leaves the house, and connects with a neighbor’s lateral before crossing under the street below, and then continues down the hill across two properties below…with no easement across those properties. So now, to make this shared lateral compliant, permission to dig up two neighboring yards needs to be granted. With no easements. This is a many-tens-of-thousands-of-dollars problem.

RVSD told this agent, well don’t worry about it, there’s nothing the other homeowners can do to stop you. What about the lack of an easement, or easements, and what if they don’t cooperate? Well, it will be a “crap shoot” this agent was told at the RVSD desk. That’s nice advice on their new ordinance, isn’t it?

I brought up this scenario to the RVSD board, and there was a collective shrug, and one of the board members reminded me that he shares a private driveway with six other homes, and every twenty years everyone gets together and pays to repave the driveway…”So you’ll just have to work it out with your neighbor.” Forget about the fact that there is a California Civil Code for shared driveways that says in the absence of a maintenance agreement that everyone will share in the cost.

At the end of six very trying months leading MAR in its fight against this ordinance, there is one thing I’ve come to realize, and it’s the cold hard facts (saying it again):

IF YOU ARE GOING TO SELL YOUR HOUSE IN ROSS VALLEY GOING FORWARD, AND YOUR HOME OR SEWER LATERAL IS MORE THAN 20 YEARS OLD, YOU’RE ALMOST CERTAINLY GOING TO HAVE TO REPAIR OR REPLACE YOUR SEWER LATERAL.

Prepare your clients. I asked the district’s chief engineer in the meeting yesterday if he could think of any sewer laterals 20 years or older that would pass a “pressure test”, he paused for a long while, thought out loud, and basically pointed to a few lateral systems from the late 1980s and 1990s that would pass. A few. And I’m confident that there are occasional cast iron systems that are older which will pass.

I asked if there are any terra cotta pipe installations that will pass, and the whole room erupted with a quiet and confident…”NO”

So when we were discussing the FAQ, the RVSD staff conceded that they need to put together a quick FAQ card for the front desk, but it’s so complex that getting it all on there was difficult. I told them, no, it’s quite simple: a 3×5 card that reads: “If you are selling your house in Ross Valley, and your sewer lateral or house is more than 20 years old, you’ve got to replace the pipe.” (3rd time)

Back to the meeting, I asked them for two things: What is the process for inspection, and when will this be on your website.

Honestly, they hadn’t thought about the website. My calls from members usually start with, “Hi Blaine, I went to the RVSD website, but there is nothing there about the ordinance, so can you tell me how it works?” RVSD claims it’s there…but not in one place…and you basically have to do a forensic archeology experiment on the website to find it. I encouraged them to get something up pronto.

And they don’t have a finished process or flowchart of how REALTORS and homeowners are supposed to proceed. I went around the room, and no one could tell me exactly what a homeowner or REALTOR is supposed to do.

So I’m gonna paraphrase it…I’m making this up because they won’t, it’s subject to review and very possibly incorrect, since RVSD doesn’t have the process set up on their ordinance that goes into effect next Thursday.

Anyway, here is the rough outline of the RVSD process starting on January 1:

List property.

Call RVSD and ask them about the property, what they have on record, and most importantly what they know about the material in the lateral itself. As they said, if you’re told it’s terra cotta or a shared lateral, save your client’s money on an inspection, it’s not going to pass, start a replacement plan.

If the property is less than 20 years old, or if there is a record of a permitted replacement of the lateral in the last 20 years, you are deemed compliant. Congratulations.

If 3 above doesn’t apply, you should call a plumber and do a video inspection, no need for RVSD to be there. Actually, RVSD doesn’t want to come out for all these inspections. They know most will fail.

If the line is obviously shot or not going to pass a pressure test, and there is money in the RVSD grant program, arrange for a second visit with one of RVSD’s approved inspectors and with RVSD present and allow them to view the line with you. See the RVSD Grant Program info on their website, click here. There will be an inspection fee with RVSD and of course with your plumber.

Apply for the grant if there is money. The seller can apply for the grant and if approved the buyer can get the money and use toward the repair.

If there is no money in the grant program, there is a good chance that they will have a low-interest loan program set up in the coming months. More on that later.

If the lateral “looks good”, you’re not done. You then need to do a pressure test to make sure it’s “good as new”. The cost for the pressure test is in the $700-$1000 range…probably more if it’s complicated.

Almost certainly [after Monday’s meeting, I edited that from “most likely”], you won’t pass the pressure test, and you’ll have to repair or replace the line and get anotherpressure test at the end of replacement.

The repair does not need to be completed before COE. Both seller and buyer will sign an RVSD document promising that it will get replaced within 60 days of COE. RVSD doesn’t care who pays for that.

I think that’s how it goes.

The upshot of all of this is that, again, it’s not really a point-of-sale inspection, it’s a mandatory replacement ordinance (4th time). I said that over and over to the board. Director Mary Sylla, who MAR endorsed several years ago, told us that, “well, maybe we do have to replace every lateral that’s more than 20 years old if that’s what it takes.” So that’s how they’re thinking.

MAR members, there is the requirement for a “test” in the language of the Cease and Desist order that RVSD is operating under because of all their spills. But not a “pressure test”. We’ve been told that the industry standard for “test” is a “pressure test”…though the only other municipality in the Bay Area to require a “pressure test” is the East Bay Municipal Utilities District…whose whole district lies on one side or the other of the constantly moving Hayward Fault.

When I was meeting with the board member in his house a couple of weeks ago, he basically admitted that none of the directors had read the ordinance before they passed it. And he confirmed that to me in another email this past weekend. He also said that before last Wednesday’s meeting, he didn’t think that any of the directors knew what a pressure test was. And that’s in spite of the 1500 emails MAR members sent to the board.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously on Wednesday night to change the language of when the pressure test is required, but left the rest of the ordinance intact.

I’m looking forward to seeing their revised FAQ, and I’ll forward it to you when I get it.

But I’m afraid that in Ross Valley, if you’re going to sell your house, your seller or your buyer will be replacing the sewer line unless it’s less than 20 years old (5th time lucky). That’s the key takeaway for everyone.

That’s all for now.

With that, I wish you and your family a wonderful and safe holiday season. Be careful out there, and enjoy the sun while it lasts!

Blaine

Blaine Morris
2015 MAR President

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The Marin Association of Realtors 2015 Installation

Good day MAR Members!

I hope everyone made it safely though storm-a-geddon last week. While it didn’t quite live up to the “storm-of-the-century” hype, it was plenty exciting in my neighborhood. Two huge oak trees next door blew down in the wee hours of last Thursday, and three doors down the top of a redwood tree snapped off. One of the oak trees landed on my pool heater! We’ve been slowly cleaning up in between storms.

With all the rain, it sure feels like we’re emerging from the woods as far as our three-year drought is concerned. We’re way above average in both rainfall as well as storage in our reservoirs. Honestly, we were never all that far below average in water storage here in Marin, but it’s nice to be ahead of the program. There is a long way to go in our rain season, however. Two years ago, in 2012, we had a monster December to cap off a strong start to that rainy season. Then, it never rained again once the calendar turned to 2013. So I’m going to hold off on declaring the drought over…but it sure feels like it!

MAR 2015 INSTALLATION

MAR's new President, Matt HughesMAR’s Installation last week was a great time for all! We installed MAR’s 2015 President, Matt Hughes. As I said on Tuesday, I’ve known Matt for a long time, and he will be a terrific president. He has a technology focus, and everything he has been doing has been an effort to enhance member services. He and MAR CEO Andy Fegley have been working feverishly on a new website for the association, and that looks to be ready to roll out in the coming weeks.

This year, MAR assembled a Strategic Planning Committee to define the Association’s focus in the coming years. Since this plan would be rolling out during 2015, I asked Matt to chair the committee. The result is MAR’s updated Strategic Plan, which you can reviewhere. Matt talked about the plan in his installation address, and I expect many components of the plan to be implemented and executed next year.

2014 MAR SPECIAL AWARD WINNERS

Before the installation itself, emcee and MAR member Kevin Patsel handed out some coveted awards, highlighted by MAR Member and 2012 President

David Smadback - MAR Realtor of the YearDavid Smadback winning REALTOR® of the Year. David is a tremendous public servant, and gives of himself throughout our community. David simplycares. Whether it’s manning the Rotary ice cream stand at the county fair or advocating for business community as co-president of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, David is always going the extra mile. It’s been a big year for David; earlier this year, he was awarded the prestigious Spirit of Marin award by Bank of Marin.

In between all of this service, and running the Sleeping Lady restaurant, David gives of himself for his real estate clients. I know firsthand how much David cares, after participating with him in a successful transaction a few years ago. David continues to give back to the REALTOR® community, sitting on the MAR Budget, Government Affairs, and Benefits committees.

Congratulations to David Smadback, MAR’s 2014 REALTOR® of the Year!

A new award this year is the MAR Volunteer of the Year award. It is important to recognize members of our association who give back to the community outside of their real estate practice. This year, MAR members Stephanie Witt and Jane Richmond have worked tirelessly raising funds for a needed renovation at The Redwoods Retirement Community in Mill Valley.

Congratulations to Stephanie Witt and Jane Richmond, MAR’s 2014 and first winners of the MAR Volunteer of the Year award!

Mark Machado - MAR Next Generation AwardMAR’s Mark Machado is the 2014 winner of the MAR Next Generation award. Always active in his community and with his kids’ activities, Mark will be starting a 3-year term on the MAR Board of Directors in 2015. In 2014, Mark served on the MAR Volunteer and Community Service committee. An emerging MAR leader, Mark will be a welcome addition to the leadership team in the coming years. [Photo: L-R Kevin Patsel, Mark Machado] Congratulations to the 2014 MAR Next Generation award winner, Mark Machado!

Steve Stickland MAR Affiliate Member Steven Strickland of JCP Natural Hazard Disclosures had a big year at MAR. Hiscompany’s generous sponsorship of MAR events was welcome, and his tireless efforts coordinating the FEMA Flood Summit in September was one of the high points of the year. Always willing and able to help, MAR is lucky to have partners like Steven.

Congratulations to the 2014 MAR Affiliate of the Year, Steven Strickland!

Finally, MAR Immediate Past President and Special Awards Committee Chairman Jack Wilkinson presented the 2014 MAR Making a Difference award to MAR CEO Andy Fegley and the rest of his team at MAR. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this was a transformational year at MAR, with Andy coming aboard in March. He quickly reshaped the team operationally, and his staff has increased the efficiency of the association on many levels. Long-time MAR staff member Betty Ruth Madsen was singled out by Jack for her teamwork, stability, and knowledge of the organization. We are so lucky to have Betty Ruth! Many of you know Jennifer Abendroth from her years of work at some of Marin’s largest brokerages, and in 2014 she brought all of that accumulated knowledge to her Member Services position at MAR. Jenny has streamlined and automated many of the activities that used to require several people to accomplish, and her positive and can-do attitude has been refreshing. Finally, Richie Cassel came on in September as VP of Operations, and his diligent and steady hand has resulted in operational efficiencies and cost savings throughout the organization.

MAR is fundamentally doing more for our members with less people, and it starts at the top. Please join me in congratulating MAR’s 2014 Making a Difference award winners, CEO Andy Fegley and the MAR staff!

Whew, that’s a lot of big news!

MAR 2015 OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS

Here’s a full list of the MAR Leadership Team, installed by CAR’s Young Professional Network Statewide Chairman Imran Poladi: [R-L] MAR 2015 Officers and Directors

President Matt Hughes;

President-elect Tom Dreyer; Secretary Matt Mac Phee and Treasurer Yoko Kasai; Immediate Past-president Blaine Morris.

 

Blaine Morris and Matt Hughes[2015 President Matt Hughes receives gavel from

2014 President Blaine Morris]

 

 

Installed 2015 Directors are: John Adlam, Sylvia Berry, Jennifer Boesel, Missy Crowe, Margaret Deedy, Kyle Frazier, Jill Hill, Gene Laico, Sharon Luce, Mark Machado and Carolyn Svenson.

Installed 2015 MAR Directors

This is an outstanding team of individuals, who freely give their time and attention to advocate for the best interests of you, our members. Please give them a hearty congratulations and best wishes for the year ahead!

2015 MARIN WOMEN’S COUNCIL OF REALTORS® LEADERSHIP

Marin WCR's 2015 Leadership Team

Finally, the Marin Women’s Council of REALTORS® has installed its leadership team at MAR’s installation the past few years. This year, WCR’s California President-Elect Linda Lee presided over the installation of incoming WCR President John Zeiter. WCR is in great hands with John, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working at MAR for many years. He is smart, conscientious, and effective. Here is the 2015 Marin WCR Leadership team:

President John Zeiter

President-Elect Jason Holmes

Treasurer/Secretary Dana Kreuzberger

Director of Membership Debbie Bernier

Director of Programs Aileen Tong

Congratulations to Marin WCR’s 2015 Leadership Team!

Thank you again to everyone who came out to support these 2014 award winners and the 2015 MAR and WCR Leadership teams.

That’s it for now, stay dry and drive carefully!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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Marin Housing Element and Sewer Lateral Update

Good day MAR members!

Great weekend if you’re a Raiders fan or a Warriors fan! For our 49er friends out there…well…let’s just say the swirling drama is at least entertaining.

At long last I can officially say that Marin is well above average for rainfall. In case you missed it, we bid goodbye to the sun on Thanksgiving day, and it’s not been spotted since. As of last week, our local reservoirs were at 93.5% of “normal” storage as of November 30th. We’ve had about six inches of rain since then, so my sense is that we’re very close to being able to flush our toilets again. I like that.

Also, there is supposedly a “monster” storm headed our way later this week. Lots of rain and lots of wind. We used to get these types of storms with some regularity, but it’s definitely been a few years. We might want to remind our newer members of the community to be prepared as the prediction is for lots of trees and branches coming down.

Now, time for one of the final installments in two of our favorite topics at MAR, housing density and sewer laterals!

MARIN COUNTYWIDE HOUSING ELEMENT

Thank you to MAR member Ted Strodder for bringing an underreported bit of Marin IJ news to my attention last week. If you’re an IJ regular, you know they do cute, little, unscientific polls with some regularity. Topics include “What are you doing for the holiday weekend?”, “Who will win at Dancing With the Stars?”, and “Do you support the giant Turkey at Corte Madera Town Center?”. So take this all with a grain of salt when reviewing the results of last Monday’s poll:

“Does Marin need more high-density housing?”

The results:

Yes: 11%

Some: 6%

No: 83%

The draft Housing Element for Unincorporated Marin is before the Board of Supervisors, as it’s already been approved by the Planning Commission. The Board will be meeting tomorrow, December 9th at 1:30 to review and discuss this document.

Right after and right down the street from tomorrow’s sold-out MAR Installation.

The Marin Housing Wars of 2014 have proven to be much more polite than their 2013 version. There certainly has been an uptick recently, once it became clear that the planning commission is pushing for 419 units in the housing element…well above the Sacramento-mandated 185 units. There is also some question on what exactly a “housing unit” is; I’ve seen comments recently that a studio will count as half a unit, and a 1BR apartment will count as 2/3s of a unit, etc.

In the IJ, there have been daily, dueling op-ed columns from both sides of the argument. There are petitions circulating the county on both sides of the argument. Facebook sponsored ads. The IJ itself weighed in, politely reminding our local leaders in a recent editorial to pay attention to a public that is intent on retaining the vital “Marin-ness” of our county.

And 83% of the IJ poll respondents feel that we don’t need more high-density housing.

Marin does desperately need solutions for workforce and senior housing, but the community has loudly spoken that it wants such projects to be executed in keeping with the current flavor of our communities. MAR strongly supported Assemblyman Marc Levine in his successful effort to lower the mandatory density of affordable housing projects in Marin from 30 to 20 units per acre. MAR also passed a Housing Density Policy, which you can review HERE.

Now it’s up to the Board of Supervisors to execute the will of the people, and pass a housing element that reflects the desires of the broader community.

So keep paying attention through the holidays, MAR members! Check out tomorrow’s meeting. The MAR Board of Directors also voted to support a countywide Fair Housing conference in late January 2015…more on that later.

Many of our members have been involved in this housing density issue, well beyond MAR’s involvement, giving time and support to the conversation. Great work, MAR members!

ROSS VALLEY SEWER LATERAL UPDATE

As of now, and most likely, the Ross Valley Sanitary District will implement its sewer lateral point-of-sale ordinance on January 1st, 2015.

On Thursday, MAR received a draft version of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the ordinance that RVSD is working on. After reviewing that document, I had a longer list of still-unanswered questions, which we’ve forwarded back to RVSD.

The issue of shared laterals played a big part in my unanswered questions. According to current code, shared laterals are no longer allowed. In order to get a Certificate of Compliance, RVSD is of the opinion that any house on a shared lateral will now have to run a new, separate lateral to the sewer main. I quickly came up with about 4-5 questions on that requirement alone. Aside from the onerous cost, there is the issue of the private property rights of neighboring properties…particularly if there is no recorded easement: In order to sell my house, I’ve got to get my neighbor to agree to dig up his or her yard? Really?

So we’re continuing to advocate for our members and property owners on this issue. Make no mistake, RVSD is intent on this implementation. Those of you with January listings will unfortunately be the “beta testers” of this policy.

The good news is that RVSD is planning on holding an open house to meet with the REALTOR community and answer questions on this implementation plan. The bad news is that it is currently scheduled for Thursday evening on December 18th. The Thursday before Christmas is a pretty tough date for anyone, and an evening meeting on sewer laterals is going to be a tough date to put on anyone’s calendar. But that’s what we have for now; we are looking for an alternative venue to move the meeting to the daytime. Stay tuned.

That’s it for now. Be careful out there in the rain and wind, and be nice while doing your holiday shopping!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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Realtor Ethics, MAR Installation Luncheon and Open House Hours

Good day MAR members!

It’s official: Happy Holidays! With a late Thanksgiving this year, it will be a mad dash in the coming weeks as we try to cram five weeks of the holiday season into a little over four weeks. I myself tried to get a little extra exercise this past weekend, but mother nature got in the way with this pesky weather. We certainly need the rain, so no complaints here. My lawn is green again, which probably makes my neighbors happy.

I texted one of my clients who bought a house this year that happens to be in a flood zone: make sure your sump pump is working! When he asked why, I told him it was supposed to rain Marin-style this week. While it’s been a slow and steady rain so far, the internets are telling me that big things might be in store for us mid-week. So clean those gutters, test the sump pumps and clear the drains.

We have this nice Maui-like rain flow…no cold. The last few years, it’s been downright frigid this time of year, with temps regularly getting down into the 20s every morning at my house. This year, there has only been one morning in the 30s, and at 39 degrees it’s a far cry from the dry, cold winters we’ve been having. Personally, I don’t care if it freezes once this winter, but a nice cold snap would get rid of the flies, which seem much more numerous this year. When breaking down and purchasing a fly swatter a couple of weeks back, the woman at Fairfax Hardware told my wife that there has been a crazy run on fly swatters this year…worst ever. She theorized it was because of everyone’s fashionable backyard chickens…

LAST CALL FOR MAR INSTALLATION LUNCHEON

There are still spots left for next Tuesday’s MAR Installation Luncheon. Come join in on the fun as we install MAR’s 2015 President Matt Hughes and the rest of his leadership team. You’re in for a treat with Imran Poladi as the installing officer and MAR member Kevin Patsel as our Master of Ceremonies. Imran is always inspiring, as a super successful REALTOR® and a young man who has battled cancer and come out on the winning end. MAR will also be presenting the 2014 awards, including the coveted REALTOR® of the Year, and the Marin Women’s Council of REALTORS® will be installing WCR 2015 President John Zeiter and his leadership team. You can click HERE to register.

BROKERS’ OPEN HOUSE HOURS UPDATE

Last week, I wrote again about the hours throughout Marin on brokers’ open houses, and encouraged all of you to keep your houses open the first week for the full scheduled time of the tour. Just as last time, a bunch of you reached out to thank me for bringing up the issue, particularly that of the increasingly popular and ever-annoying 11-1 brokers’ tour during the first week of a listing.

Thank you also to MAR Board Member Sylvia Berry for bringing to my attention the revised hours of the Novato Tour. Apparently, our Novato members recently voted to change the hours of the Novato tour to 10 AM-1 PM, which moves the previous start and finish back 30 minutes.

Thanks again to everyone for your feedback on this issue!

REALTOR® ETHICS

Last year, MAR’s 2013 President Jack Wilkinson talked a lot about Realtor ethics. Jack is very proud of his Realtor pin, and takes the increased responsibility of being a Realtor very seriously. Without a Realtor designation, you’re simply a licensee…someone who has to obey the law but who can shrug off the added responsibility that the Realtor Code of Ethics brings.

2013 was the year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Realtor Code of Ethics. Be proud of your Code of Ethics. It differentiates us from the other licensees who have the freedom to run a “looser” business model. There is accountability, and consequences for bad behavior. MAR runs a Grievance Committee and a Professional Standards committee under the leadership of our Professional Standards Administrator Linda Bianchi. If you have a beef with someone, there is a forum and a process to get that issue heard and resolved within the constructs of the Realtor Code of Ethics. This includes members of the public: they too can have any grievance addressed.

By and large, the members of the Marin Association of Realtors are a pretty darned ethical group. When I go away to CAR, I hear stories of questionable behavior that I honestly don’t hear about here. Ethical lapses do occur, however. Earlier this year, I learned that an agent who had clients in backup position on one of my listings went into escrow on another property two days later with those same clients and remained in backup position on my listing for two more weeks. No harm was ultimately done, as the primary buyers purchased the house, but this was bad behavior to say the least.

It’s good every once in a while to review what we stand for. The Realtor Code of Ethics is also a long list, an 8-page pdf that deals with the added responsibility of being a Realtor. As we reflect on our year and plan for 2015, take a minute and review the Realtor Code of Ethics. You can read it here, and I’d describe it as a good use of your time.

That’s it for now. I hope to see you at next week’s MAR Installation!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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Housing Element Update, Broker’s Open House Times & MAR Installation Luncheon

Good day MAR Members!

Rain, Rain, go away…

No, dear rain, it’s actually ok to stay for a while.

Personally, I like the rain. But in general, I tend to like the sun a little better. We’re climbing back towards the black on year-to-date rain totals. This morning at the rain gauge for MMWD, which is at Lake Lagunitas, as of today we’re at 6.01″ against a ‘normal’ amount of 8.02″. That’s about 75% of normal. Last year we were at 2.62″ at this point, 32% of normal, and it took us until early February to where we are right now. It sounds like clear sunny sailing through the Thanksgiving holiday, and then more rain on tap for next weekend.

Perhaps by the time I write again we will be near a ‘normal’ level for the year-to-date, which MMWD starts counting on July 1. The only time we’ve been anywhere near ‘normal’ over the past three years or so has been the first days of the year when the normal is ‘zero’. Zero was pretty normal.

It is nice to see the hills turning green right in time for Thanksgiving. Another ‘normal’ event that has been absent the past few years. There are even some creeks starting to flow. But while it rained over an inch at Lake Lagunitas on Friday night and Saturday morning, the ground barely even got wet up in Calistoga where we spent part of the weekend. They’re only at 42% of normal in Santa Rosa, which is another good example of the extraordinary water source that Mt. Tam provides. But Mt. Tam water only goes so far and we get much of our water from the Russian River in Sonoma. So until we get the green light, let’s keep conserving our water MAR Members, and encourage our friends, family and clients to do the same.

MMWD ROSS VALLEY ELECTION RESULTS

Speaking of our water supply, the ballot counting appears to have drawn to a close from the election earlier this month. One of the more interesting races in Marin was between MMWD appointed incumbent Lisa Crosse and Fairfax Vice Mayor Larry Bragman for the Ross Valley seat on the Marin Water Board. With virtually all the votes counted, Bragman extended his lead and appears to have won with 51.6% of the votes.

Part of the election hinged on the question of using herbicides on the Mt. Tam watershed to control invasive and hard-to-control weeds like Scotch broom. While Crosse was open to continuing to explore the notion of using herbicides, Bragman’s position was ‘never’.

The other issue in the water board race related to our local water supply. Crosse was open to exploring a pipeline across the Richmond Bridge to tap state water supplies. Bragman was against this as well, contending (1) that we need to live within our water means here in Marin, and (2) that in dry years the flow of water could quite possibly flow the other way…from Marin to the East Bay. Remember, in spite of our local drought, Marin is doing far better than most of the state, and pipelines flow both ways.

MARIN COUNTY HOUSING ELEMENT, LATE 2014 UPDATE

In the weeks leading up to the election, one of our prominent local newspaper columnists privately predicted Bragman’s victory over Crosse, noting that it might be partly affected by the housing debate at the Marin Board of Supervisors, for whom Ms. Crosse works as an aide to one of the Supervisors. I don’t know about that, but I sure did see a lot of Bragman signs when I was in Kent Woodlands showing property before the election. You don’t usually see signs for Fairfax council members in Kent Woodlands…

As the days to the election were winding down, the Marin County Planning Commission was putting the finishing touches on the newest version of its housing element. Last Monday, the Planning Commission voted to approve a housing element with up to 419 dwellings. That’s down from the original number of 502, but still well above the minimum of 185 units mandated by California state regulations.

The process has been largely transparent, with regular items in the local papers. I’ve heard about it from MAR members and members of the public, but the outcry has been much quieter than the Plan Bay Area wars of the summer of 2013.

The housing element now goes before the Board of Supervisors, who coincidentally will be hearing a report tomorrow (Tuesday) from local economist Robert Eyler of the Marin Economic Forum about the economic impact of the Marinwood Plaza project. That project, along with the WinCup development in Corte Madera, has been ground zero on the housing element debate. As has been the case throughout this debate, my understanding is that Eyler’s report will identify plusses and minuses of the project. Incoming Supervisor Damon Connolly has said that “the best answers to guide this development come from the community.”

Strike one more for Marin advocating for local control. This will continue to be interesting as it unfolds.

BROKER’S OPEN HOUSE TIMES

Earlier this year, I took the lead from several MAR members and reminded all of us about Wednesday and Thursday broker’s open times. There was a large and unanimous “thank you” from the members in my email inbox, and to me directly when I saw you. Several of you have asked and I think it bears mentioning again.

Years ago, there was a blue ribbon panel assembled at MAR to look at this very subject: conforming broker’s open times to increase the productivity of everyone. Many members of that task force thanked me for bringing up the subject again.

To summarize, what the panel came up with is as follows:

Novato: Wednesday morning, 9:30 AM-12:30 PM.

Southern Marin: Wednesday 10:30 AM-2:00 PM

Central Marin: Thursday 10:30 AM-2:00 PM

This arrangement seems to have largely worked for many years. Having said that, I continue to see the abbreviated broker tour. The most common deviation from the schedule above seems to be quitting at 1:00. The 11-1 broker’s open is a very popular option.

To which I say: it’s not all about you, Mr./Ms. Broker’s Open host.   Broker’s open attendees have schedules and lives too. Sometimes there are inspections and they can’t get out until noon…or whatever.

Members often have to make hard decisions at 12:30 about which open house to cross off the list to make it to the important one that ends at 1:00. Or having to drive across the county to make one before it closes. It’s not as tough now that we’re in the quiet season of the Holidays, but I assure you that once the Super Bowl is over and we’re heading into the busy season it will become troublesome again.

So, please, try to stay open until 2:00 the first week. And a special thank you to those of you who have been staying open until 2:30 for your outlying and hilltop broker’s open houses.

As we gather with friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s remember how blessed we are here living and working in beautiful Marin. If you’re traveling, be safe! And thank you MAR, for the opportunity to serve as your President this year.

MAR INSTALLATION LUNCHEON

Another reminder before we enter the busy Holiday Season about MAR’s annual Installation Luncheon onTuesday, December 9th. We will be installing Matt Hughes as our 2015 MAR President, along with the rest of his leadership team. CAR rising star Imran Polodi will be officiating the installation, and he is always a super interesting speaker as the Chairman of CAR’s Young Professionals Network forum. Plus we will have MAR Member Kevin Patsel as the Master of Ceremonies. Marin’s Women’s Council of Realtors will also be joining with us and installing MAR Member John Zeiter as its 2015 Marin WCR President.

Click HERE to register, and please help us spread the word about this terrific event.

Sign up HERE for December 9th Holiday Party.

 

That’s it for now!  Happy Turkey Day.  Gobble Gobble!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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Ross Valley Sewer Lateral Update, Upcoming MAR Installation Luncheon and San Rafael Coffee and Codes Meeting

Good day MAR Members!

One of my goals for this week’s memo was to not talk about the weather or what I did this weekend. Well, my bad:

What a great weekend! I can’t believe that after nearly 21 years in Marin I just discovered the Big Rock Ridge trail above Lucas Valley. It’s newer-ish, having opened in 2003 after a donation by George Lucas, and as such it was not in several trail guidebooks that I use. Reached by parking at Big Rock, it’s a gentle yet constant climb on the south-facing slope of Big Rock Ridge, and it’s open for both hikers and bikers. Unlike our bustling trails in Ross Valley and Southern Marin, this trail was nearly deserted despite a nearly 70-degree Saturday mid-day. Views to forever, and a very cool glimpse right down over Mr. Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch. Gracie and I had a great walk, before we had to leave her behind to head down to Palo Alto for the big game between Stanford and Utah. OK, it wasn’t THE Big Game, but big nonetheless for me and some friends from school. I won’t gloat, as it was a pretty snoozy game right up until the thrilling double-overtime finish…another win for UTAH.

Thank you, again, for indulging me. Now, a few housekeeping items before the latest Ross Valley Sewer Lateral update.

MAR INSTALLATION LUNCHEON

Another reminder before we enter the busy Holiday Season about MAR’s annual Installation Luncheon on Tuesday, December 9th. We will be installing Matt Hughes as our 2015 MAR President, along with the rest of his leadership team. CAR rising star Imran Polodi will be officiating the installation, and he is always a super interesting speaker as the Chairman of CAR’s Young Professionals Network forum. Plus we will have MAR Member Kevin Patsel as the Master of Ceremonies. Marin’s Women’s Council of Realtors will also be joining with us and installing MAR Member John Zeiter as its 2015 Marin WCR President. Click HERE to register, and please help us spread the word about this terrific event.

WCR ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR CELEBRATION

Speaking of Women’s Council, please join me in congratulating MAR member Katie Beacock for winning this year’s award for WCR Entrepreneur of the Year. An Evening Soiree in her honor will be held this Wednesday evening at McInnis Park from 5:30-7:30 PM. Katie is Past President of MAR, and she is 2014’s Region 4 Chairwoman for the California Association of REALTORS®. A true Marinite, she has served our community tirelessly for many years, and this award is richly deserved! Katie is also one of my go-to spiritual advisors on all things MAR and CAR-related. Her advice is always spot-on, and I encourage all of you to take advantage of her experience and leadership when trying to solve a challenge or seize an opportunity. There is still time to secure your spot by clickingHERE, and I believe walk-ups will be welcomed as well. It should be a great night!

BAREIS CLASS A DIRECTOR NOMINATIONS DUE TODAY!

One final reminder to BAREIS Class A Members that nominations for 2015 Class A Directors are due TODAY by 5:00 PM. If you’re a BAREIS Class A Member, a letter was mailed to you on October 10 outlining the nominating process. Again, neither I nor MAR have any authority at BAREIS, but the Class A Members do have the ability to participate in the nominating process for Marin’s two Class A Directors. MAR encourages you to take advantage of this opportunity to participate in the leadership nominating process at BAREIS.

ROSS VALLEY SEWER LATERAL POINT OF SALE UPDATE

Thank you again to the quarter of our membership who participated in the Call to Action to inform the Board of Directors of Ross Valley Sanitary District earlier this month. The agency has heard MAR’s message, and on Friday RVSD General Manager Greg Norby alerted MAR CEO Andy Fegley that the infamous, mandatory, expensive and frivolous pressure test requirement has been modified substantially. All of us couldn’t understand why this test…which RVSD openly expects 85-90% of the houses to fail…was being mandated by the agency before any other inspection or test was to occur.

In a modest victory for MAR, the pressure test has been moved to the end of the process instead. As I understand it, now RVSD will require a video inspection consistent with other agencies. If that inspection concludes that the lateral needs replacement, a process will be in place to oversee the replacement of that line. A pressure test will now be the LAST step. If the video inspection determines that the line looks good, a pressure test WILL be required to confirm that the line is in good shape. In addition, a pressure test will be required to confirm that work to replace any sewer lateral was correctly performed.

This all needs to be voted into policy by the RVSD board, by the way, at its December meeting.

So there still will be a pressure test requirement at the end. But for the estimated 85-90% of the lines that will fail such a test, we’ve eliminated the frivolous pressure test at the beginning of the process. Thus, we will save the homeowners of Ross Valley $500k per year in frivolous tests.

I still don’t like it, and I still expect this process to be cumbersome, expensive and time consuming. In the absence of hard data, however, MAR is going to work with RVSD to streamline the process and educate our membership on this ordinance’s implementation…however flawed it still may be.

I know many of you are seeking specifics on the choreography of this process. Specifics are still lacking, but my expectation is that in the coming weeks the specific implementation policy will be defined by RVSD. Thank you for your patience.

MAR and RVSD will be hosting a session in December to educate the membership and community on RVSD’s plan for implementation. Details and registration info will be forthcoming. Sorry in advance for the meeting over the Holidays.

CITY OF SAN RAFAEL COFFEE AND CODES MEETING IN JANUARY

Earlier this year, MAR was successful in working with the City of San Rafael on a new policy regarding its resale inspection guidelines. While this reform has been mostly successful, I’ve spoken at length with many of you who still are experiencing substantial challenges working with the City, mostly securing compliance on past unpermitted work.

To San Rafael’s credit, Paul Jensen, the Director of Community Development, has reached out to both myself and MAR CEO Fegley to see how things are going. We are planning for a follow up meeting before the Holidays, with an Association-wide meeting to be scheduled in January to put the City together with MAR’s membership to hear feedback and clarify its policy.

For those of you who have not reviewed the San Rafael Resale Inspection reform policy, you can review the document HERE.

MAR has just embarked on a similar effort with the City of Novato, and we are working to schedule our first meeting.

That’s it for now!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris

2014 President

Posted in Marin Association of Realtors, Marin Community News, Marin Real Estate News, Regulations, Ross Valley Sanitary | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Upcoming “Call for Action” on RSVD Sewer Lateral Point of Sale Pressure Test

Good day MAR Members!

I hope you all had a fun Halloween. Congratulations to our 2014 World Champion San Francisco Giants! What a series, what a week! MadBum fever all around. Now that the season and the parade is over, we can get back to the business of Marin Real Estate. I’m personally wondering what to do with all the “found time” I now won’t be scheduling my life around Giants viewing plans.

RVSD SEWER LATERAL POINT-OF-SALE UPDATE AND CALL TO ACTION

We continue to work to help the Ross Valley Sanitary District (RVSD) understand some of the issues that the REALTOR community has with its soon-to-be-rolled-out sewer lateral ordinance. It is currently scheduled to go into effect on January 1, which is less than two months away. In practice, the ordinance will have many similarities to the already-existing ordinances in Sausalito and Belvedere.

One big difference, and one that MAR has been opposing since the very first day we saw the ordinance, is the requirement for a “pressure test” on every sewer line, even before a camera goes down. Ross Valley Sanitary’s own engineers estimate that between 85-90% of the laterals will fail this pressure test. Several plumbers I’ve spoken with said every inspection would fail. If you fail the pressure test, the next step is a camera inspection…like we do now.

Why can’t we just have everyone do the camera inspection first? The reason the pressure test is so cumbersome is because the whole line needs to be “plugged”, including cleanouts…and buried cleanouts. How many times do you learn of a buried cleanout in the yard somewhere? Well, now, those will have to be “unburied” and plugged.

I’m also not sure why, in the middle of a drought, we will be wasting thousands and thousands of gallons of water on these tests.

The net is that this will go from a 30-minute meeting for the camera inspection to a 2-3 hour meeting for the pressure test. The best guess of cost I’m getting for these pressure tests is $600-1000. At 600+ sales per year in Ross Valley, this will cost the community $500,000 +/- to do these pressure tests…every year…

Money that could be spent fixing pipes. Think about it, after 4 years, ratepayers and citizens of the Ross Valley will have spent $2 million dollars on a frivolous test. How many thousands of feet of sewer line could that $2 million go towards? It’s a horrible waste of the public’s money.

I went and shared this rationale and math last month at the RVSD Board meeting. I got 3 minutes of “public time” to get through this. I suggested to them that we wanted to have some time at the next meeting on the agenda so we could all discuss this.

They did not put us on the agenda for the next meeting.

Remember, when the Board of Directors of Ross Valley Sanitary District originally passed this ordinance, they did not seek MAR’s input, nor the public’s input. They quietly put it on the agenda for the next meeting on a Friday, and voted on the ordinance the following Wednesday with zero input from stakeholders and the public.

We’ve been working with them ever since, to improve the ordinance. To its credit, RVSD has made some modifications to its ordinance based upon MAR’s recommendations. But they’ve steadfastly held on to this pressure test, and it’s pretty clear that they want to keep it. At least the staff does; I’m pretty sure the Board doesn’t really know what this whole pressure test business is all about.

So MAR is going to ask you, our members, to join the fight against this frivolous pressure test. MAR supports fixing our aging sewer infrastructure in a responsible manner. RVSD needs to do the same by being a good steward of the public’s money and remove the pressure test.

Tomorrow, MAR will be sending you a “call for action” to kick this off. It will be a simple “click here” type of email campaign to all the RVSD Board members.

I will keep you informed of the status of this effort. Thank you in advance for your participation in this very important campaign.

2014 GENERAL ELECTION

One of the most important responsibilities you have as a citizen and as a REALTOR is to go vote tomorrow, if you haven’t already. MAR and CAR have endorsed the following candidates and positions on Statewide and Countywide measures:

  • US Congress
    • Jared Huffman
  • State Assembly
    • Marc Levine
  • State Senate
    • Mike McGuire
  • Marin Hospital Board
    • Dr. Larry Bedard
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October CAR Conference AND Expo Wrap-Up

Good day MAR Members!

Let’s Go Giants! Let’s Go Giants!

It’s hard to believe that this will all be over soon…hopefully with a big parade on Market Street. The Giants’ amazing run continues, and as far as I can tell many of you MAR Members have been at the World Series games…at least that’s what Facebook is telling me. MAR Member Robert Bradley was even mis-identified as the “Marlin Guy” on TV…nice suit, Rob!

Also this weekend, I’ve got to give another shout out to the Utah Utes football team, with a rousing come-from-behind win over USC with 6 seconds remaining. My USC Trojan wife Heather was not as amused, but the four member MAR/Utah cheering section is very pleased this week. All four of us.

OCTOBER CAR CONFERENCE AND EXPO WRAP-UP

This week it’s a short recap on the last of the CAR stuff. First of all, after all of my reporting the past couple of weeks about the Millennials and their delayed home buying patterns, CAR issued a press release and published a Webinar about this generation and their attitudes about homeownership. The highlight seems to be that this generation still believes in homeownership, with 54% rating homeownership as an “8” or higher on a 1-10 scale about the importance of homeownership.

But enough with the Millennials, already!

As always, one of the highlights of the conference is CAR Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young’s forecast for the coming year. I shared a couple of the most important highlights a couple of weeks ago, which is that CAR expects total home sales to increase by 5.8% in 2015, and also that the median price is projected to increase by 5.2 % in 2015.

The whole presentation is finally available online here, and it’s worth a quick review…well, as quick as you can review a 128 slide PowerPoint presentation. All of your economic questions should be answered here!

Since we are at the end of a 2-year legislative cycle, the most recent round of advocacy for our members has concluded in Sacramento. Much of what we worked on were a list of priorities for 2015 and beyond. Here are some of the highlights:

-The CAR Board of Directors voted to adopt a “FOR” position on California Proposition 1 on the November ballot, which is the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2014. All other state ballot initiatives were deemed “Not Real Estate Related”.

-The “Split Roll” Task force released its report and recommendations. “Split Roll” refers to Proposition 13, and the question of whether residential and commercial property tax rules be “split” and taxed with different policies. The Task Force recommended the following:

1. That CAR continue to oppose measures that would impose a split roll property tax system. To that end, a “tool box” should be established on CAR’s website with information with which to combat attempts at the local level to establish a statewide split roll.

2. That CAR support measures that provide that when there is a substantial change in ownership interests if (a) real property or (b) a company owning real property that the property be reassessed.

The CAR Board of Directors voted to adopt these two policies.

-The Taxation and Government Finance Committee had the following action item:

That CAR “SPONSOR” legislation requiring that all property owners be notified when a proposed parcel tax is going to be voted on.

The genesis of this position is based upon the fact that if you’re an out-of-town owner and thus don’t vote in a particular area, currently you often do not know if a parcel tax is on the ballot. You deserve to know. The CAR Board of Directors voted to adopt this position.

We voted on lots of other things like starting working groups about various issues, plus a number of broker compliance items, but I’ll categorize those as “inside baseball” with real action items to come in the future.

Other odds and ends from CAR:

-In an economic session I attended, Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics was asked if the current real estate “run” was over? His answer, notwithstanding that sales were down in 2014, was that he sees a “whole new wave” of buyers and sales. Mortgage financing is expected to be made more available and accessible to potential buyers in the coming years, and those people will buy homes. The iron fist of mortgage lending is expected to loosen up.

-In this same session, both Thornberg and Richard Green, Professor and Director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, agreed that our much-loved Proposition 13 both keeps home prices higher and also makes it harder to move. People with a low property tax base are reluctant to move and give that up. I can relate to that, having bought my house in 1996…moving to a house that is the same price today would result in a 150% increase in my property taxes. I’m hardly alone, and people like me who don’t want to move constrain the supply of homes on the market. When you combine this with the fact that most everyone has refinanced into a super-low-rate 30-year mortgage, it’s understandable why we have constrained supply.

-Baby boomers are also delaying retirement, partially because their interest rates are so low why would they sell and downsize into something with a higher rate?

-Everyone throughout the week expected the current low interest rates to be around for a while to come. They may go up a bit, but no quantum leaps are expected.

-Thornberg also expects more and more banks to hold mortgages rather than sell to Fannie and Freddie: “Where there is a profit there is a way.”

-No one sees a return to sub-prime lending practices like we saw in the middle of the last decade. Green had previously been in favor of those policies to increase accessibility of loans, but everyone got bitten last time and thus there is no will for that type of financing…regardless of how much money there might be.

-Finally, in a breath of fresh air that hopefully our legislators in Sacramento will adopt (not likely): The CAR Affordable Housing Task Force determined that any policy on this subject is “not a project that can be implemented at a state level.” Affordable housing challenges and policies are different throughout the state, and need to be addressed at a local level. So chalk one up for CAR supporting local control. Hopefully we can get that message across in Sacramento that one-size-fits-all housing policy is simply not practical in California.

I think that’s enough for this week, and with that I’ll close the book on the 2014 Fall C.A.R. Business meetings. Next week, back to local stuff!

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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Get to Know the Millennial Buyers and the CAR Panel Discussion on the Portal Wars

Good day MAR members!

Let’s Go Giants! Let’s Go Giants! Giants fever is so all-encompassing that when Heather and I attended a concert in the City on Friday night, midway through the concert during some banter by the band the whole Masonic Auditorium joined in a “Let’s Go Giants!” chat for about 30 seconds. It’s another amazing time to be a Giants fan!

Between biking, hiking, kids’ games and the ever-present backdrop of “Let’s Go Giants!”, we’re all enjoying another beautiful Indian Summer here in Marin. Looking at people bundled up in other parts of the country, I’m reminded how blessed we are to live and work here in Marin. Keep your Orange and Black Giants gear handy, and let’s settle into another terrific week of beautiful warm days and evenings of World Series baseball. Come to think of it, I’ll try to get some Kansas City BBQ on the grill this week too.

MORE FROM C.A.R. AND THE MILLENNIALS

Thank you for all your positive comments on last week’s Monday Memo. Lots of you were very happy to hear how much your Millennial children love their parents! I’ll touch on a few more random items on our new first-time-homebuyer generation:

-This is the first generation that you will have to “adapt” to. Otherwise you’ll be out of business down the road.

-We probably all know this, but they make decisions based upon recommendations from friends, and nothing remains “cutting edge” for long.

-From East Bay Gen-Y Sothebys broker Andrew Greenwell, who is a Millennial himself, 5 Rules for Communicating with Gen-Y:

Tell them to read the whole email…otherwise they just read the subject line

“The Pointier the Bullet the Better”…meaning, net out your bullet points for an easily distracted generation.

NEVER put critical instructions at the end of the email…Millennials won’t read it.

Group communication is important…why have a meeting or phone call when you can solve the world’s problems with a group email or text?

MOST IMPORTANT: Millennials don’t like phone calls. He seriously said that people of his generation find a phone call to be an invasion of privacy. Seriously.

Andrew also said that Millennials don’t have a “personal life” and a “work life”…just “one life”. He encouraged us to be transparent, because Millennials can sniff through a lack of transparency, it’s in their DNA. Also, because they love their parents so much, it’s very important to engage and appeal to “Mom and Dad” with a Millennial client…Mom and Dad will be involved every day.

Finally…Andrew suggested that we “Focus on their future, not your past…make me understand why this is important to me right now.” And: “Millennials wonder where YOU will fit into their life story.”

I couldn’t get over the feeling of a self-indulgent generation, but we need to get over that as they are the most important generation for our industry right now. C.A.R. is correctly dead-set on understanding and accommodating this important group of young buyers.

THE PORTAL WARS

At C.A.R., we collectively spent a LOT of time talking about Zillow/Trulia “Zulia” and Move/Realtor.com. The Strategic Planning Forum on Friday was a packed panel discussion with Zillow, Trulia, Move/Realtor.com…and one old-school broker for levity sake.

Prior to the panel discussion, at Wednesday’s Member/Director Forum, C.A.R. CEO Joel Singer had some comments about Zillow in general as a primer for Friday’s panel discussion:

-Zillow is now the market “opinion leader”

-Zillow claims 80 million unique users, if you can believe that.

-Zillow’s market cap is $4.3B. While staggering, this number is way down from the $7B they had right after the Trulia acquisition, and their market cap has been steadily dropping since the acquisition.

-Zillow needs to “get some profits” to justify this huge market cap.

-News Corp just acquired Move.com/Realtor.com. Joel compared Zillow’s $4.3B market cap with News Corp’s $73B market cap, and rhetorically asked which one has the bigger war chest going forward.

-The consumer has better info than we do. He showed some slides of Zillow/RedFin/Truila listing pages, and compared that data with what we see in our MLS. It was pretty comical.

But the Friday panel was the most illuminating. Zillow sent Curt Beardsley, their VP of Industry Development. Trulia sent Alon Chaver, its VP of Insustry Services. Realtor.com sent Russ Cofano, SVP of Industry Relations. And the old-school broker I mentioned was Tom Kuntz, VP of North America of brokerage Engel and Volkers.

I had heard the three portal guys several times earlier this year at various panel discussions at CAR, NAR and the Inman conference. My main takeaway was the same as it was earlier: they don’t want to share much. Yet, we keep packing these forums, looking for magic nuggets of info to glean.

Beardsley of Zillow said that Zillow’s focus has always been and will be on the consumer. He said they are an advertising-based media company. And he said that 50% of the interaction with Zillow is now via mobile.

Cofano of Realtor.com described its philosophy and mission as being “aligned with Realtors”. He identified that “there are a lot more online leads than buyers.” So true. Realtor.com does not believe in putting up valuations, and they also don’t believe in putting FSBO listings right next to your listings.

Chaver described Trulia as “being similar to Realtor.com”. No valuations (at least not anymore…probably thanks to Zillow buying them); No FSBOs. He claimed a Realtor-friendly approach, and proclaimed “we’ve transformed the customer experience and expectations over the past 8 years.”

Kuntz the broker was resigned to the changing environment of customer access to data. He correctly talked of the disconnect that “our industry has not yet delved into Big Data” like the Big 3 portals have. They know an awful lot about our customers. He also worries that “Realtor value is being replaced by Big Data.”

Then the banter began.

Beardsley said that Zillow is “central to the consumer” by adding in Big Data. Consumers typically search online for 12 weeks before they reach out to a real estate professional. We as an industry are not engaged yet at that time and the Big 3 are. People want a “general idea of values” during those 12 weeks, they don’t want to talk to a Realtor yet, and Zillow is addressing those needs with listings and Zestimates.

Cofano of Realtor.com then produced the zinger of the forum: Over the past 5-6 years, the number of licensed agents nationwide has stayed relatively static at 1M agents. Nationwide sales have stayed relatively static at 5M sales. But the number of online leads has zoomed up like a hockey stick. Monumental growth of online leads. Why so many more leads if the sales are remaining the same? What is the definition of an “online lead?” He said all that those leads are doing is creating more work for everyone.

And on it went, with everyone’s opinion about the general state of “online leads”. Joel Singer of CAR, who was moderating, asked the panel “Are leads becoming more valuable?” Beardsley of Zillow acknowledged the “huge growth of online leads”, but stuck with his contention that Zillow is a media company: “We don’t sell leads, we sell opportunities for you to be in front of your customers.”

Cofano of Realtor.com came back again with “leads are becoming less valuable”, and “leads cost the same whether they’re really good or crap”. He directly asked Beardsly of Zillow whether “online leads are becoming less valuable?” Beardsly stammered for a minute or two and didn’t answer the question. Cofano asked him again, and Beardsly finally relented that “yes, online leads are becoming less valuable” and that they need to fix that problem.

At that point, MAR President-Elect Matt Hughes, who was sitting across the room, summed it up best for me via a text he sent: “They are not creating leads. They are creating contact info of window shoppers.”

Amen to that.

The wise sage of the meeting, broker Tom Kuntz, told us that someone with way more money than Zillow is going to come in and change the playing field again in a way that we don’t know about yet. He talked about Napster and online music being a cute little unprofitable business until Apple and iTunes stepped in and effectively monetized it. Someone big, who we haven’t even thought of yet, will come in and make Zillow obsolete.

I’m not sure about that yet, but this sure is a fascinating conversation.

That’s it for now, next week I’ll share some of the action items we voted on at the CAR Board of Directors meetings.

I wish you a safe and prosperous week.

Blaine Morris

2014 President

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