Realtors Meet with State Legislators

 

Lance Evans

Last month I wrote about our meetings with our United States senators and congresswoman in mid-May. Several days after returning, a number of area Realtors and other interested parties went to Albany to meet with our state representatives on May 23 about several state-specific issues of interest to area homeowners. This was part of the New York State Association of Realtors’ annual Lobby Day. Over 250 Realtors from around the state participated.

    The Tri-County area was represented by Linda and Pat Fields (Linda J. Fields Broker and Professional Institute for Real Estate Training), Lisa L’Huillier (Hefferon Real Estate), Karen Peebles (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CNY Realty), Chuck Ruggiero (Hefferon Real Estate), Cheryl Schroy (Key Bank), Vickie Staie (Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services and Appraisals USA), and Jennifer Stevenson (Blue Heron Realty) along with me. During the day, we met with Senators Joe Griffo (47th District), Betty Little (45th District) and Patty Ritchie (48th District). In addition, we had meetings with members of the Assembly Will Barclay (120th District), Ken Blankenbush (117th District), Marc Butler (118th District) and Addie Jenne (116th District). We informed them about the current housing market and our stances on several issues.

    We began by talking about the NY First Home Program. This is a first-time home buyer savings account program introduced by Senator Little and Assemblyman Phil Ramos (6th District). If passed into law, it would create a new tax-free savings account modeled after the State’s 529 College Savings Program. NY First Home would help New Yorkers achieve the dream of homeownership by creating a dedicated savings account to be used exclusively to cover costs associated with the purchase of a first home in New York state, whether that is a single family residence, condo, cooperative apartment or townhome.

    Using this program, New Yorkers could cover costs associated with the purchase of a first home using this dedicated savings account to deposit up to $5,000 ($10,000 for couples) of after-tax dollars annually, receive a state income tax deduction on the principal investment and grow savings tax-free, and then apply the savings and interest towards the purchase of a first home in New York state.

    The largest inhibitors for hopeful first-time home buyers in New York state are the initial up-front closing costs and high down-payment requirements. Enactment of NY First Home would provide New Yorkers with a practical savings mechanism to make buying a first home more affordable in New York state. This incentive would also have a positive effect on retaining young people in the state and provide a boost to local and state economies.

    A Sienna Research Institute poll in December 2016 found that 84 percent of New Yorkers supported NY First Home and 80 percent agreed that the governor and Legislature should make assisting New Yorkers in saving for a first home a priority.

    This bill passed the Senate during the 2016 session and is working its way through both houses in 2017.

    Our second issue concerned reinstating the STAR Exemption Program and sunset the School Tax Relief credit program that was written into law last year. Although both called “STAR,” the two programs work differently. The previous version provided immediate or “upfront” reductions in school taxes for homeowners.

    The change in 2016 to the STAR credit program led to confusion with new home buyers unsure of whether or not they would see the upfront savings as an exemption or be mailed a check under the credit program. In the worst instances, many homeowners received STAR credit checks later than when their school taxes were due, making it difficult to pay the full school tax bill. It is also still unclear from the Department of Tax and Finance whether or not future STAR credit checks will be taxed as income. This legislation would return the STAR program to a predictable upfront tax benefit to New York’s homeowners.

    The legislation has passed the Assembly and is working its way through the Senate.

    Realtors will continue to watch these issues and advocate for current and future New York property owners with our federal, state, and local officials.

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

Realtors Advocate For Property Owners and Buyers

Lance Evans

The month of May saw Realtors from our area join their counterparts across the state and nation to advocate for consumer friendly real estate issues and oppose measures that would hurt property owners and buyers.

    During the week of May 15 to May 20, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) held its annual Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. Attended by approximately 8,500 attendees from across the country and around the world, the week included about 200 meetings and events that covered many real estate topics and allowed Realtors to take an active role in advancing the real estate industry, public policy, and the Association. 

    The tri-county area attendees included Jennifer Dindl (Humes Realty and Appraisal), Carolyn Gaebel (Bridgeview Real Estate and Gaebel Real Estate Services), Lisa L’Huillier (Hefferon Real Estate), Brittany Matott (County Seat Realty), Al Netto (Weichert Realtors, Thousand Islands Realty), and Jennifer Stevenson (Blue Heron Realty), along with myself. During the week there were NAR and Women’s Council of Realtors committee meetings, idea exchanges with other Realtors and staff, and information and updates that will assist all of us in better serving the area’s real estate consumers.

    On May 18, we met with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and joined colleagues from around the state while meeting with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Charles Schumer. We focused on three main issues.

    The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), of particular interest to our area, is slated to expire on September 30. Without reauthorization, NFIP cannot issue or renew policies in 22,000 communities where flood insurance is required for a mortgage. The NFIP was created to provide incentives for communities to rebuild to higher standards and steer development away from flood zones. In exchange, communities gain access to flood maps, mitigation assistance and subsidized insurance to prepay for future damage and recover more quickly from flooding. The NFIP was last up for reauthorization in 2008. There were 18 short-term extensions and a two-month shutdown before Congress reauthorized the program in 2012.

    We asked our representatives to pass the “Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act,” which passed the House unanimously last year, and to enable consumers to meet federal requirements with private plans that often offer better coverage at a lower cost than the NFIP.

    Tax reform was also on our list of issues. While no tax reform legislation had been introduced as of our meetings, there were several plans that had been discussed. Some of these would lower tax rates and raise the standard deduction, but would pay for these changes by scaling back existing real estate tax provisions. Proposals that limit itemized deductions, even if not directly changing rules applicable to mortgage interest, could have serious negative consequences for homeowners. 

    PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analyzed a blueprint-like tax reform plan and noted that home-owning families with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would face average tax hikes of $815 in the first year after enactment, while non-homeowners in the same income range would see an average cut of $516. Currently, homeowners pay 83 percent of all federal income taxes, and this share would go even higher under similar reform proposals. Homeowners should not have to pay a higher share of taxes because of tax reform.

    Further, proposals limiting tax incentives for homeownership would cause home values everywhere to plunge. Estimates provided by PwC show that values could fall in the short run by more than 10 percent, with a larger drop in high-cost areas. It might take years for home values to rebound from such a significant decrease.

    The final issue we spoke about was protecting sustainable homeownership.   We asked our representatives to responsibly reform the secondary mortgage market. Failure to do so, while limiting costs imposed on homeowners, ensure proper loan disclosures, and fund necessary system upgrades for federal housing programs hurts the very fabric and underpinnings of our society.

    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac act as a backstop for mortgages and help to safeguard 30-year, fixed rate mortgages ensuring families are not shut out of homeownership. We asked that these entities not be dismantled without identifying a viable replacement.

    The week was productive and informative. It is important that our representatives hear from Realtors advocating for property owners. The information we received at the meetings will assist us as we work for housing opportunities in the area.

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

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