Late Video Rental Fees? No Mortgage!

Thousands of customers in Montana who owed late fees or any other charges pending at the now defunct Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery are finding it difficult to get a mortgage or finance a car.

Movie Gallery, the parent company of the video rental stores and once the second-largest video rental chain, went bankrupt last year, and the debt collection agency National Credit Solutions is now trying to collect from its past customers. National Credit Solutions filed negative credit reports without informing the customers and did not give customers the opportunity to dispute the fees, according to a lawsuit filed by Montana’s Department of Justice on behalf of the customers.

National Credit Solutions is also accused of charging the customers penalty late fees–more than $300 in some cases–on top of what they already owed.

The black marks on the customers’ credit reports are preventing some from getting loans or refinancing a mortgage. But some customers say they are being charged for failing to return a movie even when they had.

Movie Gallery is trying to collect from 12,325 customers from Montana. It’s unclear whether customers outside of Montana had been affected, too.

“It’s crazy to think that a Montanan would be prevented from refinancing their house or buying a new car simply because they returned ‘Caddyshack’ two days late,” State Attorney General Steve Bullock said in a statement.

Source: “Montana Files Lawsuit Over Video Late Fees,”

“It’s going to be a great spring,” appraiser tells Silicon Valley Realtors!

Over 100 members attended Wednesday’s Los Gatos/Saratoga District meeting and listened to longtime appraiser Roger Miller from Taketa, Miller & Associates. Miller’s message was one of “guarded optimism” regarding 2011, but he is especially positive about this spring.

 “Things are starting to turn around,” Miller remarked, and proceeded to share his data.

* At this time last year, there were 95 listings in Los Gatos; as of Tuesday evening, Miller indicated there were 111. A year ago, Saratoga had 73 listings; as of Tuesday night, it had 71.

* Pending sales in Los Gatos at this time last year were 39; they are 43 this year. Saratoga had 20 last year; it has 36 this year.

* 2010 home sales were up in Los Gatos 22 percent from 2009; Monte Sereno, up 42 percent; and Saratoga, up 25 percent.

* Homes priced at two million dollars and under are in a very strong market – 92 percent of last year’s home sales in Los Gatos were under $2 million; Monte Sereno, 65 percent; and Saratoga, 81 percent.

If a listing is under $2 million, if it’s priced right and in the Los Gatos school district, it will sell in one to two months or less. “If your listing is under a million (dollars) in Los Gatos and it hasn’t sold, there’s something wrong,” Miller told REALTORS®.

There is no question prices have dropped, some by as much as 20 percent, and others more, depending on the area. Miller said a home bought at the end of 2007 or at the beginning of 2008 would sell roughly for the same price today.

If there are many foreclosures and REOs in a neighborhood, the market will certainly be affected. This is not much of an issue in the Los Gatos area, according to Miller. There continue to be multiple offers in Silicon Valley – one home just received six offers recently. There are also a number of high-end homes that have sold in the $4 million and above range in Woodside, Atherton and Los Altos Hills.

Miller advised REALTORS® to always do a true history on comps and always check the absorption rate. In Los Gatos, for homes priced between $1 and 2 million, the absorption rate is three months; between $2 to 3 million, seven months; between $3 to 4 million, seven to10 months. In Saratoga, the absorption rate for homes priced under $1 million is one month; between $1 and 2 million, two months; between $2 and 3 million, eight months. Between $3 and 4 million, 5.5 months.

Miller said REALTORS® should NOT have to deal with out-of-town appraisers, unless the report is co-signed by an appraiser who knows the area. Speak with the bank manager; it is important to know the bank you are dealing with, he stressed.

There’s more optimism in the air, according to Miller. Here are some signs:
*Stocks have improved.
* The unemployment rate has gone down a bit – the unemployment rate in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara MSA was 10.7 percent in December 2010, down from a revised 10.9 percent in November 2010, and below the year-ago estimate of 11.5 percent, according to the Employment Development Department.
* Google is hiring 6,000 new employees nationwide and 2,000 locally.
* Heavier traffic these days points to more activity and more people being employed.

“Everything is starting to turn,” Miller repeated.

Miller, who is well-known for his expertise in the business, said he is very confident that the housing market in the region will do well this spring. But time is of essence. He told REALTORS® if they have sellers who are sitting on the fence, “tell them to get their house on the market now, within the next two weeks.”

Be aware of new tax filing requirements for property managers and landlords

During 2010, two new permanent information reporting requirements have been added to the duties of property owners and owners of small businesses (including self-employed individuals and independent contractors).

The recently enacted small business legislation (HR 5297) included an expansion of the 1099 reporting related to a trade or business. To date, only those real estate professionals engaged in property management-type businesses have been required to file Forms 1099. Congress has extended the Form 1099 requirement to any person who receives rental income. This requirement would apply to any landlord (including a small investor), rather than only those who are in the business of managing property.

Starting in 2011, any person who receives rental income must provide a Form 1099 for all payments of $600 or more made to service providers, such as plumbers, carpenters, yard services and repair workers. The purchase of goods is not included within the reporting requirement. The Form 1099 is provided to the IRS and to the service provider. The new requirement applies to both residential and commercial property.

Also, the Health Care Reform legislation enacted earlier this year adds a new, controversial and burdensome reporting requirement that goes into effect in 2012. The 2012 reporting requirement affects any business that makes a payment of $600 or more to any payee (except a tax-exempt organization) for property and services. This provision expands the 1099 information reporting requirement of current law.

Several amendments were offered, supported by the National Association of REALTORS®, to the small business legislation that would have repealed, or at least mitigated the impact of this new requirement. Those efforts failed. The amendments to mitigate the impact would have imposed the requirement only on those businesses with more than 25 (or 50) employees and/or payments of more than $5,000 to any particular vendor or service provider.

Bottom Line for Real Estate:

  • Current Law: Information reporting requirements apply only to businesses.
  • 2011 Rule: All persons who receive rental payments must provide Form 1099. This affects all owners (both individuals and businesses) of rental properties, both residential and commercial. Thus, “mom and pop” investors and those who invest in real estate for their personal portfolios are subject to the new reporting requirement. Only aggregate annual payments of $600 or more for services (but not goods) must be reported.
  • 2012 Rule: All businesses, including real estate businesses, self-employed individuals and independent contractors will be required to make a 1099 report of any aggregate annual payment of $600 or more to any person from whom they acquired goods and services.

Consumers Are Feeling Better At Start Of 2011

The Consumer Confidence Index, as measured monthly by the Conference Board, finds consumers a bit more optimistic as they begin a new year.

After dipping in December, the board’s Index increased this month, and now stands at 60.6 (1985=100), up from 53.3 in December. The Present Situation Index improved to 31.0 from 24.9. The Expectations Index increased to 80.3 from 72.3 last month. Taken together, it shows a significant uptick in confidence.

“Consumers have begun the year in better spirits,” said  Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. “As a result, the Index is now near levels not seen since last spring.” 

Sources of confidence

What’s behind the rosier outlook? It’s not the housing market. The latest data show home prices are still falling. And jobs are still hard to come by.

But consumers rated business and labor market conditions more favorably and expressed greater confidence that the economy will continue to expand and generate more jobs in the months ahead. 

“Income expectations are also more positive,” Franco said. “Although pessimists still outnumber optimists, the gap has narrowed.”

Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was also more positive in January. Those saying business conditions are “good” increased to 9.8 percent from 7.7 percent, while those saying business conditions are “bad” was virtually unchanged at 40.4 percent.

Job market improvement?

Consumers’ appraisal of the job market was also more upbeat than last month. Those claiming jobs are “plentiful” rose to 5.2 percent from 4.2 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” declined to 43.4 percent from 46.0 percent.

Consumers’ short-term outlook was more optimistic than in December. Those anticipating an improvement in business conditions over the next six months increased to 19.0 percent from 16.8 percent, while those anticipating business conditions will worsen decreased to 11.3 percent from 11.8 percent.

Consumers were also more optimistic about the job market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 16.0 percent from 14.2 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs declined to 17.5 percent from 19.2 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes rose to 11.4 percent from 9.9 percent.

What has yet to influence confidence levels are prices. Consumers are paying more than 30 cents a gallon more for gasoline than they did last January. Food costs are also beginning to rise.

If these price trends continue, it’s possible it could dampen consumers’ outlook in the months ahead.