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Area associations adapt to serve changing needs.

In a market that’s changing from one day to the next, almost one moment to the next, trade associations are having to adapt to meet the needs of their members as well. The Des Moines Area Association of REALTORS® (DMAAR) and the Greater Des Moines Home Builders Association (HBA-DM) are both finding new ways to serve their memberships.

“We’ve already seen this to be true. But in 2022 we’re really focused on understanding what our members are dealing with on a daily basis and recognizing the time they have to volunteer may be limited because of the pace of work they’re facing,” says Dan Knoup, Executive Officer of HBA-DM.

“We’ve been making little changes with how we schedule and communicate to relieve some of that, things like sending calendar invites so they automatically have time blocked off for meetings. It’s just one less thing they have to deal with. We’re also trying to get our own calendar planned out sooner so they can plan sooner as well.”

DMAAR’s Chief Executive Officer, Cindy Pelz says, “We’re always adjusting to meet the needs of our members. One thing we’ve noticed is that those needs vary depending on the experience and activity level of the member.”

Education programs are a key element of DMAAR’s member support. That remains true, no matter how busy REALTORS® become. The format may vary, however. “We were able to provide most of our programming via Zoom during the lockdown, and some Zoom training has continued,” says Pelz. “I expect we’ll continue to offer Zoom classes long-term because of the changing needs of our members. But they prefer the in-person classes when possible.”

Knoup says the HBA-DM has also continued to offer a hybrid of Zoom and in-person meetings. “What’s been surprising is that our in-person attendance is the highest it’s been in my eight years as Executive Officer,” he says. “No matter how much you adapt, it’s just not as effective virtually as being in the same room with people, and our members recognize that.”

He says the pace of work has also caused members to value the benefits of in-person gatherings with others in the industry. “We really anticipated it would be difficult to have well-attended in-person activities because everyone’s schedules are so backed up right now, but that hasn’t been the case. I think people really need that personal interaction.”

Neither Pelz or Knoup expects the pace of business to change in 2022.

“It’s been crazy busy,” Pelz says. “More than likely 2021 will end even higher than 2020, which was a record year. I know a lot of our members are wondering about how things will progress this next year with supply chain issues and other concerns.”

Knoup says HBA-DM’s members have been battling those supply chain problems, on top of the skyrocketing demand and rising labor and material costs, and everyone expects more of the same for 2022. “Most of our members have developed their own strategies over the course of the past year for dealing with those issues. On a local level, we don’t have a big role in addressing those concerns, but our national arm is having conversations every day with legislators about ways to resolve the situation. There are bills already in the House that could get things moving more quickly through the port and trucking systems.”

Improving supply chain issues would go a long way to smoothing the way for both construction delays and home sales. Pelz says, “With more people continuing to work from home long-term, homeowners are discovering that the popular open concept that worked for so long is just not ideal. That means more buyers are shopping and new construction plans are looking different.”

Remodeling activity has also grown exponentially over the past couple of years because of that.“So many people are rethinking how they live,” Knoup says. “And the money they didn’t spend on travel and vacations they’re spending on their homes to fit that new way of life. Our remodeler members are as busy as they’ve been in their entire careers.”

Although economists are predicting a slight increase in interest rates and little change in inflation, Pelz and Knoup expect 2022 to be another strong year for home sales and construction in Iowa. “Sales have been steady at all levels, and we don’t see a lot of change in that for the new year,” says Pelz. “The higher-end market is always hit and miss because there are fewer buyers at that level, but everything else should remain strong.”

The HBA-DM has been actively planning and preparing for the annual Tour of Remodeled Homes and HomeShowExpo. Knoup says the association anticipates both to be well-attended, no matter what happens with COVID spread over the next several months. “For the Tour of Remodeled Homes, we leave it to the individual remodeler and homeowner to dictate any restrictions,” he says. “And we offer a day of appointment-limited attendance for those who are more concerned about social distancing.”

The VIP day at HomeShowExpo offers a similar, contained environment for that event. Knoup says organizers will be watching for changes in recommendations as the event nears, and they’ll reconsider those restrictions if needed.

In addition to more networking and educational events for members, the HBA-DM continues to actively promote trade education and programs at the high school level. “The need for skilled labor continues for the viability of our industry,” says Knoup. “But we’re really excited about the growing interest from young people. The construction trades program at Central Campus continues to grow, and there are programs in the works in other districts. At Waukee, the program was full before the one high school split into two high schools. We were curious to see how things fell out after the split, but there’s a waiting list at both schools, which is great.”

The “crazy busy” pace at which REALTORS® and builders have been working the past 18 months may not have a clear end in sight, but it has resulted in more positive trends than expected. Homes at every price point are selling well. Home buyers who were hesitant to buy have entered the market. Builders and remodelers both are seeing the most activity of their careers. And young people are beginning to recognize all that this industry has to offer.

As we move through 2022, associations like DMAAR and HBA-DM will find themselves just as busy as their members as they find new ways to help sustain that growth.

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What you should know about COVID-19 vaccinations.

On October 13, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued several updates to its Q&A relating to COVID-19 and vaccinations—What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO Laws. These focus on common questions that employees may raise with you as an employer. It appears they are meant to address some common misinformation circulating on social media. Note the EEOC only addresses federal law and individual states may significantly vary in terms of implementation of rules and policies.

Is it against the law to require vaccinations?

One of the most common questions, “Is it against the law to require vaccinations?” is addressed in K.1 and the answer is No. Citing to Title VII the ADA and other federal employment non-discrimination laws, the EEOC states that although the opportunity for exemption must be provided according to religious and medical needs, vaccine mandates are legal.

The EEOC also reminds employers to be cautious about the potential of disparate impact claims as some groups may not have the same access to vaccination as others. This has been addressed by some employers who have provided for vaccine clinics or contracted with local public health or others to provide vaccinations for employees at convenient places and times.

Accommodations

In discussing that some accommodations may be needed in the workforce for those with healthcare conditions, the EEOC suggests materials that are available on the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) with specific COVID-19 materials.

In response to questions relating to religious accommodation in the workplace, the EEOC notes, “That the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, practices, and observances with which the employer may be unfamiliar.” It further notes that while sincerity is normally assumed, if an employer “is aware of facts that provide an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice, or observance” the employer may request additional supporting information. Such reasonable belief may stem from the employee utilizing prior vaccine programs or becoming vaccinated as part of their employment, employees making statements that they don’t have religious objections but simply do not want to get a COVID vaccine or inconsistent statements in the request for the exemption itself.

The EEOC highlights that the Title VII or religious accommodation undue hardship assessment for employers is a lesser burden than that required to meet the ADA undue hardship standard. Considerations can include the number of employees who are vaccinated, the nature of employee contact, the type of work, whether the work is done outside or inside, and a wide array of other factors in assessing the safety of fellow employees or customers.

Iowa COVID Vaccine Exemption Law

In late October Iowa passed a statute Iowa Code 94.2 which states that a declaratory statement of “health or wellbeing” or religion is enough to qualify for an exemption. This is significantly different than federal guidance or developed case law. It does not appear to reference philosophized beliefs but only “religion” with no definition. This very broad statutory statement will almost certainly have future litigation.

The Big Picture

This updated Q&A is not a departure from case law or prior EEOC standards. However, it can provide an updated resource for employee questions and the community as well.


Learn more 2021 Special Legislative Session—Final Action

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Drew Realty data report offers an honest look at development activity.

“Caveat emptor.” Let the buyer beware. According to that principle, the burden lies with the buyer when it comes to making smart purchase decisions. Fortunately, not all brokers and sellers feel the same.

“When I got into brokerage,” says Drew Realty owner Nathan Drew, “I started tracking data for clients so they could make educated decisions. I want my clients to be able to look at the data and make the decisions that best fit them.”

Drew’s clients range from builders looking for lots to developers interested in land. “If you’re an agent or a builder, the data related to new construction is appropriate because it looks at permits pulled and lots in development,” he says. “But my clients were needing broader data. With all the information I’m gathering quarterly, I can look at all the quantifiable data points of any platted lot in the metro.”

Other sources provide new-construction statistics on a regular basis. Drew looks at land in development, land available for development, costs of developing that land in the various communities, size of lots being developed, and more.

Over the past several years, the Des Moines metro has struggled with an imbalance in supply and demand. That’s even more evident in this year’s hot seller’s market. “As of early October, we have 6,000 lots currently ready for construction. The demand is closer to 10,000,” Drew says.

Add to that the challenge developers and builders are facing to make homes affordable, and the local construction industry is facing quite a dilemma. The inevitable result is smaller lots so that the final cost of construction can be brought into line with the market. But even that is more difficult to do in some communities than in others.

“The Des Moines metro market encompasses 17 communities, and there isn’t a single standard or required fee that’s consistent across the board,” says Drew. Because of that, the same-size lot with the same features can be listed for significantly more from one community to the next, quite often the result of municipal requirements rather than developer pricing.

“There just is not enough available ground right now,” he says. “Between land-use regulations, utility needs, and additional infrastructure costs, it can sometimes be prohibitive for developers to work with the ground that’s on the market.”

Municipalities are facing budget crunches as well, so rather than invest in infrastructure costs in order to lure developers, it’s becoming more common for cities to require the developers to cover more of those costs.

People want construction growth to be developer-driven. That means, ultimately, the homeowner is paying those costs with the price of the home instead of in taxes.

Drew says, “Prices are still increasing overall because of the current demand, despite developers working to get smaller lot plats approved. We’ve seen a 17% to 18% increase in just the past year.”

Throughout the metro, both builders and developers are looking to see more lots become available in order to alleviate some of that pressure on pricing. Drew says he sees progress toward that goal. “In Waukee, for example, we saw over 200 lots enter the market in one month. There were lots in a variety of sizes and price points, which hasn’t been the case in some of the fastest-growing communities in the metro.”

Generally, Drew says there just isn’t a large quantity of lots coming on the market. “Lots are still being developed, but not at the velocity the market demands right now.

He sees every stage of the process in his line of work. “I do development services for hire, land brokerage, and lot sales to builders. Because of that, I consistently work with the same people over and over at various stages in the process.”

He says that’s why it’s important to see the whole picture, not just the number of homes sold from one community to the next. “I sort of fell into this business after building a couple of houses while I was in college,” he explains. “I liked selling the homes, but not the building process itself, so I got my real estate license and then got into the brokerage business.”

Drew was a member of Iowa State University’s first graduating class in the Masters of Real Estate Development program this past May. “I already had an MBA from the University of Iowa,” he says. “I’d been working in development for a while when I started the program. But the academic side was, in some ways, just as practical, learning the principles behind what I was doing on a daily basis.”

Drew provides his clients and readers that same academic yet practical perspective in his quarterly email blast. “It’s a straightforward overview with charts and analysis,” he says. “But the data doesn’t lie.”

You can’t get more practical than that.

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Selling a stigmatized property can be a scary phenomenon.

In a real estate market like we’ve seen over the past 18 months, properties are selling as quickly as they appear on the market. Usually, that is.

But even the hottest seller’s market in history won’t erase a property’s past. Stigmatized properties present a unique challenge for real estate agents, lenders, and appraisers. The National Association of REALTORS® defines a stigmatized property as one that has been “psychologically impacted by an event which occurred or was suspected to have occurred.”

That’s a pretty broad, vague definition. In everyday terms, stigmatized properties are often considered haunted, cursed, or to have a sordid history. They are properties where there is no physical defect, but a property’s past could deter buyers.

Since the mid-1990s, Iowa law has required signed disclosures from both the agent and the seller to protect individuals involved in the purchase. Sellers are obligated to disclose material adverse facts about the property. But Iowa does not require nonmaterial facts to be disclosed.

Those nonmaterial facts can include past events that took place on the property, such as criminal activity, murder or suicide, paranormal phenomena, or a public stigma (such as the site of an infamous event). For some buyers, those facts would not be a deterrent. Others feel differently.

REALTOR® Liz Keller of Re/MAX Concepts says she never took the idea of haunted houses seriously. Until she owned one.

She had only been in the real estate business for a couple of years when she and her fiancé bought a property from a friend going through a divorce. “She needed to sell the home because of her personal situation, so we bought it with the intention of finishing the needed repairs and flipping it,” says Keller. “She had told me she thought there were some weird, unexplained things happening at the house. But we didn’t really believe in that sort of thing, so we weren’t too worried about it.”

During the renovation work, multiple contractors walked off the job and refused to return. Even Keller’s fiancé, who had always been extremely skeptical of haunted house claims, couldn’t explain the drafts of cold air and his dog’s reaction to the house.

“We finally finished the work and got the house on the market,” Keller says. “But we had other REALTORS® tell us they saw a man walking through the house when it was supposed to be empty.”

The home eventually sold, but that experience was enough to convince Keller that stigmatized properties really do exist. “Now, if I have a buyer who’s spooked by the possibility that something could have happened in a property, I tell them that if the house is more than 30 years old, it’s more than likely that at some point something bad happened in that house. That doesn’t mean it’s haunted, but you can’t ever be sure that nothing bad ever happened there.”

Because Iowa law doesn’t require sellers to disclose nonmaterial “defects” or facts, knowing how to market these properties can be a delicate business. Even homes not reputed to be haunted can be stigmatized to the degree that it dramatically affects their value.

The California home where the Manson murders occurred in the 1960s was eventually demolished, and the address was changed in order to overcome its past. The home where Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered also sold for less than its market value, and the address was changed to minimize the publicity.

Even so, a house’s history can be nearly impossible to overcome. According to an article in The Washington Post, it often takes seven years or more for a stigmatized home to regain its fair market value.

For some properties, the stigma associated can become a marketing tool—how long depends on the notoriety of the home.

In his book American Murder Houses, author Steve Lehto says these properties can become tourist attractions until eventually the associated events become “less personal and more historical.” Lizzie Borden’s house and the home made famous by Truman Capote’s book (and later the movie) In Cold Blood, however, both remained tourist attractions for decades.

Just a few miles east of Des Moines, the old Farrar High School building, last occupied in 2002, still stands. The building’s current owners purchased the property after it had sat vacant for several years. Their intention was to renovate it. But its reputation as “the most haunted building in Iowa” and the ongoing tales of unexplained sightings and sounds have turned the building into a tourist attraction instead.

According to the owners’ website, HauntingatFarrar.com, “Over the decades, employees and students reported hearing voices, slamming doors, and sightings of unnatural figures walking the halls.”

Since 2007, the building has been visited by internationally known psychics, the Discovery Channel, and Fox News, among others. Listed for sale again, the property can still be booked for overnight visits for those “brave enough to stay the night.”

While Iowa law may not require sellers or agents to disclose nonmaterial facts associated with a home, most experts advise taking a forthright approach to these stigmatized properties, whether that means full disclosure or an honest willingness to answer questions.

As Keller says, “Some buyers are really spooked by a house’s past. But for most, the stories won’t bother them at all.”

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