Monthly Archives: December 2018

Mortgage rates slip again this week, hit 4.62%

WASHINGTON (AP) – Dec. 20, 2018 – U.S. long-term mortgage rates slipped this week, reflecting the stock market decline and rush by investors to Treasury notes.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell slightly to 4.62 percent from to 4.63 percent last week. Rates averaged 3.94 percent a year ago.

The rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans held at 4.07 percent for the second straight week, up from 3.38 percent a year ago.

Higher mortgage rates over the past year have caused home sales to drop. But mortgage rates have declined in recent weeks as fears about an economic slowdown have caused more investors to sell stocks and buy Treasury notes.

Amid the purchases, the interest on a 10-year Treasury has fallen from 3 percent to under 2.8 percent in the past month. Mortgage rates generally correspond with the interest charged on U.S. government debt.

Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said that lower rates should help to boost home sales.

“Given the further drop in rates we’ve seen this month, we expect to see a modest rebound in home sales as well,” he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press, Josh Boak. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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Invest in the business or retirement? More owners saving

NEW YORK (AP) – Dec. 20, 2018 – In John Holloway’s early years as an entrepreneur, saving for his own future wasn’t a priority.

“I invested a lot of money into one of my first businesses and came out break even at best. I am kicking myself for not setting some of that money aside for retirement,” says Holloway, co-owner of NoExam.com, a life insurance brokerage based in Roswell, Georgia.

These days, when his company’s cash flow and profits are strong enough, he takes money out of the business and invests in a retirement account.

“I am trying to diversify – having all of my eggs in one basket is stressful,” Holloway says.

Saving for retirement hasn’t been a priority for many small business owners over the years. They’ve hoped to build their businesses, sell at a huge profit and have a comfortable retirement. While they’ve taken profits out for homes and college tuition, it was more important to reinvest earnings into the company rather than save for retirement. But attitudes about saving may be evolving after the financial devastation of the Great Recession, when tens of thousands of businesses failed.

In a survey by insurer Nationwide released in October, 53 percent of younger business owners – those born in the 1980s and ’90s – said having a workplace savings plan was important for their retirement. Fewer baby boomers, 39 percent, felt it was important. Older surveys show how boomers favored their companies over saving – the Small Business Administration said in 2006 that only about a third of owners had Individual Retirement Accounts and 18 percent had a 401(k).

When Ron Lieback started his digital marketing business, he began setting aside 10 percent of his own salary. Profits from the company, ContentMender, are reinvested into new technology, but Lieback wants to be personally prepared for the what-ifs.

“Something could crash and our business could fail. You always have to have that in the back of your head, so you need that nest egg,” says Lieback, whose company is based in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania. To help his company be more profitable, and therefore help himself save, Lieback uses freelancers for some of ContentMender’s work.

Owners who expect companies to fund their retirement are optimistic but may be overlooking the fact that they and the business are vulnerable to potential calamities, says David O’Brien, a financial adviser with Evolution Advisors in Midlothian, Virginia. For example, an owner who’s the company’s key employee can be sidelined by a serious illness, hurting the value of the business. Or if patents are infringed and once-exclusive products are now sold by competitors, a company’s value can plunge.

Moreover, O’Brien says, when it’s time to sell, buyers might not be willing to pay what the owner hopes for.

“You need to shore up your reserves in case you don’t get the sales price of your business that you want,” he says.

Many owners couldn’t get their asking prices during the Great Recession and its aftermath. Sales of companies plunged and didn’t recover until 2013; they’ve soared since as owners finally got the deals they wanted.

However, many startups might not exist if owners hadn’t plowed every possible cent into the business.

“We invested everything we made back into the business to get it past the tipping point of financial stability,” says David Gafford, who owns Fusion Creative, a digital marketing firm and a credit card processor, both in Indianapolis. “Then we made the turn from putting everything back into the business to focusing on our personal and family goals as well.”

But, Gafford warns, saving will affect the business: “You’re really dramatically slowing the rate at which you’re going to grow.”

Financial adviser Nathan Fisher finds owners don’t think about retirement savings until they’re prodded by employees; putting money aside suddenly becomes a priority.

“Their nest egg is their business,” says Fisher, senior executive vice president of Fisher Investments 401(k) Solutions. “Then they get employees who say, ‘my old company had a 401(k), why don’t we have one?'”

But Shamila Nduriri, who studied finance in college, saved aggressively when she worked for a corporation and continues to put money aside now that she owns Dalasini, a jewelry company based in Las Vegas. While she is saving for retirement, real estate investing and contingencies, she also wants the tax savings from contributing to a retirement account.

“It’s foolish to leave money on the table if there’s a tax benefit to it,” Nduriri says. She can deduct up to $55,000 a year for money she puts into what’s called a Simplified Employee Pension, or SEP, account.

When Nduriri decided what kind of business to start, she chose upscale jewelry because it has higher profit margins, and that makes it easier for her to save.

“When your margins are thin, you have to invest every penny,” she says.

Some owners, because of the nature of their business, believe it’s wiser to keep investing in the company. Metropolis Collectibles deals in rare comic books and comic book art, some of which have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Co-owner Stephen Fishler believes comic books are a better bet than stocks, so he focuses on the items in his inventory.

“Investing in them, from my perspective, can do significantly better than putting those same funds into more traditional investment vehicles,” he says.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press, Joyce M. Rosenberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Hurricane Michael Disaster Relief Fund deadline: Jan. 15

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Building a team? Look for individuality

NEW YORK – Dec. 20, 2018 – Which is better, a great individual or a great team? On the one hand, we revere outstanding individuals. Yet we are taught the value of teamwork.

So, what gives?

There is no doubt that teams are better for certain tasks. Take fast food, for example. For 10 people to build 1,000 veggie burgers, we know it’s best to create an assembly line where each person completes a specific task. Simple tasks where everyone is qualified to do the job tend to be best completed by teams.

Companies have executive teams, with each member possessing expertise and responsibilities for different departments. Sports teams are composed of multiple great players, but they only win if they act as a team. Countries have multiple branches of government to create checks and balances. Our brains are composed of billions of neurons, all acting in concert to drive our minds. Termites act as teams without a leader and have been found to build complex structures, cultivate agriculture and create air-conditioned homes.

But there’s an important limit to what teams can do, and in these situations, a great individual is better than a good team.

Mark Zuckerberg once said that a great engineer is worth 100 average engineers. He was criticized for that statement, and surely a company the size of Facebook needs many engineers. But his point was that engineering is more like chess than basketball.

When it comes to genius, individuality is more critical to success. Not only is the value of a great individual more than the sum of a dozen mediocre minds in this case, but the value of a great individual can be better than that of a team of great individuals. A team of geniuses can often do more harm than good and destroy the value of a great individual.

Finding the right fit
It seems obvious that mediocre minds can destroy the contribution of a great mind, but it is equally true that great teams can destroy the contribution of a great mind. A second sculptor cutting into Michelangelo’s David, for example, would have caused massive destruction, even if the artist were Leonardo da Vinci.

Whether to use a group or an individual for a particular endeavor has remained elusive, but a recent scientific theory offers to provide the missing explanation: the critical brain hypothesis. It’s complicated, but the principle is related to peak performance, or what athletes describe as “being in the zone.” The general idea is that the brain is always operating at a transition point between two phases. In one phase, activity reduces rapidly. In the other, it increases in a burst called a neuronal avalanche.

The brain’s neural network activity transitions between peaks and valleys. In this way, insight, creativity and performance also ebb and flow and ultimately hit a breaking point and peak. At the peak of a neuronal avalanche is where brain processing is highest.

How do you choose?
Individuals experience bursts of peak performance but groups operate differently. The reason for this is peak performance happens within a system (within an individual’s brain for instance), not across systems (multiple brains). Individuals peak, but groups compromise, ultimately coming to a consensus.

So groups are good for consensus building, decision making, even idea generation. But they’re not as good when it comes to pushing the boundaries of our imagination, whether it be through innovation, industry or art.

To push the ball forward, teams are often best. But to create the ball, that takes a brilliant individual. In this regard, Walt will always outperform Disney, Henry will always outperform Ford, and Michael will always outperform Dell.

Copyright 2018, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY. Jeff Stibel is the former CEO of Web.com and vice chairman of Dun & Bradstreet, a partner of Bryant Stibel and an entrepreneur who also happens to be a brain scientist.

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More Fla. cities face affordable housing challenges

SARASOTA, Fla. – Dec. 20, 2018 – With rent and home prices continually rising, the Sarasota City Commission this month approved recommendations from affordable housing experts in an effort to create more workforce housing in the area.

The commission unanimously approved a series of recommendations from the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee – a board required by the state to review a jurisdiction’s established policies, procedures, ordinances and land development regulations to recommend actions to create affordable housing – aimed at helping foster workforce housing in a market where costs are rapidly increasing. It also approved a plan from the Florida Housing Coalition to confront the crisis the area has been trying to combat for decades.

“There is a challenging situation in our community and our region and that’s the challenge of enough affordable housing for the employees of so many of our businesses to have housing available fairly near to where they work …,” City Manager Tom Barwin said Monday, highlighting the need to act swiftly. “The City Commission decided it was time to move beyond aspirations to action.”

The commission rubber-stamped expediting the review and approval process for organizations and developers seeking to build affordable housing. Another approved recommendation extends the lease of an affordable housing property from the current 10 years to 30 years, so individuals or families could rent at a fair rate for a longer period.

Other recommendations the commission approved include: the reduction of parking and setbacks and the offering of other structural bonuses, such as density, height and lot coverage for entities building workforce housing. The housing committee also recommended development near transportation hubs and major employment centers; considering adaptive reuses of defunct shopping centers for housing and allowing accessory dwellings, such as detached guest houses, to single-family homes that could be rented out for a fair price. The committee also suggested the city examine its inventory of surplus lands that could be suitable for affordable housing.

The housing committee made similar recommendations approved last week by the Sarasota County Commission.

The City Commission also accepted a host of recommendations from the Florida Housing Coalition, a nonprofit, statewide organization whose mission is to bring together housing advocates and resources so all Floridians have a quality affordable home and suitable living environment.

The coalition recommended encouraging development of different housing types in single-family neighborhoods, such as triplexes and attached housing, which blend in with the surrounding homes while creating cheaper options for buyers and renters. More recommendations included: allowing accessory dwelling units in single-family zones; repurposing vacant commercial, retail and industrial properties for affordable housing; using surplus lands for workforce housing; providing fair housing training to government staff since workforce housing is a protected class in the state and collaborating with the local school district and other large employers to encourage them to donate land and resources for the development of workforce housing in exchange for incentives.

The Sarasota County School Board could potentially modify impact fees and use its surplus lands to provide affordable housing for teachers and other school personnel, said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the coalition.

“The public sector has a critical role, because the private sector can’t produce this housing without your help,” Ross told the City Commission. “You are actually legally required to provide for, not build, housing for your entire current and anticipated population, including special needs populations and so on. But the way you do that is with your planning tools, your financing tools, using incentives and requirements – and that’s really the meat of this report and blueprint.”

The same recommendations apply to Sarasota County as well, Ross said.

“There’s just a huge difference between what people earn and what housing costs are, and that’s the reason why we need to address workforce housing,” Ross said.

Home prices increased roughly 40 percent from 2012 to 2018, while household income has only risen 7 percent from $40,813 in 2012 to $43,477 in the fall of 2018, Ross said, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.

Apartment rent increases in five Southwest Florida cities slipped under the state and national averages just last month. Englewood, Longboat Key, North Port, Sarasota and Venice each posted average annual rent increases that were less than Florida’s 1.8 percent and the U.S.’s 1.3 percent, according to a report from online rental marketplace Apartment List.

Rents in the city of Sarasota inched up an average 0.1 percent in November from last year, the report said. But the median monthly rent of $1,389 for a two-bedroom Sarasota apartment was $179 more than the Florida median and $208 higher than the nationwide median.

“Renters will generally find more expensive prices in Sarasota than most large cities,” the report said.

November was the third straight month the city has seen rent increases following a decline in August.

© 2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla., Nicole Rodriguez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Fed boosts interest rates but softens 2019 plans

WASHINGTON – Dec. 20, 2018 – The economic outlook hasn’t been quite as rosy lately, and so the Fed is stepping back just a bit.

The Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate Wednesday for a fourth time this year but lowered its forecast to two hikes in 2019 amid the recent stock market sell-off and uncertain growth prospects.

“The economy has continued to perform well,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference. But, he added, “We have seen developments that may signal some softening … In early 2018, we saw a rising trajectory for growth. Today, we see growth moderating ahead.”

The central bank’s latest move, which comes amid President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of Fed rate hikes, is expected to set off a domino effect across the economy, bumping up rates on credit cards, home equity lines of credit and adjustable-rate mortgages.

As expected, the Fed raised the federal funds rate – which is what banks charge each other for overnight loans – by a quarter point to a range of 2.25 to 2.5 percent. It marked the central bank’s ninth hike since late 2015.

But in a statement after a two-day meeting, the Fed acknowledged a slowdown in global economic growth, the stock market’s plunge and a strong dollar that’s making U.S. exports more expensive for overseas customers.

The Fed “will continue to monitor global economic and financial developments and assess their implications for the economic outlook,” the statement said.

Fed officials also indicated they foresee fewer rate hikes next year, estimating that only “some gradual increases” will be warranted.

The wording change reflects a central bank that now intends to respond in real time to the course the economy takes rather than follow a rate-hike road map as it has the past couple of years.

“Weaker-than-expected data, both in the United States and/or in major foreign economies, could derail further rate hikes, at least for the foreseeable future,” Wells Fargo economist Jay Bryson wrote in a note to clients.

Despite the Fed’s market-friendly expectation for fewer rate hikes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 352 points, or 1.5 percent, sinking to its lowest point of the year. That’s partly because Powell passed on opportunities to paint a gloomier picture of the economy that would spell even fewer rate increases, Contingent Macro Research wrote to clients.

Fed officials are grappling with conflicting forces. On the one hand, the unemployment rate has fallen to a 49-year low of 3.7 percent – traditionally a signal of faster wage growth and inflation.

At the same time, federal tax cuts and spending increases that juiced economic growth this year are set to begin fading in 2019. The Trump administration’s trade war with China is likely to take a bigger toll on the economy. And the Fed rate hikes themselves are expected to more substantially curtail consumer and business borrowing.

Largely as a result, the stock market has trended sharply lower in recent weeks, with the Dow off more than 10percent from its early October peak. Meanwhile, the dollar has strengthened amid a weakening global economy, making U.S. goods more expensive overseas and hurting American manufacturers.

The upshot: an economy that could weaken moderately next year, keeping inflation contained and raising the risk that an aggressive Fed might tip it into recession.

Trump has taken the highly unusual step of repeatedly criticizing Powell in recent months for hiking rates, saying the strategy has impeded the faster economic growth he has promised.

“Political comments have played no role whatsoever in our decisions or discussions on monetary policy,” Powell said Wednesday, noting the Fed is an independent agency.

How fast rates will rise

The Fed cut its forecast from three hikes next year to two. Amid the uncertain economy, markets have anticipated just one rate increase in 2019.

Fed officials expect the key rate to rise to 2.9 percent at the end of 2019, and 3.1 percent at the end of 2020, down from 3.1 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively, in their September projection.

Economy

The Fed said “economic activity has been rising at a strong rate.”

The Fed estimates the economy will grow 3 percent in 2018, down from its prior estimate of 3.1 percent, and 2.3 percent in 2019, below its previous 2.5 percent forecast.

The economy grew 4.2 percent and 3.5 percent in the third and fourth quarters, its best six-month stretch since 2014.

Jobs

“The labor market has continued to strengthen,” the Fed said, adding that “job gains have been strong, on average, in recent months.”

The Fed left its estimate of the unemployment rate at the end of this year unchanged at 3.7 percent. But it slightly raised its forecast for the rate at the end of 2020 to 3.6 percent.

As firms compete for fewer workers, annual wage gains have picked up to a nine-year high of 3.1 percent in recent months.

Inflation

With the economy expected to slow a bit, the Fed slightly lowered its inflation forecast.

It expects annual inflation to dip from 2 percent to 1.9 percent at the end of 2018 and stay at that level by the end of next year.

It predicts a core measure that strips out volatile food and energy items will rise from 1.8 percent to 1.9 percent by the end of this year and 2 percent by the end of 2019.

Many economists expect consumer price increases to stay contained as a result of cheap oil and gasoline and long-term forces such as discounted online shopping.

“I do think (low inflation) gives the committee the ability to be patient going forward” as it considers further rate increases, Powell said.

What it means

The Fed is acknowledging recent developments that have tempered its economic forecast, including the slowdown in global growth, market volatility and the strong dollar.

While Fed policymakers largely maintained an upbeat outlook, they modestly reined in their expectations for the economy and the pace of rate hikes.

Copyright 2018, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Paul Davidson

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No ‘Florida Realtors News’ until 2019

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Fla. real estate changes predict national changes?

NEW YORK – Dec. 20, 2018 – “Where the Florida housing market leads, the national housing market follows,” says Keith Robinson, chief strategy officer for national franchisor NextHome Inc. “At least that has been true in my experience.”

Robinson cites the foreclosure crisis as an example. Florida at one time had the third highest foreclosure in the nation, he says, and then a quick recovery. Now the state is seeing more positive trends in appreciating prices as well as months of inventory “which in Florida has been between three- and four-months’ supply now for the past three years.

He says most of the nation “has followed these trends; specifically, the increase of medium home values and supply of inventory.”

In the third quarter of this year, Florida had 3.7 months of inventory and median prices are up 2.8 percent.

Robinson concludes that the current Florida market “can be characterized as stable. All indications suggest that we can anticipate steady growth at a modest but healthy rate. This bodes well for Florida and – and if the trend continues – the rest of the country.”

Source: GlobeSt.com (12/14/18) Wilkening, David

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NAR: Existing sales increase for second consecutive month

WASHINGTON – Dec. 19, 2018 – Existing-home sales increased in November, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), marking two consecutive months of increases. Three of four major U.S. regions saw gains in sales activity last month.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – increased 1.9 percent from October to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.32 million in November. Sales are now down 7.0 percent from a year ago (5.72 million in November 2017).

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says two consecutive months of increases is a welcomed sign for the market.

“The market conditions in November were mixed, with good signs of stabilizing home sales compared to recent months, though down significantly from one year ago. Rising inventory is clearly taming home price appreciation.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in November was $257,700, up 4.2 percent from November 2017 ($247,200). November’s price increase marks the 81st straight month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of November decreased to 1.74 million, down from 1.85 million existing homes available for sale in October – that’s an increase from 1.67 million a year ago, however. Unsold inventory is at a 3.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.3 last month and up from 3.5 a year ago.

“A marked shift is occurring in the West region, with much lower sales and very soft price growth,” says Yun. “It is also the West region where consumers have expressed the weakest sentiment about home buying, largely due to lack of affordable housing inventory.”

Properties typically stayed on the market for 42 days in November, up from 36 days in October and 40 days a year ago – 43 percent of homes sold in November were on the market for less than a month.

“It is not surprising to see homes remain on the market a little longer,” says NAR President John Smaby. “Buyers can often negotiate a more favorable price in those circumstances, especially when paired with a motivated seller and the aid of a Realtor familiar with their local market.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 4.87 percent in November from 4.83 percent in October. The average commitment rate for all of 2017 was 3.99 percent.

First-time buyers were responsible for 33 percent of sales in November, up from last month and a year ago (31 percent and 29 percent, respectively). NAR’s 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 2018 – found that the annual share of first-time buyers was 33 percent.

“Inventory is plentiful on the upper-end, but a mismatch between supply and demand exists at affordable price points,” Yun adds. “Therefore, facilitating real estate development of affordable housing units in designated Opportunity Zones can provide better housing access in addition to boosting the local economy.”

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 2 percent of sales in November (the lowest since NAR began tracking in October 2008), down from 3 percent last month and down from 4 percent a year ago.

All-cash sales accounted for 21 percent of transactions in November, down from October and a year ago (23 and 22 percent, respectively). Individual investors, who account for many cash sales, purchased 13 percent of homes in November, down from October and a year ago (15 percent and 14 percent, respectively).

Single-family and condo/co-op sales
Single-family home sales sit at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.71 million in November – up from 4.62 million in October, but are 6.7 percent below the 5.05 million sales pace from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $260,500 in November, up 5.0 percent from November 2017.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 units in November, up 1.7 percent from last month but down 9.0 percent from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $236,400 in November, which is down 1.3 percent from a year ago.

Regional breakdown
November existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 7.2 percent to an annual rate of 740,000, 2.6 percent below a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $291,400, up 6.5 percent from November 2017.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales rose 5.5 percent from last month to an annual rate of 1.34 million in November, down 4.3 percent from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $199,100, up 2.6 percent from last year.

Existing-home sales in the South grew 2.3 percent to an annual rate of 2.20 million in November, down 5.6 percent from last year. The median price in the South was $223,600, up 3.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West declined 6.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.04 million in November, 15.4 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $380,600 up 1.8 percent from November 2017. © 2018 Florida Realtors®
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HUD: 55-and-older community can’t ban disabled child

WASHINGTON – Dec. 19, 2018 – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that Tamaron Association – which represents residents of a 55-and-older condominium development in Waldwick, New Jersey – will pay $9,000 under an Initial Decision and Consent Order resolving allegations that the association refused to sell a condo to a man with disabilities and his wife because the couple planned to have their adult, disabled daughter live with them.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to persons with disabilities and from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices.

“No family whose members have disabilities should be denied the reasonable accommodations they need to make a home for themselves,” says Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Hopefully, today’s ruling will remind homeowner associations of their obligations under the Fair Housing Act and encourage them to follow the law.”

Under the terms of the Consent Order, entered by a HUD administrative law judge, Tamaron Association will pay a civil penalty of $9,000 to the United States, undergo fair housing training, and make changes to the associations’ bylaws as they relate to reasonable accommodations.

The wife, now a widow, is pursuing claims against Tamaron Association in New Jersey State Court. Tamaron Association denies that it discriminated against the family.

“HUD is committed to ensuring that housing providers, including homeowner associations, do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities,” said Paul Compton, HUD’s General Counsel. “This Consent Decree is a reminder to housing providers that making reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities is an essential part of their legal obligation under the Fair Housing Act.”

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

 

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Last warning: You must take ethics training by Dec. 31

Completed NAR’s mandatory 2.5 hours of Code of Ethics training? All Realtors who want to remain Realtors must do so by Dec. 31 when the two-year cycle ends. Find out more. https://www.nar.realtor/about-nar/governing-documents/code-of-ethics/code-of-ethics-training

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NAR: 34% say ‘It’s a good time to buy’ but 37% disagree

WASHINGTON – Dec. 19, 2018 – A new National Association of Realtors® (NAR) survey, Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME), finds Americans have a favorable view about the economy and the direction of home prices – but they’re less optimistic about homebuying as 2018 draws to a close.

Consumer sentiment about homebuying weakened in the fourth quarter with only 34 percent strongly indicating it’s a good time to buy, down from 39 percent in the third quarter and 43 percent one year earlier. However, 63 percent of people still think “It’s a good time to buy a home” is truer than “It’s a bad time to buy a home.”

The percentage of those who believe it isn’t a good time to buy was unchanged in the fourth quarter (37 percent) but higher compared to a year earlier (28 percent, 4Q 2017).

NAR’s fourth quarter HOME survey also found that a majority of those polled (59 percent) believe the economy is improving. Optimism is greatest among those who earn $50,000 or more. Fifty-three percent of those in urban areas said the economy is improving, compared to 71 percent of respondents in rural areas.

“Consistently fast-rising home prices well in excess of income growth over recent years have left buyers frustrated while slowly enticing would-be sellers to consider listing,” says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

From 2012 to 2018, median home prices rose 44 percent, while average hourly wage earnings increased by just 16 percent. NAR’s most recent survey asked about home prices over the last 12 months, and 63 percent of respondents felt that prices have increased, down from the third quarter when 70 percent of respondents felt that prices had increased.

Americans living in the West – those with annual incomes of over $100,000 and those 45 to 54 years of age – are most likely to report that prices have increased in their neighborhoods. Additionally, 67 percent of homeowners, 56 percent of renters and 50 percent of those living with someone else also felt home prices in their communities increased. Forty percent of those earning less than $50,000 reported that home prices had stayed the same.

The national median home price as of October was $255,400, compared to $382,900 in the West.

Respondents were also asked for their views on home prices in the next six months: 41 percent predict home prices in their communities will stay the same, unchanged from last quarter but up slightly from 40 percent in 2018’s second quarter.

Of those who said the economy is advancing, 59 percent live in the West, which Yun found interesting. “The West region has a strong job-creating economy, yet it is the West region showing the weakest buyer sentiment because the West region is the least affordable,” he says.

Among those who do not presently own a home, 29 percent said it would be very difficult to qualify for a mortgage, and 30 percent believe that it would be somewhat difficult (compared to 28 and 31 percent last quarter).

Yun says some findings imply that softening home buying sentiment is less a result of potential buyers holding off purchases in hopes of lower home prices, but more related to concerns over qualifying for a higher mortgage and the lack of affordable home listings.

“Perhaps some communities designated as Opportunity Zones can draw real estate developers using tax incentives to build affordable housing,” Yun says.

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Census Bureau: Fla. tops for ‘net domestic migration’

WASHINGTON – Dec. 19, 2018 – The U.S. population grew by 0.6 percent over the past year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Larger states such as Florida aren’t usually in the running for “highest percentage growth” since their base populations are so large going in, however, and the Census Bureau reports that Nevada and Idaho were the nation’s fastest-growing between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. Both states’ populations increased by about 2.1 percent in the last year.

Florida still made the top 5 list for percentage growth, however: Following Nevada and Idaho for the largest percentage increases in population were Utah (1.9 percent), Arizona (1.7 percent), and Florida and Washington (1.5 percent each).

States that lost population

Population declines were also common over the year, with a population decrease in nine states and Puerto Rico. The states that lost population last year were:

  1. New York (down 48,510)
  2. llinois (45,116)
  3. West Virginia (11,216)
  4. Louisiana (10,840)
  5. Hawaii (3,712)
  6. Mississippi (3,133)
  7. Alaska (2,348)
  8. Connecticut (1,215)
  9. Wyoming (1,197)

“Many states have seen fewer births and more deaths in recent years,” says Sandra Johnson, a demographer/statistician in the Population Division of the Census Bureau. “If those states are not gaining from either domestic or international migration, they will experience either low population growth or outright decline.”

Nationally, natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) was 1.04 million last year, reflecting 3,855,500 births and 2,814,013 deaths. With fewer births in recent years and the number of deaths increasing, natural increase has declined steadily over the past decade. In 2008, natural increase was nearly 1.8 million.

Puerto Rico

New estimates show that Puerto Rico’s population continued to decline, with an estimated loss of 129,848 people (3.9 percent) between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018.

“Puerto Rico has seen a steady decline in population over the last decade,” says Johnson. “Hurricane Maria in September of 2017 further impacted that loss, both before and during the recovery period.”

Puerto Rico had a total population of 3,195,153 in 2018, a decrease from 3,726,157 in 2010. The decrease in Puerto Rico’s population is primarily due to higher rates of out-migration over in-migration and natural increase.

July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018 Census Bureau study highlights

  • As a whole, the U.S. population continues to grow due to both natural increase and international migration. Though international migration was slightly higher last year (978,826 compared to 953,233 the year before), natural increase was slightly lower (1,041,487 compared to 1,122,546 the year before).
  • Texas had the largest numeric growth over the last year, with an increase of 379,128 people. Texas grew both from having more births than deaths and from net gains in movers from within and outside the United States.
  • Florida had the highest level of net domestic migration in the last year, at 132,602. Since 2010, Florida has gained a total of 1,160,387 people from net domestic migration.
  • The voting age population, those 18 years and over, increased by 0.9 percent to 253,768,092 people in 2018.
  • The estimates do not reflect the effects of Hurricane Florence in September 2018, Hurricane Michael in October 2018, and the California wildfires.

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Fla.’s home sales, new listings, median prices up in Nov.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 19, 2018 – Florida’s housing market
reported more sales, more new listings and higher median prices in November
compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by
Florida Realtors®. Sales of single-family
homes statewide totaled 20,578 last month, up 3 percent compared to November 2017.

“Buyers who have been frustrated by a lack of for-sale homes
in their areas may be encouraged by signs that too-tight inventory levels are
easing,” says 2018 Florida Realtors President Christine Hansen, broker-owner
with Century 21 Hansen Realty in Fort Lauderdale. “In a year-over-year trend
that we’ve been seeing now for a few months, new listings rose in November: Up
4.1 percent for existing single-family homes and 1.5 percent for condo-townhouse
properties.

“At the same time, the median time for a sale to go to
contract is getting shorter: For single-family homes, it was 41 days, down 10.9
percent from the same time last year; for condo-townhouse properties, it was 44
days, down 15.4 percent. In today’s
fast-paced market, buyers and sellers benefit from the advice of a Realtor who
can help them stay informed of local real estate trends.”

November marked 83 months-in-a-row (more than six and a half
years) that statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse
properties increased year-over-year. The statewide median sales price for
single-family existing homes was $255,000, up 6.3 percent from the previous
year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in
partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’sstatewide median price for
condo-townhouse units was $185,000, up 5.1 percent over the year-ago figure.
The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the
national median sales price for existing single-family homes in October 2018
was $572,000; in Massachusetts, it
was $390,000; in Maryland, it was $279,000; and in New York, it was $260,000.
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Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market in November,
statewide closed sales totaled 8,643, up 4.9 percent compared to a year ago.
Closed sales data continued to show fewer short sales and foreclosures in
November: Short sales for condo-townhouse properties declined 38 percent and
foreclosures fell 25.2 percent year-to-year; while short sales for single-family
homes dropped 43.3 percent and foreclosures fell 32.1 percent year-to-year.
Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are
written.

“Statewide
inventory (active listings) of single-family homes continued to rise in
November, with just over 96,000 homes, an increase of nearly 12 percent,” says
Erica Plemmons, economist and director of housing statistics for Florida
Realtors. “We see similar trends on the condo/townhome side of the market, with
that inventory level up 6.6 percent to over 56,000 condos and townhomes.

So as we close out the
year, how has 2018 compared to 2017? Median sale price has continued its climb
every month in 2018 versus the same month in 2017 – and we anticipate a
continued trend in higher year-over-year closed sales as well, once the
December numbers are available.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year
fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.87 percent in November 2018, up from the 3.92
percent averaged during the same month a year earlier.

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to Florida
Realtors Research & Statistics section
on floridarealtors.org.
Realtors also have access to local market stats (password protected) on Florida
Realtors website.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®
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Don’t bother marketing online if you won’t do this

NEW YORK – Dec. 19, 2018 – Real estate agents need to follow up with online leads immediately if they want to see any return. Jack Markham, general manager of both Zurple Inc. and Z57 Internet Solutions, offers tips to help them speed up their response times.

Agents should implement an intelligent CRM system, which will help them choose the relevant content for each consumer and integrate lead generation with marketing automation.

“Make sure all of your lead sources are pointed in the same direction and are streamlined with your marketing automation,” he says.

The agent’s goal for any new lead should be to stop the consumer from searching for other agents online, which makes it important for them to be the first to respond, and to respond with relevant content that will drive leads back to their website.

Source: Forbes (10/08/18) Markham, Jack

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NAR actively involved in blockchain technology changes

WASHINGTON – Dec. 14, 2018 – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) unveiled a Blockchain Guidance paper on Wednesday afternoon during a webinar – a way to keep real estate at the forefront of conversations surrounding the emerging technology.

Although blockchain usage isn’t widely used in the industry yet, NAR says it wants to “proactively educate state and local Realtor associations, members and consumers on hurdles that could arise as the technology begins to penetrate the market, ensuring transactions with Realtors “are accurate, efficient and reliable.”

What is blockchain technology?

In short, blockchain is very secure because it doesn’t put all data on a single server, which makes it easier for a hacker to corrupt.

Blockchain technology uses online platforms to conduct a transaction between two or more people, and it records data on every computer involved in the transaction. When all parties agree to the terms of the transaction, there is a recorded “block” that locks the agreement in place indefinitely. This ensures the data cannot be altered unless all parties agree, once again, to accept changes, which would record the new block – and the old block isn’t erased. New blocks always include a reference to the previous block, forming a “chain.”

“Blockchain technology is quickly evolving from a theoretical concept into a resource that could become ubiquitous in our industry,” says NAR President John Smaby. “America’s 1.3 million Realtors® will be some of the first professionals to fully adopt this technology, and we want to be sure that our members and local associations are prepared to engage and educate their communities as this change occurs. This week’s event helped shine the light on some of the potential challenges we face as blockchain emerges, and NAR’s efforts continue to ensure that Realtors® will be involved in discussions on blockchain regulation at every level across the country.”

While blockchain is predicted to be a major part of all real estate transactions in the near future, its true impact on the real estate industry isn’t known. However, state governments are starting to anticipate an impending evolution, and some legislatures have already moved to ensure laws will protect consumers and businesses.

“As blockchain eliminates an intermediary from home sale transactions, our voice is key to ensuring the protection of consumers remains everyone’s primary concern,” says Smaby. “Blockchain technology has yet to affect the market or consumers in any practical way, but NAR’s industry-leading actions will ensure that all legislative or regulatory efforts positively impact real estate transactions and the industry as a whole.”

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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A government shutdown could affect real estate

WASHINGTON – Dec. 18, 2018 – The U.S. Congress funds government operations through a series of bills that must be signed by the president, and some of those bills expire on Friday. If those bills are not authorized by Congress and signed by President Trump, the impacted federal agencies effectively shut down, though they have authorization to continue any operation that is necessary to protect life and property.

Two of the federal agencies at risk of a shutdown might have an impact on homebuyers and sellers – the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that oversees the Federal Housing Authority (FHA loans), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees Rural Development.

While the federal government has shut down before – notably for 16 days in 2013 – the rules and impacts may have changed. FHA loans, for example, continued to move forward during the 2013 shutdown, but with many FHA employees furloughed, the process was more complicated and took longer than usual.

It’s unclear what might happen this time, and it’s likely that Congress and the president will agree to terms with either no – or a relatively short – shutdown. In general, problems created by a shutdown are minor over the short term but grow more difficult if the shutdown lasts longer.

Each department has issued guidelines subject to change. For more information on the potential impact of a government shutdown, visit their websites:

FHA guidance: https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/Main/documents/GENERALFAQS.pdf

USDA guidance: https://www.usda.gov/shutdownplans

© 2018 Florida Realtors®  

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Know that padlock icon on secure websites? It’s not secure

SAN FRANCISCO – Dec. 18, 2018 – A common piece of cybersecurity advice is to look for a padlock icon in your browser bar when you visit websites. This icon, ostensibly, indicates that the website is secure.

But that advice may no longer be fool-proof. New research from PhishLabs, a digital risk assessment company, finds that about half of all phishing websites use technology that displays a padlock icon to visitors.

The fake padlocks are an added challenge for real estate, the second-most targeted industry hit with malware events in the second quarter of 2018, according to a recent report from cybersecurity firm eSentire. Cybercriminals increasingly attempt to infiltrate real estate transactions and steal data.

The “https” protocol in website URLs usually signals that data is encrypted as it travels between browser and website. A poll of web users in December 2017 showed that more than 80 percent of respondents associated the padlock with a website that is either legitimate or safe.

“Browser makers are fighting back by working with security firms to identify and block new phishing sites, but some manage to evade being flagged,” TechSpot reports on the findings. “The safest option is to not input your details if you have any suspicions about a website – even if it does have a padlock.”

Source: “Half of All Phishing Sites Display the Padlock, Making People Think They’re Safe,” TechSpot (Nov. 27, 2018)

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Florida Realtors offers holiday safety tips

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 18, 2018 –As you’re decking the halls this holiday season, be sure you’re doing it safely. Here are some tips from Florida Realtors® to help you prepare your home for a happy holiday.

  • Use decorations made of fire-resistant materials. Artificial trees, garland and tree skirts are often made of this material, but check the package to be sure.
  • If you prefer a live tree, remember to water it daily so the needles stay moist and are less likely to catch fire. There are also some plant-food products designed to extend a tree’s life, which may help.
  • Check electrical decorations to make sure they’re in good condition. Replace any decorations that have frayed, that have exposed wires or loose connections. When buying new lights, select products approved by a testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which is usually indicated by the agency’s symbol printed on the package.
  • Illuminate holiday lights only when an adult is home and awake.
  • Place all extension cords out of the normal traffic path and make sure there’s no furniture on the cords.
  • Burn candles only when an adult is present. Leave plenty of space between candles and overhead cabinets, use a candleholder large enough to contain the dripping wax and move nearby items that could ignite. Carefully extinguish the flame when leaving the room and – as always – keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
  • When you open gifts, discard wrapping paper and ribbons in a metal garbage can. In the event of a household fire, excess paper will increase the speed at which the fire spreads.
  • If your home does not have smoke detectors, now is the time to install them. If you already have smoke detectors, check the batteries and replace them if you aren’t sure how old they are. Some new-home builders install electrical smoke detectors, which eliminate the need for batteries, but it doesn’t protect you or your home during a power outage. Most experts recommend installing at least two battery-operated smoke detectors. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in working order, preferably one that will put out all types of fires including electrical and grease fires. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguisher and keep it in an easily accessible place.
  • Discuss escape routes with your family and choose alternate routes in case a preferred exit, such as the front door, is blocked.

Increased home safety is a holiday gift everyone can enjoy.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®  

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Housing starts rise 3.2% – but single-family dropped

WASHINGTON (AP) – Dec. 18, 2018 – U.S. developers broke ground on more homes last month, but the increase occurred entirely in apartments. The construction of new single-family houses fell.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that housing starts rose 3.2 percent in November from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.26 million. Despite the increase, that is down 3.6 percent from a year ago. Single-family starts dropped 4.6 percent in November and are down 13.1 percent from a year earlier.

Some of the data likely have been distorted by extreme weather. Home-building jumped 15.1 percent last month in the South in the aftermath of Hurricanes Florence and Michael. And home construction fell 14.2 percent in the West, possibly because of wildfires in California. Single-family homebuilding fell in the West by the most since February 2009.

Still, rising mortgage rates have dragged down home sales in the past year, discouraging many builders and causing a slump in the overall housing market. Sales of new and existing homes are dropping and home price gains are slowing.

The unemployment rate is at a five-decade low and incomes are rising more quickly, but many would-be buyers struggle to find homes they can afford. Developers say that rising labor and materials costs make it harder for them to build more affordable properties.

“Rising home prices and mortgage rates have created high hurdles for homebuyers, while cost increases have made it difficult for builders to deliver homes at the most in-demand price points,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com.

Sales of new homes plummeted nearly 9 percent in October and the number of newly built, unsold homes sitting on the market has climbed to its highest level since 2009.

And an index of home builders’ confidence has fallen sharply over the last two months. On Monday, the National Association of Home Builders said the index dropped last month to its lowest level in 3 ½ years.

Mortgage rates shot up to nearly 5 percent in early November, the highest level in seven years. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage has fallen back since then and hit 4.6 percent last week. Still, that is up from an average of 3.9 percent a year earlier.

The construction of apartment buildings has soared in the past year, rising 20 percent nationwide. That could help keep rents in check.

But single-family home building creates more jobs and economic activity and is closely watched by economists. Their construction requires more labor and yields more purchases of furniture and appliances. Single- family home building plunged 13.1 percent in November from a year earlier.

Building permits for single-family homes ticked up 0.1 percent last month, suggesting that construction of those homes will level off in the coming months. Overall permits rose 5 percent last month and 0.4 percent from a year ago.

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HUD: Housing shortage worsens homelessness

WASHINGTON – Dec. 18, 2018 – The U.S. saw a 0.3 percent increase in homelessness this year, the second consecutive year for such an uptick, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual report to Congress. The uptick comes at a time when unemployment is at a nearly 50-year low and incomes are on the rise.

“There is a critical shortage of affordable rental housing in every jurisdiction across the country,” Barbara Poppe, an official under President Barack Obama who directed federal efforts to curb homelessness, told The Wall Street Journal.

However, Florida has had more success than many other states in fighting homelessness. According to HUD’s report, homelessness in the Sunshine State dropped 3.6 percent year-to-year.

The priciest metro areas are experiencing some of the biggest hikes in homelessness. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s homeless population lives in New York or Los Angeles, where rents have risen 20 percent and 35 percent, respectively, since 2012, according to Reis Inc. In Seattle and the surrounding King County, homelessness has risen 4 percent this year. Rents in the metro area are also up 64 percent since 2012.

Many cities are wrestling with ways to deal with homelessness. In recent months, several ordinances in municipalities across the country have attempted to make homelessness illegal – but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that cities cannot make it illegal to sleep outside on city streets when there are not enough shelters available.

Other findings

  • The number of families with children experiencing homelessness declined 2.7 percent since 2017 and 29 percent since 2010.
  • On a single night (Jan. 2018), 37,878 veterans experienced homelessness, a decline of 5.4 percent since January 2017. The number of female veterans dropped nearly 10 percent since last year. Overall, veteran homelessness in the U.S. declined 49 percent since 2010.
  • 88,640 individuals experienced long-term homelessness in 2018, an increase of 2.2 percent over 2017 levels though chronic homelessness declined by 16.4 percent since 2010.
  • The number of unaccompanied homeless youth and children in 2018 is estimated to be 36,361, a 5.1 percent decline since 2017.

Source: “U.S. Homelessness Edges Higher Again After Seven Years of Declines,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 17, 2018) [Log-in required.]

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Experian to give consumers input into their credit scores

COSTA MESA, Calif. – Dec. 18, 2018 – Experian, one of the main three U.S. credit-scoring companies, says its new program, Experian Boost, “will reshape the way consumers get access to credit” by allowing them to instantly influence their credit scores.

Through the new platform, consumers can grant permission for Experian Boost to connect to their online bank accounts to identify and access utility and telecommunications payments. After a consumer verifies the data and confirms they want it added to their Experian credit file, an updated FICO Score is delivered in real time.

“We are committed to financial inclusion, and Experian Boost is the latest example of our efforts to increase consumer awareness of credit’s impact and value while giving them greater control,” says Experian Global CEO Brian Cassin.

Consumers with thin credit files (less than five trade lines) and scores between 580 to 669 will benefit most.

Experian says that an early analysis of Experian Boost’s impact on FICO Scores found:

  • The risk predictiveness of the score was maintained
  • Two out of three credit scores improved
  • 10 percent of thin-file consumers became scoreable
  • For consumers with a score below 680, 75 percent saw an improvement in their credit score
  • 14 percent of consumers with a credit score at or below 579 moved to a near prime score between 620-679
  • Depending on credit tier, 5-15 percent moved into a better score category

According to Credit Builders Alliance, a subprime credit score will cost the average consumer approximately $200,000 over the course of their life. For example, a consumer with a FICO Score of 720 will pay $4,020 less for a $10,000, 5-year auto loan – saving $67 a month – compared to someone with a score of 500.

Only positive payment histories will be aggregated through the platform and consumers can remove the new data at any time. There is no limit to how many times a consumer can use Experian Boost to contribute new data. Consumer contributed payment histories will be compiled through Finicity, a provider of real-time financial data aggregation and insights.

Experian Boost will be available to all credit active adults in early 2019, but consumers can visit www.experian.com/boost now to register for early access.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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Florida Housing approves $30M for Hurricane Michael counties

TALLHASSEE, Fla. – Dec. 17, 2018 – The Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing) Board of Directors unanimously approved $30 million in HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) funds for counties most impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Florida Housing staff is now authorized to proceed with the development of a Request for Application (RFA) for HOME Program financing and for the executive director to establish a review committee for the RFA to make recommendations for award to the board in May 2019.

“Florida Housing’s board of directors and staff continue to find innovative ways to provide affordable housing and resources to the citizens of Florida. Approving the funding plan today will begin the efforts of building affordable housing in areas where it is needed in the Panhandle – whose families’ lives were devastated by the recent storm,” says Florida Housing’s Executive Director Trey Price.

This RFA will give preference to affordable rental developments to be built in areas most impacted by Hurricane Michael. Any remaining funds will be made available for developments in rural areas of the state.

The HOME Program provides non-amortized, low interest loans to developers for acquisition and/or new construction of affordable rental housing to low income families. Loans are offered for the financing of first or subordinate mortgages with a simple interest rate of zero percent to nonprofit applicants and 1.5 percent per annum interest rate to for-profit applicants.

Florida Housing was created by the Legislature more than 35 years ago as the state’s housing finance agency (HFA) that administers state and federal resources to help provide affordable homeownership and rental housing options for the citizens of Florida.

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Bad online review? An opportunity, not a tragedy

NEW YORK – Brad Schweig thought he had a satisfied customer when a woman who bought outdoor furniture in March 2017 posted a five-star review online.

Less than a year later, it was down to one star after a squirrel chewed a hole in one of the cushions.

Many business owners have faced the same uncomfortable situation since the advent of online review sites – a negative review, out there for potential customers to see. Schweig, co-owner of Sunnyland Furniture in Dallas, did what marketing experts recommend and tried to make amends in an online response.

“We apologized, and said, ‘we’d be glad to work with you on a replacement at discount,'” Schweig said. “We explained, ‘this can happen with nature.'”

Negative reviews are likely inevitable for many companies, especially those that cater to the public. Even a company whose customers are almost universally happy will be panned by someone who wound up with a defective product or had a bad experience or misunderstood a situation. Marketing consultants and owners themselves say the best way to handle these reviews is to acknowledge that the customer is unhappy and offer to discuss the problem offline, either on the phone or via email.

The malcontents who are easily angered and impossible to placate tend to be rare, said Ryan Goff, chief marketing officer at MGH, a marketing firm in Owings Mills, Md. Most negative reviewers respond well if a company is sincere in trying to right a situation, he said.

“I would say, ‘we understand completely you had a negative experience,'” Goff said. The next step: “We are going to do everything in our power to address this, and we want a full understanding of what happened.”

If the customer is eventually satisfied, owners should ask for an amended review or to have the angry one deleted.

Schweig never heard back from the customer, whose review said the outdoor furniture “should withstand a squirrel.” But he believes his was the right response, not only for that customer, but also for potential buyers.

“It might not make the reviewer change their mind but we know others are reading it and can see that we either care about resolving the issues, or it can make them realize the skewed ones aren’t as they seem,” he said.

Companies that post on social media need to be vigilant about checking for replies, and not just from unhappy customers, said Hank Yuloff, owner of Yuloff Creative Marketing Solutions in Sedona, Ariz.

“You have to scroll down and look at the comments being made and answer all. Even if they’re positive, say ‘thank you’ and build relationships,” Yuloff said.

Some owners may encounter reviews they believe are libelous or false.

“If it’s outright slanderous and untrue then you can reach out to the platform where the review was published and see if they’ll investigate it and potentially take it down. It could also be the basis for legal action,” said Rex Kimball, owner of marketing firm Mirex Marketing, based in Gilbert, Ariz.

Many of the negative reviews Todd Fetterly’s three mobile phone stores have received had nothing to do with the phones he sells. Instead, customers often are unhappy with phone service providers but vent at Fetterly and his staff. Still, Fetterly, whose Cell Phone Centre stores are in the Ottawa, Ontario, area, responds immediately.

“Because we are in such a commoditized market, customers have choices of where to go to purchase their devices,” he said.

Most reviewers do not get back to Fetterly, so there’s no opportunity for their reviews to be amended or retracted. So, he works to counter the negative postings by encouraging happier customers to post reviews – staffers routinely ask them to give positive feedback online. The strategy also includes using a company that solicits reviews. If a review is negative, it is not automatically posted; Fetterly can contact the customer and try to get it changed.

A negative review posted 10 years ago is still reverberating at Mary Nisi’s company, Toast & Jam, which supplies disc jockeys for weddings and other events. While the company has hundreds of five-star reviews on several websites, Nisi still is asked about the customer who said Toast & Jam canceled less than a month before the wedding; Nisi said the couple never signed a contract or responded to her emails.

“The worst thing you can say about a wedding vendor is they canceled two weeks before,” said Nisi, who is located in Chicago.

When couples ask about the review, she notes her ratings at or near five stars, and said, “if we canceled all the time, that would be coming out all the time in our reviews.”

Franchise companies must be proactive about bad reviews because a complaint about one location can have a negative impact on others. At Children’s Lighthouse, an early education company with 49 locations, the home office in Fort Worth, Texas, monitors and responds online to reviews for the entire chain.

“We apologize and say, ‘please call the office. We’d like to talk to you directly,” Marketing Director Monica Brown said.

If customers are satisfied after discussing the problem with staffers, the company asks if they’re willing to delete the review.

“Most of the time they do take it off,” Brown says. “It’s mostly that they want to be heard.”

© 2018 Cooke Communications LLC – Rocky Mount Telegram, Joyce M. Rosenberg

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Florida Realtors, feXpro in Belgium sign agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 17, 2018 –Florida Realtors®and feXpro, a top real estate organization in Belgium, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for 2018-2019. The MoU establishes the cooperation of the two Realtor organizations in developing a mutually beneficial relationship for their respective association members. The signing took place on Friday at Florida Realtors’ Orlando headquarters.

“As professionals in the real estate industry, we take pride in providing our knowledge and expertise to clients in Florida, Belgium and throughout the world,” says 2018 Florida Realtors President Christine Hansen. “Florida Realtors and feXpro share common goals. We look forward to continuing our partnership and building more connections that increase trans-national business opportunities for all of our members.”

As part of the agreement, Florida Realtors and feXpro “affirm the value of international collaboration and agree to exchange information in the general field of real estate, promote professionalism in the real estate industry and engage in other activities that provide mutual benefits.”

Founded in 2013, feXpro covers the Flemish and Brussels markets. Its members are real estate professionals, notaries, architects, real estate developers, builders and appraisers. The organization offers accredited training for the real estate profession and serves as the National Association of Realtors’ bilateral partner in Belgium.

Following their motto: “Knowledge and experience are only of use when being exchanged,” feXpro supports activities that exchange knowledge and experience. That’s why, according to 2018-19 feXpro President Glenn Geyssens, establishing this relationship between Florida Realtors and feXpro enables both organizations to develop a greater mutual understanding and more opportunities for collaboration.

Serving as “the voice for real estate in Florida,” Florida Realtors is the largest professional trade association in the state with more than 180,000 Realtor members in 52 local real estate boards and associations.

The MoU announcement took place last Friday at Florida Realtors headquarters in Orlando, Fla. Along with Geyssens and Hansen, also present at the event were Florida Realtors 2019 CEO Margy Grant; Willy Haegens, honorary president and founder of feXpro; Christian Bohyn, a member of the Osceola County Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors®(NAR) ambassador to Belgium and the Netherlands; Maria Grulich, Florida Realtors director of global business; and additional members of feXpro and Florida Realtors. More than 30 members of feXpro participated in the Florida visit.

Sponsors include the Orlando Regional Realtor®Association, the Osceola County Association of Realtors, The Grove and MoneyCorp.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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Flood ins. Dec. 21 expiration: Hope for best, plan for worst

WASHINGTON – Dec. 17, 2018 – From 2008 to 2012, Congress extended the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) 17 times. Of those 17 expirations, it actually lapsed four times: From March 1 to March 2, 2010; March 29 to April 15, 2010; June 1 to July 2, 2010; and October 1 to October 5, 2011.

In general, a long lapse creates more problems than a short lapse, and the longest one in 2010 lasted for an entire month. In most cases, a NFIP extension, once authorized, is made retroactive; however, new policy applications and existing policy renewals stop during a shutdown.

For the real estate industry, a program lapse makes it difficult or impossible to close on homes located in flood zones if the buyer requires a mortgage, since most lenders require NFIP coverage to protect their investment.

While the flood program’s temporary demise after Friday isn’t a sure thing or even necessarily likely, it’s still possible. Realtors who have a closing scheduled after that date – especially if buyers are rushing to complete the transaction before the year ends – should prepare for the possibility.

Homebuyer options if NFIP expires before closing

  • Buyers may be able to secure NFIP coverage before closing if they apply and receive confirmation before the program shuts down. Under this option, buyers must secure NFIP coverage before end-of-day Friday
  • Buyers may sometimes “assume” the current policy owned by the seller under certain conditions. For this to work, the seller must have coverage and be willing to transfer it. Check GR 15 in a PDF doc posted online at FEMA’s website.
  • Secondary lenders that purchase mortgages, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, often issue guidelines on how to handle a flood insurance lapse. They may authorize lenders, for example, to approve loans if buyers put money into escrow and sign docs so they can get NFIP coverage as soon after closing as possible. However, this isn’t necessarily common.
  • Should flood insurance expire, FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and VA will probably release guidelines with more information. During earlier NFIP lapses, the FDIC issued guidance to lending institutions, and the Federal Reserve issued informal guidance to lenders.
  • In some earlier NFIP shutdowns, FEMA created a Write-Your-Own (WYO) Program, in which private insurance companies were paid to write and service NFIP policies.

Private flood insurance isn’t always a good option if NFIP expires, however. In many cases, a lender might not consider private coverage adequate for a loan approval.

In addition, private coverage could create future problems for homebuyers. NFIP generally does not recognize private policies, and it will consider homeowners with private policies uninsured. That “uninsured” designation can create problems for homeowners going forward in various ways if they want NFIP coverage later.

“Most carriers do not recognize other policies as equal to NFIP for any flood zone higher than an X zone,” says Maria S. Wells, broker/owner of Lifestyle Realty Group in Stuart, 2017 Florida Realtors® president and 2019 Region 5 VP for the National Association of Realtors®. Until Congress can pass a responsible bill to make the NFIP solvent, deal with mitigation issues and level the playing field with rates, we will continue to have a broken system that keeps getting kicked down the road leaving homeowners and their communities in peril when Mother Nature decides to pay a visit.”

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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FHA loan limits increased for 2019

WASHINGTON – Dec. 17, 2018 – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced the agency’s new schedule of loan limits for 2019, with most areas in the country to experience an increase in loan limits in the coming year. These loan limits are effective for FHA case numbers assigned on or after Jan. 1, 2019 and mirror earlier limits announced by the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA).

In high-cost areas of the country, FHA’s loan limit ceiling will increase to $726,525 from $679,650. FHA will also increase its floor to $314,827 from $294,515.

FHA says that increases in median housing prices required changes to FHA’s floor and ceiling limits, which are tied to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)’s increase in the conventional mortgage loan limit for 2019.

Overall, the maximum loan limits for FHA forward mortgages will rise in 3,053 U.S. counties. In 181 counties, FHA’s loan limits will remain unchanged.

By statute, the median home price for a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is based on the county within the MSA having the highest median price. HUD has used the highest median price point for any year since the enactment of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA).

The cap for reverse mortgages – FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) – will increase to $726,525 from $679,650. FHA’s current regulations implementing the National Housing Act’s HECM limits do not allow loan limits for reverse mortgages to vary by MSA or county.

The National Housing Act, as amended by HERA, requires FHA to establish floor and ceiling loan limits based on the loan limit set by FHFA for conventional mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA’s 2019 minimum national loan limit, or floor, of $314,827 is set at 65 percent of the national conforming loan limit of $484,350. This floor applies to those areas where 115 percent of the median home price is less than the floor limit.

Any areas where the loan limit exceeds this ‘floor’ is considered a high-cost area, and HERA requires FHA to set its maximum loan limit ‘ceiling’ for high-cost areas at 150 percent ($726,525) of the national conforming limit.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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How to embarrass yourself in any culture: 5 easy steps

NEW YORK – Dec. 17, 2018 – Technology has been instrumental in creating a global economy and convenient connections to people around the world – but real estate agents should be aware that technology also makes it easier for them to embarrass themselves in another culture.

To avoid embarrassment, agents would be wise to:

  1. Skip the sarcasm in emails; instead make it a practice to mean what you say and say what you mean.
  2. Avoid being casual. Err on the side of caution and address people as Mr., Ms., Sir or Madam until instructed otherwise – and always include a friendly greeting.
  3. Don’t use idioms, abbreviations, slang or all caps. Try to make sure everything translates easily into other languages.
  4. Be mindful of the time because contacts may live in different time zones.
  5. Don’t sound demanding. Agents can lose an edge if they don’t soften their language.

Source: RISMedia (12/04/18) Kinsella, Beth

© Copyright 2018 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

 

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How long before a net-zero home breaks even?

DENVER, Colo. – Dec. 12, 2018 – Net-zero homes – ones that make as much energy as they put out – cost more upfront to build, but they save homeowners money on their energy bills. Eventually, that monthly savings adds up and the home’s net-zero cost pays for itself, a new study shows.

Net-zero energy homes usually have rooftop solar panels, energy-efficient insulation, triple-pane windows, energy-savvy appliances, LED lighting and smart thermostats. Builders also design the home’s natural lighting to help save energy costs, such as the position of windows and overhangs that could supply additional heating in the winter or shade in the summer.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, a research nonprofit focusing on clean energy, looked at how long it takes for the savings on a net-zero home to cover the initial costs of a 2,200-square-foot home in the 30 largest U.S. cities. Here are the top cities where you can pay off a net-zero home in the fastest amount of time:

  1. San Francisco: 7.8 years
  2. Detroit: 9.1 years
  3. Baltimore: 9.2 years
  4. Columbus, Ohio: 9.7 years
  5. New York: 10.1 years
  6. Phoenix: 10.7 years
  7. Jacksonville, Fla.: 10.9 years
  8. Los Angeles: 11 years
  9. Washington, D.C.: 11 years
  10. Chicago: 11.4 years
  11. Sacramento, Calif.: 11.7 years
  12. Indianapolis: 12.3 years
  13. Portland, Ore.: 12.3 years
  14. Seattle: 12.4 years
  15. Dallas: 12.5 years
  16. Oakland, Calif.: 12.5 years
  17. Wichita, Kan.: 12.5 years

The cost of building net-zero homes varies widely geographically. The biggest savings tend to be in areas with high electricity rates and older building codes, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

“Zero-energy homes are actually affordable,” Jacob Corvidae, principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, told InsideClimate News. Corvidae said it’s important to note because consumers, builders, and policymakers may be reluctant to encourage net-zero building over perceptions that it isn’t affordable.

But even in places like Detroit – not known for its year-round sunshine that would make solar as attractive – net-zero homes can be paid off in less than a decade – one of the fastest regions in the country for break-even costs. A 2,200-square-foot net-zero energy home in Detroit would cost $19,753 more to build than the same house without any solar or standard efficiency, but that home’s energy bill savings would be $2,508 in the first year. The solar and efficiency costs pay for themselves in about 9 years, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute study.

Some of the nation’s largest home builders, like PulteGroup and Meritage Homes, are offering more net-zero energy options to consumers. Pearl Homes in Cortez, Fla., is building a zero-energy community that uses energy storage and electric vehicle chargers.

“We’re starting to see the tip of that iceberg, and when it really hits, it’s going to be huge,” says Ann Edminster, a consultant and architect who works with the Net-Zero Energy Coalition.

Source: “Net-Zero Energy Homes Pay Off Faster Than You Think – Even in Chilly Midwest,” InsideClimate News (Dec. 10, 2018) and “The Economics of Zero-Energy Homes,” Rocky Mountain Institute

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