Monthly Archives: February 2019

A guide: How to use real estate hashtags in social media

NEW YORK – Feb. 27, 2019 – Hashtags are important when marketing a real estate business on social media – especially to millennials.

Combinations of letters, numbers and emoji starting with the # symbol categorize content on social media to make it more discoverable. Clicking on a hashtag or searching for a hashtag displays results with all the posts tagged with it.

A few hashtags real estate professionals should consider are:

  • #[your location], which will help people searching for a home in their area
  • #[your location + school district], which will help parents looking for a new home in a particular school district
  • #[local attractions], avoiding hashtags for attractions that are not relevant to their listing
  • #[area + style], which helps if a buyer is looking for a specific type of home in the area
  • #[your brokerage], which makes it easy for searchers to find everything related to the brokerage in one place
  • #[generic, relevant words], like #DreamHome, #HouseGoals or other trendy hashtags that could increase the reach of their post

Tools like Hashtagify can suggest relevant hashtags and show how many people are using them. Agents should choose a hashtag that has a sizeable reach but not so big that their post gets lost in the noise.

They also should consider what their competitors are doing with hashtags and use some of the same ones so they’ll appear in similar search results.

As for the number of hashtags per post, TrackMaven found that Instagram posts with nine hashtags receive the most engagement, but Twitter posts with just one hashtag receive the most engagement.

Ultimately, agents should let the content of their post inform how many hashtags to use and ensure they are all relevant to the content they are posting.

Source: RISMedia (02/17/19) Petersen, Alexis

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Push to stop real estate money laundering goes worldwide

NEW YORK – Feb. 27, 2019 – U.S. regulations force shell companies in some metro areas to reveal the names of their actual owners, and a bill in Congress could expand that financing rule nationwide.

But money laundering activities in the real estate industry aren’t limited to the U.S. Countries around the world are starting to crack down on money laundering schemes in the luxury real estate sphere.

“Real estate has always been a favorite asset for criminals, through which they would launder their money,” says Brigitte Unger, a professor at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and an expert in global money laundering issues.

Real estate money laundering schemes are estimated to reach $1.6 trillion a year worldwide, according to a report from Accuity, a global risk and compliance company.

“It was becoming increasingly apparent in countries such as Australia, America and the United Kingdom that a number of assets being purchased could possibly be linked to political or criminal activities where money laundering was about to occur,” Patrick Hinchin, vice president of commercial strategy at Accuity, told Mansion Global.

In some areas, real estate purchases tied to organized crime and market abuse are being blamed for skyrocketing home prices. Criminals will many times purchase real estate in a city where the housing market holds high values, for example, and then hide behind a shell company or a trusted business associate. They’ll then either rent the property or remodel it using criminal funds and later sell it for a profit, Unger says.

To help combat scams in the U.S., FinCEN, an investigative arm of the U.S. Treasury Department, has lowered the threshold for real estate transaction sizes involving shell companies. As it currently operates, title companies must identify the parties – the real owners – behind the shell companies. The threshold is now cash purchases above $300,000 or transactions involving cryptocurrency.

The orders apply to all title companies in Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. However, that list could expand.

Since the requirement was enacted in January 2016 to make LLC owners who purchase luxury real estate identify themselves, FinCEN says it has seen cash purchases plunge by 70 percent. However, other security experts say those who still want to use real estate to launder money are seeking markets outside of those 12 to continue to hide behind shell companies.

Other countries are stepping up their efforts. The British Parliament introduced legislation in 2018 to require foreign owners to identify themselves in real estate purchases. The bill has not yet passed, but the registry is supposed to be made public by 2021. Owners who don’t comply could be sent to prison for two years or face fines.

In Germany, lawmakers introduced a transparency registry in 2017 that requires all shell companies to list the real owner of any property. A failure to do so would result in a fine of $1.15 million.

Source: “Governments Around the World Are Tackling Money Laundering in Real Estate,” Mansion Global (Feb. 18, 2019)

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Will tech companies fix the affordable housing crisis?

SAN FRANCISCO – Feb. 27, 2019 – From atop his gleaming new headquarters, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has an inspirational view of mountains, the bay and an endless Pacific Ocean.

But when Benioff looks down, he’s not so happy.

Some 60 floors below his Salesforce Tower offices is what he calls “an inequality train wreck,” city streets “out of control” with thousands of homeless and often infirm citizens who have rendered sidewalks a landmine of feces and drug paraphernalia. Many have been destitute for years, but others are newly minted refugees of a housing crisis created in large part by the very technology boom that has made Benioff and other tech entrepreneurs billionaires many times over.

That’s why Benioff, along with some of his tech peers and civic leaders, say it’s time for corporations in general, and tech companies specifically, to contribute financially toward fixing a problem that looms large from Seattle to Boston.

Activists, meanwhile, warn that housing stock has lagged so severely in some cities that even huge infusions of cash will struggle to make an impact.

San Francisco’s woes are particularly acute. Its housing stock is a quarter of its need, which has led to real estate prices that are among the highest in the nation. Some 15,000 tech positions were added in the city in 2016 and 2017, according to a report from brokerage firm CBRE.

Seattle, another tech hub, has experienced the same housing deficit phenomenon, all while local tech powerhouses Amazon and Microsoft helped create 33,000 new tech jobs in 2016 and 2017, the CBRE report says.

And as Amazon moves into Northern Virginia and Apple into Austin, local lawmakers and housing experts there are keeping careful watch on how an explosion of technology jobs will hit their communities.

Across the nation, the influx of high-paying jobs in areas with limited housing has sent housing prices soaring for local residents.

Since 2010, median home values in San Francisco have doubled to $1.37 million, according to Zillow. Seattle and Boston also doubled, to $730,000 and $600,000 respectively. Austin jumped from $212,000 to $364,000 in that time period.

Benioff, whose family has been in San Francisco for generations, says more foresight should have gone into managing the tech explosion. “There’s been really poor planning in our state and our cities,” Benioff says with measured anger. “Look at Paris, they build social housing into their city,” he says. “You can have an amazing economy with high-end residences but also accommodate everyone. You just have to plan for all income types. The government has to step in, and companies have to help.”

The housing crisis must be addressed by a careful collaboration between politicians, advocacy groups and corporate entities, says Corianne Scally, principal research associate with The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

“There is no magic solution,” says Scally. “Companies need to understand the pressure they are creating, particularly when taxes levied on them aren’t covering their impact when you take into account the tax incentives that they get for setting up shop.”

Some already digging deep

Many tech giants say they are already reaching into their pockets to fund affordable housing solutions.

Google has donated $3 million toward homelessness solutions being proposed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed. A spokesperson for the search giant said it had “granted over $250 million since 2014 in the areas of homelessness, economic opportunity and education.”

In mid-January, Microsoft revealed that it was going to allocate $500 million toward housing initiatives around its Seattle-area headquarters. In a blog post trumpeting the news, Microsoft president Brad Smith and CFO Amy Hood said the move was spurred by a realization that “this is a big problem, and it’s a problem that’s only going to get worse.”

Microsoft said because jobs have grown 21 percent since 2011 while housing has only expanded by 13 percent, the company would be investing $225 million toward building middle-income housing, $250 million to support low-incoming housing, and $25 million in grants to help those tackling homelessness issues.

About a week after Microsoft laid out its plan, a San Francisco corporate consortium calling itself Partnership for the Bay Area’s Future announced it was halfway toward a goal of raising $540 million. The Partnership’s investment fund is aimed at providing financial assistance toward a goal of building 8,000 new housing units across the Bay Area in the coming years. Its policy fund will support initiatives to preserve and expand housing, with a particular focus on strengthening low-income tenant protections to guard against landlords evicting low-income renters so they can charge higher rates.

Preserving affordable housing also is a mission of newly installed California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has made housing a top priority. He recently sued the Southern California city of Huntington Beach for resisting efforts to build affordable housing.

Ultimately, civic leaders and some tech leaders warn that ignoring housing issues is bad for business. San Francisco’s homeless problem already has caused some companies to plan lucrative conventions elsewhere, and an inviting urban core also is considered a key recruiting tool.

“A place like the Bay Area is very diverse and vibrant, which is why companies want to be here and hire here,” says Caitlyn Fox, director of Justice and Opportunity for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The foundation is part of the new Partnership for the Bay Area’s Future, along with Facebook, the Ford Foundation, Genentech, Morgan Stanley and others.

“We all came to the Bay Area because of its promise, and now we have a stake to ensure that promise remains for all,” says Fox. “Because that’s being threatened.”

Will Amazon match Microsoft?

It is not uncommon for tech companies flush with cash to create programs aimed at placating communities where they operate.

Apple, which built a new billion-dollar headquarters in Cupertino, California, a few years ago, said it had contributed to $1.8 million to area bike lanes, and added that in 2018 its employees had donated more than $125 million to non-profits around the world.

Representatives at the iPhone-maker would not say whether it has plans to work with local officials on housing issues, including in Texas, where Apple’s plan to build by 2021 a new 133-acre campus in Austin would make it the largest private employer in the city.

In Seattle, Amazon said it has donated $40 million to Mary’s Place, a local homeless shelter. Working with the non-profit, Amazon has created two temporary homeless shelters on its campus, which will become permanent in 2020.

But Amazon also has come under heavy fire for contributing to rising inequality in Seattle, as well as for successfully killing a head-count tax on employees – $275 per worker on companies making more than $20 million a year – that would have raised money partly for affordable housing.

“When Microsoft announced their news, the feeling here was, ‘OK, Amazon, what are you going to do?'” says Jeff Shulman, a marketing professor at the University of Washington who has been studying Amazon’s impact on Seattle’s growth. Shulman notes that Amazon has been good for the area not only in terms of tech jobs but also “jobs at every level, particular in terms of people moving here to serve Amazon employees.” But, he adds, such cafeteria workers, janitors, teachers, child-care workers increasingly find themselves priced out of the areas in which they work, resulting in endless commutes along clogged roads.

“Tech companies need to lure talent, and for those employees, quality of life includes where they live, how they get to work, where their kids go to school and even cultural amenities. But the housing crunch is pushing all but those paid big tech salaries far away,” says Shulman.

And just recently, Amazon abruptly pulled out of plans to build part of its new headquarters in the Queens borough of New York City after politicians and activists there raised questions about the company’s financial commitment to the region while receiving $3 billion in subsidies.

Real estate agents in New York had already starting seeing evidence of an “Amazon effect” on prices just as a result of the announcement that the everything-store tech behemoth was moving to New York and Virginia.

Michelle Winters, executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions in Northern Virginia, says so far Amazon has not said how it plans to help beyond bringing thousands of jobs to the area. She remains optimistic, but fears the worst.

“You could have dual impacts,” says Winters. “One is the immediate local impact near campus, where there might be a large-scale displacement of residents who have been there for generations. And the other is a broader regional impact, where affordable homes are only available in outlying areas, with a negative impact on traffic that creates a poorer quality of life.”

In San Francisco, Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council for Community Housing Organizations, a non-profit that crafts affordable housing public policy, says he is grateful for the newfound corporate focus on the housing crisis, but is also skeptical about whether the gestures are too little, too late.

Marti points out that, for one thing, in the Bay Area even $500 million doesn’t go far. Consider that at an average home-building cost of $300 per square foot, a new 1,500-square-foot home would cost $450,000 to construct. That means $500 million would only build 1,111 new homes.

“I remain optimistic that more will be done by these companies,” says Marti. “It’s all tied together in the end, housing and education and quality of life, and all of that, if not resolved, affects their ability to do business.”

Most can’t afford California

The California Dream is proving increasingly elusive, especially for younger residents.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll indicated that 43 percent of California voters said they couldn’t afford life in the state, while 61 percent of 18 to 34 years old living in the world’s fifth largest economy said it was beyond their means.

In Silicon Valley’s backyard, only high-end housing needs in San Francisco have been met over the past four years ending in 2017, according to CASA, the Committee to House the Bay Area. In contrast, over the same period, low-income and middle-income housing demand outstripped new housing supply four to one.

One solution may well be to leverage technology itself to make housing construction more affordable.

That’s the mission of Factory OS, a new company (OS stands for off-site) just north of San Francisco that takes an automotive assembly line approach to building. OS builds apartments in its factory at around a 30 percent costs savings over on-site construction. Factory OS already has an order from 300 small apartments from Google, which is looking to add short-term housing options for employees who come to its Mountain View, California, headquarters to work on projects.

Company CEO Rick Holliday says he was forced to innovate due to the pressures he’s facing from the very housing shortage he’s hoping to alleviate.

“We’re in a mess, and part of the issue is my own labor shortage,” says Holliday, who said between unaffordable Bay Area housing and younger workers not getting into building trades, he has lost 30 percent of his workforce in recent years.

“We need to tackle hard costs and get more housing out of those dollars,” he says. “Tackle those costs, get Sacramento politicians engaged and ask tech companies to engage. You do those three things, and you might make a dent.”

Tech leaders are far from reaching a consensus on how – and even whether – to pay for affordable housing. Benioff, for example, was a huge backer of San Francisco’s Proposition C, which passed in November. It stipulates that any company with revenues over $50 million would be charged 0.5 percent on income over that mark. So if you pull in $55 million one year, you’d be assessed $25,000 in Prop C taxes.

While that’s a small amount for many of the roughly 400 area companies affected by the law, supporters estimate that the city will be able to collect around $300 million a year from the tax.

That money would go toward 1,000 new beds for the city’s homeless and also over time allot $150 million to 4,000 new housing units dedicated to lower income families.

But the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, along with some tech entrepreneurs, opposed the measure, arguing that the tax could drive companies away from San Francisco. Benioff and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey even got into an online feud over the matter, with Dorsey predicting that smaller companies would get disproportionately hurt by the measure.

The city has started to collect these taxes, but nothing has yet been distributed because the measure is facing a court challenge as it did not pass by a two-thirds majority.

Benioff hails Proposition C is an example of how big change can come from public-private partnerships. Ultimately, however, he said a solution can’t be reached if multi-billion-dollar tech companies don’t see pitching in on housing as a fundamental part of their corporate responsibility.

“Homelessness is my number one priority,” says Benioff. “It’s about getting San Francisco cleaned up again.”

Copyright © 2019 The Herald-Mail, Marco della Cava. All rights reserved.

NAR: Pending home sales jump 4.6% in January

WASHINGTON – Feb. 27, 2019 – Pending home sales rebounded strongly in January, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). All four major regions saw month-to-month growth last month, including the largest surge in the South, an area that includes Florida.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 4.6 percent to 103.2 in January, up from 98.7 in December. Year-over-year contract signings, however, declined 2.3 percent, making January the thirteenth straight month of annual decreases.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says he expected an increase in January home sales because a “change in Federal Reserve policy and the reopening of the government were very beneficial to the market.”

Of the four major regions, three areas experienced a decline in a year-to-year comparison, however. Only the Northeast enjoyed a slight growth spurt.

Yun says higher rates discouraged many would-be buyers in 2018. “Homebuyers are now returning and taking advantage of lower interest rates, while a boost in inventory is also providing more choices for consumers.”

Additionally, Yun says the inventory of for-sale homes has risen, which bodes well for increased pending sales going forward, and positive pending home sales figures in January will likely continue.

“Income is rising faster than home prices in many areas and mortgage rates look to remain steady,” he says.” Furthermore, job creation will help lift home buying.”

January pending home sales regional breakdown

In 2019, Yun forecasts existing-home sales will be around 5.28 million – down 1.1 percent from 2018 (5.34 million). The national median existing-home price this year is expected to increase around 2.2 percent. In 2018, existing sales declined 3.1 percent and prices rose 4.9 percent.

Pending sales in the Northeast rose 1.6 percent to 94.0 in January and are now 7.6 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index rose 2.8 percent to 100.2 in January – 0.3 percent lower than January 2018.

Pending home sales in the South jumped 8.9 percent to an index of 119.8 in January, which is 3.1 percent lower than this time last year. The index in the West increased 0.3 percent in January to 87.3 and fell 10.1 percent below a year ago.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Thousands of Floridians aren’t insuring their homes

MIAMI – Feb. 27, 2019 – When people in Florida have a mortgage, banks require them to obtain homeowners insurance to protect their investment. After the mortgage is satisfied, however, thousands of people stop paying those insurance premiums, which puts them at risk, experts say.

“It’s totally crazy not to have insurance unless you are super rich and you can be self-insured but I don’t think that’s the case for most of us,” says Victor Roldan, director of RMS.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners says Florida had the third-highest average premium for homeowners insurance compared to other states in 2016, costing homeowners $1,918 annually. Compared to the national average, Floridians pay $726 more per year.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one out of 10 (12.8 percent) owner-occupied Florida homes don’t have property insurance, and it rises to 14.4 percent in Miami – double the national average of 6.8 percent.

Source: NBC Miami (02/25/19) Masihy, Myriam; Esquivel, Sandra

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Home prices up but at slower pace for 9th straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) – Feb. 26, 2019 – U.S. home price gains slowed for the ninth straight month in December, reflecting weaker sales and higher mortgage rates that have since declined.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 4.2 percent from a year earlier, down from 4.6 percent in November, according to a report released Tuesday.

Home sales and price increases cooled considerably last year and have been a drag on the economy. Previous price gains have put many homes out of reach for would-be buyers, and a jump in mortgage rates last fall also held back sales, which plunged 8.5 percent in 2018.

Prices rose the fastest in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta. Seattle and Portland, which spent months as the hottest real estate markets nationwide, ranked 11th and 16th in price gains in December.

Washington, D.C. and San Diego saw the smallest cost increases.

Additional evidence of the housing market’s troubles emerged Tuesday, when a government report showed that developers started work in December on the fewest new homes in more than two years. That suggests builders are anticipating fewer sales of new homes this year.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage reached 4.75 percent in early December, nearly a percentage point higher than a year earlier. It has since fallen back to 4.35 percent, which could boost sales a bit this year.

Even as home price increases weaken, they are still increasing faster than average paychecks, which will likely limit sales.

AP Logo Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press, Christopher Rugaber. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Florida Legislature’s 2019 session begins next week

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Feb. 26, 2019 – Florida lawmakers will gather March 5 in the House chamber to hear Gov. Ron DeSantis give his first State of the State address, the traditional start of the 60-day legislative session.

Led by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, lawmakers this year will deal with myriad issues, ranging from passing a state budget to deciding whether to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana.

10 big issues to watch during the session

DeSantis has proposed a $91.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, as he seeks to increase money for education and water-quality projects and trim taxes. But the DeSantis proposal is only a starting point for lawmakers, who will have their own priorities for state funding. Lawmakers also will grapple with recovery costs from Hurricane Michael, which devastated parts of Northwest Florida in October.

After algae and red tide fouled waterways and coastal areas in Southeast Florida and Southwest Florida last year, DeSantis is making a priority of addressing water-quality issues. DeSantis has proposed a $625 million package that addresses Everglades restoration and other water-related issues. Lawmakers also are pushing bills that would deal with problems such as cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon.

Health care
Oliva and other House Republican leaders want to reduce regulations in the health-care industry, arguing that taking more of a free-market approach would help hold down costs. The House is targeting a variety of issues, such as “certificate of need” regulations that help determine whether hospitals and other types of facilities can be built. DeSantis has touted a proposal aimed at allowing lower-cost prescription drugs to be imported from Canada.

Hurricane Michael
Lawmakers face costly decisions as they look to help Northwest Florida recover from Hurricane Michael. Galvano said the state has already spent $1.13 billion responding to the October hurricane, and the total could go as high as $2.7 billion. The federal government is expected to reimburse many costs, but that will take time. The state also faces issues such as helping the region’s severely damaged timber industry.

The insurance industry and business groups are lobbying heavily to make changes in the controversial insurance practice known as assignment of benefits, which involves policyholders signing over benefits to contractors. Insurers argue abuse and litigation are driving up property-insurance rates, while AOB supporters say the practice helps make sure insurers properly pay claims. A key part of the debate focuses on limiting attorney fees.

Medical marijuana
Facing heavy pressure from DeSantis, lawmakers appear likely to end a ban on smoking medical marijuana. The ban, included in a 2017 medical-marijuana law, was found unconstitutional by a circuit judge, and DeSantis has threatened to drop an appeal if the Legislature does not eliminate the ban. It is less clear, however, whether lawmakers will address other medical-marijuana regulatory issues that have led to lawsuits.

School choice
DeSantis and Senate leaders have outlined proposals that could lead to a major expansion of school choice, including the creation of a voucher-type program that would be directly funded with tax dollars. The House has long supported such programs, as has new Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. Democrats and teachers’ unions will fight the expansion, but Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.

School safety
Just past the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, lawmakers will look again at revamping laws to boost school safety. The most-controversial issue will be a proposal to expand the school “guardian” program to allow trained classroom teachers to be armed. A state commission created last year recommended allowing armed teachers.

Supreme Court
After taking office last month, DeSantis made three appointments that created a solid conservative majority on the Florida Supreme Court. The change could embolden the GOP-controlled Legislature, which in the past clashed with a more liberal Supreme Court. As examples, lawmakers could expand taxpayer-funded school vouchers and cap attorney fees in workers’ compensation insurance cases – issues that previously ran into Supreme Court roadblocks.

Galvano has made clear that one of his top priorities will be highway projects that he says would help rural areas. The Senate president wants to extend the Suncoast Parkway toll road to go from the Tampa Bay region to the Georgia border; create a multi-use corridor, including a highway, from Polk County to Collier County; and extend the Florida Turnpike west from where it currently ends at Interstate 75.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Saunders

New housing starts fell 11.2% in December

WASHINGTON (AP) – Feb. 26, 2019 – The number of homes being built in December plunged to the lowest level in more than two years, a possible sign that developers are anticipating fewer new houses to be sold this year.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that housing starts fell 11.2 percent in December from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate 1.08 million. This is the slowest pace of construction since September 2016.

Over the past 12 months, housing starts have tumbled 10.2 percent. December’s decline occurred for single-family houses and apartment buildings.

Builders have pulled back as higher prices have caused home sales to slump, suggesting that affordability challenges have caused the pool of would-be buyers and renters to dwindle.

“Artificially high prices have created affordability constraints, resulting in a situation where builders cannot deliver supply in scale,” said Brad Dillman, chief economist for the multi-family developer Cortland. “The result is that today’s housing market is undersupplied.”

The Commerce Department reported last month that new-home sales in November were 7.7 percent lower than a year ago.

The housing market initially cooled last year as average, 30-year mortgage rates climbed to nearly 5 percent. Home prices have consistently risen faster than wages, and the inventory of homes listed for $250,000 or less is tight, suggesting a sluggish market ahead.

But the average mortgage has fallen since November, and that may help some Americans become owners in 2019. Also, the pace of rising prices has slowed while wage growth has accelerated in recent months, which could also boost sales.

“Looking forward we may see a few more months of weak single-family starts before increasing confidence leads to increased production,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for

Permits to build housing, an indicator of future activity, increased just 0.3 percent in December. Among single-family houses, permits fell 2.2 percent in December and 5.5 percent from a year ago.

Housing starts were flat in the Northeast in December but fell in the Midwest, South and West.

AP Logo Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press, Josh Boak. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fla. consumers’ optimism rises to near-record levels

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Feb. 26, 2019 – Consumer sentiment among Floridians increased 2.8 points in February to 100.9 from a revised figure of 98.1 in January – strong levels of confidence haven’t been seen since January 2018, when consumer sentiment reached 101.3 points. This month’s reading is the second highest since March 2002.

Among the five components that make up the index, three increased and two decreased.

Floridians’ opinions of their personal financial situation now compared with a year ago increased 1.3 points from 93.8 to 95.1. However, opinions varied greatly by gender and income levels, with male respondents and those with income levels under $50,000 reporting less-favorable opinions.

In contrast, overall opinions as to whether this is a good time to buy a major household item like an appliance decreased 1.1 points from 100.2 to 99.1. Again, men reported less-favorable opinions compared with women.

“Despite the differing opinions by gender, overall these two components of the index showed that perceptions regarding the current economic conditions increased slightly among Floridians in February,” says Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Future economic condition expectations were also mixed. Expectations of personal financial situations a year from now decreased slightly: nine-tenths of a point from 109.1 to 108.2. Yet, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year showed the greatest increase, up 7.9 points from 93.5 to 101.4. Similarly, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years increased 6.7 points from 94 to 100.7.

“Overall, Floridians are more optimistic. The increase in February’s confidence comes mostly from consumers’ future expectations about the national economy in the medium- and long-run. Importantly, these outlooks are shared by all Floridians regardless of their gender, age or socioeconomic status,” Sandoval says.

Economic indicators in Florida remained positive. In particular, the labor market in Florida continued to add more jobs in December, and the monthly unemployment rate in Florida remained unchanged at 3.3 percent. Similarly, the U.S. labor market has continued to strengthen, and economic activity has been rising at a solid rate.

As a result, the Federal Open Market Committee decided to maintain the range of the federal funds interest rate between 2.25 and 2.5 percent in their last meeting in January, stopping any potential increase in the cost of borrowing in the short-run.

“Looking ahead, in view of the realized economic outlook, we anticipate consumer sentiment to remain high in Florida,” Sandoval said.

Conducted Feb. 1-21, the UF study reflects the responses of 375 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida. The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Top reason some adults move back home? Broken hearts

NEW YORK – Feb. 26, 2019 – In the last few years, student loan debt and rising housing costs have been cited as the chief reasons why many young adults move back in with their parents. But a new study suggests the real trigger may be a broken heart.

Since the Great Recession thwarted many millennials’ plans to move out on their own, an improving labor market has not done much to lure these young adults out of their parents’ houses. Why do they stay? In a recent survey of 500 “boomerang” millennials, 33 percent of 26- to 30-year-olds who moved back home cited a divorce or breakup as the primary reason; 37 percent of 31- to 35-year-olds and 24 percent of 36- to 40-year-olds said the same.

For millennials, it might be a combination of a breakup and unstable finances. Couples who live together often help each other financially by splitting housing costs, but post-breakup, the costs may be too much for one person to carry. Young adults may also be moving back home for emotional support to help them recover post-breakup.

“Home is a safe place a lot of times,” Grant Simmons, vice president of, told CNBC. “Perhaps it’s just a safe place to get your act together and start fresh.”

Potential house hunters in the South – an area that includes Florida – may suffer the most heartache: 25 percent of survey respondents in the region saying they moved home due to the end of a relationship, followed by 20 percent in the Northeast, 17 percent in the Midwest, and 16 percent in the West.

Among all generations, the most commonly cited reason for moving back in with their parents was to save money for a home purchase, followed by a breakup or divorce. Other commonly cited reasons include unemployment and debt.

Of those who moved back home, 45 percent live in their childhood bedrooms, 12 percent sleep in the basement, 4 percent sleep in the living room and 2 percent move into the garage. About one in four (22 percent) pay rent to their parents, according to the survey.

Moving back home is not always easy as an adult. Privacy and noise issues were the most commonly cited causes of household conflict, according to the survey.

Source: “This is the No. 1 Reason Young Americans Move Home With Their Parents – and It’s Not the Cost of Rent,” CNBC (Feb. 14, 2019) and “The Broken-Hearted Move Back Home,” The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 14, 2019)

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Fed report suggests few or no interest-rate hikes this year

WASHINGTON (AP) – Feb. 25, 2019 – The Federal Reserve said Friday that in light of a slowing global economy and last year’s financial market turmoil, the central bank intends to remain “patient” in determining when to make future changes in its benchmark interest rate.

The Fed’s semi-annual report to Congress on monetary policy stood in contrast to its last report in July when it signaled that it was on track to keep raising rates at a gradual pace over the next two years.

The new report cites a range of risks to the economy that have developed over the last six months, as well as continued muted inflation as reasons to slow further hikes.

Many private economists believe the Fed may raise rates at most only one more time late this year. And some analysts are even forecasting that the next move will be a cut in rates as the Fed confronts a slowing economy this year.

At its last meeting in January, the Fed left rates unchanged at a level of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent and signaled a major pivot away from steadily raising rates by declaring that it intended to be “patient” in deciding when to raise rates again.

Various Fed officials including Fed Chairman Jerome Powell have emphasized that change in speeches since the Jan. 29-30 meeting. Powell will testify on the Fed’s Monetary Policy report before Senate and House committees next Tuesday and Wednesday.

The report noted the turbulence that hit markets in the final three months of last year. But unlike President Donald Trump, who tied falling stock prices to the Fed’s rate hikes, the central bank cited other factors including Trump’s trade policies.

“Financial market participants’ appetite for risk deteriorated markedly in the latter part of last year amid investor concerns about downside risks to the growth outlook and rising trade tensions between the United States and Canada,” the monetary report said.

The Fed’s decision in January triggered a big rally in stock prices as investors grew less concerned that the Fed could over-do its tightening cycle and push the country into a recession.

The Fed had raised rates four times in 2018 and signaled in December that it expected to hike rates another two times in 2019.

Among the highlights of the Fed’s monetary report:

  • Economic growth was impacted by slower consumer spending and business investment in the second half of 2018. The housing market also weakened amid rising mortgage rates and higher material and labor costs. A softening in consumer and business sentiment since the fall likely reflected financial market volatility and increased concerns about the global outlook.
  • The Fed has been trimming its balance sheet by not reinvesting some Treasury securities and mortgage-backed bonds as they mature, resulting in a drop in total Fed assets of about $260 billion since the middle of last year. The Fed’s balance sheet ended the year close to $4 trillion, down from a high of $4.5 trillion before the Fed began trimming the balance sheet in October 2007. The Fed minutes from its January meeting indicated that the central bank is close to announcing a plan for drawing the balance sheet reduction to a close.
  • While unemployment has fallen close to a 50-year low, not all areas of the country have benefited equally with rural areas lagging behind metropolitan areas. The Fed said broader economic trends, such as the ongoing shift that has favored workers with more education, has resulted in rural areas getting left behind.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press, Martin Crutsinger. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NAR unveils new ‘That’s Who We R®’ ad campaign

WASHINGTON – Feb. 25, 2019 – While many people know that a Realtor® helps buy and sell homes, many don’t know that a Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and subscribes to its Code of Ethics, which NAR says inspired the association’s new “That’s Who We R®” campaign, which launched today.

The campaign aims to reinforce the value of Realtors as advocates for property owners, engaged community members and trusted advisors with in-depth knowledge of the industry.

“Our story is a century in the making, as we began to set NAR members apart from the rest by establishing a Code of Ethics in 1913,” says 2019 NAR President John Smaby. “This code is as relevant now as it was one hundred years ago; it’s our pledge of honesty, integrity, professionalism and community service as a true partner for buying or selling a home, or property. ‘That’s Who We R®’ reinforces that partnering with a Realtor, delivers the peace of mind that can only come from working with a real person who is committed to their clients’ futures and neighborhoods just as much as they are.”

The integrated marketing campaign from Havas features a cinematic world inspired by the Realtor mark. Everything from the larger than life “R” at the beginning, to the angles and geometry used as transitional elements and across numerous sets was inspired by the mark. “That’s Who We R®” features stories about humans helping humans find homes and property, build communities and turn business dreams into realities.

“Our society has created trusted symbols from ‘Verified’ Instagram accounts to the Good Housekeeping Seal,” says Karen Goodman, group creative director at Havas Chicago. “We needed to turn the ‘R’ into the trusted symbol you should look for when buying and selling property.”

The campaign content will be brought to life through strategic partnerships, including linear and online video, streaming and terrestrial audio, social media, branded partnerships with multi-channel content makers such as VICE, Apartment Therapy, The Atlantic, HULU and more. The :30 “That’s Who We R®” TV spot can be viewed online. More information about NAR is available at

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

HUD: Drop affordable housing’s not-in-my-backyard mindset

LAS VEGAS – Feb. 25, 2019 – Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson vowed to builders last Thursday that HUD will do more to ease regulatory obstacles to increase the number of affordable housing projects across the country.

Carson also said that homeowners have nothing to fear and declared that it’s time to shed the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) mindset.

“NIMBYism – I totally understand where it comes from,” Carson said during the National Association of Home Builders’ board of directors meeting at the 2019 International Builders Show in Las Vegas. “The biggest investment most people have is their home. But [homeowners are] remembering the old model of affordable housing – where the government built these huge public housing facilities and then left, with nobody to look after them. They then deteriorated. We don’t do that anymore.”

He said affordable housing projects today are smaller and tailored to communities. They also don’t tend to be built within existing neighborhoods, but on the perimeters.

“This is so the teachers, firemen, and nurses can live in the same neighborhood where they work,” Carson said. “It just needs to be done the right way, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Bringing down building costs

Nearly 25 percent of the cost of a single-family home stems from federal, state and local regulations, with the cost even higher for multifamily construction, according to research from the National Association of Home Builders. Carson said he wants to change that.

“We are looking into ways that would incentivize local officials to cut back on archaic state and local regulatory barriers, such as outmoded zoning and land use restrictions,” said Carson.

The day before he addressed the builders, HUD announced that its Office of Multifamily Housing Programs will be expanding its Low Income Housing Tax Credit Pilot Program. The program is aimed at making it easier for builders to use FHA-insured loans to finance Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects, which will encompass new construction as well as substantial rehabilitation of existing homes.

“Today, we take another important step to stimulate capital investment in affordable housing at a time when we need affordable housing more than ever,” Carson said.

Carson also stressed the need to develop new technologies and improved construction methods and materials for repairing aging housing stock and adding new homes. He suggested that automated factory assembly techniques, such as 3D printing, could help speed construction times, as well as innovative construction materials that are less prone to mold, wind, water or fire damage.

“This is where HUD can play a role,” he told the crowd. “We will serve as a catalyst for innovation in the homebuilding industry to help speed the adoption and use of these new technologies.” He said HUD has a group devoted to construction innovations for affordable housing.

Generating investment through opportunity zones

Carson said investments in opportunity zones are another way to foster more affordable housing development. The opportunity zone program, created by the 2017 federal income tax overhaul, offers significant tax breaks to investors who purchase and improve property in certain distressed economic areas. In these approximately 8,700 areas across the country, designated last year by the U.S. Treasury Department, one in three people live in poverty and the unemployment rate is double the national average.

View a full list of the opportunity zones.

“With this strategy of long-term investment incentives, the longer you invest, the greater the tax benefit,” Carson said. “Investors will be interested in the well-being of that community because they will want to protect their investment. They’re not going to just walk away. … By aligning the conditions for increased affordable housing supply with the best interests of home buyers, builders, innovators and regulators, we can unlock the production of more affordable homes for countless American families in the years to come.”

Source: National Association of Realtors®, Melissa Dittmann Tracey

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

2019 may be best time to buy luxury vacation home

NEW YORK – Feb. 25, 2019 – Real estate professionals say 2019 may be the best time to purchase a high-end vacation home – and they’re already seeing buyers pick up on the cues.

“We are seeing sales up in the resort areas, including Hawaii and Vail,” Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International, told She notes that sales and prices in Vail, Colo., are up over 25 percent from a year ago. “I think we are seeing people pulling money out of the stock market and buying these properties. … People are now so exhausted by today’s world, they are looking at vacation homes as total retreats to shut everything out.”

Vacation markets such as Cape Cod, Mass., and Palm Springs, Calif., are reporting an uptick in potential buyers looking for a retreat.

“Our market just turned in January, and we get really busy by March,” Erica Grossman, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York’s Hamptons, told “Last year’s prices have been adjusted, depending on where you want to be in the Hamptons. Buyers who were sitting on the fence should come out and see what they can buy in their price range. Sellers are more realistic this year.”

Some luxury buyers are using their properties to then generate income from them when they’re not in use.

“When you are renting a luxury property, the guest expectation is very high,” says Andrew McConnell, CEO at “You always must stay on top of maintenance. When you are decorating any vacation rentals, you have to be careful you don’t go too quirky or too cookie-cutter.”

Source: “2019 May Be the Best Time to Buy a Luxury Vacation Home,” (Jan. 29, 2019)

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

What does ‘I want a green home’ actually mean?

LAS VEGAS – Feb. 25, 2019 – When buyers think of a green home, they think of features that will first save energy and second improve the quality of the air in the home, according to survey results released by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) at the NAHB International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas last week.

NAHB surveyed nearly 4,000 homebuyers, both recent and prospective, on the types of features they prefer to have in their home, including eco-friendly components and designs.

To achieve their energy efficiency goals, buyers would most like to have windows and appliances rated Energy Star, efficient lighting (using less energy than traditional bulbs), and insulation higher than required by code.

More than half of homebuyers also find these indoor air quality features essential or desirable: a home dehumidification system, an electronic air cleaner and low volatile organic compound (VOC) materials.

“It’s confirmation that the most attractive green features for homebuyers are those that help them save money on energy costs as well as those that improve the air quality inside their homes,” says Rose Quint, associate vice president of survey research at NAHB.

Green features buyers don’t care about

A roof partially or completely covered by plants is the least appealing green feature – only 24 percent of buyers would want it in their next home. Many homebuyers are simply indifferent toward other green features, too, such as roof-mounted wind turbines, rainwater collection systems and recycled material or prefabricated building components.

It’s largely about the money

Consumers like the cost savings green features provide. Nearly half of homebuyers are willing to invest between $1,000 and $9,999 for $1,000 annual savings on their utility bills, with 37 percent willing to spend upward of $10,000. The average amount increases based on the price of the home, ranging from $6,653 for homes priced under $150,000, to $10,560 for homes valued at $500,000 or more.

Survey findings also show that most homebuyers would prefer a number of green options versus the non-green alternative: 74 percent would rather have features and finishes made of more expensive materials that last longer versus 26 percent who would prefer them to be made of cheaper materials that need to be replaced more often.

Similarly, 65 percent would opt for low-maintenance landscaping versus 35 percent who prefer a conventional lawn.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Lawmakers wrestle with AOB insurance claims’ attorney fees

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Feb. 15, 2019 – In what could be a glimpse of the battles to come over the heavily lobbied issue, a Senate committee bottled up a proposal last week that would limit attorney fees in cases involving the insurance practice known as “assignment of benefits.”

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee tabled a bill (SB 122) sponsored by Chairman Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, after it became apparent the measure would fail if brought up for a vote. Though the 2019 legislative session does not start until March 5, it was at least an initial blow to the insurance industry and other business groups pushing to limit attorney fees in so-called AOB cases.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, joined three Democrats in opposing the bill, making it impossible for Broxson to patch together a majority on the eight-member committee. Insurers and their allies argue that fee limits are needed because of an increase in AOB litigation that is driving up consumers’ property-insurance premiums.

But Lee said there are “some bad actors on both sides of the equation” and indicated he thought Broxson’s bill could end up hurting consumers who need homes repaired for such things as water damage.

“We are going to kill the patient while we try to cure the problem,” Lee said.

Sen. Keith Perry, however, said the bill “is a step in the right direction” and argued consumers will face higher insurance rates if lawmakers don’t solve the problem.

“We owe it to the working-class people of the state of Florida to do something,” Perry, R-Gainesville, said.

Assignment of benefits is a decades-old practice that has become highly controversial in recent years. Lawmakers have repeatedly considered proposals to address the issue but have not been able to reach agreement.

In assignment of benefits, homeowners who need repairs sign over benefits to contractors, who ultimately pursue payments directly from insurance companies. Insurers contend that the practice has become riddled with fraud and litigation, while plaintiffs’ attorneys and other groups say it helps make sure claims are properly paid.

Broxson’s bill focused only on attorney fees that insurance companies pay in many AOB disputes. While the bill stalled last week – or, in legislative parlance, was temporarily postponed – it could be brought up again.

Under state law, insurance policyholders are entitled to have their attorney fees paid if they prevail in cases against insurers. In 1972, a Florida Supreme Court ruling also extended the right to recover attorney fees to people, such as contractors, who have been assigned insurance benefits, according to a Senate staff analysis.

Broxson’s bill would have stopped the law giving attorney fee rights to contractors. The staff analysis said that such a change would “make the assignment of post-loss benefits less valuable. The assignee (the person assigned the benefits) would have to pay his or her own attorney fees to enforce the insurance contract.”

Opponents of Broxson’s bill contend that assignment of benefits and the potential of litigation are needed because insurers sometimes try to avoid paying the amounts of money they should for damage claims. Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said Monday he thinks Broxson’s bill is a “nuclear option to get at a few bad people.”

Supporters of the bill, however, contend that lawyers and restoration companies have abused the assignment-of-benefits system, with the problem initially focusing on water-damage claims in South Florida. They argue the problem has moved to other parts of the state and to types of claims such as replacing vehicle windshields.

“This is a pandemic that is slowly beginning to spread across the state,” Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Saunders

Help minimize spats between married home shoppers

CHICAGO – Feb. 15, 2019 – Couples are usually eager to find a perfect home, but house hunting can be stressful – and finding a property that both parties agree on can pose a challenge.

A common spat that many real estate pros see? Not agreeing on where to live.

Elizabeth Gigler, broker for John Greene Realty in Naperville, Ill., told that she had one partner focused on finding a home in a prime location, while the other partner anchored an eventual buying decision on the amount of the monthly mortgage payment. Agents say that viewing properties without first agreeing on at least the ground rules for a location can lead to a lot of disagreements.

Another common sticky point for couples: Is the house perfect enough to make an offer on it?

In many cases, one person thinks it is and might even love the house – but the other has doubts. As a result, they disagree on whether they should make an offer. “So they keep looking, while the other is thinking, ‘Haven’t we found it already?'” Nathan Garrett, a real estate professional in Louisville, Ky., told

Other spats can arise while discussing how aggressive to be when making an offer on a home, or how much the home needs to be remodeled.

However, newlyweds and other couples doesn’t have to argue about everything, especially if a Realtor can help them settle a few details ahead of time. To keep the peace, Jeff Fagan, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association, offers the following suggestions when working with couples:

  • Make a list and find a compromise
    Each should make a list of amenities they’d like to have in a house and later compare notes with the other. “See what features you two have in common and use these as the foundation of your home search,” Fagan says. “From there, compromise on other features you’d like to have. Most importantly, remember that no house is worth a strain on your relationship.”
  • Determine the ideal house size
    “A common mistake that couples make when buying a home is that it’s too small or too big,” Fagan says. He encourages couples to ask themselves a few key questions about the future, such as: Do we plan on having kids in the next five years (if you don’t have any already)? How often will we have guests? Will we adopt any pets? It’s important for the buyers to factor in the answers to these questions when determining the home’s fit.
  • Drive around the neighborhood together
    “No matter how great the house is, if it’s in an area that doesn’t work for both people, you may regret your purchase,” Fagan says. If the couple plans to have children while living in the home, they’ll want to carefully evaluate the school district. Also, they’ll want to tour the surrounding area to see if what they desire is nearby, such as restaurants, gyms or access to public transportation. They’ll also want to carefully consider each other’s commute times from the home, too.

Source: “5 Epic Fights All Couples Are Bound to Have When Trying to Buy a House,” (Feb. 14, 2018) and REALTOR® Magazine

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Experts: Can’t have a bubble with under-supply of homes

NEW YORK – Feb. 15, 2019 – Some housing experts argue that the housing market isn’t heading toward another bust – it’s still feeling the impact of the last one.

Instead of an oversupply of homes, they stress that not enough homes are being built, and that’s pushing prices up to levels that exclude many Americans from homeownership.

“We are underhoused,” says Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas.

Among other things, the home shortage is aggravated by low unemployment, which is making it hard to hire construction workers, and not-in-my-backyard zoning rules exacerbate the issue of an already small pool of construction-ready lots.

Tight supply and a subsequent boost in home prices have made homeownership out of reach in some cities, like Manhattan, where the median condo price has hit about $1 million. Even outside of the United States, there has not been much speculative building, says UBS Global Wealth Management’s Jonathan Woloshin.

“Nobody asked the question back during the bubble, ‘What would happen if prices went down?'” Woloshin says. “Better questions are being asked today.”

Dangerous practices like no-documentation loans have been ended through tighter regulation, making it harder for people to buy houses. However, only 1 percent of lenders surveyed recently by Fannie Mae blamed tight standards for credit and underwriting for the weakness in sales – 48 percent cited “insufficient supply.”

Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek (02/11/19) Coy, Peter

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Due March 4: Scholarship applications

The deadline looms for any Fla. student, including ones now enrolled, to apply for an academic scholarship from Florida Realtors Education Foundation. Learn more. (Please link first underlined to: link the second underlined to:

Save the date: Women in Real Estate (#WIRE) 2019

The second WIRE real estate conference presented by Florida Realtors will take place June 5 at the Signature Grand in Davie, Fla. More info coming soon.

More buyers may qualify for zero-down rural loans

WASHINGTON – Feb. 14, 2019 – Prisons and military bases are commonly located outside small, rural towns and often they’re the biggest employers and economic drivers around. But that’s been a double-edged sword – until now.

A town with a population greater than 35,000 isn’t considered rural under federal Rural Housing Service (RHS) guidelines, even if the area meets other criteria, such as a shortage of credit opportunities widely available in more populous areas. However, prisons and military bases currently count toward an area’s population, putting many RHS communities over the threshold of eligibility for programs.

Some small-town residents near prisons or military bases may now qualify for a rural housing loan thanks to a change in the big farm bill U.S. Congress recently passed, which the National Association of Realtors® supported. Going forward, only a portion of a prison or military base population will count against an area’s population total.

Access to RHS programs, which provide safe and affordable mortgages for rural communities, is a lifeline for many homeowners. Financing is underwritten using criteria that recognizes the unique characteristics of rural property, such as the presence of other structures on the property or the absence of public services.

The farm bill also includes a broader win for rural housing: The population threshold of 35,000 to qualify for RHS programs won’t change until 2030. It was expected to rise in 2020, along with new Census figures, but NAR and other groups asked that the change be delayed because so many communities stood to lose their rural eligibility.

Source: National Association of Realtors®, Robert Freedman

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Mortgage rates fall to 12-month low – 30-year at 4.37%

WASHINGTON (AP) – Feb. 14, 2019 – U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week to a 12-month low, an enticement for prospective homebuyers in the upcoming season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage declined to 4.37 percent from 4.41 percent last week. The key 30-year home borrowing rate averaged 4.38 percent a year ago.

The average rate this week for 15-year, fixed-rate loans eased to 3.81 percent from 3.84 percent.

Indications that inflation and economic growth around the world have slowed have been pushing mortgage rates lower, experts say. Increases in home prices have slowed in many areas of the country, and more homes have come on the market.

Along with historically low mortgage rates, those developments are expected to boost this spring’s home buying season.

AP Logo Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wallpaper: Should sellers tear it down or keep it up?

CHICAGO – Feb. 14, 2019 – Wallpaper is once again an attractive decorating trend for homeowners looking for textures and accents, but it’s not for everyone.

Designer Jessica Lagrange of Jessica Lagrange Interiors in Chicago works primarily with luxury clients who love wallpaper. Here’s what she advises about the “stay or strip” decision before listing a home.

  1. The clash test. Some wall coverings are neutral, such as those with small patterns, intriguing textures in soft hues or subtle metallic finishes. These are assets if they’re chosen in conservative or traditional colors, Lagrange says. The litmus test is how severely the print clashes with a range of furnishings and artwork.
  2. An education campaign. There are wallpaper treatments that are extraordinary, such as some scenic designs that cost thousands of dollars. Listing agents should have a strategy in place to educate buyers and other agents who aren’t familiar with them if a home has one. If buyers aren’t interested, wallpaper can sometimes be removed and reused by the seller, Lagrange says.
  3. Be willing to part with the paper. Big-personality wallpapers can be exciting in small doses, such as accent walls. But not everyone will agree. A seller should be ready to remove wallpaper if a buyer isn’t wild about it.
  4. Get real. If wallpaper looks worn, dirty or ripped and can’t be repaired, sellers need to remove it rather than have it become an eyesore during showings – no matter how much they love it, she says.

Source: Wallpaper Makes Triumphant Return, Realtor® Magazine

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Alone on Valentine’s Day? Buy a house and find true love

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Feb. 13, 2019 – Owning a home might make you more attractive to that special someone you’ve had your eye on, especially if they are a millennial or a woman.

According to a study, singles looking to boost their chances of dating a homeowner may want to considering living in the South or in the Midwest because they are home to the biggest shares of single female and male homeowners, respectively, according to the analysis.

“Attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder, and this survey data suggests that many beholders find homeownership attractive, perhaps using it as a signal for financial savviness and success,” says Danielle Hale,’s chief economist. “Single millennials seem to find homeownership in a potential partner especially attractive.”

The survey, which included 500 people who identified as single and was conducted in late January, found that 46 percent of all singles thought homeownership made a potential partner attractive or very attractive. Women were more likely than men to agree with this, as 48 percent of women found it made a potential partner more attractive, versus 43 percent of men.

Men, however, were slightly more likely to say that it made their potential partner very attractive.

The survey also asked singles how important it was for a potential partner to be a homeowner. Similar to before, women were more likely than men to agree it was either important or very important that their partner was a homeowner.

But the gap between genders was wider than when asking about attractiveness of homeowners, coming in at 29 and 19 percent for women and men, respectively.

As a whole, 24 percent of single respondents felt it was important for their partner to be a homeowner.

Millennials show strong desire for homeownership
Millennials were the most likely to feel that homeownership boosted someone’s attractiveness, with nearly 60 percent of the generation agreeing with the statement. Millennials also were the generation most likely to agree that it was either important or very important for their partner to be a homeowner, as indicated by 26 percent.

Single male homeownership highest in Midwest
For those looking to find a potential home-owning male partner, the Midwest is going to be the best bet. The market with the greatest share of single male homeowners is Detroit, where they make up 23.4 percent of all males. It was followed by St. Louis with 21.3 percent, Minneapolis with 21.3 percent, Cleveland with 21.2 percent, and Pittsburgh with 19.9 percent.

Single female homeownership strong in South and Midwest
Single women are one of the fastest growing demographics in the housing market, according to a recent analysis. This trend can be seen strongest in Detroit, where single women homeowners make up 23.1 percent of all women, followed by 21.4 percent in Baltimore, 21.2 percent in Charlotte, N.C., 20.7 percent in Philadelphia and 20.7 percent in Minneapolis.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Are tiny homes here to stay or a tiny fad on its way out?

NEW YORK – Feb. 13, 2019 – The tiny home craze has drawn a lot of attention over the last few years, but is it overhyped? Are more homeowners really ready to ditch spacious digs for living spaces that of 500 square feet or less?

Apparently not. Even the priciest places – where homeowners are the most likely to downsize and save on costs – are not favoring tiny homes. Tiny homes comprised only 2 percent of all home sales in New York City and San Francisco over the last eight years, according to a new study from PropertyShark, a real estate data website. And homes under 1,000 square feet made up less than a quarter of all sales in both cities.

In fact, tiny homes are more prevalent in less dense areas – like Columbus and Indianapolis – than in places more starved for housing space, like Chicago and Philadelphia. However, researchers note that tiny homes still make up a small fraction of home sales in any of the cities.

Overall, tiny homes “don’t appear to be an attractive option for the average buyer at this point,” PropertyShark notes in its study. PropertyShark analyzed home sales volume, median sales prices and apartment completions in the top 10 U.S. cities by population and calculated the market share of tiny homes in each city between 2010 and 2018.

Tiny rentals, on the other hand, may be more popular. Micro apartments and tiny homes are most popular with short-term renters, such as students and young professionals, the study found. In San Francisco, nearly one-quarter of completed apartments were smaller than 500 square feet.

But homeowners still prefer more space to spread out.

“A prevailing theory is that tiny homes can aid in the housing crisis for low-income households,” PropertyShark notes in its study. “However, most low-income households are families with children, and the smaller spaces aren’t very practical. … While the concept is trendy, it’s hard to know if it will really take off in the near future. For now, most developers are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach until the direction is clearer. … It’s unlikely that tiny homes will become a major trend anytime soon.”

Source: “Do Tiny Homes Live Up to the Hype?” PropertyShark (Feb. 11, 2019)

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Regulators ease flood-insurance rules for mortgage holders

WASHINGTON – Feb. 12, 2019 – A new regulation allows more homeowners with a mortgage to use private flood insurance coverage rather than only the national flood program.

On Jan. 25, federal banking regulators released a final regulation clarifying lender acceptance of private flood insurance; an unofficial copy of the rule is posted online. The regulation will soon appear in the Federal Register, and it goes into effect on July 1, 2019.

The new regulation generally requires lenders to accept private flood insurance policies that meet a strict statutory definition. Prior to the announcement, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was the gold-standard for lenders and not all lenders accepted private coverage.

The final regulation implements Section 239 of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and:

  • Adopts the same definition of private flood insurance as the statute; this definition has been a source of confusion, particularly for smaller lenders.
  • Provides a compliance aid for lenders to determine whether a private policy meets the definition and must be accepted in satisfaction of federal flood insurance requirements.
  • Clarifies that lenders also have broad discretion to accept private policies that don’t meet the strict definition if the policy provides sufficient protection of the mortgage loan consistent with safety and soundness requirements.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has been working with a broad coalition to make it easier for lenders to accept private flood insurance, which often offers better coverage at a lower cost than NFIP. The coalition’s latest regulatory comment letter is posted online.

According to NAR, this new regulation includes “some important clarifications and compliance aid for lenders,” but says it will continue to work with lawmakers to address some issues not covered by the new rules.

Continuous coverage still a concern

One issue not covered by the new rule is continuous coverage. One of NFIP’s considerations when determining an individual homeowner’s rate is whether or not they’ve had a gap in their flood insurance coverage. Since NFIP does not officially recognize private flood policies, it considers anyone who leaves the program uninsured even if they had a private policy.

This might be a problem for current Florida homeowners who choose to leave NFIP and go with a private flood policy that costs less. Should that policy’s cost rise later, perhaps because it had a teaser rate for the first year, the homeowner could find it more expensive to return to NFIP. Since NFIP considered them uninsured, their earlier lower-cost, grandfathered insurance rate could rise significantly.

The continuous coverage issue is a “separate regulatory matter and another top priority,” NAR says.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Easy way to soothe sellers’ jangled nerves? Call them

NEW YORK – Feb. 12, 2019 – Most home sellers don’t understand all the activities involved in listing a home, and communicating with them every step of the way helps real estate agents avoid problems with their clients and boost their reputation as an expert at the same time.

Smart agents send out communication reports, marketing updates, copies of ads and feedback from open houses on a regular basis. But super-smart agents take it one step further by also communicating voice-to-voice via telephone.

An actual phone conversation allows sellers to hear the tone in their agent’s voice. If an agent delivers bad news in a reassuring tone, the blow is softened and they retain the client’s faith – a far better option that a dry e-mail that simply states the facts.

On the phone, agents also can use an urgent tone to let clients know that an issue needs addressed, and they can express enthusiasm for solving the problem as well. It also delivers good news in a cheery and positive voice.

Even if agents send a weekly Marketing Activity Report, they should still call and discuss the report with their clients, emphasizing one or two key points.

Ultimately, it’s important that they educate clients in a fun and interesting way, keep them informed, and do not allow technology to take away from their expertise and personality, which can only be delivered using their voice.

Source: Realty Times (02/04/19) Lones, Denise

© Copyright 2019 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Fla.’s housing market: Sales, new listings, median price up at end of 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. – Feb. 12, 2019 – Florida’s housing market wrapped up 2018 with more sales, higher median sale prices and more new listings compared to the year before, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

“Florida’s economy is growing, the jobs outlook remains strong and more people are moving to the Sunshine State,” says 2019 Florida Realtors President Eric Sain, . “And, while mortgage interest rates have fluctuated in recent months, they remain at historically low levels. All of these factors are positive signs for the state’s housing market in 2019.”

Year-end 2018

Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 277,827 in 2018, up 2.2 percent compared to the 2017 figure, according to data from Florida Realtors research department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations.

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in 2018 was $254,505, up 7.2 percent from the previous year. New listings for existing single-family homes rose 6.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

Looking at Florida’s year-to-year comparison for sales of townhouse-condos, a total of 116,706 units sold statewide in 2018, up 4.9 percent from 2017. The closed sales data reflected fewer short sales and foreclosures statewide in 2018 compared to the previous year: Short sales for condo-townhouse properties declined 37.5 percent and foreclosures dropped 33.9 percent; short sales for single-family homes dropped 41.4 percent while foreclosures declined 39.5 percent.

The statewide median price for townhouse-condo properties in 2018 was $185,000, up 7.2 percent over the previous year. New listings for townhouse-condos for the year increased 5.9 percent compared to a year ago.

At the end of 2018 and also for 4Q 2018, inventory for single-family homes stood at a 4-months’ supply, while inventory for townhouse-condo properties was at a 5.7-months’ supply, according to Florida Realtors.

Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor said Florida’s housing data shows that statewide inventory (active listings) is up, comparing year end 2018 to year end 2017.

“It’s not a significantly huge increase – active inventory is up 13.3 percent in single-family homes and up 8 percent in condo-townhome properties,” he said.

More inventory could help spark sales, bringing back potential buyers who have been waiting on the sidelines.

O’Connor added, “The national housing market forecast (from the National Association of Realtors) for 2019 expects flat growth, in both the condo and single-family categories. Currently, in our Florida forecast model, we’re outpacing the nation in sales and employment growth, so our outlook is probably about 1 percent growth in sales and maybe 3 to 4 percent price growth. Relative to all other areas of the nation, we think Florida is doing really well.”

The interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.54 percent for 2018, up significantly from the previous year’s average of 3.99 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

4Q 2018

Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 63,483 in the fourth quarter of 2018, up 0.1 percent compared to the year-ago figure, according to data from Florida Realtors research department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

The statewide median sales price for existing single-family homes for the quarter was $255,000, up 6.3 percent from 4Q 2017. New listings for existing single-family homes for the quarter rose 5 percent compared to a year ago.

Looking at Florida’s year-to-year comparison for sales of condos-townhouses, a total of 26,069 units sold statewide in 4Q 2018, up 1.9 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. The closed sales data reflected fewer short sales and foreclosures statewide in the fourth quarter compared to the same time a year ago: Short sales for condo-townhouse properties declined 41.2 percent and foreclosures dropped 29.1 percent; short sales for single-family homes dropped 41.6 percent and foreclosures declined 26.5 percent.

The statewide median price for condo-townhouse properties in 4Q 2018 was $184,000, up 5.1 percent over the previous year. New listings for condos-townhouses for the quarter increased 2.9 percent compared to a year ago.

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

© 2019 Florida Realtors®