Monthly Archives: August 2019

What’s the Latest on Fire Sprinkler Retrofits in Condos?

Condo Q&A: Also: How does assignment of benefits (AOB) work? And what happens if a director serving on a condo board is delinquent paying assessments owed to the association? Can they still serve on the board?

STUART, Fla. – Question: I recently had water leak into my home and the dry out company wanted me to sign a document assigning my insurance benefits to it. I declined, but can you explain what an assignment of benefits agreement is? – R.S., Vero Beach

Answer: When a person assigns property insurance benefits to a company they are allowing the company to “step into the shoes” of the policy holder/homeowner. This allows the company to negotiate the amount of the insurance claim and even sue the insurance company. Typically, the assignment of benefits contract allows the company to retain all the insurance proceeds as payment for its services. This type of agreement over the years has created a cottage industry for lawyers and contractors to sue insurance companies. However, after several attempts by the Legislature to reign in this problem, a law was passed as of July 1, 2019.

Florida Statute 627.7152 and 627.7152 now requires an assignment of benefits contract to provide that it may be cancelled by the assignor within 14 days of execution; at least 30 days after the date work is to commence pursuant to the agreement if work has not been substantially performed by assignee/contractor; or at least 30 days after execution of agreement if the agreement contains no start date and substantial work has not been performed.

It also requires pre-suit negotiation between assignee/contractor and insurer and provides for prevailing party attorney fees for both parties in any litigation. The assignee/contractor must also keep and provide detailed records supporting cost of work/claim. It requires insurers to inspect property after demand is made or waive its right to attorney fees; and it allows insurers to provide a policy that does not allow assignment of benefits if the insurer also offers a policy that does allow assignment of benefits. The restricted policy must provide the same coverage at a lower cost than the unrestricted policy.

It is expected that the use of assignment of benefits contracts will become much less common.

Question: What happens if a Director on the Board is delinquent in the payment of assessments owed to the association? Can they still serve on the board? – B.L., Port St. Lucie

Answer: Both the Condominium Act and the Homeowners Association Act provide that if a director becomes more than 90 days delinquent in the payment of any monetary amount owed to the association, he or she is automatically removed from the board. Thereafter, the remaining board members can vote to fill the vacancy and there is no obligation to reappoint the removed director even if he or she pays the money owed.

Note that the law applies to any “monetary amount” so it is not just applicable to past due assessments.

Question: Has the law changed on the fire sprinkler retrofit requirement for high rise condominiums? – J.M., Fort Pierce

Answer: Yes. Section 718.112 of the Condominium Act was amended as of July 1, 2019. It was clarified that a high-rise condominium building is a building where the highest occupiable level is greater than 75 feet measured from the lowest level of fire department access. High rise condominiums must comply with fire sprinkler retrofit and Emergency Life Safety System (ELSS) requirements of the Fire Code by Jan. 1, 2024. The compliance date used to be Dec. 31, 2019, but it has now been extended.

Additionally, the ability to opt out of the fire sprinkler retro fit requirement which expired on Dec. 31, 2016, has now been reopened. So, a high-rise condominium may still avoid having to meet the requirements for fire sprinkler retrofitting if a majority of the total voting interests vote to “opt out” before Jan.1, 2024.

NOTE: The new law still does not allow an Association to opt out of complying with ELSS requirements which may themselves still require fire sprinklers depending on the design of the building.

Richard D. DeBoest II, Esq., is co-founder and shareholder of the Law firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC., respond to questions about Florida community association law. The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, litigation, estate planning and business law.

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Richard D. DeBoest II

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Real Estate Q&A: Fences Don’t Always Make Good Neighbors

Sometimes the fencing between neighbors is the cause of a problem rather than a solution. What if a neighbor with no ownership stake in the fence decides to hang a plant on the side facing their lawn? What if overgrown vines start destroying the wood?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: My neighbor attached bolts into my fence to secure some items in his yard. I am concerned that this will damage my fence, especially if there is a storm. I asked him to remove it, but he blew me off. What can I do? – Jonathan

Question: My neighbor’s overgrown vines are destroying my fence. I asked them to trim them back and only get lip service. The vines remain and are getting worse. What are my rights? – Mary

Answer: Sometimes, neighbors will build and maintain a shared fence together. In your case, you put up the fence yourself and have no deal with your neighbor for them to help maintain it. Your neighbor does not have any right to attach anything to your fence unless you let them. If they damage your fence, they will be responsible for paying for the repairs.

Since you want them to remove the attachments altogether, you both already took the first step of speaking to them. The next step is sending a polite and professional certified letter, even though you live next door.

You can trim any vegetation that is on your side of the fence as long as it does not permanently damage the plant. You should not reach over the fence to remove the plants or hardware, even if you believe the fence is on your side of the line.

To get them to remove the unwanted items from their side of your fence, you will need to file a lawsuit asking for an order making them remove their plants and attachments from your fence.

Having a survey that shows the fence is fully on your property, along with proof you put up the fence, will go a long way to convincing the judge you are in the right.

About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.

© 2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Dear Anne: ‘Open House’ Agent Tried to Steal My Buyer

After two days of showing, a Realtor’s buyers asked if it was okay to explore an open house on their own. While there, the agent pressed hard to take them over, even though they gave the first agent’s card to him. Surely this is unethical – right?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dear Anne: I showed several properties to new buyers for two days. They asked if I would mind if they explored other neighborhoods on their own, and naturally, I said, “Of course.”

I suggested they visit an open house in an area they liked. It was a different type of home than the ones I’d been showing them, and I thought it might be a good test to see if they’d be open to another style of home.

At the open house, the owner/agent host asked my clients if they were on their own or working with another Realtor, and they dutifully handed him my business card. However, this guy then proceeded to tell my buyers that if they ditched me, he could sweeten the deal – a better list price, a closing date extension, and he’d even throw in some furnishings they admired.

When I met my buyers the next day, it was clear that they’d fallen in love with the property, but they found the listing agent’s behavior disturbing. As it turned out, he was hosting a second open house – same property – the following weekend, and this time I accompanied my buyers for a second look.

When we arrived, I handed my card to the owner/agent and reiterated that I sent my buyers to his open house last Saturday and told him he needs to work through me and only me!

He said, the terms he offered the buyers last weekend were off the table. He got testy. I decided to take the high road and walk away from the conversation.

I thought it would end there – but no! He called my clients several hours after the second showing to see if they would reconsider and work directly with him. Fortunately, his shady tactics put them off, and we found another property that ended up being a better fit anyway.

While this bothered me personally, I think it’s a bigger problem that affects our business and can make Realtors look bad. I know you talked about a similar situation recently but, I want to know, in my case, did this guy cross the line? Signed: Call in the Ethics Police

Dear Call in the Ethics Police: If you ask me, it’s a risky business practice to pat your buyers on back and send them off to an open house alone. It’s problematic because:

  1. Who is going to point out significant issues with the property, keep them from becoming sidetracked and remind them what’s important so they don’t regret buying the property later?
  2. Who is going to write the offer if they decide they want it on the spot?
  3. Is this a potential procuring cause dispute? Oh, you bet. News flash: Listing agents aren’t keen on filling in for absentee agents.

Since you’re trying to figure out where the Code of Ethics fits into your story, my answer is the same as before – but maybe I should use a different approach in explaining why this isn’t a violation of the Code of Ethics.

To understand and interpret the Code of Ethics correctly, it’s important to be familiar with the National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) definitions as they relate to the Articles and Standards of Practices. Words mean things, especially when it comes to Article 16 which says, Realtors shall not engage in any practice or take any action inconsistent with exclusive representation or exclusive brokerage relationship agreements that other Realtors have with clients.

They key word is “client.” Most folks loosely refer to their customers as clients when, in fact, they are customers.

The difference between a “client” and a “customer” (as it relates to the Code of Ethics) is found in Standard of Practice 1-2:

As used in this Code of Ethics:

  • “Client” means the person(s) or entity(or entities) with whom a Realtor or a Realtor’s firm has an agency or legally recognized non-agency relationship
  • “Customer” means a party to a real estate transaction who receives information, services, or benefits but has no contractual relationship with the Realtor or the Realtor’s firm

If a buyer is not a client, then Article 16 does not apply.

With that said, the owner/agent has an affirmative obligation to make a reasonable effort to determine if the buyer is subject to a current, valid exclusive agreement to provide the same type of service. Asking a prospect if you’re “working with someone” doesn’t cut it. You need to do your best to find out if an exclusive exists. Ultimately, a hearing panel must ascertain if the effort made is enough, or if it could be a violation of Article 16 citing Standard of Practice 16-9.

It’s hard to tell from your story if you had an exclusive with the buyer. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, a chummy listing agent closes in on a buyer. Bottom line: No line was crossed if an exclusive did not exist, and while Mr. Owner/Agent’s behavior rates a 10 on the tacky meter, he’s not the only one who could use a little polish, capisce?

Note: Technically, everyone in Florida under the law (Chapter 475) is a “customer” – but for the sake of enforcing the Code of Ethics, local Board hearing panels use the definitions outlined in Standard of Practice 1-2.

Standard of Practice 1-2

The duties imposed by the Code of Ethics encompass all real estate-related activities and transactions whether conducted in person, electronically, or through any other means.

The duties the Code of Ethics imposes are applicable whether Realtors are acting as agents or in legally recognized non-agency capacities except that any duty imposed exclusively on agents by law or regulation shall not be imposed by this Code of Ethics on Realtors acting in non-agency capacities.

As used in this Code of Ethics, “client” means the person(s) or entity(ies) with whom a Realtor or a Realtor’s firm has an agency or legally recognized non-agency relationship; “customer” means a party to a real estate transaction who receives information, services, or benefits but has no contractual relationship with the Realtor or the Realtor’s firm; “prospect” means a purchaser, seller, tenant, or landlord who is not subject to a representation relationship with the Realtor or Realtor’s firm; “agent” means a real estate licensee (including brokers and sales associates) acting in an agency relationship as defined by state law or regulation; and “broker” means a real estate licensee (including brokers and sales associates) acting as an agent or in a legally recognized non-agency capacity. (Adopted 1/95, Amended 1/07)

Anne Cockayne is Director of Local Association Services for Florida Realtors

Have an ethics or rules question? Email us at legalnews@floridarealtors.org with “Dear Anne” in the subject line.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Know When to Bow Out

Legal disputes can be messy and complicated – and important practical considerations can create traps for unwary litigants. If negotiations fail, both parties should thoughtfully plan their own path forward, preferably after consulting a lawyer familiar with sound litigation strategy.  

ORLANDO, Fla. – Caller issue: A landlord made a claim on the tenant’s deposit at the end of the lease. The tenant strongly disagreed with the claim and made a timely objection. It seems to me like both have valid points, but they are currently refusing to compromise. What can they do to resolve this dispute, and what is my role when my brokerage company isn’t holding the deposit?

Caller issue: A buyer properly terminated a contract, but the seller is irrational and incensed. The seller has already made a claim on the deposit and seems to be gearing up for litigation. What can they do to resolve this dispute, and what is my role when my brokerage company isn’t holding the deposit?

Caller issue: A buyer discovered a problem with the house after closing and suspects that seller may have known about it, or even hidden it in some way. I reached out to the listing side of the transaction, but the only message we got back is that seller refuses to respond.

We get questions just like these on the Florida Realtors Legal Hotline fairly often, although there isn’t much we can say about any of them. The answer to all questions is that the parties have an unresolved legal dispute and will need to either seek the help of a lawyer or represent themselves.

One thing we frequently note is that, as a real estate professional, this is a good time to extricate yourself from the dispute unless you can see some very specific helpful action you can take that doesn’t involve giving legal advice. We also caution that there could be hidden traps for both sides, such as wording something in a way that accidentally creates more liability or missing some deadline that results in losing specific rights.

At this point in a dispute, the parties may want to take stock of some practical and procedural considerations so that they choose a wise course of action under the circumstances. For example, sometimes factors like these are just as important, or even more important, than whether someone has a “winning” case:

  • The amount of money someone stands to gain if they win
  • The ability of the other side to pay (bankruptcy concerns, for example)
  • The personality of the other side (reasonable vs. unreasonable)
  • What specific dispute resolution is required (typically one or more of the following: mediation, arbitration or litigation)
  • Whether each side must pay their own attorney fees and costs, or whether the losing side will owe attorney’s fees and costs to the winning side
  • Whether the same opponent is involved in separate lawsuits with other parties
  • The ability of each side to persuasively explain their position and quickly convince others of its merit

These are just a few factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the facts of the case – but they may help someone decide whether fighting, settling, or even letting a case go is the wisest course of action.

One final note: It’s not unusual for someone to start a dispute off with a common refrain of “It’s the principle of the thing. I won’t back down!” This is a perfectly understandable reaction, especially when someone has a strong case. However, this response can cloud someone’s ability to consider points like the ones above and can easily result in that person losing real money by taking an aggressive stance when a more conciliatory one (or even letting the issue go) would have been better.

After all, there’s some truth to the satirical author Ambrose Bierce’s definition of litigation as “a machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.”

Joel Maxson is Associate General Counsel

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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How Do I Cancel the Contract?

A contract can end when one party notifies the other party under terms outlined in the contract. Or it could end when a Florida Realtors Release and Cancellation of Contract arrives. Does it matter how you do it? Yes and no – they aren’t the same thing.

ORLANDO, Fla – Florida Realtors Legal Hotline receives many questions regarding contract cancellation, including when and how a contract can be cancelled – and there’s some confusion over the ability to cancel a contract and use of the Florida Realtors’ Release and Cancellation of Contract form. While one can be used to do the other, they aren’t the same thing.

Let me explain. For the purposes of this article, we will use the language in the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar “AS IS” Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase, more commonly known as “the AS IS contract.”

Here’s the thing: Try as you might, not all sales contracts are going to end up closing. Whether a contract cancellation is based on one party’s contingency or it’s something more severe, such as arguments between the parties over one thing or another, this just happens.

However, when there is a contingency that allows a party to terminate the contract, it’s important to pay attention to that section of the contract to understand what steps must be followed to properly cancel. Why? This is what determines if the contract was properly canceled – or not.

Let’s look at the inspection period language in the AS IS Contract, which is contained in paragraph 12. For the buyer to terminate the contract based on this contingency within the contract, it states, in pertinent part, that the buyer has to “deliver written notice of such election to Seller prior to the expiration of Inspection Period.” In other words, in order for the buyer to cancel the contract, the buyer has to send written notice to the seller that they’re cancelling.

What exactly is “written notice?” It could mean several things, including a Release and Cancellation of Contract – but it isn’t limited to that form alone. A glance at Standard O of the contract clarifies that the written notice can be sent by “mail, personal delivery or electronic (including PDF) media.” This means that the buyer wishing to cancel must send written notice to the seller before the end of the inspection period, and that written notice could be via mail, personal delivery or electronic means. 

Based on calls, some members feel that the Florida Realtors Release and Cancellation of Contract form is the only way to terminate a contract under this provision. As we just confirmed, this is not true!

What are some examples of terminating a contract under the inspection section? The most common is via e-mail. The buyer’s agent emails the seller’s agent and indicates the buyer’s intention to cancel. Could a buyer’s agent email a Release and Cancellation of Contract signed by the buyer as a means of cancelling the contract? Sure, that would work too. Both are types of “written notice.” If sending a Release and Cancellation of Contract, it is also helpful for the agent to include a message within the body of the email clearly indicating the buyer’s intent to cancel.

Of course, as Standard O clarifies, the buyer could also send their cancellation via mail or in person – but if using either of these methods, it’s important to note that the buyer should try to secure proof of delivery. Otherwise, the seller could question the timing.

Some of you may be thinking, “Okay, I get it. Why are you even talking about this?” Here is my point: what makes the contract terminated? To briefly recap, the AS IS Contract is terminated under the inspection contingency when the buyer’s written notice to do so is sent to the seller before the end of the inspection period. That is all the language in paragraph 12 requires.

The confusion to the Legal Hotline tends to be the result of using the Release and Cancellation of Contract form as this written notice. How so?

If using a Release and Cancellation of Contract to terminate under the inspection provision of the AS IS Contract – which we’ve now covered is a perfectly acceptable though not mandatory way to terminate under this section – the caller to the Legal Hotline usually says the following: “I sent the Release and Cancellation over to the listing agent on time, but I haven’t receive it back! When does the seller have to sign and send that form back?”

Answer: They don’t. And guess what? For purposes of terminating the contract, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because, as stated before, the only thing the buyer has to do to terminate the contract is send written notice of the intent to do so before the end of the inspection period. Nowhere in that section of the contract does it say the seller has to sign off or agree to end the contract. Nowhere!

As a buyer’s agent, and using my example above, you only need proof that you sent an email to the listing agent about your buyer’s desire to cancel, and it was sent before the inspection-period notification deadline. Beyond that, it’s irrelevant for the inspection contingency section of the AS IS contract whether or not the seller signs the Release and Cancellation you attached to that email.

One small catch

However – yes, there is a slight catch – more times than not, the escrow agent holding the buyer’s deposit will want something in writing from both parties confirming both agree that the buyer can get the deposit back. This is where the buyer will need to get the seller’s signature on the Release and Cancellation or other acceptable form for the closing agent.

But, to clarify: That signature is needed only to get the buyer’s deposit back. It doesn’t affect the buyer’s cancellation of the contract. That was done when the buyer sent written notice before the end of the inspection period of their intent to cancel.

Remember, always look to the language of the section of the contract to see what is required to terminate and how much time a party may have to exercise that right. Knowing the language and options can hopefully avoid any party missing a particular deadline.

Meredith Caruso is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Florida Affordable Housing Conference Going on Now

More than 900 people were expected to attend the once-per-year meeting that focuses on current housing issues, trends and innovations.

ORLANDO – The Florida Housing Coalition (FHC) is hosting its 32nd Annual Statewide Affordable Housing Conference through Aug. 28 at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando. More than 900 people were expected to attend the once-per-year meeting that focuses on current housing issues, trends and innovations.

Featured keynote speakers include Ken Lawson, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and Dr. Rodney Harrell, from National AARP, director of Livability Thought Leadership.

The State of the State Public Policy Plenary session held Aug. 26 addressed the Sadowski Act, which funds Florida’s state and local housing trust fund programs. The panel featured non-profit and government professionals who work at the state and federal levels addressing housing programs and initiatives, including disaster housing recovery, Opportunity Zones, ending homelessness, long-term affordability, land use and the major funding resources available for affordable housing.

On Aug. 27, the conference will offer more than 30 training workshops today on aspects of affordable housing, including sessions on disaster recovery, community land trusts, housing advocacy, innovations in housing, equitable development, avoiding displacement, and funding resources. This year’s forums focus on disaster recovery, ending homelessness among youth and young adults and Opportunity Zones.

On Aug. 28, the conference features three symposiums: the SHIP Administrators Roundtable, Nonprofit Building Capacity to Build Symposium and the launch of the Florida CLT Institute’s Training and Certification Program.

To learn more about the Conference, visit: www.FLHousingConference.org. For more information about the Florida Housing Coalition, visit www.FLHousing.org.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Judges Deny HOA Request to Quash Group Home Decision

Commissioners OK’d the group home in 2018, but the HOA failed in its lawsuit claim that the original developer set aside the land “for the residents’ benefit.”

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Wellington View Homeowners’ Association had hoped a judge would reverse a decision that will allow the nonprofit HomeSafe to build a group home for at-risk boys near its neighborhood.

But on Wednesday, circuit court judges James Nutt, Donald Hafele and August Bonavita denied the HOA’s petition.

“We are pleased that the judges ruled in our favor and are excited to move forward with the new campus which will provide a safe, nurturing home for 12 children,” said HomeSafe CEO Matthew Ladika in an emailed statement.

The lawsuit, filed in December against Palm Beach County and The Children’s Place at Home Safe Inc., centered on a decision county commissioners had made two months prior.

Commissioners in October of last year unanimously approved the nonprofit’s request to build an 11,000-square-foot home on three acres on Lyons Road south of Southern Boulevard. The land used to be part of the 157-acre Wellington View development in suburban West Palm Beach.

In the lawsuit, the HOA argued that the land was “legally set aside … by the original developer for the residents’ benefit” – it was designated for public civic use and the site would be better used as a park.

After the court ruling on Wednesday, attorney Joni Armstrong Coffey provided a statement on behalf of the HOA: “We have seen the court’s order. We’re disappointed in it, and at this point we are considering what our legal options may be, including appeal.”

This HomeSafe residence would house up to 12 boys aged between 12 and 17. The home planned to have a bedroom and bathroom for each boy, a reception area, offices, dining area and kitchen. The nonprofit planned to also build a 5,500-square-foot building for recreational activities.

A HomeSafe spokeswoman said the project would take 18 months to complete but did not have a start date.

© 2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Hannah Morse. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Condo Q&A: Pros and Cons of Self-Management

Is it possible to do away with a condo property manager and just self-manage? Also: What are the rules regarding owners’ ability to speak at board meetings?  

STUART, Fla. – Question: My board is currently working on its budget for next year. I am not happy with how much we are paying some of our vendors, including our property manager. In an effort to save money, is it possible to do away with an actual property manager and just self-manage? It would be a huge savings for us. – R.L., Vero Beach

Answer: Associations offer residents great benefits, but with those benefits come added expense to live in a community. One of the biggest expenses, as you point out, is that the association needs to be managed by someone.

The question then becomes should a community pay to be managed by a professional management company or should they be self-managed? Well, as every community is different, with different issues and needs, it depends.

Property management companies, and there are plenty of them out there, work under the direction of the board of directors of the association.

Property management companies are paid a fee based upon services they contract to perform for the association. The scope of those contracts can vary in regard to the types of services the company will provide. Such services can include recommending, hiring and reviewing contracts for outside vendors, monitoring maintenance work and landscaping, as well as working as a liaison with the residents to take care of issues that might normally fall on the board to deal with.

They also function to collect association fees and prepare monthly and annual financial statements, as well as assist the board in preparing annual budgets. The larger management companies will often have relationships with outside vendors, allowing them to negotiate better pricing than an association might be able to get on its own.

Regardless of the benefits that come with having a professional property management company manage your community, due to the expense, some associations still choose to self-manage.

As alluded to above, as with anything, there are pros and cons related to self-managing. The biggest benefit is obviously going to be financial savings related to the cost of management fees. Another benefit is that a self-managed association may be able to streamline its decision-making, allowing it to operate more efficiently.

The counter to that is that by not having a management company, much more pressure is going to be placed on a board, which can already be an extremely time-consuming, stressful job. To make matters worse, most board members generally lack the experience and industry contacts to do a proper job and follow Florida law, which can be a daunting task. Not to mention the issues related to board turnover that can occur every year when there is an election.

This is a huge issue, even under the best of circumstances, as ongoing projects and daily decision-making can change year-to-year. A huge risk is also that, by taking on this role, there is more risk to the board members for the decisions that they make should they do things that fall outside Florida law. This can open board members up to potential legal exposure.

Something else to keep in mind is that whether you have a full-time property management company or are self-managed, all associations need to have an attorney experienced in Florida condominium and homeowner’s association law. You should discuss your thoughts with your current association attorney to see what they recommend in regard to your particular association and its needs.

Question: What are the rules regarding owners’ ability to speak at board meetings? – P.G., Port St. Lucie

Answer: Florida law provides that either owners and/or their authorized representatives have the right to attend condominium association meetings that are open to the membership. You also have the right to speak at association meetings, with the caveat that you can only speak about the specific items on the agenda that were posted prior to the meeting.

Although most meetings are open to members, members generally cannot raise new issues not listed on the agenda. Also, keep in mind that not every board meeting is going to be open to members. For example, a meeting to discuss litigation with the association’s lawyer will be a closed meeting in order to preserve attorney-client privilege. Also, as a member, you are permitted to record an open meeting if doing so is not unduly distracting.

For homeowner’s associations, Florida Statutes section 720.303(2) provides that members have the right to attend all board meetings, and that “the right to attend such meetings includes the right to speak at such meetings with reference to all designated items.” The statute then goes on to state that the board may adopt reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration, and other manner of owner statements.

It is important to note that this is slightly different from Chapter 718, which governs condominiums. The condominium statute provides that owners have the right to speak “with reference to all designated agenda items,” the distinction being that homeowner’s associations are not required by statute to have a detailed agenda, and condominium associations are required to have a detailed agenda.

The purpose behind allowing members to speak is that if the board is going to exercise business judgment, it needs to be informed, and part of this information gathering is hearing from the owners.

Harris B. Katz, Esq., is managing partner, Boca Raton, of the Law Firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, respond to questions about Florida community association law. The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, civil litigation, estate planning and commercial transactions.

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Harris B. Katz

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Realtors Use Showings to Help Pets Find Their Furever Homes

Some Realtors are taking foster animals to home showings. It eases buyers’ stress, makes listings feel like homes, and can even be a marketing niche focusing on buyers who love dogs.

NEW YORK – Some real estate pros are bringing foster dogs to showings, hoping that while finding the perfect home for a buyer, they’ll be able to find the perfect home for the foster pet too.

Kelcey Otten, a real estate professional with Compass in Manhattan, will often bring two small dogs she fosters on showing tours to pet-friendly apartments. She’ll bring the pups in her purse on a property tour.

“I thought if I could bring my foster pups with me on buyer tours, then I could expose them to a larger pool of potential adopters,” Otten told The New York Times. She hopes that she’ll be able to find the foster dogs a home while also closing a real estate deal.

“I do my best to be mindful and get permission beforehand” to bring the dogs, Otten said. “Most of the time, people are just super excited to see a dog.”

In the last three years, Otten has helped place 15 dogs in permanent homes.

Some potential buyers also seek out animal-loving agents, making it a bit of a market niche. Eileen Mandel wanted to work with Otten as her real estate agent because she and her husband have three rescue dogs. They wanted a pet-savvy broker to help them find a home in New York City.

“My top priority was finding a place that would accommodate all of my dogs,” Mandel said.

Certainly, a pet in tow isn’t going to necessarily help sell a property, Otten says, but “even if a potential buyer doesn’t want to adopt, bringing the dogs on showings still helps generate leads. Having a cute little thing running around brings a levity to the whole experience.”

Domingo Perez Jr., a real estate pro with Warburg Realty, and Kathryn Landow, another Warburg agent, teamed up to partner with Animal Haven, a nonprofit organization that finds homes for abandoned cats and dogs throughout the New York City area. They recently hosted an adoption event with rescue animals during a real estate preview on a terrace of a building. The event featured kittens and dogs from the shelter.

“We’re in the business of finding a home for everyone, both two- and four-legged,” Landow says.

It’s not just dogs and cats either. Lori Coredero and Sara Magers are real estate pros with The Rescue Realtors® team at Pacific Playa Realty in Los Angeles. When they have a listing that has enough outdoor space and the homeowners’ approval, they’ll bring bunnies to the open house. They will team with Too Many Bunnies Rabbit Rescue to hold an adoption event at the open house.

“We’re not just helping a potential buyer or seller with real estate, we’re helping raise community awareness about the homeless animal population,” Cordero said.

Source: “Can a Puppy Help Sell Your Home?” The New York Times (Aug. 23, 2019)

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HUD May Send Over $633M to Florida for Disaster Aid

Nine states could get part of $6.85 billion in aid for disasters from 2015 to 2017 under just-announced HUD program rules. Texas could get the most at $4.07 billion.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated $6.85 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds to grantees recovering from qualifying 2015, 2016 and 2017 disasters.

Florida is one of the nine states and five local communities that qualify if they adhere to rules HUD created. The total potential money coming into the state for mitigation efforts for 2016 and 2017 storms is $633,485,000. HUD’s 126-page notice explains the program’s regulations.

According to HUD, CDBG-Mitigation funds are an opportunity for grantees to use fund in areas impacted by recent disasters to carry out long-term strategic and high-impact activities that lower disaster risks in future losses.

HUD’s goals for the program

  • Support data-informed investments in high-impact projects that will reduce risks attributable to natural disasters, with particular focus on repetitive loss of property and critical infrastructure
  • Build the capacity of states and local governments to comprehensively analyze disaster risks and update hazard mitigation plans through data and community engagement
  • Support adoption of policies that reflect local and regional priorities with long-lasting effects on community risk reduction, and to include the risk reduction to community lifelines
  • Maximize the impact of available funds by encouraging leverage of private-public partnerships, and coordination with other federal programs.

States and areas slated to receive HUD funding

2017 Disasters

Texas – $4,074,456,000

Florida – $549,684,000

California – $88,219,000

Georgia – $26,961,000

Missouri – $41,592,000

2016 Disasters

Louisiana – $1,213,917,000

Texas – $169,748,000

North Carolina – $168,067,000

West Virginia – $106,494,000

Florida – $83,801,000

South Carolina – $67,564,000

2015 Disasters

South Carolina – $90,026,000

Houston, Texas – $61,884,000

Texas – $52,985,000

San Marcos, Texas – $24,012,000

Richland County, S.C. – $21,864,000
Columbia, S.C. – $18,585,000

Lexington County, S.C. – $15,185,000

Total: $6,847,044,000

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Survey: Older Adults Struggle with Housing Costs

1 in 4 adults over age 45 say Florida is their top retirement state – but 1 in 3 struggled with the cost of housing over the past year.

NEW YORK – Nearly one in three adults over age 45 struggled to maintain housing costs over the past year, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted by PropertyShark, a real estate website.

Homeowners with lower incomes tended to report the highest housing costs burden, but researchers found the problem across all income levels.

Among those earning $20,000 to $40,000 a year, 42% struggled with housing costs, while 27% of those earning between $40,000 and $60,000 were in the same situation. Earners in the $60,000 to $80,000, and $80,000 to $100,000 income brackets, reported burdens at 22% and 20%, respectively. And even the highest income brackets weren’t immune: Six percent of older adults earning more than $100,000 per year said they found it difficult to keep up with housing costs over the past year.

“Beyond shifting attitudes regarding retirement – with many older adults choosing to stay employed for reasons other than financial concerns – there is also a strong need for continued employment to keep up with the daily cost of life,” researchers note in the study.

More than half of those 45 and older surveyed said they plan to remain in their current home during their senior years. Three out of five have less than $100,000 saved for retirement.

Nearly one in five older adults have explored ways to monetize their homes by renting out the extra space, with younger baby boomers and older Generation Xers most open to the idea – 25% of adults planning to retire in more than five years and 16% of those planning to retire in more than 10 years. Airbnb-type platforms were considered one of their options.

Popular places for retirement

  • Florida: 24%
  • Arizona: 10%
  • Tennessee: 8%
  • South Carolina: 8%
  • California: 6%
  • Texas: 5%

By 2030, U.S. Census data shows that one in five Americans will be 65 or older. By 2035, older adults will outnumber children – the first time in recorded history.

Developers are paying attention to what this generation wants to help meet their current and future housing needs, and more than one in five would like to retire to less than 1,000 square feet.

The suburbs reign as their top preference (45%), but it’s closely trailed by rural living at 30%. City living is third at 15% and senior living communities is at 10%.

Senior living communities tend to be popular among seniors who have already retired, while only 11% of survey respondents who don’t plan to retire say they want to live in such a place, according to the survey.

Beyond location, size and preferences, however, cost is the No. 1 priority guiding housing choice, researchers found.

“Cost is, by far, the most significant factor, followed by proximity to friends and family, area amenities, the quality and proximity of health services and the climate,” researchers note.

Source: “Housing America’s Older Adults – Florida, Traveling & Roommates,” Property Shark (Aug. 22, 2019)

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84% of Millennials Have at Least One Home Buying Regret

But a few regrets don’t dampen overall enthusiasm for becoming a homeowner – and most regrets focused on some part of the mortgage process.  

NEW YORK – Younger homeowners more often say they rushed through the buying process and have regrets about their mortgage, likely resulting from the challenges young buyers face entering today’s expensive housing market.

Still, homeowners of all ages are, for the most part, happy with their home purchases, a recent Zillow survey shows.

The Zillow Housing Aspirations Report is a semiannual survey conducted by Ipsos of 10,000 homeowners and renters in 20 large metro areas across the country, asking the respondents about their views on homeownership and their personal housing expectations. In the latest survey, it also asked about regrets.

Overall, 81% of young homeowners (between 18 and 34 years old) had at least one regret about their home, compared with 65% of those 55 years and older. Some of the biggest disparity was related to regrets about their mortgages. Millennial and Generation Z homeowners are more likely to think their mortgage payments and interest rates are too high, and have more regrets about the type of mortgage they have.

The increased likelihood for regrets could be due to their inexperience with the home buying process. Young owners are likely still living in their first homes, which means they went through the process of finding a lender and getting a mortgage for the first time. Navigating this process for the first time may explain why they are more likely to say they rushed the home buying decision without considering all their options – 29% of young homeowners regret rushing the process, compared with 12% of older buyers.

The Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report shows that millennials (ages 24-38) contact more lenders when planning to buy a home than older generations – so they are doing their homework when it comes to finding the best mortgage partner, but may have smaller down payments or more debt affecting their credit scores, and therefore their interest rates.

“The American Dream of homeownership is still alive and well, and younger buyers who are building families and forging their careers must stretch their budgets to achieve it,” said Zillow Director of Economic Research Skylar Olsen. “They have long wish lists to fit their needs, and are often navigating the process of buying for the first time. While their inexperience may lead to wishing they’d done some things differently, few homeowners regret making the decision to buy instead of rent.”

First-time buyers already make up nearly half of all buyers, and there is a growing population of millennials set to turn 34, the median age of first-time buyers. For these potential new buyers, being educated and prepared can help avoid some of these common regrets.

In addition to contacting multiple lenders to find the best rate and mortgage product, working with an agent with a winning track record can help navigate the process so buyers don’t end up feeling rushed and regretting their decision.

Copyright © 2019 BridgeTower Media. All Rights Reserved. © Copyright, 2019, The Mecklenburg Times (Charlotte, NC)

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The Latest Trend for Retail Space? Rage Rooms

Sometimes you just need a room where you can break things. In theory, “rage rooms” give owners a place to relieve stress by throwing adult temper tantrums.  

ALBEQUERQUE, N.M. – Maybe after having a stressful day, you want to release some of that tension. Enter the “rage room,” a new trend where you can slam a sledgehammer into a kitchen cabinet or ceramic dish. Rage rooms – described by some as a grown-up way to have a tantrum – are popping up across the country. One of the newest rooms to open has a real estate pro behind it.

“It’s less about anger and more just about things that you’re not supposed to do that you can now do,” says Alexis Hassley, one of the co-owners of the new “ABQ Rage Room” opening in Albuquerque. Hassley, a real estate pro in the area, teamed with other local entrepreneurs to bring the rage room business to the area.

Rage rooms offer a safe place where you pay money to smash things.

The Albuquerque rage room is lined with plywood inside a small office space. There, you can throw a plate across the room, take a hammer to an old fax machine, or use everything from metal pipes to sledgehammers for breaking dishes, electronics, furniture and more.

The first rage room reportedly opened in Japan in 2008, and they’ve spread globally ever since. USA Today reports that “hundreds” of rage rooms have popped up in the U.S. The cost to smash things varies, anywhere from $15 as a BYOB package to $95 for a “couples therapy” package in New York City. In Los Angeles, you can pay up to $300 to smash more than 100 items.

“So you have an anxious consumer who needs to let off some steam, and this provides an experience for them,” Maxwell Luthy, director of trends and insights at TrendWatching, told USA Today on an article about rage rooms last year. “This is more substantial than a unicorn Frappuccino.”

Rage rooms aren’t just for anger management. Vantroy Greene, who opened a rage room called House of Purge in Charlotte, N.C., last year told USA Today that for some it’s a way to relax.

“I feel like there’s a lot of people who need an outlet from family stress or just the stress of life,” Greene told USA Today. “There’s a lot of people who work out every day or pray or meditate, but you might like to break stuff. That first time you smash a bottle, you’ll just get it.”

Source: “‘Rage Room’ to Open Doors in Albuquerque,” KRQE News-13 (Albuquerque) (Aug. 19, 2019)

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Q&A: Beware of Any Great Condo Foreclosure Deal

A buyer dipped into savings and paid cash for a cheap foreclosure condo – but the association and mortgage company have started demanding money.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: I got a great deal on a condo that the seller had bought at a foreclosure sale and cleaned up. I used my savings and did not take a mortgage. Now I am concerned that I did not get such a great deal because the condo association is demanding a lot of money. To make matters worse, I just got a letter from a mortgage company demanding payment. What do I do? – Tim

Answer: One of the most basic rules of real estate law is that you can only buy what a seller owns. When you buy a property, you get the rights and liabilities of your seller. If your seller owes the association or has a mortgage, it needs to be paid off before you get the deed.

This is the reason that title agents perform detailed searches of the public records. Any liens against the property are identified and paid during the closing process. If you had borrowed money to buy the condo, your mortgage lender would have required you to get title insurance, which will fix any problems with your ownership, such as the ones you are experiencing, that were missed during the closing process.

Your seller purchased the property at a foreclosure auction. While a foreclosure will clear most liens from a property, certain debts, such as delinquent association dues and claims that were not named in the foreclosure lawsuit, will remain attached to the property. The buyer at the auction would still be on the hook for delinquent condo maintenance payments and any liens that were not listed in the lawsuit.

Sometimes this happens for a reason, but it often occurs when a creditor was missed when the suit was filed. You should never purchase a property, even at a court auction, without a thorough title search. There is a reason that mortgage lenders require their borrowers to get title insurance – to protect their investment in the mortgage. You should never buy a house without a title policy for the same reason.

In this space, I try to give readers options for helping themselves. However, sometimes a problem is too complicated to unravel without the help of an experienced professional. You should speak to an experienced attorney to discuss your options.

About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.

© 2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Scammers Now Targeting Equifax Credit Score Victims

Fla.’s attorney general warns consumers about a new phishing scam: Fake websites are trying to steal from people who already lost data in the Equifax hack.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning consumers about a new phishing scam, targeting people who were already victimized once by a data breach of the credit monitoring company Equifax.

An agreement reached between Equifax and most attorneys general across the country, including Moody, set up a $425 million fund to help those affected by a 2017 data breach that impacted nearly half of all Americans. Now, scammers are creating fake claims websites to again gain access to personal information from Floridians.

Moody said the phishing scam succeeds because it mimics the real claims process.

“People are trying to take advantage of those that have already had their personal information taken through this historic data breach,” Moody says. “They are now asking them to go to a false, fraudulent website and again enter and expose their personal information.”

Moody said consumers should never respond to unsolicited emails asking for Social Security numbers, bank account details or other personal information. Anyone who was a victim of the Equifax data breach and wants to file a claim should visit the official claims website, which is EquifaxBreachSettlement.com.

Floridians who feel they may have fallen for the new phishing scheme should contact the attorney general’s office.

Source: News Service of Florida

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Fla.’s Closed and Pending Home Sales, Median Prices Up in July

Fla. Realtors Pres. Sain: “Like the weather, July was a hot month for Fla.’s housing market.” Statewide existing single-family sales up 10.4% year-over-year, median price up 5.1% to $268K; condo sales up 4.3%, median price up 4.4% to $188K.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s housing market reported more closed sales, more pending sales and higher median prices in July compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 28,142 last month, up 10.4% from July 2018.

“Just like the weather, July was a hot month for Florida’s housing market with sales and median prices showing gains in both the single-family and condo-townhouse sectors,” says 2019 Florida Realtors President Eric Sain, a Realtor and district sales manager with Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach. “In another positive sign, pending inventory for existing single-family homes was up 4.5% year-over-year, while pending inventory for existing condo-townhouse properties was up 1.2%.

“Consulting a local Realtor who knows the area and current conditions can help homebuyers and sellers navigate today’s fast-paced market.”

Pending inventory is the number of listed properties that were under contract at the end of the month or data collection period.

In July, statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties rose year-over-year for 91 consecutive months. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $268,000, up 5.1% from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’s statewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $188,000, up 4.4% 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 June 2019 was $288,900, up 4.5% from the previous year; the national median existing condo price was $260,100. In California, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in June was $611,420; in Massachusetts, it was $440,000; in Maryland, it was $316,000; and in New York, it was $299,000.

Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market in July, statewide closed sales totaled 10,470, up 4.3% compared to a year ago. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

“After taking a little breather in June, the pace of existing home sales in Florida ramped right up again in July,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “Closed sales of single-family homes were up more than 10% in July compared to a year ago, and new pending sales – that is, the number of homes that went under contract during the month – were up by 7.4%, year-over-year.

“For the first time since January, we saw positive year-over-year growth in new listings of single-family homes, which were up by about 3%. However, this rise in new listings was not enough to stop inventory from declining again in July. Looking at the change in inventory levels by price tier, we are seeing an all-too-familiar story, with a year-over-year rise in homes listed above $250,000 being offset by a decline in those below that price point.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.77% in July 2019, down significantly from the 4.53% 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.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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New Facebook Tool Blocks Off-Facebook Data Gathering

Facebook will allow users to opt-out of non-Facebook tracking, which may make it harder to get Realtor ads in front of buyers who search sites like realtor.com.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Soon, you could get fewer familiar ads following you around the internet – or at least on Facebook. Facebook is launching a long-promised tool that lets you limit what the social network can gather about you on outside websites and apps.

The company said Tuesday that it is adding a section where you can see the activity that Facebook tracks outside its service via its “like” buttons and other means. You can choose to turn off the tracking; otherwise, tracking will continue the same way it has been.

Formerly known as “clear history,” the tool will now go by the slightly clunkier moniker “off-Facebook activity.” The feature launches in South Korea, Ireland and Spain on Tuesday, consistent with Facebook’s tendency to launch features in smaller markets first. The company did not give a timeline for when it might expand it to the U.S. and other countries, only that it will be in “coming months.”

What you do off Facebook is among the many pieces of information that Facebook uses to target ads to people. Blocking the tracking could mean fewer ads that seem familiar – for example, for a pair of shoes you decided not to buy, or a nonprofit you donated money to. But it won’t change the actual number of ads you’ll see on Facebook. Nor will it change how your actions on Facebook are used to show you ads.

Even if you turn off tracking, Facebook will still gather data on your off-Facebook activities. It will simply disconnect those activities from your Facebook profile. Facebook says businesses won’t know you clicked on their ad – but they’ll know that someone did. So Facebook can still tell advertisers how well their ads are performing.

Jasmine Enberg, social media analyst at research firm eMarketer, said the tool is part of Facebook’s efforts to be clearer to users on how it tracks them and likely “an effort to stay one step ahead of regulators, in the U.S. and abroad.”

Facebook faces increasing governmental scrutiny over its privacy practices, including a record $5 billion fine from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data. Boosting its privacy protections could help the company pre-empt regulation and further punishment. But it’s a delicate dance, as Facebook still depends on highly targeted advertising for nearly all of its revenue.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the “clear history” feature more than a year ago. The company said building it has been a complicated technical process, which is also the reason for the slow, gradual rollout. Facebook said it sought input from users, privacy experts and policymakers along the way, which led to some changes. For instance, users will be able to disconnect their activity from a specific websites or apps, or reconnect to a specific site while keeping other future tracking turned off.

You’ll be able to access the feature by going to your Facebook settings and scrolling down to “your Facebook information.” The “off-Facebook activity” section will be there when it launches.

The tool will let you delete your past browsing history from Facebook and prevent it from keeping track of your future clicks, taps and website visits going forward. Doing so means that Facebook won’t use information gleaned from apps and websites to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It also won’t use such information to show you posts that Facebook thinks you might like based on your offsite activity, such as news articles shared by your friends.

Stephanie Max, product manager at Facebook, said the company believes the tool could affect revenue, though she didn’t say how much. But she said giving people “transparency and control” is important.

Enberg, the eMarketer analyst, said the ultimate impact “depends on consumer adoption. It takes a proactive step for consumers to go into their Facebook settings and turn on the feature.”

People who say they value privacy often don’t actually do anything about it, she said, so it’s possible too few people will use this tool to have a meaningful effect on Facebook’s bottom line.

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

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Atlantic Is Quiet: Why Should Fla. Expect a Hurricane?

It’s been 37 years since Fla. had no named storms before mid-August. But forecasters see changes and maybe a future chain of storms marching across the Atlantic.

MIAMI – If you think it’s been an unusually quiet hurricane season, you’re right: The last time we went from July 15 through Aug. 19 with no named storms in the Atlantic was 1982, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach.

Is this the calm before the storm?

History says yes: Over the years, the period from Aug. 20 through Sept. 11 marks the sharpest increase in named tropical systems in the Atlantic, AccuWeather said.

The latest hurricane forecast released Monday shows the rest of August appears to favor a quiet pattern for tropical storm and hurricane development in the Atlantic Basin, according to Colorado State. The Atlantic Basin includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Wind shear has been quite extensive across the Atlantic Basin the past few weeks and is, in part, one of the reasons why we have not seen any tropical storm development across the Atlantic Basin since mid-July with Barry,” according to AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.

Wind shear – strong winds at higher levels of the atmosphere – can tear apart developing storms. “Long-range forecasts show less extensive shear but still enough to cause problems with westward-moving tropical waves, or disturbances, during the next week or so,” Kottlowski said.

Extensive areas of dry air and dust from Africa have also kept a lid on shower and thunderstorm formation in the Atlantic, AccuWeather said.

This hasn’t been the case in the Pacific Ocean, where four hurricanes have formed. The National Hurricane Center gives a pair of Pacific weather systems a good chance of becoming tropical storms within the next five days, one of which is dumping heavy rain across portions of Guatemala and Mexico this week.

Pacific hurricanes seldom have a direct impact on the mainland USA.

The only hurricane to form this year in the Atlantic was Barry, which hit Louisiana in July. “It’s pretty common to have only had one hurricane this late in the season,” Klotzbach said. “It happens about half of the time.

“It’s actually not that uncommon to have had no hurricanes through Aug. 19 – the most recent time that this occurred was in 2015,” he said.

September changes things

Looking into September, “conditions are expected to become not only much more conducive for tropical storm formation but may also lead to multiple occasions with more than one named system spinning in the Atlantic Basin at the same time, as well as a late and strong finish to the season,” Kottlowski warned.

Overall, five to nine hurricanes are expected to form in the Atlantic Basin this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a forecast released this month.

The months of September and October have brought some of the most powerful and damaging hurricanes to the USA, AccuWeather said. In September 2018, Hurricane Florence killed 53 people and caused $24 billion in damage. One month later, Hurricane Michael killed 49 and resulted in $25 billion in damage.

Copyright 2019, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Doyle Rice

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NAR: Existing-Home Sales Climb 2.5% in July

National home sales rose in all U.S. areas – 2.5% month-to-month, 0.6% year-to-year – except the West. Two Fla. metros logged high sales numbers.

WASHINGTON – Existing-home sales strengthened in July, a positive reversal after total sales were down slightly in the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Northeast transactions declined, but the other three major U.S. regions recorded sales increases, including vast growth in the West.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – rose 2.5% from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.42 million in July. Overall sales are up 0.6% from a year ago (5.39 million in July 2018).

“Falling mortgage rates are improving housing affordability and nudging buyers into the market,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. However, he added that the supply of affordable housing is severely low. “The shortage of lower-priced homes have markedly pushed up home prices.”

Home price appreciation has been much stronger in the lower-price tier compared to homes sold in the upper-price tier, based on the analysis of proprietary deed records data from Black Knight, Inc. and Realtors Property Resource.

Of the same homes that were sold in 2018 that were purchased in 2012 in 13 large metro areas (repeat sales transactions), the lower half of the market had increased by more than 100% in 2018 in metro areas like Atlanta-Sandy-Springs-Roswell, Ga. (165%), Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. (103%), Miami-Fort-Lauderdale, Fla. (119%) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (125%). The median home price for homes purchased in the upper half of the market in these same metro areas in 2012 increased at a much slower pace when sold in 2018.

“Clearly, the inventory of moderately-priced homes is inadequate and more home building is needed,” says Yun. “Some new apartments could be converted into condominiums thereby helping with the supply, especially in light of new federal rules permitting a wider use of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages to buy condo properties.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in July was $280,800, up 4.3% from July 2018 ($269,300). July’s price increase marks the 89th straight month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of July decreased to 1.89 million, down from 1.92 million existing-homes available for sale in June, and a 1.6% decrease from 1.92 million one year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, down from the 4.4 month-supply recorded in June and down from the 4.3-month supply recorded in July of 2018.

Properties typically remained on the market for 29 days in July, up from 27 days in June and up from 27 days in July of 2018. Fifty-one percent of homes sold in July were on the market for less than a month.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage decreased to 3.77% in July, down from 3.80% in June. The average commitment rate across all of 2018 was 4.54%.

“Mortgage rates are important to consumers, but so is confidence about the nation’s overall economic outlook,” Yun says. “Home buying is a serious long-term decision and current low or even lower future mortgage rates may not in themselves meaningfully boost sales unless accompanied by improved consumer confidence.”

First-time buyers were responsible for 32% of sales in July, down from 35% the month prior and about equal to the 32% recorded in July 2018. NAR’s 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 2018 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.

As the share of first-time buyers rose, individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 11% of homes in July, up from 10% recorded in June 2019 and down from 12% recorded in July a year ago. All-cash sales accounted for 19% of transactions in July, up from June and down from July of 2018 (16% and 20%, respectively).

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 2% of sales in July, unchanged from June but down from 3% in July 2018. Less than 1% of July 2019 sales were short sales.

“Present rates have opened the market for a number of potential buyers who couldn’t afford a home just a year ago,” says NAR President John Smaby. “Additionally, NAR has been working with the FHA for years to establish new condominium loan policies. Our hard work has paid off, and this change will begin benefiting buyers, sellers and our members as soon as this fall.”

Regional breakdown
Compared to June, existing-home sales recorded in July rose in the Midwest, South and West, but fell slightly in the Northeast region. Compared to last year, July sales dropped in the Northeast and West while experiencing modest gains in the Midwest and South. Median home prices rose from a year ago, except in the Northeast.

July existing-home sales in the Northeast decreased 2.9% to an annual rate of 660,000, a 4.3% decline from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $305,800, down 1.0% from July 2018.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales edged up 1.6% to an annual rate of 1.27 million, which is a 0.8% increase from July 2018. The median price in the Midwest was $226,300, an 8.1% surge from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 1.8% to an annual rate of 2.31 million in July, up 2.7% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $245,100, up 5.2% from one year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West shot up 8.3% to an annual rate of 1.18 million in July, just 0.8% below a year ago. The median price in the West was $408,000, up 3.7% from July 2018.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales
Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.84 million in July, up from 4.71 million in June and up 1.0% from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $284,000 in July 2019, up 4.5% from July 2018.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 580,000 units in July, about equal to the rate from the prior month and down 3.3% from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $254,300 in July, which is up 2.5% from a year ago.

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