Monthly Archives: November 2019

3 Things to Spot During a Final Walkthrough

It’s easy to notice that a chandelier is missing – but you can’t discover that the A/C system broke down after the home inspection unless you turn it on.

NEW YORK – The final walkthrough is one of the last steps in purchasing a new home – and it’s also a time when buyers should carefully study the condition of the property before heading to closing and making everything official.

  1. Check systems one last time: A home inspector may have assessed the property earlier, but the final walkthrough should include a recheck of some major systems in case their status changed sometime after the inspection. Buyers should run the heating and air conditioning systems, turn lights on and off, and test all the major appliances. They should also flush all the toilets and check for leaks.
  1. Verify work has been done to satisfaction: Buyers should verify that all agreed-upon repairs they negotiated as part of the contract have been completed, using their agreement of sale and inspection reports as a checklist. They should also make sure that any fixtures supposed to be left behind are still there. This can be a common last-minute hang up in real estate dealings, when items that buyers expected to see left behind are not.
  1. Make a list of questions: Buyers should take their time during their final walkthrough and jot down any questions they might want to ask the sellers. columnist Tara Mastroeni suggests a list of questions about how the home’s systems work or anything else pertaining to the home. Before they sign at settlement, buyers have leverage and it’s their last chance to get those questions answered.

View more tips for the final walkthrough at

Source: “Buyers, Here’s What to Pay Attention to During Your Final Walk-Through,” (Nov. 25, 2019)

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

NAR: Pending Home Sales Down 1.7% in Oct.

After two months of increases, the number of homes under contract declined in Oct. NAR Economist Yun attributes it to a slight increase in mortgage rates.

WASHINGTON – Pending home sales retreated in October, taking a slight step back after two prior months of increases, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

The Northeast saw a minor uptick last month, but the other three major U.S. regions had declines in month-over-month contract activity. However, pending home sales were up nationally and in all four regions in a year-to-year comparison.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) – a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings – fell 1.7% to 106.7 in October. Year-over-year contract signings jumped 4.4%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says that a decline in inventory and a small rise in mortgage rates in October may explain the change since September.

“While contract signings have decreased, the overall economic landscape remains favorable,” Yun says. “Mortgage rates continue to be low at below 4% – which will attract buyers – employment levels are strong and many recession claims have dissipated.” Pointing to data from active listings at, Yun says the markets where listing prices are around $250,000 – an affordable price point in most markets nationally – are drawing some of the most significant buyer attention.

“We still need to address and, more importantly, correct inadequate levels of inventory across the country,” Yun says. “There is no shortage of buyers seeking homes, but a lack of available units continues to drag down the nation’s housing market and overall economy. We risk a lingering shortage of sufficient inventory if homebuilding only continues at its current pace over the next 20 years, when the U.S. population is projected to increase by more than 40 million over this period. Clearly, home builders must step in and construct more housing.”

Regional breakdown: With the exception of the Northeast, all regional indices saw declines in October. The PHSI in the Northeast rose 1.9% to 95.7 in October, 3.0% higher than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index slid 2.7% to 101.4 last month, 1.8% higher than in October 2018.

Pending home sales in the South decreased 1.7% to an index of 125.3 in October, a 5.1% increase from last October. The index in the West declined 3.4% in October 2019 to 91.9, which is an increase of 7.5% from a year ago.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Active 2019 Hurricane Season Ended Saturday

The relatively active season came to a close, and while the 18 storms made it the fourth most-lively season in 150 years, only one storm – Dorian – threatened a Florida disaster after stalling over the Bahamas, where it caused massive damage.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For Florida, the 2019 hurricane season will be remembered for a gigantic, nerve-racking scare over the Labor Day weekend.

After back-to-back years of historic strikes on Florida that continue to require money and attention, the waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico during the hurricane season that ends Saturday were highly active. The 2019 season had 18 named storms, matching 1969 for the fourth most-lively season in the past 150 years.

But Florida avoided a strike in September from Hurricane Dorian after the mega-storm devastated parts of the Bahamas. And with the Sunshine State still recovering from Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, this year’s season was more psychologically challenging than physically taxing for Floridians.

“We got spared, but at the expense of our friends in the Bahamas,” Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz told members of a House subcommittee in November. “If you look at the picture of the Bahamas, there would have been areas of the state of Florida that would have looked the same, because our building code is not meant for 185 mph sustained winds or 220 mph gusts.”

While Hurricane Dorian never reached Florida as once predicted, it still left frayed nerves up and down the East Coast, after the system sat for days around the Bahamas and as images remained fresh from the massive damage left by Michael and Irma.

“As Dorian approached, we knew it was going to be moving slow and it was still several days away,” says Parks Camp of the National Weather Service in Tallahassee. “So, it was a matter of balancing the message of, ‘OK, everybody needs to get ready,’ but you don’t want people to panic.”

Forecast maps had the storm making landfall somewhere along the East Coast for nearly a week, at times moving far inland.

The forecast maps forced Gov. Ron DeSantis to warn people to prepare for a “Category 4-plus” impact. Tolls were lifted but evacuation orders were light.

The wait drove residents to stores for storm supplies and tourists to reroute plans for the holiday weekend.

Dorian’s crawl across the Atlantic also allowed the state to pre-position storm supplies before counties and cities could make requests. Moskowitz said that was an agency planning change that had been enacted before Dorian.

“We know what they’re going to need based upon history,” Moskowitz says. “They’re going to need generators. They’re going to need pumps. They’re going to need food. They’re going to need water. And so, we were pre-positioning that and gobbling those resources from inside the state, but (also) outside the state, so we didn’t have any delay.”

Eventually, as Dorian sat over the Bahamas, a predicted trough of low pressure that had been moving across the upper Midwest and northeastern U.S. finally arrived, creating enough of a break in the upper air pattern to reroute the system to the north, toward the Carolinas.

Florida shifted from planning for a potential epic disaster to rushing water and rescue workers to the islands.

Dorian caused about $19 million in estimated insured losses in Florida, according to numbers posted last month by the state Office of Insurance Regulation. By comparison, Hurricane Michael caused an estimated $7.4 billion in insured losses when it slammed into Northwest Florida in 2018.

A little more than a month after Dorian, Tropical Storm Nestor briefly kicked up in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nestor lost strength before reaching land, but its rain and storm surge caused some flooding and moderate damages in areas still in need of repairs from Michael. Nestor’s wide-ranging outer bands produced several tornadoes, the strongest crossed nine miles in western Polk County.

Otherwise, the six-month 2019 hurricane season had the smallest impact on Florida in four years.

“When I think of this season, I think of watching those forecasts of Dorian,” Camp says.

DeSantis eventually joked that he may have to return to Israel next year to again insert a prayer into the Wailing Wall asking for a safe hurricane season.

Beyond divine intervention, however, DeSantis and emergency planners are still focused on helping Northwest Florida recover from Hurricane Michael – and preparing for future hurricane seasons across the state.

DeSantis has made funding proposals to the Legislature about Michael recovery efforts. Also, the Division of Emergency Management is working with lawmakers on proposals that range from funding a new, larger emergency operations center to requiring every county to have at least one temporary emergency shelter location where people can bring pets.

“The science is in, it’s not debatable, if people feel they can’t take their animal with them, they will stay (not leave an evacuation zone),” Moskowitz says. “And we want people to evacuate if they’re in an evacuation zone.”

The division is also working on rule changes about how housing is deployed after storms, based on the needs created by Michael, and about making technical assistance available for cities and counties to navigate federal red tape after disasters.

“The last thing I want is to leave federal dollars on the table because we didn’t apply for them,” Moskowitz says.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Turner

Ideas for Boosting Affordable Housing? HUD Wants to Know

A HUD Request for Information (RFI) seeks public comment. How do current regulations and administrative practices artificially raise the cost of affordable housing?

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today published a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comment on federal, state, local and tribal laws, regulations, land use requirement, and administrative practices that artificially increase the cost of affordable housing development.

“Owning a home is an essential component of the American Dream. It is imperative that we remove regulatory barriers that prevent that dream from becoming a reality,” says HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “Through this request, communities across the country will have the opportunity to identify roadblocks to affordable housing and work with state, federal and local leaders to remove them.”

HUD says it want information on:

  • Specific HUD regulations, statutes, programs and practices that directly or indirectly restrict the supply of housing or increase the cost of housing
  • Policy interventions, solutions or strategies to incentivize state and local governments to review their regulatory environment or aid them in streamlining, reducing or eliminating the negative impact of state and local laws, regulations and administrative practices
  • Ways that state-level laws, practices and programs contribute to delays in the construction industry and specific laws, practices and programs that could be reviewed
  • Common factors that underlie local governments’ adoption of laws, regulations and practices that raise the cost of housing development – and whether those factors vary geographically
  • Peer-reviewed research and/or representative surveys that provide quantitative analyses on the impact of regulations on the cost of affordable housing development
  • Performance measures, quantitative and/or qualitative, to consider in assessing the reduction of barriers nationally or regionally, and advantages and disadvantages of each measure
  • Recommendations on how to best utilize HUD’s Regulatory Barriers Clearinghouse for States, local governments, researchers and policy analysts who are tracking reform activity across the country

Responses to the RFI must be submitted online.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Opportunity Zone Buyers Get More FHA Loan Remodeling Money

HUD says that homebuyers taking out an FHA 203(k) loan, which adds extra money for upgrades, can now get $15K more, or up to $50K rolled into a single mortgage.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will offer a new incentive for borrowers rehabilitating homes in Opportunity Zones.

To make home purchases within Opportunity Zones more attractive, FHA is expanding its Limited 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance Program for Opportunity Zone homes. The loans roll the cost of repairs into a single mortgage and are offered to owner-occupant homebuyers and existing occupant homeowners for the purchase and/or rehabilitation of single family homes.)

The FHA loan upgrade becomes effective on Dec. 16, 2019. After that, qualified borrowers can roll an additional $50,000 into their first mortgage – a $15,000 increase over the current cap.

“Providing this opportunity means that the families seeking affordable homeownership or to improve their homes in distressed neighborhoods – where rehabilitation is needed the most – have a path to financing that makes it realistic to do the repairs and improvements that will uplift the entire community,” says Carson.

Allowable improvements include connecting to public water and sewage systems, repairing or replacing plumbing, heating, air conditioning or electrical systems, and covering lead-based paint stabilization costs.

As of Sept. 30, 2019, FHA had active insurance on over 623,000 mortgages located in Opportunity Zones, or 8% of FHA-insured mortgages nationwide.

The new incentive announced today is limited, however, to the first 15,000 mortgages secured by properties in Qualified Opportunity Zones each calendar year. The incentive expires on Dec. 31, 2028.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Conforming Loan Limits to Top $500K in 2020

Single-family loans bought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can be as high as $510,400 ($484,350 currently) starting in January – up to $765,600 in high-cost areas.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced an increase in maximum conforming loan limits starting in January 2020. The change affects more than half of all U.S. loans that are later acquired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2020.

In most of the U.S., the 2020 maximum conforming loan limit for one-unit properties will be $510,400 – an increase from $484,350 in 2019. However, the loan limits are even more in selected higher-cost U.S. areas, and those loans can be conforming clear up to $765,600.

Under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA), baseline conforming limits for loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can purchase must be adjusted each year to reflect changes in the average U.S. home price. Based on FHFA’s third quarter 2019 FHFA House Price Index, house prices increased 5.38%, on average, between the third quarters of 2018 and 2019. Therefore, the baseline maximum conforming loan limit in 2020 increases by the same percentage.

The higher loan limits applies only in areas where 115% of the local median home value exceeds the baseline conforming loan limit. However, the cap can vary by area.

HERA establishes the maximum loan limit in those areas as a multiple of the area median home value, while setting a ceiling of 150 percent of the baseline loan limit. Median home values generally increased in high-cost areas in 2019, driving up many maximum loan limits. The new ceiling loan limit for one-unit properties in most high-cost areas will be $765,600 – 150 percent of $510,400.

Special statutory provisions also establish different loan limit calculations for Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In these areas, the baseline loan limit will be $765,600 for one-unit properties.

FHFA posts a list online of loan limits by county and map:

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Single-Family Rentals Strong as Blackstone Backs Out

Blackstone dominated a still-successful real estate business model developed during the recession – landlords with thousands of single-family rental homes.

NEW YORK – Once known as a giant in the single-family rental space, Blackstone is getting out of that market. The investment firm sold its last stake in Invitation Homes Inc., the company it created during the housing crisis to snatch up tens of thousands of foreclosed properties and turn them into rentals.

Blackstone has been decreasing its stake in the single-family rental business since March through a series of stock offerings. The company raked in about $7 billion – more than double what it originally invested, according to its securities filings.

In the midst of the housing crisis, Blackstone went on a homebuying spree, purchasing 30,000 homes in about 18 months and spending about $2 billion fixing the properties.

“The hardest part wasn’t buying the homes – it was building the business,” Blackstone President Jonathan Gray told The Wall Street Journal. “We created a company from scratch. It was created on a yellow pad. It was an idea. Now it’s a real business.”

Invitation Homes continues to be a profitable business with a booming rental portfolio. Its stock shares are up 46% this year. Invitation Homes currently owns about 82,000 properties. That’s significantly more than its closest competitor, American Homes 4 Rent, which has 53,000 homes.

Source: “Blackstone Moves Out of Rental Home Wager With a Big Gain,” The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 21, 2019) [Log-in required.]

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

Oct. New Home Sales Slip 0.7% but Remain Solid

On a year-to-year comparison, however, Oct. new-home sales rose 31.6% and prices (a median $316,700) were up 3.7% compared to Oct. 2018.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Sales of new homes dipped slightly in October compared with September but remain well above levels of a year ago, with lower mortgage rates helping spur a rebound in purchases.

The Commerce Department says sales of single-family homes slipped 0.7% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 733,000. But that decline followed robust gains of 4.5% in September and 7% in August.

Sales of both new and existing homes have been on an upswing since summer, lifted by lower borrowing rates. Residential construction added to overall economic growth in the third quarter after a long period of declines. Most economists expect this strength to continue.

In October, sales were up in the Midwest and West but fell in the Northeast and South.

The Northeast suffered the biggest drop-off in sales last month – a decline of 18.2%. Purchases were down 3.3% in the South. They rose 7.1% in the West and 4.2% in the Midwest.

Overall, new home sales in October were up a hefty 31.6% compared with a year ago. Sales have been fueled in part by falling mortgage rates, which have been trending lower since the Federal Reserve switched from raising its benchmark rate four times last year to cutting rates three times this year.

The median price of a new home sold in October was $316,700, 3.7% higher than a year ago.

The National Association of Realtors reported last week that sales in the much bigger market for existing homes rose 1.9% in October to a seasonally adjusted 5.46 million. That level was 4.6% higher than a year ago.

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

Case-Shiller: Sept. Home Prices Up 2.1% Year-to-Year

Seven years of rising home prices have hurt affordability, and the rate of value increases has slowed – but the Sept. increase is still a bit more than it was in Aug.

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. home prices increased modestly in September from a year ago, as roughly seven years of rising home values have hurt affordability.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 2.1% in September from a year ago, up from a 2% annual gain in August, according to a Tuesday report.

“For many buyers, the fall housing market provides several challenges and opportunities,” said George Ratiu, senior economist at “While lower financing costs and a rising number of new homes are welcome signs in a market parched for inventory, prices are still climbing and the number of existing houses in the affordable price range is down by double-digits.”

Prices have so steadily outpaced wage growth for several years that the market is now constrained by buyers’ capacity to pay. Home values have tumbled 0.7% in San Francisco and increased just 0.8% in New York and 1.7% in Seattle.

Ralph McLaughlin, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic, noted that prices in San Francisco were climbing 9.9% annually just a year ago, evidence of how swift the deceleration has been.

Still, there are signs that low mortgage rates are boosting demand and prices could increase at faster pace in the months ahead as there is a shortage of listings.

Of the major metro areas, Phoenix led with annual price gains of 6%, followed by Charlotte at 4.6% and Tampa at 4.5%.

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

Fla. Supreme Court Could Decide Rules for Land-Buy Amendment

Five years ago, Fla. voters passed a constitutional amendment directing the state to spend doc stamp money on land worthy of protection. But it’s unclear if 100% of the funds must be used for land acquisition, so environmentalists asked the state’s highest court to weigh in.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Five years after Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment aimed at land and water conservation, environmentalists on Monday urged the state Supreme Court to wade into a battle about how the money can be spent. At this point in the case, the state has not filed a brief about whether it thinks the Supreme Court should take up the dispute.

Florida Defenders of the Environment and other plaintiffs filed a brief asking justices to decide a long-running dispute that centers on how state lawmakers carried out the 2014 constitutional amendment. The environmentalists took the case to the Supreme Court after the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with lawmakers in September.

Under the amendment, a portion of real-estate documentary stamp tax revenues was to be set aside in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and used for conservation efforts. Environmentalists contend the money was supposed to go to buying and managing additional property and that the state improperly diverted money to other expenses. But the appeals court, in deciding for the state, said a Leon County circuit judge erred when he ruled money from the amendment could only be used on land purchases after the measure took effect.

In the brief Monday, Joseph Little, an attorney for Florida Defenders of the Environment, argued that the appeals court’s interpretation “defeats the intent of the Florida voters who approved the amendment for inclusion in the Florida Constitution.”

“FDE (Florida Defenders of the Environment) submits that the only authorized purposes are to acquire new conservation and recreation lands and to restore and manage lands so-acquired,” Little wrote. “In contrast, the state submits that its use of the LATF (Land Acquisition Trust Fund) monies is not so limited and that (the constitutional amendment) authorizes it to expend LATF funds to manage conservation lands whenever acquired, wherever located and by whomever owned, including private persons.”

The state went to the 1st District Court of Appeal after Circuit Judge Charles Dodson last year agreed with environmentalists and found that dozens of legislative budget appropriations were unconstitutional.

In a brief filed at the appeals court, attorneys for the Legislature said Dodson’s ruling “drastically curtails the expressly stated purposes” of the constitutional amendment.

“A broad range of conservation purposes that have properly been funded from the LATF – including restoration of springs, beaches, and the Everglades – are ineligible to receive those funds under the trial court’s reading,” the Legislature’s attorneys wrote.

While the appeals court agreed with the Legislature, Little argued in Monday’s brief that the Supreme Court needs to resolve the meaning of the constitutional amendment.

“In short, the district court’s decision places no restrictions on the state’s power to expend LATF funds virtually as it pleases and does not require it to acquire and restore any new conservation lands,” he wrote. “FDE respectfully submits that this decision requires clarification by this (Supreme) Court not only for this case but for all other voter-initiated amendments to the Florida Constitution.”

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Saunders

U.S. Consumer Confidence Drops a Bit in Nov. to 125.5

While American attitudes have declined for four months in a row, they remain high overall. Nov.’s current outlook dropped but future expectations rose.

BOSTON – The November Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index decreased slightly for the second month in a row. It now stands at 125.5, down from 126.1 in October.

The Present Situation Index – based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – decreased from 173.5 to 166.9.

The Expectations Index – based on consumers’ six-month outlook for income, business and labor market conditions – increased from 94.5 last month to 97.9 this month.

“Consumer confidence declined for a fourth consecutive month, driven by a softening in consumers’ assessment of current business and employment conditions,” says Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board.

“The decline in the Present Situation Index suggests that economic growth in the final quarter of 2019 will remain weak. However, consumers’ short-term expectations improved modestly, and growth in early 2020 is likely to remain at around 2%. Overall, confidence levels are still high and should support solid spending during this holiday season.”

Current conditions: Consumers’ appraisal of current-day conditions was less favorable in November. The percentage of consumers claiming business conditions are “good” rose slightly from 39.7% to 40.2%, but those claiming business conditions are “bad” also increased, from 11.0% to 13.8%.

Consumers’ assessment of the job market was less favorable than last month. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” decreased from 47.7% to 44.8%, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” increased from 11.6% to 12.7%.

Future expectations: Consumers were moderately more optimistic. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased slightly from 18.7% to 17.2%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen increased slightly, from 11.5% to 12.1%.

Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was mixed. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead decreased from 16.9% to 15.7%, but those anticipating fewer jobs also decreased, from 18.0% to 13.2%.

Regarding short-term income prospects, the percentage of consumers expecting an improvement edged up from 21.4% to 21.8%, while the proportion expecting a decrease declined from 6.9% to 6.2%.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey is based on a probability-design random sample ad conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was Nov. 15.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Can You Create A Stylish Home With Kids And Stay On Budget?

The arrival of a child can spark desires for a home update at the same time new parents have less money and time. But it can still be done.

NEW YORK – Home decorating when you have kids may seem like an exercise in futility, yet design experts say it’s well within reach for families to stylishly furnish a house and still remain within budget.

The arrival of a child can spark a desire to redecorate as many parents buy new furniture to accommodate their growing family. And as kids get older, parents may find their family’s needs require updating a home with storage for sports equipment or tailoring a room to a teen’s maturing taste.

“Your style changes a little bit when you have kids,” says Emily Clark, 42, a stay-at-home mother of five who blogs about decorating from Charlotte, North Carolina. “It doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful,” she adds. “I work at home. This is my environment 99% of the time when I’m not in the car. I want it to be a happy place when I’m here.”

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how much to budget for home decorating, Clark and other experts note that you don’t have to spend a fortune.

Creative hacks like repainting a room or buying new pillows for a sofa or bed can help spruce up a room without high costs.

To be sure, families with big budgets can find ways to spend tens of thousands of dollars on decorating, from custom built-ins to expensive furniture. Yet it’s possible to create a stylish home without draining your bank account.

Below are three tips from design experts about how to decorate a home with kids while sticking to a budget.

Hire a decorator – or not

Hiring a decorator doesn’t have to be an expensive. For instance, you can hire one for an hour-long basic consultation, which could cost $50 to $150 an hour or more, depending on the decorator’s fee. And some furniture stores provide decorating advice to customers.

Still, says Kerrie Kelly, a design expert with Zillow and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, “It’s a bit of the Wild West right now” in terms of what decorators charge. Some stick with a per-hour fee, while others charge by the project, she says.

An increasingly popular option is to hire an online decorating service, says Clark. Sites such as Havenly and Decorist offer these services, which can cost between $19 to $1300 or more, depending on the level of advice.

“You can send pictures of your space, and they give you a list of things to buy or an inspiration board,” she says. “It’s good for a budget.”

But consumers can also take a DIY approach to design. Look through Pinterest or Instagram to find images of styles that appeal to you, Clark recommends.

“There are ideas galore all over,” she adds. “Pin 25 living rooms you love. Go back and look – they probably have a common theme.”

Consider furniture that can be repurposed

From the get-go, parents are likely to search for new furniture to accommodate their growing family, such as changing tables and storage for toys. But before you buy an item, consider how it might be repurposed as children get older.

“I turned my changing table into a bar cart,” notes Mitchell Parker, editor at home-remodeling and design site “It worked out great.”

He adds, “Anytime you can look ahead and incorporate pieces that can transition and grow with your kid is a good idea.”

And before buying furniture, consider what you already own that could be repurposed, says Zillow’s Kelly. “Maybe take that dining room cabinet and put it in the den for children’s books, and use it as a library,” she notes.

Buy durable fabrics and carpets

If you’re considering new upholstered furniture, take a look at durable fabrics like Crypton or Sunbrella, says Zillow’s Kelly. Furniture stores such as Pottery Barn offer furniture with these types of fabrics, which can make it easier to clean up a spill and therefore ease your mind about children’s sometimes rough use.

Carpet tiles are also a flexible option for families, Kelly adds. Spills or damage can be easily fixed by replacing a single tile, and they can be changed out for new colors as children get older, she says.

“You invest a lot in a sofa and you don’t want your sofa to get ruined the first time your kid spills a soda,” says’s Parker. “We also recommend things that can be thrown into the washing machine, like slipcovers. Anything like that will help.”

© 2019 South Bergenite, North Jersey Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

EB-5 Real Estate Investors Sue U.S. Over Residency Petitions

In a lawsuit filed in Fla. this month, lawyers for 150 EB-5 investors accuse U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of leaving the residency petitions in limbo.

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Foreigners who invested in northern Vermont ski area developments that are now linked to a fraud case are suing the federal government for failing to act on their petitions for U.S. residency.

It now costs foreign investors more money to invest in a U.S. business in exchange for a green card. The minimum investment rose from $500K to $900K this week.

The 74 investors bankrolled $500,000 each in projects at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain through a visa program with hopes of getting permanent residency if the developments created a certain amount of jobs.

In the lawsuit filed this month in Florida, the lawyers for the investors accuse the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of leaving the residency petitions of 150 foreigners in limbo.

The agency declined to comment Wednesday, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.

One man was denied boarding planes in two separate instances when he was traveling to India due to his father’s ailing health, the lawyers stated in the lawsuit.

In another example, a man has been unable to close his business in India and move it to the U.S., “leading to considerable financial loss, mental stress, and inconvenience created by the need to maintain presence in two locations,” the lawyers wrote. The man “has not been able to permanently and comfortably settle down with his family in the U.S.”

They argue they have been harmed because their investment funds are at risk and because they do not know whether they will get permanent residency. The EB-5 visa program helps foreigners obtain permanent residency by investing in job-creating developments in the U.S.

The investors want the government to be required to adjudicate their petitions within 30 days.

The investors face ongoing uncertainty about the future, which hinders their ability to make family and life choices and deprives them of peace of mind in knowing where their future will be, their lawyers argue. The investors also face repeated questions and must constantly explain and prove their legal status in the U.S., according to the lawsuit.

The projects they invested in are linked to Ariel Quiros, a Miami businessman and former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, and William Stenger, the former president of Jay Peak, who were accused in 2016 of misusing more than $200 million raised from foreign investors. They have reached settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state and have admitted no wrongdoing.

They are now facing federal fraud charges, along with two other men, in a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant in Newport using foreigners’ money.

Quiros and Stenger pleaded not guilty in May to engaging in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, participating in that conspiracy and concealing facts about the plant’s investor funds. Quiros also pleaded not guilty to money laundering.

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

Double Master Suites Are a Growing Trend

In higher-scale developments, double master suites are growing in demand as more adult children and parents move in together.

NEW YORK – As more homeowners want to live near their families and multigenerational households become more common, relatives and adult children move in together. As a result, more household members want to call dibs on the owners’ suite, which is often the largest bedroom in the house – and it comes with an attached bathroom.

Builders are responding by adding two master suites into more floor plans, whether it’s a single-family home or condo. K.Hovnanian Homes offers several townhouse communities with two master bedrooms. The rooms include large attached bathrooms and walk-in closets.

First-floor master suites are growing more popular, Chris McGrath, community manager for K.Hovnanian’s Hilltop at Cedar Grove in New Jersey, told “It gives adults the option of a separate living space and allows children to have more flexible space on the second floor,” McGrath says. “Two owner suites … give owners the option to fill a current need or a possible future need.”

Some builders are adding a dual master bedroom on the main level of the home with a separate entrance.

“We include features like secondary master suites so that families and loved ones can maintain close connections as they grow,” Gregory Malin, CEO and founder of Troon Pacific, told “These spaces also allow the owners to age in place, as they can maintain their independence while having their children just steps away.”

Source: “Why Double Master Suites Are the Growing Trend in Luxury New Developments,” (Nov. 19, 2019)

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

Fla. Building Code May Get Update Thanks to Rising Seas

The last Fla. building code update required new coastal construction to be elevated one foot. Three years later, there’s a call for it to be raised by another foot.

MIAMI – The last time the Florida building code changed, it required any new construction along the coast to elevate buildings a whole foot. Just three years later, that doesn’t look like enough. There’s a call to go up yet another foot.

The rising base elevations of homes are a clear sign that – despite waffling political rhetoric from the federal and state level – the people who plan and build in coastal Florida consider the threat of sea rise very real.

“If we’re going to build a resilient Florida, the hurricanes aren’t going away. Climate change isn’t going to stop,” said Craig Fugate, Florida’s former director of emergency management and FEMA head under Barack Obama. “We cannot keep building the way we always have and expect a different outcome in future disasters.”

Florida’s long and winding coastline is packed with people, with more arriving by the day. That makes the state more vulnerable to sea level rise and increasingly powerful hurricanes than any other.

But as of 2019, Florida’s massive, nationally renowned statewide building code still doesn’t have much to say about how to build with climate change in mind. That could change this year, as a new Florida International University (FIU) study commissioned by the Florida Building Commission makes its way through the building code bureaucracy.

One of its first recommendations: bring all new construction along the flood-prone coast up another foot.

“The building code doesn’t currently take sea level rise into account,” said Tiffany Troxler, associate director of science for the FIU Sea Rise Solutions Center and co-author of the report. “One recommendation was simply to try to account for that uncertainty that we cannot currently account for, including sea level rise, to add one foot to the elevations that are already recommended.”

Another idea involves following in South Florida’s footsteps and developing a region-specific sea level rise curve that’s updated every five years to guide building. The South Florida projection calls for two feet of sea rise by 2060 and is due to be updated in 2020.

A third recommendation calls for the state to review groundwater maps before allowing septic tanks to be installed. Rising groundwater from sea rise has already caused dangerous (and gross) septic failures across Miami-Dade County, a problem that could cost $3 billion to solve in Miami-Dade alone.

Elevating buildings, however, was the report’s most dramatic suggestion, and potentially the most impactful.

Every extra foot a building is built over the base flood elevation, the minimum height for new construction to qualify for flood insurance, is a discount on flood insurance. Elevating a single foot could drop annual flood insurance premiums 17%. A second foot could shave 37% off a premium.

Roderick Scott, board member of the Flood Mitigation Industry Association, said agencies that grade a city’s credit (and determine how much it will pay for bonds) have increasingly started factoring in how a city is adapting to sea level rise.

“If you don’t have a foot of freeboard, you’re going to have higher bonding costs,” he said.

Florida wouldn’t be the first flood-prone place to require extra height on new buildings. New Jersey and New York instituted two feet of freeboard after Superstorm Sandy. Annapolis, Maryland, requires two feet. Nashville calls for four feet.

Even Miami and Miami Beach have a minimum freeboard of one foot, with the option to go up to five feet.

In Fugate’s time with the Obama administration, the president even signed an executive order mandating all federal buildings be built two feet above FEMA’s base flood elevation. It was reversed under President Donald Trump.

Two feet in Florida makes sense, he said.

“It’s a good first step, but in New Orleans they go three feet above. And the other challenge is this only happens for homes that occur in the flood zones,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of flooding outside of the special risk areas. If we’re only doing it in the high-risk areas, what does it do for the people outside of that? It does not appear FEMA is updating their flood maps soon enough or fast enough.”

A Florida example of this, he noted, is Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle. More than 80% of homes flooded by the storm weren’t in FEMA flood zones, so they weren’t required to have insurance or elevate their homes very far off the ground.

Reinaldo Borges, an architect and member of Miami’s Resilience Board, called freeboard one of the most effective strategies to protect a property from sea rise, but said he has a hard time convincing clients to elevate a home or building if they’re not required to.

“When you give a developer a minimum, typically they go with the minimum. Rarely do they go above it,” he said. “Unless you codify things, things don’t just happen.”

The biggest barrier to adding more freeboard is cost. Homes built directly on the ground, known as slab on grade, are some of the cheapest to build. Homebuilders across the country have fought local governments trying to add more freeboard, saying it will drive up prices and exacerbate affordable housing issues. The report passed an initial panel review, the full building commission has yet to review it for proposed 2020 code changes.

“For an additional one foot, that’s a considerable increase,” said Truly Burton, government affairs director for the Builders Association of South Florida. “We just did it 18 months ago.”

Elevating a 2,000-square-foot home can range from just under $900 per foot for concrete block piers to almost $5,000 per foot using only dirt, according to a 2006 study from the American Institutes for Research updated with 2017 construction costs. Proponents argue the discounted insurance premium pays off the investment over time.

Burton said her organization has supported previous requirements to keep homes hurricane safe, and they see sea rise as a serious issue. But in the balance between affordability and resiliency, Burton said, they try to stay “right in the center.”

“You gotta stay safe. We build houses that are affordable, please God. And they have to be safe,” she said.

Fugate said higher freeboard upsets the profit margins for homebuilders, who are in the business of transactions, not long-term risk. And if those buildings aren’t strong enough to withstand a hurricane or a flood, rebuilding takes longer and costs more.

“The question is which is more expensive? Building resilient homes or rebuilding them all post-disaster?” Fugate said. “I think Florida’s got some rude awakenings that there are no good, cheap, easy answers to adapting to climate change.”

© 2019 Miami Herald, Alex Harris. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Fed Chair Sees Steady Growth and Pause in Rate Cuts

The Fed probably won’t cut interest rates again in the near future. The cuts can impact adjustable-rate mortgages and, indirectly affect fixed-rate mortgages.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell expects the U.S. economy to continue growing at a solid pace, though it still faces risks from slower growth overseas and trade tensions.

Powell also said the Fed is likely to keep its benchmark short-term interest rate unchanged in the coming months, unless the economy slows enough to cause Fed policymakers to make a “material reassessment” of their outlook.

“Looking ahead, my colleagues and I see a sustained expansion of economic activity, a strong labor market, and inflation near our symmetric 2% objective as most likely,” Powell said in a written statement he will deliver to the Joint Economic Committee later Wednesday.

The Fed cut short-term rates last month for the third time this year, to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%.

Powell’s testimony comes a day after President Donald Trump took credit for an “economic boom” and attacked the Fed for not cutting interest rates further. Powell and other Fed officials, however, argue that their rate cuts, by lowering borrowing costs on mortgages and other loans, have spurred home sales and boosted the economy.

Recent data suggests that growth remains solid if not spectacular. The economy expanded at a 1.9% annual rate in the July-September quarter, down from 3.1% in the first three months of the year. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low of 3.6% and hiring is strong enough to potentially push the rate even lower.

Inflation, according to the Fed’s preferred gauge, is just 1.3%, though it has been held down in recent months by lower energy costs and most Fed officials expect it to move higher in the coming months.

Powell on Wednesday also urged Congress to lower the federal budget deficit so that lawmakers would have more flexibility to cut taxes or boost spending to counter a future recession.

“The federal budget is on an unsustainable path, with high and rising debt,” Powell said. “Over time, this outlook could restrain fiscal policymakers’ willingness or ability to support economic activity during a downturn.”

Other Fed officials have voiced similar concerns. Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said Tuesday that the large deficit, and the constraints it imposes on Congress in the event of a recession, “is one of the things I do lose sleep over.”

Powell’s testimony comes after many Fed officials in the past two weeks have voiced support for the Fed’s recent moves and expressed confidence in the economy. That contrasts with the Fed’s previous meetings when as many as three officials dissented.

Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said in an interview on CNBC last week that “if the economy continues to perform as we expect” than the Fed is likely done cutting rates. Kashkari is one of the most dovish officials on the Fed’s 17-member policymaking committee, though he doesn’t have a vote this year.

John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and several other Fed officials last week said that the three cuts have left the benchmark interest rate low enough to support growth.

Most analysts forecast that the Fed will hold rates steady when it meets next month. But some economists expect growth will slow in the coming months and the Fed will likely have to cut again next year.

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

New iBuyer Option Allows Customized Upgrades Before Closing

iBuyers are seeking an edge as more companies enter the market, and Offerpad just unveiled a new buyer benefit: Customers under contract will be able to customize their home online before closing and have the cost of the upgrades rolled into the mortgage.

PHOENIX – iBuyers are seeking an edge as more companies enter the market, and Offerpad just unveiled a new buyer benefit: Customers under contract can customize their home online before closing and have the cost of those upgrades rolled into the mortgage. The service will roll out later this year in Phoenix and Tucson, with an expected national rollout completed by 2021.

According to Offerpad, homebuyers will be able to select customized upgrade options online and add them to their shopping cart. The upgrades will be considered part of the purchase and completed prior to move in. Offerpad claims it can complete all upgrades within 12 days.

“In the time it takes for a seller to research, find and meet with a contractor, we’ve already completed the renovation job,” says Cortney Read, Offerpad’s director of communications. “Our in-house renovation team’s staggering 12-day completion average delivers quality projects in record speed. We’ve had more and more people come to us asking how they can take advantage of our resources and connections to customize their home, and so we are proud to soon deliver a fully rounded new feature for those wanting to skip another hassle of the moving process.”

Offerpad say the homes it purchases already go through a “renovation review” after possession followed by upgrades, typically paint, flooring, appliances and curb appeal. As a result, it says it the upgrades will be provided to new buyers “at cost.”

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Fed Oversight of S. Fla. All-Cash Deals Extended

The nearly four-year FinCEN investigation into whether foreign buyers use shell companies to launder money via real estate will continue for at least six months.

MIAMI – The federal government’s nearly four-year investigation into whether foreign buyers are using shell companies to buy U.S. real estate in order to launder money will continue for at least another six months.

The Treasury Departments Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which has been investigating all-cash luxury real estate deals since January 2016, announced Friday that it is extending its investigation until May 2020, at least.

The initial FinCEN investigation looked into whether unknown buyers were using shell companies to buy high-end real estate in Manhattan and Miami-Dade County, because the government was concerned about illicit money being used in the deals.

The results of that initial investigation showed more than 25% of transactions reviewed involved a beneficial owner who was also the subject of a suspicious activity report, which is an indication of possible criminal activity.

From there, FinCEN expanded the investigation several times. First, FinCEN began looking into all-cash real estate deals in Los Angeles, San Francisco and several other areas. The investigation later expanded again to include wire transfers.

Throughout the entire investigation, the burden of identifying the actual buyer has been placed on title companies, which have been required to report on the person behind shell companies on all-cash deals.

In its initial phases, FinCEN focused on luxury real estate, setting the reporting thresholds for title companies at $500,000 or above. In Manhattan, for example, title companies were only required to identify the actual person behind shell companies used to pay all cash on deals of $3 million or more.

But, last year around this time, FinCEN expanded the investigation again, both lowering the reporting threshold and adding new cities to the investigation.

In November 2018, FinCEN ordered title companies in Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle to report on the person behind shell companies on all-cash deals of $300,000 or more.

Those orders were set to expire in May 2019, but FinCEN later extended the orders through November 2019.

And now, the agency is expanding them again.

Beginning Nov. 12, 2019, and extending through May 9, 2020, title companies in the aforementioned cities will all be required to identify the person behind shell companies used in all-cash real estate deals of $300,000 or more.

The new orders are identical to those issued in May 2019 with one exception: title companies will not be required to report on purchases made by legal entities that are U.S. publicly-traded companies, as real estate purchases by such entities are identifiable through other business filings, FinCEN said.

According to FinCEN, the orders continue to provide valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons possibly involved in various illicit enterprises, and extending the orders will further assist in tracking illicit funds and other criminal or illicit activity.

In extending the orders for another six months, FinCEN said that it appreciates the continued assistance and cooperation of the title insurance companies and the American Land Title Association in protecting the real estate markets from abuse by illicit actors.

© 2019 ITP Business Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

Should You Buy a Home With a ‘Catch’?

Finding a dream home isn’t easy. With limited inventory, that perfect home might be on a busy street or next to a gas station. Experts offer a few homebuyer tips.

NEW YORK – With fewer houses on the market than a year earlier, finding your dream home may not be as easy as it once was. But considering a home with a “catch” – a busy street or poor curb appeal, for example – may make sense, especially if the issues can be fixed or improved, experts say.

To be sure, not every house is in an ideal location or in prime condition. Among the top issues that prompt house hunters to walk away from a deal are busy streets and homes that need a lot of TLC, says Judy Dutton, deputy editor of

Nationwide, inventory dropped almost 7% in October, or a decline of 98,000 listings, compared with a year earlier, according to the latest data from And the median listing price rose 4.3% to $312,000 last month. In some markets, that’s producing a perfect storm of pricey homes and few choices.

“Homebuyers are in a pickle in that home prices are so high that they have to make compromises if they want to find a home they can afford,” Dutton says. “The thing to remember is that there are always upsides to any downsides.”

For instance, a home on a busy street or one that needs some renovation work might offer a bargain compared with an otherwise comparable home, she says. And many of those catches can be fixed. Case in point, Dutton says, is her decision to buy a home next to a busy gas station.

“We installed soundproof windows and we don’t hear a thing,” she says. “There is a lot you can do for noise.”

Here are three tips from experts when considering homes with “catches.”

Decide what you won’t compromise on: “With the market what it is, buyers will undoubtedly have to settle,” says Greg Buchanan, president-elect of the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors in Kentucky. “Buyers have to figure out what their non-negotiables are.”

For instance, some house hunters may insist on buying a property in a specific school district, an issue that’s top of mind for many families with children.

Take Stephanie Loomis Pappas, 38, a freelance writer in Beachwood, Ohio. She and her husband recently moved about one mile from their previous residence in order to enroll their son in kindergarten in the new home’s school district.

Ironically, she adds, her new home is on the same busy street as the previous one. But she says she and her husband realized there are advantages to the location, such as being able to walk to stores and coffee shops. In her eyes, she was also able to get a better deal on a home on a busy street. She recalls they were considering another house on a quieter street that was listed for the same price – $439,000 – but it hadn’t been updated in 50 years.

The home they ended up purchasing “was completely redone in January: a new HVAC system, a new kitchen, new walls,” she says. “It is very clear we were able to get a much nicer home.”

Be realistic about repair costs: Some house hunters have trouble looking beyond aesthetic handicaps like garish paint colors, but many of those issues can be fixed at a reasonable cost. Other maintenance issues, such as a new roof or furnace, might represent a bigger investment and should be calculated in the offer, says Danielle Parent, a Redfin real estate agent.

“When I take a buyer through a home, I say, ‘It needs windows, it needs a roof and it needs a furnace,’ and then we put that into our offer,” Parent says. “We factor that in and hope for a better price to offset the deferred maintenance cost.”

It’s also a good idea to walk through the house with a contractor to get a rough estimate for fixing problems, says’s Dutton.

“Keep an eye out for homes with cosmetic flaws versus serious fundamental flaws with the foundation or the roof, which will cost a bundle,” Dutton advises. “If it’s ugly wallpaper or a poor paint job, those are easily fixed.”

Think like a seller: At some point, you’ll be on the opposite end of the transaction. That’s why it’s important to think like a seller, Dutton says.

“Even if the busy road doesn’t bother you, keep in mind it could bother other people,” she says.

An undesirable school district is the top drag on a home’s potential selling price, depressing values by about 22%, according to an analysis of home sales in the top 100 metropolitan areas by Homes next to strip clubs have a roughly 15% lower value, while houses in areas with a high concentration of renters are depressed by about 14%, they found.

House hunters can find out about the quality of local schools through such sites as or Redfin and Zillow, which both link to data.

Says Buchanan: “Just like when you are buying a car, do a lot of research online” before buying.

Copyright 2019,, USA TODAY, Aimee Picchi

National Association of Realtors Installs 2020 Leadership

Christine Hansen, Florida Realtors 2018 president, will serve as NAR’s vice president, advocacy. Vince Malta, a Realtor from San Francisco, will serve as president.

SAN FRANCISCO – Vince Malta, a third-generation Realtor®, was installed as 2020 president of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) during the recent 2019 Realtors Conference & Expo.

Florida will also have representation in NAR’s 2020 leadership team: Christine Hansen, broker-owner of Century 21 Hansen Realty in Fort Lauderdale. This year Hansen served as 2019 Realtor Party Director and focused on “ensuring Realtors understand the strength of their collective voice on Capitol Hill and in state and local legislatures while advocating on behalf of the many critical public policy issues affecting the real estate industry.”

NAR says Hansen had a “culmination of many years of service in Florida governance roles,” and “held numerous committee and task force posts in the Greater Fort Lauderdale Association, now the Realtors of the Palm Beaches and Greater Fort Lauderdale (RAPM-GFLR).

Malta served as NAR’s 2019 president-elect and 2018 first vice president. He’s been in the industry for 40 years and is a broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco. On the national level, he’s testified before Congress multiple times on behalf of NAR, served on its Board of Directors since 2002 and was the association’s 2011 vice president of government affairs.

In 2002, Malta became a California Association of Realtors honorary member for life, in 2006 he served as CAR president, and in 2007 he was named the state’s Realtor of the Year.

Charlie Oppler, 2020 NAR president-elect: Oppler has been a Realtor for more than 30 years and is CEO of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Tenafly, New Jersey. He holds the At Home with Diversity certification from NAR and has served on NAR’s Board of Directors since 2003. He has served on four of NAR’s Presidential Advisory Groups while chairing the Realtor Party Coordinating Committee twice and the RPAC Trustees Committee for one term. In 2005, Oppler was NAR’s vice president for Region 2, representing New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. He was president of the New Jersey Association of Realtors in 2004.

Leslie Rouda Smith, first vice president: A Realtor for nearly 35 years, Rouda Smith is a broker associate at Dave Perry-Miller & Associates in Dallas, along with her husband Brian and their children, all of whom are Realtors. She’s been a member of NAR’s Board of Directors since 2009, and has served several years on the Executive Committee.

In 2017, she was NAR’s Vice President for Region 10, comprised of Louisiana and Texas, and chaired the “Future of the Realtor Party” PAG that same year. In 2013, she served on the NAR Leadership Team as vice president. At the state level, Rouda Smith served as the 2016 chairman of the board for Texas Realtors.

John Flor, 2020 treasurer: Flor has been a Realtor for more than 20 years and is the managing broker of Six Lakes Realty. At the national level, Flor has served on several committees, a presidential advisory group and the NAR Board of Directors. The Wisconsin Realtors Association elected Flor as its board chairman in 2010, after the Realtors Association of Northwest Wisconsin elected him president in 2009.

Mabél Guzmán, 2020 vice president, association affairs: In 2014, she served as chair of the Conventional Financing and Policy Committee, where she testified on behalf of NAR’s more than one million members before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Urban Affairs and Banking on for its hearing, “Inequality and Opportunity in the Housing Market.”

In 2014, 2015 and 2018, she received the Illinois Realtors President’s Medallion for Outstanding Service. She was the 2011 president of the Chicago Association of Realtors and named 2012 Chicago Realtor of the Year. Guzmán is a broker at @properties in Chicago.

Christine Hansen, 2020 vice president, advocacy: Hansen has been a Realtor for more than 20 years and is currently broker-owner of Century 21 Hansen Realty in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a full-service real estate company with residential, luxury homes, rental and relocation department.

John Smaby, NAR’s 2020 immediate past president: Smaby’s a second-generation Realtor from Edina, Minnesota. He has been in the industry for nearly 40 years and is a broker at Edina Realty. Smaby was NAR’s 2019 president, 2018 president-elect and 2017 first vice president. He’s held numerous positions nationally and with Minnesota Realtors, where he served as president in 2015 and treasurer in 2013. In 2013, Smaby received Minnesota’s Ed Anderson Political Achievement Award, and in 2014, was named their Realtor of the Year.

NAR 2020 Regional Vice Presidents

  • Gene Fercodini, Wolcott, Connecticut, Region 1: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont;
  • Drew Fishman, Absecon, New Jersey, Region 2: New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania;
  • Deborah Baisden, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Region 3: Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia;
  • J.D. Rinehart, Jr., Rock Hill, South Carolina, Region 4: Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee;
  • Pam Powers, Greenwood, Mississippi, Region 5: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands;
  • Greg Hrabcak, Westerville, Ohio, Region 6: Michigan and Ohio;
  • Bruce Bright, Brownsburg, Indiana, Region 7: Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin;
  • Pat Ohmberger, Lincoln, Nebraska, Region 8: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota;
  • Dave Momper, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Region 9: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma;
  • Kaki Lybbert, Denton, Texas, Region 10: Louisiana and Texas;
  • David R. Tina, Las Vegas, Nevada, Region 11: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming;
  • Angie Tallant, Fairbanks, Alaska, Region 12: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington; and
  • Kevin Brown, Oakland, California, Region 13: California, Hawaii and Guam.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

FHA: OK for Brokers to Get Commissions on HUD REO Homes

HUD will update its system and allow brokers to be paid commissions on all competitive sales regardless of the individual or entity purchasing a HUD REO property.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) revisited its position regarding broker commissions involving U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development real estate-owned homes (REOs).

The FHA’s original policy prevented brokers with an ownership interest from receiving a commission. However, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) advocated to the FHA that the policy conflicted with its MLS rules regarding the payment of real estate commissions.

In response to NAR’s concerns, the FHA issued the following response:

“HUD has undertaken further research on the impacts of restricting broker commissions. As a result, HUD is currently working to update our system to allow brokers to be paid commissions on all competitive sales irrespective of the individual/entity purchasing the HUD REO property.”

The FHA says it will continue to keep a question about the selling broker/agent and their ownership interest, but it will be for gathering and analyzing information only. It will no longer require that the “Selling Broker Commission” field be filled with zero to proceed with the transaction.

FHA also said that HUD will remove the following warning notice:

“HUD will not pay a sales commission if the selling broker or agent submitting the bid is also a purchaser or has an ownership interest in an entity identified as a purchaser.”

The changes will take effect no later than Dec. 1, FHA says.

Source: FHA

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

Cybersecurity Real Estate Scams Expanding Quickly

The FBI expects cyber-criminals to steal more than six trillion dollars globally by 2021, according to the hacker-author of “Catch Me If You Can.”

SAN FRANCISCO – “Catch Me If You Can” author Frank Abagnale spoke about cybersecurity at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR)’ 2019 Realtors Conference & Expo in San Francisco last week. Abagnale, who went to federal prison before spending 43 years working with the FBI, was the inspiration for the 2002 movie named after his autobiography, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Abagnale said that the FBI expects more than six trillion dollars in cybercrimes to be committed globally by 2021. He raised a specific warning about international phishing scams, a trend which has intensified over the past two years.

“Every weekday in the United States, five thousand phishing emails are sent out, coming from more than 115 countries around the world,” Abagnale said. “These emails are getting extremely sophisticated,” with total losses exceeding $15 billion annually. “But the answer (to this problem) is very old fashioned. No matter what email you get, you need to call and verify that email.”

Abagnale said that agents who send emails from their personal accounts – particularly when the email mentions wire instructions – are leaving their clients vulnerable to being hacked or exploited.

“As Realtors, we need to send these emails from secure sites – your company’s site, which has technology built in to keep these things from happening,” Abagnale said.

In his current role, Abagnale produces resources designed to combat and identify white-collar crimes on a weekly basis, tools which are available to the public at no cost. Abagnale referred attendees to his website,, in order to access this information.

Abagnale made a number of points during his presentation. He noted the vulnerabilities of social media while offering insight on things as simple – but not necessarily intuitive – as the only effective type of paper shredder – a security micro cut shredder. He talked about the perils of debit cards and the importance of a new federal law allowing Americans to freeze and unfreeze their credit at no cost.

“We complain all the time that people are stealing our identity, but in the meantime we are telling people everything about us,” he told hundreds of Realtors in attendance. “One day we’ll wake up and realize that social media was a bad mistake, because the truth is when you start controlling the minds of two billion people and what they read and what they think, you are going down some serious, serious bad roads.”

According to FBI data, about 11,300 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2018, representing a 17% increase over 2017. Those losses totaled more than $150 million.

“One of the fastest-growing cybercrimes in the U.S. is real estate wire fraud,” said NAR President John Smaby. “It is so critical for our members to stay on top of the latest trends within the cybercrime world so we can be a step ahead of those who seek to exploit our clients.”

The highest reported fraud in real estate in 2017 was Business Email Compromise/Email Account Compromise. In these crimes, fraudsters assume the identity of the title, real estate agent or closing attorney, and forge the person’s email and other details about the transaction. The scammers will then send an email to the unknowing buyer and provide new wire instructions to the criminal’s bank account.

NAR’s Deputy General Counsel and Vice President of Legal Affairs Lesley Muchow recently told The New York Times that there are “red flags” that can help Realtors increase their chances of accurately identifying scams.

“Wire instructions are unlikely to change at the last minute, so consumers should be especially suspicious when receiving last-minute changes to wire instructions,” Muchow said, reiterating Abagnale’s statements on Friday. “Again: Verify. Verify. Verify. Consumers need to take the extra step to talk to someone they know to verify everything before any money is wired.”

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

NY Landlord Paying $1M for Denying Ex-Felon Renters

A Queens landlord who allegedly denied renting to any ex-convict will pay $1.187 million, based on a lawsuit initiated in 2014 that claimed it violated the Fair Housing Act. The Fortune Society, which sued, says it’s possibly the largest settlement ever for this type of allegation.

NEW YORK – A Queens landlord has agreed to pay $1 million for wrongly refusing to rent apartments to people who were previously incarcerated.

The deal, which resolves a lawsuit filed in 2014 against the owners of the Sand Castle apartment complex in Far Rockaway, was hailed Tuesday by the Fortune Society as an important legal precedent.

“This settlement fires a warning shot across the bow of any landlord in America who blanketly refuses to rent apartments to people with criminal justice involvement,” Fortune Society CEO JoAnne Page said in a release announcing the deal. “Landlords will take notice of its deterrent effect. Many will look more closely at whether they have policies that comport with the law, and they will be concerned about the exposure for costly litigation.”

The Fortune Society, which is a major provider of services for formally incarcerated people, charged that the 917-unit apartment complex on Seagirt Ave. had a policy of automatically refusing to rent an apartment to a person with a criminal record, regardless of the nature of the conviction or the amount of time that had passed since the crime.

The corporations that own and manage the building, Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund Corporation, Weissman Realty Group and Sarasota Gold did not admit liability in the settlement. They no longer control the building or any other rental housing.

It was unclear how many people were impacted by Sand Castle’s ban on people who had done time. Fortune learned of the policy in 2013 after receiving a grant to help cover rent for 25 apartments in Queens. The non-profit tried to rent apartments in Sand Castle because it is safe, affordable and near a supermarket.

Fortune charged that Sand Castle violated the Fair Housing Act through the ban on ex-cons, which they said disproportionately impacted black and Hispanic people.

The group said the settlement of $1,187,500 is one of the largest, if not the largest, ever obtained in a lawsuit involving similar allegations. Once Fortune inquired with Sand Castle, staff informed them of the blanket ban on anyone with a criminal record from renting an apartment or living in the building.

“When housing providers deny basic rights to those who have been formerly incarcerated, they are imposing harsh limitations on where these individuals can live and work which perpetuate poverty and segregation, and dramatically increase the likelihood that they will return to prison,” John Relman, an attorney for Fortune, said.

Attorneys for Sand Castle did not respond to an inquiry.

© 2019 New York Daily News, Stephen Rex Brown. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Expert Tips to Search Google Better, Faster

An internet search is as much art as science, and “information at your fingertips” is only true if you can find it. These Google search shortcuts can save you time.

NEW YORK – Searching on Google has become second nature for billions of people. Yet even though you long ago mastered the essentials, there’s still a lot most of us can learn about how to search faster and more effectively.

  • If you’re searching for a specific quote but one of the words slips your mind, put an asterisk in its place.
  • Google does not recognize uppercase or lowercase letters and punctuation. But pay attention to characters such as “$”,” %” and “+,” which do make a big difference.
  • Leave common terms in the correct order. “Blue sky” yields very different results than “sky blue.”

Senior Google research scientist Daniel M. Russell recently published “The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide Going Beyond The Basics.” USA TODAY caught up with Russell in New York, where he was teaching a “Grow With Google” class on search strategies. Here are some of his key tips:

Think an extra second about what it is you are really asking for: Consider the following search query: “When did Santa Clara (the city) begin?” Seems simple enough, right?

But depending on how you ask the question, the date that comes up in search results will vary considerably: You might see when Santa Clara was “founded. Or when it was instead, “incorporated,” “established” or “first set up as a city government.” Which answer do you want?

Now take another search example from Russell. “What is the distance to the sun?”

Again, seems simple. But where are you measuring from? The center of the Earth to the sun? From another planet to the sun? And so on. Think about the precise thing you are looking for in entering the search, keeping in mind that you can always try again. It doesn’t cost a thing to do a second search on a complex topic.

Don’t include your answer in a search: People sometimes bake the “expected answer” into their search query. So it’s better to ask, “What is the average length of an octopus” rather than “Is the average length of an octopus 21 inches?”

Why? You may indeed see search results “confirming” 21 inches, but is that truly the correct answer? Maybe other sources got it wrong.

“You’re leading the witness” when you include the answer in a search query, Russell says, thus biasing the results.

Use ‘context’ search terms: You want to help the kids with homework but have forgotten all your high school math. You could search for “quadratic equation” and find lots of results. But if you add the context search term “tutorial,” as in “quadratic equation tutorial,” you may get to more useful results faster.

There are numerous “context” terms that will help you better pinpoint a search, including words such as lesson, background, summary, define and history.

In general, Google’s advice is to add or remove words in your query to see different results, starting out with a broad search and narrowing it down as you go along.

Search by voice for a spelling: Do you know how to spell “hors d’oeuvres” or “pneumonia”? If you didn’t know that those spellings began with an “h” or a “p,” respectively, you can say them out loud using voice search. The search results Google spits out will almost certainly reveal the correct spelling. You can also type in something close to how you think a word is spelled. If you type “nimonia,” say, Google will surface the correct spelling.

Using voice or text, you can also determine how a word is pronounced – you may get the answer in a YouTube search result or when you ask Google to “define” a word.

Copyright 2019,, USA TODAY, Edward C. Baig

NAR: Code of Ethics Training Required Only Every 3 Years

Realtors must take NAR’s Code of Ethics training by the end of 2021 to remain members, but the timeframe then changes from once every two years to once every three.

All Realtors are required to abide by the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics. Here’s a look at what that entails.

SAN FRANCISCO –, The National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) board of directors approved a change to NAR’s Code of Ethics training requirement at its Nov. 11 meeting.

Since 2001, Realtors have been required to take Code of Ethics training to retain their membership. Originally, the training was required every four years, but in 2017, NAR changed the requirement to every two years.

However, a presidential advisory group (PAG), appointed in 2019 made several recommendations to the NAR Leadership Team. One of the recommendations was to extend the requirement to every three years in order to give members more time to fit it into their continuing education schedule, and to give local associations adequate time between cycles to administer the program.

The Leadership Team sought feedback from several committees before bringing the proposal before the board of directors.

Separately, the Leadership Team approved several recommendations of the PAG that didn’t require a board vote:

  1. Revise the learning objectives for the existing member Code of Ethics training to include content on professional conduct, courtesies, business etiquette and real-life scenarios.
  1. Establish Code of Ethics training equivalency options that members can take to satisfy the Code of Ethics training requirement, allow the Commitment to Excellence (C2EX) endorsement to be an equivalency option.
  1. Make only courses and equivalencies provided by a local, state or national Realtor association satisfy the Code of Ethics training requirement.
  1. Appoint an implementation team to develop a microsite that compiles all available options for fulfilling the Code of Ethics training requirement, including C2EX ethics modules, NAR-approved online courses and links to association-approved courses.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Median-Priced Homes Unaffordable in 74% of Markets

ATTOM report: 3 out of 4 U.S. workers making their city’s average wage cannot afford to buy a median-priced home to live in.

IRVING, Calif. – According to ATTOM Data Solutions’ 2019 U.S. Home Affordability Report, the average wage earner can’t afford a median-priced home in 74% of U.S markets.

In 371 of 498 U.S. counties studied, third-quarter median home prices were unaffordable to average wage earners. In 67% of markets, average-income buyers needed to 30% of their wages to buy a home. In only 26% counties – 127 total – average wage earners could still afford a median-priced home.

“Buying a home continues to be a rough road to navigate for the average wage earner in the United States,” says Todd Teta, chief product officer of ATTOM. “Prices are going up substantially faster than earnings in 2019 without any immediate end in sight, which continues to make homeownership difficult or impossible for a majority of single-income households and even for many families with two incomes.”

Teta says that if there’s a silver lining, it’s that mortgage rates have fallen back to historic lows. That’s softening the blow of rising prices and actually making homeownership a bit more attainable in most areas of the country.”

Source: HousingWire (09/25/19) Falcon, Julia

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

Q&A: Neighbor’s Landscaper Killed My Trees. What Can I Do?

After overcutting killed palm trees, the city charged the homeowner with a code violation for not removing them. Is the neighbor responsible for damages and fines?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: A while back, I read your article about tree trimming along a property line. Recently a new neighbor moved in and proceeded to overcut several palm trees near the property line. I even told his landscaper to stop and was ignored. Now, most of the palms are dead, and I received a code violation notice from the city. I asked him to take care of it, but he blew me off. What do I do now? – Steve

The neighbors went out of town to avoid contractor reconstructions, but they make a lot of noise and work late at night. What laws govern this kind of noise?  

Answer: If your landscaping overhangs the property line, your neighbor is allowed to trim it back as long as it does not damage the tree or bush. If an injury to the plant does occur, your neighbor can be held responsible for the damage.

In your situation, you have two problems to resolve. You need to get your neighbor to pay for repairing or replacing your injured landscaping. You also need to deal with your city’s fines for the damaged trees.

Concerning the city fines, while it was not your fault, it is your responsibility, and you will need to fix the problem and pay the penalties.

Many people do not realize that most lawsuits involve getting reimbursed for your damages. You will need to advance the money to fix the problem and then sue for reimbursement. The legal system moves slowly, and your city is not going to wait for you to collect from your neighbor to repair the damage. Since you put your neighbor on notice with no response, your next step will be to fix the problem. Reach out to your city and find out what needs to be done to stop the fines from accruing.

Once the violation is corrected, many cities will work with you to either reduce the fine or give you time to collect the money back from your neighbor. However, I have never seen a city that will mitigate the fines while the violation exists. While you are working on this, you can file a lawsuit against your neighbor to be made whole for the damage he caused.

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.

A Laser Beam Can Entice Alexa to Spill Your Secrets

It sounds far-fetched – the stuff of sci-fi – but high-tech crooks who see a voice-activated device through a window can tell it to unlock doors via a laser beam.

NEW YORK – A red laser slices through the air, landing on the top of an Amazon Echo sitting inside a house. Suddenly, the garage door opens, a burglar slides in, uses another laser to have the Echo start the car and drives off.

A series of Echo or Echo Dot devices located around a house can supply answers when a potential buyer say something like, “Alexa, tell me about the kitchen” – and it also subtly markets the smart-house benefits of a smart-home listing.

Sound far-fetched? It’s not anymore.

Researchers from the University of Michigan have used lasers to exploit a variety of voice-activated devices, giving them access to everything from thermostats to garage door openers to door locks. The researchers have communicated their findings to Amazon, Google and Apple.

The researchers discovered the microphones in the smart devices would respond to light as if it were sound. The attack can be mounted using a simple laser pointer, a laser driver and a sound amplifier, researchers said on the website.

So how does it work?

“Microphones convert sound into electrical signals,” the research says. “The main discovery behind light commands is that in addition to sound, microphones also react to light aimed directly at them. Thus, by modulating an electrical signal in the intensity of a light beam, attackers can trick microphones into producing electrical signals as if they are receiving genuine audio.”

In other words, the microphone reacts to the intensity of the laser light the same way it reacts to changes in pressure from sound waves.

So, a hacker can record their voice issuing a command, use a laser modulator to transform it into laser pulses and send it into a device, which then operates as if someone were talking.

So how do you stop it?

The most obvious way is to make sure your voice-activated devices are not in sight of a window. The devices also can be placed behind something, such as a bookcase, TV or picture. That’s because while light waves don’t, sound waves easily go around objects – meaning the device would still respond to a voice, said Benjamin Cyr, one of the researchers at U-M.

What won’t work is simply placing tape over the microphone. The researchers tested several devices with dirt shields over the microphone spot and the laser still worked.

There’s a bigger lesson here as well, according to Daniel Genkin, another of the researchers, who said hackers are looking to exploit any vulnerability they can find.

“We need to do security by design,” he said.

Copyright 2019,, USA TODAY

Buyer-Seller Survey: 1/3 of First-Timers Get Down Payment Help

NAR’s 2019 survey finds the percentage of first-time buyers at historic lows – and many of the ones who do enter the market get financial help from their family.

SAN FRANCISCO – With housing costs rising and no signs of deceleration, many first-time buyers turn to their families for help. In spite of this, the percentage of first-time buyers remains at historic lows, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. NAR releases the report yearly. It covers demographics, preferences and experiences of buyers and sellers across America.

Initial results find that a third of first-time home buyers received down payment help from family and friends. The share of first-time home buyers remained at 33% in 2019 – a percentage that continues to be below the historical norm of 40%.

“Pre-recession, the number of first-time buyers was higher, in part, because buyers had more options,” says NAR President John Smaby. “However, over the past few years, we have unfortunately experienced scarcity in housing inventory, especially at the middle- and lower-end of the market.”

Buyers report the most difficult step in the process is just finding the right home to purchase, and what buyers want most from their real estate professional is to help them find the right home to purchase, according to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Low inventory conditions hurt would-be first-time buyers most,” he says. “Their homeownership dream and the opportunity to build wealth gets delayed until more inventory choices reach the market.”

Although tightened inventory has taken a toll on home seekers and raised median home prices, sellers in many U.S. areas have benefited. Over the one-year period, sellers received a median of 99% of their asking price and sold their homes typically within three weeks.

Fewer sellers reported a delayed selling this year because their home was worth less than their mortgage. This share of sellers declined from 9% in the 2018 report to 7% in 2019. However, 20% of sellers who bought their home 11 to 15 years ago – during the pre-recession years – reported a stalled home sale.

Homebuyers’ behaviors change

The NAR report found that the share of new homes purchased dropped to an all-time low of 13% – yet another indication of a significant inventory deficiency. Also, 23% of first-time buyers moved from a family or friend’s residence directly into their home – nearly twice the historic rate of 12%.

The age of repeat buyers – which has steadily increased over the course of several decades – continues to show a notable increase. In the 1980s, the average repeat buyer age was in their mid-30s; today, the average repeat buyer is in their mid-50s.

Yun says no area has seen a more rapid and consistent increase than the median age of repeat buyers, which was at a record-high of 55 years old in both 2018 and 2019. However, the median age for first-time buyers also increased to 33 years old in 2019 – the highest share recorded in the series history. However, the share of senior-related housing purchases was 12% in 2019, a slight decline from one year ago.

Yun says the demographics of home buyers shifted as home prices crept higher. “Buyers and sellers, individuals and families – they all had to adjust to changing market conditions.”

  • 35% of all buyers had children under the age of 18 living at home, an increase from 34% last year but a drop from a high of 58% in 1985.
  • 12% of homebuyers purchased a multi-generational home, which consists of a home with adult siblings, adult children over the age of 18 and parents or grandparents – or both – within the same household. Respondents gave varying reasons: 44% did so to accommodate aging parents, 34% to accommodate adult children and 29% to save money.
  • The share of married couples who purchased their first home continued the decline from a historical high of 75%. Although the percentage of married repeat buyers remained constant at 67%, the share of first-time buyers who were unmarried couples rose to a historical high of 17%.
  • Buyers purchasing first homes as roommates jumped to 4% from 2%.
  • 14% of recent home buyers own more than one home, down from 17% in 2018. Owning more than one property was most common for homebuyers 65 years old and older, at 19%.
  • Overall, the internet has become the main source for buyers in terms of finding a home that they ultimately purchase. Today, 52% of recent buyers found their home while searching online, an increase from last year’s 50% share. In 2001, only 8% of buyers found their home this way.
  • Finding a home through a Realtor or an agent has shifted from being the most common source for finding a property to the second most common. While more traditional sources – yard signs, relatives and neighbors, friends and home builders – remain at last year’s levels, they all have declined as a primary source through recent years as the internet became the go-to information source.

Embracing industry changes

While the housing market has changed and transitioned, the NAR report finds that many changes had positive impacts, especially in regards to the home down-payment requirement. In 2019, the median down payment was 12% for all buyers, 6% for first-time buyers and 16% for repeat buyers. Lower down payments among home buyers are another result of rising home prices as buyers find it difficult to save: 17% of all buyers and 25% of first-time buyers used an FHA loan to purchase, likely taking advantage of low down payment programs.

NAR’s survey asked home buyers about their personal experience with securing a mortgage. In 2019, 31% said obtaining a mortgage “was more difficult than expected.” Although a considerably higher amount of people had this same answer in 2009 and in 2010, fewer respondents have had this response every year since then.

“Today, repeat buyer behavior is more similar to first-time buyer behavior as tenure in home has increased,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at NAR. “All buyers are doing their homework – going to open houses, following housing news – and are more reliant than ever on the expert advice of real estate agents and brokers.”

Lautz’s observation about Realtors®’ contributions is echoed in the report’s findings:

  • 89% of those who sold a home worked with a real estate agent in the transaction, and personal relationships and connections were said to be the most important feature of the agent-buyer/seller bond in both 2018 and 2019. Agents most commonly received referrals from customers’ friends, neighbors or relatives, according to the report.
  • Buyers most want their agent to help them find the right home to purchase. Buyers also wanted assistance in negotiating the terms of sale and help with price negotiations.
  • Homebuyers typically interviewed only one real estate agent before deciding to work with them, and said the most important factor was that the agent was honest and trustworthy. In addition, agent experience was another important factor.
  • Overall, recent buyers were pleased with their real estate agent’s skills and qualities: 90% said that they “very satisfied,” and would use their agent again or recommend the agent to others.

Seller characteristics

  • The typical home seller this year was 57 years old, with a median household income of $102,900. Sellers said they ultimately sold their homes for a median of $60,000 more than they purchased it.
  • The most frequently cited reason for selling (16% of those surveyed) was a desire to move closer to family and friends – the first time it’s been the top-cited reason in the series’ history. The next most common reason was that the home was too small, and the third was job relocation at 11%.
  • Sellers typically lived in their home for 10 years before selling it, an increase from last year’s share, and higher than the historical tenure of six years.
  • 66% of sellers were “very satisfied” with the overall selling process.
  • Only 8% of recently sold homes were for-sale-by-owner sales, or FSBO – a number that’s close to the lowest share recorded since NAR began collecting records in 1981. The median age for FSBO sellers is 60 years, and 65% of FSBO sales were married couples with a median household income of $94,000. FSBOs sold for less than other residences at a median of $200,000, compared to agent-assisted homes that sold at a median of $280,000.
  • 48% of all sellers bought a newer home than their previous home, while 28% purchased a home the same age and 24% purchased an older home.
  • 44% “traded-up” and purchased a home that was more expensive than the one they just sold, while 30% bought a less expensive home and 26% purchased a home that was similar in cost. Sellers who are 64 years of age and younger generally bought a more expensive home than the one they just sold. Those aged 18 to 34 purchased the most expensive trade-ups in 2019, recording an increase of $110,000. Conversely, sellers aged 65 and over typically bought a less expensive home.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

FEMA Postpones Flood Insurance Changes for One Year

“Risk Rating 2.0” now goes into effect Oct. 1, 2021. Rather than rely heavily on flood zones to determine policy premiums, Risk Rating 2.0 will consider more variables and charge premiums that vary by home. 

WASHINGTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has postponed the roll-out date of Risk Rating 2.0 – its plan to update and extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The original effective date of Oct. 1, 2020, has been moved back one year to Oct. 1, 2021.

This federal program, which is crucial to the Florida real estate industry, helps keep insurance affordable. Take a look at why the NFIP is so important.

“Some additional time is required to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the proposed rating structure, so as to protect policyholders and minimize any unintentional negative effects of the transition,” FEMA said in a prepared statement. The extension will also allow “all National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policies – including, single-family homes, multi-unit and commercial properties – to change over to the new rating system at one time instead of a phased approach.”

Risk Rating 2.0

Although the Risk Rating 2.0 program is still being developed, it’s expected to change the way NFIP calculates flood-insurance rates. As a result, it could save some homeowners money and raise the coverage cost for others.

Rather than levy premiums based on the dollar amount of insurance a homeowner wants, NFIP could operate more like traditional property insurance by weighing a roster of risk variables. Currently, rates are generally based on the amount of coverage a homeowner wants and the risk of flood their home faces – largely whether the home is inside or outside a FEMA-designated flood zone.

FEMA originally said the plan would consider multiple variables, such as the potential for hurricanes, a home’s distance from a body of water and its risk from coastal surges. It would also consider using new “loss-estimation technology” that predicts a home’s risk from climate change. It could also offer replacement cost coverage.

Florida – home to about 35 percent of all NFIP policies – could be impacted, though it’s not yet clear how a specific homeowner might be affected. However, it’s likely that some homeowners in FEMA flood zones would see flood insurance costs increase, and that potential for higher costs led some lawmakers to push for a Risk Rating 2.0 delay.

“We’re encouraged that FEMA is listening to Congress’s concerns about the impacts of Risk Rating 2.0. FEMA’s promise to protect policyholders and minimize any unintentional negative effects in the transition is vital to ensuring the NFIP remains successful,” according to a joint news release issued by six lawmakers, including three from Florida: Reps. Charlie Crist, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Francis Rooney.

NFIP currently expires on Nov. 21, 2019, and Congress is working on a solution to extend it for at least a few years. Should lawmakers reach agreement, it’s unclear how a legislative fix might impact FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0 regulatory fix.

Under U.S. law, FEMA is limited in its ability to raise rates. It’s also unclear how those limitations might impact increases under NFIP’s new risk model.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®