Monthly Archives: December 2019

Flu Season Arrives Early – Be Careful in Public Settings

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Who Are Your Sellers? Average Fla. Homeowner 55 Years Old

Homeowners in Fla.’s four biggest metros are older than metro counterparts across the U.S. In all four Fla. cities, current homeowners’ average age is 55 or older.

MIAMI – Homeowners in Florida’s four biggest metro areas are older than most of their counterparts across the U.S. According to a study by LendingTree, Florida is clearly a popular haven for retirees, while Denver and Austin, Texas, have emerged as millennial hot spots.

LendingTree used Census data to study the average age of homeowners across the U.S. and ranked the nation’s 50 largest metros based on the average age of its homeowners, from youngest to oldest. The study also includes the home price growth and household income growth for each of the average age of homeowners.

The average age of a homeowner is 55 nationwide, and there is no metro in the study where the average is less than 50, LendingTree’s researchers note. “This high average age is due in part to the numerous obstacles that younger home buyers must face, from lack of savings to poor credit,” they note.

The metros with the highest average homeowner age: Miami (58.7); Tampa, Fla. (58.3); San Diego (57.1); Los Angeles (57.1); and New York (56.9).

On the other hand, the metros with the youngest homeowners are Salt Lake City (51.8); Austin, Texas (52.4); Raleigh, N.C. (52.5); Minneapolis (53.1); and Denver (53.2).

“In general, our study suggests that as homeowners get older, home prices and incomes grow more slowly,” researchers note.

Florida metro age rankings

  • Orlando is Florida’s youngest city in terms of average owner age at 55.7 years, which is still notably higher than the overall average age of 38.6 years. It ranked No. 28 among the 50 metro areas studied by LendingTree.
  • Jacksonville came in at No. 38, with an average homeownership age of 56.2 compared to an overall resident age of 39.2.
  • At No. 49, Tampa homeowners’ average age is 58.3 compared to an overall population age of 41.9.
  • Miami, at No. 50 and last on the list, the average age is 58.7 compared to an overall population age of 41.2.

Source: “LendingTree Compares Average Homeowner Age Across the 50 Largest U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” LendingTree (Dec. 9, 2019)

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

iBuyers Taking Bigger Bite of Home Sales

The number of iBuyer sales in the U.S. doubled in one year, according to a 3Q report – but they still only made up 3.1% of all home sales in the 18 markets studied.

SEATTLE – iBuyers are growing and expanding their market share, though they still don’t make up a significant percentage of the home sales market.

The number of U.S. iBuyer sales almost doubled in one year, but they still only made up 3.1% of all home sales in the third quarter of 2019 in the 18 markets studied – a year-to-year increase from 1.6%, according to new research from Redfin. The study included public data on home purchases and sales made by iBuying firms like Opendoor, Zillow, Offerpad and RedfinNow.

iBuyers work largely in selected markets so far, so the total percentage of iBuyer sales would likely be smaller if it included every U.S. metro area.

The markets that saw the most iBuyer activity in the third quarter were in the South. iBuyers accounted for more than 4% of sales in Raleigh, N.C. (6.8%); Phoenix (5.1%); Atlanta (4.4%); and Charlotte, N.C. (4.3%).

iBuyers are instant buyers that use technology to make instant offers to home sellers in quick transactions. iBuyers usually charge a higher fee than a typical listing agent for the convenience of a quick, off-MLS sale. Interested home sellers often hope for a quick sale and find the iBuyer model a quick way to do that.

“iBuyers are concentrating their efforts in southern markets where both home sales and prices are poised for strong growth,” says Daryl Fairweather, Redfin’s chief economist. “We think that iBuyers are likely to accelerate home sales in these markets. Homeowners who may have been reluctant to sell because they didn’t want to deal with the hassle may be persuaded by the convenience of an iBuyer sale.”

iBuyers are centering the majority of their activity at a national median price point of $313,200.

“Focusing on these more affordable homes allows iBuyers to purchase more homes with the same amount of money,” Redfin notes in its study. “Affordable homes also tend to sell more quickly than expensive homes, which allows iBuyers to move through their housing inventory and buy additional homes more quickly, refining their process with every home they sell.”

Source: “iBuyers Bought More Than 4% of the Homes Sold in 4 Southern Markets Last Quarter,” Redfin (Dec. 11, 2019)

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

Tentative Deal Would Avert Looming Federal Shutdown

National flood insurance – and the U.S. government for that matter – may not shut down Friday. Congress agreed on an extension it thinks the president will sign.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senior lawmakers announced a tentative agreement Thursday on an almost $1.4 trillion government-wide spending bill that would stave off a federal shutdown next weekend and split the differences on a number of contentious issues.

The handshake agreement was announced by the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and other top members of Congress.

“There’s a meeting of the minds,” Lowey said.

Details of the agreement were not announced and processing the sweeping measure is sure to take a few days. But it would award President Donald Trump with $1.4 billion in additional money for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, while giving the Democrats who control the House a number of their priorities such as expanded Head Start and early childhood education.

The measure is likely to pass the House next week just before the House votes on impeaching Trump. A Senate vote is expected before a temporary spending bill expires next Friday at midnight.

A White House official said Trump is likely to sign the bill because it maintains his ability to pay for the wall. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is not official.

A year ago, a deadlock over the wall led Trump to spark a 35-day partial government shutdown. The eventual agreement that emerged produced a template for the current pact: no “poison pill” policy provisions on topics such as abortion and the environment that could not pass muster with both Democrats and Republicans.

“We decided that the decisions would be made today,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. “We said, ‘It’s time to get this thing done.’”

At issue are 12 annual spending bill that fund the day-to-day operations of federal agencies. The appropriations package fills in the long-overdue details of this summer’s budget and debt pact, which offered boosts to both the Pentagon and domestic agencies instead of the sharp across-the-board spending cuts required under a now-defunct 2011 budget agreement.

Key factions supporting the sprawling package include GOP defense hawks and Democrats, who won increases for domestic programs. The probable – and deeply unpopular – alternative would be to mostly run the government on autopilot and give back about $100 billion in spending increases from the July budget deal.

The drive for a spending agreement faced numerous hurdles, but it always had strong support from the top four leaders in Congress, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, two veterans of the appropriations process with a long history of assembling the votes for catchall spending bills. Their relationship has soured but they are a potent force when they team up.

The emerging measure is also likely to serve as the vehicle to carry into law several provisions unrelated to agency money; the spending bill is the last, best option to accomplish that.

They probably will include: a renewal of the Export-Import Bank’s charter; a reauthorization of government-backed terrorism risk insurance; a short-term extension of the federal flood insurance program; and further delays of Obama-era health law taxes such as those on medical devices and high-cost health plans.

A broader set of tax “extenders,” popular with Washington’s business lobbying community, appears stuck.

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

Economist Survey Predicts Only 33% Chance of 2020 Recession

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Housing Trust Fund’s Future Unclear in Florida House

The governor supports using all trust fund money for affordable housing, and bills in the House and Senate would make it official. But full funding isn’t a sure thing.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After getting a brief overview of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $91.4 billion spending plan this week to fully fund the state’s affordable housing trust fund, nicknamed the Sadowski Trust Fund, Florida House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings said he anticipates some money may need to be taken from affordable-housing trust funds, a process called “sweeping.”

“I think sweeping is a possibility due to some really unmet needs out there, whether it’s with children and some of our most vulnerable,” Cummings, R-Fleming Island, said. “Not to say housing is not very important, but we’ve got people in the state who struggle, obviously, whether it be with healthcare or whether it be with the education system.”

In the past, legislators have frequently used the housing tax dollars, which are collected through doc-stamp taxes on real estate sales, on non-housing programs to balance the state budget.

With $387 million expected to be available for affordable housing, DeSantis’ proposed budget didn’t call for any money to be swept, to the delight of affordable housing advocates.

The Sadowski Housing Coalition, whose members include Florida Realtors, the Florida Coalition for the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity, Florida Chamber of Commerce and others, asked legislators to follow DeSantis’ lead last Monday.

Legislation has also been filed to protect affordable-housing trust fund money (SB 306 and HB 381) by making it tougher for lawmakers to use the cash for other purposes.

Florida Housing Coalition President Jaimie Ross said the proposed legislation would still give lawmakers access to the funds during a true crisis.

“We know the Legislature could use the trust funds, if needed, in an emergency. But they wouldn’t be the go-to,” Ross said.

Cummings called the legislation “irresponsible,” that would “tie future legislators’ hands.”

Source: News Service of Florida, Ana Ceballos, Dara Kam, Tom Urban, Jim Turner

If Gift-Giving Is a Competition, a Baltimore Broker Wins

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Citizens Insurance Again Looking for Ways to Reduce Risk

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Long-Term Mortgage Rates Rise, 30-Year at 3.73%

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A Dec. 20 Government Shutdown? It Happened Last Year

Both political parties say the U.S. government and flood insurance will be extended past Dec. 20 – but they said the same last year before a record 35-day shutdown.

WASHINGTON – Republicans and Democrats in Congress have just over a week to pass a dozen spending bills to fund the US federal government and avoid another shutdown.

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.

It is a familiar pre-Christmas ritual in recent years. While the fiscal year begins on October 1, it has become common for the two political parties to wrangle over how funds are allocated for months afterwards. But this year’s debate takes place against an even more highly partisan backdrop than usual, with the House of Representatives expected to vote to impeach President Donald Trump next week ahead of a Senate trial in January.

With less than a year to go until the 2020 presidential election, Democrats and Republicans alike are keen to strike a deal, though the two parties remain deeply divided over issues such as funding for Trump’s border wall and other immigration-related programs, including migrant detention centers.

“The one thing that remains a certainty with the appropriations process is that it always comes down to the last minute, pretty much without exception,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Centre.

A failure to reach a full agreement last December led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in US history. The shutdown began on December 22 and ended on January 25 this year, after Trump and lawmakers agreed to a deal to reopen the federal government for three weeks.

A subsequent deal averted a second shutdown, after Trump gave up on his demands to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The last shutdown damaged Trump’s approval ratings and cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars, as hundreds of thousands of federal employees were furloughed. Large numbers of government contractors also lost out on work.

Government shutdowns can also hit broader consumer and business confidence, as individuals and companies face difficulties accessing government services. For example, flights can be disrupted due to air traffic controller shortages, and initial public offerings can be delayed due to the closure of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that last year’s events would be repeated, saying: “The budget bill, the appropriations bill, must be done to keep government open … We are not going to have a shutdown.”

Pelosi was speaking before a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and Senate appropriations committee chair Richard Shelby, a Republican.

After the meeting, Mnuchin, who is acting for the White House in the negotiations, struck an optimistic tone, telling reporters: “I think we’re all working towards trying to get this done quickly.”

Democrats and Republicans have already compromised on government spending in recent months. Over the summer, Congress and the White House sealed a two-year budget deal that suspended the U.S. “debt ceiling” until 2021 and included an increase in annual spending.

The appropriations process, which allocates the federal funding agreed in the budget, remains incomplete, however. Last month, the president signed a “continuing resolution,” or short-term spending measure, to fund federal agencies up until December 20, but it is unclear if he would consider another to delay the need for a resolution until after an expected impeachment trial.

With a deadline fast approaching and a packed legislative calendar before Christmas, some on Capitol Hill are skeptical all 12 of the required appropriations bills can be passed by the end of the year.

“There really is a risk of a political shutdown, and it has nothing to do with budgeting,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “There is clearly the risk that passing a budget gets sucked into the vortex of the high-stakes political issues that are playing out right now… We are in unprecedented territory.”

MacGuineas, whose group advocates for deficit reduction, added she was concerned lawmakers would use any budget deal to push through additional costly spending measures.

“It is just becoming that typical Christmas tree in Washington, where everybody tries to stick their goody on it,” she said, in a reference to how members of Congress often seek to tack their own unrelated amendments on legislation.

Others remain optimistic that a deal can get done, especially after bipartisan agreements were reached this week on the National Defense Authorization Act and USMCA, the trade pact to replace NAFTA.

Pointing to USMCA, Akabas said: “Maybe there is some hope that constructive bipartisanship can reign at this stage in impeachment.”

© 2019 The Herald Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. ( Financial Times.

Home-Flipping Drops Along with Investment Returns

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It’s a Wee Bit Harder for Some Buyers to Get a Loan

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Fed Stands Firm: No Interest Changes This Month

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Paid $84 for a Labor Law Poster? You May Get a Refund

Fla. AG Ashley Moody says the FTC has more than $1M to refund businesses that were scammed into paying for posters that the government hands out for free.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) secured more than $1 million in restitution for small businesses targeted in a nationwide imposter scheme.

In the scam, Thomas Henry Fred Jr. and his affiliated businesses sent thousands of letters to small businesses that looked like invoices from a government agency. The letters directed the businesses to pay $84 for mandatory labor-law posters or face fines of up to $17,000. The same labor law posters are available for free from government agencies.

Through this scheme, Fred and his affiliated businesses received more than $800,000 from more than 9,000 businesses.

“Florida entrepreneurs take risks and invest in their employees to the benefit of our state’s economy,” says Moody. “It infuriates me that anyone would take advantage of responsible business owners trying to ensure they are in compliance with the law. I am proud of the investigative work of our Consumer Protection Division and the FTC to stop this government imposter scam and secure refunds for Florida’s small businesses.”

“Just because an invoice looks official doesn’t mean it is,” says FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith. “If you get an official-looking bill that you don’t understand, call the government agency directly using the number you find online or in a local directory – not the one on the mailer.”

In addition to paying $1.2 million in restitution, the defendants are permanently banned from sending unsolicited direct mail to consumers, misrepresenting themselves as government agencies and misrepresenting that any goods or services they sell are being offered on behalf of a government agency.

These types of scams work because they appear official. As a result, scammers have become adept at making them look that way. To avoid future problems, Moody’s office recommends that you:

  • Double-check suspicious mail by calling the organization using an independently-sourced number – not the number listed in the mail itself
  • Verify invoices by keeping a list of all suppliers and vendors used
  • Avoid buying supplies or materials over the phone unless you have a prior relationship with the vendor
  • Ask for offer verifications in writing

Moody lists more tips for avoiding business scams on the Florida Attorney General website. Report scams to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or visiting

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Artificial Intelligence Helps Cold Callers Sound Less Cold

“You’re speaking too fast,” says an AI computer prompt to a new Realtor cold-calling potential customers. “Think about how the customer is feeling. Try to relate.”

NEW YORK – “You are speaking faster than usual,” reads an alert on a computer screen. The call center agent on the phone with a customer can see a speedometer icon.

The conversation with the customer continues, as does the computer feedback. “Think about how the customer is feeling. Try to relate,” the artificial intelligence-powered tool interjects. The agent receives other notifications, from “extended silence” to “empathy cue,” which suggests the worker is lacking empathy.

For about 1,700 agents at the call center of Humana Pharmacy, the software called Cogito is becoming part of their work lives. It listens to most of their phone calls with customers nationwide and guides the agents on how to better communicate by analyzing vocal cues in conversations such as pitch, tone and rhythm of voices.

In recent years, global industries have seen considerable transformation brought by automation in the workplace. One-third of activities in about 60% of occupations worldwide could be automatable, according to a 2017 report by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

As the technology advances, AI has gained increasing presence. It could perform a widening range of tasks that previously were done by humans and has been used in recruiting and management processes.

The increasing prevalence of AI has boosted efficiency and reduced costs for companies but also has drawn concerns about job losses and hidden discrimination. Reuters last year unveiled that Amazon abandoned an AI recruiting tool in development, as the tech giant cannot fix its bias against women. Uber’s facial recognition technology reportedly didn’t process and recognize transgender drivers. A study published by New York University’s AI Now Institute in April shows how many AI systems favor white people and males.

Talking about such concerns around AI, Joshua Feast, Cogito’s co-founder and CEO, said its software doesn’t mean to replace anybody. “We’re a coach,” he said. “We’re sort of proud as a company that we’re helping workers do well on the job, helping customers have better experiences on the phone and helping our clients keep those customers.”

The company, which works with call centers of large insurance companies, including MetLife and Humana, retail banks and credit card issuers, says it has more than 25,000 users.

It helps to minimize bias that Cogito’s algorithm analyzes biological signaling mechanism, which largely is independent on language and culture, Feast said. The company also has deployed a secondary algorithm and a human annotation team to check for bias, he added. AI comes into play when humans get tired sometimes and suffer from “compassion fatigue,” according to Feast. “What the AI is really doing is helping somebody be more consistent in the course of the day.” The software also provides tools for supervisors to track the performance of team members and guide workers accordingly, though Feast said Cogito doesn’t function as “a performance management system.”

A customer agent at Humana handles 30 to 40 calls a day on average, according to Mark Morse, vice president of Humana Pharmacy’s service operations. “When you’re tired or on any given day, what happens at home and frustrations in life can come into the contact center,” he said.

But showing empathy is always important as the customers of life insurance companies usually are “in the midst of some of the most challenging moments of their lives,” said Kristine Poznanski, head of global customer solutions at MetLife.

Using Cogito is not compulsory at Humana, but the company is considering integrating Cogito’s assessment into its bonus mechanism to promote the software’s usage, said Morse.

When asked if human customer agents would one day disappear, Feast said he doesn’t think so, though the trend of automation has been growing – the share of customer service interactions handled by AI will reach 15% by 2021, according to research company Gartner. “Humans will always want to talk to other humans,” Feast said. “The reason is that only other humans really understand us.”

Copyright 2019,, USA TODAY, Frances Yue

Wage Growth Eclipses Mortgage Rate – First Time Since 1972

If the trend continues, it will empower more current renters watching their paychecks rise to save for a down payment and transition into homeownership.

NEW YORK – In October, wage growth eclipsed mortgage rates for the first time since 1972. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees rose 3.8% in October on a year-over-year basis. Meanwhile, Freddie Mac data show that the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was about 3.7% in October.

A year ago, before the Fed began easing, mortgage rates were closer to 4.9%. Experts note that if those trends continue, the combination will limit the debt burden for American households by keeping the share of would-be home buyers’ wages being spent on interest payments under control.

Meanwhile, economists J.W. Mason and Arjun Jayadev said U.S. household leverage rose from about 75% in 1983 to 160% in 2008, a trend that was finally arrested by the collapse of the housing bubble and ensuing financial crisis. They argued in a 2015 paper that the primary cause of the increase in household debt relative to income over that period was Fed policy, which kept interest rates well above the rate at which wages were growing.

According to Srinivas Thiruvadanthai, director of research at the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, “The nominal interest rate has been higher than wage growth for a long time. If this is to be sustained it would be a positive development in setting the bottom 50 or 60% of the population on a sustainable footing.”

Source: Bloomberg (12/06/19) Boesler, Matthew

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

Lawmakers Urged to Stop Raiding Affordable Housing Money

Bills in both the Fla. House and Senate would, if passed, force the Fla. Legislature to dedicate 100% of the money in the affordable housing trust funds to housing.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A group of lawmakers wants to end the Florida Legislature’s habit of diverting money away from affordable housing programs, citing dire needs in places such as Orlando, ranked worst in the nation for low-income families in need of housing.

“There’s a sense of pride in owning your own home and that’s what [affordable housing programs] provide,” Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, said Monday.

Mayfield is sponsoring SB 306, which would prevent the Legislature from sweeping money out of affordable housing trust funds, as it has done nearly every year since the Great Recession.

Overall, lawmakers have rerouted more than $2 billion in doc stamp revenues – taxes on real estate transactions – for other purposes, including $125 million last year.

For the current fiscal year, Orange County is slated to receive $1.9 million in affordable housing funds.

According to an analysis from the Sadowski Housing Coalition, a collaboration of construction industry, big business groups, homeless advocates and environmental groups, annually attempts to prevent the raids on the trust fund, Orange County would receive $16.1 million next year, if lawmakers leave all $350 million in projected trust fund revenues in affordable housing programs.

The problem has grown so acute that in Orange County, where 31% of households spend at least one-third of their income on housing, a task force last month recommended setting aside $160 million in county tax money over 10 years to help address the issue.

Jaimie Ross, president of the Sadowski Housing Coalition, said local government funds shouldn’t be used to replace state money, but affordable housing needs have grown so large that local governments will likely have to step in.

“Our hope is that the [affordable housing] trust funds will be appropriated for the housing programs … so that local governments don’t have to do that, but the truth is that we can’t end the housing crisis even with full appropriation,” Ross said.

The state money that doesn’t get diverted to other parts of the budget goes primarily to two programs, the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL).

SHIP funds are given to local governments to help eligible prospective homeowners with down payment or closing cost assistance, emergency repairs and rehabilitation for existing homes. SAIL gives low-interest loans to developers to build apartment complexes for those with incomes of 50% or less than the area median income.

Even if lawmakers opt to keep all $350 million for affordable housing programs, it could take years before those in need begin to see the benefit. SAIL projects can take two to three years to complete once the money is awarded, Ross said, but also noted that about 20,000 potential homebuyers in Polk County are awaiting down payment assistance through SHIP, but the Legislature’s annual sweeps have led to a backlog.

“These (affordable housing developments) don’t happen overnight, (developers) need to be able to plan for them,” Ross said.

That’s why a law is needed to prevent future raids on the housing trust fund, said Rep. Sam Killebrew, sponsor of the House version of the bill, HB 381.

“During the Great Recession we needed to use all the available monies to balance the budget, but when the recession ended, sweeping trust funds did not,” said Killebrew, R-Winter Haven.

© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Gray Rohrer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Tech Keeps Changing Our Lives – Just Look at the Last Decade

Hard to imagine self-driving cars? Just 10 years ago, Alexa and Uber didn’t exist, Facebook was a place to find high-school friends and privacy wasn’t a big concern.

NEW YORK – “Alexa” was just another female name. Uber hadn’t taken anyone for a ride yet. And the buzz around Facebook had more to do with the fact that seemingly everyone you once knew was turning up on “The Social Network,” and less about the numerous data and privacy scandals that would tarnish the company’s reputation later on.

The year was 2010, the dawn of a new decade. And while 10 years is a long time for most every industry, in consumer tech it might as well be a lifetime.

Let’s reminisce.

Ten years ago, self-driving cars were a pipe dream, the iPad hadn’t launched yet, and neither had the photo-sharing phenomenon Instagram, still a couple of years away from being consumed by Facebook.

Chrome OS and Chromebook computers weren’t hatched yet either, but it wouldn’t be far into the new decade before Google’s cloud and browser-based approach to computing posed a real challenge to the longtime PC status quo that was Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft was doing its own innovating, though. In 2010, it introduced the hands-free Kinect motion controller for the Xbox 360 that recognized our gestures and began to get video gamers off their butts.

Five years later, under new CEO Satya Nadella, the Windows 10 operating system came out to mostly positive reviews.

No longer dominant

It may not have been immediately obvious, but several companies that began the decade in apparent positions of strength were enjoying their last hurrahs.

Social networking stalwart MySpace still claimed around 57 million unique visitors at the start of 2010, but its precipitous decline had begun (and by then, Facebook already had lapped them).

The arrow also was starting to point the wrong way for other companies about to lose their once vice-like grips on the market. Nokia and BlackBerry (then under Research in Motion) soon would become permanent victims of the rapid rise of Apple’s iPhones, Samsung’s Galaxy line and handsets from other Android vendors.

Similar autopsies could be written about Microsoft’s Windows Phones, which would disappear well before the decade ended.

Fell flat?

Then again, to even be considered a “has-been” means you would have had to have been a “been” in the first place. But some “hot” tech never even had its moment in the sun.

If you believed the over-the-top hype at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010, a stampede of 3D televisions was about to replace the familiar, two-dimensional TV images at the center of your home theater, adding the lifelike illusion of depth. Suffice it to say, that tech revolution fell flat.

TV makers eventually did better peddling ever-cheaper 4K televisions.

Other highly touted technologies during the decade may have come too soon, but they shouldn’t be written off long-term, either. The 2010s surely weren’t the right time for Google Glass, at least for regular folks, or, much later, faddish Snap Spectacles. The expectation, though, is that in one form or another, smart glasses (or even smart contact lenses) will have a future.

The same can likely be said for consumer-focused virtual reality systems, even as most mainstream customers balked at wearing VR googles from the likes of Facebook-owned Oculus and HTC. The earliest systems such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive boasted cool tech. But the systems were a pain to set up, required pricey computers, were expensive in their own right, lacked compelling software and in some instances made people sick.

Tablets stuck around

Only Moses may have been associated with a more famous tablet by the time Steve Jobs, to much fanfare, unveiled the first iPad in January 2010. And dominated by Apple’s slate, which launched that April, the tablet category was very much a buzzy business for a while. Don’t get me wrong, Apple has sold more than 400 million iPads through the decade, still sells millions more, and the overall business, which includes inexpensive Fire tablets from Amazon, has stabilized.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said last year that iPads outsold notebooks from leading PC vendors. But it always was unrealistic to expect tablets to fully replace laptops. And standalone tablets have been cannibalized to a degree by convertible 2-in-1 laptops, as well as smartphones with screens that have grown to “phablet”-sized proportions.

Everything is smart

Many of the technological leaps that came through the decade have been made possible by speedy advances in wireless bandwidth. The transition from 3G networks to faster 4G LTE and Wi-Fi have helped usher in the age of cord-cutting and how we consume media, a transition very much still taking place today (with the next-generation 5G networks that will fuel the next decade just emerging).

Digital downloads gave way to streaming – and along with it a chronic case of subscription fatigue for many of us.

For better or worse, just about all the products and services that made a mark in the 2010s, or at least tried to, have been labeled “smart:” Thus, we have smart thermostats, smart fridges, smart watches, smart TVs, and smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“I’ve been describing this decade as the connected age. We’ve been talking about Internet of Things for about the past 10 years, and over that period of time, everything has become connected,” says Steve Koenig, vice president of research at the Consumer Technology Association.

Maybe the biggest thing the tech industry brought to consumers this past decade, or at the very least the loudest, are the voice-based personal assistants that live in smart speakers, not to mention on our phones, in our cars and even in our bathrooms. No, Alexa, the Google Assistant and Siri were not yet a thing way back in 2010. But is it not a true measure of how far consumer tech has come ever since, that we can now ask Alexa to flush the toilet?

Copyright 2019,, USA TODAY, Edward C. Baig

No One Predicted the Current Housing Market

A year ago, mortgage rates were trending higher and the number of for-sale homes growing. But rates feel again, and today’s low home inventory is growing worse.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – In November 2018, higher mortgage rates and increasing inventory characterized the U.S. housing market. This November, the number of homes for sale fell nearly 10% year-over-year in a market as a return of low interest rates spurred increased demand, according to the November 2019 Housing Trends report by

“As millennials – the largest cohort of buyers in U.S. history – embrace homeownership and take advantage of this year’s unexpectedly low mortgage rates, demand is outstripping supply, causing inventory to vanish,” says Senior Economist George Ratiu. “The housing shortage is felt acutely at the entry-level of the market, where most millennials are looking to break into the market for their first home. The issue is further compounded by the fact that sellers tend to be more reluctant to list during the colder time of year when the market typically makes a seasonal slowdown.”

Based on’s listing data, the shortage of available homes for sale is accelerating. Overall, inventory declined 9.5% in November, compared to October’s drop of 6.9%.

November’s inventory declines amounted to a loss of 131,000 listings nationwide, compared to this time last year. In the nation’s 50 largest metros, inventory declined by 8.8% year-over-year. Additionally, the volume of new listings hitting the market has decreased by 7.7% since last year, adding to the nation’s inventory woes.

In the four Florida markets included in’s study, two saw a for-sale inventory decline greater than the national average, and two had a decline that’s less than the national average.

At the top of the list, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro saw a 13.3% year-of-year drop in inventory, though median days on the market increased by three days. In Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, inventory dropped 11.7%, and days on the market increased by one day.

Jacksonville came closest to the national 8.8% average, with year-to-year inventory falling 7.8% and days on the market falling by -3%. In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro, inventory fell 7.2% and days on the market increased by 5 days.

Entry-level home challenge

Finding an affordable home remains one of the largest obstacles to homebuyers. The U.S. inventory of homes priced below $200,000 decreased by 16.5% year-over-year in November, up from the 15.2% decrease seen in October, though inventory decreases were the norm across all price points in November.

Mid-tier inventory priced between $200,000 and $750,000 decreased 7.4% year-over-year compared to October’s year-over-year drop of 4.3%, while high-end inventory priced above $1 million decreased 1.7% year-over-year compared to October’s year-over-year increase of 1.3%.

“The inventory decreases seen across all value ranges could in part be attributed to a spill-over effect, as the lack of inventory has pushed buyers up the price chain to stretch their budgets and search for homes above their initial price target,” Ratiu says.

The metros with the sharpest drops in inventory were San Diego (-28.1%); Phoenix (-24.1%); and Rochester, N.Y. (-22.4%). Only four of the 50 largest metros saw inventory increases year-over-year. The largest inventory increases were in Las Vegas (+14.4%); Minneapolis (+11.5%); and San Antonio, Texas (+7.2%).

Facing even fewer options than last year, eager buyers are acting quickly to close on the few homes that are available. During November, home sold in an average of 70 days nationally – two days more quickly than last year.

Meanwhile, national median home prices have yet to adjust to recent inventory declines after a multi-month run up in inventory earlier this year. The median U.S. listing price grew by only 3.6% year-over-year, to $309,000 in November – less than the 4.3% year-over-year increase seen last month.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

Fact Sheet: Why Should I Buy Flood Insurance?

Flooding is the nation’s costliest and most common disaster, but many property owners outside high-risk FEMA flood zones don’t think it will ever be a problem.

WASHINGTON – On Sept. 19, tropical storm Imelda hit Texas, and even though it was a full hurricane-force storm, Texans – homeowners, business owners and renters – filed 10,600 flood insurance claims. As of Oct. 29, policyholders have been paid 40% of claims or more than $280 million to repair their homes.

Flooding is the nation’s costliest and most common disaster, but property owners who live in communities participating in the National Flood Insurance Program can purchase affordable protection to insure against flood losses.

No surprise: Fla. is vulnerable to hurricanes. But while Miami ranks No. 1 for risk, the next three spots are held by cities located outside the Sunshine State.

Why do I need flood insurance?

  • Policies issued by NFIP pay regardless of whether there is a Presidential Disaster Declaration in place.
  • The average flood insurance claim for Tropical Storm Imelda was over $54,000 and does not have to be repaid.
  • Standard homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover floods.
  • Even if you live outside a high-risk flood zone, called a Special Flood Hazard Area, it’s a wise decision to buy flood insurance. People who live outside high-risk areas file more than 25% of flood claims nationwide.
  • If it can rain, it can flood. Flood zones are areas where there is a higher statistical probability of a flood occurring, but that doesn’t mean floods don’t occur elsewhere.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) calculations show that 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 worth of damage to a home; 18 inches or more could mandate repairs to the electrical system, and the heating and cooling system. It also means replacing doors, appliances and cabinetry.

How does flood insurance work?

  • If a community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), homeowners or businesses can cover both building and contents in a flood policy. Renters get coverage for contents only.
  • To find out if a community participates in NFIP, contact a local insurance agent. Flood insurance from the NFIP is only available in participating communities.
  • In states recently impacted by storms and flooding, NFIP streamlined the claims process, enabling policyholders to receive advance payments to jump-start rebuilding. In 2018, policyholders quickly received about 25% of their payments as an advance. Advance payments may provide: up to $5,000 without an adjuster visit or additional documentation; or up to $20,000 with photos/video evidence and receipts or a contractor’s estimate.
  • A Preferred Risk Policy (a lower-cost flood insurance policy) provides both building and contents coverage for properties in moderate-to-low risk areas. The policy can be purchased for as little as $395 per year.

When should I buy a policy? As soon as possible.

  • NFIP cannot pay a claim if you don’t have a policy in effect when damage occurs.
  • A new insurance policy from NFIP becomes effective 30 days after you buy it unless the purchase is associated with the origination, renewal or extension of a federally backed loan on property in a high-risk area.

Even if I’m not in a flood hazard area, can I purchase flood insurance?

Yes, if your community participates in NFIP. You are eligible to purchase a flood policy with the same coverage you would receive if you lived in a high-risk area.

Can I get flood insurance if I’m renting a property?

Yes. If you are a renter who lives in a community that participates in NFIP, you can get flood insurance to cover the contents of your home, apartment or business.

How much does a policy cost?

  • An insurance agent can talk about cost of coverage for a specific property.
  • NFIP policy holders can choose the amount of coverage.
  • The maximum for one-to-four family residential structures is $250,000 in building coverage and $100,000 in contents coverage.
  • For residential structures of five or more units, the maximum is $500,000 in building coverage and $100,000 in contents coverage.
  • The maximum for businesses is $500,000 in building coverage and $500,000 in contents coverage.

How much will I get from NFIP after my building or contents are damaged by a flood?

  • The amount paid to the policyholder on a homeowner’s flood insurance policy will cover only the cost of actual damage caused by the flood.
  • The amount paid on contents will cover only actual losses caused by the flood.
  • The amount paid to businesses covered for structure and contents will be only for actual losses caused by the flood.

Where can I buy flood insurance?

Texas residents can learn how to buy a flood-insurance policy by calling their insurance agent or by calling 800-427-4661, call 711 (TTY and other services available) and 866-337-4262 for VRS. Information is also available online at For flood information and safety tips visit Find the Spanish-language website at

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

False Homestead Claim Lands Man in Jail

Monroe County charged a man for “knowingly and willfully” providing false information to officials so he could get a homestead exemption on his property tax bill.

KEY WEST, Fla. – Monroe County prosecutors have charged a Miami Lakes man with fraudulently claiming a homestead property tax exemption on a Florida Keys property.

Authorities arrested Yusmel Bocalandro, 39, and booked him into the Monroe County Detention Center on Monday based on an arrest affidavit prepared by State Attorney’s Office Investigator Roy Bogue.

Bocalandro is accused of “knowingly and willfully” giving false information in an effort to receive the exemption, which can save homeowners money on their local tax bills, State Attorney’s Office spokesman Larry Kahn said.

Bocalandro initiated the homestead exemption application process on Nov. 4 in a phone call to the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office, asking what he needed to do to receive an exemption for his newly acquired property on Long Key. For tax purposes, Florida law allows a $25,000 exemption to be applied to the first $50,000 of one’s assessed property value if the property is one’s permanent residence and one owned the property on Jan. 1 of the tax year. The exemption applies to all local property taxes.

During the phone call with a staffer at the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office, Bocalandro reportedly said “What if I lie?” about information he gives on the application, specifically, if he was married, Kahn said.

He then was told if he gave false information on the application certifying all the information on the application was true, that would be considered fraud. Later that day, Bocalandro went to the Property Appraiser’s Office on Plantation Key and presented supporting documents to receive the homestead exemption and completed the application, checking “no” in the box asking if he or a spouse or co-applicant own property elsewhere. He completed the application and where it asked marital status, he wrote “single.”

He and the staffer then reviewed the information he provided and he signed the application just below a paragraph that states “I certify all information on this form” and related documents is true,” Kahn said. The form also says knowingly certifying false information is considered misdemeanor fraud.

A Property Appraiser’s Office investigator then reviewed Bocalandro’s application and found through a Miami-Dade County marriage license that he and Jessica Sarmiento were married on June 25, 2016, contrary to what he said on the Monroe County exemption application.

Further investigation revealed Bocalandro and Sarmiento own a Miami Lakes house and that Sarmiento was receiving a homestead exemption on that house, Kahn said.

The Long Key house in 2019 has a total assessed value of $375,442, according to the Property Appraiser’s Office website. Bocalandro had been renting out the property, Bogue discovered, which was also a deliberate falsification of the homestead exemption application, Kahn said.

Copyright © 2019, The Key West Citizen, All rights reserved.

Buyer Traffic Remains High, Especially in the South

Study: A year-to-year comparison finds buyer traffic up 5.5% in the U.S., but it’s up 10.8% in the South – the strongest uptick out of the four areas studied. It’s “noteworthy given that (two regions) previously reported nearly year-long drops in traffic prior to August.”

NEW YORK – The weather may be getting chillier in many parts of the country, but that hasn’t deterred potential home buyers from touring homes for sale. Buyer traffic in October saw an uptick in all four major regions of the U.S. It was also the first annual increase for the month since 2017, according to the latest ShowingTime Showing Index report.

Overall, buyer traffic nationwide increased 5.5% year over year in October, the largest increase since March 2018. The South region – an area that includes Florida – saw the biggest uptick with that 10.8% year-over-year increase. Buyer traffic increased 3.8% in the Northeast, 1.5% in the Midwest and 8.6% in the West.

“We are seeing expected seasonal slowdowns in October, although this fall continues to be more active than last year in terms of showing traffic,” says Daniil Cherkasskiy, ShowingTime chief analytics officer. “The increase in showing activity in both the South and West regions is noteworthy given that both had previously reported nearly year-long drops in traffic prior to August.”

Lower mortgage rates may be drawing buyers out. Freddie Mac reported that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.68% last week, down from 4.75% a year ago.

On average, homebuyers tour a median of nine homes and look for a house over 10 weeks before they buy, according to the 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, produced by the National Association of Realtors®.

The ShowingTime Showing Index is compiled using data from property showings scheduled using ShowingTime products and services. The service facilitates more than 4 million showings each month.

Source: “Home Showings Increase Across U.S. for Third Consecutive Month,” (Dec. 5, 2019) and ShowingTime

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

Great Rooms Not So Great for Some Buyers

Giant rooms look great in listing photos, but they have downsides – and an increasing number of buyers seem to prefer layouts that promote solace and organization.

CHICAGO – Over time the airy open floor plan has turned into the American dream. But could the tides be gradually changing? In this sometimes hectic, over-connected world, some buyers are now seeking a semblance of solitude and room organization.

While most in the real estate industry agree open floor plans are here to stay, and the pros outweigh some of the cons, there’s a minority who believe the open floor plan can be too open. Homeowners craving more defined spaces sometimes feel left out of the equation when it comes to newer homes.

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

A recent survey by the National Association of Homebuilders shows that older consumers have less interest in the totally open layout than younger generations. Carmel Ford, an economist at the NAHB, noted that although 43% of millennials embrace a completely open floor plan, which includes the kitchen and dining room, 40% of Generation X buyers prefer these open spaces and 37% of baby boomers prefer the open concept. When it came to seniors older than boomers, that number dropped to just 29% embracing open floor plans.

“Older home buyers are more likely than younger buyers to want clear separation between the dining and family areas of their homes,” said NAHB.

John Frigo, 35, a Chicago homeowner, seems to buck that line of thought.

“Open floor plans look beautiful, but they aren’t necessarily practical,” said Frigo, the owner of an e-commerce nutrition site. “While it looks great in a magazine photo shoot, with a completely open floor plan there’s very few places to hang things on the walls.”

Frigo said the open concept leads to a lot of wasted space and is difficult to decorate in a way that’s functional and attractive. His family room is open to the kitchen and dining room, which he said leaves him with just two usable walls.

Since he doesn’t have a lot of wall options, he’s had to line his windows – which cover much of the walls – with furniture that blocks his view outside. “For example, the back wall of my home is floor-to-ceiling windows. I’m hesitant to put anything in front of it. It’s also odd just randomly throwing things in front of a window as opposed to against a wall,” he said.

Frigo is planning to leave Chicago and move to St. Petersburg, Florida, where his home search is focused on avoiding a house that has too many open rooms with little definition. “I’m looking for a mix between an open floor plan and still having some segmenting of the rooms,” he said.

Greg Howe, of Searl Lamaster Howe Architects, sees a hybrid of open and closed spaces as having more appeal.

“I think what people are seeking these days is kind of a mix of the two. It kind of parallels what you see a little bit in open office designs,” he said. Howe is referring to the many companies that gravitated toward open office designs but quickly realized some of the pitfalls of barrier-free spaces, including a lack of privacy. The same can be said for the open concept in homes.

When you don’t have anywhere to escape to read a book or put a child in the corner for a time out, having a secondary space becomes more appealing, Howe explained.

“We recently did a house where the kitchen, living room and dining room are completely open to one another, but then kind of tucked in the corner of the house, behind the staircase, was a study with a TV,” he said. “It’s closed enough that it’s usable but separated enough to provide a sense of privacy.”

Howe has also laid out a home where the living, dining and kitchen space are arranged in an L-shape, with the dining room at the corner of the L. He said this gives the room a direct connect to the kitchen but with a bit of a separation to the living room. He’s also done sunken rooms.

“Sometimes the danger with open spaces is that it becomes too cavernous in scale, so trying to break it up a little bit puts it more in the scale of what you want,” he said.

But, according to Gary and Jennifer Alveranga, brokers with Real People Realty, open floor plans on the first floor make spaces appear bigger to buyers.

“Open floor plans are still the way to go,” said Gary Alveranga. “When (buyers) see closed and defined spaces, they’re asking us which wall to knock out.”

The open concept became more mainstream within the past 10 to 15 years. Jeff Benach, principal at Lexington Homes, said the notion of making rooms closed off again wouldn’t make much sense.

Maurice Hampton, president of the National Association of Realtors and owner of Centered International Realty, said open floor plans became popular pre-housing market crash and really became a part of the design philosophy post-crash.

Within the past year Lexington redesigned several of their floor plans to better reflect the open concept. Lexington eliminated the separate dining room in its suburban town home communities and went to a single area for dining, plus a kitchen island with plenty of stool seating for more casual meals that can double as spaces for family activities.

The Belgravia Group is incorporating a little bit of both. The builder recently completed projects that include open communal spaces for entertaining, as well as more defined spaces offering varying degrees of privacy.

Alan Lev, chairman of the Belgravia Group, noted that it’s more challenging to have defined rooms in smaller spaces. But in one of their larger condominium projects, the plan includes living areas that offer the flow of an open concept space but are defined by walls that create distinctive rooms.

“People really like what we have instead of one big great room. They’re connected with an opening, but it’s not just one big huge space,” he said.

Having more defined rooms has its pros, Lev admits. They include more walls for artwork and furniture, and “it also gives it a little bit more feeling of intimacy,” he said.

The majority rules in keeping open floor plans so far. But builders and designers are taking note of those seeking to create more private spaces. People like Frigo may be catching the ear of the industry.

“In my previous home I was taking walls down to create more openness, and in this house, I find myself wishing I had some,” Frigo said.

Copyright © 2019 Capital Gazette Newspapers. Carisa Crawford Chappell is a freelance writer.

Condo Q&A: What If a Contractor Suddenly Stops Working?

Also: If owners pay fitness-center dues, can the board arbitrarily change operating hours? And may a 15-year elevator contract be axed after the developer leaves?

NAPLES, Fla. – Question: Our association hired a contractor to remodel the clubhouse. When the contractor was 50% finished with the tile flooring, the contractor stopped for no reason and we can’t get the crew back to the property to finish the job. Half of the floor is concrete and the other half is tile. What are our options? – W.C., Naples

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

Answer: Unfortunately, the question is more common than you would think. The first part of the answer requires you to look at your contract. There is no default rule that all contracts can be terminated with or without cause, so you first must look to your contract. It is possible the contract requires you to make a written demand before you can terminate. It is possible you have to give the contractor 30 days to cure after you notify the contractor of the default. It is possible the contract provides that the contractor can pause work at the contractor’s discretion. It is also possible that you do not have any contractual provision and only signed an estimate or a proposal with no additional provisions.

Each of the situations described above will require you to take a different approach to finishing your floors and clubhouse. First and foremost, however, is safety. If the floor is a safety or tripping hazard, the association must take some action. Depending on the severity, this may be as little as deploying an uneven floor sign or it may require you to install a barrier to prevent owners and guests from walking onto a safety hazard.

Next, in a perfect world, you could demand the contractor promptly return, promptly finish the work, and do a great job. And in a perfect world, there would be no issues finishing the job. That being said, this perfect world scenario is often untenable.

As a result, the next question is whether you are required to allow the contractor an opportunity to cure the delay and finish the project. Again, your contract may require this opportunity to cure the default, but the most important advice in this article is that you should not hire another contractor or send a termination letter to the original contractor without first checking with your legal counsel. If you send that termination letter without following the contract, or without a clear breach of contract, you could be putting the association in breach of the contract and exposing the association to liability.

Assuming that you can terminate the contract without cause, or assuming you have cause to terminate the agreement, the next question is whether the association can pursue the original contractor for the failure to perform. The answer is your lawyer’s favorite answer: It depends. If the original contractor breached the agreement and you have to pay someone else more to finish the same scope of work, then you could have a cause of action against the original contractor for the difference. If you have a weak contract or inability to conclusively prove a breach of contract, then you should determine whether it is simply more cost-effective to move on with a new contractor.

So, the lessons learned in this situation are generally: 1) reputation matters and there are a plethora of contractors with great reputations; 2) do not simply terminate a contract without ensuring that you have the legal right to do so; and 3) having a favorable contract at the very beginning can alleviate a lot of this stress.

Question: I was working in our fitness center and the security guard told me I had to leave at 9:00 p.m. The fitness center has always been open until 11:00 p.m. since the developer was in charge, and I am paying dues to use the fitness center. Can the board do this? – P.S., Bonita Springs

Answer: Most likely, yes. The fitness center is a common area and the association has the responsibility to maintain and preserve the common areas. In your governing documents, there is also certainly a provision that the association has the right to adopt reasonable rules and regulations concerning the operation of the common areas. Because the fitness center is a common area, this also means that the board can change the rules at a regular board meeting with only 48 hours’ notice.

In some communities, however, the documents require the board to provide some special notice before changing rules, or before rules can be enforced. It is also possible that the original fitness center rules and hours were recorded and provide that a membership vote is required to change the fitness center rules. The above are exceptions to the rule, but it is possible that the board was required to follow a heightened procedural hurdle to implement a change in the fitness center hours.

Question: Our homeowners association recently turned over from developer control and we learned that the association has a 15-year contract to maintain the clubhouse elevator and the rates are not market rates. Can we terminate this contract now? – H.H., Marco Island

Answer: Possibly, but this question is very fact sensitive. First, it is important to note that the association has the authority to enter into long term agreements provided the agreement satisfies the board’s business judgment duty. The relevant statute is Section 720.309, Florida Statutes, which provides that “any grant or reservation made by any document, and any contract that has a term greater than 10 years, that is made by an association before control of the association is turned over to the members other than the developer, and that provides for the operation, maintenance, or management of the association or common areas, must be fair and reasonable.”

As you can see, your contract satisfies the elements of the statute because the term is longer than 10 years and the agreement provides for the maintenance of the common areas. The difficult part, however, is whether the agreement is fair and reasonable. In order to know this, you would have to know what market rates were at the time the agreement was signed, whether the association was required to obtain bids for this service, and whether the other terms of the contract justify a deviation from market pricing. And even then, note that the statute does not provide the express right to terminate – meaning you may be required to file a lawsuit and obtain an order declaring that the contract is unfair and unreasonable.

Finally, note that the law in condominiums is very different. In a condominium, the statutes actually provide that the membership can terminate pre-turnover contracts without penalty and irrespective of whether the terms are fair and reasonable.

© 2019 Journal Media Group. Attorney John C. Goede is a shareholder in the law firm of Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross.

Condo Board to Buyer: ‘Your Dog’s Not Good Enough’

It’s not just about breed. Some condo boards now ask for pet resumes and recommendation letters before live interviews to see if the animals are “a good fit.”  

NEW YORK – After studying a possible owner’s financial statements, tax returns, recommendation letters and more, some condo and co-op boards are now making an added request: They want to interview the buyer’s pets.

The Fair Housing Act applies to discrimination in housing, but it can also apply to visitors who have an emotional support animal and no obvious disability.

Some boards even require headshots, resumes and even recommendation letters for pets.

Heidi DeCoo and Carl Norton told The Wall Street Journal they fielded such an unusual request when trying to buy a co-op apartment in Manhattan for just under $500,000. The building’s co-op board wanted to meet the couple’s two gray-haired schnoodles (a breed combining a miniature schnauzer and poodle). The dogs were brought before a small panel of board members who interacted with them for a few minutes to see if they would be problematic. The pups passed, to their owners’ relief.

Some homebuyers and Realtors find the requests for pet interviews by condo boards absurd.

“It’s an animal,” says Janna Raskopf, a real estate pro. “It’s not like you can say to it, ‘We’re going on an interview, so be on your best behavior.’”

But co-op boards, particularly in New York City where pet interviews are becoming more common, say they have the right to meet pets, whether that’s the owner’s dog, cat or bird. After all, they argue, they don’t want an owner’s dog squatting in the lobby, fighting with another dog in the elevator, or awakening other residents with barking. Boards also worry that they could be held legally liable if a dog bites another person in one of their common spaces.

A few boards have even brought in third-party “dog whisperers” who do a 10-minute evaluation and observation of the pet to determine if they’d be a good neighbor.

Some condo applicants get nervous about the pet interview, and a few admit to giving their pets veterinarian-approved antianxiety medication or even taking their pet to a counselor to find ways to ace their behavior during the interview. Some real estate pros say some buyers even dress up their pups in a bow tie or sweater to make a good first impression.

The interview is a fairly new quirk, but co-ops and condo boards have been banning certain breeds of pets that they deem aggressive for a while now.

For example, one New York City building has banned a long list of dog breeds, including Alaskan malamutes, Caucasian mountain dogs, chihuahuas, chow chows, dachshunds, dalmatians, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, huskies, Jack Russell terriers, Lhasa apsos, Old English sheepdogs, papillons, Pekingese, pinschers, pit bulls, presa canarios, Rottweilers, toy poodles, and schnauzers. The co-op says it will approve an owner’s dog only if a resident signs a letter that acknowledges the dog can remain in the building only at the board’s discretion and on a trial basis. After that trial period, the board can require the dog removed.

Real estate pro Nicole Hay told The Wall Street Journal that she has helped several clients get their pets through a board’s approval process. “I’ve been calling myself the Dr. Doolittle of deals,” Hay says.

Source: “So Your Dog Can Roll Over. Can It Pass a Co-Op Board Interview?” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 5, 2019) [Log-in required.]

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

Q&A: Can Members Vote to Tell Condo Board What to Do?

The board likes a landscaper; the residents do not. Is there a way to force action? Also: Can board members choose not to replace directors who leave?  

STUART, Fla. – Question: Many of us in our condominium do not care for the landscape company. We have asked the Board to terminate the company, but they have refused to do so. Can the members vote to require the Board to do what we want in regard to the landscaping? – D.T., West Palm Beach

Answer: Probably not directly but indirectly yes. Unless your governing documents contain an express provision requiring membership approval of vendor contracts, which would be very unusual, the decision to hire or terminate vendors performing service for the Association is a Board decision. So, a vote of the members directing the Board to terminate the landscaping company would not be binding on the Board.

However, there are several ways to accomplish your goal if you have sufficient votes to do so. First, with majority consent of the total voting interests, you could recall the Board and replace it with new Directors who are in favor of removing the landscaping company. Or you could seek to amend the Declaration to specifically require member approval of landscaping contracts and vendors. However, before taking such rather drastic measures I would recommend you obtain a copy of the current landscaping contract to determine how it could be cancelled.

Even a new Board desiring a new landscape vendor would be bound by the terms of the current contract, which could make cancellation difficult. An alternative would be to prepare a report for the Board clearly documenting the deficiencies with photos and try to convince the Board of the merits of your request.

Finally, you could seek to run for the Board in the next election and attempt to gain a majority control through the election process.

Question: The governing documents of my community provide that the Board shall consist of 7 directors. Recently, 4 directors resigned. The three remaining directors are continuing to conduct business and claim that since the annual election is in January they can let the members fill the vacancies at the upcoming election. Is this legal? – C.S., Port St. Lucie

Answer: No. It is not legal. The condominium and homeowner association laws provide that if less than quorum of the board exists for more than 30 days, any member of the association can apply to the Court to have a receiver appointed to operate the association. Moreover, because the three remaining directors do not constitute a quorum, they have no authority to conduct business. The only thing the law allows is for the remaining directors, even if less than a quorum, to meet and appoint replacement directors. They should do this as soon as possible to avoid the cost of having a receiver take over the Association.

Moreover, I would be very surprised if that between now and the January election there would be no business that would require Board action, and therefore a quorum of the Board must be seated to make decisions.

Question: I’m familiar with what the Florida Condominium and Homeowners Association Statutes say on the subject of owner’s rights to attend Board meetings. However, while both laws cite two exceptions to meetings being open to the association members (pending litigation and personnel matters), the Statute doesn’t address specifically whether or not a closed meeting of the board must be noticed. What say you? – J.C., Vero Beach

Answer: You are correct that neither Statute mentions whether or not a closed Board meeting must be noticed. In my opinion it does need to be noticed.

Both Statutes require regular Board meetings to be noticed with a 48-hour single posted notice and 14 days mailed and posted notice for special Board meetings. All meetings must be open to members except under the exceptions. The exceptions do not provide that the meetings do not have to be noticed, so my opinion is that they must be properly noticed.

However, some attorneys hold a different view in that notifying owners that a meeting with the Association’s legal counsel is occurring could strategically harm the Association’s legal position, so they advise not to notice such meetings. I do not hold that view.

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

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Richard D. DeBoest II

Starting in 2020, No More VA Loan-Limit Caps

Veterans may be eligible to buy larger homes in pricier communities – still without any down payment – after Jan. 1, 2020.

WASHINGTON – Veterans may be eligible to buy larger homes in pricier communities – still without a down payment – starting next year. Those taking out Veteran Affairs-backed mortgages will find caps removed on what they can spend in 2020.

The Blue Water Navy Veterans Act of 2019 removed the caps for the new year. But military members on active duty and veterans will still need to qualify for the mortgage and verify that they can afford the monthly payments.

“It gives the veterans the opportunity to buy homes in the areas they want to buy in,” says Kyle Reed, a real estate pro with Pauly Presley Realty in Austin, Texas. “It opens up some areas in cities to VA loans … that maybe veterans didn’t have access to before without putting a bunch of money down.”

VA loans have been capped at different amounts nationwide. Borrowers could take out more on a VA loan in a high-priced area like San Francisco, for example, than they could in Detroit, where homes tend to cost less. If they exceeded the set limits in the city where they lived, they were required to put down 25% of the difference on the mortgage. If they stayed within the loan limits, they could get a 0% VA loan.

Under the new rules, vets can get any loan amount via VA that can independently qualify to receive, though banks can still put in some restrictions to protect themselves against defaults. For example, some lenders may require higher credit scores or debt-to-income ratios in qualifying for the loans. The loans likely apply only to a borrower’s primary residence too.

Source: “Bye, Bye, VA Loan Limits: What This Means for Veterans Buying a Home,”® (Dec. 4, 2019)

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

What Does Flood Insurance ‘Substantial Damage’ Mean?

If a flood causes “substantial damage,” the cost of repairs is 50% or more of the property’s market value and a rebuild must follow local NFIP flood standards.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued information on how flood insurance works following a storm.

If the community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), substantial damage determinations are required by local floodplain-management ordinances – rules that had to be put in place before residents of the community could purchase flood insurance through NFIP.

“Substantial damage” applies to a structure in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) for which the total cost of repairs is 50% or more of the structure’s market value before the disaster occurred, regardless of the cause of damage. The percentage may vary among jurisdictions but can’t be below NFIP standards.

For example, if a structure’s market value before the damage was $200,000 and repairs are estimated to cost $120,000, that structure is substantially damaged. Land value is excluded from the determination.

FEMA doesn’t determine substantial damage and doesn’t notify property owners of a damage determination, though FEMA damage assessment teams may respond to local requests to assess the extent of disaster-caused damage to some structures. The data is provided to local jurisdictions’ requests, which may make substantial damage determinations based on their own ordinances. That information helps property owners decide whether or not to repair or replace a damaged dwelling, and find out whether additional work is needed to comply with local codes and ordinances.

If a building in a floodplain is determined by the local official to be substantially damaged, it must be brought into compliance with local floodplain management regulations.

Owners may:

  • Elevate structures, or change them in some other way to comply with local floodplain regulations
  • Relocate or demolish the structure
  • Flood proof a non-residential or historical structure

All property owners should check with local building officials to determine which permits for repairs are required before beginning work. Depending on local codes and ordinances, there can be serious consequences for not complying with the permitting process.

Property owners who have a flood insurance policy through NFIP and a substantially damaged building (from flooding) in a SFHA may be able to use additional funds – known as Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) – from their flood insurance policy (up to $30,000) to help defray the costs of elevating, relocating, demolishing or flood proofing a non-residential structure.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®