Monthly Archives: June 2020

The Big Question: What Will Happen to the Housing Market?

The real estate market dipped during stay-at-home orders, though it still looks as if many deals were postponed rather than cancelled. What happens next? COVID-19’s resilience remains a big unknown, but it still seems as if market strength will return sooner rather than later.

CHICAGO – The housing market is recovering much faster than most other sectors in the economy in the current recession. But will it last?

Unemployment remains high – at around 13% – and economic forecasters predict unemployment likely will remain elevated for the remainder of the year. However, economists believe housing will be able to weather most of the economic storm.

The current housing shortage and homeowners’ strong equity positions will likely rescue real estate from any downturn that would be similar in scope to the 2008 financial crisis, economists said during the “Economic Outlook and Housing Trends” webinar Wednesday, hosted by Freddie Mac and the Down Payment Resource.

“Real estate demand has staged a remarkable comeback, and given the chronic supply shortage, the rebound in demand should provide support to home prices,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

So far, data suggests the economy hit its low point during the first two weeks in April and has been steadily improving since. Still, the economy is significantly below its pre-March levels when the COVID-19 outbreak took hold in the U.S. While real estate demand declined at similar rates to the broader economy, the housing market is making a much more pronounced recovery than most other segments of the economy, Khater said.

This isn’t the 2008 crisis

“The housing market has held up much better than expected,” Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at Urban Institute, said during the webinar. “Homeowners have been much less affected by COVID-19 than renters.”

A big reason for that is because the housing market has been underbuilding and unable to keep up with population demand since 2009, Goodman said. The country is undersupplied by an estimated 2.5 million housing units. “The supply-and-demand imbalance is continuing to put upward pressure on home prices and is causing them to rise,” Goodman added.

Further, owners have accumulated a great deal of equity in their homes over the last decade – and still-rising home prices are only adding to that. “This has given the housing market a resiliency that it didn’t have back in the 2008 financial crisis,” Goodman said.

Deferred sales unleashed, but for how long?

In recent weeks, mortgage applications for home purchases have posted a strong rebound, even surpassing levels well beyond what they were a year ago. Record low mortgage rates are enticing buyers who had been waiting on the sidelines prior to the pandemic to make a move as well as motivating renters, Khater said.

“It’s remarkable that in the last recession it took us 10 years to reach normal levels” again with purchase mortgage applications, Khater said. “In this recession, it took us less than 10 weeks.”

However, Khater cautioned that mortgage applications for home purchases will likely moderate after this current “bulge in deferred sales” subsides.

“The economic recovery is underway, but uncertainty is very high,” Khater said. Federal stimulus programs will expire in the coming weeks. “Stimulus is flowing through and sustaining consumer spending and balance sheets for now, but there is concern that a fiscal cliff is just around the corner and may put the brake on recovery,” he said.

Here are some additional housing indicators highlighted at Wednesday’s webinar:

  • Home prices stand firm. Home prices are rising, but growth is expected to moderate over this year and next. However, economists are not predicting any declines in home prices.

    The National Association of Realtors® projects home prices to rise about 4% in 2020 and 2021; CoreLogic and Freddie Mac’s forecasts are more subdued but still have home prices rising at about 2.5% in 2020 and 2021. So far, home prices have not gone down during the pandemic and actually have increased.

    “This really speaks to the lack of inventory on the market,” Khater said. “It’s still a seller’s market – even in the worst recession since World War II.”

  • Personal income is rising. Despite surging unemployment numbers, incomes are rising. Personal income increased to a record $2 trillion in April – but that rise was entirely driven by the economic stimulus from the federal government, Khater said.

    “Money is flowing into the economy and supporting customers, but in July there could be a fiscal cliff,” Khater says. “The concern is that that the stimulus supported consumer spending, but that could go down again when it expires.”

  • Foreclosure wave unlikely. Khater does not anticipate a large uptick in foreclosures in 2020 or 2021. “Homeowners have record equity, home prices continue to rise, and there’s federal forbearance support,” Khater said. “Homeowners – at least so far – seem to be much less impacted by the recession.”
  • Some populations are being hit harder than others. Khater pointed to data that showed Hispanics and Asian populations in the U.S. have seen the largest declines in employment during the current recession – and four times larger than the last recession. “There are longer-term concerns around the recession’s impact on inequality,” Khater said.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Florida Homeowners, Renters to Get $250M in COVID-19 Relief

Floridians struggling to make house or rental payments qualify for help, says Gov. DeSantis. The money is part of $2.2T in funding created in March’s federal relief act.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Floridians struggling to make their monthly rent and mortgage payments because of the coronavirus are in line for $250 million in federal money, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

The money would come from the $2.2 trillion federal relief act signed into law in late March.

“Many families across our state have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 through no fault of their own,” the governor said in a statement released by his office. “This initiative strives to provide financial assistance through multiple affordable housing programs to ensure these Floridians receive the support they need during this difficult time.”

Through an executive order, DeSantis placed a moratorium on residential evictions April 1 to help tenants and borrowers retain their homes as they struggle through layoffs and cash shortfalls caused by the public health crisis. The ban was extended and is scheduled to expire July 1.

The federal dollars announced Thursday would be divided into two pools of $120 million each to help tenants with rent and homeowners with mortgages, according to the statement. Another $10 million will be set aside for administrative expenses.

One portion of rental aid would go to tenants in multi-family rental apartments controlled by the Florida Housing Financing Corp. Money would be available from July through December. Tenants could also use the money to pay off back rent for April, May and June.

Counties to distribute homeowner aid

The second pool of funds would go to Florida counties with the cash amounts to be determined by their unemployment rates. The money could be used for “rental and homeowner assistance programs, new construction, rehabilitation, mortgage buydowns, down payment and closing cost assistance, emergency repairs and homeownership counseling for individuals impacted by COVID-19,” the statement said.

The statement did not say how renters and homeowners can apply for the money, or what conditions they need to meet to qualify for the money. It said the state housing finance agency would provide more information at FloridaHousing.org.

© 2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Luxury Homes Seem to Thrive – Notably Second Homes

Upscale buyers appear to be shifting focus from dense urban metros to smaller, less populated areas, including second-home markets, according to realtor.com.

CHICAGO – The luxury housing market rebounded with force in May, according to realtor.com’s Luxury Housing Report. The report found that upscale home purchases outpaced the rest of the market in both price growth and online listing views via realtor.com’s website. Second home markets garnered particular attention from this sector of buyers.

Homebuyers appear to be shifting their focus from dense, urban metros to smaller, less populated areas and second-home markets.

“Unlike prior downturns, the luxury market is leading the recovery,” says Danielle Hale, realtor.com’s chief economist. “Stay at home orders and social distancing have put a new value on the extra space. We’re seeing this in the luxury market as well, which could mean there is renewed interest from high-end buyers to find a second home that is within driving distance from their primary residence.”

Three second-home markets ranked among the top five overall luxury markets with the largest increases in listing views in May – Suffolk County, N.Y., home to The Hamptons; Palm Springs in Riverside County, Calif.; and Greenwich in Fairfield County, Conn.

Online views of luxury properties jumped 56% in The Hamptons, 28% in Palm Springs, and 24% in Greenwich compared to January, prior to the pandemic, realtor.com reports.

Overall, online views for million-dollar homes nationwide increased 7.3% annually, outpacing its 6.2% growth prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, home price growth in the upper tier is outpacing the overall housing market, realtor.com says.

Housing shortages remain an obstacle that could stymie growth in the sector moving forward, however. Inventories of million-dollar listings fell 15.6% annually in May, though luxury sellers are showing some signs of reemerging on the market with new listings, realtor.com notes.

Source: realtor.com

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Wall Street-Owned Loans Tricky for Hoteliers in Virus Era

A loan purchased by Wall Street investors as a commercial mortgage-backed security can’t easily offer temporary relief to businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Hotel owner and developer Danny Gaekwad survived steep drops in business after the 9/11 attacks and the recession of the late 2000s, but nothing prepared him for the revenue tailspin that followed lockdowns and travel restrictions in March to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

At one hotel, a Holiday Inn in Ocala, Florida’s horse country, revenue last April was $38,000, a drop of almost 90% from the previous April. His problems were compounded by the type of loan he took out for the hotel – a $13 million loan that was bought by Wall Street investors.

Commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) loans like the one Gaekwad has for the Holiday Inn are packaged in a trust. Investors then purchase bonds from the trust using properties like a hotel as collateral. The loans are attractive to borrowers because they typically offer lower rates and longer terms. About 20% of hotels across the U.S. use these loans and they represent close to a third of all debt in the hotel industry, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Unlike banks, which have been more flexible in renegotiating loan terms to help them through the tough times, hotel owners like Gaekwad say it has been much more difficult to get any forbearance from representatives of bondholders, and they worry that their businesses may not survive because of the lack of relief.

At the end of April, only 15% of CMBS borrowers have received relief compared to 80% of bank borrowers, according to a member survey by the American Hotel and Lodging Association. For one thing, the rules that govern the trusts that hold the CMBS loans typically put strict limitations on any loan modifications.

Additionally, representatives of the bondholders often charge expensive fees to negotiate with the borrowers. They also have their own real estate portfolios and don’t mind acquiring new ones, so there’s less incentive to negotiate with borrowers compared to banks, which don’t want to be in the real estate business should a loan go bad, experts say.

“This is the Big Bad Wolf. You have no idea what devastation CMBS loans will have on us,” Gaekwad told Vice President Mike Pence last month during a forum on Florida’s tourism industry in Orlando. “If you don’t put it in a cage, it will finish us.”

Other types of commercial properties such as retail, industrial and office also use CMBS loans, but none have seen delinquency rates rise the way the lodging sector has. In May, the lodging delinquency rate rose to 19%, up from 2.7% in the previous month, according to real estate data-provider Trepp, LLC.

Commercial properties such as apartment buildings and office spaces have money-generating leases that range from one year to multiple years. But the typical lease for a hotel is just a night or two, so when travel comes to a halt, hotel owners are pinched, said Sam Chandan, a real estate economist at New York University.

“This being an economic slowdown with constraints on travel, compounded by very real restrictions on personal mobility, it has been the perfect storm for the hotel sector,” Chandan said.

Gaekwad says he has gotten relief on other loans he took from banks for his various properties in central Florida, which include hotels, restaurants, apartments and an RV camp. For the Holiday Inn, Gaekwad turned to a CMBS loan after the last recession a dozen years ago when banks were tightening their belts.

These loans tend to be more complicated than bank loans, but representatives of the bondholders are willing to talk to borrowers, though every case is different, said Lisa Pendergast, executive director of the CRE Finance Council, a trade association for the $4.4 trillion commercial and multifamily real estate finance industry.

“A lot of borrowers think servicers will say, ‘There’s no forbearance. We are going into foreclosure.’ I can’t tell you how silly that is,” Pendergast said. “It’s just a slower process.”

Pendergast said the loans are an important segment of the lending community, often providing money in markets when other lenders are unable to because of regulatory or economic concerns.

The Federal Reserve in April added commercial mortgage-backed securities to its Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan program, but a group of lawmakers said in a letter this week to federal officials that more needs to be done. The rigidness of the loan terms makes it difficult for the borrowers to get any relief, the bipartisan group of 105 U.S. representatives said.

“Without a long-term relief plan in the face of an elongated crisis, CMBS borrowers could face a historic wave of foreclosures starting this fall, impacting local communities and destroying jobs for Americans across the country,” the letter said.

After struggling to make payments on the Holiday Inn loan in March, April and May, Gaekwad didn’t make his $107,000 monthly payment in June. He had contacted the loan servicer for the bondholders, Wells Fargo, at the start of the crisis but he was told he would have to contact the loan’s special servicer, Rialto Capital Advisors, which he and his attorney did.

They only heard back earlier this month when Gaekwad received a “pre-negotiation” agreement, along with an ultimatum that he must sign it before any talks can take place. Gaekwad says he’s debating whether to sign because the talks could cost tens of thousands of dollars, he’d be limited as to what he can say about any future agreement and there is no guarantee he’ll get any relief.

A spokesman for Rialto said she couldn’t comment on the specifics of any case.

Gaekwad worries that if even he gets new loan terms, he could be strung along, making payments until the hotel industry improves and the investors foreclose on his property and sell it at a profit.

“They will let me spend my savings and money … and they are waiting like a big bad wolf,” Gaekwad said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Will Your Homeowner’s Insurance Weather a Hurricane?

June 28 was National Insurance Awareness Day – a reminder for homeowners to check their current policies and coverages as the nation faces the 2020 hurricane season.

NAPLES, Fla. – This year is shaping up to be memorable in so many ways, including a predicted above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, according to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service.

National Insurance Awareness Day was June 28 to remind people to review their insurance policies and make sure they have the coverage they need. About two-thirds of U.S. homes are under-insured, which could result in financial hardship in the event of storm damage. A study by insurance.com in 2018 learned nearly a quarter of homeowners said they’d never even read their policy.

Now is a good time to review and make sure your homeowner’s policy is robust enough to fully repair or rebuild in the event of a claim. It’s important to understand what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t. Make sure that none of your information – such as residents of the household or pets – needs to be updated. While you are at it, it is probably a good idea to look at your other insurance policies also.

Why is it so important to update your insurance policies with new information? Insurance companies can deny coverage for a loss when there is a “material misrepresentation” by the insured when procuring the policy. These material misrepresentations can be in the form of a failure to disclose a resident relative or a new pet. This can be devastating for someone who has faithfully paid their premiums for years because it may mean you have no insurance coverage for an event that destroys your home.

You should also regularly check to see if you have enough coverage – whether it is coverage for your home, coverage for the contents within your home, bodily injury coverage for your motor vehicle, or under-insured motorist coverage for your vehicle.

Here are things to consider in reviewing your homeowner’s insurance:

  • Are deductibles on your policy sustainable in the event of a claim? Will you be able to cover them if necessary?
  • Have you explored all possible discounts, such as wind mitigation certification or discounts for fire or burglar alarms, new roof or upgraded heating, plumbing or electrical systems?
  • How has your customer service experiences been with the company? Check online resources and ask friends and family to determine what insurers have a good reputation among policyholders. Responsive customer service will be important in the event of a claim.
  • Have you had a major life change, like having a baby or starting a new job? You may need to update your insurance.
  • Have you renovated or built an addition? If so, make sure your policy reflects the change in value of your home.
  • In the event you need to rebuild, does your insurance policy include any extra expenses caused by meeting building codes adopted after your home was built? You may want to add building code coverage, called building law or ordinance coverage.
  • Flood damage, which can come with a hurricane, is usually excluded on homeowner’s policies. Consider purchasing separate flood insurance. Visit FloodSmart.gov for information.
  • If you live in a condominium, what type of insurance does your homeowners association require?
  • Have you evaluated your needs by conducting a thorough home inventory of your possessions?
  • Does your policy provide enough coverage for landscaping, outdoor appliances or storage sheds?
  • Have you started a home-based business? You may need to change your coverage for business liability and equipment.

An annual insurance review can go a long way in protecting what is often your biggest investment. Make it part of your hurricane preparations.

Copyright © 2020 Florida Weekly. All rights reserved. Richard L. Purtz, managing partner of Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, emphasizes personal injury, wrongful death and insurance claims litigation.

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Texas MLS Bans Use of ‘Master’ for Bedrooms and Bathrooms

Houston MLS descriptions will now have “primary bedroom” or “primary bath” to avoid a potential social stigma over use of the word “master.”

HOUSTON, Texas – The Houston Association of Realtors® (HAR) says it will stop allowing the term “master bedroom” or “master bathroom” to be used in MLS descriptions. The decision to remove the term comes after a group of real estate professionals said the term “master” on property descriptions represents a potential stigma.

HAR has updated the phrase to “primary bedroom” and “primary bath” on its MLS and on har.com.

The national standards organization for MLSs is reportedly considering a similar change that would make “primary” the new standard nationwide.

“‘Master’ represents a stigma and place in time that we need to move forward from,” says Tiffany Curry, a Houston real estate broker and owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. “As a progressive, diverse city, Houston should be reflective of its citizenship.”

Some home builders are dropping the term, too. David Weekley Homes now refers to the space as the “owner’s retreat” instead.

The National Association of Realtors told the Houston Chronicle that it asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about the term, and HUD advised the association that the term “master bedroom” isn’t discriminatory and doesn’t violate any fair housing laws.

“NAR sees no reason that real estate professionals cannot use the term, as there is also no evidence that it has any historical connection to slavery or any other kind of discrimination,” NAR President Vince Malta said in a statement.

Source: “HAR No Longer Using ‘Master’ to Describe Bedrooms and Bathrooms,” Houston Chronicle (June 24, 2020)

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Which States Have the Most Identity Theft? Fla. Ranks Second

Only Nevada residents have a greater problem with identity theft, according to reviews.org. Identity thieves get data through security breaches and sell it on the dark web.

NEW YORK – Your identity can be bought for as little as $1,192.58, a new study from Reviews.org shows. Scammers who steal identities and private information through data breaches sell the private information on the dark web – a collection of encrypted websites accessible only through special browsers.

Overall, Florida ranked second in the nation for its level of identity thefts, while Nevada ranked No. 1. Iowa has the fewest reports of these crimes.

But while Florida may present a greater identity-theft risk, the danger doesn’t necessarily break down into regional categories, the study notes, and identity theft can happen anywhere.

“With crime data, we’ve often noticed regional or population-based patterns that cause one state to have more crimes than another,” Reviews.org notes in its study. “But identity theft likelihood is a bit scattered. While certain states are at higher risk than others, there doesn’t seem to be a countrywide region or population-based pattern.”

Top 10 states for identify theft

  1. Nevada
  2. Florida
  3. Alaska
  4. Washington, D.C.
  5. Connecticut
  6. Arizona
  7. Washington
  8. Colorado
  9. Virginia

Top 10 states with least identify thefts

  1. Iowa
  2. South Dakota
  3. Mississippi
  4. North Dakota
  5. Arkansas
  6. Maine
  7. Nebraska
  8. Minnesota
  9. Ohio
  10. North Carolina

Floridians can take steps to keep their personal data safe. For example, using a virtual private network (VPN) to access the internet encrypts the information.

For more recommendations, visit the National Association of Realtors®’ cybersecurity checklist posted on its website.

Source: “Identity Theft Report: The Cost of Your Identity on the Dark Web,” Reviews.org (June 16, 2020)

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RE Q&A: Can My HOA Ban Legally Purchased Fireworks?

A new Fla. law OKs fireworks on Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and July 4, and HOAs may have ban limitations. Also: Are police cars considered unallowed “business vehicles”?

STUART, Fla. – Question: July 4th is coming up. My HOA says I cannot use fireworks to celebrate even though there is no rule or restriction in the governing documents prohibiting fireworks. Can I celebrate with lawfully purchased fireworks on July 4th? – K.C., West Palm Beach

Answer: Maybe. A new law was adopted by the Florida Legislature in March. The law is now in effect. The new law provides that fireworks may be lawfully used on December 31 (New Year’s Eve), January 1 (New Year’s Day), and July 4 (Independence Day). The law does not supersede local ordinances nor a properly recorded declaration of covenants for Chapter 720 Homeowners Associations.

So, an HOA can prohibit fireworks on all days including the three designated days IF it is in the recorded covenants. However, the law does supersede any HOA board adopted rules prohibiting the use of fireworks on the designated days. So, as long as your local community does not prohibit fireworks and your HOA recorded covenants do not prohibit them, you can shoot fireworks this July 4th.

Note: This law does apply to condominiums or cooperatives regardless of recorded covenants or rules, so condominiums and cooperatives cannot prohibit fireworks on the three designated holidays, but a local municipality may do so.

Question: We have a local sheriff’s deputy that parks her car in her driveway overnight. Our rules prohibit the parking of “business vehicles” outside of garages. Some people in the community claim that the sheriff’s vehicle is a business vehicle and should not be allowed to park outside of the garage. What do you think? – B.H., Port St. Lucie

Answer: First, I think it is highly debatable that a law enforcement vehicle would be considered a business vehicle. Second, I think a law enforcement vehicle parked in the community would be an effective deterrent to crime and mischief in the community as well.

However, the Florida Legislature adopted a new law in the legislative session concluded in March of this year. The new law is effective immediately. Specifically, Chapters 718 (Condominiums), 719 (Cooperatives) and 720 (Homeowner Associations) were all amended to provide that an association may not prohibit a “law enforcement officer” who is an owner, or a tenant, guest or invitee of an owner, from parking his or her assigned law enforcement vehicle in an area where the owner, tenant, guest or invitee otherwise has a right to park.

Note: A law enforcement officer is defined in F.S. 943.10(1) as a person “vested with the authority to bear arms and make arrests; and whose primary responsibility is the prevention and detection of crime.” So, this law does not apply to firefighters, EMS or similar government employees.

Question: I understand that a community association’s emergency powers under Chapters 718 (Condominiums), 719 (Cooperatives) and 720 (Homeowner Associations) can be exercised when a government declared state of emergency exists. Presently, the governor’s state of emergency is in effect until July 7. If the state of emergency does not get extended, do the association’s emergency powers end on that date? – A.W., Vero Beach

Answer. No. First, locally imposed states of emergency may still be in effect after that date. Secondly, subsection (2) of the emergency powers laws provides that “the authority granted under subsection (1) is limited to that time reasonably necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the association and the parcel owners and their family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees, and to mitigate further damage and make emergency repairs.” So, a board may continue to exercise its emergency powers if it is still “reasonably necessary” to do so.

However, I believe it would be incumbent on a board to obtain some type of recommendation from a qualified licensed professional that due to the particular circumstances affecting the association, the need to continue to impose emergency restrictions still exists and is reasonably necessary. This type of recommendation I think will be more and more difficult to obtain if the businesses open to the general public are not imposing similar restrictions such as following the CDC guidelines even in the absence of a declared state of emergency.

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.

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How Do You Politely Sidestep a Handshake?

Handshakes and real estate deals go, well, hand-in-hand. But the pandemic created situations where “shakephobia” agents must react to an outstretched arm.

NEW YORK – Most real estate deals involved a handshake along the way, either when people first meet or when a deal has been reached. But the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked “shakephobia,” where many people feel skittish about resuming the shaking-hand tradition.

When it comes to COVID-19 spread, that phobia is grounded in reality. Studies suggest that a handshake transfers four times the amount of bacteria as a fist bump.

Still, not everyone avoids handshakes. This leaves some real estate professionals in an awkward situation that requires them to politely decline an extended hand.

The alternatives that grew out of the pandemic – elbow bumps, foot taps and air high-fives – may not seem like very professional alternatives. That has prompted etiquette experts to propose some business-setting alternatives to the handshake.

A recent article at Reader’s Digest says the key is not to decline a handshake, but to deflect it. And in a 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, three doctors suggested alternatives to the handshake: waving, putting your hand over your heart like you’re about to make a pledge, or holding your hands in the “namaste” prayer position in the front of your chest.

One doctor said he even put a sign up that was light-hearted but got the point across. It read: “Handshake-free zone.”

Patti Wood, author of “SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma,” suggests starting your greeting earlier than before – about seven feet out – if you want to dodge a handshake. She says this gives you a chance to slow the conversation down and introduce yourself to the other person first. You can set the tone by offering a wave instead of an extended hand then.

If the other person still extends their hand, she suggests placing your hand over your heart and leaning forward a bit instead of accepting it. Research shows they aren’t likely to be offended by this gesture because you’re still acknowledging their greeting and validating the interaction. Further, when people place their hand over their heart, they’re perceived as being more honest, according to a study from researchers at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland.

Adeodata Czink, who runs a consulting firm called Business Manners, told QZ.com not to pretend weird behavior isn’t happening but acknowledge it. She suggests another alternative: Raise both of your hands and say: “Please forgive me, I don’t dare, I have this coronavirus phobia.” She says the key is to keep your voice tone playful. “Make it a light thing rather than ‘I don’t want to shake your hand,’” she says.

Source: “How to Politely Avoid Shaking Hands and What You Might Try Instead,” USA Today (June 18, 2020); “The Polite Way to Get Out of Shaking Hands,” Reader’s Digest (March 26, 2020); and “How to Politely Decline a Handshake,” Quartz at Work (March 6, 2020)

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DeSantis Signs Bill that Impacts Some Inherited Property

If a Floridian dies without a will, one heir can sell their portion of property independently. After July 1, however, a bill passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (SB 580) essentially gives the other heirs a “right of first refusal” before an outside party is allowed to buy their inherited percentage.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – If a Floridian dies without a will, one heir can sell their portion of property independently. After July 1, however, a bill passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (CS/CS/SB 580) essentially gives the other heirs a “right of first refusal” before an outside party is allowed to buy that inherited percentage.

The bill adopts the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act by the Uniform Law Commission. The bill provides special procedures for the partition of “heirs property,” which generally includes inherited real property owned by relatives as tenants in common. A partition involves a legal action by a cotenant (one of two or more tenants holding title to the same property) to force the sale or division of real property.

The bill allows heirs property cotenants to purchase the property interests of other cotenants seeking partition before the property is divided or sold.

The bill requires a court to determine the fair market value of the property – either a court-ordered appraisal or agreement of the parties – before the court proceeds to partition. SB 580 generally requires an open-market sale by a court-appointed real estate broker, while current statutes usually require an auction.

Under current rules, if someone dies in Florida without a will and no surviving spouse, real property gets distributed in a specific order. Descendants come first, typically children or grandchildren. If there are no descendants, it goes to parents. If there are no surviving parents, it goes to siblings.

When multiple people receive property, they own the property as tenants in common, and each new owner can “freely transfer or encumber his or her undivided … interest without transferring or encumbering the undivided one-half interest owned by the other.” That portion could also be lost to a creditor.

SB 580 creates new procedures for the partition of “heirs property” – real property held by tenants in common without an existing partitioning agreement.

While it includes a list of legal steps that could include appraisals and more, it requires that the “sale must be an open-market sale unless the court finds that sealed bids or an auction would be in the best interests of the tenants. The court must also appoint a licensed real estate broker within 10 days to sell the property in a commercially reasonable manner. For an open-market sale, the broker must report an offer at the court-determined property value within seven days after receiving the offer,” according to a Florida Senate analysis of the bill.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Mortgage Rates Tied to Last Week’s Record Low: 3.13%

The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage didn’t change but the rest were mixed: The 15-year loan moved a bit higher to 2.59%, while the adjustable-rate loan fell to 3.08%.

MCLEAN, Va. – Mortgage rates changed little this week. According to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.13% – the same as last week’s average.

“After the Great Recession, it took more than 10 years for purchase demand to rebound to pre-recession levels – but in this crisis, it took less than ten weeks,” says Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater.

Khater things a “rebound in purchase demand partly reflects deferred sales” that were postponed during the height of the pandemic. However, he also sees “continued interest from prospective buyers looking to take advantage of the low mortgage rate environment.”

Mortgage rate snapshot

  • The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.13% with an average 0.8 point for the week ending June 25, 2020 – unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, it averaged 3.73%.
  • The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.59% with an average 0.8 point, up slightly from last week’s 2.58%. A year ago at this time, it averaged 3.16%. 
  • The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.08% with an average 0.5 point, down slightly from last week’s 3.09%. A year ago at this time, it was 3.39%.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Florida Realtors and NAR Announce Virtual Conventions

The show must go on(line). Florida Realtors’ virtual convention gives each member a free chance to hear master educators and get updates on today’s hot real estate issues.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The show must go on … line.

Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) announced this week that their 2020 conventions will go virtual and be conducted exclusively online.

While an in-person event will be missed, a virtual convention gives each Florida Realtors member a chance to attend the event at no cost. Florida Realtors Convention & Trade Expo will be held Aug. 26-27.

Information shared at Florida Realtors’ convention creates a bedrock for future success. How will COVID-19 impact the state’s real estate market this fall, next year and possibly forever? Will a buyers’ market start to emerge? How does the new Florida law on emotional-support animals work? What legal problems are cropping up for brokers – and how can they be avoided?

“We understand that many had looked forward to attending (the convention) in person, however, your 2020 Leadership Team feels that member safety must come first,” Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms wrote in an email. “We will miss seeing you all in person but look forward to a time in the future where we will gather and celebrate how precious life is and how incredibly our industry faired during this horrible time.”

More virtual convention details will be unveiled within the next few weeks.

NAR convention

NAR announced that its 2020 Realtors Conference & Expo, originally scheduled for Nov. 13-16 in New Orleans, will also transition to a fully virtual format.

“Uncertainty has in many ways defined 2020,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “While positive indicators begin to show our economy is rebounding and treatment options for COVID-19 are proving more effective, so much remains unknown about this virus and the circumstances we will face as a nation come this fall. In order to prioritize the health and safety of our members, staff, and sponsors, NAR looks forward to hosting a fully virtual Realtors Conference & Expo this November.”

NAR says that it will also announce convention details in the near future, including registration information. The virtual format will allow the association’s full governance processes to proceed normally. The convention will include educational speakers, livestreamed content, networking opportunities and an industry expo.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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State-Backed Insurer Set to Top 500K Policies

Citizens Property Ins., Fla.’s “insurer of last resort,” is getting bigger due to private insurance firms’ “profitability problems,” says Citizens CEO Barry Gilway.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After years of a relatively stable number of policies, the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. expects to see an increase to more than 500,000 policies this year, according to a report President and CEO Barry Gilway presented to the Citizens Board of Governors on Wednesday.

Citizens is projected to have about 517,000 at the end of 2020 – the first time since 2015 that it has topped 500,000 policies, the report indicates.

Unlike private insurance companies, Citizens has operational backing from state regulators and Florida taxpayers. As a result, it has long focused on trying to move policies into the private insurance market with some success. Over the past four years, it has maintained a year-end policy count of between 427,392 and 455,843.

In earlier years, however, the state’s “insurer of last resort” topped more than 1 million policies. For example, Citizens had about 1.31 million policies in 2012.

To explain the increased number of policies in 2020, Gilway’s report points to issues in the private insurance industry. As an example, he cited “profitability problems” as a reason private insurers limit the amount of coverage they write. He also cited higher costs for reinsurance – essentially insurance for insurers – and litigation trends.

Source: News Service of Florida

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Airbnb Says Its New Initiative Will Root Out Bias

Airbnb partnered with online racial justice group Color of Change to fight discrimination. Airbnb says it will use data to identify and combat “systemic bias and discrimination on the platform.” It begins June 30 and affects only U.S.-based hosts and guests for now.

NEW YORK – Airbnb is launching an initiative in partnership with online racial justice group Color of Change to root out racial discrimination on its platform in the U.S. by monitoring and measuring when it occurs.

Data collected through Project Lighthouse will help the company create tools and policies to combat bias against black users and other people of color, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO and co-founder, told USA TODAY.

“The reason we started Airbnb was to connect people, to make sure that they feel like they belong in the communities they visit, and the biggest obstacle to belonging is discrimination,” Chesky said in an interview. “It became very evident that until you can actually measure your progress with data, you can’t actually combat systemic bias and discrimination on the platform.”

The project will start June 30 and will be limited to U.S.-based hosts and guests, touching on the reservation process, reviews from hosts and guests and contacts with Airbnb customer support.

Airbnb users can opt out on their account’s privacy and sharing page. Users who do not opt out may be randomly selected to be part of the analysis, Airbnb says.

Any information collected will be used only for anti-discrimination work and will remain private, Chesky said. The company eventually plans to release results publicly so that other companies can learn from its work.

“This is not a ‘mission accomplished.’ This is a mission just starting and getting going,” Chesky said. “I think we are going to be working on this for a very long time to come, so long as there is discrimination on our platform.”

Silicon Valley digital platforms have a long track record of both empowering and harming black people, which makes Airbnb’s efforts to measure, understand and be transparent about the discrimination taking place all the more groundbreaking, says Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change.

“Corporations have to put considerable resources into fighting discrimination on their platforms and they have to make it an operational priority,” Robinson told USA TODAY in an interview.

Airbnb’s Project Lighthouse will measure discrimination based on perception, using a methodology that determines the race someone might associate with a first name and profile photo. These perceptions will be aggregated and used to identify discrepancies in experiences on the platform that could result from discrimination and bias.

“Black people get gaslit regularly and people of color get gaslit around whether or not something is discrimination or not discrimination,” Robinson said. “Because racism can be a shape-shifter, we need methodology and tools to analyze how it’s shape-shifting.”

Airbnb’s project is part of an ongoing reckoning on race. The San Francisco company upended the hospitality industry by giving people the power to rent their homes over the internet. In the process, it also unwittingly enabled people to act on their biases.

Criticism of Airbnb began in 2015 when a Harvard University study found it was tougher for guests with African American-sounding names to rent rooms through the service. Firsthand accounts from blacks denied lodging because of race gained national attention after being shared on social media with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.

Chesky’s company responded with a task force and an anti-discrimination team, but was stymied by trying to fight a systemic problem with nothing but anecdotes, he says.

With this partnership and project, Airbnb is looking to set itself apart from other Silicon Valley corporations such as Facebook which have been heavily criticized by civil rights groups for their treatment of African Americans.

Airbnb has other ongoing challenges, such as the impact it has on neighborhoods of color and the homogeneous makeup of its workforce and leadership. Just 3.5% of its employees and 6% of its leaders are Black.

The stakes are high for the IPO-bound Airbnb, which has an added incentive to appeal to lodgers of color, particularly as the COVID-19 tidal wave of cancellations puts severe financial strain on the company.

Airbnb had planned to file IPO papers on March 31 but shelved plans amid the pandemic. In May, Airbnb slashed 1,900 jobs – a quarter of its workforce – as global travel came to a standstill.

“I have numerous reports of people saying it would be inconceivable for Airbnb to go public in 2020. What I would say to that is: It’s not off the table,” Chesky said. “We’re not ruling out going public this year. We’re also not going to commit to going public this year.”

Copyright 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY

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4 Ways to Reach First-Time Home Buyers

Here’s how you can help newbies become homeowners.

When Diane Vespucci served as a volunteer for the St. Johns County Homeownership Program, she discovered that most first-time buyers knew very little about what it takes to purchase a home. “Other than what they’ve read online, they had no idea what they were getting into,” says the broker associate with RE/MAX 100 Realty in St. Augustine. “They need professionals like us to educate them.”

Many renters have a nagging dream to own a home but a general attitude that it won’t work out, so why try? The answer to these questions might help them commit.

In fact, some first-time buyers still buy into common misconceptions, such as believing they need a 20-percent down payment to qualify for a mortgage, that it’s cheaper to continue renting (or always less expensive to own than to rent) or that property values are guaranteed to rise. 

Vespucci, who now derives about 40 percent of her business from first-time buyers, recalls working with an elderly couple living in a rented mobile home who doubted they could ever buy a place of their own because they lacked a large down payment. Also, the husband felt sure he had already used his eligibility for a V.A. loan. “Fortunately, he hadn’t, and we worked with a mortgage professional and got them into a nice townhouse,” Vespucci says. “They were thrilled and sent me a young couple—also first-time buyers—and I sold them a condo. People remember you when you help them.”

Here’s how Vespucci reaches first-time buyers:

1. Build Trust.

Let your buyers know you have their back. “You can get into some sensitive territory when working with first-time buyers,” says Vespucci. “You learn personal things about their family and finances, so they have to trust you.” She builds trust by focusing on helping and educating. “Working with first-time homebuyers may not be the most financially rewarding niche but I don’t make the commission my primary focus. I focus on what’s best for them. Everything good I do in real estate always comes back in a referral.”

2. Be Patient.

First-time buyers typically require more time and attention because the process is new to them. “They have lots of questions,” Vespucci says. “I want them to ask everything and text me whenever a question arises. Going over the contract when they put in an offer can take hours because they want everything explained. It’s often an overwhelming and scary process for them.” But, she adds, “There’s no greater satisfaction for me than helping people start a lifelong venture of financial security by buying their first home.”

3. Become an Educator.

Vespucci teaches a class for first-timers with a mortgage professional, title company representative and/or an attorney on hand to answer questions. “Building a team of seasoned home inspectors, loan officers and other affiliated professionals helps me guide buyers through the process,” she says. “We talk about what’s involved the first time and what to look for when hiring a real estate agent. I don’t always expect they’ll hire me, but I emphasize the importance of having a good relationship with whomever they’re working with because they’re going to be sharing a lot of personal information.”

Also to educate, she writes a monthly column for the St. Augustine Beach News Journal, covering topics such as overcoming the fear of buying your first home, how to find a good loan officer and more. When prospective buyers call after reading one of her articles, she refers them to a loan officer to get them prequalified.  

4. Reach out to Renters. 

Using tools such as the Realist public records system and Realtors Property Resource (RPR), NAR’s real estate database, Vespucci locates areas with large numbers of rental properties. Then she sends mailings to people who are currently renting. “I provide information like current interest rates,” she says. If someone isn’t ready to buy right away, she keeps in touch every three weeks. “I text and email, share information about mortgage rates and anything else they need to know before buying a home.” 

Leslie C. Stone is a Vero Beach-based freelance writer.

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Long-Term Mortgage Rates Steady – 30-Year at 3.21%

Rates are marginally higher than last week’s 3.18%, and notably better than a year ago when the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.82%.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Long-term U.S. mortgage rates were mostly steady this week, continuing to hover near all-time lows.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year home loan edged up to 3.21% from 3.18% last week. A year ago, the rate stood at 3.82%.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was unchanged at 2.62%.

The government reported Thursday that about 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many Americans are still losing their jobs even as the economy appears to be slowly recovering with more businesses partially reopening.

But applications for jobless aid, though still historically high, have now declined for 10 straight weeks since peaking in mid-March when the coronavirus hit the economy hard. That’s a sign that the worst of the recession may have passed and the economy may have already bottomed.

© Copyright 2020 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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NAR Creates Implicit Bias Training for Realtors, Associations

Many people who strive for racial equality have hidden biases they’d willingly correct – but they must be identified first. NAR created an implicit-bias training video to help show how “automatic, instant association stereotypes” can create unfair behaviors within certain groups.

WASHINGTON – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has started circulating a new 50-minute implicit-bias training video to its members and association staff. Partnering with the New York-based Perception Institute, NAR’s online video draws upon recent research to illustrate how the human brain’s automatic, instant association of stereotypes with particular groups can cause people to treat those who are different from them unfairly.

Scientific evidence suggests that these biases persist despite people’s best intentions and usually without conscious awareness.

“Fair housing, equality and inclusion are among NAR’s most cherished values,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “Realtors follow a strict Code of Ethics that not only defines us as professionals but explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin or sexual identity.”

Malta says NAR is “committed to leading the way on policies that address racial injustice and build communities where people of every color feel safe to pursue their own American Dream.” He called the training videos a “small part of an ongoing education campaign that will position Realtors to lead in the fight against racial discrimination.”

The Perception Institute provides implicit bias training in courtrooms, boardrooms, classrooms and hospitals. It relied on the latest research on bias and discrimination to create a training video that applies to the everyday work of America’s 1.4 million Realtors.

NAR’s 50-minute video offers strategies to override implicit bias, convey respect, ensure fairness and improve business relationships. NAR says it’s the first step in creating a more in-depth training curriculum for real estate brokers to deliver to their agents.

NAR also said it’s also urging Realtor associations to revise new member orientations and mandatory education courses by including a focus on the delivery of equal services.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Pandemic Could Drop Demand for Open Floor Plans

An open floor plan encourages intimacy, but extended social isolation and a greater demand for home offices could lead to long-term lifestyle changes – and more walls.

CHICAGO – The rise in working remotely is prompting more households to reconsider the popular open floor plan. Some of the common open-floor-plan complaints include poor sound quality and echoes, lackluster lighting, lingering cooking smells and a lack of private spaces for video calls.

Open floor plans have dominated real estate over the past few decades. The great room in an open floor plan combines the family room, dining room and kitchen into one giant space and encourages families to spend time together.

But as entire families scrambled to work and home-school during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve found it difficult to concentrate in single, vast open spaces. Now some homeowners are calling for the walls to come back.

“Our homes will change post-COVID-19,” Bret Parsons, a real estate professional in California and founder of the architectural division at Compass, told realtor.com. “This pandemic is hardly just an annoyance, but rather a significant lifestyle change. I predict the pendulum moving back to more traditional homes, with segmented rooms for multiple uses, including office suites, an exercise room, and a separate en suite for multigenerational living. Who wants [parents] in a care facility anymore?”

Regardless of any potential evolution in preferences, homes with open floor plans are still selling. But Parsons predicts owners will explore walling off certain spaces. Pocket doors can be one solution, as can zoning certain sections for work areas.

However, not all real estate pros believe this is the death of the open floor plan.

“I completely disagree with the great room being a thing of the past, and I don’t foresee a major correction for the open-plan home beyond the pandemic,” says Sven Simon, a real estate professional with Swell Property in the San Diego area. “The open floor plan mostly relates to the kitchen, dining room and living room blending together into one large space to entertain, for a larger feel and natural light. Those are the public areas of the home. People changing their work habits will not change that.”

Source: “Will Working from Home Spell Doom for the Open Floor Plan?” realtor.com® (June 10, 2020)

© Copyright 2020 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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Fla. Students Receive $185,600 in Scholarships

Florida Realtors Ed Foundation helps 132 young people realize their college dreams for 2020-21. The program has provided over $1.7M in scholarships since it started.

ORLANDO, Fla. – With Florida entering the second phase of reopening businesses and its economy, high school seniors across the state are hopeful they will be on college campuses this fall. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, college costs are top-of-mind: There’s help from Florida Realtors® Education Foundation Inc., which has awarded scholarships to 132 well-deserving young people living in communities throughout the state.

A not-for-profit corporation established by the state Realtor association, the Florida Realtors Education Foundation Inc. provides real estate-related educational scholarships. The Foundation’s Board of Directors awarded $185,600 in scholarships to help pay for higher education expenses for 132 young people in the 2020-2021 school year. All recipients are Florida residents and will be attending community colleges, four-year universities, graduate programs or law schools, both in-state and out-of-state. Some students wish to pursue careers in real estate.

“Over the past decade, the Florida Realtors Education Foundation Student Scholarship Program has helped 1,189 young people realize their dreams for the future by continuing their education,” says Sharon Voss, chairman of Florida Realtors Education Foundation Inc. “Florida Realtors has awarded a total of $1,739,400 in scholarships, providing much-needed financial support to these students and their families. These scholarships serve as an investment in the future, and Florida Realtors feels privileged to give back to our communities by helping these deserving young people.”

Scholarship recipients are enrolled at institutions of higher learning throughout the state, such as the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida, University of North Florida, Florida Southern College, Florida Atlantic University, Stetson University and Florida Gulf Coast University, as well as other colleges throughout the U.S., including Yale University, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Arizona State University, George Washington University and the U.S. Air Force Academy, to name a few. A variety of criteria was considered for successful applicants including academic achievements, financial need, relationship to the Realtor family and contributions to family, school and community.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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4 Tips to Improve Your Professional Image

Real estate is a people business. You can win or lose an opportunity to move forward with a listing based on how you appear and how you speak. Of course, image includes how neat your appearance is, the way you behave and whether or not you follow the ethics enforced by the National Association of Realtors. However, it’s also based on how well you listen and whether you appear confident and positive. 

Here are some tips for presenting a more polished image:

1. Answer the phone.

Did you know that the one action that negatively impacts a real estate professional’s image the most is the failure to communicate on a timely basis? They simply don’t answer the phone and failing to do so impacts how you are viewed by buyers, sellers and other real estate professionals. 

2. Listen carefully.

Pay careful attention to what is being said and analyze what isn’t being said. Are your customers folding their arms across their chests? Are they looking at you with stiff, frozen faces? Adjust your presentation to help your customers open up. You can do that by being open yourself. Your feet should be forward and apart; keep your hands away from your face; and avoid nervous signals, such as jingling your keys or playing with your hair.

3. Watch your tone.

In your email communication, be courteous and always review your messages before sending. And, don’t type in all caps, it comes across as if you are shouting at the person receiving the message. 

4. Dress for success.

Leave a lasting good impression by being early, pleasant, confident and gracious. Of course, appearance is extremely important to leaving a good impression. For women, wear closed-toed shoes, avoid tight fitting or too short clothing and don’t underestimate the jacket. Even if it’s hot outside, a jacket is a completer piece that signifies that you’re here to discuss business.

For men, wear a button-down shirt and dark jeans or dress pants. Avoid wearing T- shirts. Again, a jacket is a completer piece that immediately gives you a polished look.

A lot about image comes down to respect and manners. Always introduce others, give a firm handshake, say please and thank you, don’t interrupt, and admit your mistakes. By taking the time to communicate, do your homework and listen carefully, you can nail it at showings, the listing presentation or closing table.

Linda Yates, aka The Image Energizer, is an executive coach and trainer with Linda Yates Consulting (lhyatesconsulting.com). 

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Supreme Court Bars Lawyer Who Filed Insurance Lawsuits

An attorney that filed thousands of lawsuits – and helped push the cost of property insurance higher – exhibited “unprofessional, unethical and fraudulent conduct.”

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court has suspended a South Florida attorney accused of filing thousands of lawsuits that have contributed to Floridians’ soaring insurance costs.

In calling for the suspension, the Florida Bar said Scot Strems headed “a vast campaign of unprofessional, unethical and fraudulent conduct that now infects courts and communities across the state.”

Strems, a Coral Gables-based plaintiff’s attorney whose Strems Law Firm P.A. employs 20 attorneys in six offices across the state, has filed 8,756 suits against property insurers since May 2014, according to state data. They include at least 1,620 suits in Broward County, 500 in Palm Beach County, and 2,700 in Miami-Dade County.

Strems did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the suspension.

Amy Rosen, chief marketing officer for Deerfield Beach-based People’s Trust Insurance Co., called Strems’ suspension “a promising fix to a very broken insurance environment.”

“The attorneys are finally being held accountable for their deeds,” she said in an email. “The attorneys supporting fraudulent insurance claims are driving up insurance rates to unaffordable levels, leaving homeowners in an untenable situation.”

Florida-based insurers have for several years accused Strems and about a dozen other firms of bombarding them with lawsuits over insurance claims so they can collect legal fees worth many times the value of the disputed claims.

The high litigation rates, which began in South Florida earlier in the last decade but have since spread across the state, force Florida property owners to pay far more for insurance coverage than they would otherwise pay in a “normal” claims environment, insurers say.

Attorneys, meanwhile, say insurers are to blame for high litigation rates because they delay paying legitimate claims or try to get away with paying less than what’s needed to return policyholders to pre-loss condition as dictated by their policies.

The Florida Bar complaint accused Strems of multiple abuses, including:

  • Filing multiple lawsuits stemming from covered losses occurring at the same property at the same time.
  • Dragging cases out “in a ceaseless pattern of delay” by ignoring deadlines for filings and depositions.
  • Ignoring or violating court orders for responses or depositions, triggering “even further litigation.”
  • Making “dishonest or even fraudulent statements” to opposing counsel and courts.

The Florida Bar complaint cited specific examples from numerous cases in which judges found misconduct was committed by Strems or his firm:

  • In 2016, a Broward County judge dismissed a case after discovering that a client could not have made statements as represented in a filing by Strems’ firm because the client had died nearly six months earlier.
  • In a 2015 case, an insurer sued by Strems’ firm discovered the client contacted a repair contractor several days before the alleged date of the event that triggered the disputed claim. The judge ruled that the water damage was contrived to fraudulently recover insurance money.
  • In 2018, the plaintiff named in a Strems case testified she was unaware of the claim and never authorized anyone to file suit on her behalf.

The Supreme Court’s order suspended Strems “until further order of this Court.” It requires him to immediately stop accepting new clients and cease representing any clients 30 days after the order.

Strems has the right to appeal the order, Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said in an email.

© 2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Fla. Supreme Court: Eviction Writs to Restart July 1

Residential evictions are banned until July 1, but without court-issued writs, commercial evictions are also affected. Barring an extension, both are back at the end of this month.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rules issued by both lenders and government agencies have put residential evictions on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while no order halted commercial evictions, Florida courts have not been issuing writs of possession during the pandemic – a rule that the Florida Supreme Court says will end on June 30 barring any more extensions.

Without a writ of possession, landlords and property owners don’t have the necessary legal document to evict a tenant.

A no-eviction order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis only stopped the eviction itself, and tenants were expected to continue paying rent.

As a result, it is possible Florida courts could have a number of eviction proceedings on their docket when they again start issuing writs of possession.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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17 Moves to Launch a Successful Real Estate Business

When Shayla Twit started her real estate career in 2002, she knew a financial game plan was essential to her success. “I saved up, so I would have a cushion when I started,” said Twit, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Sarasota. “I also had a second job waiting tables until my commissions started coming in.”

Are you using the “spray and pray” method? That is, are you sending out social media messages hoping the person who needs to read it does? There’s a better way. Learn how to segment your audience and set up lists to target them directly.

Paying close attention to your finances is one of the key steps to building a successful real estate business, according to California-based national trainer and coach Tom Ferry. “The first thing any new agent must do is create a business plan,” he says. “The biggest mistake you can make is approaching this business free-form. You need to know how you’re going to generate business and the actions required to make your plan work.” 

Here’s a closer look at how to succeed with your finances and the other key steps in growing a successful business.

 1. Manage Your Finances

If you’ve never prepared a business plan, now is the time to start. It will be your navigation system guiding you toward your destination. Because it usually takes time to generate income from a new business, you will rely on your financial reserves and other sources of income until the commissions start rolling in.

Action Items

• Calculate Income and Expenses. “For example,” says Ferry, “what is your monthly cost to run your household? Rent, mortgage payment, kids, dogs, food, dry cleaning, everything you spend money on—get that number. Let’s say it’s $24,000 a year.”  

Next, list the expenses you expect to incur to get your business going, such as legal services, marketing tools and technology purchases. “Add in the work expenses, say $8,000 a year, so a total of $32,000 a year you need to survive. How much outside monthly income do you have (spouse income, rental unit income, etc.)? Subtract this number. Now, you know how much you need to earn.” 

• Review Your Plan Regularly. “One mistake I made starting out was being afraid to spend money,” says Twit. “But I’ve learned and updated my business plan through the years based on my goals and market conditions.”

• Visit a Professional. As part of your business plan, you should contact an accountant and attorney to find out how to organize your business. For example, should you register as a professional association (PA) or as a professional limited liability corporation (PLLC)? 

Resources

• Breakthroughbroker.com: Search for marketing and business plan templates that you can use. 

• Florida Realtors® Take 5 videos: Search for videos on tax structure and professional associations. Visit floridarealtors.org/videosforlearning.

• Placester Real Estate Marketing Academy: Search on “The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Business Plan.” Visit placester.com.

• National Association of Realtors®: Check out the Starting Your Career (nar.realtor/starting-your-career) webpage, which features a Rookie Tool Kit and more.

• Want a detailed way to calculate your cash flow?
Download Zillow’s free business plan template at bit.ly/ZillowFreeBizPlan

2. Use Your Time Effectively

Succeeding in real estate requires daily discipline. “You need to create your schedule and stick to it,” says Ferry. “I’ve often said, “If it’s not in your schedule, it doesn’t exist.” 

Action Items

• Build in personal accountability. Just as a personal trainer can help you stay on track with your fitness goals, a real estate coach can help you assess your progress and overcome challenges. “Share your goals with your loved ones whose lives will be impacted by your results, or hire a coach to become your strategic partner invested in your success,” Ferry says. 

• Create checklists.  A good starting point is to prepare daily and weekly checklists based on your business plan. Then, get systems in place to track and measure your activities and results. Create visual scoreboards to make it easy to see your goals and progress, adds Ferry. 

Resources

• Tomferry.com: Check out his “Hour-by-Hour Plan for a Real Estate Agent’s Perfect Day,” which includes a time-blocking template. (tomferry.com/blog/real-estate-agents-perfect-day)

• The Real Estate Trainer: Use the handy “Top Realtor Daily Schedule” infographic to map out your day. therealestatetrainer.com/2016/03/14/top-realtor-daily-schedule

3. Make Prospecting a Priority 

Every day your job is to get employed, says Steven David, president of Florida Professional Real Estate, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale. “If you don’t have a closing or a listing, you’re unemployed. So, to make certain you have a future, set aside time for prospecting every day.”  

Action Items

• Build a database. “Create your database with every person you know, including friends, family members and professional relationships,” says Nikki Ubaldini, broker, Keller Williams Realty South Florida Region in Palm Harbor. “Start with at least 50 and keep going.” Your database might be a simple spreadsheet or a more sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) system. In any case, keep adding people as you meet potential customers and referral sources, and use your database for ongoing communication.

Reach out to the people in your database and send them a letter letting them know you are in real estate, says Ubaldini. A week later, you can call to ask if they got the letter and remind them. 

• Build affiliate relationships. Your first customers are likely to have plenty of questions about mortgages, titles and insurance. You can help them by cultivating relationships with lenders, attorneys, accountants and insurance professionals in your community, says Armando Diaz, president and broker-owner, Ocean View Int’l Realty in Miami.  Then, you can refer a buyer or seller to service providers whom you know can help complete the transaction. 

• Start a farming program. Spend time each week meeting people in your target neighborhood. Print fliers or mailers. Be sure to mention your farming area on social media sites. As David says, “Memory recall is what you’re after, so meet a certain number of people every day and leave them with a favorable impression.” 

• Create campaigns. “Create a drip campaign to keep contacting [your sphere] every three weeks with either snail mail, email, calls or personal visits,” Ubaldini adds. 

You have plenty of options for prospecting, such as knocking on doors, asking friends for referrals, making cold calls or building a presence on social media. See what approaches are most effective in generating leads for potential buyers or sellers and track the results.  

• Get out of the office.  Don’t wait for your phone to ring, says Kathy Betancourt, sales associate with RE/MAX Anchor Realty in Placida. “Real estate is a relationship business, so go out and talk to people in your community,” she says. You could visit a coffee shop and get to know the regulars. Wear a name tag when you shop and strike up conversations at social events.

• Host open houses.  A great way for new agents to get business is to host an open house. “That’s how I got my first listing 15 years ago,” says Anne-Marie Wurzel, a sales associate with Core Group Real Estate in Oviedo. “You can help an experienced agent in your office and co-organize the event.” Be sure to get information on every attendee so you can send a personal follow-up note. 

• Look for free tools.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to build a presence in social media, says Twit. “You can start marketing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for free,” she says. “Don’t let your finances hold you back from prospecting.”

• Be personal. Send handwritten notes, make calls and send texts. “Be genuine with those follow-ups,” says Wurzel. “Don’t be pushy but let them know you’re available to help them.” Ubaldini recommends setting a goal of at least three personal notes per day.

Resources

• Real Estate CRM Comparison (softwareadvice.com/crm/real-estate-crm-comparison) for reviews of different platforms.

• Fit Small Business’s Guide to Real Estate Prospecting: fitsmallbusiness.com/real-estate-prospecting-tips/

• Real Estate Uncensored Videos: Check out “Real Estate Prospecting Tips + Strategies” and “Live Prospecting and Lead Generation.” Youtube.com channel Real Estate Uncensored

4. Commit to Learning the Business

Education is vital for new agents, according to Diaz. “What you learn in real estate school is only the beginning,” he says. “You need practical, real-life experience in working with clients.” If you’re starting out, talk with brokers or managers about educational opportunities before deciding on a company.  

Make a commitment to keep learning throughout your career. When Ubaldini started in real estate, she attended classes on real estate, business and personal mindsets. “We also always implemented at least one thing we learned immediately after every class,” she adds. “We have never stopped investing in ourselves and we are to this day still attending classes on a regular basis.”

Action Items

• Know your market. You can get an edge on your more experienced competitors by becoming a local market expert, says Wurzel. “Look up every sale in your area for the past six months and carry a printout with you. It shows your market knowledge and reminds prospects that you can access more information for them.” For detailed housing market reports, price index reports and more, go to floridarealtors.org/researchand
statistics.

• Find a mentor. Ask your broker about finding a mentor—a manager or veteran sales associate who can answer your day-to-day questions. “This is important for every new agent,” says Diaz. “When it’s time to write your first sales or listing contract, for example, you need someone who can advise you on the wording.” 

• Shadow a top producer. Another great learning option is to shadow one of the company’s top producers. “Don’t be afraid to ask a veteran agent if you can tag along, says Ferry. “You’ll learn much faster this way than constant trial and error on your own. Do the same with your marketing. When you see something that works for others, borrow it.” To compensate the veteran agent for this time, create a written agreement to share commissions on a set number of sales.

• Join a team. This is another way to learn about real estate transactions, assisting buyers or showing listings. You also gain the satisfaction of contributing to your team’s success, says Twit. 

Resources

• GRI education. Earning this designation will give you the knowledge you need to build a business that thrives no matter what the market. Go to floridarealtors.org/Education/Courses.

• NAR Education: nar.realtor/education for books, designations and certifications to boost your industry knowledge.

• Florida Realtors® Take 5 videos: floridarealtors.org/videosforlearning for videos that offer peer-to-peer training advice.

• The Brian Buffini Show podcasts (thebrianbuffinishow.com): Educational podcasts for new and veteran agents.

Summing up her advice for new agents, Twit says be prepared to put in long hours and hard work before seeing financial results. “There are very few overnight success stories in our business,” she adds. “Treat it as a marathon, not a sprint, and the rewards will fall into place for you.”#

Richard Westlund is a Miami-based freelance writer.

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Fla. Getting $65.5M to Fight Pandemic-Related Homelessness

HUD released its last chunk of CARES Act funding to help with COVID-19 problems – $2.96B for communities with high homeless populations.

WASHINGTON – Twenty-two Florida counties and cities will receive $65,511,297 to help with homeless problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) final round of funding from the CARES Act, which Congress created to offer release as businesses shut down and many Americans found themselves unable to afford shelter.

The HUD funding nationwide is $2.96 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), according to HUD Secretary Ben Carson. It’s directed at the homeless and “individuals at risk of becoming homeless because of hardships such as job loss, wage reduction, or illness due to COVID-19.”

This funding is in addition to $1 billion of ESG grants announced earlier.

Carson says homelessness was already a problem, but the pandemic “left many without a home to isolate in or proper medical and healthcare resources to defend themselves against this invisible enemy.”

Congress provided $4 billion for HUD’s ESG program. HUD allocated $3.96 billion in ESG funding and $40 million is being used to provide technical assistance to build capacity in the communities that receive ESG funding.

Approved use of the funds

  • More emergency shelters for homeless individuals and families
  • The operation of emergency shelters – food, rent, security, maintenance, repair, fuel, equipment, insurance, utilities, furnishings and supplies necessary for operation
  • Provide Hotel/Motel Vouchers for homeless families and individuals
  • Provide essential services to people experiencing homelessness including childcare, education services, employment assistance, outpatient health services, legal services, mental health services, substance abuse treatment services and transportation.
  • Prevention moves to help individuals from becoming homeless

Funding for Florida counties and cities under latest grant

  • Hialeah – $2,698,307
  • Miami – $6,132,699
  • Orlando – $1,846,707
  • St Petersburg – $2,902,139
  • Tallahassee – $1,878,411
  • Tampa – $3,009,506
  • Broward County – $3,048,655
  • Collier County – $2,476,642
  • Jacksonville-Duval County – $6,011,963
  • Hillsborough County – $6,054,897
  • Lee County – $1,818,474
  • Manatee County – $2,135,435
  • Marion County – $1,550,489
  • Miami-Dade County – $10,715,429
  • Orange County – $5,016,437
  • Palm Beach County – $5,830,483
  • Pasco County – $3,810,934
  • Pinellas County – $3,997,774
  • Polk County – $2,054,711
  • Sarasota County – $1,872,211
  • Seminole County – $1,183,769
  • Volusia County – $1,904,452

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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TikTok to Market Real Estate? How to Do It

A social media focus on TikTok can help agents find first-time buyers and cultivate a cool, hip brand; it’s a good way to build connections with tomorrow’s buyers.

MIAMI – Jennifer Brough of Jennifer Holmes Reality has found a new way to connect with potential home buyers: TikTok. Brough mixes up her feed, alternately posting some videos about real estate listings and also light-hearted clips of her dancing or lip-syncing.

Brough said use of TikTok has paid off, and she is in the process of selling a home to someone who discovered her on the social media platform. She said the ability to link from TikTok to other social media accounts is her favorite feature.

Mike Sherrard, a real estate agent with eXp Realty in Calgary, Canada, believes the app could become instrumental for marketing properties in the near future.

“[Young people] might not be buying homes now, but you also want to be seen as sort of the cool, hip, fun Realtor in your city, and this is the demographic that in a couple of years are going to be buying,” Sherrard says. He says real estate agents using TikTok should include playful, personal video clips, trending hashtags and timely songs that appeal to the app’s users.

Source: Miami Agent Magazine (06/03/2020) Girardin, Alessia

© Copyright 2020 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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Fed: No Interest-Rate Hikes Likely Through 2022

The Federal Reserve didn’t touch interest rates at its Wed. meeting, and it will keep buying bonds during the current recession to keep interest rates low.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Reserve says it will keep buying bonds to maintain low borrowing rates and support the U.S. economy in the midst of a recession. And it says nearly all the Fed’s policymakers foresee no rate hike through 2022.

The Fed has cut its benchmark short-term rate to near zero. Keeping its rate ultra-low for more than two more years could make it easier for consumers and businesses to borrow and spend enough to sustain an economy depressed by business shutdowns and high unemployment.

The central bank noted in a statement after its policy meeting ended Wednesday that the viral outbreak has caused a sharp fall in economic activity and surge in job losses.

Fed officials estimate that the economy will shrink 6.5% this year, in line with other forecasts, before expanding 5% in 2021. It foresees the unemployment rate at 9.3%, near the peak of the last recession, by the end of this year. The rate is now 13.3%.

At a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon, Chairman Jerome Powell is expected to drive home the message that the economy remains in need of extraordinary help despite recent despite glimmers of a possible recovery, including a government report Friday that employers surprisingly added jobs in May.

Since March, the Fed has slashed its benchmark short-term rate, bought $2.1 trillion in Treasury and mortgage bonds to inject cash into markets, and rolled out nine lending programs to try to keep credit flowing smoothly. Most analysts expect the Fed to pause and assess the economic landscape before embarking on any further actions, which could come at September’s meeting.

The Fed’s actions are credited with having helped fuel an extraordinary rally in the stock market, which has nearly regained its pre-pandemic high after a dizzying plunge in March.

And by committing to buy corporate bonds, thereby reinvigorating the market for such securities, the Fed has also ensured that corporations can continue to borrow. Its initiatives also include a first-ever program through which the Fed is buying state and local government debt to support the municipal bond market.

Many economists say those steps have prevented the downturn from worsening by keeping credit flowing. This week, the National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of recessions, declared that the U.S. economy entered a recession in February.

One challenge for the Fed now is to shift its focus from the emergency actions it took in March and April to try to carry the economy through a shutdown, to what steps it will take to stimulate a recovery as businesses increasingly reopen.

In remarks last month, Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida stressed that the viral outbreak remains a menace to the economy. But he also indicated that Fed officials want to see a few more months of data to gauge the economy’s health before determining their next steps.

For now, Fed officials likely feel little pressure to act further because few investors expect them to make any changes to their benchmark rate anytime soon. Though the Fed could technically cut rates into negative territory, Powell has largely rejected negative rates as an option.

Still, there are additional steps the Fed can take. The Fed could specify how long it’s prepared to keep short-term rates near zero and how much bond buying it will do to hold down longer-term rates. This guidance can help the economy by reducing the likelihood that investors will send longer-term rates up.

In 2011, as the economy struggled to recover from the 2008-2009 recession, the Fed for the first time set a specific date for any potential rate hikes, saying it would keep rates low “at least through mid-2013.” That date was then extended twice until mid-2015.

But the Fed in 2012 replaced its date-based guidance. Instead, it said it would keep rates at nearly zero “at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5%.” Most economists considered this approach more effective because it assured that economic progress would have to be made before the Fed would tighten credit.

The Fed has bought $2.2 trillion in bonds since March, when financial markets locked up as investors rushed to unload Treasurys and other securities in exchange for cash. The markets are now largely functioning, and the Fed’s purchases have slowed.

Yields on the 10-year Treasury note, which are near historic lows, could rise as the government issues trillions in Treasury securities to fund an annual deficit projected to reach $3.7 trillion this budget year.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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PUA Unemployment Extension Past July 31 Appears Less Likely

It appears less likely a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit will be extended past July 31, but that may depend a bit on what happens over the next six weeks. While discussions continue in Congress, the president’s labor secretary says it’s no longer needed.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration opposes a Democratic proposal to extend a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit approved in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Tuesday.

The $600 payment, which is in addition to normal unemployment benefits, “was the right thing to do,” Scalia said, but is no longer needed as the economy begins to recover.

The money, included in a government relief package enacted in late March, has helped millions of workers stay in their homes and pay bills even as the unemployment rate surged to its highest levels since World War II.

The payments are set to expire July 31, and Democrats have pushed a plan that would extend the enhanced benefit through January. The Democratic-led House approved the proposal last month, but it is considered unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Scalia pointed to an unexpectedly rosy jobs report released last Friday. By the end of July, “we expect the economy to be deep into the process of reopening, with shutdown orders ended and millions of Americans freed to return to work,” he told the Senate Finance Committee.

Unemployment benefits will still be needed in August and beyond, “but the circumstances that originally called for the $600 plus-up will have changed,” Scalia said. “Policy will need to change as well.”

Democrats challenged that view, saying the unemployment rate is likely to remain at historically high levels through the summer at least.

Friday’s jobs report showed that unemployment dropped unexpectedly in May to 13.3% as reopened businesses began recalling millions of workers faster than economists had predicted, but the jobless rate is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression.

Watching President Donald Trump “celebrate victory” Friday as the jobs report was released “is yet another sign that he doesn’t understand what it’s like for people born without a real estate portfolio,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat.

“Speaking conservatively, more than 20 million Americans are still out of work today,” Wyden said, “and I bet you’re not celebrating if you’re among the many people who don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent or put food on the table this month.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the Finance Committee chairman, said the $600 weekly payments were “poorly targeted,” with the result that most recipients are being paid more on unemployment insurance than they earned when they were working.

“This discourages people from returning to work or taking a new job, delaying the recovery,” Grassley said.

Grassley and other Republicans cited a report by the Congressional Budget Office indicating that extending the $600 payments through January would mean that about 5 of every 6 recipients would receive benefits higher than the amount they would have earned from working.

Grassley said he hears from Iowans every day who wonder why they are earning less than others they know who are getting unemployment benefits. Employers also have complained that the generous benefits are resulting in fewer applicants for job openings, he said.

Wyden called that evidence anecdotal and said the idea that Americans don’t want to go back to work “is dead wrong and insulting.”

Scalia said he agrees that most Americans “are excited to go back to work,” but added that “at the margins, a certain number will choose not to work” because of the $600 payments.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the fact that those collecting the additional $600 per week receive more than their usual pay only shows that “they were underpaid before.” He pushed a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a concept Scalia resisted.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said lawmakers made “a profound mistake” by allowing the enhanced payments to expire in July. Instead, he said, the payments should be tied to economic conditions, so they continue as long as unemployment remains high.

“Benefits end, but costs don’t end,” Bennet said.

With the unemployment rate expected to remain in the mid-teens through July, lawmakers will face pressure to compromise on some form of renewed benefits for the jobless.

So far there are no formal negotiations on another relief package. But analysts say the need to address the fate of the $600 weekly benefits could force a resolution of the issue this summer.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission

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Most Borrowers in Forbearance Have Equity

According to Black Knight, 9% of mortgage holders opted for forbearance, but most also have enough equity that a notable increase in foreclosures is less likely.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The majority of homeowners in forbearance have 20% or more equity in their properties, which may provide a protective cushion to prevent a wave of foreclosures as the pandemic wanes. Nearly 80% of homeowners in forbearance are considered equity-rich, according to data from Black Knight Data & Analytics.

As of May 26, 4.76 million homeowners – 9% of mortgages – were in active forbearance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just 9% of those homeowners have 10% or less in equity, which is still typically enough to cover the cost of a sale of a property. However, 1% of homeowners in active forbearance are currently underwater on their mortgages, owing more than what their home is currently worth.

That leaves nearly half a million U.S. homeowners who may lack the necessary equity to sell their homes to avoid foreclosure – a worst-case scenario, Black Knight reports.

FHA and VA loans, which have the highest forbearance rates overall, tend to have homeowners in the lowest equity positions that may be at the greatest risk for defaults, Black Knight reports.

But there’s hope for a turnaround: Fewer homeowners are taking a forbearance on mortgage payments as states begin to reopen after being shut down as an initial response to the pandemic.

“The first decline in the number of homeowners in active forbearance volumes is undoubtedly a good sign, particularly coming as it does on the heels of an overall trend of flattening inflow,” says Ben Graboske, president of Black Knight Data & Analytics. “Of course, the shift from pipeline growth to pipeline management presents its own set of challenges for servicers and investors. The good news is that equity positions among homeowners in forbearance are by and large strong.”

Source: Black Knight

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The Line Between iBuyers and Traditional Agents Is Blurring

When iBuyers debuted, some brokers started their own instant-purchase service. Now one iBuyer says it will sell homes via the MLS. Offerpad says web visitors who key info into its “Solutions Center” will now receive an instant offer plus “additional exclusive selling options.”

PHOENIX – iBuyer Offerpad has provided instant cash offers to home sellers in more than 800 cities since 2005, but it says it will now also offer sellers a traditional brokerage sales model.

Offerpad’s business model includes cash offers delivered within 24 hours. Home sellers can also choose a closing date, and a free local move.

However, that business model is expanding to include a more traditional real estate sales system.

iBuyers generally have sellers come to them, and it usually starts when a seller intrigued with the idea of instant cash visits an iBuyer’s website. Offerpad calls its online tool a “Real Estate Solutions Center.” From there, sellers will input details of their current home. They can upload recent photos or schedule a virtual tour. Offerpad then evaluates the property using its “proprietary data-driven real estate platform.”

While Offerpad promises a 24-hour turnaround for home seller instant-cash offers, it will also offer “additional exclusive selling options.” One of those options is, according to an Offerpad release, “partnering with Offerpad to list the home, the best choice for sellers who want to explore the opportunity to maximize their home’s value.”

Sellers who want to list their home in the MLS to maximize profit will also have Offerpad’s “Back-Up Instant Offerpad Cash Offer,” under which “Sellers can list their home with confidence knowing they can activate their competitive Offerpad cash offer at any time – avoiding home showings and closing on their preferred timeline.”

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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The Home Has 4 Bedrooms, 3 Baths and Giant Toxic Toads

Fla. doesn’t have murder hornets, but perfect breeding weather has sparked a surge in fat, warty cane toads. They’re generally harmless but release a toxin if mishandled.

MIAMI – “Who can I call to get rid of these monsters??? I’m dying over here and I have 3 dogs!”

The distressed plea for help was posted late last month by Ohilda Gilbert, a real estate agent, on a Facebook group of South Florida moms. A photo of a fat, warty cane toad next to a pool pump illustrated her post and fired up a conversation with over 200 comments about the dreaded amphibians.

The yellowish-brown cane toads, also known as bufo, marine or giant toads, are making an appearance in South Florida after the recent heavy rains stirred them up from their burrows and gave them plenty of water to breed in. If summer turns out to be wetter than normal, as forecasts are predicting, tadpoles will have better chances of survival, potentially creating a population boom for the largest toad found in Florida – a big concern for many dog owners.

“As long as there is water for them to breed in, the cane toads will thrive,” said William Kern, an associate professor at the University of Florida who specializes in urban pest management. “They will be out above the surface, foraging and breeding. People are probably seeing more of them now.”

Though these scary-looking toads are generally harmless to humans, they can be dangerous for pets. The amphibians, which average between 4 and 6 inches but can grow to 9 inches, have large triangular glands behind the eyes that contain a high load of a milky-white toxin that can kill dogs, Kern said. If a dog bites or licks the slow-moving frog and gets some of the poison in its mouth, it can suffer convulsions, loss of coordination and cardiac arrest.

During the rainy season, when the toads are breeding and generally more active, dog owners must watch out for signs of poisoning: excessive drooling, red gums, vomiting, disorientation, circling, stumbling and falling, and seizures.

If poisoning is suspected, use a hose to wash the dog’s mouth for several minutes, running water through one side of the mouth and out the other, taking care not to flush water down the throat, which could further spread the poison. The advice is to get to a vet as quickly as possible.

The cane toads can also cause environmental damage. They have no predators and eat pretty much anything: small lizards, snakes, bugs, and even smaller native frogs. Cane toads also compete with native frogs for food and breeding areas.

And much like other invasive species such as the voracious Burmese python, cane toads do well in Central and South Florida’s urban environments. With hundreds of man-made lakes and canals, and plenty of bugs year-round, this is paradise for them.

“We have dozens out on the street at night. They are not even scared of people anymore, it’s like there are gangs of them out this year,” said Elizabeth Bonilla, who lives near a canal in Homestead. Her technique for getting them out of her backyard is to stomp and chase them out until they leave. “I can’t bring myself to kill them.”

The Rhinella marina, as the toad is called, is yet another invasive species that was introduced to South Florida by people – but with a misguided purpose. Native to mainland Central America and parts of South America, the toad was introduced in the 1930s in several sugarcane-growing regions, including Hawaii, Australia and South Florida, as a way to control pests. Farmers believed the toads would benefit crops by eating beetles that killed cane plants.

But the plan backfired. As it turned out, cane toads can’t jump very high, so they couldn’t eat the beetles that lived in the upper stalks of the plants. Instead, they ate pretty much everything else, including bird’s eggs and small mammals. And their poisonous glands ensured that would-be predators stayed away.

In Australia, the toads have been especially problematic, having spread widely and establishing large populations in isolated areas where they have wiped out native species of frogs. The Australian government has spent millions on programs to control the invaders.

Wildlife managers in South Florida encourage landowners to kill the invasive cane toads on their property whenever possible, so it’s important to correctly identify them and not confuse them with native southern toads, which are harmless. Southern toads have ridges on their heads and smaller, oval glands. If the toad is more than four inches long and has puffed-up, triangular bags in the area above each shoulder and behind the eyes, it’s likely a cane toad.

Because the toads are not protected by conservation laws, they can be killed, but there’s a catch: Even the poisonous amphibians are protected by Florida’s anti-cruelty law. The recommended method of humanely euthanizing cane toads is to rub a small amount of numbing agent like Orajel on their bellies, placing them in a plastic bag and freezing them for 48 hours, according to American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines. After that, the toads can be disposed of, said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

If dabbing lidocaine on a toad’s belly sounds gross, a toad removal company can do the job.

“That’s a business that will probably do well this season,” Kern said.

And homeowners can do a few things to make their backyards less appealing to these monsters: Keep grass short and clear away brush piles and clutter, clean up food scraps from pet bowls or outdoor gills, keep pet food indoors and install bug lights that keep flying insects away, reducing the toads’ main food source.

© 2020 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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