Monthly Archives: August 2020

DeSantis Narrows Fla. Eviction Ban, Extends to Oct. 1

Hours before Fla.’s eviction or foreclosure ban was scheduled to expire, the governor signed an order extending it to Oct. 1. The order applies only to the “final action” and not for reasons other than a COVID-19 emergency.

ORLANDO, Fla. – On Monday night – only hours before Florida’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosure was slated to expire – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed another extension order to 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1, 2020. The order applies only to the “final action” and not for reasons other than the COVID-19 emergency.

The latest extension, Executive Order 20-211, extends Executive Order 20-180 until 12:01am on Oct. 1. Once published, the order will be posted on Gov. DeSantis’ website.

Florida Realtors Vice President of Law and Policy and General Counsel Juana Watkins says the association has “received many questions about the status of evictions in Florida.” According to Watkins, the last order:

  • Only restricts residential evictions. It does not restrict eviction on commercial properties.
  • Only prohibits the issuance of the final action. The governor’s order doesn’t prohibit the filing of an eviction, only the last step of the eviction process.
  • Only applies to evictions for the non-payment of rent for those adversely affected by specifically defined circumstances related to the COVID-19 emergency. The governor’s order does not apply to evictions related to other circumstances such as expired leases, hold over tenancies, or valid violations of lease provisions.

“Remember that property managers who have written authorization and are responsible for the day-to-day management of residential property may only handle uncontested evictions for non-payment of rent,” Watkins says. “All other evictions must be handled by the landlord, or the landlord’s attorney.”

In addition to Florida’s eviction and foreclosure ban, other federal laws may impact the filing of an eviction.

“The National Association of Realtors® recently issued Frequently Asked Questions that provide additional insight on recent federal laws that may restrict or prohibit evictions on properties subject to mortgages which are federally insured, assisted, owned or securitized,” says Watkins.

The governor’s orders focus only on problems created by the pandemic, and it’s “important to note that rent owed by tenants remains due and has not been forgiven,” Watkins warns. “When possible, try facilitating a resolution between the parties that results in the exit of the tenant.”

For additional information, call or email Florida Realtors Legal Hotline.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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What Do Sellers Expect from You In the COVID-19 Era?

Report: While mask opinions differ, sellers want what they’ve always wanted – a competitive price, a reasonable timeframe and strong property marketing campaign.

NEW YORK – A recent National Association of Realtors® (NAR) report shows that buyers and sellers continue to rely on real estate agents in the same way as before COVID-19, with 62% of sellers and 54% of buyers agreeing that real estate agents’ guidance is even more valuable during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 55% of sellers and 54% of buyers agreed it’s very important to have a Realtor navigate many of the new virtual options in real estate transactions. And 61% of sellers and 51% of buyers agreed that real estate agents can help gather more valuable information from online listings than they could on their own.

NAR’s Profile of Buyers and Sellers Report found that the top three skillsets sellers want in a Realtor are the ability to effectively market the home to potential buyers, the ability to sell the home within a specific timeframe, and the ability to price a home competitively.

Agents also need to help the seller find ways to fix up their home to sell it for more. When agents need the services of a general contractor, they should look for one who specializes in renovating to sell and has a track record of completing projects on time, without sacrificing quality.

Source: RISMedia (08/23/20) Rogers, Rikki

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

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In South Fla., There’s a Buyer’s Market – for Condos

Greater Downtown Miami has more than 30 months of condo supply and 100 months of luxury units, according to an MLS data analysis by Condo Vultures Realty.

MIAMI – According to an analysis of MLS data by Condo Vultures Realty, Greater Downtown Miami has more than 30 months of condo supply and 100 months of supply of luxury units. Most economists consider a six-month supply to be balanced between buyers and sellers, with few months indicating a sellers’ market and months higher than six representing a buyer’s market.

Both downtown condo figures are based on sales during the first six months of the year in the area between Edgewater and Brickell, east of I-95, and generally do not include preconstruction sales. The roughly 30 months of supply of all condos in the area is based on 711 sales that closed between January and June, for an average of about 119 sales per month.

As of Aug. 18, there were 3,579 condo listings in Greater Downtown Miami asking an average price of about $758,000; the average closing price for the first half of the year was $511,000.

In the luxury market, only 36 units asking at least $1 million were sold between January and June, for an average of just six units sold a month. Currently, about 600 luxury condos are on the market, asking an average price of $2.05 million, and 26 luxury condo sales are pending.

The single-family home market has continued to flourish during the pandemic, though sales are concentrated in the high-end.

Analysts say shadow rental inventory is also growing – homes not actively marketed. There are nearly six months of supply of shadow rental units listed on the MLS, based on an average of 541 leases signed in the first six months of this year. During that six-month period, a total of 3,245 leases were signed in Greater Downtown Miami, and about 3,167 units are currently on the market for rent as of this week.

One analyst predicts that investors will continue to sell their condos at deep discounts.

Source: The Real Deal (08/21/20) Kallergis, Katherine

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

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Tourists Spoke: Fla. Home to 10 of 15 ‘Best U.S. Beaches’

Those online tourism reviews on TripAdvisor? The company analyzed them to identify most-loved beaches, and 10 of the top 15 are in Fla., ranging from the Panhandle to Miami. Overall, tourists’ online reviews ranked Clearwater Beach as their No. 1 U.S. seaside destination.

ORLANDO, Fla. – TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards are to tourism what the People’s Choice awards are to movie stars. The travel website analyzes all the reviews it receives for destinations and then ranks their desirability based on actual visitors’ comments.

For 2020, the people made their beach preference clear: 10 Florida cities were ranked as one of the top 15 beaches in the U.S. Of the top 25 best beaches, 40% are in Florida and almost 30% in Hawaii. Trip Advisor says it based its winners on the quantity and quality of traveler reviews, and bubble ratings for beaches on TripAdvisor gathered over a 12-month period.

“For the second year in a row, Florida’s Clearwater Beach is named the No. 1 beach in America,” TripAdvisor said in announcing this year’s best beaches.

“It’s special to have the millions who make up the TripAdvisor community reaffirm that (Clearwater Beach) truly is the No. 1 beach in America for the second-straight year,” says Leroy Bridges, vice president of digital & communications for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. “And having St. Pete Beach at No. 4 underscores why we think St. Pete/Clearwater has America’s Best Beaches.”

Top 15 Travelers’ Choice beaches in the U.S.

1. Clearwater Beach – Clearwater, Florida

Recent review: “Clearwater Beach is a very family-oriented beach. There is ample parking along the beach and a metered parking lot. The beach itself has very fine white sand, which is very clean, with bathrooms and various places to wash the sand off your feet as you leave the beach.”

2. Ka’anapali Beach – Lahaina, Hawaii

Recent review: “One of the most beautiful and cleanest beaches I’ve visited. Whales jumping in the distance becomes commonplace. Beautiful sunsets. There is an awesome Beachwalk with restaurants and resorts along the way. Relaxing vibe, not very crowded.”

3. Panama City Beach – Panama City Beach, Florida

Recent review: “The most beautiful beach in the world, year-round. The sand is pure white and water, crystal blue. Panama City Beach is definitely heaven on earth. You’ll love the beach and Pier Park offers plenty of shopping, places to eat, a grand movie theater and fun-filled entertainment.”

4. St. Pete Beach – St. Pete Beach, Florida

Recent review: “Amazing time – beautiful beach – what’s not to love? The sand is soft, silky and warm for strolls along the beach and shell collecting. Love the warm water and the low tide levels for kids. An awesome weekend in a beautiful location with stunning sunsets, lovely food, the thing dreams are made of on vacation!”

5. Pensacola Beach – Pensacola Beach, Florida

Recent review: “Love these white sand beaches! Awesome atmosphere and well behaved crowds. Not rowdy like other beaches. Plenty of rental chairs/umbrellas. Visit the fishing pier for some great photos.”

6. Siesta Beach – Siesta Key, Florida

Recent review: “If you want to hit a great beach with PLENTY of room, you found it! There are chairs and umbrellas available to rent, a place to get food and drinks (even adult ones), bathrooms, showers, volleyball, parasailing and plenty of activities. We were able to throw the football with the kids without worrying about hitting anyone or running into anyone. Beautiful view!”

7. Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area – Puako, Hawaii

Recent review: “A big golden beach in the northwest part of the island. As Hawaiian beaches go, this one was long with plenty of soft sand that made it great for walking and watching the waves. Also, there is a path at the end of the beach that runs along the lava rocky shore which makes for a nice hike if you are wearing sturdy closed toe shoes. All in all a beautiful park and beach.”

8. St. Augustine Beach – St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Recent review: “Loved walking the beach for miles in search of shells. Easy public access from numerous points. Public parking was free. The expanse of the beach seemed to be an endless expanse. We walked three miles in a round-trip search for shells, watching sea birds, people watching and chatting with fellow travelers. It was a sweet treat.”

9. Fort Lauderdale Beach – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Recent review: “Stretching more than 5 miles, the Fort Lauderdale beach offers something for everyone, from the fast life of the fit and fabulous to the more traditional sand castle fun of families with little kids. The central point of the beach has old traditional joints like the Elbow Room and Drunken Taco with more up-to-date and gourmet options from Asian fusion to Italian. As you head south, larger beaches and family friendly areas for the kids to splash around and be loud.”

10. Driftwood Beach – Jekyll Island, Georgia

Recent review: “This is a wonder of nature. To sit on one of the fallen branches of what was once a huge tree is so relaxing as you listen to the water and watch the waves. It can be tricky out here though and one has to be careful of the tide schedule.”

11. Cherry Grove Beach – North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Recent review: “Most likely to not be crowded, best chances of free parking, more shells, lots of beach showers, toilet access – and the same great ocean as Myrtle Beach. As locals, this is where our family goes most often when we go to the beach.”

12. Navarre Beach – Navarre, Florida

Recent review: “We visited Navarre Beach after stumbling upon it, one of the BEST well-kept vacations secrets in the U.S. The beaches are white powder, the water looks like the Bahamas and the locals are chill and friendly. Great restaurants, hotels on the ocean and overall feel. We’ll be back!”

13. Poipu Beach Park – Poipu, Hawaii

Recent review: “Perfect sand, nice ledge about 10 feet from the shoreline. There are sections that have either rock or coral that can make it a challenge to stand but those areas are small. The sunsets from this beach are absolutely stunning. Best on the island hands down!”

14. South Beach – Miami Beach, Florida

Recent review: “We loved it – especially the Art Deco and stunning restored buildings at South Beach. The beach is fabulous, good swimming and good lazing in the sun on the sun-beds with umbrellas. Enjoyed the choice of restaurants along South Beach, but our favorite is the Villa Casa Casuarina, the former home of the adored Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace.”

15. Hollywood Beach – Hollywood, Florida

Recent review: “Our family really enjoyed Hollywood Beach. Safe, friendly and clean. There are areas to rinse off your feet, toys, etc., at each entrance to the beach. Beautiful boardwalk to walk along when you need a break from the sun. There are also cabanas, beds, chairs and umbrellas to rent right on the beachfront. You can ask for food and alcoholic beverages in plastic cups to-go and have them right on the beach.”

For the full list of top 25 U.S. beaches, visit TripAdvisor’s website.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Four Ways the Coronavirus Is Changing Commercial Real Estate

The pandemic had an immediate effect on commercial real estate, but some changes will continue to have an impact, such as working trends and retail sales.

NEW YORK – COVID-19 has upended the world and commercial real estate has not been immune from the effects. As offices, hotels, restaurants, and many retail stores and malls sat empty – and activity in warehouses escalated in response to the surge in e-commerce – COVID-19 radically altered the industry’s long-term expectations.

Here are some significant effects that are likely to linger, and how they could transform commercial real estate.

  1. White-collar business trends
    Many companies have found themselves operating in unprecedented ways to continue conducting business. For example, businesses that had been resistant to remote work were forced to turn to it. Those that have done so successfully may pivot to a smaller on-site workforce in the long run, reducing their need for pricey office space.

    The layout of office space likely will change, too. For starters, the trend toward open-space floor plans could come to an abrupt halt due to fears related to the spreading of contagion. Municipalities might introduce new standards for square footage per person, as well as the amount of enclosed space and HVAC. Air filters already commonplace in health care settings could be incorporated into office buildings.

    The change in business practices also could have repercussions for the hospitality sector. With business travel largely restricted, companies may have discovered that videoconferencing can be as effective as in-person meetings. And international travel might fall off if businesses increase their reliance on domestic supply chains (which could boost demand for warehouse and manufacturing space).

  1. The retail shift
    The threat of e-commerce on brick-and-mortar retailers is not a new topic, but the pandemic may have accelerated the discussion. Stay-at-home orders prompted many people to shop online for items they had not previously, such as groceries, and many are expected to retain the habit.

    It is not all bad news. While the demand for physical stores continues to drop, the demand for the data centers that power online shopping and “last-mile” warehouses that facilitate quick delivery could grow. Some investors are already eyeing distressed properties, like big-box stores, that can be converted to industrial use.

  1. Safety and health concerns
    The COVID-19 crisis has validated the fears of germophobes. Regardless of the property type, many tenants and buyers will have safety and health at the front of their minds. They will expect regular deep cleaning and sanitizing practices and the ability to “social distance” from others.

    Touch-free technologies – such as voice-activated elevator buttons, automated bathroom doors and motion sensors for faucets, soap and paper towel dispensers – are in the spotlight. Increased sensitivity to surfaces as potential carriers of germs also might drive a preference for spaces equipped with tools to move content from individuals’ personal devices to big screens viewable by more people without needing to touch wires or connectors.

    Designers may begin to employ antimicrobial materials more often for hardware and minimize tough-to-access (and therefore clean) corners or other places where pathogens can collect. Designers, urban planners and the like also need to keep in mind what could be a lasting aversion to “densification,” the dense occupation of space that had been growing in popularity in some areas.

  1. Tenant negotiations
    Tenants experiencing financial difficulties are looking to their landlords for lease concessions or rent abatements. It may be tempting to institute sweeping policies that apply to all tenants (no concessions for anyone or a 10% abatement for everyone). The smarter strategy is to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

    Landlord decisions should not always be ad hoc, though. Landlords need to develop a decision-making protocol that factors in the tenant’s long-term prospects, renewal probability, default probability and building occupancy rate.

Owners, operators and developers cannot afford to take a wait-and-see approach to the coming changes for commercial real estate. Take action now to position yourself to thrive in the new landscape.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Copyright © August 2020, Originally published by Ostrow; Ostrow Reisin Berk & Abrams, NBC Tower – Suite 1500, 455 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr., Chicago

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Legal Q&A: Hurricane Irma Damages? Make a Claim Soon

Also: A lot of vendor contracts have a clause called a limitation of liability, which sounds as if they’re not responsible for anything. Is that binding?

NAPLES, Fla. – Question: I continue to see trucks with roof tiles driving all around town, assuming they are lingering claims from Hurricane Irma. Our condominium buildings suffered some damage and some owners are demanding that the board file an insurance claim, but we are unsure if we had enough damage. Is it too late? – R.A., Naples

Answer: It is almost too late. Hurricane Irma arrived in September of 2017. The deadline to file an insurance claim is effectively three years from the date of the event, which means the deadline is imminent. If you believe you sustained wind damage from the storm, you should certainly consider whether it is appropriate to file a claim, particularly if neighboring communities suffered similar conditions and filed a claim.

We have experienced a surge in inquiries at our office as the deadline approaches. Our recommendation is to consult a licensed attorney, contractor, or adjuster to consider your options. In any event, if you are going to do something, it should be swift.

Question: We are a no pet community and some short-term renters are bringing a dog and claiming the dog is an emotional support animal. The tenant emailed us a certificate stating that the dog is registered as a service animal. Do we need to allow this exception? – L.D., Bonita Springs

Answer: I would need to know more to properly answer the question, but the most likely answer is no, you would not be required to allow this exception based solely on these facts. Initially, it is important to understand that there are two different laws potentially at play here. There is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Most private condominium associations are not subject to the ADA because that law, in this context, would apply to public accommodations. Most private condominiums are private residential communities and therefore are governed only by the FHA. The analysis on which law applies can be cumbersome, so you should not assume that you are exempt from the ADA just because you are a residential condominium. I would recommend you consult a licensed Florida attorney to help you through this analysis.

The applicable law is important because a certificate printed online indicating that the dog is a service animal implies that the dog is registered as an animal under ADA and thus it may be inapplicable even if it is reliable. Most certificates of registration that I have viewed are not reliable as they permit the pet owner to pay a fee and obtain a certificate and a badge without any independent verification. In other words, most of these websites require the individual to certify that he/she is disabled and requires an assistance animal without any verification by a health care professional.

As the industry for emotional support registrations has evolved, however, there are now packages available where you can pay a bigger fee and have a phone or online consultation with a health care provider in a different state and they provide a semi-custom letter.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released some position statements in which it finds that some internet-based documentation is unreliable as a basis to determine if an individual is entitled to an accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. Specifically, the publication states, “in HUD’s experience, documentation from websites that sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents and animal gear for animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee is not sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.”

This is mirrored in recent Florida legislation providing that out-of-state practitioners may provide supporting information if “such out-of-state practitioner has provided in-person care or services to the tenant on at least one occasion.”

We have known for some time that condominium and homeowners’ associations are permitted to request reasonably reliable documentation from a health care provider when the disability is unknown. This shift, however, seems to now focus on whether the health care provider has sufficient personal knowledge to provide an opinion.

I agree with the advocates who promote emotional support animals as a viable and necessary medical tool. Unfortunately, we also routinely encounter abuses of these laws from people who just want to bring their pets. These recent shifts will change each analysis and each request should be reviewed on a case by case basis and reviewed by a Florida licensed attorney. Based on the above, however, the short answer to your question would be that the certificate alone would not be sufficient to require an exception to your pet rules.

Question: We are receiving bids to embark on a major renovation project. Three out of the four contracts include a section called limitation on liability and it seems that they are liable for nothing under any circumstance. Is this binding? T.R., Marco Island

Answer: This is a great question as these exculpation clauses are finding their way into more and more contracts. Most of these provisions are drafted 1) so that the vendor is never liable for special damages such as lost profits; and 2) the vendor can only be liable up to the amount of any fee paid. For example, if the fee is $200,000 and the vendor negligently monitors the crane and it collapses, the vendor would at least attempt to argue that it is only responsible for $200,000 out of millions of dollars of potential damages. Depending on who is at fault and how many parties are involved, your association could be left holding the bag for the remainder of the damage even though the vendor is at fault.

Other contracts attempt to limit liability based on insurance amounts. In other words, the contract attempts to provide that the vendor can never be responsible for damages which exceed available insurance. Although you would think that a lot of insurance would likely cover any potential claim, you also have to be careful because these provisions can be drafted so that they turn on whether insurance actually covers the claim. If the vendor lets the insurance lapse or if the vendor has an insurance policy with lots of holes in coverage, there could be no coverage and therefore no liability depending on the specific language of the exculpatory clause.

The actual enforcement of these clauses can be questionable, but the bigger issue is that you should be addressing these issues before the contract is signed.

Attorney Steven J. Adamczyk is a shareholder at the law firm of Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross.

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

© 2020 Journal Media Group

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NAR Issues Fraud Alert Over Suspicious Insurance Calls

“Hello, this is NAR health insurance calling.” No – it’s not. NAR has received fraud reports from members saying a robocaller has been asking for personal information.

CHICAGO – If you receive a phone call or text claiming to be from “NAR health insurance,” it’s fraud, according to a warning published by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

NAR says it received a number of member reports about unsolicited robocalls that claim to represent “NAR health insurance.” It reminds members that unknown callers represent a fraud risk, even if they claim to represent a reliable source – which is many times the reason they do it. According to NAR, Realtors who receive these requests should be vigilant and not respond.

“The association won’t make unsolicited calls to enroll you in an insurance program or otherwise solicit your personal information,” NAR says.

To check the legitimacy of a communication or request from NAR, members should contact NAR’s Member Support team at 800-874-6500 or NAR via live chat or email.

NAR does offer insurance programs to members, however. Realtors can learn about them through the Realtor Benefits Program and Realtors Insurance Marketplace.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Florida Realtors: July Housing Market Had ‘Wave of Closed Sales’

Florida Realtors’ data: July saw more sales, higher median prices, more new pending sales and more new listings year-over-year. Single-family sales rose 11.7%; condo sales were up 6.5% – “the 1st year-over-year increase in this category since March,” says Chief Economist O’Connor.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s housing market continued its positive momentum in July despite the coronavirus pandemic, with more closed sales, more new pending sales, higher median prices and more new listings compared to a year ago, according to Florida Realtors’ latest housing data.

Single-family existing homes sales rose 11.7% compared to July 2019, “the best monthly performance for this property type since January’s nearly 18% increase,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor.

“New pending sales of single-family homes also showed big gains, up by 21.7% compared to July of last year,” he says. “Coupled with the 23.2% year-over-year increase in new pending sales in June, all indications are that this wave of closed sales will continue on through the end of the summer and perhaps beyond. Year-to-date through July, statewide single-family existing home sales are only down by about 4% compared to last year.”

Given the recent surge, O’Connor thinks it’s “quite likely that by the end of August, we will be in positive territory overall for 2020.”

O’Connor notes that July’s existing condo-townhouse closed sales rose year-over-year as well, while the category’s new pending sales increased 19% compared to July 2019, after a gain of 19.8% year-over-year in June – “putting us in great shape going into the fall.”

July’s market data shows the underlying strength of Florida’s economy and real estate sector, according to 2020 Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms, a Realtor and co-owner of Florida Suncoast Real Estate Inc. in Bradenton.

“The latest data shows our state’s housing market continues to recover from the stall experienced this spring,” Grooms says. “Even as we all must continue to take the recommended precautions to safeguard our health and our communities due to the pandemic, record-low interest rates and a renewed interest in homeownership are driving homebuyer demand.

“Consumers can turn to a local Realtor for expert advice and guidance on how to navigate the complexities of buying or selling a home.”

Last month’s closed sales of single-family homes statewide rose 11.7% year-over-year, totaling 31,436, while existing condo-townhouse sales totaled 11,147, up 6.5% – the first year-over-year increase in this category since March, O’Connor says. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

In July, the statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties rose year-over-year for the 103rd consecutive month. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $295,000, up 10.1% from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’s statewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $210,000, up 11.7% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Year-over-year growth in median sale prices was up soundly for both property type categories in July, according to O’Connor.

“I caution that these year-over-year percentage increases may be slightly overstated, as many higher-priced market areas that are normally cooling down this time of year are unusually active because their peak seasons were pushed back (due to the pandemic),” he says. “But most of these increases truly can be attributed to home price appreciation being driven by lower mortgage interest rates inducing greater demand. When rates go down, you can afford a higher-priced home – but then again, so can competing buyers, so we’re definitely seeing prices getting bid upward.”

On the supply side of the market, inventory remains scarce and is an area of concern, particularly in the single-family existing home category, which was at a severely restricted 2.5 months’ supply in July. Condo-townhouse inventory (active listings) was at a 5.6-months’ supply.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.02% in July 2020, down from the 3.77% averaged during the same month a year earlier.

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to Florida Realtors’ Tools and Research section. Realtors also have access to local market data (password protected) through its SunStats resource.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Appeals Court Rejects Insurer’s ‘AOB’ Arguments

An owner assigned benefits to a vendor after hurricane damage, and the insurer refused to pay, citing “alienation” in the Fla. constitution – but an appeals court rejected it.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a case stemming from a home damaged during Hurricane Irma, an appeals court Friday rejected an insurer’s constitutional arguments about the use of a controversial practice known as assignment of benefits (AOB).

Homeowner Wayne Parker filed a damage claim after the 2017 storm with his insurer, Anchor Property and Casualty Insurance Co., and then entered into an AOB agreement with Speed Dry Inc. Under the agreement, Speed Dry would do repair work, handle claim negotiations and receive direct payment from the insurer, according to Friday’s ruling by a panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

But Anchor Property and Casualty refused to pay Speed Dry, leading to a lawsuit. Anchor pointed to what are known as “alienation restrictions” in the Florida Constitution about homestead property, “contending that any insurance proceeds resulting from a loss to homestead property are constitutionally protected to the same extent as the homestead property itself and cannot be assigned pursuant to an AOB (assignment of benefits),” Friday’s ruling said.

A Seminole Court circuit judge agreed with the insurer, but the appeals court overturned that decision.

“Alienation is a term of art used in real property law that refers to the transfer of title to real property,” said Friday’s six-page ruling, written by Judge Richard Orfinger and joined by Judges F. Rand Wallis and Dan Traver. “An assignment of post-loss insurance benefits does not transfer title of real property. Rather, it is an assignment of contract rights that places a third party in the shoes of the homeowner and in privity with the insurance company. As such, that assignment gives the third party, here, Speed Dry, the right to collect benefits under the insurance contract. The AOB conveys no interest in the homestead property.”

In recent years, property insurers have repeatedly blamed AOBs for increasing costs, and the Florida Legislature passed new restrictions on the practice last year. However, those changes weren’t part of the case decided Friday by the appeals court.

Nevertheless, because “assignments of post-loss insurance benefits are utilized so extensively,” the appeals court asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up the issue raised by Anchor Property and Casualty – a move known as certifying a question of “great public importance” to the Supreme Court.

Source: News Service of Florida

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Don’t Remove Political Yard Signs – a Private Property Rights Issue

Buyers may think twice if a listing’s neighbors display political-position signs – but don’t remove them. This private property rights issue got a Denver agent fired.

DENVER (AP) – A longtime real estate agent in Colorado who was fired for removing Black Lives Matter signs in an affluent neighborhood where she sells homes criticized the protest movement Thursday but said she would do things differently in the future to make her point.

Denice Reich, who sells homes in Denver’s Hilltop neighborhood, was fired Aug. 3, according to RE/MAX Alliance Owner Chad Ochsner. Reich had worked for the real estate agency since 1973 and specialized in luxury homes.

Ochsner said multiple posts on the neighborhood’s NextDoor site, a social media platform for homeowners and residents, accused Reich of removing the signs.

“We’re not a company that can condone trespassing on people’s private property and theft,” Ochsner told KUSA-TV on Wednesday. “For us, it doesn’t matter what the politics is.”

Reich’s biography has since been removed from RE/MAX’s website.

She told The Associated Press on Thursday she removed two Black Lives Matter signs and returned them three hours later. She denied that taking the signs was illegal because “people do it all the time,” noting that her signs supporting President Donald Trump were removed four times.

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Opinions Differ on Coastal Areas’ Response to Climate Change

What should Fla.’s coastal communities do to mitigate rising seas? In Miami-Dade County, residents’ preferences differ from Army Corps of Engineers’ plans.

MIAMI – The federal government plan to protect Miami-Dade from future storms hinges on a tall, gray wall between the city and Biscayne Bay, but residents have their own vision for how best to keep the water from drowning the Magic City. And it’s much greener.

Wednesday was the deadline for public comment on the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed plan to build walls and pumps, elevate homes and install flood gates on the mouths of rivers to keep the coastal county safe from storm surge driven by powerful hurricanes. The projected cost is $4.6 billion.

Residents, businesses and governments all shared their thoughts with the Corps, and they pretty much all had two things in common: nobody wants an up to 20-foot high wall along Biscayne Boulevard, and everyone wants more coral reefs, mangroves and living shorelines instead.

Critics say the miles of walls – some of which would go directly through Biscayne Bay – will create “winners and losers” by dividing up neighborhoods, potentially worsen flooding and block views and access to the bay.

The Downtown Development Authority made its opinion on the walls crystal clear by attaching renderings of the proposed wall in downtown Miami along with renderings of alternate proposals featuring more nature-based solutions. The ones picturing the walls feature graffiti and trash floating in brown, stagnant water. The ones with man-made islands and walking paths protected by coastal mangroves are lush and vibrant with clear, blue water.

“Nobody wants to see the Berlin wall in the middle of Biscayne Bay,” said Miami City Commissioner Manolo Reyes, chair of the DDA.

Reyes, who called the wall concept “horrendous, ill-conceived and simplistic,” said it would decrease property values in downtown and Brickell and discourage potential investors and businesses from choosing Miami.

Neal Schafers, transportation, planning and resiliency head for the DDA, noted that building the wall would cut off all boat and water access for miles, as well as gut the DDA’s signature project, an interconnected pedestrian pathway called the Baywalk.

“It will wreck what we’ve built up in the last 30 years,” he said. “Not to mention what it will do to the marine environment.”

In a letter outlining its comments, the DDA asked the Corps to consider using man-made islands and mangrove shorelines to cut down on the power of hurricane-strengthened waves that would otherwise smack Miami. It also suggested the Corps rely more heavily on buying out properties and turning the lots into parks to increase property value, but not in the condo-heavy downtown area.

“That was much more meant for single-family homes. It wouldn’t necessarily be a comparable solution for downtown,” Schafers said.

Miami-Dade County, the main sponsor of the project, submitted 264 specific comments covering everything from spelling errors to its concern that the $3 million study undertaken by the Corps did not take into account the most influential force in South Florida flood control, the network of canals and pumps run by the South Florida Water Management District.

The comments repeatedly question whether Corps researchers appropriately modeled or even understood the impact that the proposed walls, flood gates and pumps would have on flooding throughout the county. It also comes back to one of the central criticisms of the plan, that it is specifically designed to address only storm surge, not sea level rise-induced flooding or anything else.

“The County shares the South Florida Water Management District’s concerns that the analysis conducted does not account for inland drainage implications and future extreme rainfall,” Miami-Dade wrote in a letter to the Corps.

The comments also noted that the Corps study does not grapple with the fact that building miles of walls that are meant to be sealed shut days before a storm would complicate evacuation and response efforts. Miami-Dade clarified that if the Corps does need to buy up property to build the walls, it does not support the use of mandatory buyouts using eminent domain.

Instead of walls, the county echoed the DDA in asking the Corps to consider more nature-based solutions beyond the limited mangrove replanting suggested near Cutler Bay, particularly restoring the nearshore coral reef and installing more living shorelines.

The county also wants to see more “critical infrastructure,” like fire stations and wastewater treatment plants, selected for floodproofing than the Corps listed. Miami-Dade wants the expanded list to include all city halls, hospitals, fire stations, parks, cruise terminals, wastewater pump stations and wastewater treatment plants, like the vulnerable one on Virginia Key.

Other major critiques of the plan came from environmental groups like the Everglades Coalition, which also requested more nature-based protections. In its comments, the coalition asked that the Corps take all the simultaneous plans to protect Miami-Dade from future storms and flooding into account when coming up with solutions, particularly the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

The Coalition also warned that the Corps should be careful not to “exacerbate inequality” by elevating, floodproofing and protecting more properties in rich neighborhoods than lower-income ones.

“We are concerned that high-value properties are more likely to benefit from protection features, leaving under-resourced communities without crucial storm risk assistance. This disparity is shown by the proposal to elevate 184 private residences in Golden Beach, where the average home value exceeds $4 million. This is not an equitable investment, given that roughly 19% of Miami-Dade’s population live in poverty,” the group wrote in its comments.

The Corps has closed public comment on the draft plan, which it released in June. The final version of the report is set to be released in October 2021. The Corps can also work with the county to come up with a “locally preferred plan” that incorporates the community’s suggestions. Any deviations from what the Corps recommends in its final plan would be paid for entirely by Miami-Dade, instead of the 65% cost-share the Corps carries for ideas it suggests.

From there, Congress has to fund the projects. On the fastest possible timeline, that would mean project design and engineering wouldn’t begin until 2023 and construction wouldn’t kick off until 2026.

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

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NAR: July Existing-Home Sales Soar 24.7% Higher

“The housing market is well past the recovery phase and now booming,” says NAR. And current owners seeking larger homes will “drive demand even into 2021.”

WASHINGTON – National existing-home sales continued a strong, upward trajectory in July, marking two consecutive months of significant sales gains, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Each of the four major U.S. regions attained double-digit, month-over-month increases, and the Northeast was the only region to show a year-over-year decline.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – jumped 24.7% from June to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.86 million in July – a record high. The previous record monthly increase in sales was 20.7% in June of this year.

But sales increased year-to-year as well as month-to-month, with overall sales volume up 8.7% compared to July 2019 (5.39 million).

“The housing market is well past the recovery phase and now booming with higher home sales compared to the pre-pandemic days,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “With the sizable shift in remote work, current homeowners are looking for larger homes, and this will lead to a secondary level of demand even into 2021.”

The median U.S. existing-home price for all housing types in July was $304,100, up 8.5% from July 2019 ($280,400), with prices rising in every region. July’s national price increase marks 101 straight months of year-over-year gains, and – for the first time ever – the national median existing home price rose above the $300,000 level.

Total housing inventory at the end of July totaled 1.50 million units, down from both 2.6% in June and 21.1% from one year ago (1.90 million). Unsold inventory is at a 3.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 3.9 months in June and down from the 4.2-month figure recorded in July 2019. Economists generally consider a 6-month supply of listings to be a balanced market between buyers and sellers, with anything below six months a sellers’ market.

Yun says dire inventory totals have a substantial effect on sales.

“The number of new listings is increasing, but they are quickly taken out of the market from heavy buyer competition,” he says. “More homes need to be built.”

Properties typically remained on the market for 22 days in July, seasonally down from 24 days in June and 29 days in July 2019 – 68% of homes sold in July were on the market for less than a month.

First-time buyers were responsible for 34% of sales in July, down from 35% in June and up from 32% in July 2019.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 15% of homes in July, up from both 9% in June and 11% in July 2019. All-cash sales accounted for 16% of transactions in July, equal to the percentage in June and down from 19% in July 2019.

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented less than 1% of sales in July, down from 3% in June up from 2% in June 2019.

“Homebuyers’ eagerness to secure housing has helped rejuvenate our nation’s economy despite incredibly difficult circumstances,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “Admittedly, we have a way to go toward full recovery, but I have faith in our communities, the real estate industry and NAR’s 1.4 million members, and I know collectively we will continue to mount an impressive recovery.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage decreased to 3.02% in July, down from 3.16% in June. The average commitment rate across all of 2019 was 3.94%.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales: Single-family home sales were at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.28 million in July, up 23.9% from 4.26 million in June and 9.8% from one year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $307,800 in July, up 8.5% year-to-year.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 580,000 units in July, up 31.8% from June and equal to a year ago. The median existing condo price was $270,100 in July, an increase of 6.4% from a year ago.

“Luxury homes in the suburbs are attracting buyers after having lagged the broader market for the past couple of years,” Yun says. “Single-family homes are continuing to outperform condominium units, suggesting a preference shift for a larger home, including an extra room for a home office.”

Regional breakdown: For the second consecutive month, sales for July increased in every region and median home prices grew in each of the four major regions year-to-year.

July existing-home sales in the Northeast rocketed 30.6% higher with an annual rate of 640,000. The median price in the Northeast was $317,800, up 4.0% from July 2019.

Existing-home sales jumped 27.5% in the Midwest to an annual rate of 1,390,000 in July, up 10.3% year-to-year. The median price in the Midwest was $244,500, an 8.0% increase from July 2019.

Existing-home sales in the South shot up 19.4% to an annual rate of 2.59 million in July, a 12.6% increase from the same time one year ago. The median price in the South was $268,500, a 9.9% year-to-year increase.

Existing-home sales in the West ascended 30.5% to an annual rate of 1,240,000 in July, a 7.8% increase from a year ago. The median price in the West was $453,800, up 11.3% year-to-year.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Airbnb Bans House Parties Worldwide Citing Virus Mandates

For Airbnb guests, the party’s over. Many owners’ listings have no-party rules, and Airbnb was already dealing with party issues, but the latest rule bans them altogether.

SAN FRANCISCO – Airbnb is banning house parties worldwide as it tries to clean up its reputation and comply with coronavirus-related limits on gatherings.

The San Francisco home sharing company will limit occupancy in its rental homes to 16 people. It may offer exceptions for boutique hotels or other event venues.

Airbnb said it may pursue legal action against guests and hosts who violate the ban. Last week, for the first time, Airbnb took legal action against a guest who held an unauthorized party in Sacramento County, California.

Airbnb has always prohibited unauthorized parties, and the company said nearly 75% of its listings explicitly ban parties.

But after a deadly shooting at a California Airbnb rental last Halloween, the company has taken multiple steps to crack down on parties. Five people were killed in the shooting, which happened during an unauthorized party.

Last November, Airbnb started manually reviewing U.S. and Canadian reservations to weed out suspicious rentals, like a guest who booked a one-night stay close to their home. It expanded that program to Australia last week.

In July, Airbnb banned U.S. and Canadian guests under age 25 with fewer than three positive reviews from booking entire homes close to where they live. It expanded that policy to the United Kingdom, Spain and France last week.

Airbnb said it also plans to expand a hotline for neighbors to report unauthorized parties.

Airbnb says around 2% of the 7 million properties listed on its site can accommodate 16 or more people. There are at least 53 in London, 277 in Beijing, 170 in New York and 116 in Los Angeles, according to the company’s website.

Twelve-year-old Airbnb has been trying to shed its couch-surfing image and appeal to more types of travelers ahead of its initial public offering. Last year it announced an effort to verify all of its properties, for example.

Airbnb filed preliminary paperwork for a stock offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday. The initial public offering could take place later this year.

The company also said it wants to make sure it’s complying with public health mandates. Los Angeles County has a ban on gatherings of people from different households, for example.

Airbnb said the coronavirus-related closure of bars and nightclubs has led to an increase in big house parties, sometimes at its rentals.

“We do not want that type of business, and anyone engaged in or allowing that behavior does not belong on our platform,” Airbnb said in a post on its website.

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Recovery Report: All 4 Fla. Metros Exceed Pre-Pandemic Levels

If the Jan. Fla. real estate market was “normal,” today’s market is even better in the four metro areas tracked by realtor.com’s Recovery Report. The U.S. report declined slightly this week, however, largely because new listings dropped below Jan. 2020 levels.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For the first time, all Florida metro areas tracked by realtor.com’s weekly recovery index were in positive territory. Jacksonville was the only city in last week’s report that scored below 100, the level considered normal based on early 2020 sales before the pandemic hit. This week, Jacksonville scored 100.5.

Nationally, realtor.com’s Weekly Market Recovery Index declined by 0.9 points, resulting in an overall index reading of 104.8 for the week ending Aug. 15. The slight drop was a result of the new listings component falling below its pre-COVID baseline (January 2020 growth) despite increased buyer demand.

Realtor.com says new listings remain on the right trajectory, but growth is variable week to week, and increases will be key in the weeks to come.

Nationally, the Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev., metro area showed the strongest improvement compared to early 2020 numbers, with a score of 126 – a 0.2 point weekly increase. At the bottom of the list at No. 50, the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin, metro area scored only 90.1 – a 0.4 week-to-week decrease.

Florida metro area rankings and scores

18. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach – 106.7, up 4.5 points week-to-week

21. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater – 105.7, up 0.1 points week-to-week

29. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford – 102.2, down 1.4 points week-to-week

34. Jacksonville – 100.5. up 3.4 points week-to-week

Realtor.com cited listing price growth – based on advertised homes on realtor.com’s website – as this week’s most remarkable feature, with a year-to-year 10.1% increase – the biggest one since January 2018.

“With supply and demand moving in opposite directions, sellers are clearly gaining the upper hand,” says Javier Vivas, director of economic research for realtor.com. “Buyers hoping to close on a home this year should expect some hot competition, especially if they are looking at more affordable or entry-level housing.”

Other report findings

  • At 10.1% over last year, the increase in listing prices is the first double digit pace of growth since January 2018.
  • Total inventory was down 36%. While sellers are returning to the market, buyers increasingly outnumber them, causing overall levels of inventory to see sharp declines compared to last year.
  • New listings on realtor.com’s website declined 11%.
  • Time on market is 4 days faster than last year.

 © 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Builders Not Excited About the Multifamily Market

NAHB’s multifamily confidence index for the second quarter found a 10-point increase in builder optimism – but at 37, attitudes still remain below the median score of 50.

WASHINGTON – Builder confidence in the market for new multifamily housing increased 10 points in the second quarter – but even with that boost, the Multifamily Market Survey (MMS) remains in negative territory. The MMS measures builder and developer sentiment about current conditions in the apartment and condo market.

The MMS has two components, with the Multifamily Production Index (MPI) measuring overall optimism about the market. It’s based on a scale form 0 to 100, with a score of 50 representing balance; anything above is optimism territory, and anything below 50 is pessimism. In the second quarter, the MPI rose 10 points quarter-to-quarter, but it was still only 37.

NAHB creates the MPI using a weighted average of three key elements in the multifamily housing market, and all three rose in the second quarter:

  • Construction of low-rent units-apartments supported by low-income tax credits or other government subsidies – up 10 points to 42
  • Market-rate rental units-apartments built to be rented at the price a market will bear – up five points to 34
  • For-sale units-condominiums – up 13 points to 35

A separate index, the Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), increased three points to 62 – but for the MVI, higher numbers indicate more vacancies.

The MVI is a weighted average of current occupancy indexes for class A, B, and C multifamily units, and it also ranges from 0 to 100, with any number over 50 indicating that property managers believe vacancies are increasing than decreasing. The 2Q reading of 62 is the highest level since 2009.

“The multifamily market continues to make its way back toward pre-pandemic levels, with recent starts data coming in above forecast,” says NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Demand remains subdued due to elevated unemployment rates, while on the supply-side of the market, builders and developers are dealing with a significant increase in lumber prices, which could hinder further recovery of the market.”

Historically, the MPI and MVI have performed well as leading indicators of U.S. Census figures for multifamily starts and vacancy rates, providing information on likely movement in the Census figures one to three quarters in advance.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Long-Term Mortgage Rates Almost Rise Above 3%

The average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 2.99% this week – its second increase since hitting a record low of 2.88%. A year ago, it was 3.55%.

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. average rates on long-term mortgages rose this week though they remain at historically low levels. The key 30-year loan nudged toward 3%.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year home loan increased to 2.99% from 2.96% last week. By contrast, the rate averaged 3.55% a year ago.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 2.54% from 2.46% from last week.

Homebuying demand continues as one of few bright spots in the pandemic-struck economy, especially for prospective buyers considering a first-time purchase. The government reported Tuesday that construction of new homes surged 22.6% in July as homebuilders bounced back from a lull induced by the coronavirus pandemic.

Housing starts have now risen three straight months after plunging in March and April as the virus outbreak paralyzed the U.S. economy. Last month’s pace of construction was 23.4% above that in July 2019. The big gains came from the construction of apartments and condominiums, which soared 56.7%.

But single-family home construction ticked up, too, by 8.2%.

In the latest indication of how halting and slow the economy’s recovery has been, the government’s latest weekly report on unemployment claims showed Thursday that the number of workers seeking benefits crept back above 1 million last week after two weeks of declines. Many businesses and consumers remain paralyzed by uncertainty and restricted by lockdowns.

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Moving During the Pandemic: ‘What I Wish I’d Known’

It’s safe to move, but COVID-19 adds a new wrinkle for buyers who want masks and social distancing to be part of the process. Start with extra moving supplies.

NEW YORK – Moving during a pandemic? It can be done. Carefully, thoughtfully and exhaustingly.

The coronavirus crisis has gripped the USA since March and shows no signs of abating. And although much of life has changed or ceased, there are things that have to go on, like moving.

Maybe your lease is up. Maybe you need to combine your household with others in your family for financial reasons. Maybe you were in the process of changing homes and can’t put it off.

Whatever the reason, many of you, like me and my husband, will have to brave this huge life change under difficult circumstances. It was not easy to maintain precautions while packing, working with movers and combining households. Here are five things I wish I had known:

1. Buy more packing materials than you need: A lot more

I try to minimize single-use plastic and other disposable products for the sake of the environment, but I should have thought more about the risks of last-minute trips to the hardware store during the pandemic. When I realized the day before our move that we didn’t have enough stuffing or boxes to pack our kitchen breakables, we wound up at Lowe’s.

If you’ve done curbside pickup you’ll know it’s a time-consuming process. It took three hours and many phone calls to get our order.

The delay meant that I was packing dishes until 9 o’clock the night before the truck arrived. We did end up with more boxes and materials than we used, but we’re donating them to others who have to move.

2. Check out the pandemic procedures at donation sites

Moving usually means sorting through your belongings and shedding items you no longer use. But dropping off a bag of clothes at Goodwill isn’t as simple as it was before.

Wherever you donate household goods locally, check their website to see how and where to give. At a local thrift store, we stayed in our car and a worker grabbed stuff out of our back seat. Goodwill and Salvation Army locations near you will have rules that reflect state and local guidelines, so make sure you check the local site.

3. You might have to enforce mask-wearing and hand-washing

When searching for movers, I knew to ask about health precautions, and the two guys who showed up to move us were wearing masks when they arrived. But moving is arduous physical labor, and at one point one of our movers pulled his mask down to get more air in the middle of a tough task. I get it – no one enjoys wearing a mask. But I had to ask him to put it back on, even though it felt incredibly rude to do so.

It was a 10-second interaction that was awkward but worth it. And I hoped the mover appreciated that my husband and I both wore masks for the whole process. If my husband had pulled his down, I would have chastised him, too.

4. Hand sanitizer is helpful but don’t forget regular soap

I had plenty of hand sanitizer on hand for our movers and ourselves but had packed away the soap in the bathroom. But in the three-and-a-half hours it took to load the truck, everyone needed to use the restroom. We still had some dish soap around, thankfully, but anything that kept us inside longer than we needed to be (like rooting around for soap) extended both the move and the time we spent in contact with strangers.

5. Everything is harder, give yourself time and compassion

Getting up in the morning, cooking breakfast, getting the kids to bed, working from home or on the front lines – every task is just a little bit harder during the pandemic. I set about tackling this move just like my others: I took a week off work for packing, got out my Sharpie and masking tape for labeling and set to work.

But every stage felt more emotionally and physically draining than before. Sorting through makeup I no longer wear was depressing. Packing winter clothes made me wonder what kind of Christmas we can have. Wrapping up photos with family and friends I haven’t seen in months made me wistful.

I spent a lot of time angry that the process wasn’t going faster or easier. I wish I had offered myself a little compassion, taken more breaks and asked for more help. The job got done, but it was probably a bit more stressful than it needed to be.

Copyright 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY

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Citrus Canker Legal Fight Dismissed After Payment

In a 20-year-old private property rights issue, homeowners will split more than $19M for their healthy citrus trees that were cut down by Fla.’s Dept. of Agriculture.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After the Florida Legislature provided money and a check was sent, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a nearly two-decade legal battle over the state cutting down Lee County homeowners’ healthy citrus trees.

Lawmakers this year approved spending more than $19 million to pay a judgment in the class-action lawsuit, which stemmed from trees being cut down as part of efforts to stop the spread of citrus-canker disease.

The lawsuit was filed against the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2003 for taking 33,957 healthy citrus trees on 11,811 residential properties, according to an appeals-court decision. In 2014, after a jury trial, the Lee County homeowners were awarded $13.625 million plus interest, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

But after the state failed to pay the judgment, the case went back to court, with a circuit judge and the 2nd District Court of Appeal ordering the payments. The rulings said the state had violated a constitutional ban on taking property without paying full compensation.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services appealed to the Supreme Court, but lawmakers in March included money in the budget to pay the judgment, with a check for $19,173,978 sent last month to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, according to a copy of the check filed at the Supreme Court.

Justices on Thursday dismissed the case as moot and also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees. The amount of fees will be determined by a circuit judge.

Source: News Service of Florida

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Mortgage Refinancing to Get a Bit More Expensive

NAR calls it “the wrong policy at the wrong time.” Many homeowners with a median-priced home will pay a new $1,400 fee to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac after Sept. 1

WASHINGTON – It will cost more to refinance a mortgage after Sept. 1.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac intend to assess a new fee to cushion themselves from losses on refinanced mortgages they guarantee. The government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that back nearly half of the $11 trillion U.S. mortgage market, say they will charge lenders an extra fee starting in September.

The fee applies to most loans the GSEs will buy – generally ones that borrowers have refinanced to lock in a lower interest rate.

The fee is equal to 50 basis points – half a percentage point – on each loan Fannie and Freddie guarantees, or about $1,400 on the average mortgage backed by the companies, according to industry estimates.

Borrowers don’t have to pay the new fee upfront, however, and it will likely pan out to be only a modest increase in their monthly costs as it’s paid over the lifetime of the loan. Lenders say the fee isn’t correlated with the risk of refinanced loans or borrower’s credit scores. It would simply be passed on to consumers.

National Association of Realtors® President Vince Malta issued the following statement in response to Wednesday’s announcement by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of plans to impose a new 0.5% adverse-market fee on mortgage refinances starting September 1:

“This is very disappointing, and the absolute wrong policy at the wrong time,” Malta says. “This fee could cost homeowners thousands of dollars, which will destabilize the market and take away opportunity. It also directly contravenes the administration’s own directives for federal agencies to do no harm to homeowners during the coronavirus crisis.”

He says communities already suffering in underserved markets will be hurt the most.

“Home values and residential real estate are a rock for the American economy right now. We should do everything we can to lower costs for households during this crisis, not make homeownership more expensive,” Malta adds.

Bob Broeksmit, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, says Fannie and Freddie reported a combined $4.33 billion in profits in the second quarter. “For the GSEs to add a 50 basis-point surcharge on refinances when the nation is struggling with the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression is outrageous,” he says.

A representative for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, says the companies requested the “adverse market fee.”

Source: Wall Street Journal (08/12/20) Ackerman, Andrew; and INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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New Fla. Website Grades State Counties and Cities

What does a town spend? How do they stack up on crime and education? The Taxpayer Accountability & Transparency Project website from the Florida House “gives residents a useful tool to help them make educated judgments and hold elected officials accountable.”

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A $117,000 website that grades and lets people compares cities and counties based on spending, crime and education was rolled out by the Florida House of Representatives this week.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said in a press release the new Taxpayer Accountability & Transparency Project – floridataxpayers.com – “gives residents a useful tool to help them make educated judgments and hold their elected officials accountable.”

The House worked with Sachs Media Group on the project, with some work done in-house – video production, the press release and a social media launch – to save on costs, according to a House spokeswoman. House members approved a bill (HB 7069) in March that included a similar proposal, but the measure died in the Senate. The House then went ahead on its own with the project.

In February, when the grading proposal went before the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, wondered if communities could receive a low grade if they incurred debt to provide a higher quality of life.

The local-government grading proposal also drew opposition from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

“If you have a city that doesn’t have a lot of residents, they’re heavily tourists or a college town, you’re going to have fewer residents though your budget might be quite high,” Laura Youmans, legislative counsel for the Florida Association of Counties, told the Appropriations Committee. “That budget is going to serve the industry and businesses and the visitors there, so that would skew your numbers and make that city look worse and make cities that may not be doing as well better by comparison.”

The House news release said only “raw and per-capita data” was used, “with no value judgments made regarding the relative importance of any one factor over any other.”

Cities and counties draw grades and rankings based on six-year averages of per-capita spending and debt, spending on government salaries, full-time government employees per 100,000 residents, violent and property crime, local school grades and graduation rates.

Not every municipality is graded. An “N/A” is posted on report cards for some tiny municipalities where no data was available.

Source: News Service of Florida

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Lending Giant Rolls Out 1.99% Mortgage Rate

While the details are unclear and likely require points to be paid, United Wholesale Mortgage started advertising a rate lower than 2% for a fixed-rate, 30-year loan.

NEW YORK – Remember when 3% mortgage rates seemed low? Last week, Freddie Mac reported a new record low average for the 30-year fixed rate mortgage: 2.88%, but United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM) now wants to take rates even lower – nearly a full percentage point below Freddie Mac’s all-time low.

UWM is touting a loan program that allows borrowers to lock in rates as low as 1.99% for both home purchases and refinances.

The rate is available only through independent mortgage brokers, the company said in its announcement this week, but other lenders may be tempted to follow suit to compete.

“I never thought I would see a rate starting with a ‘1,’ but I also never thought I would see a worldwide pandemic – and that’s what it took,” says Matt Rasetta, owner of Superior Rate Mortgage of New England. “It means mortgage brokers like me are going to make a lot of money because so many people will refinance, but it’s the silver lining of a not-too-great situation for the rest of the world.”

So, how feasible is it to get a mortgage rate under 2%? UWM has released limited details so far on qualifications to snag that 1.99% interest rate. UWM is also offering 15-year fixed-rate mortgages as low as 1.875%, for which the company is requiring a FICO score of at least 640 to qualify. The low rates are only for owner-occupied properties.

The Motley Fool theorizes that borrowers will have to pay more up front in closing costs and points on their mortgage to get rates below 2%. With mortgage points, buyers and refinancers essentially pay a fee at closing to the lender to snag a lower rate.

Borrowers interested in the ultra-low-rate mortgage should check how much they’ll be required to pay upfront in points to know whether a 1.99% rate is truly the best deal for them. Financial experts usually advice borrowers to figure out how long they plan to stay in a property to determine if it’s worth paying those upfront points.

Source: “UWM Announces 1.99% Rate for 30-Year Fixed Mortgage,” HousingWire (Aug. 11, 2020) and “This Lender Just Launched a 1.99% Mortgage,” The Ascent/Motley Fool (Aug. 12, 2020)

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What Changed in New Foreclosure-Eviction Relief Executive Order?

The latest eviction/foreclosure ban by Gov. DeSantis changed a bit. In general, it limits the ban’s scope of protection to people financially harmed by the pandemic.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Before we jump into the current state of affairs regarding Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest eviction ban, let’s quickly review its short history. The original order, Executive Order 2020-94, instituted a ban on the eviction of tenants due to the COVID-19 crisis. It was put in place on April 2, and has since been extended to Sept. 1 through four subsequent orders.

The original order was quite broad in its scope stating, in part: “Section 2. I hereby suspend and toll any statute providing for an eviction cause of action under Florida law solely as it relates to non-payment of rent by residential tenants due to the COVID-19 emergency for 45 days from the date of this Executive Order, including any extensions.

As you can see, the highlighted portion above can be interpreted in any number of ways, given that the COVID-19 emergency is so far-reaching, and that has added to the frustration of many property managers. The good news is that the scope of the original order has been narrowed slightly in the governor’s latest extension, Executive Order 2020-180.

In this latest order, the governor limits the scope by saying, in part: “Section 2 of Executive Order 20-94 is amended to read, as follows: A. I hereby suspend and toll any statute providing for final action at the conclusion of an eviction proceeding under Florida law solely when the proceeding arises from non-payment of rent by a residential tenant adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency. B. For purposes of this section, adversely affected by the COVlD- 19 emergency means loss of employment, diminished wages or business income, or other monetary loss realized during the Florida State of Emergency directly impacting the ability of a residential tenant to make rent payments. C. Nothing in this Executive Order shall be construed to suspend or otherwise affect eviction proceedings unrelated to non-payment of rent.

In the above highlighted portion of the latest order, you can see that the governor has attached some limitations to its scope to separate renters who have been legitimately harmed financially by the pandemic vs. those who are simply taking advantage of the situation. While this narrowed scope is not a complete solution to the problem, it does appear to show that the governor recognizes the harm the order is causing to landlords and property managers, and he’s attempting to do something about it.

Having said all of the above, the future of the state eviction moratorium has ties to actions happening at the federal level over the same issue. Florida, like many other states, is following the lead of the federal government as it relates to banning evictions. If it appears Washington, D.C., is taking steps to keep the ban on federally subsidized or federally backed housing in place, then Florida is likely to do the same.

NAR has been hard at work on this issue and Florida Realtors Public Policy office has been in contact with NAR to supply information and feedback they can use in their federal advocacy efforts. Last week, NAR issued a statement following the president’s actions to extend the federal eviction ban. That statement was preceded by a letter to President Trump that lays out the significant economic problems created by the ban, and outlines the steps needed to ensure all stakeholders are protected – such as lifting the ban and providing emergency rental assistance, along with other financial aid programs so people can meet their financial obligations during the pandemic.

Prior to NAR’s most recent actions, it has been routinely contacting members of Congress and leaders of federal agencies on the issue. A list of many of these documents can be found on NAR’s political advocacy website, under the “Forbearance, Eviction Moratoriums, Rental Assistance” section.

How does all of this impact Florida? At the state level, Florida Realtors Public Policy office continues to speak with senior members of the governor’s staff about the issue, sharing many of the hardships experienced by property managers and landlords, and urging the governor to let the eviction moratorium expire.

“I believe strongly that these efforts helped lead to the more narrow scope of the latest extension, and we will keep working the issue until the ban is lifted,” says Danielle Scoggins, Florida Realtors vice president of public policy. “Florida Realtors Legislative and Regulatory Research Think Tank has also directed Florida Realtors research staff to conduct an analysis of the eviction moratorium issue to determine how severely it is impacting the rental market.”

Scoggins says the national situation “is a bit more complicated given that the original federal ban was part of the CARES Act, and any true extension, as well as renter assistance, is going to be tied in with the next relief package Congress passes.” However, NAR has made it a top priority and will continue to push for relief for property owners and landlords to ensure their needs remain a part of the legislative conversation.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Fla.’s Single-Family For-Sale Inventory Hits Record Low in 2Q

There’s never been a better time to sell a home. Fla. had only a 2.8-months’ supply of single-family homes in the second quarter – the lowest amount since at least 2008. Economists generally consider a six-month supply to be balanced between buyers and sellers.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida homeowners: There’s never been higher demand for your home. Economists generally consider a six-month supply of for-sale homes (inventory) to be balanced between buyers and sellers. An inventory greater than six months is a buyer’s market; an inventory less than six months is a seller’s market.

In the second quarter of 2020, Florida’s inventory of homes was 2.8 months.

“Apart from the condo-townhouse category, we are at record lows right now,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor.

Florida Realtors records sales of condominiums and townhouses separately, and at 5.7-months’ supply in the 2Q, the condo-townhouse market remains in seller territory, but it’s closer to a balanced market.

The coronavirus-related shutdown impacted Florida’s single-family inventory, but more homes now appear to be coming into the market.

Still, demand from buyers, thanks in part to record-low mortgage rates, has not subsided. Selling prices have continued to trend upward as buyers find too-few available homes for sale. In the second quarter, the median price for a Florida single-family home was $277,500 – 4.7% higher year-to-year.

“All indications are that Florida will continue to see home sales surge through the end of the summer, with our biggest near-term issue being a severe lack of single-family inventory,” O’Connor said in the report. “With mid-year inventory levels down over 27% compared to last year, the scarcity of homes on the market will continue to propel prices upward. Price growth has remained so strong throughout the pandemic that at the mid-point of the year, Florida has already seen close to $50 billion worth of closed single-family home sales – less than 2% off last year’s pace.”

The inventory problem isn’t just in Florida. Fannie Mae’s latest U.S. market report found similar conditions nationwide, with a few buyers pulling back as home prices continue to rise.

“Supply constraints appear to be applying upward pressure to consumers’ home price expectations, which in turn has contributed to both a sharp reversal in optimism about whether it is a good time to buy a home and further improvement in home-selling sentiment,” says Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Offerpad, an iBuyer, Continues its Fla. Expansion

The instant-offer company announced another expansion into the Port St. Lucie area. Offerpad also has agreements with builders for buyers seeking new construction.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Offerpad said it’s entering the Port St. Lucie market and is the first iBuyer to do so.

iBuyers offer to buy a home with an instant cash offer, allowing residents to move without doing the usual pre-sale tasks, such as boosting curb appeal. However, the price an iBuyer will pay is generally less than the homeowners could get selling the traditional route – by hiring a Realtor to market the home for him. However, Offerpad also introduced a traditional sale model for “sellers who want to explore the opportunity to maximize their home’s value.”

Offerpad entered the Florida market in 2015, with a focus on Orlando and Tampa. Offerpad says it considers both markets top performers.

“We’ve had a significant amount of seller interest to widen our Orlando coverage area for quite some time,” says Vaughn Stewart, Offerpad’s Orlando market director. “Port St. Lucie is known for quality homes that are typically located in quiet neighborhoods and surrounded by beautiful scenery – we are confident that our stress-free way to sell a home will be welcomed by homeowners.”

Offerpad’s metro area for Port St. Lucie includes Citrus Ridge, Fort Pierce, Sebastian, Stuart and Vero Beach. It already serves the metro areas surrounding Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Airbnb Taking Legal Action Against a Renter for the First Time

The short-term rental firm has a rule against unauthorized parties, but enforcement has been lax. Airbnb is also bolstering rules on parties to avoid future problems.

NEW YORK – For the first time, Airbnb is taking legal action against a guest for violating its ban on unauthorized parties.

The San Francisco-based home sharing company said Wednesday it is initiating legal proceedings against a guest who held an unauthorized party at a home in Sacramento County, California, last weekend. Three people were shot and wounded at the party.

Airbnb wouldn’t release the guest’s name but said it has removed the guest from its platform.

The company has been trying to clean up its image – promising to verify all of its listings, for example, and taking a harder line on parties – as it prepares for an initial public offering of its stock. The IPO, which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, could still take place later this year.

Airbnb banned “open invite” parties at its rentals late last year after five people were shot and killed at an unauthorized party in Orinda, California. The company set up a rapid response team to deal with complaints from neighbors and started screening “high risk” bookings, such as reservations at a large home for one night.

Airbnb went further last month, banning guests under 25 from booking entire homes close to where they live.

In the most recent case, Airbnb said it will seek monetary damages and donate them to non-profits that fight gun violence in the Sacramento area. Under Airbnb’s terms of service, the dispute will go into arbitration if Airbnb and the guest are unable to settle the terms.

A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said Wednesday that the shootings remain under investigation.

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

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30-Year Mortgage Rate Up – But It Remains Below 3%

The average 30-year, fixed-rate loan rose to 2.96% this week compared to last week’s record-breaking 2.88%. One year ago, the 30-year FRM average 3.6%.

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. average rates on long-term mortgages rose this week but remained at historically low levels. The key 30-year loan stayed below 3%.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year home loan increased to 2.96% from 2.88% last week. By contrast, the rate averaged 3.60% a year ago.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 2.46% from 2.44% from last week.

Homebuying demand continues as one of few bright spots in the pandemic-struck economy, especially for prospective buyers considering a first-time purchase, Freddie Mac noted. Still the lack of available homes remains an obstacle.

The government’s latest weekly report on unemployment claims showed Thursday that the number of laid-off workers applying for aid fell below 1 million last week for the first time since the viral pandemic intensified five months ago – yet it still remains at a high level. The pandemic continues to force layoffs just as the expiration of a $600-a-week federal jobless benefit has deepened hardships for many.

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RE Recovery Index: 3 Fla. Cities Now Hotter Than Before Pandemic

The real estate market is better than before the pandemic, according to realtor.com’s weekly index, as a third Fla. metro area rose into positive territory.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The U.S. real estate market is doing better than it did before the pandemic, with realtor.com’s Housing Market Recovery Index hitting 105.6 this week – a 1.9 increase over last week’s 103.8. An index of 100 reflects relative market strength before the pandemic hit, and a number higher than 100 now suggests that today’s market is even stronger.

The index also looks at metro areas, and of the four Florida metros included in the weekly report, three have now bounced back – an increase of one city compared to last week’s report, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area rising 4.1 points in one week and ending just above 100 at 100.9.

Noting an increase this week in the number of listings posted on realtor.com, Javier Vivas, director of economic research for realtor.com, said it was “an important recovery milestone.” While he calls it “encouraging,” however, he also says it’s “only the first step in the long road to solving low inventory issues keeping many buyers at bay.”

Still, realtor.com’s inventory of advertised listings is down 36% year-to-year, according to this week’s report.

In Florida, three cities had scores above 100, while Jacksonville’s ranking and index number slipped since last week.

  • The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area ranked No. 19 (up from 22 last week) with a score of 105.6 – a weekly increase of 3.4
  • The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area ranked No. 23 (up from 25 last week) with a score of 103.5 – a weekly increase of 1.0
  • The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area ranked No. 30 this week (up from 41 last week) with a score of 100.9 – a weekly increase of 4.1
  • The Jacksonville area was No. 34 (down from last week’s No. 6) with a score of 97.1 – a 2.2 weekly decrease

In comparison, No. 1 ranked Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada, had a score of 125.7 and a 8.7 point increase week-to-week. At the bottom of the list, the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin, metro area had a score of 90.5, with a 1.2 point week-to-week increase.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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FTC: Beware of Scammers Eyeing Mortgage Assistance

Successful scammers prey on vulnerabilities, and, like vultures to carrion, they consider the growing number of worried homeowners an easy target.

WASHINGTON – Thank to COVID-19 fears, Americans have lost about $106 million to fraud so far this year, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It issued a consumer alert, warning Americans to be cautious about any solicitation asking them to pay for access to certain financial assistance, such as stimulus checks, job opportunities and mortgage aid.

The FTC says some scammers dupe homeowners by making them believe they must pay up front for mortgage help. “It’s illegal for companies to charge you before they help you with your mortgage – but that doesn’t stop scammers from trying,” the FTC warns.

Homeowners behind on mortgage payments should speak with their mortgage servicer first and discuss their options. Those struggling to make their mortgage or rent – people who may face a foreclosure or eviction – may want to consult with a legal services organization.

Stimulus checks have been another growing area of fraud, the FTC warns. Congress is debating more stimulus checks, which could open the door to more fraud. If there is another stimulus payment, just like last time, you won’t have to pay to get it, the FTC says.

“Nobody will call to ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number” to access your payment, the FTC reports.

Real estate professionals should also continue to remain vigilant against wire fraud scams in real estate transactions and warn their clients, particularly as more areas of a transaction are conducted remotely. Down payment scams and other ones that target different points of a real estate transaction can put clients at risk.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) offers more fraud-prevention information online.

Source: Federal Trade Commission and “Americans, Who Have Lost $100 Million to Fraud Related to COVID-19, Continue to Be a Target,” CNBC (Aug. 11, 2020)

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Fla.’s 2Q 2020 Housing Market Reflects COVID-19 Impact

2Q median prices up, sales down year-over-year. Chief Economist O’Connor expects sales to continue to improve, though a single-family inventory shortfall is an issue.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s housing market reflected the impact of coronavirus pandemic and economic turmoil in the second quarter of 2020, particularly during April and May: higher median prices and more pending inventory, but fewer closed sales and fewer new listings compared to 2Q 2019, according to the latest housing data from Florida Realtors®.

Closed sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 68,675 in 2Q 2020, down 19.2% from the 2Q 2019 level; closed sales of condo-townhouse properties totaled 22,571, down 33.9% compared to 2Q 2019. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

Quarterly data figures normally offer a good look into prevailing economic and market trends, according to Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “This year, however, has been a notable exception, with the state of the housing market shifting rapidly from week to week,” he said.

O’Connor added, “For example, we were only down a little over 4% year-over-year in new pending sales of single-family homes during the second quarter, but this masks the fact that we were down 35% (new pending single-family home sales) in April, only to see a phenomenal bounce-back recovery of 2.3% in May and over 23% in June.

“All indications are that Florida will continue to see home sales surge through the end of the summer, with our biggest near-term issue being a severe lack of single-family inventory.”

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in 2Q 2020 was $277,500, up 4.7% from the same time a year ago, according to data from Florida Realtors Research department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. The statewide median price for condo-townhouse properties during the quarter was $207,000, up 6.2% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

“With mid-year inventory levels down over 27% compared to last year, the scarcity of homes on the market will continue to propel prices upward,” O’Connor said. “Price growth has remained so strong throughout the pandemic that at the mid-point of the year, Florida had already seen close to $50 billion worth of closed single-family home sales, less than 2% off from last year’s pace.”

In 2Q 2020, the median time to a contract (the midpoint of the number of days it took for a property to receive a sales contract during that time) was 37 days for single-family homes and 50 days for condo-townhouse properties.

Inventory was at a 2.8-months’ supply in the first quarter for single-family homes and at a 5.7-months’ supply for condo-townhouse properties, according to Florida Realtors.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.23% for 2Q 2020, down from the 4.0% average recorded during the same quarter a year earlier.

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

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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What Do Americans Want? Check Their Google Searches

“Can you use money from a 401(k) to buy a house?” The number of consumers asking that question rose 2,800% in the past three months.

NEW YORK – As pandemic conditions and historically low mortgage rates draw more consumers into the real estate market, the topics they’re searching for online could highlight key areas Realtors can focus on in their marketing through social media, blogs and videos.

A look at the search data finds that consumers show a high and growing interest for information about mortgages and other financial questions about the homebuying process. Recent Google searches centered on real estate, according to Google Trends, are:

  • “Refinance home loan calculator” (up nearly 4,000% last week)
  • “Can you use your 401(k) to buy a house?” (up 2,800% in the past three months)
  • “How low will mortgage rates go?” (searches quadrupled in the past week)

After mortgage rates hit a record low – the eighth record this year – Google searches soared as buyers and homeowners wanted to learn more. Rates recently started hovering below 3%, with the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage hitting an all-time low of 2.88% last week, according to Freddie Mac.

Other popular Google search topics indicate a higher interest from first-time buyers. For example, Google searches for “process of buying a house” surged 950%. Another popular Google search topic is “minimum credit score to buy a house.”

Homebuyers also may be searching for deals. According to CNBC, Google searches for “How to buy a foreclosure” increased over the past two months, as have searches seeking the difference between buying a fixer-upper home versus one that’s move-in ready.

Searches including the word “suburbs” also reached a high in July. The cities with the highest search interest in “suburbs” over the past three months were Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Houston.

Source: “Consumers Are Less Confident About Housing, But Searches for These Topics Are Soaring,” CNBC (Aug. 10, 2020)

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