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Fed Chair Says Economic Forecasts Filled with Uncertainty

While it’s hard to predict what’s next with the pandemic, it’s also unclear how people will react as lockdowns aimed at limiting the virus’s spread are lifted.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Efforts to forecast the U.S. economy’s path to recovery from the current deep downturn face “a whole new level of uncertainty,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday.

Not only is there the difficulty predicting how the coronavirus pandemic will play out, it is also unclear how American workers and consumers will react as lockdowns aimed at limiting the spread of the virus are lifted, Powell said in an address to a virtual Fed conference.

Successfully restarting the economy will depend in large part on the public’s confidence that the loosening of the stay-at-home orders will not trigger a resurgence of the virus, he said.

“The pain of this downturn is compounded by the upending of normal life, along with great uncertainty about the future,” he said. “All of us have our own decisions to make … and those decisions will depend on public confidence that it is again safe to undertake various activities.”

He noted that the country is going through a sudden and severe economic downturn that is without modern precedent.

“It has already erased the job gains of the past decade and has inflicted acute pain across the country,” Powell said. “And while the burden is widespread, it is not evenly spread. Those taking the brunt of the fallout are those least able to bear it.”

The Fed has cut its benchmark interest rate to a record low of zero to 0.25%, purchased $2 trillion of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities and launched a number of programs aimed at keeping the financial markets functioning.

Powell did not send any signals in his remarks about what the Fed might do next but Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida, speaking at a different event, repeated the Fed’s pledge to use all of its tools to protect the economy and promote a strong rebound.

“The Federal Reserve will continue to act forcefully, proactively and aggressively as we deploy our toolkit … to provide critical support to the economy during this challenging time,” said Clarida, who spoke by webcast to the New York Association for Business Economics.

Powell and Fed board member Lael Brainard spoke at the 15th “Fed Listens” event, which the central bank began holding last year in an effort to gather public input into possible changes the central bank should make in the way it conducts interest-rate policies. The Fed still hopes to release its findings later this year.

Pat Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, told the Fed officials that his concern is that many workers, especially those who had just gained jobs as unemployment fell to a 50-year low before the virus struck, could lose hope of ever getting back into the labor force.

He said while many low-income workers had been helped by the Paycheck Protection Program and expanded unemployment benefits, “The question we are struggling with is what is going to last longer, the (benefit) money or the virus.”

Powell said it is “tragic” and “heartbreaking” to see unemployment surging now after it had been so low at the start of the year.

“This is a hard, hard blow,” Powell said. But he said it is important to remember that the economy will recover and disadvantaged communities “will always have our support.”

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press, Martin Crutsinger, AP economics writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Some Borrowers Aren’t Using Their Mortgage Payment Forbearance

A third of the 4.1M who sought the forbearance have remained current on their payments, perhaps getting the “time-out” agreement by accident or “just in case.”

WASHINGTON – About one in 12 mortgage borrowers in the U.S. have sought a time-out on their monthly payments because of the pandemic, a helping hand made available for up to a year under the CARES Act.

But a third of the 4.1 million borrowers who have requested a “forbearance” agreement, as they are known, have remained current on their payments.

Whether they sought the agreements “just in case,” got into one accidentally or found a way to scrape up the money to prevent delinquency, those borrowers could complicate efforts to refinance or take out a new mortgage, something federal officials are trying to head off.

“Those who are making their payments should be treated as current when it comes to refinancing their loans,” Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday during a webinar hosted by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Although the CARES Act requires servicers to report mortgages in forbearance as “current,” HousingWire reported last week that some borrowers had notes attached to their credit reports saying their accounts were in forbearance, the equivalent of having a scarlet letter stamped on them.

In the past, a forbearance would prevent a borrower from obtaining another government-backed mortgage for up to a year. But the federal government has stepped in, reducing the waiting period to three months, and allowing guarantors like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to refinance borrowers who sought forbearance.

Calabria said that mercy should also be extended to borrowers who take a month or two off and quickly catch up on payments. Whether lenders, who are tightening credit standards, hold the same attitude remains to be seen.

About two-thirds of borrowers who have sought forbearance have loan-to-value ratios of 70% or lower. That means home prices on those properties could fall by 30% and lenders could still come out whole, reducing the impact on the government-sponsored agencies who would otherwise be on the hook for losses.

“As long as we retain a situation where borrowers have a considerable amount of equity, we will be alright,” said Calabria.

Compared to other states, mortgage borrowers in Colorado entered the downturn in a stronger financial position. Colorado ranks 46th for mortgage delinquencies, at 2.46%, and 44th lowest in foreclosures at 0.28%, according to the MBA. Mississippi, by contrast, had a delinquency rate nearly three times as high, at 7.43%.

Servicers, who collect mortgage payments and forward them on to investors who own the underlying mortgage securities, are on the hook for covering up to four months of skipped payments when a loan goes into forbearance.

Assuming the $500 million worth of payments in forbearance a month they are covering doesn’t substantially increase, that works out to $2 billion, Calabria said. Many servicers have gone out and raised money to cover shortfalls, he said. And the Federal Reserve is providing liquidity to those who need it.

As more states have opened up, demand for mortgages to purchase homes has rebounded. Historically low interest rates, at 3.5% on a 30-year loan, have fueled another wave of refinancings, which could run between $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion this year, estimates Joel Kan, associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting at the MBA.

But not everyone is able to take advantage. Liquidity has largely dried up in the jumbo market, which could reduce demand for the most expensive homes. And with 36.5 million people in the U.S. filing for unemployment benefits the past two months, lenders have become much pickier about who they are willing to underwrite and the documentation they require.

“We are back to levels that we haven’t seen since 2014,” Kan said of credit availability.

But Kan also added that the MBA expects home prices to “hold up well” this year, rising 4% nationally, which should help anyone who can no longer afford a mortgage and needs an exit.

Copyright © 2020 Fort Morgan Times, Aldo Svaldi. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank Inc.

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Virtual Tours, Patience Can Pay Off for Homebuyers Now

Despite the pandemic, homebuyers are continuing their home search by options like online open houses where they can Zoom or FaceTime with Realtors in real time.

TORONTO – Thomas Rosenthal has been checking online property listings every day while under lockdown.

The 30-year old University of Toronto master’s student, who works part-time as a data engineer, currently rents a one-bedroom in midtown Toronto with his partner for $1,900 a month. They’re generally happy there, and their landlord is friendly and accommodating. But a place of their own would offer them the control and independence they long for. And, after almost a decade of saving, they’ve found themselves well-poised to make a down payment.

“We have fairly low expenses, all things considered,” Rosenthal says. “We’ve been able to save quite a lot.”

While Rosenthal and his partner are hoping to land a condo for around $500,000, he often sets his search parameters a bit higher, just to see what’s out there. Recently, he’s noticed unusually large numbers of properties posted around the $700,000 mark – units that would’ve been listed for higher just a few months ago.

It’s the sign of a broader shift in the market. As the country buckles in for its next great recession, housing sales have plummeted to their lowest levels since 1984, and prices in some areas have become more favorable for buyers.

This makes it an opportune time for first-timers like Rosenthal, although he says the move still feels like a dangerous one. While the pair are relatively job secure, making a significant financial investment in the middle of a pandemic still feels risky.

He’s also wary of making any commitments without seeing properties in person. Lockdown orders have moved the majority of tours online, which clouds buyers’ natural judgment on the condition of a property.

“In a virtual walk-through your opinion is based on the quality of that camera person,” Rosenthal says. “A professionally done one makes it look impeccable. But you can’t see everything. You know, you don’t get to open up the cabinets.”

It’s a valid concern, according to James Mabey, realtor with Century 21 Masters in St. Albert, Alberta. He suggests his clients stay away from virtual tours when making big decisions. Instead, he recommends online open houses, where prospective buyers can Zoom or FaceTime with Realtors in real time.

“You can interact with the agent while they’re at the property, so you can say ‘hey, let’s go downstairs, can you show me that room again?'” Mabey says.

He also suggests looking for gaps in photo collections when browsing listings. If you have a floor plan, it’s worth making sure photos of every room in the property are shown online. Missing rooms are an indication that the seller is trying to cover up problem areas while in-person access remains limited.

When in doubt, don’t be afraid to enlist a trained eye to help spot discrepancies, Mabey says. Buyer’s agents can help first-timers weed through the noise and learn to listen to their gut on closing a deal. The latter is something many struggle with – even Rosenthal, who admits he catches himself thinking about how to time his purchase with the market, despite knowing that waiting for a so-called golden opportunity to buy is typically ill-advised.

“People say if it’s going to be your primary residence, it’s always the right time to buy if you have the money,” Rosenthal says.

Timing a purchase around market price is not always the savviest move, says Mabey.

In fact, “the good deal is actually the interest rates you can get on a mortgage right now,” he says. “If a property comes down a couple thousand dollars in your negotiation, but if interest rates in the meantime start to go the other direction, then, in actual fact you have paid way more for that house over the time you’re paying that mortgage.”

So, if you’re ready to buy, Mabey advises not to wait too long, or you could miss out on a great deal.

“I don’t generally find that any buyers who do pull the trigger are unhappy with their decision, years later,” Mabey adds.

Copyright © 2020 The Canadian Press, Audrey Carleton. All rights reserved.

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NAR: Existing-Home Sales Down 17.8% in April from March

Existing-home sales dropped in April for the second consecutive month, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic lockdowns, says NAR Chief Economist Yun.  

WASHINGTON – Existing-home sales dropped in April, continuing what is now a two-month decline in sales brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major regions experienced a decline in month-over-month and year-over-year sales, with the West seeing the greatest dip in both categories.

Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, dropped 17.8% from March to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.33 million in April. Overall, sales decreased year-over-year, down 17.2% from a year ago (5.23 million in April 2019).

“The economic lockdowns – occurring from mid-March through April in most states – have temporarily disrupted home sales,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “But the listings that are on the market are still attracting buyers and boosting home prices.”

April’s existing-home sales are the lowest level of sales since July 2010 (3.45 million) and the largest month-over-month drop since July 2010 (-22.5%).

The median existing-home price for all housing types in April was $286,800, up 7.4% from April 2019 ($267,000), as prices increased in every region. April’s national price increase marks 98 straight months of year-over-year gains.

“Record-low mortgage rates are likely to remain in place for the rest of the year and will be the key factor driving housing demand as state economies steadily reopen,” Yun said. “Still, more listings and increased home construction will be needed to tame price growth.”

Total housing inventory at the end of April totaled 1.47 million units, down 1.3% from March, and down 19.7% from one year ago (1.83 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3.4-months in March and down from the 4.2-month figure recorded in April 2019.

Properties typically remained on the market for 27 days in April, seasonally down from 29 days in March, but up from 24 days in April 2019. Fifty-six percent of homes sold in April 2020 were on the market for less than a month.

First-time buyers were responsible for 36% of sales in April, up from 34% in March 2020 and 32% in April 2019. NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 10% of homes in April, down from 13% in March 2020 and from 16% in April 2019. All-cash sales accounted for 15% of transactions in April, down from 19% in March 2020 and 20% in April 2019.

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 3% of sales in April, about even with both March 2020 and April 2019.

While virtually every sector of the American economy has been hit hard by this pandemic, our nation’s 1.4 million Realtors have continued to show an undying commitment to their profession, their clients and America’s real estate industry,” said NAR President Vince Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco, Calif.

“As we find during any time of crisis, we have a tremendous opportunity to evolve and emerge stronger and more efficient,” Malta continued. “Having renewed our focus on new, innovative ways to serve American consumers, I am confident the real estate sector and our nation’s Realtors are uniquely positioned to lead America’s economic recovery.”

Realtor.com®’s Market Hotness Index, measuring time-on-the-market data and listing views per property, revealed that the hottest metro areas in April were Colorado Springs, Colo.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Topeka, Kan.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Columbus, Ohio.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage decreased to 3.31% in April, down from 3.45% in March. The average commitment rate across all of 2019 was 3.94%.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales

Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.94 million in April, down 16.9% from 4.74 million in March, and down 15.5% from one year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $288,700 in April, up 7.3% from April 2019.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 390,000 units in April, down 26.4% from March and down 31.6% from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $267,200 in April, an increase of 7.1% from a year ago.

“There appears to be a shift in preference for single-family homes over condominium dwellings,” Yun said. “This trend could be long-lasting as remote work and larger housing needs will become widely prevalent even after we emerge from this pandemic.”

Regional breakdown

As was the case for the month prior, April sales decreased in every region from the previous month’s levels. Median home prices in each region grew from one year ago, with the Northeast and Midwest regions showing the strongest price gains.

April 2020 existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 16.9%, recording an annual rate of 540,000, an 18.2% decrease from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $312,500, up 8.7% from April 2019.

Existing-home sales decreased 12.0% in the Midwest to an annual rate of 1.10 million, down 8.3% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $229,200, a 9.3% increase from April 2019.

Existing-home sales in the South dropped 17.9% to an annual rate of 1.88 million in April, down 16.8% from the same time one year ago. The median price in the South was $249,400, a 6.4% increase from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 25.0% to an annual rate of 810,000 in April, a 27.0% decline from a year ago. The median price in the West was $419,300, up 6.1% from April 2019.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Is Your Website Bringing in Business?

Real estate pros need to drive people to their websites. But it can be challenging to create the perfect website, find the right content and keep it updated.

LAS VEGAS – Real estate professionals need to be able to drive people to their websites. They can accomplish this through email, blogging and print marketing, but it can be a challenge to do this right the first time.

To create the perfect website, they must first select the right domain name; choose a web host and web designer; and get a template that will allow them to change the text, pictures and links without paying additional money to the designer to add more content.

They should then work to add additional content every month, keeping in mind that creating a website isn’t an overnight process.

Once they have created their website, they can enhance it by focusing on the consumer and providing relevant information; offering property search features with multiple, high-quality digital images; providing virtual tours; and creating forms where visitors can offer their personal information in exchange for valuable information.

Ultimately, they need to ensure their site stands out, which can be accomplished by incorporating online video, among other things.

Source: Realty Times (03/13/19) Devitre, Doug

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

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COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts Fla.’s Housing Market in April

Florida Realtors’ data: Fewer closed sales, pending sales, new listings and other metrics year-over-year due to the virus and economic shutdown. Chief Economist O’Connor notes home values are generally holding firm.

ORLANDO, Fla. – In April, economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, resulting business shutdowns and subsequent rising unemployment rates impacted Florida’s housing market. The latest housing data from Florida Realtors® reported lower levels of closed sales, pending sales, new listings and other metrics compared to a year ago – except for median sale price, which rose compared to April 2019.

“The impact of COVID-19 on Florida, the U.S. and throughout the world was fully realized in April,” said 2020 Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms, a Realtor and co-owner of Florida Suncoast Real Estate Inc. in Bradenton. “Many businesses shut down as people sheltered in-place to protect themselves and their loved ones, following the governor’s stay-at-home order and recommended health practices. Job losses rose and unemployment claims overtaxed the state’s system. It’s no surprise that many buyers and sellers put their plans on hold for now, because of the pandemic and the current economy.

“As Florida continues to reopen businesses and activities in phases, we continue to follow social distancing and health guidelines to protect ourselves and our communities. People still need a place to call home, and Realtors in every community stand ready to help buyers and sellers who need support and guidance in these uncertain times.”

Last month’s closed sales of single-family homes statewide dropped 20.7 % year-over-year, totaling 21,403 while condo-townhouse sales declined 36.5%, for a total of 7,506. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

In April, the statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties rose year-over-year for 100 months in a row. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $275,000, up 6% 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 $209,000, up 7.7% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor noted that April’s decline in closed sales was in line with the drop in new pending sales shown in the March data. Meanwhile, median sale price continued to rise in April for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties, signaling that home values are generally holding firm – a trend that’s in line with what basic economic theory would predict when there are offsetting declines in both demand and supply, he said.

“Looking ahead to May, all indications are that we will continue to see stable prices but will see a further decline in closed sales,” O’Connor said. “New pending sales for April were down over 35.1% in the single-family category year-over-year, and they were down 56.6% in the condo and townhouse category. However, the silver lining is the majority of this drop occurred in the first couple weeks of the month. In each week of the second half of the April, we saw drastic improvement in the number of homes going under contract.

“The trajectory of this improvement has been strong enough, that preliminary data points to the possibility that we could see positive year-over-year growth in new pending sales in several markets across the state in May – particularly for single-family homes. What’s more, there’s a lot of current housing market data across the U.S. that points toward this being a national trend.”

For example, over the past four weeks, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) has been reporting robust increases in the number of loan applications submitted for U.S. home purchases, the chief economist noted.

“Another metric that showed improvement over the course of April was new listings,” O’Connor said. “Overall for the month, new listings were down over 27.2% year-over-year in the single-family category, while new listings of condos and townhouses were down 38.5% percent. Again, though, like new pending sales, the pace of new listings was slowest in the first two weeks of April, after which it started to recover. This recovery in the pace of new listings was not as strong as what we saw for new pending sales, though – so we appear to be, for now, in a situation where demand is rebounding a bit faster than supply.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.31% in April 2020, down from the 4.14% averaged during the same month a year earlier.

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

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Nearly 39M Have Sought U.S. Jobless Aid Since Virus Hit

2.2M also sought aid under the new fed program for self-employed, contractors and gig workers; some analysts think unemployment rate may peak at 20-25% in May-June.

WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 2.4 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the viral outbreak that triggered widespread business shutdowns two months ago and sent the economy into a deep recession.

Roughly 38.6 million people have now filed for jobless aid since the coronavirus forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday.

An additional 2.2 million people sought aid under a new federal program for self-employed, contractor and gig workers, who are now eligible for jobless aid for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the overall number of applications.

The continuing stream of heavy job cuts reflects an economy that is sinking into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the economy is shrinking at a 38% annual rate in the April-June quarter. That would be by far the worst quarterly contraction on record.

Nearly half of Americans say that either their incomes have declined or they live with another adult who has lost pay through a job loss or reduced hours, the Census Bureau said in survey data released Wednesday More than one-fifth of Americans said they had little or no confidence in their ability to pay the next month’s rent or mortgage on time, the survey found.

During April, U.S. employers shed 20 million jobs, eliminating a decade’s worth of job growth in a single month. The unemployment rate reached 14.7%, the highest since the Depression. Millions of other people who were out of work weren’t counted as unemployed because they didn’t look for a new job.

Since then, 10 million more laid-off workers have applied for jobless benefits. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in an interview Sunday that the unemployment rate could peak in May or June at 20% to 25%.

The pace of layoffs has declined for six straight weeks, and some reopened businesses have rehired a portion of their laid-off employees. By historical standards, though, the number of weekly applications remains immense.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press, Christopher Rugaber, AP economics writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Researchers Hope to Predict Toxic Algae

As part of a study on how toxic algae works on the human body, more air quality sensors were installed in Cape Coral, hit hard by a blue-green algae outbreak in 2018.

CAPE CORAL, Fla. – Researchers are studying how toxic algae works its way through the human body and they continue to set their sights on Southwest Florida.

What’s the long-term health impact of red or blue-green algae blooms? Fla.’s Dept. of Health asked four state universities to find out and gave them $650K to do it.

Their goal is to one day be able to predict blooms in the name of public safety.

Last week, Mike Parsons, a Florida Gulf Coast University professor and Blue-Green Algae Task Force member, and Adam Schaefer of Florida Atlantic University, installed a second round of air quality sensors in Cape Coral, one of the areas hit hardest by a massive blue-green algae outbreak in 2018.

Studies already suggest toxic blue-green algae gets into the nasal cavity and lungs of humans, and it’s been found in urine samples as well.

Just what it does to the human body is unknown, although some experts have suggested it may be linked to neurological disorders.

“We just put out bulk air samplers for another baseline run,” Parsons said. “The idea really is we need more data all together and we haven’t seen cyanobacteria flare up yet (this year), but we’re getting ready for wet season and temperatures will continue to warm up.”

Parsons and others started monitoring air quality conditions late in 2018 to help set baseline conditions – how much of the toxin is naturally in the air – and compare those to bloom conditions.

If they can predict the bloom flare-ups, they can offer a warning system for people to avoid the area.

Blue-green algae has come to the forefront of environmental issues in recent years.

A large and particularly nasty bloom engulfed the east coast area after an El Nino wave dumped more than a foot of rain across the state during the middle of the dry season.

The 2018 bloom hit the west coast when blue-green algae started showing up on Lake Okeechobee that summer, then made its way into the Caloosahatchee River and estuary.

Conditions lasted for several months, and some people actually moved out of their houses to avoid the toxic air, particularly those with pre-existing health conditions that make them more prone to its impacts.

Water quality is a major issue for Southwest Florida and impacts this region in several ways.

When it goes bad, the local recreational and commercial fisheries can be shut down. The toxins appear to be a risk to the public, and a 2015 Florida Realtors report said property values by affected waterways in Lee and Martin counties – where Lake Okeechobee releases go on the east coast – could have been negatively impacted by as much as $1 billion over the study’s time frame.

Parsons said he hopes the research will one day lead to a system that detect blooms before they get too large in order to warn the public of the potential danger.

Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani said the program is an important part of understanding a toxic water situation that we now know very little about.

“I would say that research on inhaling (toxic algae) is a critical thing now because you don’t have to be in the water or really be near the water to experience health risks,” Cassani said.

The sensors were installed in a canal network near Sun Splash water park and take measurements of the cyanobacteria. Similar devices found the toxin at FGCU’s Bonita Springs location and at a Cape Coral home.

Parsons said the group will test people for the toxin again in June.

“It’s really a matter of we don’t know,” Parsons said. “Is this a problem or not? If you have a bloom in your canal it’s in the air, and there will probably be toxins in the air. Can our body take care of it or you need to leave for your best interest? And that’s not comfortable for people.”

© 2020 Journal Media Group, Fort Myers News-Press, Chad Gillis. All rights reserved.

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Many Companies Plan to Reopen in Phases

CBRE survey: Most commercial firms plan to follow social distance guidelines and readjust workspaces as they reopen; about 50% also plan to add touchless technology.

LOS ANGELES – Most companies plan to take a gradual, cautious approach to reopening their workplaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey from the commercial firm CBRE shows. Many companies are following social distancing procedures and readjusting workplaces as they reopen.

About half of 203 companies studied across the globe are also adding touchless technology aimed at preventing germ-spread in the workplace.

Florida Realtors is monitoring everything regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the real estate industry and Realtors and sharing it here.

The CBRE survey, conducted May 4, covered account leaders who oversee 4.2 billion square feet of workspace in offices, industrial and logistics real estate, tech space, data centers, retail, and healthcare that is used by more than 38 million workers.

“Our analysis of our clients’ return-to-work strategies shows that virtually all are engaged in detailed planning to ensure a careful and reasoned approach,” says Karen Ellzey, executive managing director of consulting and global lead for CBRE’s COVID-19 response for occupier clients. “Most of these companies have established their own criteria for when to return to the workplace beyond local and state government requirements. And nearly three quarters plan to bring employees back in phases rather than all at once.”

Fifty-nine percent of companies surveyed say they will provide face coverings for their employees. Twenty-eight percent will require face coverings at all times while at the property. Forty-two percent will require masks only at company facilities mandated by local government or health agency guidelines, the survey shows.

In the early phases of reopening, many firms say they plan to limit visitors. Only 21% of companies say they’ll allow visitors to the workplace in the early phases of reopening.

In prepping their spaces for a return, the majority of companies are installing signage, establishing space-use policies and guidelines for social distancing, outlining social distancing zones with floor decals and other reminders, and reconfiguring furniture layouts.

Seventy-two percent of companies will conduct a phased reopening with defined percentages or groups of employees admitted over weeks or months. Fifty-two percent expect to give employees the option to work from home for the foreseeable future. That option, however, did vary considerably among industry sector, the survey shows.

“Across the board, we see evidence that companies are taking a thoughtful, measured approach to reopening their work environments in a safe and methodical manner,” Ellzey says.

Source: “Most Employers in CBRE Study Favor Phased Return to Workplace, Adding Touchless Tech, Restricting Visitors,” CBRE (May 15, 2020)

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

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3x Your Lead Generation ROI with 5 Tips

Retrace the last 12 months of ad spending across social media, referral networks and Pay Per Click (PPC) lead generation to see where your past business originated.  

NORWALK, Conn. – Agents need to focus on their leads’ user experience to ensure better ROI from lead spend. To identify where the bulk of past business came from, agents should use a spreadsheet to retrace the past 12 months’ worth of ad spend across social media, referral networks and PPC lead generation.

A customer relationship management (CRM) tool can help effectively manage every stage of a lead’s lifecycle. Robust CRM will allow agents to keep detailed lead records, prompt outreach and follow-up, and provide valuable insight into every step of the sales process.

A good workflow will allow agents to automatically connect with their leads and encourage meaningful actions such as telephone or text outreach, email, social media connection and direct mail. Communication should feel personal and relevant to whatever stage of the process the lead is in, and be accompanied with such analytics as opens, clicks and responses where applicable.

It can take about seven to 13 touches to convert a lead into a qualified opportunity, and many brokers and agents generally will start with 27 touches over 30 days. Ideally, 14 of those touches should occur in the first seven days.

As agents develop their workflows and touchpoints, they should incorporate helpful resources, personal insight, and local “goodies” as part of the communication process. This helps build rapport and drives higher engagement with leads.

Source: RISMedia (05/12/20) Jolly, Bondilyn

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

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NAR: Watch for Home Sales Rebound as Economy Opens Up

There are still many unknowns about COVID-19, but with that in mind, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun is cautiously optimistic about where the economy is heading, and he also sees positive indicators in the residential real estate market.

WASHINGTON – First a caveat: There are still many unknowns about COVID-19 and what might happen next. But with that in mind, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun sounded cautiously optimistic about where the economy is heading and positive indicators in the residential real estate market.

Yun predicted that steady and even rising home prices could point toward healthy home sales numbers once the economy reopens, and he saw signs that jobs could also rebound as stay-at-home orders ease.

Despite a decline in GDP, consumer spending and business spending in the first quarter of 2020, Yun said that residential investment – including home building, home sales, and remodeling – was actually up 21% during the first three months. He said that’s an indication, of how strong the housing market was before the pandemic hit.

Yun’s also encouraged by the fact that personal income was up by 2% and personal savings jumped a remarkable 152% related to curtailed household spending as the pandemic spread.

Yun hesitated to gauge the mindset of savers. “Are they waiting for the economy to reopen?” he said. “Or is it simply pessimism? There is certainly more money available.”

While grocery-store spending went up in March as spending at restaurants declined, Yun said that balance seemed to be changing a bit, with restaurant spending slightly improved over the last few weeks – a decline of just 60% to 70% year-to-year as some restaurants found ways to continue serving customers by engaging in social distancing and offering takeout service.

And while clothing stores, sporting and hobby stores, and department stores all saw steep declines in consumer retail spending over the same period a year ago, building materials and gardening spending actually increased by 10.4%, a hopeful indicator.

“People are upgrading their homes,” Yun said. “When the market reopens, that housing will go up in value. People are remodeling, working on lawn care. All things you do to sell a home.”

Jobs rebound

As grim as the unemployment numbers have been, Yun was encouraged by recent data. As of May 2, a reported 26 million people were jobless, in contrast to the high of 33 million who filed claims earlier in the lockdown. Yun inferred from the numbers that some people received unemployment checks for a few weeks and then got back to work, possibly in jobs in high-demand essential fields. He also said that it was important to watch for trends like these as a harbinger of improvement.

“Even in good years, people file (for unemployment),” he said. “We are looking for a flattening of the curve. When 1 million jobs are created in a week and less than 1 million file for unemployment, we will know the economy is turning for the better.”

Yun also said that the biggest job losses in April were found in leisure and hospitality (7.6 million) and in education and health (2.5 million). However, he saw potential for the latter category to rebound quickly once the economy reopens.

“I expect [education and health] to turn positive. People will need daycare. Hip replacement, knee surgery will be done again. These loses could be temporary.”

Home prices and sales

In addition to positive prognostications on the job front, Yun saw reason to be optimistic on the potential for home sales once the economy picks up steam. Of particular note were home prices, which he said were strong.

“There is no meaningful downward trend,” he said. “If anything, they appear to be rising.”

Yun pointed to the current housing inventory shortage as the source of stable prices, and he predicted that the shortage could grow even more severe since that the usual spring increase in listings didn’t occur this year. He suggested that sellers will be ready to list once the economy reopens. He used Georgia as an example since it was one of the first states to start to reopen.

“Listings are popping out” in Georgia, Yun said, “and buyers are quickly grabbing homes.”

He added further that healthy home sales are possible even if the job market is uncertain. “Even in high unemployment times,” Yun said, “60 to 70% have employment. And we have record-low mortgage rates. The situation could be good.”

Source: National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Realtors: Change the Way You Think About Money

It’s easy to avoid retirement planning or saving for business slowdowns when your money arrives sporadically in big chunks. But that needs to change.

WASHINGTON – Thinking about money – let alone talking about it – is uncomfortable most of the time – but during an unstable economy, it’s downright painful, said Leigh Brown, ABR, CRS, author and speaker. But money doesn’t have to be scary when you make a habit of saving it, Brown said during her session, “Getting Your Financial House in Order: Evaluating Your Finances in a Crisis,” at the virtual 2020 Realtor® Legislative Meetings.

Because Realtors tend to have a highly optimistic nature, Brown said, it makes sense that only 52% actively save for retirement, according to NAR research.

“You say, ‘I got this deal coming through next week, and I’ll be getting $5,000,’ Brown said. “But then you get [interested in] a CRM that’s $6,000, and you say, ‘Well, I just need one more sale to make that up.’” And the cycle continues, and we never save.

Now we’re in a downturn, and that hamstrings our confidence, Brown said. “If you’re feeling fear, I’ve had that, too. During the Great Recession, when the phone stopped ringing like a spigot turned off.” Brown said she learned to play the organ during that downtime so she could audition for church jobs as a side gig to support her children, who were then toddlers.

The first step to move from fear to action during the pandemic is to reach out to your peers who were around during that last disruption, Brown said. “We’re a profession of abundance in terms of energy, calmness and information. This is the crowd who will support you.”

Your next step, she recommended, is to take advantage of NAR’s Center for Realtor Financial Wellness, a free member benefit, where you can take a confidential financial assessment to get on the right path. You can access spreadsheets and calculators, and sign up for monthly financial webinars. Past webinars, such as “Financial Tips During Challenging Times: A Business Survival Guide,” are available in the archive.

Then institute what she called a “40-30-20-10” spending plan: 40% of your commission check goes into a business account (to pay for things like CRMs, sponsorships, signs, and professional certifications), 30% goes into a personal account (mortgage, food, car payments), 20% goes to taxes and 10% is used for giving.

But the order in which you deposit the money, she recommends, is giving, taxes, personal and then business. “When I make it a discipline to give, it comes back big time,” she said.

She also recommends that Realtors invest in real estate, which not many agents do, even though they know everything about their market.

Landlord horror stories, like the nightmare tenant depicted in the 1990 movie “Pacific Heights,” keep us from investing, she said. Don’t let it. Get a property manager friend. “Surround yourself with smart people in this oddball market,” she said. “Is it someone you can partner with? Build collegial relationships that will help you in the future.”

Brown says that 85% of millennials also believe real estate is a good investment, according to NAR research. Even if they’re not ready to buy a primary residence, they may be interested in investing, she noted.

Brown’s other money tips

  • Consider opening accounts at a local bank or credit union, which are traditionally more relationship-based than a big bank. Not only will it help to have a personal banker when you need to get in the fast lane for things like an SBA loan, but you can also add to your sphere by building on those relationships. “Not everything has to be by app,” Brown said.
  • If you’ve memorized your credit card number, expiration date and security code, tell your bank you lost your card so you can get a new one. Don’t memorize the new number and keep the card where you have to walk to get it. That gives you time to think twice before you buy.
  • You don’t need a fancy car. “I got frugal after the Great Recession,” Brown said.
  • Get a certified accountant to help you structure your business so you pay the least amount in taxes. Take advantage of the 20% deduction NAR scored for independent contractors and pass-through businesses during the federal tax bill negotiations in 2017.
  • Finally, how you position yourself in this market is key. “You’re a professional problem solver,” Brown said. You’re successful “not because you have open houses. It’s because you’re there to professionally solve clients’ problems.”

And today, expertise is everything.

Source: National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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NAHB Study: New-Home Demand Could Save Economy

A new-home sale pumps even more money into the economy than a resale. NAHB says 1,000 new homes create 2,900 jobs and generate almost $111M in taxes and fees.

WASHINGTON – A new study from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) finds that housing is poised to lead an economic rebound as coronavirus pandemic fades.

According to the study, the build of 1,000 average single-family homes creates 2,900 full-time jobs and generates $110.96 million in taxes and fees – money used to support police, firefighters and schools. The findings are included in NAHB’s National Impact of Home Building and Remodeling report.

While each single-family home has a bigger economic impact that new apartments, the latter also have a strong impact on local economies. The report finds that building 1,000 average rental apartments generates 1,250 jobs and $55.91 million in taxes and revenue for local, state and federal governments.

Remodeling by current homeowners also helps. The report says that ever $10 million in remodeling expenditures creates 75 jobs and generates nearly $3 million in taxes.

“Before the coronavirus pummeled the U.S. economy, housing was on the rise with January and February new home sales numbers posting their highest reading since the Great Recession,” says NAHB Chairman Dean Mon. “The demand is clearly there, and as this study shows, we expect that housing will play its traditional role of helping to lead the economy out of recession later in 2020 when the pandemic subsides.”

The NAHB model finds broad-based job creation. Building homes or apartments generates jobs in industries that produce lumber, concrete, lighting fixtures, heating equipment and other products, as well as related jobs for workers that transport, store or sell those products. It also creates jobs for professional service workers, such as architects, engineers, real estate agents, lawyers and accountants.

On March 28, the Department of Homeland Security designated the construction of single-family and multifamily housing as an “Essential Infrastructure Business,” meaning that construction could continue in places under stay-at-home orders. Local governments could override that designation, but more construction workers returned to their jobs after it was issued.

“Ensuring the health and safety of home builders and contractors is our top priority,” says Mon.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Real Estate Q&A: I’m Behind on My Rent. What Can I Do?

An understanding landlord is working with a renter, but she now fears she’ll never be able to catch up on missed rent payments.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: As we start to enter “Phase 1,” it looks like I will be able to get some hours at work soon. My landlord has been leaving me alone, knowing that I was put on hiatus and that evictions are temporarily paused. I am a couple of months behind on my rent and not sure how I can catch up. What can I do? – Karen

Answer: You are not alone – many people are facing this problem as our communities and country being the painful process of recovery.

It sounds like your landlord has been very pragmatic in accepting the reality of your situation and not giving you unnecessary grief. Hopefully, your landlord will continue to be reasonable.

Your first step should be to speak with her. Be realistic about your budget and try to take her needs as a landlord into account. She will need to pay the mortgage, property taxes and other expenses, and she cannot do that without collecting rent.

Since it will be difficult for you to gather enough rent money of first, last and security deposit needed to start a new lease, trying to work things out where you are is your best bet.

When having this conversation with your landlord, be open about your work situation and financial outlook. Try to make a plan where you pay the rent while making up the past-due rent in small, affordable, increments. If you are reasonable, there is no reason that your landlord will not agree.

The truth is that she will not get the missing rent payments back by evicting you, and no landlord wants to remove their tenant without a good reason. It is time-consuming and can be expensive and frustrating.

Give your landlord good reasons to work with you, and she most likely will.

Of course, this advice only works if you genuinely do not have the money to pay. If you do and are just trying to get one over, you can be sure that if your landlord finds out, she will be quick to evict you and chase you for the back rent.

In my time as a practicing attorney, I have occasionally seen people cry poverty and then drive off in their luxury car on their way to a weekend cruise. That never ends well when their landlord or lender finds out.

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

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

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HUD Extends Eased FHA Appraiser/Employment Rules Through June

Most FHA property appraisals can be done without an appraiser physically entering the home under temporary rules that were extended from May 17 to June 30, 2020.

WASHINGTON – In order to keep FHA loans active during a time of social distancing, the Department of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) extended an existing order that eased requirements for appraisals of FHA loans.

The original order, Mortgagee Letter 2020-05, was issued on March 27, 2020, and expired on May 17. A new order issued on May 14, Mortgagee Letter 2020-14, extends the rules under the original order until June 30, 2020.

The order notes the following temporary changes for FHA loan appraisals:

• Most single-family forward and HECM (reverse mortgages) for purchase transactions may use an optional exterior-only or desktop-only appraisal inspection.

• Traditional HECM, HECM-to-HECM refinances, rate and term refinances and simple refinances of properties may also use an optional exterior-only inspection scope of work.

• All appraisals made in connection with the servicing of FHA’s forward or reverse mortgage portfolios may use either the exterior-only or desktop-only appraisal inspection scope of work.

• No changes are made to Streamline Refinances, which do not require appraisals or to the appraisal requirements for FHA’s CashOut refinance, 203(k), and certain purchase transactions.

HUD also changed some employment verification procedures temporarily, including a verbal verification of employment. The latter is mainly for companies in which the traditional employees that would verify employment aren’t in the office during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s applicable for all FHA Title II forward and reverse mortgage programs in which re-verification of employment is required.

“These temporary measures allow lenders and appraisers to continue their necessary work for new FHA-insured mortgages in light of social distancing requirements,” HUD said in a release

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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What’s More Important than Ever? Team Communications

Despite social distancing, communication is crucial for real estate teams. Agents need to engage with each other and brokers should help them stay connected.

NEW YORK – Despite the need for social distancing, communication is crucial for real estate teams. Agents need to engage with each other, and companies need to help employees stay connected.

There are a number of ways to facilitate internal communication and encourage a sense of stability, including weekly check-ins or meetings using one of many tools available.

Zoom is particularly useful for sales meetings and training, while Slack enhances communication across the entire team. Slack users can also collaborate remotely and share documents, images and other assets.

Ring Central is an effective and secure platform that allows team members to message, share tasks, video conference, and engage with one another.

Google Hangouts and Google Docs can be used for weekly training meetings as well as sharing ideas and insights on ways to stay strong and optimistic.

Other options include weekly newsletters that provide area updates, company policy changes or other decisions that affect how staff members conduct business. The newsletters should include links for everyday resources such as online education classes or even a company that sells signs.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Blog (04/14/2020)

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FHFA to Allow Deferred Repayments to Homeowners in Forebearance

Once a homeowner in forbearance can start making payments again, they’ll have simplified options to either sell the home, refinance or extend the length of their current loan.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) are offering a new payment deferral option for homeowners in mortgage forbearance due to COVID-19 – the ability to repay missed payments at the time a home is sold, refinanced or at maturity.

Mortgage servicers will begin offering the new payment deferral repayment options starting July 1, 2020.

“Payment deferral allows them to make up missed forbearance payments when they sell their home or refinance,” says FHFA Director Mark Calabria. “This new forbearance repayment solution responsibly simplifies options for homeowners while providing an additional tool for mortgage servicers.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back more than half of all U.S. loans. Until the latest announcement, homeowners seeking forbearance could also defer payments to the end of their loans, but servicers had to evaluate borrowers for one of several options, which they called a “hierarchy” of repayment and loan modification options. Deferring missed payments until the end of the mortgage is one of those options.

Payments missed due to forbearance have to be paid back in all cases, but the new FHFA offerings simplify the process for homeowners as well as lenders. FHFA loans in forbearance don’t require a lump sum repayment at the end of the forbearance.

If a homeowner opts to have the missed payments tacked onto the end of their mortgage, their monthly payments won’t change. The loans will remain in Enterprise Mortgage-Backed Securities, subject to the terms of the trust agreements.

FHFA says it will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and update policies as needed.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Builders Offering Incentives to Attract More Buyers

NAHB economist says builders have about 80K completed inventory homes and 540K in some stage of construction. The incentives will offset prices as unemployment rises.

Houses are still on the market, and Realtors are ready to help you find your dream home. Just keep these things in mind.

CHICAGO – Homebuilders want attract buyers, and they’re sweetening the pot to do so. More builders are offering discounts or offering free upgrades – like new appliances or paying closing costs – to attract buyers. Most incentives appear to be targeted at new homes or developments already in the works.

“Builders with standing inventory will seek to sell it as quickly as they can,” says Robert Dietz, chief economist with the National Association of Home Builders.

Dietz estimates that builders have about 80,000 completed inventory homes ready for buyers nationwide. He also estimates an extra 540,000 homes in some stage of construction.

Sales of new homes dropped 9.5% in March compared to a year earlier. Dietz expects new-home sales to continue to slow due to climbing unemployment.

“The market is on pause,” Dietz told realtor.com. “Incentives will be used to offset prices as we see a surge in unemployment.”

Builders offer different degrees of incentives. For example, Drees Homes offers discounts in some locales, such as $1,000 for buyers who sign a contract by the end of May or an extra $5,000 toward closing costs for those who book a tour, either virtually or in person. But in some markets, they’re also offering up to $10,000 toward outdoor amenities such as kitchens and entertainment areas.

“Right now, we are just encouraging buyers. We’re still here, and we’re open for business,” says Alicia Engelking, marketing director for Drees Homes in Houston.

Neals Communities, which sells in communities on Florida’s west coast, will waive closing costs up to $18,000 on 80 of its homes that were finished or are currently under construction.

The builder Kenco is discounting up to $50,000 on some of its completed home inventory priced between $600,000 and $1 million.

Builders like Lennar Corp. and Ryan Homes reportedly offer $7,500 in closing costs on new homes. Lennar offers an extra $5,000 to $10,000 off its selling price in some markets, and its mortgage company promotes 2.7% interest rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for select homes.

In Wellington, Fla., three builders are offering discounts in a planned “agrihood” community accompanying a 5-acre working farm. “It’s a buyer’s opportunity to get a great price,” says Susan Moguel, Arden’s marketing director.

Source: “Homebuilders Are Now Offering Deals, Incentive on New Construction to Lure Buyers,” realtor.com® (May 12, 2020)

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Mortgage Rates Hold Steady for Three Weeks in a Row

Economic pressures pushed rates lower and more buyers pushed rates higher resulting in relative stability. This week’s 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.28%.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Mortgage rates have remained fairly stable for three weeks even in the face of economic threats from the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates remain, however, at historic or almost-historic lows, making it a good time to buy a home.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.28 percent this week, a marginal increase from last week’s 3.26%. However, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped slightly, going down to 2.72% from last week’s 2.73%. Both loan types average 0.7 points.

A year ago, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.07%, and the 15-year averaged 3.53%.

“Mortgage rates have stabilized at very low levels over the last few weeks as homebuyer demand slowly improves,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. He says purchase applications hit a new low in mid-April, but “today purchase demand is only down 10% from one year ago. While demand is improving, inventory is low and declining with no signs of a turnaround yet.”

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.18% with an average 0.3 point this week – up slightly from last week’s 3.17%. A year ago at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.66 percent.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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FHFA and DeSantis Extend Foreclosure, Eviction Moratorium

At-risk owners of single-family, FHFA homes can’t be evicted before June 30 under a new extension, and Gov. DeSantis extended Fla.’s eviction moratorium to June 2.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that the eviction moratorium on single-family home foreclosures will be extended from May 17 to June 30, 2020. The moratorium only applies to homes with loans held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. However, FHA and VA loans might be included in a future announcement.

“During this national health emergency, no one should be forced from their home,” says FHFA Director Mark Calabria. “Extending the foreclosure and eviction moratoriums protects homeowners and renters with an Enterprise-backed mortgage and provides certainty for families.”

Three federal agencies – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – unveiled a single-source of information for housing programs and recent changes stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, go to cfpb.gov/housing.

Florida eviction moratorium

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the state’s existing moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to June 2. Without the extension, the moratorium was scheduled to end on Sunday, May 17.

The governor announced a plan to extend the moratorium on Wednesday and officially announced the signing of a new executive order during a news conference in Miami-Dade County on May 14.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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SBA Gives Partial Amnesty for PPP Loans Less Than $2M

Faced with criticism and lawsuits, the Small Business Administration says a “borrower that … received PPP loans with an original principal amount less than $2M will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.”

WASHINGTON – Faced with widespread criticism and lawsuits, the SBA backs down and gives amnesty to those receiving less than $2 million in PPP funding and partial amnesty to all others.

Brett Wherry, director of business advisory at Berman Hopkins CPA & Associates, offers financial advice for Florida Realtors members to help you cope during the coronavirus pandemic, including information on Economic Injury Disaster Loans and the Paycheck Protection Program.

As an update to a May 7 article (The SBA Again Backtracks … Signaling Yet Another Important Change To PPP Rules), the Small Business Administration (SBA) fulfilled its promise “to provide additional guidance on how it will review the certification prior to May 14, 2020.” On the eve of the extended “return the money no questions asked” deadline, the SBA now instructs:

“Any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan request in good faith.”

This lays to rest the worry and uncertainty caused by Secretary Mnuchin’s April 28 announcement that all recipients of PPP loans “for more than $2 million” will “face full audits, with spot checks for [those receiving] smaller amounts.” It also lays to rest how the SBA will enforce the directives handed down that same day in its Frequently Asked Questions Nos. 31 and 37 … both purportedly “remind[ing] borrowers to review carefully the required certification on the Borrower Application Form” that “[c]urrent economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.”

While the SBA’s explanation for this sea change in policy is somewhat questionable (the SBA in effect says borrowers who received less than $2 million are “less likely” to have gamed the system), the news is welcome for those fortunate enough not to have already abandoned their loans.

The guidance also provides happy news to those who received $2 million or more. In short, it says such borrowers found to have lacked “an adequate basis for the[ir] required certification concerning the necessity of the[ir] loan request” will simply be given an opportunity to repay the loan. If they do, the SBA now says it “will not pursue administrative enforcement or referrals to other agencies” for civil or criminal prosecution.

Finally, the guidance assures lenders the “SBA’s determination concerning the certification regarding the necessity of the loan request will not affect SBA’s loan guarantee.”

It should be emphasized, however, the complete and partial “amnesty” the SBA announced only applies with respect to questions pertaining to PPP borrowers’ “need” for federal aid. It does not apply with respect to other possible disqualifying factors, including the proper application of the SBA’s complex “affiliation” rules. That is to say, borrowers who falsely certify they meet the SBA’s definition of a “small business concern” under these rules presumably are still subject to administrative, civil and criminal prosecution.

The full text of (FAQ 46) SBA guidance can be found online.

© Copyright 2020 LA Weekly, All rights reserved. Enterprise Counsel Group is a full-service business litigation, transactional and appellate law firm located in Irvine, California. The post “SBA Gives Partial Amnesty To Businesses Who Borrowed Less Than $2 Million in PPP Funding” appeared first on LA Weekly.

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Florida’s 2020 Hurricane Sales Tax Holiday Starts May 29

The one-week tax break ends on June 4 and covers sales taxes on storm-prep items, such as portable generators, flashlights, batteries and home-protection gear.  

MIAMI – It’s May in Florida and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to start preparing for the 2020 hurricane season. To help residents get ready for a storm, the 2020 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Prepared by Florida Realtors just for you, this checklist will help your local Realtor association or office weather any storm that comes your way.

The sales tax holiday begins May 29 and extends through June 4.

During the sales tax holiday period, qualifying items related to disaster preparedness are exempt from sales tax.

Here’s a list of items that qualify this year for the sales tax exemption:

  • Selling for $10 or less: Reusable ice (reusable ice packs)
  • Selling for $20 or less: Any portable, self-powered light source (powered by battery, solar, hand crank, or gas): candles, flashlights, lanterns
  • Selling for $25 or less: Any gas or diesel fuel container, including LP gas and kerosene containers
  • Selling for $30 or less: Batteries, including rechargeable batteries, listed sizes only (excluding automobile and boat batteries): AAA, AA, C, D, 6-volt, 9-volt; coolers and ice chests (food-storage; nonelectrical)
  • Selling for $50 or less: Bungee cords; ground anchor systems; radios (powered by battery, solar, or hand crank), two-way or weather band; ratchet straps; tarpaulins (tarps), tie-down kits; plastic sheeting, plastic drop cloths and other flexible waterproof sheeting
  • Selling for $750 or less: Portable generators used to provide light or communications, or to preserve food in the event of a power outage

A basic emergency supply kit for your home should include not only enough supplies to get through the storm but for the potentially lengthy and unpleasant aftermath.

Have enough non-perishable food, water and medicine to last each person in your family a minimum of three days. Electricity and water could be out for at least that long. You’ll need extra cash, a battery-powered radio and flashlights. You may need a portable crank or solar-powered USB charger for your cell phones.

Here’s a suggested list of supplies you should have on hand

  • One gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least enough for three to seven days, including: non-perishable packaged or canned food and juices, food for infants and the elderly, snack food, vitamins, paper plates and plastic utensils.
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit, plus medicines and prescription drugs
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Toiletries, including hygiene items, moisture wipes, sanitizer
  • Garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
  • Cash and change
  • Pet care items, proper identification, immunization records, ample food and water, medicine, a carrier or cage and leash.

Store important documents in a fire and waterproof container, including

  • Insurance papers
  • Medical records
  • Bank account numbers
  • Social Security cards
  • Deeds or mortgages
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Recent tax returns
  • Wills

Usually, evacuees are told to take a few important things to a shelter. Food. Batteries. Flashlights. A change of clothes. Medication. Maybe a book or two and comfort items for children.

The coronavirus has already meant a new addition to your shelter supply list. The CDC recommends if you need to go to a public shelter, bring at least two cloth face coverings for each person and, if possible, hand sanitizer.

Sources: Fema.gov, National Weather Service

© 2020 Journal Media Group

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Realtor.com Forecast: Year of Housing Market Ups and Downs

What happens when pent-up demand meets a pandemic? Realtor.com’s economist predicts a hot late summer RE market, a fall slowdown and another hot market in spring 2021.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It’s hard to predict what will happen in the real estate market if you can’t predict what will happen with the COVID-19 pandemic, but realtor.com’s Chief Economist Danielle Hale revised her 2020 predictions this week.

At the heart of Hale’s estimate is that the pandemic will recede slowly this summer followed by a rebound in the fall, and the pent-up buyer demand will drive the market forward during those times when COVID-19’s spread has slowed.

Strong buyer demand hasn’t faded, and some now think April’s downturn was a pause so agents, buyers and sellers could figure out how virtual home selling works.

As a result, she sees the 2020 real estate market shaped like the letter “W”, with clearly defined high and low points. The updated forecast predicts an uptick in transactions during the third quarter driven largely by millennials, but 2020 total home sales will be down 15% year-to-year.

The forecast also expects home prices to flatten nationally as demand shifts to the secondary markets that offer buyers more affordability and space.

Hale specifically sees rebounding in July, August and September as fears of the coronavirus taper off and buyers return to the market to make up for the lost spring homebuying season. Sales will then dip again in the final months of the year as virus infections spike and the lingering impact of high unemployment rates are felt.

“The U.S. housing market started 2020 with substantial momentum, Hale says. “With some of the best home sales and housing starts in more than a decade, our biggest challenge going into the spring home-buying season was a lack of for sale homes.”

She says the pandemic has, thus far, maintained the balance between buyers and sellers – though with fewer of both – and that has preserved market values.

“As cities and states begin the slow process of reopening, we’re going to see a see-saw recovery with ups and downs that will favor the nation’s secondary markets in the short-term,” Hale says. “After experiencing life under quarantine, many buyers are searching for affordability and greater space, which is driving demand out of the nation’s largest metros and into surrounding smaller towns.”

The updated forecast projects mortgage rates to drop to new lows below 3% by the end of the year, primarily driven by an accommodating Fed and tepid economic outlook. While rates will be favorable, however, lenders’ qualifying criteria will be tougher than normal as they try to mitigate their own risks amid unfolding economic uncertainty.

Hale predicts that home prices will flatten, increasing just 1.1% for the calendar year – but the inventory of for-sale homes will remain tight, and buyers will have trouble finding available homes for sale. However, homebuyers should have less competition from all-cash investment buyers than they did during the 2008 recession where they dominated the market.

Sellers will face their own array of 2020challenge, Hale adds. A well-priced home would normally generate multiple offers, but that may not be the case this year. Sellers who need to sell a current home in order to move up or downsize will find the dual process especially difficult compared to prior years.

Hale identified 5 factors that will drive the rest of the 2020 real estate market:

  • Baby boomers – Many boomers have held onto properties longer than expected, and they may decide to postpone a home sale even longer until things return to normal – a move that will further constrict the number of homes for sale.
  • Millennials – Millennials will continue to be the market’s dominant buying force. Because their home purchases are less discretionary, their share of the market will continue to grow. Hale predicts that millennials will make up 50% of home purchases in 2020, but this number could grow if older generations decide to step back from the market.
  • Secondary markets – Secondary markets throughout the U.S. with resilient jobs markets could see greater than normal demand as buyers continue to search for affordability and additional space. As these markets heat up, we also expect to see a change to the mix of homes available for sale nationwide. As the mix of homes for sales shifts, we could see the national listing price decline to reflect the change towards more affordable homes.
  • Election – The 2020 presidential election will be a wild card. Historically, economic strength is a good predictor of how people will vote.
  • Global economy – The global economy will be key this year. The U.S. is heavily dependent on imports and exports, so if the global economy struggles, the U.S. will feel the impact.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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New Luxury Amenities: Masks, Gloves and COVID-19 Testing

With happy hour and fitness classes cancelled, some luxury complexes are focusing on pandemic issues to attract residents, including COVID-19 testing, masks and gloves.

MIAMI – Happy hours, fitness classes, and residential socials are currently a thing of the past in luxury apartment buildings. Now, some buildings found a new hook centered on health, with some offering complimentary coronavirus testing, along with free masks and gloves.

The Continuum South Beach in Miami Beach, Fla., partnered with nearby Mount Sinai hospital and USA Sports Medicine to host a three-day event that included free COVID-19 antibody testing for residents and employees. More than 400 residents out of a total of 522 units opted to get tested, as did more than 120 employees.

“We’re redirecting our funds to things that are more important to our residents right now, which is health and safety,” Rishi Idnani, managing director of the Continuum, told Forbes.com. “We were able to negotiate a bulk rate for the antibody testing [that] was paid directly by the association as a service.”

The building also distributed masks and gloves to residents, which they also did last month – tucked inside personalized Easter baskets. After building management cancelled its annual Easter egg hunt for residents, it replaced the event with individualized baskets at doors.

Apartments are reimagining other amenities offered in light of the pandemic. Some luxury buildings are offering online cooking and workout classes, or Zoom-led wine socials, some including celebrity hosts. In Extell’s Hudson Square building in New York City, for example famous chef Charlie Palmer is hosting online cooking demos exclusively for residents.

Source: “Free COVID Antibody Testing Joins Luxury Amenities as Buildings Accommodate Shelter-in-Place Orders,” Forbes.com (May 8, 2020)

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NAR: U.S. Metro-Area Homes Sales Rise 96% in 1Q 2020

The U.S. had a robust first quarter with little impact yet from the growing pandemic. In almost all metro areas, prices rose and limited inventories barely budged.

WASHINGTON – Nearly all of the nation’s metro areas saw price growth and had minimal inventory increases in the first quarter of 2020, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

Median single-family home prices increased year-over-year in 96% of measured markets in the first quarter – 174 of 181 metropolitan statistical areas showed sales price gains. That increase is a bit more than just the quarter before. In 4Q 2019, 94% saw a year-to-year price growth.

Year-over-year, Fla. single-family home sales up 10.2%, median price up 6.7%; condo sales up 9.3%, median price up 10.5%. Florida Realtors Chief Economist O’Connor: Expect to see more impact of coronavirus pandemic in 2Q housing data.

The national median existing single-family home price in the first quarter of 2020 was $274,600, up 7.7% year-to-year.

According to NAR, 46 metros, mostly in the West and South regions, saw prices increase by double-digits, including Boise City, Idaho (18.1%), Eugene, Ore. (14.5%) and Colorado Springs, Colo. (14.4%), and some others.

“The first quarter price jumps mostly reflect conditions prior to the coronavirus outbreak and show the strength of the housing demand prior to the pandemic,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Even now, due to very limited listings, home prices are showing no signs of buckling.”

In March, the median sales price of existing homes rose 8% year-to-year. Yun says the strong desire for housing paired with dire inventory totals contributed to higher home prices.

“Supply is extremely limited, and there are simply not as many homes for sale to meet the demand among potential buyers,” he says. “More supply and more listings are needed to provide a faster recovery for the economy.”

At the end of last quarter, 1.50 million existing homes were available for sale – 10.2% lower than total inventory in the previous quarter. As of March 2020, housing inventory totals were equivalent to 3.4 months at the current sales pace. Economists generally consider 6 months to be a balanced market between the number of buyers and the number of sellers.

Metro areas that were already deemed the most expensive also saw price jumps in the first quarter. In the West region, median sales prices increased from one year ago in San Jose, Calif. (10.7%); San Francisco (5.9%); Anaheim, Calif. (9.4%); San Diego (8.1%); Boulder, Colo. (3.1%); Los Angeles (8.1%) and Seattle (11.5%).

“The fast-rising home prices are not healthy, so more homebuilding needs to take place as the economy begins to reopen,” says Yun. “Mortgage rates are at historic lows, and those with secure employment will be attracted to the market.”

Only a few metro areas had year-over-year price declines, and even those were marginal with decreases less than 3%. Those areas include, among others, Bloomington, Ill. (-1.8%); Shreveport-Bossier City, La. (-2.1%) and Bowling Green, Ky. (-2.7%).

Median single-family sales prices were higher across all regions year-to-year in 1Q. The Northeast saw a rise of 9.7%, while the Midwest, the South and the West each had an increase of 7.5%.

Lower mortgage rates led to better home affordability in the final quarter of 2019 and first quarter of 2020. The 30-year fixed-rate averaged 3.57% in the first quarter of 2020, down from 4.62% one year earlier, making the average monthly mortgage payment on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (20% down payment) $995 compared to $1,048 one year earlier. It’s the equivalent of 15% of a median family’s income of $79,662 compared to 16.1% one year earlier.

In 135 of the 181 metro areas NAR studies, a family needed less than $50,000 to afford a home in the first quarter of 2020, assuming a 20% down payment. However, in the most expensive metro areas, a given family needed over $100,000 to afford a home.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Those Thinking About Bankruptcy Should Act Soon

A recession often puts families and businesses at risk, and if bankruptcy seems like the only solution, an owner should take action sooner rather than later.

NEW YORK – If you’ve lost your job or struggle to pay your debt, you may need to file for bankruptcy. If that’s the case, you should ignore some common financial advice and start thinking defensively.

The coronavirus pandemic that upended the economy is also expected to send unprecedented numbers of people and businesses to bankruptcy court. Millions are out of work, and economic disruptions could continue until a vaccine is widely available, something that may be more than a year away.

“I am gearing up for having a tsunami of new cases,” says Jenny Doling, a bankruptcy attorney in Palm Desert, California, who serves on the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Chapter 13 Advisory Committee. “I think there will be a whole lot more people filing than what anyone’s ever seen before.”

If bankruptcy may be in your future, here’s what you need to know now.

Don’t wait to talk to a bankruptcy attorney

People are usually advised to solve their debt problems on their own, if they can, or to consult a credit counselor, with bankruptcy as a last resort. But the people who come out of bankruptcy in the best shape tend to be the ones who got expert advice early, Doling says. You can get referrals from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, and the first meeting is typically free.

“If you even think that there’s a possibility that you’re going to be in debt trouble, or you’re not able to pay something, go get a free consultation before you make any kind of financial move,” Doling says.

That doesn’t mean you should rush to file, however, says John Rao, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center. Your situation could improve, or things could get much worse. Since Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcies can only be filed every eight years, you’d want to file when you can erase the maximum amount of debt.

Don’t touch your retirement money

This is one piece of advice that predates the pandemic: It’s never been a good idea to raid your retirement funds. It’s a particularly bad idea if bankruptcy might be in your future.

The new coronavirus hardship withdrawals allow people to take up to $100,000 from their 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts without penalty or mandatory withholding. The withdrawals are taxable, but people who can pay the money back within three years can amend their tax returns to get those taxes refunded.

But few people in financial crisis now will be able to pay the money back, Doling predicts. More important, money in retirement funds is typically protected from creditors and so should not be used to pay debt that could be erased in bankruptcy, such as credit cards and medical bills.

Don’t let cash pile up

A cash buffer is important, but money in bank accounts can be seized to pay creditors. Your attorney will advise you about where to put extra cash. One option may be a Roth IRA. Any amount you contribute can be withdrawn tax-free at any time, and in the meantime it’s protected from creditors.

Don’t sell stuff

People are often advised to sell unneeded possessions to pay down what they owe. If bankruptcy’s in your future, though, check with an attorney first since the sale may be unnecessary or may be needed more later.

“After the bankruptcy, if you needed it to pay your rent, you could sell it,” Doling says.

Also, don’t give away assets, because a bankruptcy trustee – the person administering your bankruptcy case – could sue the recipient to get them back, says Kate Nicholson, a bankruptcy attorney in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Don’t pass up forbearance options

Because of the crisis, many lenders are allowing borrowers to skip some payments. The usual advice is to take advantage of such forbearance only if you really need to, since the debt will still have to be repaid.

But credit card debt and most other unsecured debt would be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is the type most consumers file. Secured debt, such as mortgages and car loans, usually isn’t erased, but forbearance could help you save money for other necessities, including food, utilities – and paying your bankruptcy attorney. (A Chapter 7 filing typically costs about $1,500, with Chapter 13 filings running $3,000 and up.)

“(Forbearance) is a great wait-and-see approach so that you’re not (paying) out-of-pocket right now,” Doling says. “You can see what’s going to happen with your job, with your spouse’s job, your situation.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.”

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Big Hobby in Self-Isolation? Real Estate Window Shopping

Buyers and curious people have always checked out real estate websites, but renters and owners are getting bored with their current digs and have more time to browse.

CHICAGO – America has a new hobby during the COVID-19 pandemic: browsing listings of homes for sale.

Real estate professionals report an uptick in online views of their listings. The increased activity could be from a growing number of window shoppers daydreaming of moving to a new home after the pandemic eases.

“Window shopping for real estate fills me with a sense of calm,” writes Janet Siroto for realtor.com. She currently resides in a high-rise apartment in New York City. “In the same way that fantasizing about an upcoming vacation helps people slog through a few more weeks of their 9-to-5 job, checking out real state gives me the fortitude to push on.”

Siroto says her real estate tastes have changed since the pandemic. She once would have swooned over a compact brownstone in the city but now is drawn to listings that show off a Victorian spread out on a few acres or a brick home in the suburbs.

“People are panicked,” says Alison Bernstein, president and founder of the Suburban Jungle Group, a national real estate firm. Our web traffic and calls “are up 40% from this time last year.” She says the calls are mostly from people who considered moving prior to the pandemic but then decided to hold off.

“But now, they are ready,” Bernstein says. “They don’t want to get on elevators anymore or do laundry in a shared space.”

Jennifer Kornreich, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Huntington, N.Y., says that the severity of COVID-19 is prompting more people to re-evaluate their lives.

“Confronting your mortality as we are now doing may push you to think about what changes you want to make in life,” she says. “Right now, you can’t control where you go in public, but you may be able to control where you live.”

Source: “Why the Coronavirus Has Me Window Shopping Real Estate Like Crazy,” realtor.com (May 5, 2020)

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Fla. to Receive $63M in HUD’s ‘Third Wave’ of Funding

The money will go to a range of public services to prevent and respond to the pandemic, including acquisition/rehabilitation of structures and some small-biz help.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is allocating a third wave in CARES Act coronavirus relief funding – $1 billion more through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Including money allocated during the first two phases, HUD will have provided over $3 billion in CDBG funding to help communities combat the COVID-19 coronavirus and alleviate economic hardship.

Florida will receive $63,017,132 through the latest round of HUD funding.

“This funding will afford states the ability to respond to the unique circumstances they are facing – from reducing risk of transmission to regaining the sound footing of their economy,” says,” says HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

HUD says the money allocation formula considers a number of variables that focus on public health needs, risk of transmission of coronavirus, rate of coronavirus cases and economic disruption. It includes data on low-income elderly and poor children and recent unemployment insurance claims data. The goal, HUD says, is to provide more money to areas with higher-than-average COVID-19 cases.

Grantees may consider more than 25 eligible CDBG activities to shape their local programs to meet their needs, including:

  • A range of public services to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus, such as providing food and health services for low-income elderly persons and children
  • Small business assistance or emergency housing payments for entities and families impacted by economic and housing market disruptions
  • Acquisition and rehabilitation of structures for health facilities, food banks or public improvements needed to support community coronavirus response, preparation or prevention. For example, HUD says grants can help with improvements to heating, ventilation and air conditioning in a local grocery store to protect employees and shoppers, or alterations to neighborhood business district sidewalks and facades to enable curbside pick-up or social distancing

While HUD has earmarked each phase of its funding program to target the COVID-19 pandemic, each round of funding has unique goals. More information on each phase can be found on HUD’s website:

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Will There Be More Money in Another Pandemic Relief Bill?

There’s a lot of bilateral agreement in Washington for another round of relief money and some agreement on who should get it – but also a few big hurdles before passage.

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have pitched a number of proposals they argue are essential to a new coronavirus relief plan to combat the effects of the coronavirus. The result: A grab bag of ideas without a deal.

Trump wants a payroll tax cut that Democrats have flat-out opposed. Democrats are adamant about more funding for state and local governments. And some Republicans would rather wait and see how the nearly $3 trillion in already approved relief pans out before moving forward with more.

Florida Realtors is monitoring everything regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the real estate industry and Realtors and sharing it here.

Pressure to reconcile the competing plans could intensify as Trump and lawmakers regroup after the country’s unemployment rate reached nearly 15% last week, a grim indicator underscoring the virus’ toll on American businesses and workers. Officials now predict unemployment could pass 20% in the coming months, approaching the 25% rate reached during the Great Depression.

However, discussions between the two sides are happening, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday.

“We’re collecting ideas for next steps,” Kudlow said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Kudlow, who described the talks as “informal,” said he and another Trump economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, held a conference call on Friday with about 50 House Republicans and Democrats. Another conference call with senators is set for Monday.

Despite the talks, House Democrats may march forward on a massive package that is expected to exceed $2 trillion, with a vote possible as early as this week. The legislation is not expected to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Republicans, Democrats and the president have all drawn lines on provisions they say must be included in the next bill – mandates that will be major hurdles to getting more financial aid to workers, families, businesses and local governments.

What could be in next package?

There are dozens of provisions that could make their way into the next package.

Democrats have said they want to move quickly on what they’ve called a second installment to the historic CARES Act, the $2 trillion package passed in March that sent relief checks to Americans, boosted unemployment benefits and created a loan program for small businesses. Republicans are touting liability protections for businesses and have also suggested a pause on additional legislation.

Here’s what members of both parties have identified as key priorities in the next package:

  • State, local and tribal funding: Democrats have highlighted additional funds for state, local and tribal governments as their No. 1 priority in the next package. They’ve proposed anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion to help address budget shortfalls. But Trump has said he has no interest in bailing out states that he thinks have been poorly managed.
  • Payroll tax cut: Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of a payroll tax cut, saying “that’s going to really put people to work.” The size of the cut and other details have not been released.
  • Cash payments: A number of Democrats are proposing additional relief payments to Americans, with one proposal including $2,000 monthly payments for at least six months. Trump has previously voiced support for additional payments but lately has shifted focus and emphasized the need for a payroll tax cut. Democrats have also highlighted the need to extend bolstered unemployment benefits as millions of Americans remain unemployed.
  • Liability protections for businesses: Republicans are demanding that any new bill include protections for business from what conservatives have called frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits as states and companies begin to reopen, a proposition that Democrats say they oppose.
  • Funds for hospitals, testing and hazard pay for workers: Democrats and Republicans have highlighted the needs for more testing, and liberals are pushing for billions more to rapidly expand testing as the country attempts to reopen. Bipartisan proposals have also been floated for increased funding for rural hospitals and hazard pay for front-line workers, something the president has embraced.
  • More funds for small businesses: Congressional lawmakers in both parties have said they are watching the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which Congress replenished with billions in April. Lawmakers have acknowledged more funding might be needed for the program.
  • Infrastructure spending: Republicans and Democrats have repeatedly cited the need to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure and members of both parties have suggested a massive infrastructure could help in a recovery effort, while also creating new jobs for Americans.

Will more aid even be taken up?

While Democrats push for another round of relief, some Republicans are not in any rush to take up additional legislation addressing the pandemic. Instead, many conservatives say they want to see how the funds already allocated are being used.

“Before we take up any new bill, let’s have hearings. Let’s have the information and data come back to us and see if there’s a need. As states open up, there will be a difference of what’s needed today than is needed tomorrow,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told USA TODAY.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed those thoughts in an interview on Fox News on Sunday.

“We just want to make sure that before we jump back in and spend another few trillion of taxpayers’ money that we do it carefully,” Mnuchin said.

Copyright 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY

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Fla.’s Housing Market Shows Median Prices, Sales Up in 1Q

Year-over-year, Fla. single-family home sales up 10.2%, median price up 6.7%; condo sales up 9.3%, median price up 10.5%. Florida Realtors Chief Economist O’Connor: Expect to see more impact of coronavirus pandemic in 2Q housing data.

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the first quarter of 2020, Florida’s housing market reported higher median prices and more closed sales compared to a year ago, though the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the state’s economy and real estate markets began to emerge in mid-March, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

Closed sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 65,602 in 1Q 2020, up 10.2% from the 1Q 2019 level.

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Real estate remains a keystone industry in Florida’s economy – real estate is a long-term investment, not a short-term one,” said 2020 Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms, a Realtor and co-owner of Florida Suncoast Real Estate Inc. in Bradenton. “Prior to the pandemic, the fundamentals of Florida’s real estate industry were very strong. Demand for housing was high across all of our major markets, including different price points and asset types. Price growth continued to rise month after month as a current housing shortage persisted.

“Of course, with the necessary steps taken to help safeguard people’s health due to COVID-19, including the business shutdowns, we expect to see a temporary decline in homebuyer interest combined with a decline in listings that will reduce the number of statewide transactions in the next few months’ housing data.”

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in 1Q 2020 was $270,000, up 6.7% 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 $205,000, up 10.5% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market, statewide closed sales totaled 27,379 during 1Q 2020, up 9.3% compared to 1Q 2019. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

“Compared to the same quarter last year, total residential sales were up in the first quarter of 2020 across all 22 Florida metro areas,” said Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “Remember, going into the first quarter last year, the stock market was somewhat in flux and we had just entered the longest-ever shutdown of the federal government. So, home sale activity was a bit slow to start off. By March, though, falling mortgage rates came to the rescue and sales started taking off. Mortgage interest rates are currently lower than they were even back then, though, so it’s no wonder our first quarter sales numbers for 2020 were so strong.

“Obviously, we are not expecting a repeat performance in Q2 due to the coronavirus outbreak. While we expect prices to remain stable through Q2, we will certainly see a reduced number of completed transactions.”

In 1Q 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 43 days for single-family homes and 51 days for condo-townhouse properties.

Inventory was at a 3.4-months’ supply in the first quarter for single-family homes and at a 5.5-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 3.51% for 1Q 2020, down from the 4.37% average recorded during the same quarter a year earlier.

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

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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