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Gov. DeSantis Unveils His Environmental Proposals

DeSantis wants lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways and lock an environmental-funding pledge into state budgets for at least the next three years. He says he’ll also roll out more environmental proposals before the 2020 Fla. Legislature meets in Jan.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis wants lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways and lock an environmental-funding pledge into state budgets for at least the next three years.

The proposals are the first of a series the governor said he will make before the 2020 session of the Florida Legislature, which starts in January. However, lawmakers return to Tallahassee on Monday to hold committee meetings as they prepare for the session.

Doubling fines for sewage spills would eliminate what DeSantis described as a “slap me on the wrist” approach to penalizing local governments. Civil penalties are now up to $10,000 a day, DeSantis said during an appearance Wednesday at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples.

“What we end up seeing happening is, you have some of these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”

DeSantis noted, for example, spills that have occurred into Tampa Bay.

Florida Realtors is dedicated to environmentally sound development and the preservation of Florida’s natural resources.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, proposed a similar measure targeting spills during the 2019 legislative session. Fine’s proposal, aimed at Brevard County for a sewage spill into the Indian River Lagoon in 2017 that lasted 35 days, sought to impose a $2 fee for every gallon of raw sewage released. Fine’s proposal did not pass.

DeSantis also would like the Legislature to include $625 million per year over the next three annual state budgets for environmental projects. The amount would equal what he requested heading into the 2019 session and allow him to claim victory for his previously stated goal of $2.5 billion over four years in funding for the Everglades, natural springs, combating blue-green algae and red tide outbreaks, and carrying out other water projects.

That total would also represent a $1 billion increase over what the state spent over the previous four years under former Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator.

Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said recurring funds would ensure ongoing efforts aren’t slowed by “a pause as you wait for more funding.”

Most of the money would continue to come from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires 33% of revenues from a tax on real-estate documentary stamps to go to land and water conservation. That money goes into what is known as the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

Since the passage of the amendment, legislators each year have directed at least $200 million to the Everglades, $64 million to a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area, $50 million to natural springs and $5 million to Lake Apopka.

With more than $906 million available from the trust fund for the current year, lawmakers at the end of the 2019 session repeatedly pointed to exceeding DeSantis’ environmental-spending request by about $55 million.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Wednesday he’s excited to work with DeSantis on the environmental proposals.

“Our character is defined by its waters, its rivers, the Everglades, that river of grass, the beaches. Water is central to who we are and what we are as a people,” Bradley said. “If we were to neglect those precious natural resources that God has given us, then the people of the state of Florida would be angry – and they would have a right to be.”

Bradley has in the past proposed using the trust fund money to increase funding for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida, as well as the Florida Forever land-preservation program.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Turner

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Report: Inventory and List Prices Drop Unexpectedly

According to realtor.com, its total number of listings declined 1.8% year-to-year in Aug., but median list prices also surprisingly dropped 1.8% month-to-month.

CHICAGO – Housing inventories grew tighter in August following what had been a year of improvement – and median listing prices saw their largest July-to-August drop since 2012, according to realtor.com’s latest housing report.

The August 2019 housing trend report suggests that the drop occurred because some consumers are growing cautious about the economy.

Inventories of homes for sale fell 1.8% year-over-year in August, the first time in a year that inventories have dropped.

“The state of the housing market as we head into the latter half of 2019 is a tug of war between increased affordability and economic anxiety,” says George Ratiu, senior economist for realtor.com. “We’re starting to see this tension play out in our August data. On the one hand, lower interest rates have given buyers more purchasing power, which is contributing to August’s decline in national inventory. However, concerns over trade wars and cutbacks in corporate spending are causing some buyers to postpone their search. This is contributing to both the slowdown in prices, as well as the inventory decline, as buyers stay put in their current homes.”

The U.S. median listing price in August was $309,000, up 4.9% from a year ago but 1.8% lower than July. The 1.8% drop is the largest drop from July to August in seven years. Home prices usually increase from June until September.

“The size of this drop points to an earlier than usual deceleration of prices, likely attributed to recent concerns over economic uncertainty,” realtor.com notes.

A separate survey by realtor.com found that 11% of buyers expect a recession to strike by the end of the year, and 33% expect one in 2020. When a recession does hit, 56% of home shoppers said they would pause their home search until the economy recovered.

“These strong but opposing forces make it more difficult to predict what will happen in the second half of this year,” Ratiu says. “If the headwinds of economic uncertainty intensify, it could prompt a decrease in buyer demand and shift housing inventory’s current trajectory. But if increased purchasing power prevails, we could see even more inventory declines and intensified competition between buyers.”

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Floridians Support Affordable Housing – but Not Next Door

While Florida residents want more affordable housing options, NIMBY (not in my backyard) neighbors often organize a protest after a specific site is selected.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida has seen it time and time again: A developer set sights on a neighborhood to put in affordable housing and soon residents are coming out in droves to stop it.

The need for more affordable housing in the Orlando metro area is well known, especially after the National Low Income Housing Coalition ranked it dead last among U.S. cities for affordable housing, with just 13 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 households who need them.

“You don’t have a public awareness problem,” said Tiffany Manuel, a strategist who spoke before a subcommittee of Orange County’s Housing For All task force on Wednesday. “Everybody’s talking about affordable housing.”

But acceptance of affordable housing is another story.

We meet with legislators each session and advocate for as many trust fund dollars as possible to help Floridians find homes.

“When you ask people, ‘Do you believe affordable housing is important?’ they say, ‘Yes, we want affordable housing.’ And then you say, ‘OK, well we’re going to build it into your block.’ And those are folks who come out and shut you down because they don’t want it in their neighborhood,” Manuel said.

Ryan Von Weller, a development associate at Wendover Housing Partners, which is building several affordable housing units across Central Florida, said NIMBYs (not in my backyard-ers) are a challenge in addressing the need for housing.

“Every one of our communities is designed and built to the same standards we would build a market-rate community,” said Von Weller, also the developer behind Sanford’s Warley Park, an affordable senior housing complex. “The preconceived notion is that it’s going to (look like) public housing or Section 8 housing … (but) all resistance goes away almost immediately once they see what we’re actually proposing.”

But that’s not always the case.

In April, more than 1,000 people signed a petition to keep out an affordable 92-unit apartment in Seminole County. Residents said it would cause traffic problems, crowd schools and lower property values.

In May, several Lake County residents came out against a local tree farm building an on-site dormitory for its workers, afraid the workers would pose a danger to their children.

Similarly, low-income housing plans in Maitland, DeBary, Orlando’s Conway area and Pine Hills have seen pushback in the past decade. In Parramore, a historically black and impoverished neighborhood of Orlando, some residents were upset with plans to put in another designated affordable housing complex.

The 38-member task force was established by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings shortly after he took office. Its job is to find solutions to address the housing crisis. It’s set to submit its final report this fall.

Manuel said winning over residents will be important in tackling the issue, and the message the county uses will be crucial. She warned against using statistics to push the issue and instead take a more personal approach. She urged the task force to talk with the teachers union, whose members sometimes struggle to find housing; hospitals that treat low-income residents; and child-care groups that assist impoverished families.

Manuel showed campaigns she’s worked on around the country that could work in Orlando. In one, instead of emphasizing the need for affordable housing itself, the campaign focused on the role the people who live in affordable units play in their community.

It spotlighted teachers, firefighters and other workers under the tagline, “We need the people who need affordable housing.”

A similar campaign showed restaurant workers and posed the question: “Who’s cooking your food? No one without year-round housing.”

Another sought to address homelessness by educating residents about the importance of having an address in order to apply for a job and register kids for school.

“You want to make sure you’re telling the story of a wide variety of folks,” Manuel said. “You’ve got to get those folks on board.”

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

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Long-Term Mortgage Rates Rise: 30-Year at 3.56%

Freddie Mac thinks that less worry over trade helped lift global stock markets, and the resulting impact on bonds nudged the average 30-year FRM higher this week.

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. long-term mortgage rates rose this week but remained at historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.56% from 3.49% last week. Average rates on the benchmark loan have remained below 3.6% for four straight weeks – the first time that’s happened since the fourth quarter of 2016.

A year ago, the 30-year rate stood at 4.6%.

The average rate for 15-year, fixed-rate home loans rose to 3.09% from 3% last week.

Mortgage rates fell sharply over the summer as a slowing global economy and tensions from the trade war between the U.S. and China have caused interest rates on government bonds to tumble. The yields on government bonds, especially the 10-year Treasury note, influence long-term mortgage rates.

The trade concerns have appeared to ease in recent days and sentiment has brightened in global stock markets. Interest rates on government bonds have ticked up. China said Wednesday that it will exempt U.S. industrial grease and some other imports from tariff increases, though it kept in place penalties on soybeans and other major U.S. exports ahead of negotiations next month.

As a gesture of “goodwill,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the U.S. agreed to a two-week delay in a planned increase in tariffs on some Chinese imports. The moves could indicate that both sides are settling in for an extended conflict even as they prepare for talks in Washington aimed at ending the dispute that threatens global economic growth.

Investors continue to expect the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates at its policymaking meeting next week in another bid by the central bank to help maintain U.S. economic growth. The Fed raised its benchmark interest rate in July by a quarter point, its first hike in a decade.

Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week to compile its mortgage rate figures.

The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates.

The average fee on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was unchanged this week at 0.5 point.

The average fee for the 15-year mortgage fell to 0.5 point from 0.6 point.

The average rate for five-year adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 3.36% from 3.30% last week. The fee slipped to 0.3 point from 0.4 point.

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

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Who Should Qualify for a Mortgage? Banks, CFPB Disagree

What loan application or credit score details can predict future foreclosures? Banks say the QM rule on loan applicants’ debt-to-income ratio should be changed.

WASHINGTON – Four bank giants have formed a coalition to push the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) into changing its Ability to Repay/Qualified Mortgage rule  (QM rule) and eliminate the debt-to-income ratio requirement. Bank of America, Quicken Loans, Wells Fargo and Caliber Home Loans are leading the call for change.

CFPB created the QM rule following the financial crisis. It requires lenders to verify that a borrower has the ability to repay a mortgage before lending them money. As part of that process, a borrower’s monthly debt-to-income ratio (DTI) must not exceed 43%.

Freddie Mac thinks that less worry over trade helped lift global stock markets, and the resulting impact on bonds nudged the average 30-year FRM higher this week.

“A debt-to-income ratio by itself cannot accurately determine a credit borrower’s worthiness; rather, a more holistic measure is needed,” according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). “Several groups have proposed alternative measures, but more research is needed on all of them. NAR will work with the CFPB toward this goal.”

The DTI requirement doesn’t apply to loans backed by the government, such as through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Critics say that gives the GSEs an unfair advantage over private loans – ones that lenders don’t plan to sell to Fannie or Freddie – which must meet the DTI mandate.

However, that may change if Fannie and Freddie lose the protection. The CFPB has said it would allow the QM Patch – the stipulation that allows Fannie and Freddie to bypass that DTI requirement – to expire as scheduled on 2021. The GSEs will then be required to follow the same DTI rule as private lenders.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy over half the mortgages originated in the U.S. If the patch expires, the DTI requirement would apply to a majority of U.S. homebuyers.

The banks’ coalition efforts have recently been joined by other housing groups – such as the Mortgage Bankers Association, American Bankers Association, and the National Fair Housing Alliance. They’ve sent a letter to the CFPB asking for it to eliminate the 43% DTI cap on prime and near-prime loans. They argue that it’s limiting lending outside of a GSE-backed loan. They also argue that a DTI ratio, on its own merits, is not a reliable indicator of a borrower’s ability to repay.

“Elimination of the DTI requirement for prime and near-prime loans would preserve access to sustainable credit for the new generation of first-time homebuyers in a safe and sustainable way and in accordance with the fundamental ATR requirements,” the group says in its letter to the CFPB. “This change is especially important for reaching historically underserved borrowers, including low- to moderate-income households, and communities of color.”

Source: “Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Quicken Loans, Others Want DTI Requirement Eliminated From QM Lending Rules,” HousingWire (Sept. 10, 2019)

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Congress Presses HUD/Treasury over Fannie/Freddie Changes

Senators questioned officials about plans to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Key issues: Guarantees the 30-year mortgage would still be available and possible impacts to affordable housing.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Trump administration officials on Tuesday defended their plan to Congress for ending government control of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, clashing with Democratic senators on whether the change would raise home borrowing costs and neglect lower-income homeowners.

The two finance companies nearly collapsed in the financial crisis 11 years ago and were bailed out at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $190 billion.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, along with regulator Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), testified before the Senate Banking Committee on the plan for returning Fannie and Freddie to private ownership.

The companies have become profitable again and have fully repaid their bailouts. Under the plan, their profits would no longer go to the Treasury but would be used to build up their capital bases as a cushion against possible future losses.

Fannie and Freddie together guarantee roughly half of the $10 trillion U.S. home loan market. They don’t make home loans. They buy them from banks and other lenders, and bundle them into securities, guarantee them against default and sell them to Wall Street investors.

Calabria said Fannie and Freddie’s capital must be bulked up “to match their risk profiles” and avoid another bailout. “In their current financial condition, the (companies) are not equipped to withstand a downturn in the housing market,” he testified, adding, “It keeps me up at night.”

30-year mortgages

The administration promises in the plan to preserve homebuyers’ access to 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages, which are the pillar of housing finance.

The plan “would preserve the longstanding government support of the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage loan,” Mnuchin said. “That support, however, should be explicitly defined, tailored and paid for.”

Mnuchin acknowledged that for prices of 30-year mortgages to remain close to current market levels, some level of government support would be needed. He said Congress should authorize an explicit, paid-for guarantee “backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government” for qualified mortgages. The guarantee also should be available to competitors of Fannie and Freddie as mortgage financers, he said.

The administration initially looked to Congress for legislation to overhaul the housing finance system and return the companies to private shareholders. But Congress hasn’t acted, and now officials say they will take administrative action for the core change, ending the Fannie and Freddie conservatorships. They haven’t given a timeline for the administrative action.

“The Trump plan will make mortgages more expensive and harder to get,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s senior Democrat.

Affordable housing

A flashpoint came over the issue of affordable housing. Fannie and Freddie currently have mandated targets for helping low-income and minority borrowers to buy homes.

A change outlined in the plan, which would have to be approved by Congress, would replace Fannie and Freddie’s affordable housing goals with more “tailored support” for first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income borrowers.

“We want to do it in the most effective way,” Mnuchin said.

Those proposals are “about leveling the playing field for Wall Street,” Brown said.

Fair housing

Under Carson, HUD proposed last month to make it harder for people to prove unintentional discrimination, known as “disparate impact,” against mortgage lenders and landlords. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told Carson that the proposal “goes way beyond” the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling affirming that disparate impact can be considered discriminatory even without explicit intent – but also putting limits on its application in practice.

Van Hollen asked Carson about his newspaper commentary in 2015 that “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse.”

Carson responded that “We uphold the principles of disparate impact.”

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the panel’s chairman, has previously proposed legislation to overhaul the housing finance system. He said at the hearing that the administration’s plan is close to his proposal, but “my strong preference remains to fix it through comprehensive legislation.”

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., implored the officials to put a proposal before Congress. “This whole thing is a car wreck; it’s a dumpster fire,” Kennedy said. Put it before the committee, “and let senators be senators.”

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

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Some Florida Cities Might Remove Septic Tanks

A Gov. DeSantis executive order and concern for waterways has led more cities to look at alternative septic systems, but costs could get passed on to homeowners.

ESTERO, Fla. – Estero is discussing how to transition village neighborhoods currently using septic tanks to central water and sewer.

The Florida Department of Health estimates there are more than 2 million septic systems across the state. Lee County has more than 133,000 septic tanks, according to the department. Some scientists say leaky septic tanks can contribute to disastrous environmental events, such as the algae crisis that plagued Southwest Florida waters last year.

In Estero, many properties with septic systems are located along the Estero River, according to the village. The concern about water quality in the river, designated a special waterway by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has caused the village to examine taking action on septic tanks.

“We’ve got to step up to the plate and make this happen, like other counties are doing,” said Estero Mayor Bill Ribble.

The village approved a $60,000 agreement with Fort Myers-based Banks Engineering at a public meeting Wednesday for design and research on expanding water and sewer lines into areas of the village without those utilities. It is the start of a process that could lead to complete removal of septic systems in Estero, said Village Manager Steve Sarkozy.

“The village council is interested in moving this forward to seek elimination ultimately of these types of facilities that can only serve to contaminate some of our groundwater and the Estero River,” Sarkozy said at the meeting.

The agreement with Banks Engineering would study what infrastructure is needed to install the utilities and what the construction costs could be.

The planning work does not mean Estero will establish assessments to fund the transition of septic to water and sewer, said David Willems, the village’s public works director.

“We don’t want to pursue assessments when we don’t understand what the costs are,” Willems said.

The engineering work will occur simultaneously with another village study tied to the Estero River. Earlier this summer, the Estero council approved an FGCU research study that will monitor types of bacteria in the Estero River and where they come from. The study plans to test for human waste, nitrogen compounds, E. coli and other types of bacteria.

The village is in the process of considering an assessment policy that would allow property owners to petition the village for services, such as extending sewer lines into neighborhoods. Projects would be funded through assessments added to property taxes, according to the draft policy.

Eliminating septic tanks because of water quality concerns has been on the agendas for governments and lawmakers throughout the state.

The Naples City Council chose to move homes in certain neighborhoods to city sewer. The cost to connect 900 properties to the sewer system was estimated at $14 million in January.

Also this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis included phasing out septic tanks in an executive order that included other state water quality policies.

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Brittany Carloni

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Remote Workers Not Limited by City Boundaries

City workers often flee to the suburbs, and a growing number of remote workers are doing the same – but they’re heading to more affordable cities’ suburbs.

NEW YORK – More Americans with telecommuting jobs are choosing to leave the big city for a smaller, more affordable town, The Wall Street Journal reports. The growth of remote work opens up more options for employees when it comes to deciding where to live.

For example, Kelly Swift and her family left Los Angeles to move to a suburb of Boise, Idaho. She kept her job in health care information technology consulting – as well as the salary she earned in California – but Boise’s cost of living is about 35% less than Los Angeles, according to Bankrate.com.

This remote group of workers is “fueling a renaissance in U.S. cities that lie outside the major job hubs,” according to the Journal. “People who do their jobs from home, freelance or constantly travel for work are migrating away from expensive urban centers, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, toward cheaper cities like Boise; Denver; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore.”

But as a result, some desirable, low-cost cities are going through growing pains: namely, fast-rising home prices and traffic congestion. Additionally, says Sheila Smith, a real estate professional in Boise, remote work arrangements may become less common if the economy enters a recession.

As a result, remote workers “are not necessarily joining the workforce” in their new smaller metro homes, and that could have a dampening effect on local economies, Smith said.

Some regions are banking on growing their populations by attracting remote workers. Vermont and Alabama, for example, have launched giveaways to attract telecommuters. In Tulsa, Okla., some remote workers are eligible for $10,000 in cash to relocate there.

Many of the largest U.S. cities are still seeing population growth, but the rate is slowing, says Jenny Ying, a data scientist at LinkedIn. An analysis by the job-focused social network shows an influx of remote workers moving from New York to Charlotte, N.C., and Orlando, Fla. They’re also moving from Chicago to Nashville, Tenn., and Indianapolis.

At the same time, they’re leaving Los Angeles for Las Vegas, and they’re fleeing San Francisco for Reno, Nev. Seattle workers are increasingly moving to Eugene, Ore.

“The livability crisis of certainly the West Coast and some of the East Coast are clearly a pushing factor,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute.

Source: “Workers Are Fleeing Big Cities for Smaller Ones – and Taking Their Jobs with Them,” The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 7, 2019)

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CoreLogic: Mortgage Fraud Down 4% in Florida — but Still High

The U.S. saw an 11.4% decrease in mortgage fraud. By metros, South Florida continues to be the top U.S. hotspot for fraud, and six Florida cities are in the top-25 list.

ORLANDO, Fla. – CoreLogic released its latest Mortgage Fraud Report, which finds an overall 11.4% year-over-year decrease in fraud risk as measured by the CoreLogic Mortgage Application Fraud Risk Index – the first decrease since the third quarter of 2016.

In Florida, fraud risk dropped 4% year-to-year, according to the report. However, the state moved up one notch to No. 2 after the risk in New Jersey fell 21%. No. 1 New York remained at the top after its mortgage fraud risk grew 8%.

CoreLogic’s analysis of the top 25 U.S. metros for fraud risk found South Florida – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach– as No. 1, with a 7% increase year-to-year. However, six Florida metros made the top 25:

1. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach (309 on the CoreLogic Index)

5. Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach (210)

6. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (197)

9. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (167)

12. Cape Coral-Fort Myers (163)

15. Jacksonville (157)

The analysis found that during the second quarter of 2019, an estimated one in 123 mortgage applications (0.81% of all applications) contained indications of fraud, compared with the reported one in 109 (0.91%) in the second quarter of 2018.

The CoreLogic Mortgage Fraud Report analyzes the collective level of loan application fraud risk experienced in the mortgage industry each quarter based on all residential mortgage loan applications processed by CoreLogic LoanSafe Fraud Manager. It considers six types of fraud: identity, income, occupancy, property, transaction and undisclosed real estate debt.

“The decrease in fraud risk mid-2019 appears temporary, based on unexpected interest rate drops and the resulting influx of low-risk refinance transactions,” says Bridget Berg, principal of Fraud Solutions Strategy for CoreLogic. “The absolute number of risky loans has not decreased but are simply part of a larger mortgage market at this time.”

Report highlights

  • For the first time since 2017, Florida outpaced New Jersey and moved into the second highest position.
  • Eight of the top 10 riskiest states showed stable or decreasing risk over the past year.
  • States with the greatest year-over-year risk growth: Idaho, Alabama, Mississippi, New York and Delaware.
  • States with the largest risk decreases: Kansas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Illinois and New Mexico.
  • Jumbo loans for home purchases is the only segment showing a risk increase.
  • Nationally, all fraud types showed decreased risk. Undisclosed Real Estate Debt fraud risk had the greatest decrease year over year, followed by decreases in Property and Income fraud types.
  • iBuyers – companies that use technology to instantly make an offer on a home – accounted for more than 1% of all home sales in 2018 and are a contributing factor in the overall decline of fraud risk.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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One of the Best Realtor Safety Tools? ‘Trust Your Gut’

Over 99% of the time, a crime victim will tell police, “I knew something was wrong,” “I knew better,” or “I had a bad feeling.”

CHICAGO – Tracey Hawkins, “the Safety Lady”: What if I told you that there is a tool that could prevent you from being victimized? What if I told you that you already possess such a tool?

As a former agent who now works in close contact with agents, I know how important tools of the trade are to your profession. I know that you love the latest and greatest technology tools. Those tools are an important component to operating your business. They can even help protect you. However, right now I want to discuss an important tool that should always be in your “toolbox,” especially when you’re working in what the Department of Labor classifies as a high-risk occupation.

From planning your safety strategy to extensive safety resources including apps, products, and educators, NAR has many useful items for all real estate professionals including regularly-scheduled safety webinars, videos and a safety alert program.

This tool issues a warning that tells you when you are about to make a dangerous mistake. This tool requires no batteries and is always “on.” What if I told you that this tool is free? You would be interested, right?

Gut. Intuition. Instinct. 6th sense. That funny feeling. A small voice.

No matter what you call it, it can save your life. Police officers and rape crises counselors state that when interviewing victims, over 99% of the time the victim will say, “I knew something was wrong,” “I knew better,” “I had a bad feeling,” and so on.

It’s important to note that trusting your gut is not about embracing prejudice. When you trust your gut, you’re acting on an instinct, a feeling that something is wrong. You may be in a vulnerable position such as at a showing alone, but there are ways to minimize your risk. For instance, always have someone you trust, like another agent, with you at the showing or leave someone detailed information about where you are and when you should return so they can call you if they feel like you’ve been gone too long.

Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, wrote an entire book about trusting our gut instinct and believing in intuition. Having been a real estate agent, there were plenty of times when I felt fear and wondered why I was in an empty house with a complete stranger, or why I was driving strangers around in my car. Like you, I hushed that warning voice and focused on earning a commission.

Ignoring your gut can get you hurt, killed, assaulted or robbed while working.

As a safety expert, I often get questions about what is the right or wrong way to do the job. There are right ways to show and host open houses, specific safety techniques, but in situations where there are variables and no clear right or wrong answers, listen to your gut.

One of the most popular questions is: Which is correct, locking the door or not locking the door when showing? The answer is listening to your gut, trust your instinct. It will tell you what the right answer is for that situation (and actually any situation that you will find yourself in as agents).

According to Stacey Johnson-Cosby, a Reece and Nichols sales agent who works in Kansas and Missouri, her gut comes into play when she enters a house. She typically locks the door behind her. At one time her inner voice told her a potential problem may exist. Johnson-Cosby, a 25-year sales veteran says that sometimes the voice is more overwhelming, demanding that she lock the door. Other times, she doesn’t feel the serious need.

Real estate is a high-contact occupation, and with deals that often involve lots of money, it draws scammers out of the woodwork. These tips can help you survive.

Agents often assure me that they work in a “safe” part of town or never show after dark. Your gut – not the address nor time of day – will dictate when you need to be extra careful. Criminals have cars, (often very nice cars) and can go anywhere that you may be, even upscale neighborhoods (especially upscale neighborhoods). Don’t let your preconceived notions – for example, apparent affluence equals safety – get in the way of seeing criminals or potential criminal opportunities. Let your instinct guide you, not what you see or other prejudices you have.

Following your gut is not about making snap decisions about prejudices you have or the people around you, it simply means that when you feel unsafe in any situation, you remove yourself from that situation. Oftentimes, you will not understand why your gut is sending you fear signals. You can’t determine what is wrong. Don’t try. Instinct sees something before you realize it.

Don’t worry about being polite when your body tells you to flee and get out of a dangerous situation. Just go. Your safety is more important that hurting someone’s feelings. Prioritize.

Here are 3 things that you need to start doing today to respect that inner voice and to ensure that you are not victimized when you can avoid it:

  • Acknowledge that, like animals in nature, we all possess a gift that allows us to sense danger. However, we’re the only ones who routinely ignore it in the interest of being polite. We all have a built-in survival mechanism that is hardly ever wrong. Think about situations where you had a “bad feeling” or were uncomfortable. That was your gut warning you. Once you’re aware of what that feels like, be in tune with it and learn to recognize it. Don’t try to figure it out or to use logic. Just listen and escape the situation.
  • Respect that inner voice and act on it without questioning the validity. Once you get a bad feeling about a potential client, a showing situation or even strange behavior in an open house, believe that feeling. Do some research on all potential clients; find out who they are and if they are legitimate. However, background checks on clients and potential clients must be done consistently and should never be affected by the person him/herself. And then if you are unable to verify who they say they are, whether they really own the property, where they work or anything about them, be ready to let them go. Yes. Be willing to let a potential client go. You can’t put a price on working safely and just taking your chances and hoping that the bad feeling you get about these potential clients is wrong. Nothing is worth jeopardizing your safety.
  • Defend your right to put safety before politeness. Do not waiver from your safety practices just because someone else thinks they are silly. Johnson-Cosby says buyers often laugh when they’re leaving a house and find the doors locked. “I don’t mind. At least they know I take their safety seriously.” Crimes often happen when you relax regular safety practices out of convenience or embarrassment. “Just that one time” is often the time something goes wrong.

Source: National Association of Realtors®, Tracey Hawkins aka “Tracey, the Safety Lady” is a former real estate agent and has been teaching agent safety over the last 18 years.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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NAR: Mortgage Rates May Hit Record Low by Year’s End

Economist Lawrence Yun says a clearly weakening economy and “soft job gains in August assures that the Federal Reserve will be cutting interest rates.”

WASHINGTON – By the end of this year, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage could drop to 3.3%, which would put the most popular loan product near its lowest average since Freddie Mac began tracking such data 48 years ago.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), made that prediction after seeing the Labor Department report released late last week, that showed a slowing job market.

“The economy is clearly weakening, and the employment conditions show a lagging indicator,” Yun says. “The soft job gains in August assure that the Federal Reserve will be cutting interest rates.”

Economists expect that the Fed’s will cut interest rates by another quarter-point at its next meeting on Sept. 17. The Fed’s benchmark rate doesn’t directly impact long-term, fixed mortgage rates, but it can influence their direction. A weakening economy, coupled with moves by the Fed to lower interest rates, likely will cause mortgage rates to fall as well, economists say.

If the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage reaches Yun’s predicted 3.3% average, that would sit slightly above the lowest-ever recorded average of 3.31% set in November 2012, according to Freddie Mac.

“But lower rates may not help with affordability because home prices are re-accelerating higher – easily above the latest wage growth,” Yun adds. Inventory shortages also continue to push home prices up.

While housing inventory has eked out small gains in recent months, it’s still “putting upward pressure on home prices of moderately priced homes,” Yun says. “But there is still time to get the economy into a higher gear with increased home building of affordable homes and lessening trade tensions.”

For the first week in September, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged a three-year low of 3.49%, according to Freddie Mac.

Source: “NAR’s Yun: Mortgage Rates May Tumble to Record 3.3% by 2019’s End,” HousingWire (Sept. 6, 2019)

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

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Reclaimed Wood a Hot Accessory in New Homes

More homeowners are using reclaimed wood from barns, factories and log cabins to decorate modern homes – everything from ceilings and flooring to window accents.

NEW YORK – More homeowners are using reclaimed wood from barns, factories and log cabins to decorate their modern homes, The Wall Street Journal reports. They’re using the reclaimed wood to decorate everything from ceilings and flooring to window accents.

“They want it to look as primitive as possible,” Klaas Armster, co-author of the upcoming book Reclaimed Wood: A Field Guide, told the Journal.

Old-growth timber is no longer available in the U.S. construction industry. Suppliers today use wood from trees cultivated to grow fast that can be quickly processed into timber. Homeowners looking for antique wood from mature trees are calling on wood-reclamation companies to look for planks to reuse. They can be costly. Large structures of wood can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $1.5 million. On a smaller scale, homeowners may find costs much lower, such as $55,000 to use reclaimed accents on their kitchen or living room ceilings.

Charles Preston used antique timbers reclaimed from an 1800s Vermont barn for a vacation home he built with his wife several years ago in Texas Hill Country. The couple used the wood on the living room and kitchen ceilings, as well as to decorate interior and exterior lintels over the windows. He told the Journal that the reclaimed wood became a focal point in their home.

Preston also says that in the 7,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home, they also have a dining room ceiling adorned with 1900s oak fencing from Minnesota and exterior siding made of hemlock that was reclaimed from Midwest barns built from the 1850s to the 1900s. “That’s the first thing people talk about,” Preston says.

Chestnut barn frames from the 18th and early 19th centuries are a big draw, James Dixon, an architect in Chatham, N.Y., told the Journal. “If you find a chestnut frame, that’s like gold,” he says.

Source: “Homeowners Get into the Groove of Reclaiming Old Wood,” The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 5, 2019)

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

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Is a ‘Cowboy Lifestyle’ with Trophy Ranch Gone Forever?

Boomers grew up watching cowboy movies and bought luxury ranches as they aged. But more are now coming to market and younger Americans aren’t as interested.

NEW YORK – Baby boomers grew up watching western TV shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “Howdy Doody,” and those programs may have influenced a wave of John Wayne-loving homeowners to buy cowboy ranches of their own.

But as baby boomers age, more trophy ranches are coming to the market, Westerns aren’t as popular, and younger generations aren’t showing the same desire to take the reins.

There is currently an oversupply of ultraluxury ranches. More trophy ranches are for sale today than at any point during Jeff Buerger’s three-decade career as a ranch broker with Hall & Hall in Colorado, he says – about 20 ranches priced at more than $20 million are available in the state, and some have sat on the market for years.

“If you look back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were these guys raised with this mythology of the West,” Ken Mirr, a ranch broker, says. “It was attachment to something Hollywood produced. Their children aren’t always as interested in operating the properties. Sometimes the kids see cows and think, ‘What should I do with this?’”

The ranches on the market may cover expansive mountains, forests, rivers, fisheries and big-game-hunting facilities. Operating costs can sometimes be in the millions annually. A declining price in beef has been causing many ranchers to lose money in operations in recent years, too.

Ranch sellers find that patience is key. Ranches, unlike other sectors of high-end real estate, don’t tend to attract international purchasers.

Some ranchers are targeting conservationists, as the cowboy fascination loses its appeal.

“You’re starting to hear more landowners talking about wildlife habitat enhancement and ecological work,” says Buerger. “At the end of the day, land is the one thing that can never be reproduced. It’s always going to be a great place to park capital.”

Source: “Baby Boomers Are Leaving Behind a Trail of Luxury Ranches,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 22, 2019) [Log-in required.]

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Consumer Borrowing Posts Biggest Gain Since Late 2017

If consumer spending drives the U.S. economy, there was little to worry about in July if an increase in borrowing translates into more goods and services.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Consumer borrowing surged in July at its fastest pace since late 2017, driven by a big jump in credit card use.

Consumer borrowing increased by $23.3 billion in July after a $13.8 billion advance in June, the Federal Reserve reported Monday. It was the biggest monthly gain since a $29.9 billion jump in November 2017.

The large July gain was led by a sizable increase in borrowing in the category covering credit cards, which rose by $10 billion in July after having fallen by $186 million in June.

Borrowing in the category that covers auto and student loans also posted a sizable gain, rising by $13.3 billion in July following a $14 billion June increase.

Consumer borrowing is closely watched for signs it provides about consumer spending.

The economy has encountered headwinds this year in areas such as manufacturing and export sales, reflecting uncertainties caused by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and a slowing global economy.

But those adverse shocks have been cushioned by strength in consumer spending, which accelerated in the spring to the fastest pace in five years after a weak start to 2019. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of U.S. economic activity.

Economists are looking for household spending to continue to be solid for the rest of this year, helped by rising wages and the lowest unemployment rate in nearly a half century.

The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a 3.1% rate in the first quarter, reflecting some special factors, but slowed to growth of 2% in the April-June quarter. Economists are forecasting GDP growth will average around 2% in the second half of this year.

The July increase pushed total consumer credit to a record $4.1 trillion. The Fed’s monthly credit report does not cover mortgages or any other debt secured by real estate such as home equity loans.

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

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What’s the Latest on Fire Sprinkler Retrofits in Condos?

Condo Q&A: Also: How does assignment of benefits (AOB) work? And what happens if a director serving on a condo board is delinquent paying assessments owed to the association? Can they still serve on the board?

STUART, Fla. – Question: I recently had water leak into my home and the dry out company wanted me to sign a document assigning my insurance benefits to it. I declined, but can you explain what an assignment of benefits agreement is? – R.S., Vero Beach

Answer: When a person assigns property insurance benefits to a company they are allowing the company to “step into the shoes” of the policy holder/homeowner. This allows the company to negotiate the amount of the insurance claim and even sue the insurance company. Typically, the assignment of benefits contract allows the company to retain all the insurance proceeds as payment for its services. This type of agreement over the years has created a cottage industry for lawyers and contractors to sue insurance companies. However, after several attempts by the Legislature to reign in this problem, a law was passed as of July 1, 2019.

Florida Statute 627.7152 and 627.7152 now requires an assignment of benefits contract to provide that it may be cancelled by the assignor within 14 days of execution; at least 30 days after the date work is to commence pursuant to the agreement if work has not been substantially performed by assignee/contractor; or at least 30 days after execution of agreement if the agreement contains no start date and substantial work has not been performed.

It also requires pre-suit negotiation between assignee/contractor and insurer and provides for prevailing party attorney fees for both parties in any litigation. The assignee/contractor must also keep and provide detailed records supporting cost of work/claim. It requires insurers to inspect property after demand is made or waive its right to attorney fees; and it allows insurers to provide a policy that does not allow assignment of benefits if the insurer also offers a policy that does allow assignment of benefits. The restricted policy must provide the same coverage at a lower cost than the unrestricted policy.

It is expected that the use of assignment of benefits contracts will become much less common.

Question: What happens if a Director on the Board is delinquent in the payment of assessments owed to the association? Can they still serve on the board? – B.L., Port St. Lucie

Answer: Both the Condominium Act and the Homeowners Association Act provide that if a director becomes more than 90 days delinquent in the payment of any monetary amount owed to the association, he or she is automatically removed from the board. Thereafter, the remaining board members can vote to fill the vacancy and there is no obligation to reappoint the removed director even if he or she pays the money owed.

Note that the law applies to any “monetary amount” so it is not just applicable to past due assessments.

Question: Has the law changed on the fire sprinkler retrofit requirement for high rise condominiums? – J.M., Fort Pierce

Answer: Yes. Section 718.112 of the Condominium Act was amended as of July 1, 2019. It was clarified that a high-rise condominium building is a building where the highest occupiable level is greater than 75 feet measured from the lowest level of fire department access. High rise condominiums must comply with fire sprinkler retrofit and Emergency Life Safety System (ELSS) requirements of the Fire Code by Jan. 1, 2024. The compliance date used to be Dec. 31, 2019, but it has now been extended.

Additionally, the ability to opt out of the fire sprinkler retro fit requirement which expired on Dec. 31, 2016, has now been reopened. So, a high-rise condominium may still avoid having to meet the requirements for fire sprinkler retrofitting if a majority of the total voting interests vote to “opt out” before Jan.1, 2024.

NOTE: The new law still does not allow an Association to opt out of complying with ELSS requirements which may themselves still require fire sprinklers depending on the design of the building.

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

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC., respond to questions about Florida community association law. The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, litigation, estate planning and business law.

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Richard D. DeBoest II

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Real Estate Q&A: Fences Don’t Always Make Good Neighbors

Sometimes the fencing between neighbors is the cause of a problem rather than a solution. What if a neighbor with no ownership stake in the fence decides to hang a plant on the side facing their lawn? What if overgrown vines start destroying the wood?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: My neighbor attached bolts into my fence to secure some items in his yard. I am concerned that this will damage my fence, especially if there is a storm. I asked him to remove it, but he blew me off. What can I do? – Jonathan

Question: My neighbor’s overgrown vines are destroying my fence. I asked them to trim them back and only get lip service. The vines remain and are getting worse. What are my rights? – Mary

Answer: Sometimes, neighbors will build and maintain a shared fence together. In your case, you put up the fence yourself and have no deal with your neighbor for them to help maintain it. Your neighbor does not have any right to attach anything to your fence unless you let them. If they damage your fence, they will be responsible for paying for the repairs.

Since you want them to remove the attachments altogether, you both already took the first step of speaking to them. The next step is sending a polite and professional certified letter, even though you live next door.

You can trim any vegetation that is on your side of the fence as long as it does not permanently damage the plant. You should not reach over the fence to remove the plants or hardware, even if you believe the fence is on your side of the line.

To get them to remove the unwanted items from their side of your fence, you will need to file a lawsuit asking for an order making them remove their plants and attachments from your fence.

Having a survey that shows the fence is fully on your property, along with proof you put up the fence, will go a long way to convincing the judge you are in the right.

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

© 2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Dear Anne: ‘Open House’ Agent Tried to Steal My Buyer

After two days of showing, a Realtor’s buyers asked if it was okay to explore an open house on their own. While there, the agent pressed hard to take them over, even though they gave the first agent’s card to him. Surely this is unethical – right?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dear Anne: I showed several properties to new buyers for two days. They asked if I would mind if they explored other neighborhoods on their own, and naturally, I said, “Of course.”

I suggested they visit an open house in an area they liked. It was a different type of home than the ones I’d been showing them, and I thought it might be a good test to see if they’d be open to another style of home.

At the open house, the owner/agent host asked my clients if they were on their own or working with another Realtor, and they dutifully handed him my business card. However, this guy then proceeded to tell my buyers that if they ditched me, he could sweeten the deal – a better list price, a closing date extension, and he’d even throw in some furnishings they admired.

When I met my buyers the next day, it was clear that they’d fallen in love with the property, but they found the listing agent’s behavior disturbing. As it turned out, he was hosting a second open house – same property – the following weekend, and this time I accompanied my buyers for a second look.

When we arrived, I handed my card to the owner/agent and reiterated that I sent my buyers to his open house last Saturday and told him he needs to work through me and only me!

He said, the terms he offered the buyers last weekend were off the table. He got testy. I decided to take the high road and walk away from the conversation.

I thought it would end there – but no! He called my clients several hours after the second showing to see if they would reconsider and work directly with him. Fortunately, his shady tactics put them off, and we found another property that ended up being a better fit anyway.

While this bothered me personally, I think it’s a bigger problem that affects our business and can make Realtors look bad. I know you talked about a similar situation recently but, I want to know, in my case, did this guy cross the line? Signed: Call in the Ethics Police

Dear Call in the Ethics Police: If you ask me, it’s a risky business practice to pat your buyers on back and send them off to an open house alone. It’s problematic because:

  1. Who is going to point out significant issues with the property, keep them from becoming sidetracked and remind them what’s important so they don’t regret buying the property later?
  2. Who is going to write the offer if they decide they want it on the spot?
  3. Is this a potential procuring cause dispute? Oh, you bet. News flash: Listing agents aren’t keen on filling in for absentee agents.

Since you’re trying to figure out where the Code of Ethics fits into your story, my answer is the same as before – but maybe I should use a different approach in explaining why this isn’t a violation of the Code of Ethics.

To understand and interpret the Code of Ethics correctly, it’s important to be familiar with the National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) definitions as they relate to the Articles and Standards of Practices. Words mean things, especially when it comes to Article 16 which says, Realtors shall not engage in any practice or take any action inconsistent with exclusive representation or exclusive brokerage relationship agreements that other Realtors have with clients.

They key word is “client.” Most folks loosely refer to their customers as clients when, in fact, they are customers.

The difference between a “client” and a “customer” (as it relates to the Code of Ethics) is found in Standard of Practice 1-2:

As used in this Code of Ethics:

  • “Client” means the person(s) or entity(or entities) with whom a Realtor or a Realtor’s firm has an agency or legally recognized non-agency relationship
  • “Customer” means a party to a real estate transaction who receives information, services, or benefits but has no contractual relationship with the Realtor or the Realtor’s firm

If a buyer is not a client, then Article 16 does not apply.

With that said, the owner/agent has an affirmative obligation to make a reasonable effort to determine if the buyer is subject to a current, valid exclusive agreement to provide the same type of service. Asking a prospect if you’re “working with someone” doesn’t cut it. You need to do your best to find out if an exclusive exists. Ultimately, a hearing panel must ascertain if the effort made is enough, or if it could be a violation of Article 16 citing Standard of Practice 16-9.

It’s hard to tell from your story if you had an exclusive with the buyer. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, a chummy listing agent closes in on a buyer. Bottom line: No line was crossed if an exclusive did not exist, and while Mr. Owner/Agent’s behavior rates a 10 on the tacky meter, he’s not the only one who could use a little polish, capisce?

Note: Technically, everyone in Florida under the law (Chapter 475) is a “customer” – but for the sake of enforcing the Code of Ethics, local Board hearing panels use the definitions outlined in Standard of Practice 1-2.

Standard of Practice 1-2

The duties imposed by the Code of Ethics encompass all real estate-related activities and transactions whether conducted in person, electronically, or through any other means.

The duties the Code of Ethics imposes are applicable whether Realtors are acting as agents or in legally recognized non-agency capacities except that any duty imposed exclusively on agents by law or regulation shall not be imposed by this Code of Ethics on Realtors acting in non-agency capacities.

As used in this Code of Ethics, “client” means the person(s) or entity(ies) with whom a Realtor or a Realtor’s firm has an agency or legally recognized non-agency relationship; “customer” means a party to a real estate transaction who receives information, services, or benefits but has no contractual relationship with the Realtor or the Realtor’s firm; “prospect” means a purchaser, seller, tenant, or landlord who is not subject to a representation relationship with the Realtor or Realtor’s firm; “agent” means a real estate licensee (including brokers and sales associates) acting in an agency relationship as defined by state law or regulation; and “broker” means a real estate licensee (including brokers and sales associates) acting as an agent or in a legally recognized non-agency capacity. (Adopted 1/95, Amended 1/07)

Anne Cockayne is Director of Local Association Services for Florida Realtors

Have an ethics or rules question? Email us at legalnews@floridarealtors.org with “Dear Anne” in the subject line.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Know When to Bow Out

Legal disputes can be messy and complicated – and important practical considerations can create traps for unwary litigants. If negotiations fail, both parties should thoughtfully plan their own path forward, preferably after consulting a lawyer familiar with sound litigation strategy.  

ORLANDO, Fla. – Caller issue: A landlord made a claim on the tenant’s deposit at the end of the lease. The tenant strongly disagreed with the claim and made a timely objection. It seems to me like both have valid points, but they are currently refusing to compromise. What can they do to resolve this dispute, and what is my role when my brokerage company isn’t holding the deposit?

Caller issue: A buyer properly terminated a contract, but the seller is irrational and incensed. The seller has already made a claim on the deposit and seems to be gearing up for litigation. What can they do to resolve this dispute, and what is my role when my brokerage company isn’t holding the deposit?

Caller issue: A buyer discovered a problem with the house after closing and suspects that seller may have known about it, or even hidden it in some way. I reached out to the listing side of the transaction, but the only message we got back is that seller refuses to respond.

We get questions just like these on the Florida Realtors Legal Hotline fairly often, although there isn’t much we can say about any of them. The answer to all questions is that the parties have an unresolved legal dispute and will need to either seek the help of a lawyer or represent themselves.

One thing we frequently note is that, as a real estate professional, this is a good time to extricate yourself from the dispute unless you can see some very specific helpful action you can take that doesn’t involve giving legal advice. We also caution that there could be hidden traps for both sides, such as wording something in a way that accidentally creates more liability or missing some deadline that results in losing specific rights.

At this point in a dispute, the parties may want to take stock of some practical and procedural considerations so that they choose a wise course of action under the circumstances. For example, sometimes factors like these are just as important, or even more important, than whether someone has a “winning” case:

  • The amount of money someone stands to gain if they win
  • The ability of the other side to pay (bankruptcy concerns, for example)
  • The personality of the other side (reasonable vs. unreasonable)
  • What specific dispute resolution is required (typically one or more of the following: mediation, arbitration or litigation)
  • Whether each side must pay their own attorney fees and costs, or whether the losing side will owe attorney’s fees and costs to the winning side
  • Whether the same opponent is involved in separate lawsuits with other parties
  • The ability of each side to persuasively explain their position and quickly convince others of its merit

These are just a few factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the facts of the case – but they may help someone decide whether fighting, settling, or even letting a case go is the wisest course of action.

One final note: It’s not unusual for someone to start a dispute off with a common refrain of “It’s the principle of the thing. I won’t back down!” This is a perfectly understandable reaction, especially when someone has a strong case. However, this response can cloud someone’s ability to consider points like the ones above and can easily result in that person losing real money by taking an aggressive stance when a more conciliatory one (or even letting the issue go) would have been better.

After all, there’s some truth to the satirical author Ambrose Bierce’s definition of litigation as “a machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.”

Joel Maxson is Associate General Counsel

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

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How Do I Cancel the Contract?

A contract can end when one party notifies the other party under terms outlined in the contract. Or it could end when a Florida Realtors Release and Cancellation of Contract arrives. Does it matter how you do it? Yes and no – they aren’t the same thing.

ORLANDO, Fla – Florida Realtors Legal Hotline receives many questions regarding contract cancellation, including when and how a contract can be cancelled – and there’s some confusion over the ability to cancel a contract and use of the Florida Realtors’ Release and Cancellation of Contract form. While one can be used to do the other, they aren’t the same thing.

Let me explain. For the purposes of this article, we will use the language in the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar “AS IS” Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase, more commonly known as “the AS IS contract.”

Here’s the thing: Try as you might, not all sales contracts are going to end up closing. Whether a contract cancellation is based on one party’s contingency or it’s something more severe, such as arguments between the parties over one thing or another, this just happens.

However, when there is a contingency that allows a party to terminate the contract, it’s important to pay attention to that section of the contract to understand what steps must be followed to properly cancel. Why? This is what determines if the contract was properly canceled – or not.

Let’s look at the inspection period language in the AS IS Contract, which is contained in paragraph 12. For the buyer to terminate the contract based on this contingency within the contract, it states, in pertinent part, that the buyer has to “deliver written notice of such election to Seller prior to the expiration of Inspection Period.” In other words, in order for the buyer to cancel the contract, the buyer has to send written notice to the seller that they’re cancelling.

What exactly is “written notice?” It could mean several things, including a Release and Cancellation of Contract – but it isn’t limited to that form alone. A glance at Standard O of the contract clarifies that the written notice can be sent by “mail, personal delivery or electronic (including PDF) media.” This means that the buyer wishing to cancel must send written notice to the seller before the end of the inspection period, and that written notice could be via mail, personal delivery or electronic means. 

Based on calls, some members feel that the Florida Realtors Release and Cancellation of Contract form is the only way to terminate a contract under this provision. As we just confirmed, this is not true!

What are some examples of terminating a contract under the inspection section? The most common is via e-mail. The buyer’s agent emails the seller’s agent and indicates the buyer’s intention to cancel. Could a buyer’s agent email a Release and Cancellation of Contract signed by the buyer as a means of cancelling the contract? Sure, that would work too. Both are types of “written notice.” If sending a Release and Cancellation of Contract, it is also helpful for the agent to include a message within the body of the email clearly indicating the buyer’s intent to cancel.

Of course, as Standard O clarifies, the buyer could also send their cancellation via mail or in person – but if using either of these methods, it’s important to note that the buyer should try to secure proof of delivery. Otherwise, the seller could question the timing.

Some of you may be thinking, “Okay, I get it. Why are you even talking about this?” Here is my point: what makes the contract terminated? To briefly recap, the AS IS Contract is terminated under the inspection contingency when the buyer’s written notice to do so is sent to the seller before the end of the inspection period. That is all the language in paragraph 12 requires.

The confusion to the Legal Hotline tends to be the result of using the Release and Cancellation of Contract form as this written notice. How so?

If using a Release and Cancellation of Contract to terminate under the inspection provision of the AS IS Contract – which we’ve now covered is a perfectly acceptable though not mandatory way to terminate under this section – the caller to the Legal Hotline usually says the following: “I sent the Release and Cancellation over to the listing agent on time, but I haven’t receive it back! When does the seller have to sign and send that form back?”

Answer: They don’t. And guess what? For purposes of terminating the contract, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because, as stated before, the only thing the buyer has to do to terminate the contract is send written notice of the intent to do so before the end of the inspection period. Nowhere in that section of the contract does it say the seller has to sign off or agree to end the contract. Nowhere!

As a buyer’s agent, and using my example above, you only need proof that you sent an email to the listing agent about your buyer’s desire to cancel, and it was sent before the inspection-period notification deadline. Beyond that, it’s irrelevant for the inspection contingency section of the AS IS contract whether or not the seller signs the Release and Cancellation you attached to that email.

One small catch

However – yes, there is a slight catch – more times than not, the escrow agent holding the buyer’s deposit will want something in writing from both parties confirming both agree that the buyer can get the deposit back. This is where the buyer will need to get the seller’s signature on the Release and Cancellation or other acceptable form for the closing agent.

But, to clarify: That signature is needed only to get the buyer’s deposit back. It doesn’t affect the buyer’s cancellation of the contract. That was done when the buyer sent written notice before the end of the inspection period of their intent to cancel.

Remember, always look to the language of the section of the contract to see what is required to terminate and how much time a party may have to exercise that right. Knowing the language and options can hopefully avoid any party missing a particular deadline.

Meredith Caruso is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Florida Affordable Housing Conference Going on Now

More than 900 people were expected to attend the once-per-year meeting that focuses on current housing issues, trends and innovations.

ORLANDO – The Florida Housing Coalition (FHC) is hosting its 32nd Annual Statewide Affordable Housing Conference through Aug. 28 at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando. More than 900 people were expected to attend the once-per-year meeting that focuses on current housing issues, trends and innovations.

Featured keynote speakers include Ken Lawson, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and Dr. Rodney Harrell, from National AARP, director of Livability Thought Leadership.

The State of the State Public Policy Plenary session held Aug. 26 addressed the Sadowski Act, which funds Florida’s state and local housing trust fund programs. The panel featured non-profit and government professionals who work at the state and federal levels addressing housing programs and initiatives, including disaster housing recovery, Opportunity Zones, ending homelessness, long-term affordability, land use and the major funding resources available for affordable housing.

On Aug. 27, the conference will offer more than 30 training workshops today on aspects of affordable housing, including sessions on disaster recovery, community land trusts, housing advocacy, innovations in housing, equitable development, avoiding displacement, and funding resources. This year’s forums focus on disaster recovery, ending homelessness among youth and young adults and Opportunity Zones.

On Aug. 28, the conference features three symposiums: the SHIP Administrators Roundtable, Nonprofit Building Capacity to Build Symposium and the launch of the Florida CLT Institute’s Training and Certification Program.

To learn more about the Conference, visit: www.FLHousingConference.org. For more information about the Florida Housing Coalition, visit www.FLHousing.org.

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Judges Deny HOA Request to Quash Group Home Decision

Commissioners OK’d the group home in 2018, but the HOA failed in its lawsuit claim that the original developer set aside the land “for the residents’ benefit.”

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Wellington View Homeowners’ Association had hoped a judge would reverse a decision that will allow the nonprofit HomeSafe to build a group home for at-risk boys near its neighborhood.

But on Wednesday, circuit court judges James Nutt, Donald Hafele and August Bonavita denied the HOA’s petition.

“We are pleased that the judges ruled in our favor and are excited to move forward with the new campus which will provide a safe, nurturing home for 12 children,” said HomeSafe CEO Matthew Ladika in an emailed statement.

The lawsuit, filed in December against Palm Beach County and The Children’s Place at Home Safe Inc., centered on a decision county commissioners had made two months prior.

Commissioners in October of last year unanimously approved the nonprofit’s request to build an 11,000-square-foot home on three acres on Lyons Road south of Southern Boulevard. The land used to be part of the 157-acre Wellington View development in suburban West Palm Beach.

In the lawsuit, the HOA argued that the land was “legally set aside … by the original developer for the residents’ benefit” – it was designated for public civic use and the site would be better used as a park.

After the court ruling on Wednesday, attorney Joni Armstrong Coffey provided a statement on behalf of the HOA: “We have seen the court’s order. We’re disappointed in it, and at this point we are considering what our legal options may be, including appeal.”

This HomeSafe residence would house up to 12 boys aged between 12 and 17. The home planned to have a bedroom and bathroom for each boy, a reception area, offices, dining area and kitchen. The nonprofit planned to also build a 5,500-square-foot building for recreational activities.

A HomeSafe spokeswoman said the project would take 18 months to complete but did not have a start date.

© 2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Hannah Morse. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Condo Q&A: Pros and Cons of Self-Management

Is it possible to do away with a condo property manager and just self-manage? Also: What are the rules regarding owners’ ability to speak at board meetings?  

STUART, Fla. – Question: My board is currently working on its budget for next year. I am not happy with how much we are paying some of our vendors, including our property manager. In an effort to save money, is it possible to do away with an actual property manager and just self-manage? It would be a huge savings for us. – R.L., Vero Beach

Answer: Associations offer residents great benefits, but with those benefits come added expense to live in a community. One of the biggest expenses, as you point out, is that the association needs to be managed by someone.

The question then becomes should a community pay to be managed by a professional management company or should they be self-managed? Well, as every community is different, with different issues and needs, it depends.

Property management companies, and there are plenty of them out there, work under the direction of the board of directors of the association.

Property management companies are paid a fee based upon services they contract to perform for the association. The scope of those contracts can vary in regard to the types of services the company will provide. Such services can include recommending, hiring and reviewing contracts for outside vendors, monitoring maintenance work and landscaping, as well as working as a liaison with the residents to take care of issues that might normally fall on the board to deal with.

They also function to collect association fees and prepare monthly and annual financial statements, as well as assist the board in preparing annual budgets. The larger management companies will often have relationships with outside vendors, allowing them to negotiate better pricing than an association might be able to get on its own.

Regardless of the benefits that come with having a professional property management company manage your community, due to the expense, some associations still choose to self-manage.

As alluded to above, as with anything, there are pros and cons related to self-managing. The biggest benefit is obviously going to be financial savings related to the cost of management fees. Another benefit is that a self-managed association may be able to streamline its decision-making, allowing it to operate more efficiently.

The counter to that is that by not having a management company, much more pressure is going to be placed on a board, which can already be an extremely time-consuming, stressful job. To make matters worse, most board members generally lack the experience and industry contacts to do a proper job and follow Florida law, which can be a daunting task. Not to mention the issues related to board turnover that can occur every year when there is an election.

This is a huge issue, even under the best of circumstances, as ongoing projects and daily decision-making can change year-to-year. A huge risk is also that, by taking on this role, there is more risk to the board members for the decisions that they make should they do things that fall outside Florida law. This can open board members up to potential legal exposure.

Something else to keep in mind is that whether you have a full-time property management company or are self-managed, all associations need to have an attorney experienced in Florida condominium and homeowner’s association law. You should discuss your thoughts with your current association attorney to see what they recommend in regard to your particular association and its needs.

Question: What are the rules regarding owners’ ability to speak at board meetings? – P.G., Port St. Lucie

Answer: Florida law provides that either owners and/or their authorized representatives have the right to attend condominium association meetings that are open to the membership. You also have the right to speak at association meetings, with the caveat that you can only speak about the specific items on the agenda that were posted prior to the meeting.

Although most meetings are open to members, members generally cannot raise new issues not listed on the agenda. Also, keep in mind that not every board meeting is going to be open to members. For example, a meeting to discuss litigation with the association’s lawyer will be a closed meeting in order to preserve attorney-client privilege. Also, as a member, you are permitted to record an open meeting if doing so is not unduly distracting.

For homeowner’s associations, Florida Statutes section 720.303(2) provides that members have the right to attend all board meetings, and that “the right to attend such meetings includes the right to speak at such meetings with reference to all designated items.” The statute then goes on to state that the board may adopt reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration, and other manner of owner statements.

It is important to note that this is slightly different from Chapter 718, which governs condominiums. The condominium statute provides that owners have the right to speak “with reference to all designated agenda items,” the distinction being that homeowner’s associations are not required by statute to have a detailed agenda, and condominium associations are required to have a detailed agenda.

The purpose behind allowing members to speak is that if the board is going to exercise business judgment, it needs to be informed, and part of this information gathering is hearing from the owners.

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

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, respond to questions about Florida community association law. The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, civil litigation, estate planning and commercial transactions.

© 2019 Journal Media Group, Harris B. Katz

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Realtors Use Showings to Help Pets Find Their Furever Homes

Some Realtors are taking foster animals to home showings. It eases buyers’ stress, makes listings feel like homes, and can even be a marketing niche focusing on buyers who love dogs.

NEW YORK – Some real estate pros are bringing foster dogs to showings, hoping that while finding the perfect home for a buyer, they’ll be able to find the perfect home for the foster pet too.

Kelcey Otten, a real estate professional with Compass in Manhattan, will often bring two small dogs she fosters on showing tours to pet-friendly apartments. She’ll bring the pups in her purse on a property tour.

“I thought if I could bring my foster pups with me on buyer tours, then I could expose them to a larger pool of potential adopters,” Otten told The New York Times. She hopes that she’ll be able to find the foster dogs a home while also closing a real estate deal.

“I do my best to be mindful and get permission beforehand” to bring the dogs, Otten said. “Most of the time, people are just super excited to see a dog.”

In the last three years, Otten has helped place 15 dogs in permanent homes.

Some potential buyers also seek out animal-loving agents, making it a bit of a market niche. Eileen Mandel wanted to work with Otten as her real estate agent because she and her husband have three rescue dogs. They wanted a pet-savvy broker to help them find a home in New York City.

“My top priority was finding a place that would accommodate all of my dogs,” Mandel said.

Certainly, a pet in tow isn’t going to necessarily help sell a property, Otten says, but “even if a potential buyer doesn’t want to adopt, bringing the dogs on showings still helps generate leads. Having a cute little thing running around brings a levity to the whole experience.”

Domingo Perez Jr., a real estate pro with Warburg Realty, and Kathryn Landow, another Warburg agent, teamed up to partner with Animal Haven, a nonprofit organization that finds homes for abandoned cats and dogs throughout the New York City area. They recently hosted an adoption event with rescue animals during a real estate preview on a terrace of a building. The event featured kittens and dogs from the shelter.

“We’re in the business of finding a home for everyone, both two- and four-legged,” Landow says.

It’s not just dogs and cats either. Lori Coredero and Sara Magers are real estate pros with The Rescue Realtors® team at Pacific Playa Realty in Los Angeles. When they have a listing that has enough outdoor space and the homeowners’ approval, they’ll bring bunnies to the open house. They will team with Too Many Bunnies Rabbit Rescue to hold an adoption event at the open house.

“We’re not just helping a potential buyer or seller with real estate, we’re helping raise community awareness about the homeless animal population,” Cordero said.

Source: “Can a Puppy Help Sell Your Home?” The New York Times (Aug. 23, 2019)

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HUD May Send Over $633M to Florida for Disaster Aid

Nine states could get part of $6.85 billion in aid for disasters from 2015 to 2017 under just-announced HUD program rules. Texas could get the most at $4.07 billion.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated $6.85 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds to grantees recovering from qualifying 2015, 2016 and 2017 disasters.

Florida is one of the nine states and five local communities that qualify if they adhere to rules HUD created. The total potential money coming into the state for mitigation efforts for 2016 and 2017 storms is $633,485,000. HUD’s 126-page notice explains the program’s regulations.

According to HUD, CDBG-Mitigation funds are an opportunity for grantees to use fund in areas impacted by recent disasters to carry out long-term strategic and high-impact activities that lower disaster risks in future losses.

HUD’s goals for the program

  • Support data-informed investments in high-impact projects that will reduce risks attributable to natural disasters, with particular focus on repetitive loss of property and critical infrastructure
  • Build the capacity of states and local governments to comprehensively analyze disaster risks and update hazard mitigation plans through data and community engagement
  • Support adoption of policies that reflect local and regional priorities with long-lasting effects on community risk reduction, and to include the risk reduction to community lifelines
  • Maximize the impact of available funds by encouraging leverage of private-public partnerships, and coordination with other federal programs.

States and areas slated to receive HUD funding

2017 Disasters

Texas – $4,074,456,000

Florida – $549,684,000

California – $88,219,000

Georgia – $26,961,000

Missouri – $41,592,000

2016 Disasters

Louisiana – $1,213,917,000

Texas – $169,748,000

North Carolina – $168,067,000

West Virginia – $106,494,000

Florida – $83,801,000

South Carolina – $67,564,000

2015 Disasters

South Carolina – $90,026,000

Houston, Texas – $61,884,000

Texas – $52,985,000

San Marcos, Texas – $24,012,000

Richland County, S.C. – $21,864,000
Columbia, S.C. – $18,585,000

Lexington County, S.C. – $15,185,000

Total: $6,847,044,000

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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Survey: Older Adults Struggle with Housing Costs

1 in 4 adults over age 45 say Florida is their top retirement state – but 1 in 3 struggled with the cost of housing over the past year.

NEW YORK – Nearly one in three adults over age 45 struggled to maintain housing costs over the past year, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted by PropertyShark, a real estate website.

Homeowners with lower incomes tended to report the highest housing costs burden, but researchers found the problem across all income levels.

Among those earning $20,000 to $40,000 a year, 42% struggled with housing costs, while 27% of those earning between $40,000 and $60,000 were in the same situation. Earners in the $60,000 to $80,000, and $80,000 to $100,000 income brackets, reported burdens at 22% and 20%, respectively. And even the highest income brackets weren’t immune: Six percent of older adults earning more than $100,000 per year said they found it difficult to keep up with housing costs over the past year.

“Beyond shifting attitudes regarding retirement – with many older adults choosing to stay employed for reasons other than financial concerns – there is also a strong need for continued employment to keep up with the daily cost of life,” researchers note in the study.

More than half of those 45 and older surveyed said they plan to remain in their current home during their senior years. Three out of five have less than $100,000 saved for retirement.

Nearly one in five older adults have explored ways to monetize their homes by renting out the extra space, with younger baby boomers and older Generation Xers most open to the idea – 25% of adults planning to retire in more than five years and 16% of those planning to retire in more than 10 years. Airbnb-type platforms were considered one of their options.

Popular places for retirement

  • Florida: 24%
  • Arizona: 10%
  • Tennessee: 8%
  • South Carolina: 8%
  • California: 6%
  • Texas: 5%

By 2030, U.S. Census data shows that one in five Americans will be 65 or older. By 2035, older adults will outnumber children – the first time in recorded history.

Developers are paying attention to what this generation wants to help meet their current and future housing needs, and more than one in five would like to retire to less than 1,000 square feet.

The suburbs reign as their top preference (45%), but it’s closely trailed by rural living at 30%. City living is third at 15% and senior living communities is at 10%.

Senior living communities tend to be popular among seniors who have already retired, while only 11% of survey respondents who don’t plan to retire say they want to live in such a place, according to the survey.

Beyond location, size and preferences, however, cost is the No. 1 priority guiding housing choice, researchers found.

“Cost is, by far, the most significant factor, followed by proximity to friends and family, area amenities, the quality and proximity of health services and the climate,” researchers note.

Source: “Housing America’s Older Adults – Florida, Traveling & Roommates,” Property Shark (Aug. 22, 2019)

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84% of Millennials Have at Least One Home Buying Regret

But a few regrets don’t dampen overall enthusiasm for becoming a homeowner – and most regrets focused on some part of the mortgage process.  

NEW YORK – Younger homeowners more often say they rushed through the buying process and have regrets about their mortgage, likely resulting from the challenges young buyers face entering today’s expensive housing market.

Still, homeowners of all ages are, for the most part, happy with their home purchases, a recent Zillow survey shows.

The Zillow Housing Aspirations Report is a semiannual survey conducted by Ipsos of 10,000 homeowners and renters in 20 large metro areas across the country, asking the respondents about their views on homeownership and their personal housing expectations. In the latest survey, it also asked about regrets.

Overall, 81% of young homeowners (between 18 and 34 years old) had at least one regret about their home, compared with 65% of those 55 years and older. Some of the biggest disparity was related to regrets about their mortgages. Millennial and Generation Z homeowners are more likely to think their mortgage payments and interest rates are too high, and have more regrets about the type of mortgage they have.

The increased likelihood for regrets could be due to their inexperience with the home buying process. Young owners are likely still living in their first homes, which means they went through the process of finding a lender and getting a mortgage for the first time. Navigating this process for the first time may explain why they are more likely to say they rushed the home buying decision without considering all their options – 29% of young homeowners regret rushing the process, compared with 12% of older buyers.

The Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report shows that millennials (ages 24-38) contact more lenders when planning to buy a home than older generations – so they are doing their homework when it comes to finding the best mortgage partner, but may have smaller down payments or more debt affecting their credit scores, and therefore their interest rates.

“The American Dream of homeownership is still alive and well, and younger buyers who are building families and forging their careers must stretch their budgets to achieve it,” said Zillow Director of Economic Research Skylar Olsen. “They have long wish lists to fit their needs, and are often navigating the process of buying for the first time. While their inexperience may lead to wishing they’d done some things differently, few homeowners regret making the decision to buy instead of rent.”

First-time buyers already make up nearly half of all buyers, and there is a growing population of millennials set to turn 34, the median age of first-time buyers. For these potential new buyers, being educated and prepared can help avoid some of these common regrets.

In addition to contacting multiple lenders to find the best rate and mortgage product, working with an agent with a winning track record can help navigate the process so buyers don’t end up feeling rushed and regretting their decision.

Copyright © 2019 BridgeTower Media. All Rights Reserved. © Copyright, 2019, The Mecklenburg Times (Charlotte, NC)

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The Latest Trend for Retail Space? Rage Rooms

Sometimes you just need a room where you can break things. In theory, “rage rooms” give owners a place to relieve stress by throwing adult temper tantrums.  

ALBEQUERQUE, N.M. – Maybe after having a stressful day, you want to release some of that tension. Enter the “rage room,” a new trend where you can slam a sledgehammer into a kitchen cabinet or ceramic dish. Rage rooms – described by some as a grown-up way to have a tantrum – are popping up across the country. One of the newest rooms to open has a real estate pro behind it.

“It’s less about anger and more just about things that you’re not supposed to do that you can now do,” says Alexis Hassley, one of the co-owners of the new “ABQ Rage Room” opening in Albuquerque. Hassley, a real estate pro in the area, teamed with other local entrepreneurs to bring the rage room business to the area.

Rage rooms offer a safe place where you pay money to smash things.

The Albuquerque rage room is lined with plywood inside a small office space. There, you can throw a plate across the room, take a hammer to an old fax machine, or use everything from metal pipes to sledgehammers for breaking dishes, electronics, furniture and more.

The first rage room reportedly opened in Japan in 2008, and they’ve spread globally ever since. USA Today reports that “hundreds” of rage rooms have popped up in the U.S. The cost to smash things varies, anywhere from $15 as a BYOB package to $95 for a “couples therapy” package in New York City. In Los Angeles, you can pay up to $300 to smash more than 100 items.

“So you have an anxious consumer who needs to let off some steam, and this provides an experience for them,” Maxwell Luthy, director of trends and insights at TrendWatching, told USA Today on an article about rage rooms last year. “This is more substantial than a unicorn Frappuccino.”

Rage rooms aren’t just for anger management. Vantroy Greene, who opened a rage room called House of Purge in Charlotte, N.C., last year told USA Today that for some it’s a way to relax.

“I feel like there’s a lot of people who need an outlet from family stress or just the stress of life,” Greene told USA Today. “There’s a lot of people who work out every day or pray or meditate, but you might like to break stuff. That first time you smash a bottle, you’ll just get it.”

Source: “‘Rage Room’ to Open Doors in Albuquerque,” KRQE News-13 (Albuquerque) (Aug. 19, 2019)

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Q&A: Beware of Any Great Condo Foreclosure Deal

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

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: I got a great deal on a condo that the seller had bought at a foreclosure sale and cleaned up. I used my savings and did not take a mortgage. Now I am concerned that I did not get such a great deal because the condo association is demanding a lot of money. To make matters worse, I just got a letter from a mortgage company demanding payment. What do I do? – Tim

Answer: One of the most basic rules of real estate law is that you can only buy what a seller owns. When you buy a property, you get the rights and liabilities of your seller. If your seller owes the association or has a mortgage, it needs to be paid off before you get the deed.

This is the reason that title agents perform detailed searches of the public records. Any liens against the property are identified and paid during the closing process. If you had borrowed money to buy the condo, your mortgage lender would have required you to get title insurance, which will fix any problems with your ownership, such as the ones you are experiencing, that were missed during the closing process.

Your seller purchased the property at a foreclosure auction. While a foreclosure will clear most liens from a property, certain debts, such as delinquent association dues and claims that were not named in the foreclosure lawsuit, will remain attached to the property. The buyer at the auction would still be on the hook for delinquent condo maintenance payments and any liens that were not listed in the lawsuit.

Sometimes this happens for a reason, but it often occurs when a creditor was missed when the suit was filed. You should never purchase a property, even at a court auction, without a thorough title search. There is a reason that mortgage lenders require their borrowers to get title insurance – to protect their investment in the mortgage. You should never buy a house without a title policy for the same reason.

In this space, I try to give readers options for helping themselves. However, sometimes a problem is too complicated to unravel without the help of an experienced professional. You should speak to an experienced attorney to discuss your options.

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

© 2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Scammers Now Targeting Equifax Credit Score Victims

Fla.’s attorney general warns consumers about a new phishing scam: Fake websites are trying to steal from people who already lost data in the Equifax hack.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning consumers about a new phishing scam, targeting people who were already victimized once by a data breach of the credit monitoring company Equifax.

An agreement reached between Equifax and most attorneys general across the country, including Moody, set up a $425 million fund to help those affected by a 2017 data breach that impacted nearly half of all Americans. Now, scammers are creating fake claims websites to again gain access to personal information from Floridians.

Moody said the phishing scam succeeds because it mimics the real claims process.

“People are trying to take advantage of those that have already had their personal information taken through this historic data breach,” Moody says. “They are now asking them to go to a false, fraudulent website and again enter and expose their personal information.”

Moody said consumers should never respond to unsolicited emails asking for Social Security numbers, bank account details or other personal information. Anyone who was a victim of the Equifax data breach and wants to file a claim should visit the official claims website, which is EquifaxBreachSettlement.com.

Floridians who feel they may have fallen for the new phishing scheme should contact the attorney general’s office.

Source: News Service of Florida

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Fla.’s Closed and Pending Home Sales, Median Prices Up in July

Fla. Realtors Pres. Sain: “Like the weather, July was a hot month for Fla.’s housing market.” Statewide existing single-family sales up 10.4% year-over-year, median price up 5.1% to $268K; condo sales up 4.3%, median price up 4.4% to $188K.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s housing market reported more closed sales, more pending sales and higher median prices in July compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 28,142 last month, up 10.4% from July 2018.

“Just like the weather, July was a hot month for Florida’s housing market with sales and median prices showing gains in both the single-family and condo-townhouse sectors,” says 2019 Florida Realtors President Eric Sain, a Realtor and district sales manager with Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach. “In another positive sign, pending inventory for existing single-family homes was up 4.5% year-over-year, while pending inventory for existing condo-townhouse properties was up 1.2%.

“Consulting a local Realtor who knows the area and current conditions can help homebuyers and sellers navigate today’s fast-paced market.”

Pending inventory is the number of listed properties that were under contract at the end of the month or data collection period.

In July, statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties rose year-over-year for 91 consecutive months. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $268,000, up 5.1% from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’s statewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $188,000, up 4.4% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

According to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), the national median sales price for existing single-family homes in June 2019 was $288,900, up 4.5% from the previous year; the national median existing condo price was $260,100. In California, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in June was $611,420; in Massachusetts, it was $440,000; in Maryland, it was $316,000; and in New York, it was $299,000.

Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market in July, statewide closed sales totaled 10,470, up 4.3% compared to a year ago. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

“After taking a little breather in June, the pace of existing home sales in Florida ramped right up again in July,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “Closed sales of single-family homes were up more than 10% in July compared to a year ago, and new pending sales – that is, the number of homes that went under contract during the month – were up by 7.4%, year-over-year.

“For the first time since January, we saw positive year-over-year growth in new listings of single-family homes, which were up by about 3%. However, this rise in new listings was not enough to stop inventory from declining again in July. Looking at the change in inventory levels by price tier, we are seeing an all-too-familiar story, with a year-over-year rise in homes listed above $250,000 being offset by a decline in those below that price point.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.77% in July 2019, down significantly from the 4.53% averaged during the same month a year earlier.

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

© 2019 Florida Realtors®

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