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Florida Realtors: Single-Family Sales Up 23.8% in Dec.

And Fla. condo-townhouse sales were up 17.7% year-to-year. The statewide median price for single-family homes rose 5.9% to $270K, and condo-townhouse prices were up 8.1% to $200K. Pending inventory and new pending sales also rose statewide in both categories.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The holiday season was a time of good cheer for Florida’s housing market, with more closed sales, higher median prices and increased pending sales, plus more pending inventory in December 2019 compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 25,557 last month, up 23.8% from December 2018.

“Continued low interest rates are sparking buyer demand across Florida; however, a constrained supply and tight inventory of for-sale homes is putting pressure on home prices to rise,” says 2020 Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms, a Realtor and co-owner of Sarabay Suncoast Realty Inc. in Bradenton. “Existing single-family homes had a 3.4 months’ supply of inventory in December, while condo-townhouse properties showed a 5.2 months’ supply. In a positive sign, new pending sales rose 11.9% for single-family existing homes last month and new pending sales for condo-townhouse units increased 8.3%.

“Buying or selling a home can be a complex process, but a local Realtor stands ready to help.”

Statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties in December rose year-over-year for 96 months in a row. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $270,000, up 5.9% 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 $200,000, up 8.1% 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 November 2019 was $274,000, up 5.4% from the previous year; the national median existing condo price was $248,200. In California, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in November was $589,770; in Massachusetts, it was $405,000; in Maryland, it was $301,000; and in New York, it was $280,000.

Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market in December, statewide closed sales totaled 9,605, up 17.7% from the level a year ago. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor points out that Florida’s housing market this December showed very different data trends than the previous year. In December 2018, the state was experiencing weak existing home sales growth and rising inventory levels driven in part by higher interest rates, a troubled stock market and uneasiness generated by an impending shutdown of the federal government, according to O’Connor.

“Closed sales of existing single-family homes were up by nearly 24% compared to last December, while closings in the condo-townhouse category were up by almost 18%,” he says. “So why such a big jump? Well, part of it is explained by the fact that sales were unusually weak at the end of 2018, driven in part by a sharp increase in the average 30-year mortgage rate.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the entire increase in sales, he adds.

“The average 30-year mortgage rate spent the entire second half of 2019 in the range of 3.5% to 3.8%, flirting with historical lows,” O’Connor says. “And in the months since the mid-year yield curve scare that spooked the financial markets, the Federal Reserve has dropped the federal funds rate three times, restoring calm to the national economy. Here in Florida, we saw new pending sales for both property types begin surging in October, and now, with the December figures, we see a significant share of those deals successfully closed by year’s end.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.72% in December 2019, down from the 4.6% averaged during the same month a year earlier.

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

© 2020 Florida Realtors

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NAR: Existing-Home Sales Climb 3.6% in Dec.

Inventory continues to fall, but shoppers appear ready to buy what’s available. While sales rose at the end of 2019, total yearly sales were about equal to those in 2018.

WASHINGTON – Existing-home sales grew in December, bouncing back after a slight fall in November, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Although the Midwest saw sales decline, the other three major U.S. regions reported meaningful growth last month.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – increased 3.6% from November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million in December. In a year-to-year comparison, the increase is even higher – up 10.8% compared to 5 million in December 2019.

For all of 2019, NAR says that home sales remained stable compared to 2018 but didn’t increase. On a full-year basis (not seasonally adjusted), total existing-home sales ended at 5.34 million – the same level as in 2018. Sales in the South region, which includes Florida, were up 2.2%, offsetting a 1.8% decline in the West and 1.6% drop in the Midwest. The Northeast remained unchanged.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says home sales fluctuated a lot in 2019.

“I view 2019 as a neutral year for housing in terms of sales,” Yun says. “Home sellers are positioned well, but prospective buyers aren’t as fortunate. Low inventory remains a problem, with first-time buyers affected the most.”

The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $274,500, up 7.8% from December 2018 ($254,700), as prices rose in every region. November’s price increase marks 94 straight months of year-over-year gains.

“Price appreciation has rapidly accelerated, and areas that are relatively unaffordable or declining in affordability are starting to experience slower job growth,” Yun says. “The hope is for (home) price appreciation to slow in line with wage growth, which is about 3%.”

Total U.S. housing inventory at the end of December was 1.40 million units, down 14.6% from November and 8.5% year-to-year. Unsold inventory sat at a 3.0-month supply at the current sales pace, down from the 3.7-month figure recorded in the month before and in December 2018.

Unsold inventory totals have dropped for seven consecutive months in year-to-year comparisons, taking a toll on home sales.

Properties typically remained on the market for 41 days in December, seasonally up from 38 days in November, but down from 46 days in December 2018. Forty-three percent of homes sold in December 2019 were on the market for less than a month.

First-time buyers were responsible for 31% of sales in December, moderately down from the 32% seen in both November and in December 2018. According to NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17% of homes in December 2019, up from 16% in November and 15% in December 2018. All-cash sales accounted for 20% of transactions in December, unchanged from November and down slightly from 22% in December 2018.

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 2% of sales in December, unchanged from both November 2019 and December 2018.

Yun says conditions for buying are favorable and expects that to continue in 2020.

“We saw the year come to a close with the economy churning out 2.3 million jobs, mortgage rates below 4% and housing starts ramp up to 1.6 million on an annual basis,” he says. “If these factors are sustained in 2020, we will see a notable pickup in home sales in 2020.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.72% in December, up from 3.70% in November. The average commitment rate across all of 2019 was 3.94%.

“NAR is expecting 2020 to be a great year for housing,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “Our leadership team is hard at work to secure policies that will keep our housing market moving in the right direction, like promoting infrastructure reform, strengthening fair housing protections and ensuring mortgage capital remains available to responsible, mortgage-ready Americans.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales: Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million in December, up from 4.79 million in November, and up 10.6% year-to-year. The median existing single-family home price was $276,900 in December 2019, up 8.0% from December 2018.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 620,000 units in December, up 10.7% from November and 12.7% year-to-year. The median existing condo price was $255,400 in December – an increase of 6.0% from a year ago.

Regional breakdown: Compared to last month, December sales increased in the Northeast, South and West regions, while year-over-year sales were up in each of the four regions. Median home prices in all regions increased from one year ago, with the Midwest region showing the strongest price gain.

  • December 2019 existing-home sales in the Northeast grew 5.7% to an annual rate of 740,000, up 8.8% from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $304,400, up 7.4% from December 2018.
  • Existing-home sales decreased 1.5% in the Midwest to an annual rate of 1.30 million, which is up 9.2% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $208,500, a 9.2% jump from last December.
  • Existing-home sales in the South grew 5.4% to an annual rate of 2.36 million in December, up 12.4% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $240,500, a 6.7% increase from this time last year.
  • Existing-home sales in the West rose 4.6% to an annual rate of 1.14 million in December, a 10.7% increase from a year ago. The median price in the West was $411,800, up 8.1% from December 2018.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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95-Year-Olds Still Qualify for 30-year Mortgages

Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a loan applicant’s age doesn’t matter – even people who think, “There’s no way I’ll live long enough to pay this off.”

NEW YORK – Older Americans may not realize they can still qualify for a mortgage. Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a loan applicant’s age doesn’t matter – even those who think “There’s no way I’ll live long enough to pay this off.”

Mary Babinski, a senior loan officer with Motto Mortgage Champions in Trinity, Fla., told The Wall Street Journal that when a 97-year-old applicant came in to inquire about a mortgage, he was surprised he could still qualify for a 30-year loan. But older borrowers are eligible for loans that will expire as late as their 130th birthdays.

In addition, more lenders are promoting loans to retirees that qualify with special lending programs geared to them.

Borrowers over the age of 65 comprise about 10% of all mortgages originated each year, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

It’s not just about age. Without a full-time job in retirement, some older adults wonder how they’ll qualify with only limited monthly earnings. Still, lenders continue qualifying older adults for a mortgage based on their pensions, Social Security, dividends and the interest they have available. They’re also showing more willingness to work with retirees to help qualify them based on either their income, distributions or assets.

Jumbo mortgages aren’t off the table either. Richard Barenblatt, a mortgage specialist with GuardHill Financial in New York, was able to get an 83-year-old retired Manhattan co-op owner a $1 million, 10-year, interest-only adjustable-rate mortgage for a refinance at a “highly competitive rate.”

Source: “You’re Never Too Old to Apply for a Mortgage,” The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 16, 2020) [Log-in required.]

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

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Judge Rejects Challenge on Underground Power Lines

Fla. remains on track to ease post-hurricane suffering by putting powerlines underground, but a court ruling makes it more likely rates will rise faster than hoped.

TALLAHASSEE – In a victory for state regulators and utilities, an administrative law judge Tuesday rejected a challenge to a plan for carrying out a new law that is expected to lead to more underground power lines in Florida.

Judge James H. Peterson III, in a 52-page order, turned down arguments raised by the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility cases, and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which includes large electricity customers.

They challenged proposed rules that the Florida Public Service Commission approved to carry out a 2019 law designed to help utilities add underground power lines and take other steps to better withstand hurricanes. Added costs for the projects are expected to be passed along to customers.

The challenge centered, in part, on a decision by the Public Service Commission to require utilities to provide detailed information only for projects in the first year. Information submitted initially for the second and third years would be broader, such as estimated numbers of projects and estimated costs. The utilities would then come back annually with detailed plans for the next year.

The Office of Public Counsel and other critics have contended that a lack of detail about projects in the second and third years could allow utilities to collect money under the new law for projects whose costs also are being passed on to customers through longer-term base rates.

But Peterson disputed that the Public Service Commission’s approach could open the door to “double recovery” of project costs from consumers.

“There is nothing confusing about the language used in the proposed rule – it forbids double recovery,” Peterson wrote. “Regulated utilities can readily understand its meaning – they may not recover costs through the (projects) clause that they are already recovering through base rates.”

Another disputed issue centered on whether utilities should be able to collect estimated costs for projects, with the Office of Public Counsel contending in its challenge that the “law permits only the recovery of “incurred” costs – historical, approved expenditures – following a proceeding where prudent costs are determined.”

But Peterson disagreed, noting that utilities already can collect estimated amounts of money to cover some other types of costs. In such situations, utilities go before the Public Service Commission after projects are completed to “true up” costs – a process that accounts for collecting too much, or not enough, money.

“The (Public Service) Commission currently administers a number of other cost recovery clauses, and all those cost recovery clauses operate in the same way – the commission establishes projected costs for the next year that are collected from customers in the next year when they are incurred through a factor on the customer’s bills,” the order said. “That factor also includes true-up adjustments for the current and previous year to adjust for overbillings or underbillings, so that customers never pay more (or less) than actual costs. The way the clause process works, costs are passed on to the customer in the same year that the costs are occurring.”

The commission voted in November to approve the proposed rules, months after the underlying law was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A key part of the law changes the way such storm-protection projects are financed – and likely will lead to increased costs for consumers.

Under the law, utilities will be able to seek approval from the Public Service Commission each year to collect money from customers for storm-protection projects. In the past, such projects have generally been financed through base rates, which are set for a number of years and include a wide range of utility expenses.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Saunders

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Court: Should Mortgage Profits Go to Taxpayers or Investors?

Fannie and Freddie back most mortgages, and after a recession bailout, now return most profits to taxpayers – but investors want the Supreme Court to rule that illegal.

NEW YORK – The U.S. Supreme Court could say as early as Friday whether it will intervene in a high-stakes fight over hundreds of billions of dollars in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac profits that investors say the federal government has collected illegally.

The justices meet Friday to discuss whether they will review scores of cases, including appeals from each side on the so-called net-worth sweep, which has funneled more than $300 billion in Fannie and Freddie profits to the Treasury since 2013.

Together, the appeals could determine whether the sweep can continue, whether the shareholders have leverage to extract an expensive settlement, and even how much job security Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria will have. The dispute could also affect plans by President Donald Trump’s administration to end the government’s control of Fannie and Freddie.

The case “is of immense practical importance,” the administration told the justices in court papers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac help keep the U.S. housing market humming by buying mortgages from lenders and packaging them into bonds that are sold to investors with guarantees of interest and principal.

After the housing market cratered in 2008, the companies were put into federal conservatorship and sustained by taxpayer aid. They have since returned to profitability and paid $115 billion more in dividends to the Treasury than they received in bailout funds. Since 2013, nearly all their profits have been sent to the Treasury under the net-worth sweep.

‘Cloud of uncertainty’

In their lawsuit, three investors contend the FHFA exceeded its authority when it set up the net-worth sweep in 2012. The administration counters that the 2008 law that established the FHFA precludes lawsuits over the arrangement.

A splintered federal appeals court rejected the administration’s contentions, saying the lawsuit could go forward.

Both sides now are asking the Supreme Court to review that conclusion. The suing shareholders say everyone would benefit from clarity.

“So long as there is a credible threat that litigation will invalidate the net-worth sweep, a cloud of uncertainty will hang over the companies’ capital structure,” the shareholders told the Supreme Court. “Investors will not be willing to supply the tens of billions of dollars in new capital that are essential to Treasury’s reform plan.“

Shares of Fannie and Freddie have surged over the past year on expectations that the courts may act and that the Trump administration will take steps to end U.S. control. A move to free the companies is expected to include an initial public offering or other event where Fannie and Freddie seek to raise new capital from investors.

The Trump administration told the high court that legal uncertainty “may frustrate the federal government’s proposed and ongoing efforts to reform the housing finance system and to end the ongoing conservatorships of the enterprises.”

Calabria’s appointment

Complicating matters is a second appeal, filed by the investors, that says Congress unconstitutionally limited the circumstances under which the president can fire the FHFA director. The investors say that violation of the Constitution’s appointments clause offers an additional ground for tossing out the net-worth sweep.

The Supreme Court is already set to consider whether Congress violated the appointments clause by insulating the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from being fired. Arguments are set for March 3 and a ruling is likely by the end of June. The court could defer acting on the Fannie and Freddie investors’ appeal until the CFPB case is resolved.

Ironically, that line of argument could undercut Calabria, a former chief economist to Vice President Mike Pence and champion of efforts to free Fannie and Freddie from government control.

Calabria just began a five-year term that could let him outlast Trump. Should the courts rule that the director was given too much job protection, and should a Democrat win the presidential election in November, Calabria would be vulnerable to being fired next year by the new president.

Ending the sweep

Calabria and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have said they plan to make additional changes to Fannie and Freddie’s bailout agreement and would eventually like to end the sweep.

They took a key step toward doing that in September when they let Fannie and Freddie retain more of their earnings than previously allowed. The deal essentially halted the net-worth sweep, and it will likely be more than a year before the companies will have to send additional earnings to Treasury.

Resolving legal issues surrounding Fannie and Freddie could be a crucial step if the companies are going to attract new investors, according to analysts. It could spur the administration to push ahead with its planned changes and perhaps even consider a settlement.

“The Supreme Court’s consideration of this case is significant insomuch as it impacts the administrative reform conversation,” said Isaac Boltansky, financial regulation analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading. “The shareholder cases are meaningful because they could conceivably force action or expedite timelines, but this is still predominantly about what the FHFA and Treasury Department can accomplish.”

The cases are Collins v. Mnuchin, 19-422, and Mnuchin v. Collins, 19-563.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.; © 2020 Penton Media, Greg Stohr, Elizabeth Dexheimer

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Single-Family Starts Will Gain Little Ground in 2020

NAHB forecasts 2% more single-family homes will be built this year – but it’s not enough. Frustrated buyers want about 3.8M homes, mainly at the low-end of the market.

LAS VEGAS – Single-family starts should continue on a gradual, upward trajectory in 2020, fueled by solid job growth and low mortgage rates that will keep demand firm, according to economists speaking at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas.

“Low resale inventory, favorable mortgage rates, historically low unemployment and accelerating wage growth are driving builder sentiment and point to single-family production gains in 2020,” says NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz.

However, that’s not enough, according to a new report from realtor.com. It found that single- family home starts (per 1,000 households) grew from 4.6 in 2012 to 7.3 in 2019, making the eight-year average 6.2. And while that growth was needed, levels still remain well below the two-decade average.

Realtor.com economists estimate that even with an above average pace of construction, it would take homebuilders four to five years to get back to equilibrium.

“The current inventory crisis and the need for 3.8 million new homes means a nearly insatiable appetite from potential buyers, especially in the lower end of the market,” says Javier Vivas, director of economic research for realtor.com.

 “Builders are still underbuilding as they continue to struggle with rising construction costs stemming from excessive regulations, a chronic shortage of workers and a lack of buildable lots,” says Dietz. “These affordability headwinds are impeding more robust construction growth.”

NAHB forecast

  • Total housing starts are expected to hit 1.3 million units in 2020, up more than 2% from last year. While that would mark the highest output since 2007, it’s still well below normal production levels that averaged 1.5 million units annually from 1960-2007.
  • Single-family starts are forecast to increase more than 3% from 2019 numbers to about 920,000 units – but that’s significantly less than the 1 million to 1.1 million units that demographics would support.
  • NAHB expects multifamily starts to hold relatively steady in 2020 at 383,000 units, a level it calls sustainable due to demographics and a balance between supply and demand. Currently, 93% of all multifamily units are built for rent vs. 7% that constructed for sale. The historical split is 80-20.
  • New-home sales are projected to total 708,000 in 2020, up 2.5% from last year. It would mark the first year sales surpass 700,000 since 2007.
  • Residential remodeling activity is expected to register a 1% gain this year over 2019 as existing home sales improve.

Some Florida cities hot markets for builders

The South and the West regions will lead new-home growth in the year ahead, according to Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “Markets with good affordability, high employment and outdoor amenities have had the highest growth in new-home sales over the last year,” he says.

New-home sales are rising fastest in the South. Dallas and Houston led the way, averaging at least 30,000 new-home sales between Oct. 2018 and Sept. 2019. The two Texas cities were followed by Atlanta, Phoenix and Austin, which all averaged at least 15,000 sales in the same period.

Meanwhile, several metropolitan areas located predominantly in the South posted at least a 20% gain in new-home growth over the same 12-month period. Metros leading the way included Port St. Lucie, Fla; Warner Robins, Ga.; Ocala, Fla.; The Villages, Fla, and Sebastian, Fla.

Nothaft added that home prices and rents are expected to continue to outpace inflation in most areas, with nationwide home prices anticipated to rise 4.8% in 2020 and single-family rents up 3%.

“The housing market is entering the year with a great deal of momentum from 2019,” says Nothaft. “This is the first time in post-World War II history that unemployment and mortgage rates are both below 4%. That will help fuel demand.”

Low rates, low inventories

David Berson, senior vice president and chief economist at Nationwide Economics, says that mortgage rates are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future.

“Trend growth depends on productivity growth, and labor growth and productivity has not picked up,” says Berson, noting that GDP growth has averaged just 2% since the Great Recession.

At the same time, the nation has experienced a long period of slow labor growth, which slows real economic growth.

Other factors should also help keep interest rates lower: Treasury yields are still near 100-year lows, and inflation remains below the Fed’s long-term goal of 2%.

Meanwhile, existing home inventories remain at all-time low levels but the number of households has been growing strongly. Coupled with solid job gains and low mortgage rates, housing demand remains strong.

“Given the historically low number of homes for sale relative to the number of households, there is only one outlet to meet demand – new home construction,” says Berson. “So 2020 should be a good year for new home construction.”

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Q&A: Why Pay More Agent Commission if a Tenant Opts to Buy?

A property owner pays an agent to manage his property, and the contract says an additional commission must be paid if his tenant eventually buys the property. Why?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: My tenant wants to purchase the home he recently rented with the help of my real estate agent. I checked the listing agreement I signed with the agent and noticed that it states that if I sell the property to the tenant, I need to pay the agent an additional sales commission. I already paid the agent for the rental, and I do not understand why I have to pay again. Is this correct? – Paul

Answer: When you signed your listing agreement with your real estate agent, you agreed to its terms, so you will need to pay this commission too. Many listing agreements also require the payment of a commission if your tenant renews the lease for another year. This is yet another reason to read and understand anything you are asked to sign before you sign it.

All contracts are negotiable, and you should make sure that you are comfortable with the terms of any agreement you enter into. If a specific condition is important to you and the person you are negotiating with does not want to give in, you may need to walk away and find someone else to work with.

Of course, if what you are asking for is unreasonable, you may not get anyone to help you, so remember that any successful relationship involves some give and take.

In your situation, you should remember that your agent found the person who is now looking to buy your home. I can assure you from many years of dealing with real estate agents that it is a tough industry, and the people in it work long and inconvenient hours to earn their living in a very competitive environment. It would be unfair to your agent to find you a buyer for your home and only collect the much smaller rental commission.

Before you try to sneak around the listing agreement to avoid paying the commission, be aware that most listing agreements require the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees if your agent has to enforce it in court.

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

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

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SW Fla.: Housing Demand Spurs Big Real Estate Deals

Multifamily and “mammoth” mansion sales are strong. One investor predicts it’s the end of a cycle before large-scale land acquisition and development starts up again.

NAPLES, Fla. – Hordes of new residents flocking to Southwest Florida are driving demand for housing and other real estate. That demand is also fueling some high returns and huge deals.

Many of the priciest real estate sales of last year were based around investments in housing, and specifically in Lee County apartment complexes. The boom of multifamily is evident in the area with six of the top 10 sales of 2019 consisting of complexes changing hands for big numbers.

According to Stan Stouder, a founding partner of real estate firm CRE Consultants, this is no surprise. He said that in four out of the last five years, at least five of the top 10 sales have been multifamily transactions.

“There’s clearly a demand for multifamily,” he said. “Investors are looking for return on investment, and multifamily is very favorable right now. For the kind of return you get, the risk, as compared to investing in other items, is not as high.”

He said that investors can often count on the reliability of these properties due to the “real estate rudiments” in Southwest Florida being strong. He cited the consistent arrival of new residents from states that are “tax-burdensome,” the “organic growth” inside the state and favorable weather.

Paige Rausch, a real estate consultant with Aslan Realty Advisors, agreed that apartments are attractive investments for Southwest Florida buyers.

“It’s a stable return,” she said. She mentioned that newly developed complexes can often be attractive for investors, but large-scale purchases have also been seen recently for older apartment homes.

Rausch said that “C” complexes in “A” locations can be seen as a decent investment for investors that can update the units and bump up rent. She mentioned Iona Lakes Apartments in Fort Myers, which was purchased last year for $54 million after being bought for less than half of that in 2013. The complex was built in 1986, but it is in a prime location, she said. The housing units are surrounded by higher-end communities and homes and in close proximity to Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach.

“The reason you are seeing so much multifamily activity is because we are creating jobs fast, and we are growing the population fast,” said Gary Tasman, the CEO of Cushman and Wakefield in Fort Myers. “None of our markets, generally speaking, are in a state of oversupply. We are going to continue to see appreciating rents and appreciating sales value.”

Notable home sales edge out commercial in Naples area

While the No. 2 spot in Collier’s top 10 sales went to an apartment complex, the county does have something that Lee does not: Mammoth mansion sales. The luxury real estate market in the Fort Myers area does not reach nearly as high as the $20 million to $40 million homes and higher that break records in the Naples area. Due to this, three of the top 10 sales in Collier are single-family residential homes, while the Lee list is entirely made up of commercial sales.

“I think it is very telling that Collier County is different from almost any county across the country,” said Bill Earls, a John R. Wood agent that is involved in many of the high-end, luxury sales in the Naples area.

Earls said the difference between the counties makes sense, as the “titans of industry” that purchase these upscale mansions “come to Naples because of the lack of industrial, commercial activity that is here.”

“This is a place they want to call home,” he said.

He cited the appealing weather, the cleanliness of the area, the way the public amenities are maintained and the low crime rate as reasons that wealthy individuals gravitate to the area.

“Collier County is very easy living,” he said. “There’s Florida and then there’s Naples. And there’s none other like Naples in the state of Florida.”

What’s next?

According to Tasman, 2019 was one of the last years in a cycle that has been marked by the exchanging of already developed properties, rather than sales of land that has yet to be developed.

He said that this cycle represented the selling of “improved, stabilized assets to the investor market.” Now that the cycle is nearing its end, large-scale land acquisition and new development will start up again.

“What you are seeing this year is the completion of the last land cycle and the beginning of the land-sale cycle,” Tasman said.

© 2020 Journal Media Group, Andrew Wigdor

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Fed’s SALT Cap Fuels Wealth Exodus from High-Tax States

Bank of America Global Research: In 2018, low- and lower-tax states, which includes Fla., gained $32B more in adjusted gross income than higher tax states. The four states with highest average SALT deductions lost about 455K people compared to 408.5K the year before.

NEW YORK – Some of the hardest evidence yet indicates that the 2017 Republican tax law is pushing money and people from high-tax U.S. states like New York and New Jersey and into low-tax states including Florida.

In 2018, low- and lower-tax states gained $32 billion more in adjusted gross income than higher tax states, according to a Bank of America Global Research analysis of income migration data. The net gain – almost $2 billion more than in 2017 – was nearly twice the average over the last 13 years. The Republican overhaul capped state and local deductions at $10,000, making it harder for people to shield as much income from taxes as they could before.

At the same time, states like Florida and Texas, which don’t have an income tax, are seeing more and more people move there. New York, California, Connecticut and New Jersey – the states that had the highest average SALT deductions – lost about 455,000 people between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019, compared with 408,500 the prior year, according to U.S. Census data. Most of the increase came from people leaving California.

“The implication would be, at the very least, people are sensitive to large changes in federal tax policy,” said Ian Rogow, a municipal strategist at Bank of America who analyzed the data.

Almost half of income taxes paid to California, New York and New Jersey come from the wealthiest 1% of households. If they were to move in large enough numbers, those states could be in trouble. So far, however, the federal tax overhaul – which broadened the tax base – and steady economy growth has led to higher-tax state revenue overall. States collected $327.7 billion in income tax revenue in the first three quarters of 2019, about 6% more than the same period in 2018, according to the Census Bureau.

To be sure, people move for a variety of reasons: jobs, housing costs and the weather among them. Despite having the third-highest personal income tax rate, Oregon was the second-most popular moving destination in the U.S., according to United Van Lines Annual Movers Study. The survey found that job changes and retirement were the two biggest reasons for leaving the northeast.

The Republicans’ 2017 tax law capped the SALT deduction as a way to help pay for $1.5 trillion in corporate and personal income tax cuts. Governors in Democratic-led states most affected by the new limit, including New York and New Jersey, accused Republicans of targeting them to pay for the cut. In October a federal judge ruled against New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland, which had sued to overturn the cap, arguing it was unconstitutional. The states are appealing.

The SALT limit significantly raised the effective taxes for wealthy residents of blue states. In 2017, about 140,000 tax filers in Manhattan with adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more paid $21 billion in state and local income taxes, or $150,000 on average, according to IRS data. About 83,000 of these filers paid an average $25,000 in property taxes. In Westchester, home to the nation’s highest property taxes, the wealthiest residents paid about an average $65,000 in state and local income taxes and $28,000 in real estate taxes.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, Westchester homeowners cut an average of 4.1% from their last asking price to sell their homes, according to a report last week, a sign that sellers have to slash prices to attract buyers. The price cuts were the most for any three-month period since the end of 2014, according to a report by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who has called the SALT limits “politically diabolical,” has warned that capping the deduction encourages high-income New Yorkers to leave.

“Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich. We did. Now, God forbid the rich leave,” Cuomo said last year.

Copyright © Missoulian Jan 15, 2020, Martin Z Braun

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Florida Legislature Kicks Off 60-Day 2020 Session

How will lawmakers change the Fla. real estate business? Here’s the current status of bills focused on vacation rentals, affordable housing and emotional support animals.

Be part of the Rally in Tally. Gather at the State Capitol during Great American Realtor Days and make a difference — because when Realtors talk, legislators listen.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – How will lawmakers change the Fla. real estate business?

The 2020 legislative session officially began on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, with a State of the State speech from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said the Legislature has “much more to do.” DeSantis also continued his focus on environmental funding.

Florida Realtors has a number of key issues that it’s following via its advocacy arm, and its Tallahassee office offered information on three of those initiatives in the latest “Weekly Legislative Update.” A complete roster of bills that Florida Realtors follows is available through its Legislative Tracker.

Private property rights/vacation rentals

  • SB 1128 – Pre-empts the regulation of vacation rentals to the state and strikes a balance between addressing community concerns and preserving private property rights.
    Current status: Passed Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee on an 8-2 vote. It’s now waiting to be placed on the Commerce and Tourism Committee agenda.
  • HB 1011 – Companion bill to SB 1128.
    Current status: On the Workforce Development and Tourism Subcommittee agenda for Jan. 21, 2020, at 3:00 p.m.

Affordable housing

  • SB 998 – Allows local governments to approve affordable housing development on any property zoned residential, commercial or industrial. It also provides additional accountability and training for Affordable Housing Advisory Committees and Local Housing Assistance Plans.
    Current status: Passed Community Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote. It’s now waiting to be placed on the Infrastructure and Security Committee agenda.
  • HB 1339 – Companion bill to SB 998
    Current status: It’s waiting to be placed on the Local, Federal, & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee agenda.

Emotional support animals (ESA)

  • HB 209 – Helps curb the abuse of ESA certificates related to housing. The bill does not address restaurants, airplanes or other public places.
    Current status: Passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday and the Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee on Thursday with unanimous votes. It’s now waiting to be placed on the agenda of its last committee stop, the Judiciary Committee.
  • SB 1084 – Companion bill to HB 209.
    Current status: Passed the Agriculture Committee on Tuesday on a 4-1 vote. It’s now waiting to be placed on the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee agenda.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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HUD Proposes New Rule for Affordable Housing Construction

If local governments follow the standards of certain specified building codes, they’ll get “safe harbor” status under Fair Housing Act accessibility requirements.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced a proposed rule that would recognize additional sets of standards and model building code editions that, when followed in the design and construction of new multifamily housing, will ensure compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

“Adopting a model building code that HUD recognizes as a safe harbor is one very powerful way for states and local governments to deliver housing opportunities to people with disabilities,” says HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Anna María Farías. If the proposed rule becomes official, “it will be easier than ever for states and local governments to step up to the plate and do their part to support people in their communities who need homes with accessible features.”

The Fair Housing Act requires that multifamily housing built after March 1991 contain accessible features for people with disabilities. Requirements include accessible common areas in buildings and developments, usable bathrooms and kitchens, wider doors and environmental controls that can be reached by persons who use wheelchairs. The failure to include these features in buildings constructed after March 1991 violates federal law and makes a property difficult or impossible for persons with disabilities to use.

Under the proposed rule, HUD will incorporate more recent editions of currently recognized safe harbor standards and model building codes. HUD will amend its regulations to include the 2009 edition standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), as well as the 2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018 editions of the International Building Code, as safe harbors for compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

States and local communities across the nation often adopt or adapt model building codes for enforcement within their jurisdictions to ensure up-to-date, sound standards for construction. When fully adopting one of HUD’s “safe harbors,” state and local communities are assured that their building codes incorporate the requirements for accessible features in new multifamily housing buildings under the Fair Housing Act.

“Designers and builders of multifamily housing developments have an obligation to comply with the Fair Housing Act, particularly as it relates to accessibility,” says Paul Compton, HUD’s general counsel. “The rule we are proposing will greatly assist them in meeting that requirement while giving state and local governments the opportunity to reduce regulatory burdens that can arise when federal, state, and local laws differ.”

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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For Sale: $1 Palm Beach County Condos – But with a Catch

In some golf communities, the additional buy-in fee can be more than $80K with annual fees as much as $30K, so the cost of amenities overrides the cost of real estate.

BOYTON BEACH, Fla. – Jon Leiberman rarely plays the lottery but he felt like he won it this past June.

That’s when he became aware of $1 condos for sale at Hunters Run Country Club in Boynton Beach. Without ever seeing it, he bought a two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,400 square-foot condo. His Realtor, Elaine Perlmutter of Lang Realty, face-timed him pictures.

“I got the steal of the century,” Leiberman said.

He actually paid $1,500 but the condo came fully furnished and was in move-in condition. “It came with sheets and silverware. They even left tennis racquets.”

Leiberman, 44, who works in marketing and lives outside New Haven, Conn., got a free golf membership for the first year as part of a new Hunters Run program to attract younger buyers, a savings of $12,000. Leiberman said buying the condo was the best investment he ever made. He comes down every two months or so with his 12-year old son. His parents use it whenever they want.

The phenomenon of giveaway condos in Palm Beach County at places like Hunters Run and Boca West caught the attention of the New York Post last year. That is how Leiberman learned about them.

But why would anyone want to sell a piece of real estate in Palm Beach County for $1?

The biggest impediment to country club sales of small condos is that buyers have to pay one-time buy-in fees that can be more than $80,000. Other reasons include:

  • Golf is not as popular as it once was.
  • Annual carrying costs can be as high as $30,000.
  • More condos are on the market at the 30-year-old plus country clubs as owners have passed or moved into assisted-living facilities.
  • Some condo owners upgraded into single-family homes, and do not want to carry two units.
  • Some condos need major upgrades.

Sellers at Boca West and Hunters Run receive back 30% to 40% of their original buy-in fee when they sell. At Hunters Run, the refund is about $30,000. But savvy buyers often want some of that money as an enticement to buy.

At Boca West, a seller is willing to do just that. A $100 listing tells buyers to get their apartment “for free” with the seller offering to pay $10,000 toward the $70,000 buy-in. Five other condos at Boca West are listed for under $5,000; one is listed for $1.

But $1 sales aren’t going to be popping up at other country clubs. Some of them do not have condos and those that do have condos that are larger than those at Hunters Run and Boca West.

As for the expensive buy-in fees, Leiberman was fine with it. He recognizes the club needs the money to maintain and upgrade its amenities.

But for Patrick Niestzche of Arlington, Va., those buy-in fees were a deal breaker. At an auction three years ago, he paid $17,650 to Kingdom First Properties of Tampa to buy a Boca West condo. He claims Kingdom never told him about the $70,000 buy-in fee and when he learned about it, he refused to go through with the purchase.

A nasty lawsuit ensued between Niestzche, Kingdom, Boca West and Wells Fargo, the bank that auctioned off the condo. Now, Niestzche wants his money back. Boca West wants its buy-in. And Kingdom wants Niestzche to take the condo off its hands.

Niestzche’s lawyers claim Kingdom never disclosed the buy-in, a violation of state law. Kingdom blames Wells Fargo for not disclosing it at the auction. Kingdom took title to the condo but refused to pay the buy-in. Boca West recently obtained a judgment against Kingdom for nearly $154,000, and is expected to foreclose on the property.

Meanwhile, back at Hunters Run, Paul Ware of Brockton, Mass. agreed with his Realtor to list for $1.

“It is sad that it has come to this,” said Ware. “I have yet to receive an offer, and it has been nearly a year.”

Ware paid $64,000 for a second-floor unit in 2004. He said he stopped using the unit three years ago. He pays for a social membership but his annual carrying costs still total $27,000 a year. Those carrying costs include property taxes, homeowner association fees and a minimum that must be spent at restaurants.

“It is like throwing money down the drain,” he said. But Ware is not prepared to give back part of his buy-in fee to facilitate a sale. “If they do not want it for a buck, then so be it. I will just hold onto it.”

Carolyn Liss of Hunters Signature Real Estate said one of her clients recently had to give back money to sell her Hunters Run condo. She joked she “inherited her mother’s debt.” Perlmutter, the Lang Realtor who worked with Lieberman, said she often feels like “the bearer of bad news” bringing lowball offers on giveaway condos.

Ben Schachter, president of Boca Raton-based Signature Real Estate companies, said buyers have a great opportunity to get into a quality country club at an amazing price but there are not enough buyers who are willing to undertake a remodeling project on a small condo, especially when the buy-in fee is considered.

Joel Schreiber, a buyer at Hunters Run, negotiated a deal that resulted in him being paid $6,000 to purchase his condo in May 2013. Records show he paid $4,000 but the sellers gave him $10,000 of the $30,000 they recovered from their buy-in fee.

Schreiber knew he was going to have to put a lot of money into the unit and it’s why he negotiated the deal he did. He installed hurricane-impact windows, bought new appliances, replaced the flooring and put in new bathrooms, lighting and air conditioning. His has a pristine view of the golf course.

“We made it into something that we are very happy with,” Schreiber said. “We love it here. We get the same amenities as does someone who bought for $1 million.” Those Hunters Run amenities include three golf courses, 21 Har-Tru tennis courts, a state-of-the art fitness club, a large community pool and seven restaurants.

Schreiber had lived in South Florida for some time before he bought at Hunters Run. “We were looking for a lifestyle, and we found it here,” he said. He plays cards several times a week, regularly uses the fitness center and often frequents the restaurants.

Like Leiberman, he supports the mandatory membership fee. It is needed to maintain the golf courses and all of amenities, Schreiber said, claiming that clubs without mandatory memberships are falling apart.

Hunters Run has recently adopted a renovation program to address the $1 sales. The club takes title to distressed units and then works with contractors to renovate the unit. The buy-in fee is either partially or completely waived depending on how quickly the contractor is able to sell it, according to Jack Gorny, president of the Hunters Run Property Association. And the buy-in fee for someone who purchases through the program is $25,000 versus $60,000. The buyer, though, gets nothing back when the unit is sold. But the lower buy-in has helped Hunters Run sell 10 renovated units in the past year, Gorny said, with some of them selling for more than $80,000.

Boca West also has a similar renovator program. Efforts to obtain comment from Boca West were unsuccessful.

Gorny said the low-end sales at Hunters Run are pretty much restricted to second-floor condos with no elevators that have had little, if anything, done to them since they were built nearly 40 years ago. Owners have stopped using the unit and just want to move on, he said.

Susan and Arnold Rosenfeld’s condo fell into that category. They bought it in 1986 for $86,000. Two years ago, Susan sold it for $1. The family lawyer said Susan had stopped using it after her husband passed in 2016. “We needed to stop the hemorrhaging,” the lawyer said.

“Overall, Hunters Run sales have been very strong in recent years as a result of more than $13 million in improvements we have made,” Gorny said, noting that there have been 130 sales in the past 12 months, the most in a decade. Some of those sales were in excess of $500,000. He called the $1 sales an anomaly. Some of the single-family homes have appreciated more than 40% in the past three years, he said.

Meanwhile, Leiberman may be bringing buyers into Hunters Run. He said some of his friends from Connecticut are interested.

“These $1 sales will be gone someday,” he tells them. “I want them to come down so we can all retire together.”

© 2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Mike Diamond. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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New-Home Starts Jumped 16.9% Higher in Dec.

It’s the highest level in 13 years as the single-family home-start component rose 11.2%. For all of 2019, builders broke ground on 1.29M homes – the most since 2007.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Construction of new homes surged in December to the highest level in 13 years, capping a year in which falling mortgage rates and a strong labor market helped lift the prospects of the housing industry.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that builders started construction on 1.61 million homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in December, up 16.9% from the November pace of home building.

Housing construction has been rising since July, helped by falling mortgage rates and increased demand as the unemployment rate approached a half-century low. For the year, builders started work on a total of 1.29 million homes, the best showing since 2007.

The December building rate was the strongest number since December 2006 during the last housing boom.

Applications for building permits, considered a good sign of future activity, fell 3.9% in December to an annual rate of 1.42 million but remained well above the pace in July.

Construction of single-family homes rose 11.2% to an annual rate of 1.06 million homes last month while apartment construction fell 9.6%.

The 1.29 million units constructed for all of 2019 was up 3.2% from the previous year and the best showing since 1.36 million homes were built in 2007. As the housing boom was reaching its peak, construction was started on a total of 2.07 million homes in 2005, the highest total for any year in that boom.

By region, construction was up 25.5% in the Northeast, 37.3% in the Midwest, 9.3% in the South and 19.8% in the West.

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

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What Should the Army Corps of Engineers Fix in Fla.?

Fla. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter to the Army Corps that requests funding for Fla. environmental projects. The list includes 70 items with impacts across the state, from the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in South Fla. to Pensacola Harbor.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is finalizing their Fiscal Year 2020 work plan, to ensure that, “all proposed and ongoing projects in Florida receive full and fair consideration of their value to local communities, our state, and our nation.”

Florida has a lengthy roster of public projects that fall under the Army Corps of Engineers, and its two U.S. senators – Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott – sent a letter outlining each one to the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Civil Works.

Overriding goals, the senators said, include “maintaining record progress towards the restoration of Florida’s Everglades through projects like the Central Everglades Planning Project and Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir.”

Projects with “significant momentum towards completion”

  • C&SF Project Flood Control Restudy* – Proposed to improve the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of South Florida’s aging water management infrastructure in concert with concurrent efforts to enhance the region’s water management and resilience, including through CERP, LOSOM, and the South Atlantic Coastal Study.
  • C&SF Upper St. Johns River Basin* – S252 construction repairs and project close out activities
  • Caño Martín Peña, PR – New start required for an urgently needed ecosystem restoration project with flood control benefits.
  • Collier County, Beach Erosion Control*
  • Dade County, Beach Erosion Control and Hurricane Protection Project* – Incorporate Key Biscayne Shore Damage Mitigation, Key Biscayne, as part of this project.
  • Daytona Beach Flood Protection Project*
  • Florida Keys Water Quality Improvements
  • Fort Pierce Beach*
  • Jacksonville Harbor Deepening
  • Jacksonville Harbor, Mile Point, – Payments owed to non-federal sponsor
  • Lee County, Beach Erosion Control*
  • Lido Key, Shore Protection Project*
  • Manatee County Improvements,
  • Miami Back Bay Study*
  • Miami Harbor Channel – Payments owed to non-federal sponsor.
  • Miami Harbor Improvements
  • Monroe County, Shore Protection Project*
  • Okaloosa County, Shore Protection Project*
  • Panama City Harbor
  • Pinellas County, Shore Protection Project*
  • Port Everglades Harbor Deepening, – New start required.
  • Putnam County Comprehensive Water Supply Infrastructure Modernization Project (Palatka)
  • South Atlantic Coastal Study*
  • South Dade Flood Protection Project* – Study, design, and construction of a comprehensive seepage management solution along the boundary of the eastern Everglades to maintain current levels of flood protection service for landowners subjected to a rising water table
  • South Florida Ecosystem Restoration, – To include: Bird Drive Basin Conveyance, Seepage Collection, and Recharge – Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands – Broward County Water Preserve Areas – C-111 South Dade – C-111 Spreader Canal – Central Everglades Planning Project – Indian River Lagoon-South (C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, C-23/C-24 Reservoirs) – Kissimmee River Restoration – Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration – Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration – Picayune Strand – Western Everglades Restoration
  • St. Augustine Back Bay Study*
  • St. Johns County, Shore Protection Project* – Feasibility study for potential North Ponte Vedra Beach segment
  • Tampa Harbor Improvements, – General Re-evaluation Report to support improved channel navigability and reduce increasing annual O&M needs

*Denotes those projects with expressed feasibility, PED, or construction capabilities in FY20 that could be fulfilled via otherwise unallocated disaster supplemental funds provided by division B, title IV of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 or title IV of the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019.

Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) projects critical to local communities

  • Alligator Creek, Starke, (Sec. 205)
  • Big Fishweir Creek, Jacksonville, (Sec. 206)
  • Ft. George Inlet, Jacksonville, (Sec. 111)
  • Lake Toho Restoration, Osceola County, (Sec. 1135)
  • Lake Worth Lagoon, Palm Beach County, (Sec. 1135)
  • Pahokee Restoration, Pahokee, (Sec. 1135)
  • Porpoise Point Shoreline Restoration Project, St. Johns County, (Se. 103)
  • St. Francis Barracks Seawall, St. Augustine, (Sec. 14)

Operation and maintenance funding with legally obligated outstanding payments

  • Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway – Includes the Fernandina to St. Johns River, St. Johns River to Miami, and Miami to Key West segments
  • Anclote River, – Project requires immediate restoration of funding for dredging activities lost via emergency reallocation in the aftermath of 2018 disasters.
  • Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, GA, AL & FL
  • Apalachicola Bay
  • Canaveral Harbor
  • Central & Southern Florida
  • East Pass Channel, Destin,
  • Escambia and Conecuh Rivers
  • Fernandina Harbor – Kings Bay
  • Fort Myers Beach
  • Fort Pierce Harbor
  • Gulf Intracoastal Waterway – Includes the Florida portion of the Northern Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Western Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (Caloosahatchee River to Anclote River)
  • Inspection of Completed Works
  • Jacksonville Harbor
  • Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam, Lake Seminole,, AL & GA – Includes need for shoreline management activities and enhanced aquatic plant control
  • Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual revision
  • Manatee Harbor, – Includes need for reimbursements as directed in Senate Report 116-102 and additional funding for the Port Manatee Dredged Material Disposal Area.
  • Miami Harbor
  • Naples to Big Marco Pass, Collier County
  • Okeechobee Waterway
  • Palm Beach Harbor
  • Panama City Harbor
  • Pensacola Harbor
  • Port Everglades Harbor
  • Port St. Joe Harbor
  • Project Condition Surveys
  • Removal of Aquatic Growth
  • St. Augustine Harbor
  • St. Johns River
  • Suwannee River
  • Scheduling Reservoir Operations
  • South Florida Ecosystem Restoration – Includes payments owed to the South Florida Water Management District and the Seminole Tribe of Florida for work performed by local project sponsors
  • Tampa Harbor – Includes need for advanced maintenance funds to ensure short-term navigability of federal channel for post-Panamax vessels
  • Water/Environmental Certification

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Financially Troubled Fla. Insurers Agree to Takeovers

Two Fla. property insurers with about 67K policies – Anchor Property & Casualty and Centauri Specialty Insurance Co. – will be folded into larger, more stable companies.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Two financially troubled Florida-based property insurers with about 67,000 policies statewide have agreed to be taken over by larger, more stable companies.

The absorption of 43,000 homeowner policies from Anchor Property & Casualty by HCI Holdings, and the takeover of Centauri Specialty Insurance Co. and its 24,000 policies by Avatar Partners LP, follows warnings that up to 18 Florida-based insurers soon could lose their top financial stability ratings.

Joe Petrelli, president of ratings agency Demotech Inc., had warned recently that two to four Florida-based companies would be downgraded from A-Exceptional by mid-January. Downgrades, while not necessarily a mark of insolvency, can be problematic for policyholders with federally backed lenders that require insurance only from A-rated carriers.

Demotech on Tuesday announced it had downgraded Anchor’s rating from A-Exceptional to M-Moderate. But that won’t matter to Anchor’s customers, including more than 11,000 in South Florida, after Tampa-based HCI Group finalizes its agreement for its subsidiary Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co. to acquire the Anchor policies. Anchor is based in St. Petersburg.

Demotech announced that Sarasota-based Centauri Specialty Insurance Co., which has more than 24,000 customers in Florida and 9,826 in South Florida, would retain its A rating after agreeing to be acquired by Avatar Partners LP, parent of Tampa-based Avatar Property & Casualty.

Financial terms were not disclosed for either deal. Prior to the announcement, Homeowners Choice was one of the 20 largest insurance companies in the state with more than 108,000 policies. It will likely move into the top 10 after the deal is complete. Avatar, meanwhile, had about 57,000 policies, according to a tally by the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Decisions about other companies likely will take place in February and March, in conjunction with deadlines for those companies to file their year-end financial statements, Petrelli said.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation “is working with the companies to ensure consumers have seamless access to coverage,” agency spokeswoman Alexis Bakofsky said by email. HCI’s takeover of Anchor should be finalized by mid-February, she said. Avatar did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The Centauri acquisition must be approved by the agency, but it has not yet received a formal proposal, Bakofsky said.

The potential for ratings downgrades for up to 18 companies stems from the convergence of numerous pressures in Florida’s marketplace, Petrelli said this week, including heavier than projected claims activities from recent hurricanes and other extreme weather events, a failure to seek regulators’ approval for rate increases at levels high enough to fund incoming claims, plus numerous years of escalating rates of litigation.

Remedies suggested by Demotech for companies that want to retain their A financial stability ratings include increasing annual rates more than 15%.

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

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Flood History Website Could Give Buyers a New Tool

A research partnership working with eight universities says its online tool, searchable by address, will offer flood histories and future risk estimates by mid-2020.

NEW YORK – On Jan. 13, First Street Foundation launched Flood Lab, a research partnership that provides eight universities with its model that maps previous instances of flooding as well as future risks.

Using the dataset, the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and others will quantify the impacts of flooding on the U.S. economy.

The data will be made available to the public in the first half of 2020 in an online database searchable by home address. Matthew Eby, executive director of First Street Foundation, says the move could put pressure on prices of homes, municipal bonds and mortgage-backed securities linked to real estate in risk-prone areas.

Currently, insurers, mortgage lenders and investment firms obtain flood risk information from risk modeling firms like AIR Worldwide, CoreLogic and Risk Management Solutions. Verisk estimates that about 62 million American homes have a moderate to severe risk of flooding.

But Carolyn Kousky, executive director of the Wharton Risk Center, says Flood Lab could become disruptive in that it would provide data to the average homeowner to help them make the right decision for themselves.

Source: Reuters (01/14/20) Duguid, Kate

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RealPage: 50% More Apartments Arriving This Year

2020 will mark a 40-year high for new apartments – but 80% are luxury, a niche with light demand, and a smaller percentage will appeal to lower-income families.

NEW YORK – Builders are on the path to complete more new apartments in 2020 than in the past 40 years. In that feat, they’re increasingly targeting the luxury sector for adding new apartments.

About 371,000 new rental units are set to arrive across the country this year, a 50% increase over the number of new units that were completed last year, according to an analysis from RealPage. About 80% of that new supply is expected to come from luxury developments.

“A lot of these properties are competing for a small group of renters,” Greg Willett, RealPage chief economist, told The Wall Street Journal. “A typical renter can’t afford this brand-new product.”

Developers say that the rising costs of land and construction have forced them to cater to more affluent renters to maximize their profits. “It’s very difficult financially to make sense of building a cheaper product,” says Cyrus Bahrami, a managing director of Alliance Residential, a Houston developer.

Some housing analysts, however, believe the focus on the luxury sector of apartment construction isn’t necessarily a bad thing for lower-income renters. The analysts say that the additional units may encourage more renters to move up to better apartments and, therefore, free up some more affordable apartments in the market.

High-end buildings (or what the industry refers to as “Class A” properties) are about $500 higher than just one lower class down for rentals, WSJ reports. That gap is about $300 higher than a decade ago.

Source: “Aiming at Wealthy Renters, Developers Build More Luxury Apartments Than They Have in Decades,” The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 15, 2020) [Log-in required.]

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Why Buy a Home? Owners Less Stressed than Renters

Many renters think they save money when they look at closing costs and upkeep, but that’s a short-term outlook. Over the long-term, ownership is financially better.

LAS VEGAS – The U.S. Census defines cost-burdened households as a household that spends at least 35% of their monthly income on household costs (including their mortgage, utility bills, property taxes, and other costs associated with homeownership). In other words, cost-burdened households are households that may feel a significant financial strain (or burden) as a result of owning their home.

But the good news? Cost-burdened households in the U.S. are on the decline.

According to recent census data (outlined in an article for Realtor Magazine), only 20.9% of homeowners with a mortgage were cost-burdened in 2018. That’s down from 28.8% a decade ago-a drop of nearly 8%. The percentage of cost-burdened homeowners is also significantly less than cost-burdened renters, at 40.6%.

Many people continue to rent because they think that it’s the more affordable option – and that owning a home is out of their reach. But, as it turns out, rents have seen sharp increases across the country – while the average mortgage payment has actually fallen.

According to a report from CoreLogic, the “typical mortgage payment” (a monthly mortgage payment based on the U.S. median home sale price that incorporates both principal and interest) has decreased four percent since 2005, while the monthly cost to rent a single-family home has increased by 36%. Renters are also more cost-burdened than homeowners, with nearly half (46%) spending more than 30% of their total income on rent (compared to just 27% of homeowners).

If you’ve been renting as a way to save money, it might be time to rethink your strategy. Rent has been steadily increasing across the U.S. in recent years, and in many cases it’s now less affordable than owning a home. So if you’ve been thinking about purchasing your own home, now is a great time to make a move.

The fact that fewer homeowners in the U.S. are cost-burdened and that you’re far more likely to be cost-burdened as a renter is good news if you’ve been thinking about buying a home. Whether you buy or rent, the true key is to always try and keep your housing costs below 35% of your monthly income. In other words, live within your means.

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Long-Term Mortgage Rates Edge Up a Bit – 30-Year at 3.65%

The slight increase from last week’s 3.64% keeps rates solidly in the “good time to apply for a home loan” category. One year ago, the average FRM was 4.45%.

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. long-term mortgage rates rose slightly last week after financial markets that had been roiled by the U.S.-Iran conflict stabilized.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage ticked up to 3.65% from 3.64% last week. The benchmark rate was 4.45% a year ago.

The average rate on a 15-year mortgage increased to 3.09% from 3.07% last week.

Loan rates regained the stability they’ve shown in recent months, buttressed by positive economic data, a strong job market, and improved sentiment in the housing market, which saw a slowdown early last year.

Freddie Mac surveys lenders nationwide 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 remained at 0.7 point this week. The average fee for the 15-year mortgage also held at 0.7 point.

The average rate for a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 3.39% from 3.30% last week. The fee was unchanged at 0.3 point.

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How Much Savings Can a Higher Credit Score Unlock?

Even a fair credit score costs you money: A buyer with a fair score pays $41.4K more than a good score over 30 years – and all other forms of credit cost more too.

NEW YORK – A higher credit score could mean thousands of dollars in savings on a mortgage, according to a new study from LendingTree that compares very good credit scores to fair ones. A fair credit score is considered to be one in the range of 580 to 669, while a very good credit score ranges from 740 to 799.

The average borrower with a fair credit score will pay about $261,076 in total interest over the lifetime of their mortgage. On the other hand, a borrower with a very good score will pay $219,660 – a $41,416 difference.

When LendingTree broke down the most common type of debts – credit cards, student loans, auto and more – mortgages occupied the highest in interest paid by a borrower by far.

LendingTree says that raising a credit score actually isn’t that difficult to do. A consumer can notice changes quickly too – even “substantial changes in a matter of days or weeks for things like paying down credit or debt,” researchers note. “Those who plan to take out a mortgage or other loan type should refrain from opening new credit accounts, as credit checks and young accounts can lower your credit rating.”

Credit monitoring can help identify what is having the biggest impact on your credit. Also, other steps to help improve a credit score:

  • Pay bills on time
  • Keep balances low or, better yet, payoff credit card debt completely
  • Don’t close unused cards
  • Keep your debt-to-income ratio low

Source: “Raising a ‘Fair’ Credit Score to ‘Very Good’ Could Save Over $56,000,” LendingTree (Jan. 7, 2020)

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Home Builders Remain Bullish Heading into 2020

The index gauging builder confidence bumped one point lower to 75 this month, but each of the two previous months broke 20-year optimism records.

WASHINGTON – Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes edged one point lower to 75 in January, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). However, the last two monthly readings mark the highest sentiment levels since July 1999.

“Low interest rates and a healthy labor market combined with a need for additional inventory is setting the stage for further home building gains in 2020,” says NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde.

NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz predicts that the “steady rise in single-family construction that began last spring will continue into 2020” thanks to a pause in Federal Reserve interest rate hike and “attractive mortgage rates. “However, builders continue to grapple with a shortage of lots and labor, while buyers are frustrated by a lack of inventory, particularly among starter homes,” he adds.

The HMI index charting traffic of prospective buyers increased one point to 58 – the highest level since December 2017. The gauge measuring current sales conditions fell three points to 81 and the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months held steady at 79.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast rose one point to 62, the Midwest increased three points to 66 and the West moved one point higher to 84. The South remained unchanged at 76.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

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Foreclosures a Non-Event Now – Activity Hits 15-Year Low

Total 2019 U.S. foreclosure activity – default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions – was down 21% compared with 2018 and 83% from its 2010 peak. 

IRVINE, Calif. – ATTOM Data Solutions’ Year-End 2019 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report finds that foreclosure filings – default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions – were down 21% from 2018 and down 83% from a peak of nearly 2.9 million in 2010. It’s the lowest level of foreclosures since ATTOM began tracking them in 2005.

If a homebuyer receives help for their down payment, is there a higher risk they’ll later face foreclosure? According to a Fed working paper, the answer is no. The share of FHA-backed loans made with down payment help jumped from 30% in 2011 to almost 40% last year.

Bank repossessions alone are down 86% over the same period. Lenders repossessed 143,955 properties through foreclosure (REO) in 2019, but that’s down 37% from 2018 and down 86% from the peak in 2010 for a record low. Still, Florida and California combined have seen more than 1.5 million foreclosures in the past 10 years.

ATTOM’s numbers present mixed messages for Florida and its metros. While foreclosure starts were down statewide, for example, more Orlando homeowners received a first-notice in 2019 than did in 2018 (up 16%).

And Florida, at times the top state in the nation for foreclosures, came in as No. 4 in 2019. New Jersey topped the list followed by Delaware and Maryland. New Jersey has held the top spot since 2015.

Two state metro areas made ATTOM’s “top metro foreclosure rates in 2019” list. Jacksonville came in at No. 3 with a 0.85% foreclosure rate and Lakeland ranked at No. 5 with a 0.81% foreclosure rate. However, when the list is shortened to only those metro areas with a population of at least 1 million people, ATTOM lists Jacksonville as No. 1.

Foreclosure analysis

 “The continued decline in distressed properties is one of many signs pointing to a much-improved housing market compared to the bad old days of the Great Recession,” says Todd Teta, chief product officer for ATTOM Data Solutions. “That said, there is some reason for concern about the potential for a change in the wrong direction, given that residential foreclosure starts increased in about a third of the nation’s metro housing markets in 2019. Nationally, the number also ticked up a bit in December. While that’s not a major worry, it’s something that should be watched closely in 2020.”

“The home-foreclosure rates continued shrinking dramatically across the United in 2019 to a level not seen in 10 years, as the strong economy leaves more people in a position to make their mortgage payments,” adds Ohan Antebian, general manager for ATTOM’s consumer facing business, RealtyTrac. “Completed foreclosures dropped 37% overall, with decreases in all but one state and almost every metro housing market.”

Good time to sell

“With foreclosure inventory down and interest in that inventory up, it’s a good time for sellers with distressed inventory to sell while the sun shines,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president of market economics with Auction.com. “Foreclosure buyers still enjoy sizable discounts below estimated market value due to the distressed nature of foreclosure inventory, but the average sales price for foreclosure auction properties sold through the Auction.com platform rose to a new record high in 2019 even as the rate of sales to third-party buyers increased.”

It took an average 384 days for a property to get through the foreclosure process in the fourth quarter of 2019 – a 1% decline quarter-to-quarter but an increase of 3% year-to-year. Still, Florida didn’t make ATTOM’s top five list of foreclosure-completion states. The top five at the end of 2019 were Hawaii (1,712 days), Indiana (1,629 days), Arizona (1,434 days), Nevada (1,339 days) and Georgia (1,257 days).

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Fla. Agrees to Acquire 20K Acres of Everglades Wetlands

Water Conservation Area 3 – an area spanning the western side of Broward County and in the Everglades Protection Area – will be permanently spared from oil drilling.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reached an agreement with Kanter Real Estate LLC to purchase 20,000 acres of critical wetlands in Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA 3) – an area on the western side of Broward County in the Everglades Protection Area. It’s Florida’s largest wetland acquisition in a decade.

“One of my administration’s top environmental priorities has been expediting Everglades restoration,” said Governor DeSantis. “Today we take another step in the right direction by reaching this agreement,” DeSantis said when making the announcement. “This significant purchase will permanently save these lands from oil drilling. I’m proud of our progress but also recognize this is just the beginning. I will continue to fight every day for the Everglades and Florida’s environment.”

After this latest WCA3 acquisition closes, it will have nearly 600,000 acres of wetlands permanently protected in public ownership for restoration and recreation.

“Having these wetlands in public ownership supports expedited restoration work on the EAA Reservoir and other critical Everglades projects, provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors and protects the wildlife habitat of more 60 endangered and threatened species,” adds DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein

The leaders of Florida environmental groups agreed with the purchase.

“Florida is making a hefty investment in the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world to ensure that clean water is available to rehydrate America’s Everglades,” says Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell. “Drilling for oil in the Water Conservation Area is incompatible with our commitment to restore this fragile ecosystem. This land is part of our water supply.”

We’re “thrilled that the Kanter property can now be acquired for restoration, and will be protected from oil and gas exploration,” says National Parks Conservation Association Senior Everglades Program Manager Cara Capp. “Floridians know that oil drilling and exploration in the Greater Everglades is dangerous and must be stopped – it threatens our water supply and fragile ecosystems, especially in the face of climate change impacts.”

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The Good News: No Fla. City in Top 25 for Bedbugs

The top U.S. city for bedbug infestations? Washington, D.C. But even if Fla. metros seem safe, every out-of-state visitor is a potential carrier of bedbug hitchhikers.

WASHINGTON – A bedbug infestation in a home can be an owner’s worst nightmare. These tiny bugs, 4-5 mm in length with red to dark brown colors, can easily travel from place to place, hitching rides on luggage and purses and ultimately take up residence inside a home.

Even with a warm and seemingly hospitable climate, however, Florida metros don’t place in the latest infestation-call report released by Orkin, a national pest control company.

Washington, D.C., topped Orkin’s list this year, while Baltimore fell to second place after three years in the No. 1 spot. Orkin’s list is based on treatment data from Dec. 1, 2018, to Nov. 30, 2019. The rankings reflect both residential and commercial treatments.

  1. Washington, D.C. (+1 on this year’s list compared to last year)
  2. Baltimore (–1)
  3. Chicago
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Columbus, Ohio
  6. New York
  7. Detroit (+1)
  8. Cincinnati (–1)
  9. Indianapolis (+5)
  10. Atlanta (–1)
  11. Cleveland
  12. Philadelphia (–2)
  13. San Francisco (–1)
  14. Raleigh, N.C. (–1)
  15. Norfolk (+2)
  16. Champaign, IL (+7)
  17. Dallas (–2)
  18. Grand Rapids (+2)
  19. Pittsburgh (+6)
  20. Charlotte (–1)
  21. Richmond, Va. (–5)
  22. Greenville, S.C. (–4)
  23. Knoxville, Tenn. (–1)
  24. Buffalo, N.Y. (–3)
  25. Greensboro, N.C. (–4)

“The key to preventing a bedbug infestation is early detection,” says Chelle Hartzer, an Orkin entomologist. “When one or more bedbugs enter a space, we call it an introduction. During an introduction, bedbugs probably haven’t started reproducing yet – but they could soon. Vigilance is key to stopping bedbugs before infestation levels.”

The top three places that pest professionals most often find bedbugs: single-family homes, apartments and condos, and hotels and motels.

One sign of a bedbug infestation, according to Orkin: Small black, ink-like stains left behind on a bed.

Bedbug avoidance tips

  • Check the places where bedbugs hide during the day, including mattress tags and seams, and behind baseboards, headboards, electrical outlets and picture frames.
  • Decrease clutter around the home so it’s easier to spot bedbugs.
  • Inspect a residence regularly – when moving in, after a trip, when a service worker visits, or after guests stay overnight.
  • Examine all secondhand furniture before bringing it inside. (Orkin says it’s a common way for bedbugs to be introduced into homes.)
  • Wash and dry bed linens often, using the hottest temperature allowed for the fabric.

Source: Orkin

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Decade-Long Legal Battle Ends Over Houseboat Owners’ Rights

After two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, Riviera Beach will pay $875K for seizing a man’s houseboat. The ruling: Just because something floats doesn’t make it a boat.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Having twice failed to get its way at the U.S. Supreme Court, the city of Riviera Beach has agreed to pay $875,000 to settle a decade-long legal battle that began over a floating home.

The settlement was reached Monday and will be presented to the City Council for approval next month, the Palm Beach Post reported.

The city of Riviera Beach has already spent more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees since 2006, when its fight began with Fane Lozman, a retired U.S. Marine who became a millionaire after inventing software used to track stock trades.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the city had no right to seize and destroy Lozman’s 60-foot floating home by invoking centuries-old maritime laws.

Lozman had docked the home in the city marina and began protesting a now-abandoned multibillion-dollar redevelopment plan. The Supreme Court left it up to a district judge to determine how much the home was worth, and Lozman received nothing.

After both sides returned to the Supreme Court, the justices said in 2018 that they were deeply disturbed that Riviera Beach council members silenced Lozman by having him arrested while he was speaking to them during a 2006 meeting, and sent the case back to lower courts.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks took over the case in December and told both sides to resolve their differences. The proposed settlement would cover legal fees; the city also agreed to pay Lozman a single dollar.

Lozman said his lawsuits clarified important areas of law.

In the floating home case, which Chief Justice John Roberts called his favorite of the term, the court cleared up a murky area of law, ruling that just because something floats, doesn’t make it a boat.

In the First Amendment case, Lozman said the high court put government agencies on notice that they can’t silence critics.

“You can fight city hall, but you better be able to give up half of your adult life to do it,” Lozman said.

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Flu Season Arrives Early – Be Careful in Public Settings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida metro age rankings

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

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

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iBuyers Taking Bigger Bite of Home Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tentative Deal Would Avert Looming Federal Shutdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Economist Survey Predicts Only 33% Chance of 2020 Recession

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