Author Archives: Association News

2020 Good Neighbor Finalists Beat Tough Odds

Supporting suicide prevention, housing for the sick and disabled, special needs kids and other causes, these 10 Good Neighbor Award finalists embody the Realtor spirit.

CHICAGO – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has selected 10 Realtors® as finalists for its 2020 Good Neighbor Awards, which honor NAR members who make an extraordinary difference in their communities through volunteer work.

Supporting suicide prevention, housing for the sick and disabled, and improving medical treatment for children of active-duty military parents, among other causes, these Good Neighbor finalists embody the Realtor spirit.

“Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, these Realtors have continued to help their neighbors in impactful and inspiring ways,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “I am so proud to honor this year’s Good Neighbor Award finalists for their outstanding volunteer work and for exemplifying everything we strive to be as Realtors and as engaged, compassionate members of a community.”

The 10 finalists are: Eric and Janet Baucom, Coastlands Real Estate Group, Ventura, Calif.; Linda K. Brown, Amax Real Estate, Springfield, Mo.; Jeff Fields, Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty, Scottsdale, Ariz; Debra Griggs, RE/MAX Central, Norfolk, Va.; Tamara House, RE/MAX Centerstone, Lafayette, Ind.; Vickie Lobo, Einstein Realty, Fontana, Calif.; Greg Masucci, Coldwell Banker Residential, Washington, D.C., and Atoka Properties, Purcellville, Va.; Sandra Nardoci, Berkshire Hathaway Blake, Albany, N.Y.; Janice Ash Sialiano, Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage Surfside, Surfside Beach, S.C.; Linda Wolf, KW Metro Center, Alexandria, Va.

Now in its 21st year, the Good Neighbor Awards provides $10,000 grants to five winners, who will be chosen in October, to further their charitable efforts. The winners will also be recognized at the virtual Realtors Conference & Expo this November and be featured in the November/December issue of Realtor Magazne. The five honorable mention selections will receive a $2,500 grant for their respective nonprofit organizations.

The public is invited to weigh in on the 10 finalists from now to Oct. 2, 2020, as the top vote-getter will receive a $2,500 award and the second and third place finishers will each earn $1,250. These ‘Web Choice Favorites’ and the five judged winners will be announced on Oct. 6.

Realtor.com® is the primary sponsor of the Good Neighbor Awards program and funds the Web Choice Favorite grants. Wells Fargo Home Lending also supports the program.

Learn more about the Good Neighbor Award finalists.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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It Hasn’t Been This Hard to Get a Mortgage in 6 Years

Due to tight supply, MBA’s credit availability Index fell 4.7% in Aug., the lowest since March 2014; however, home lending is still expected to hit a 15-year high in 2020.

WASHINGTON – Mortgage credit in August was the tightest in more than six years as a weak economy prompted lenders to tighten standards, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

The MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI) fell 4.7% to 120.9 last month, the lowest since March 2014.

The drop in the availability of credit was “driven by a reduction in supply from both conventional and government segments of the market,” said Joel Kan, an MBA associate vice president.

Measuring credit availability by loan type, the Conforming MCAI that tracks loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fell 8.6% to the lowest in the data series that goes back to 2011.

The Jumbo MCAI measuring high-balance loans fell 8.9%, and the Conventional MCAI that measures loans not backed by the government fell 8.7%. The Government MCAI that includes mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture fell by 1.4%.

Even with tighter standards, the lowest mortgage rates on record will push home lending this year to a 15-year high of $3 trillion, MBA said in an Aug. 20 forecast, and refinancing probably will reach $1.7 trillion, the most since 2003.

Source: HousingWire (09/10/20) Howley, Kathleen

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

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Homeownership Rate Rises Close to Housing Boom Levels

In 2Q 2020, the U.S. homeownership rate rose to 67.9%, its highest level in 12 years, as low mortgage rates and COVID-19 prompt more Americans to want their own home.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. homeownership rate surged to its highest level in 12 years in the second quarter as low mortgage rates and the pandemic prompt more Americans to want to have a home.

The homeownership rate rose to 67.9% in the second quarter, increasing even while the nation faced record levels of unemployment, the Census Bureau reported this week. A year ago, the homeownership rate was 64.1%, for comparison.

However, the Census Bureau cautioned that the data collection methods for the most recent quarter’s report may have affected the results. Due to the pandemic, researchers were unable to go door-to-door and conduct in-person interviews to verify information. Instead, they had to rely on the telephone.

Still, the results show young adults and minorities increasingly turned to homeownership in the second quarter.

The homeownership rate in the second quarter increased the most among those under the age of 35, increasing to 40.6%, compared to 37.3% the prior quarter.

The homeownership rate in the second quarter showed increases among all age groups.

The homeownership rate among Black Americans increased to 47%, the highest since 2008, according to the report. A year prior, the homeownership rate for Black households had fallen to its lowest rate on record.

The homeownership rate among Hispanics also posted an increase, reaching 51.4% in the second quarter, the highest since data going back to 1994, the Census Bureau reported.

The increase in the overall homeownership rate in the second quarter places it back to a level last seen before the housing crisis and the widespread foreclosures that followed the 2008 foreclosure crisis, Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), told HousingWire.

“Usually, homeownership data moves at more of a glacier-slow pace, so to see a sudden move like this was quite surprising,” Yun says. “Some of this increase could be due to the change in data measurement.”

The Census Bureau noted that its change in collecting data due to the pandemic caused the survey’s response rate to be 12 percentage points lower in the second quarter compared to the first quarter.

Lower mortgage rates are also enticing more Americans to lay down some roots during the pandemic. Yun told HousingWire that lenders qualify applicants by the amount of the monthly payment measured against their income. When financing costs move lower, the payment shrinks.

“Record-low mortgage rates in mid-2020 will provide a further boost to homebuilding, and it could be that families are more interested in homeownership because of the pandemic,” PNC Financial Services said in a research note last week.

In mid-July, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped below 3% for the first time, Freddie Mac reported.

Source: “U.S. Homeownership Rate Soars to an Almost 12-Year High,” Housingwire.com (July 28, 2020) and “The Homeownership Rate Jumped to the Highest Level Since 2008—But Looks Could Be Deceiving,” MarketWatch (July 29, 2020)

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Gulf Coast Residents Brace for Hurricane Sally

Forecasters predict Sally could make landfall early Tuesday, bringing dangerous weather conditions and possible flooding from the western Florida Panhandle to southeast Louisiana. Storm-weary residents are urged to prepare.

WAVELAND, Miss. (AP) – Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents prepared for a new weather onslaught Monday as Hurricane Sally slowly churned toward them, with forecasters predicting landfall as Category 2 storm.

Jeffrey Gagnard of Chalmette, Louisiana, was spending Sunday in Mississippi helping his parents prepare their home for Sally – and making sure they safely evacuated ahead of the storm.

“I mean, after Katrina, anything around here and anything on the water, you’re going to take serious,” he said, as he loaded the back of his SUV with cases of bottled water in a grocery store parking lot in Waveland, Mississippi. “You can’t take anything lightly.”

Gagnard said he planned to head back across the state line to prepare his own home for winds and rain Sally was expected to bring to the New Orleans area.

Forecasters from the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Sally is expected to become a hurricane Monday and reach shore by early Tuesday, bringing dangerous weather conditions, including risk of flooding, to a region stretching from the western Florida Panhandle to southeast Louisiana.

“I know for a lot of people this storm seemed to come out of nowhere,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. “We need everybody to pay attention to this storm. Let’s take this one seriously.”

Edwards urged people to prepare for the storm immediately. He also said there are still many from southwestern Louisiana who evacuated from Hurricane Laura into New Orleans – exactly the area that could be hit by Sally, which is a slow-moving storm.

In Mandeville, a city about 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of New Orleans, resident Chris Yandle has purchased a week’s worth of groceries and moved all his patio furniture into his family’s house and shed in preparation for the storm.

“I’m mostly trying to stay calm – especially with a family of four and a dog to worry about,” Yandle said. “I’ve lived through many hurricanes growing up in Louisiana, but I haven’t felt this anxious about a hurricane in my life.”

Mississippi officials warned that the storm was expected to coincide with high tide, leading to significant storm surge.

“It needs to be understood by all of our friends in the coastal region and in south Mississippi that if you live in low-lying areas, the time to get out is early tomorrow morning,” Gov. Tate Reeves said late Sunday.

In Waveland, Mississippi, Joey Chauvin used rope to tie down a tall wooden post topped with a statue of a pelican serving as a marker at the driveway leading to his weekend camp. He said a matching pelican marker on the opposite side of the driveway was washed away in Tropical Storm Cristobal earlier this summer. That storm pushed more than 3 feet (1 meter) of water into the area.

“If this one hits the coast as a Cat 2, I’m thinking we’re gonna have at least six to seven feet of water where we’re standing at,” Chauvin said. “So, yeah, we’re definitely not going to stay.”

The system was moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph) Monday morning. It was centered 115 miles (185 kilometers) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and 165 miles (265 kilometers) southeast of Biloxi, Mississippi. On Sunday, Florida’s Gulf Coast was battered with windy, wet weather.

Pensacola, on Florida’s Panhandle, was bracing for 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain.

Sally could produce rain totals up to 24 inches (61 centimeters) by the middle of the week, forecasters said. Its maximum sustained winds Monday morning were near 65 mph (100 kph).

“That system is forecast to bring not only damaging winds but a dangerous storm surge,” said Daniel Brown of the Hurricane Center. “Because it’s slowing down it could produce a tremendous amount of rainfall over the coming days.”

For only the second time in recorded history, there are five tropical cyclones churning in the Atlantic basin, meteorologist Philip Klotzbach said.

The entire island of Bermuda, where homes are built to withstand major hurricanes, was inside the eye of Hurricane Paulette on Monday morning. Once a tropical storm, Rene was forecast to become a remnant low Monday. Teddy became a tropical storm Monday morning, and was expected to become a hurricane later in the week, forecasters said. And, Tropical Depression Twenty-One formed Monday east of the Cape Verde islands, with the potential to become a tropical storm.

A mandatory evacuation has already been issued in Grand Isle, Louisiana, ahead of Sally. On Saturday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued a mandatory evacuation order for Orleans Parish residents living outside of the parish’s levee protection system.

All northern Gulf Coast states are urging residents to prepare.

“It is likely that this storm system will be impacting Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While it is currently not being predicted as a direct hit to our coastal areas, we know well that we should not take the threat lightly,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. She urged residents to prepare and stay informed of the storm’s path in the coming days.

Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida. Associated Press writers Julie Walker in New York; Haleluya Hadero in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Sudhin Thanawala in Roswell, Georgia; contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 Associated Press, Stacey Plaisance and Tamara Lush, AP writers. All rights reserved.

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RE Q&A: Buying a Foreclosed Home from the Bank – Bad Idea?

REO or real estate owned foreclosures can offer good deals but watch for downsides that can occur with any foreclosure, like maintenance or permitting issues.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: We are looking at a home in a great neighborhood but are nervous because the house was foreclosed by the bank, who is now selling it. Is this a bad idea? – Jackie

Answer: Foreclosed homes sold by lender’s “REO” or real estate owned department can be bought at a favorable price, but there can be some downsides.

The same can be said for foreclosed homes bought by real estate investors on the courthouse steps.

If you take these potential issues into account, you could end up paying an excellent price for your new digs.

REO purchase contracts are very one-sided, so be sure to review the terms carefully. It would help if you also considered that your seller never lived in the home and might not have even visited it in person.

Combine this with the fact that most people do not spend much time and money taking care of a house they are about to lose to foreclosure and that it might have been empty for an extended period, and you need to be extra diligent.

It is crucial that you thoroughly inspect the condition of the home both with a general inspector and follow up with specialists for any concerns noted in the report.

You should also have a land survey done and check with the municipality to make sure that there are no code violations or permitting issues.

Talk to the neighbors to see if they know about any problems with the property.

If the seller made repairs, be sure to carefully check them to ensure that they are not just covering up more extensive issues.

If you notice anything that does not make sense to you, whether in the contract, with the city, or the condition of the home, get an experienced professional look into it to make sure that what you are buying suits your needs.

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.

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

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Canadian Snowbirds Delaying Fla. Visits Until COVID-19 Eases

Travel decisions likely are contingent on how much longer the U.S.-Canadian border remains shut or if Florida’s COVID-19 cases rise or fall in the next few months.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As if COVID-19 hasn’t done enough damage to South Florida’s tourism industry, many Canadians who for years have wintered in the Sunshine State are having second thoughts about migrating south unless the pandemic shows signs of abating.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are on the sidelines planning not to visit Florida this year due to COVID,” said Alain Forget, who heads sales and business development at RBC Bank, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada.

Their decision, he said, is contingent on how much longer the U.S.-Canadian border remains shut or if Florida’s COVID-19 cases rise in the next few months.

Stacy Ritter, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that while it’s difficult predict the travel plans of Canadians in Florida, the outlook does not appear promising.

“Until the border re-opens, it’s clearly going to have a less-than-positive impact on tourism from Canada,” she said.

As of Friday, Canada had recorded 135,000 cases and 9,163 deaths, numbers that pale before the 6.42 million cases and 192,000 deaths in the U.S.

Florida, which is ranked third among the 50 states in cases, had 655,000, or roughly five times the number of cases in Canada.

Those vast disparities have resulted in the border remaining closed to non-essential travel for nearly six months, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau routinely granting monthly extensions. The latest runs through Sept. 21.

For Florida. the economic stakes are high. According to a survey published in 2018 by the Canadian government, the Canadian-Florida trade relationship was worth $7.3 billion in 2017. Among the other highlights quoted in U.S. dollars:

Florida exported $3.1 billion worth of services to Canada annually.

By 2017, Canadian investors had brought almost 500 Canadian companies to Florida, directly employing about 43,000 people.

An estimated 3.5 million Canadians visited Florida in 2017, increasing their spending to $6.5 billion from $6 billion.

Canadian tourism generated more than half a billion dollars in state tax revenue, more than enough to fund the public safety, transportation and library systems of Florida’s major counties.

Canadians purchased more than $7 billion worth of real estate in Florida, contributing to a Canadian real estate portfolio in Florida worth $53 billion.

Since 2006, when South Florida home values plummeted ahead of the Great Recession. Canadians have snatched up the region’s residential properties by the thousands. By 2012, a South Florida Sun Sentinel analysis found that more than 18,000 Canadians owned homes in Broward County– many of them beachfront condominiums in Hollywood and Hallandale Beach.

Forget said RBC is still hearing from Canadians who are interested in Florida properties. But they’re touring virtually from the safety of their homes in Canada. Between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020, Canadians were the top buyers of Florida real estate among foreign investors.

But anecdotally, the deal volume hasn’t come close to matching pre-pandemic levels among a group of inveterate buyers.

Larry Tolchinsky, a Hallandale Beach attorney who has helped Canadians close real estate deals for more than a decade, says that segment of his law practice has slowed to a crawl. Previously, he received client references from lawyers in Canada.

“I’m not getting as many calls as I usually do,” he said. “I haven’t heard much. The last I have had contact with anyone was right before we were shutting down.”

Another telltale sign: “There’s no Canadian license plates. I don’t see any.”

Will they feel safe?

In an interview, Susan Harper, the Canadian consul general in Miami, said many snowbirds want to know what they will encounter if they choose to come to Florida.

“Are they going to feel welcome; are they going to feel safe?” she said. “We’ve already been contacted by some of them.”

Besides the virus, they are concerned about their ability to buy travel insurance that contains coverage for COVID-19, which is expensive.

“It’s tough to gauge the number of Canadians who will actually come to Florida,” Harper said. “It’s certainly a tough year, but [Florida has] great relationships with the Canadians.”

“With the economic base that we have built between us, we know it is going to be important to keep that relationship growing,” she said.

Many Canadians hastily retreated to Canada just before the border closed in March and the nation’s airlines stopped flying to Florida.

A July survey by the Ipsos Reid polling firm in Toronto found that eight in ten Canadians want the border to stay shut until at least the end of this year.

The Canadian government is also advising its citizens to avoid traveling abroad because of the pandemic. If they do leave the country, they will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon returning home.

Oddly, despite the ban on cross-border travel by car, bus or train, it is still possible for travelers to board a plane in Toronto or Montreal, and in three hours find themselves in Fort Lauderdale. Both Air Canada and WestJet — the predominant carriers in Canada — resumed service to Florida in May.

But a slight downturn in month-to-month COVID cases has some real estate brokers believing it won’t be long before the snowbirds start flying south.

“No Realtor down here is bragging about a lot of Canada sales at the moment,” said Craig Studnicky, CEO of ISG in Miami. “But you give this one month and you are going to see Canadians come here. The number of new COVID cases is a little more tame now than it was in July.”

For some, the decision to head south may come down to the brutal bite of Canada’s winter weather.

“January in Ottawa? I’ve been there,” Harper said. “A lot of people are going to have that same reflection in January 2021.”

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

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Are Farmland Investors Harvesting ‘Gold’?

Some real estate investors are focused on farmland, which is currently valued at $4,100 per acre – a record high matching levels reached in 2019 and 2015.

RICHMOND, Va. – American farmland is retaining its record high value, even amid rising planting and maintenance costs and diminishing financial returns. U.S. cropland is currently valued at an average of $4,100 per acre, which matches record high values from 2019 and 2015, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Investors who’ve snatched up rural real estate farmland over recent years may be reaping the gains from the increasing value of the land, and other investors are also looking to farmland as a haven during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Farmers National Company says that the pandemic has made more people think about the food supply chain and its sustainability, motivating some to seek ownership of it.

About 39% of the 911 million acres of farmland in the U.S. is rented, according to USDA data.

More companies and institutional investors are bidding on American farmland. During the 2007 financial crisis, institutional investors sought safer investments that could shield them from the housing crisis. That sparked an increase in farmland investors.

Interested investors expect more farmland could come up for grabs over the next decade. People over the age of 75 own about one-third of America’s farmland, and some 92 million acres of farmland is predicted to change hands to investors over the next few years, The Counter reports.

“Farmland and other real estate investments are good investments to balance the risk of investments in stock and bonds,” Craig Dobbins, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, told The Counter. “These buyers are sensitive to the expected rate of return that will be received from the purchase of such as an investment.” He says investors simply won’t purchase it if values rise about their threshold for rate of return. “The location preferences of these buyers are more flexible than an individual farmer.”

But as farmland is treated more like a financial investment, the high prices are making it more difficult for new young farmers to enter the field.

Foreign investors are also increasingly snatching up American farmland. Foreign buyers own 25 million acres of U.S. land, which is about the size of Virginia. China now controls more than 400 American farms. States like Iowa have banned the sale of farmland to foreign buyers; other states also have laws that limit the number of acres that can be sold.

Source: “U.S. Cropland Maintains Record-High Value in 2020,” Virginia Farm Bureau Federation/Independent-Messenger (Sept. 2, 2020); “Big-Money Investors Gear Up for a Trillion-Dollar Bet on Farmland,” NPR (July 30, 2020); and “Farmland Ownership Interest Growing,” Southeastagnet.com (Sept. 3, 2020); and “Who Really Owns American Farmland?” The Counter (July 31, 2017)

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NAR Session: A Hard Truth Real Estate Pros Must Confront

Renewing a commitment to fair housing is a strong component of expanding fairness in real estate – but it’s not the first step, according to NAR speakers.

WASHINGTON – Renewing your commitment to fair housing – a recent initiative of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) – is a strong component of expanding fairness in real estate. But it’s not the first step of the journey.

As the nation is learning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Americans must first acknowledge the deep-seated pain associated with the country’s original sin of racism before we can effectively pursue solutions for greater equality. The real estate industry, too, must acknowledge and atone for its historical support of segregation. Then proposals for creating more inclusive neighborhoods may have more meaningful impact, experts said recently during NAR’s virtual 2020 Leadership Summit.

In a deeply personal conversation about race during the session “One Together: Building Strong Inclusive Communities,” Michelle Mills Clement, the current and first African American CEO of the Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR), and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, discussed opportunities for real estate pros to influence the national moment we’re in.

Clement lamented that in Chicago, where segregation persists, one affluent white neighborhood on the city’s North Side saw as much home lending activity last year as the entire South Side, where the majority of residents are African American.

“You have to tell the truth about how that happened,” Glaude said. “It wasn’t by happenstance. It’s a direct result of policies – decisions made that some people are valued more than others and where they live is valued more. … If we’re going to understand our cities – if we’re going to understand the railroad and why it’s better to live on one side than the other – we have to tell the truth.”

Glaude called the Fair Housing Act of 1968 the “last law that radically opened up freedom,” and Clement spoke of a thought-provoking moment when she joined the Chicago association in April 2018 – the exact month of the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

“I realized that I’m joining an organization that once would not have let me join,” she said, referring to pre-fair housing rules that barred people of color from membership. CAR apologized last year for its historically racist policies that persisted for decades.

In 2018, NAR leadership laid bare at the Realtors Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C., the national organization’s immutable past support of discriminatory and racist practices, vowing to deepen its commitment to industry inclusivity and equal opportunity in housing.

In the course of the discussion, Glaude and Clement developed some ideas for how real estate pros can contribute to the housing piece of the movement toward equality.

  • Don’t focus on individual blame. “People want to rush to reconciliation instead of telling the truth [about systemic racism] because the truth is hard to bear,” Glaude said. The conversation is difficult to have because many think of racism as an individual intention rather than a societal system, he added. Try to understand “accumulated injustice” – societal wrongs that have been accepted from generation to generation – to frame your thinking around this topic.
  • Hard conversations are necessary. You can’t begin to thoughtfully institute measures such as launching a diversity committee until you’ve had honest, difficult conversations with colleagues about why you need one, Clement said.

    The goal should be to “have boots on the ground and have a connection to neighborhoods in the communities you serve,” she added. “Take a step back and ask yourself what you’re trying to change. Do you want to change what your association looks like? Do you want to change policy? Know what you want and why when you’re sitting on a diversity committee.”

  • Commit to your idea of a more just world. Glaude challenged real estate pros to think deeply about what a more just world would look like. Once you know and commit to that vision, you’ll be better at identifying opportunities for action that reflect your ideas, he said. This can empower brokers to reevaluate company culture and encourage agents to join community efforts.
  • Express your values through your business. Consider addressing internal policies at your brokerage – could more resources be used toward diversity hiring? – or target opportunities to share your business philosophy with the community and “shift the center of gravity in the spaces we inhabit,” said Glaude.

“There is no other organization that can end residential segregation like your organization,” Glaude told Realtors. “We may work in integrated places, but in the intimate spaces, we don’t know each other. We are walking mysteries to one another, and that has everything to do with where we live and how we live.

“You’re in the heart of that – help change it.”

Source: Realtor Magazine

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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He Shed, She Shed: Desire for Office Space Sparks Demand

More homeowners who “made do” using the kitchen table as an office are putting in sheds. One sales company says interest in a a new shed rose 400% this summer.

NEW YORK – Robin Salcido and her husband have been sharing a small home office since March as America eased into the era of remote work.

She’s an artist. He’s an engineer. But as the months ticked on, the couple in Louisville, Colorado, longed to separate their work environments.

“Let’s face it, no matter how great a relationship is – and ours is pretty fantastic – no one wants to be on top of each other 24/7, especially when you’re working,” Salcido said. “Now that we can’t go to coffee shops, and we’re really limited in other opportunities for leaving the house to get some work done, we realized we need more space.”

So they ordered a prefabricated backyard shed that’s getting installed on Friday. Salcido will use it as her office.

As the COVID-19 crisis enters its sixth month, an increasing number of Americans are buying and building backyard sheds to use as home offices. For some, it represents a chance to get work done away from the kids as schools practice remote learning in the fall. For others, it’s a necessity because there’s no room for an office setup inside their home.

These detached, mostly self-contained spaces are more affordable and more practical than taking on a full-scale construction project, shed buyers say.

Google queries for office sheds began to tick higher in April, a few weeks after the pandemic was declared, according to search data. Searches began trending higher again in mid-August as the nation entered the back-to-school season. Companies that sell backyard shed products are noticing the trend.

Tim Vack, general manager at Modern-Shed, said there has been a 400% rise in interest this summer. A 50% rise in the summer is typical as people take on more outdoor projects. The company gauges interest by downloads of its online catalog.

“A lot of companies are allowing their employees to work from home from now on if they choose. So everybody is scrambling to find space to put their computer,” Vack said. “People are growing tired of putting their laptop on their dining room table or their kitchen countertop.”

These detached office spaces are more premium than the standard metal sheds at Home Depot. You decide on what style of wood you’d like to use, where you’d like the windows to be placed and various other customization options. The more you want, the more you pay.

Modern-Shed tailors each outdoor building to the buyer’s specifications. The firm then uses independent installation companies to do all the on-the-ground work.

Most people are choosing to buy spaces that offer an additional 120 square feet, said Mike Koenig, president and co-founder of Studio Shed. The 12-year-old Colorado-based company said it saw a “huge spike” in inquiries for backyard home space since March. Most of the buyers are using them for home offices, followed by school rooms for their kids, and a few are being converted into home gyms, Koenig said.

“Maybe the kids are doing their schoolwork in the shed” away from parents who can then work peacefully inside the house, Koenig said.

Studio Shed, which ships to all 50 states, sends buyers a flat-packaged kit to be installed in their yard.

Sheds help add more space for less

Prices are typically around $120 to $180 a square foot, depending on size and other options, the company says. Prices for its entry-level series start at $10,500. That’s substantially lower than costs associated with hiring a contractor and buying materials to build onto your existing home. The average cost to build onto your home ranges from just over $21,000 up to $70,000, according to Home Advisor.

Salcido said she’s saving more than $150,000 by choosing a backyard shed office rather than building on top of her existing house.

“We would’ve had to tear down the garage to add more concrete to support another level,” Salcido said. “It would’ve been way too much work to go through just for another studio room.” The Studio Shed room she chose comes with electrical outlets and mini splits for AC and heating.

The typical turnaround time for sheds is four to six weeks from the order date, according to Studio Shed. People who go for larger backyard home offices often have a lengthier build process, experts say, in part because states require varying permits for constructing rooms over a certain size.

Going the DIY route

While many are turning to companies for help with their shed, some people are going the do-it-yourself route, which is an even cheaper way to add a yard shed.

In April, Julie Masson’s husband and a neighbor teamed up on her “she shed” project. It took three months to build. Now she uses the 120-square-foot room as an office escape from the kids’ distance learning in the main house.

“My husband sketched out a blueprint on a piece of paper. I decided where I wanted the door and windows to be. And our neighbor told us the supplies we needed,” Masson said. They bought the home improvement materials from Lowe’s, Home Depot and Menards in Kansas City, Missouri.

The entire project cost $5,000 – including office furniture from IKEA. The hardest part was digging an 18-inch-deep trench from the house to the shed for the electrical wires, Masson said. Starting around 10 a.m. Monday to Friday, she works as a marketing director from the outdoor shed. She clocks out around 6 p.m.

“I have this routine at the end of my day where I lower my standing desk, I shut the shades, I turn off my air conditioner I turn off the lights, I lock my door and I commute home, just a few steps away,” Masson said.

Copyright 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY

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Investing Via REITs: Better This Recession Than the Last

REITs – which invest in real estate similar to the way stocks invest in companies – are in a better position than they were before or after the Great Depression. Experts say outlooks for the sector, as a whole, are more sunny than they are cloudy.

NEW YORK – Although it might feel like the publicly-traded REIT (real estate investment trust) sector as a whole is in the midst of a “sky is falling” crisis, real estate experts say the outlook for REITs is more sunny than cloudy. In fact, they maintain that REITs are better positioned financially today than they were during and after the Great Recession.

“While the coronavirus crisis is not yet over, it does appear that the REIT sector is likely to avoid the type of long-term, lingering pain that was felt by the sector during the financial crisis, when it took nearly eight years for the FTSE Nareit All Equity REITs Index to recover to pre-recession highs,” says Alex Pettee, president and director of research and ETFs at Rowayton, Conn.-based investment adviser Hoya Capital Real Estate LLC.

To be sure, the REIT landscape is uneven right now. As of Aug. 31, year-to-date total returns for three pandemic-battered subsectors sat in double-digit negative territory, according to NAREIT: lodging (-47.7%), retail (-37.3%) and office (-25.6%).

By contrast, the pandemic has lifted three key subsectors into double-digit positive territory: data centers (+32.5%), infrastructure (+14%) and industrial (+11.7%).

Through the first eight months of 2020, total returns in the FTSE Nareit All Equity REITs Index stood at -9.9%.

Despite overall returns being in the red and the pandemic still rattling the economy, publicly traded REITs are generally on solid financial footing, particularly when compared with the Great Recession, industry observers say.

“Across essentially all metrics, REITs entered this period of volatility with a war chest relative to their position in 2008 after a strong year for capital raising in 2019 and after a decade of relatively conservative balance sheet management,” Pettee says.

Pettee notes that REITs raised more capital in the first half of 2020 than they ever have during a first-half period. About three-fourths of that capital was unsecured debt, as opposed to equity. He says the Great Recession forced many publicly traded REITs to raise equity at “fire sale” NAV (net asset value) discounts.

This time around, he foresees REIT valuations rising in some subsectors, such as residential, to close the NAV discount gap, while private market valuations in subsectors including lodging, office and retail will fall to close the NAV discount gap.

As of Aug. 31, publicly traded REITs had wrapped up 111 offerings of unsecured secondary debt in 2020, compared with 133 in all of 2019 and 61 in all of 2018, according to NAREIT. So far this year, REITs’ offerings of unsecured second debt total nearly $59.1 billion, almost on par with $63.1 billion for all of last year. Publicly traded REITs have leveraged lower interest rates to extend debt maturities and lower their average long-term interest rates, Pettee points out.

Those debt deals far outnumber secondary equity offerings of common and preferred shares (45) thus far in 2020 on the part of publicly traded REITs and just two REIT IPOs (initial public offering), NAREIT data shows.

The publicly traded REIT sector “is still liquid,” says Andy Hussion, the Atlanta-based managing director and head of real estate corporate banking at Regions Bank. He adds that those REITs hold a distinct advantage over their private counterparts in their ability to more easily tap into the capital markets, thanks in part to the investment-grade ratings many of the REITs enjoy and the consolidated lending relationships within their portfolios.

In that vein, Hussion notes that publicly traded REITs have been adjusting credit agreements to ensure they’ve got an adequate financial cushion to survive the pandemic. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, publicly traded REITs in the U.S. drew down nearly $37.2 billion from their credit facilities in the first quarter of 2020, with the retail and lodging sectors leading the way.

“It’s in our best interest as unsecured creditors to allow these companies that are otherwise strong to make their way through this and not have too many significant bumps along the way,” Hussion says.

On the capital front, Hussion and other observers say IPO activity in the REIT industry should be tepid, at best, for the remainder of 2020.

Aside from housing, industrial and tech-oriented players, the REIT sector largely remains in “survival mode,” according to Pettee. Therefore, he says, a rebound in REIT IPOs seems unlikely until at least mid-2021. Hussion concurs, predicting that there’ll be more near-term movement in M&A (merger and acquisition) than in the IPO space.

“For REITs in subsectors of commercial real estate that are doing well – like data centers, infrastructure and medical offices – it could still be an excellent time to go public,” says Matt Frankel, REIT analyst at Millionacres, a Motley Fool-owned real estate investment website. “On the other hand, you may see some REITs with IPO ambitions in the more affected real estate subsectors holding off until uncertainty calms down and costs of raising equity capital are more favorable.”

An August report from Newport Beach, Calif.-based real estate research firm Green Street Advisors Inc. suggests that the future will be more favorable for REITs with suburb-dominated portfolios than for REITs with urban-dominated portfolios. Green Street expects the suburbs to support a shift in demand for space “due to crime, taxes, demographics and remote work.”

“A series of factors contributed to a sustained suburban shift post-World War II. The catalysts are different today, but the future direction of urban-suburban dynamics may not be,” the report says.

Aside from location, the dynamics can change based on asset type, according to Hussion. For instance, a REIT that owns a lot of grocery-anchored centers might fare better than a REIT that owns a lot of power centers.

While pandemic-related unknowns remain for every REIT subsector, Hussion believes the recent uptick in rent collection rates across various asset types bodes well for the near term.

“There’s a little bit more clarity about what’s going on in this world now compared to what we had thought in late March and early April,” Hussion says. “We’re getting a little bit more comfortable with where we are right now.”

© 2020 Penton Media, National Real Estate Investor

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RE Q&A: How Do I Make a Condo Association Fix a Common Area?

According to a building manager, balconies are common areas that owners can’t repair. Is that true? And if so, what can an owner do if it’s not being fixed?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: My condo’s balcony has loose and missing tiles that are getting worse. I want to repair it myself, but the building manager told me I was not allowed to because it is part of the common area. However, the condo is not fixing it. What should I do? – Manuel

Answer: When there is an issue or question with your condominium apartment, the first step most people take is to speak with the association manager. This is a good idea and often resolves the concern. Most association managers are knowledgeable and are good at what they do.

However, even a consummate professional can occasionally get one wrong. So if you are not satisfied with the answer you receive, you will need to review your association’s governing documents.

Every community association is different, but most I have dealt with require the unit owner to make this sort of repair to their balcony. If your review shows that it is your responsibility, you should politely show this to the manager, and you should be good to go.

If it turns out that the manager was correct, and it is your association’s job to do, you should speak to the manager to see what the holdup is.

If this does not work, you may want to attend the next board meeting and ask the board about it.

In my experience, most association managers and board members want to do right by the residents. Be polite but insist that the repairs get done. Be understanding about delays, but do not allow your concern to be forgotten.

Remember the saying that the squeaking wheel gets oiled, but a screeching one gets replaced, and you should get your balcony fixed.

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

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

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Will the COVID-19 Pandemic Kill the Open Floor Plan?

Open-floor plans fell slightly out of favor before the pandemic, but new desires for home offices and solitary retreats have pushed more buyers to reject the concept.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Homebuyers are looking for dedicated offices and bigger yards as they cope with COVID-19.

The pandemic has thrown millions out of work and deflated entire industries. But not the residential real estate market. A year ago, it was humming. Today, in the teeth of the pandemic, it’s roaring.

“Honestly, I have not been affected at all by COVID,” said Jennil Salazar-Scott, associate broker for Re/Max Ability Plus. “Post-COVID [lockdown], I’ve been busier. We have not seen this kind of market before, where we have multiple offers on properties that would not have sold as quickly before.”

Credit this feeding frenzy over new listings to bargain-basement mortgage rates, a relative shortage of new prospects (because some potential sellers don’t want strangers traipsing through their homes in the midst of a plague), and pent-up demand.

Some buyers need housing for a brand-new reason. After spending months in virtual lockdown, they’ve learned their residences just don’t serve their needs. Or more accurately, the needs of a family in quarantine.

“Early on, some of our members joked that everybody’s going to know what’s wrong with their houses now, because they’re stuck inside them,” said Karl Berron, CEO of the Indiana Association of Realtors. “There’s a lot of folks who are experiencing their homes in new ways, and reexamining what housing means to them right now.”

The combination of pandemic woes and record low rates means sales are on the rise, despite low inventory.

“We started out the year ahead of last year’s pace, had a big dip in the early days of the pandemic, and now we’re actually above last year’s pace again,” Berron said. “If you would have told me in mid-March that we’d see this kind of rebound, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.”

“There is still very healthy housing demand, and inventory turns over quickly enough that buyers who aren’t seeing what they want on the market right now are watching for new listings very closely,” said Chris Dykes, managing broker at Carpenter Realtors. “The moment a new home comes on the market, they contact their broker.”

Spreading out

Architects and real estate agents have already seen substantial pandemic-inspired changes, from a new distaste for open floor plans to a sudden resurgence in demand for swimming pools. Perhaps one of the biggest is in what buyers consider to be a favorable location.

“There’s been a little bit of a change in the sorts of areas people are wanting to move to and leave,” Berron said. “Search activity in rural and small towns has been stronger, and has struggled a little bit in urban areas.”

Amanda Pendleton, home trends expert for the online real estate marketplace Zillow, says this trend is breaking huge in places like New York City and San Francisco, and to a lesser degree in secondary markets. The reasons are fairly obvious.

“Ideally, a great location is close to amenities like restaurants and shops,” Pendleton said. “It’s in the center of everything. But now that those amenities are no longer available, at least in the near term, they’re becoming less desirable.

“You don’t have to be right down the street from your favorite coffee shop if the coffee shop isn’t open.”

That’s one of the reasons Katie and Joshua Cline, who married nearly one year ago, have changed their search criteria for a house. They’ve lived for three years in an apartment at Harding Street Lofts, just west of downtown. When they started looking to buy, they wanted to stay downtown, close to shops and restaurants and most of the things they like to do.

That was before the pandemic closed all their favorite places.

“It took about two months for us to go crazy and really crave an outdoor setting that we don’t really have here – and that we can’t afford to have if we buy downtown,” Joshua said.

The Clines started shifting their activities outdoors. They bought kayaks. They are spending a lot of time on the water. And their housing interests changed, too. Now, they’re looking for something a little farther out of the city core, where they can have more yard, store their outdoor equipment and get to the water more quickly.

“We want to grow food. We’re talking about having a large garden, maybe a small farm,” Katie said. “That’s a thought that developed during COVID.”

Building walls

Architects are also seeing a huge boom in demand for home-based amenities.

“People are realizing that they don’t need to be running around all the time, and that staying home is pretty comfortable,” said Mark Demerly, president of Demerly Architects. “And with low interest rates, it’s a great time to refinance and put money back into your house.”

One of the biggest architectural losers might be the open floor plan, in which the first floor is basically one partition-free mix of kitchen, dining and living spaces.

That’s a workable arrangement when you, your spouse and your kids take off for work and school every morning at 8 a.m., reconvene at about 6 p.m. and go to bed a few hours later. But as numerous families have already discovered, it’s much more problematic when you’re trapped together for weeks on end. A few more walls could provide a welcome shot of privacy – and soundproofing.

“Homebuilders predict that open-concept floor plans are going to be a thing of the past as people come to value more walls, more doors and privacy in general,” Pendleton said. “It’s really tough to make a phone call or have a Zoom meeting when your teenage son is clipping his toenails right behind you.”

Homeowners are looking at their abodes with new eyes, said Clete Kunce, principal and founder of the architectural design firm One 10 Studio. They’re desperately searching for dead or underused spaces to carve out an office-or just someplace to get away. That can include everything from garages to attics to particularly spacious walk-in closets.

“We’ve been getting calls from people who are trying to figure out how to add an ‘away’ space,” Kunce said. “Not necessarily a dedicated office, but somewhere they can go.”

For obvious reasons, a fully functional home office [or offices] sits highest on most buyers’ and remodelers’ wish lists. It also might be the COVID-inspired trend with the most legs, given that companies now seem more interested in allowing their staffs to work from home post-pandemic.

In that case, making do with a corner of the guest bedroom or the space in the basement next to the water heater is no longer tenable.

“Right now, people are just doing makeshift things,” Kunce said. “Last week, somebody told me he was sitting on the edge of the bed in his bedroom, because that’s the only place he has to go. The kids are at the kitchen table and his wife has one of the other bedrooms.”

“Home office spaces that feel comfortable and productive are definitely going to be increasingly desirable,” Pendleton said.

Close on the heels of home offices is a new interest in home workout areas.

“There’s more emphasis on a dedicated place to work out, since public gyms can be dangerous,” said Jason Shelley, executive director of the American Institute of Architects Indiana.

Kitchen, tech, yards

Another indoor space that’s getting more attention is the kitchen, even though this is traditionally one of the most expensive home improvements, with the least payoff when the house sells. But these days, with more people making more meals at home, that equation has changed.

“That’s a trend we’re going to start to see down the road,” Pendleton said. “If everything in the home is working except the kitchen, you’ll see people addressing that. They’ll do whatever they have to do to get their home optimized for the new normal.”

Technology is the other big indoor upgrade. More bandwidth for movie streaming and videoconferences and more gigantic TVs to stare at. But while that old staple from the ‘80s, home theaters, doesn’t seem poised for a comeback, home-wide sound systems are drawing interest.

“That’s kind of coming back, because, even if you’re working from home, you want a little music in the background,” Kunce said. “Maybe they’re used to that from their days at the office.”

The pandemic has also changed how people perceive their yards – not as something to mow, but as a substitute for public parks and pools. Which is why elaborate, tricked-out porches, decks and patios are big, as well as more elaborate landscaping.

“If you’re a pool guy or a patio guy, you’re swamped right now,” Kunce said.

The pandemic has midwifed an explosion of interest in one of the most problematic of all outdoor improvements – the home pool. The dig against them is that they cost a fortune to install, require lots of man hours to maintain, and add no value. Indeed, in pre-pandemic days, they could actually detract from a home’s price.

But even a high-maintenance outdoor amenity can sound like a bargain these days. Either that or a hot tub, which is also in huge demand just now.

“I was talking to one of our sponsors the other day, who works with hot tub salespeople,” Shelley said. “The say they can’t keep inventory in stock.”

The current boom in residential real estate sales and improvements might not have legs, however. All these pandemic-related improvements could fade in importance if life returns to normal, or something approximating normal, in the coming year. Or a long-term recession triggered by the economic shutdown could crush the market for new homes and home improvements.

On the other end of the scale, we might see an even hotter market as people who’ve bunkered down during the last few months decide to make long-deferred changes to their living arrangements.

“Maybe they’re not ready to make a move right now,” Pendleton said. “They’re waiting to see what happens and how this shakes out and where they’re going to be working next year.” But “when it’s time to move, I think they’re going to have a different set of preferences.”

Copyright IBJ Corporation Aug 28, 2020

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Smart-Home Features Can Keep You Healthy

What if a home can send for help if its floors detect movement that looks like a fall, or the bathroom light knows no one is up by 11 a.m.? The tech already exists.

NEW YORK – An increasing number of homes are undergoing high-priced, high-tech upgrades to bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen appliances to enable homeowners – those who can afford it – to better monitor their health.

If the homeowner is prone to seizures, for example, floorboards lined with sensors can detect a sudden fall. For older at-risk adults, a ceiling light in the bathroom can send for help if someone seems to be an hour or two late getting up in the morning.

A home’s collected data is monitored by sites like Home Health Monitoring by Telus and uploaded to cloud-based systems accessible by physicians or emergency medical technicians.

CC Homes, a builder in South Florida, announced a partnership with Baptist Health South Florida in August. Residents of two of its communities, Canarias at Downtown Doral and Maple Ridge at Ave Maria, will receive telemedicine services from Baptist doctors through a health kit equipped with HD cameras and infrared thermometers.

Kobi Karp, a Miami-based architect, takes into account arcs and angles to ensure the houses he designs have abundant sunlight. He also checks his clients’ medical history to see if they are at risk of diseases like cancer, COPD or heart attack. Based on that information, the features in Karp’s homes are embedded, hidden sensors that transmit information on the health and well-being of the occupants.

The concept of wellness built into homes also includes yoga rooms, vertical gardens, vitamin C-infused showers, and ambient light.

Source: New York Times (09/09/20) Kamin, Debra

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Utah Agent Finds Armed Man Hiding During Showing

Another event serves as a Realtor Safety Month reminder: In showing a vacant home, an agent unlocked a basement door and encountered a rifle pointed at his chest.

DRAPER, Utah – A real estate agent in Draper, Utah, was showing what she thought was a vacant house for sale to a potential buyer – until they discovered a man holding a rifle after they unlocked a basement bedroom door, according to police reports.

The agent unlocked the door to come face-to-face with the man. “The male subject [was] pointing a rifle at her and one of her clients,” the affidavit states, as reported by the Deseret News.

The man allegedly told the agent and potential buyer to get off the property, and the agent and buyer called the police after they left the home.

Police said they were initially unable to get the man to come to the door. Eventually, though, he opened the door for police without the rifle by his side.

Police arrested Matthew Lee Hirschi, 26, in connection with the incident. He has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault. The police report did not say whether Hirschi owned the house or why he was at the home.

The incident is another reminder to real estate professionals to exercise caution when touring homes for sale with clients. About two weeks ago, two men in North Ridgeville, Ohio, were arrested and charged in connection with the attempted abduction of a female real estate agent at a home she was showing.

September is Realtor® Safety Month, a month-long awareness campaign about dangers in real estate and a reminder that agents and brokers should take precautions when on the job.

Source: “Real Estate Agent Showing House Finds Man With Rifle in Bedroom, Police Say,” Deseret News (Sept. 8, 2020)

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RE Q&A: Can Pandemic Postpone Construction Contracts?

A condo association signed a contract, but owners now have a pandemic-era worry about construction workers entering their unit. Could this be legally postponed?

STUART, Fla. – Question: We are obviously concerned about COVID-19 and the association is about to embark on a construction project that requires contractors to enter the unit. Many owners are concerned about contractors coming in the unit, even with masks. Can we delay the project? – P.R., Delray Beach

Answer: There are two parts of this analysis, the board’s duty to maintain and repair the condominium and the construction contract itself.

Obviously, many associations are sensitive to COVID-19 and implementing various protocols to mitigate the possibility of the virus entering the community. The first issue, however, is whether the project can physically wait. Because the board has a duty to maintain, repair and replace the common elements, a situation where all of the roofs are leaking every time it rains in July is different from a purely cosmetic project. The former may be necessary to proceed and the latter can obviously wait.

The second issue is whether the board has any ability to delay the contract itself. If the contract has already been signed and delivered to the contractor, the association may be in breach of the contract if it tells the contractors to wait. On the other hand, the contractor may be dealing with staffing issues due to COVID-19 and may welcome the flexibility.

Further, the contract may include a provision which excuses performance due to force majeure events, such as hurricanes and labor strikes and may be drafted broadly to include pandemics. If so, this may be an excuse by the association or the contractor to start on time. With such provisions, the specific language is very important and is different from contract to contract.

I would recommend that you have the contract reviewed by a licensed Florida attorney to determine your rights under the contract, and then the board can determine the best course of action depending on whether the work is critical or non-critical.

Question: Our condominium board just approved constructing pickleball courts next to the tennis courts. The cost is roughly $30,000 but the board insists it can do this without a member vote. We are upset because the proposed area is currently a sitting area with mature trees that we enjoy. Can the board do this? – T.D., Stuart

Answer: The answer is, of course, maybe. If you were to analyze this question solely under the Condominium Act, the statute requires the membership to authorize any material alterations to the common elements. A material alteration is broadly defined as a palpable or perceptive change in the use, appearance or function of a common element.

Here, the dirt is currently landscaped and has a sitting area. If the pickleball courts are installed, this area would now be used for an exercise area. This is a material alteration and the statute would require that at least 75% of the voting interests approve the change to pickleball before the board has the authority to approve the alteration.

The wrinkle, however, is that the statute also provides that your specific condominium documents may provide for a different approval threshold, and may also provide that certain alterations are exempt from owner approval altogether. For example, many documents provide that material alterations can be approved with only a majority of the voting interests present and voting at a meeting. Similarly, many documents provide that only material alterations exceeding a specific dollar threshold require approval.

Here, if your documents provide for something different than the statute (and many documents do provide something different) then the pickleball court may be exempt from a vote if the documents allow the board to unilaterally approve alterations up to, for example, $50,000. Thus, the recommendation is that you have your documents and the pickleball proposal reviewed by a licensed Florida attorney to determine if a vote is required. From the board’s perspective, it’s also important that the board confirm whether or not a vote is required before you start construction.

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

© 2020 Journal Media Group

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The World Now Lives Online – Your Ads Should Be There Too

Many agents who historically got leads by meeting people and shaking hands need to tinker with that strategy now that more people are working from home.

NEW YORK – One impact of the pandemic? Attracting and maintaining a solid client base requires different strategies.

The key is to find the right digital advertising tools that can support your goals and target a specific audience within the real estate industry. Adwerx is a popular real estate choice because of its ability to create specific ad programs that run across multiple sites – no need to upload them multiple times.

Similarly, CRM (customer relationship management) helps agents build and maintain essential client relationships that can attract referrals and bring back return business. A digital database is primarily the same thing – a system to help agents build the same relationships online that they’d normally create face-to-face.

Have the right systems in place and, if necessary, adapt those existing systems so they align with new virtual-communication strategies managing leads and nurturing clients during the pandemic.

With any system, agents should be able to track clients’ online behavior enough to determine how effective a marketing strategy is. However, a new strategy or tool shouldn’t add to your workload as it creates a foundation for dealing with a digital environment.

Source: RISMedia (08/25/20) Sabatino, Sarah

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International: Global Awards and Better Translation Tool

The deadline to submit applications for NAR’s Global Achievement Award is Sept. 25. Also: The NAR+Photofy app added new languages to boost listings’ reach.

WASHINGTON – The pandemic may have impacted the international real estate market this spring, but deals continue to get done.

The National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) Global Achievement Program recognizes and rewards the most active associations in global business. Its goal is to reward best practices and share members’ insights with fellow members.

NAR is currently accepting applications for the NAR Global Achievement Award. The web-based application for will be open for submissions until Sept. 25, 2020.

NAR+Photofy adds new languages

Photofy allows Realtors to share content and personalized messages from NAR’s consumer ad campaign across the world. So far, however, those messages could only be shared in English and Spanish. Last week, however, NAR President Vince Malta announced that members have new options – French, Japanese, Romanian and Portuguese.

“NAR is fortunate to have the scale, resources and member support to back a national advertising campaign that exemplifies who Realtors are and the value they bring to a transaction,” says Malta.

NAR members can share 100-plus customizable and static assets in dozens of additional countries. With more than 100 partner associations currently operating in 85 countries, NAR says its global team has focused on developing initiatives that strengthen international partnerships and generate additional visibility.

“New assets like these create engagement with members in dozens of nations and who speak these languages, allowing them to reach across international borders, discover new clients and generate new business opportunities,” says Katie Johnson, general counsel and chief member experience officer at NAR.

NAR encourages Realtor members to personalize and share “That’s Who We R” campaign assets on their social media accounts. More information can be found on NAR’s international language assets page or by visiting signup.photofy.com/nar (link is external) to create a Photofy account and gain access to campaign assets.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Congress Returns but Hope Fades for Coronavirus Deal

The government and flood insurance likely won’t shut down Sept. 30, but it seems less likely that lawmakers will agree on a fifth bipartisan pandemic relief bill.

WASHINGTON (AP) – At least there won’t be a government shutdown.

But as lawmakers straggle back to Washington for an abbreviated pre-election session, hopes are dimming for another coronavirus relief bill – or much else.

Talks between top Democrats and the Trump administration broke off last month and remain off track, with the bipartisan unity that drove almost $3 trillion in COVID-19 rescue legislation into law this spring replaced by toxic partisanship and a return to Washington dysfunction.

Expectations in July and August that a fifth bipartisan pandemic response bill would eventually be birthed despite increased obstacles has been replaced by genuine pessimism. Recent COVID-related conversations among key players have led to nothing.

Democrats seem secure in their political position, with President Donald Trump and several Senate GOP incumbents lagging in the polls. Trump is seeking to sideline the pandemic as a campaign issue, and Republicans aren’t interested in a deal on Democratic terms – even as needs like school aid enjoy widespread support.

Poisonous relationships among key leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows give little reason for confidence about overcoming obstacles on the cost, scope and details of a potential relief bill. Pelosi recently referred to Meadows as “whatever his name is,” while the Meadows-run White House during a press briefing ran a video loop of Pelosi’s controversial visit to a San Francisco hair salon.

Trump said Monday that Democrats “don’t want to make a deal because they think that if the country does as badly as possible … that’s good for the Democrats.”

“I am taking the high road,” he told reporters at the White House. “I’m taking the high road by not seeing them.”

All of this imperils the chances for another round of $1,200 direct payments delivered under Trump’s name, the restoration of more generous unemployment benefits to those who’ve lost their jobs because of the pandemic, updates to a popular business subsidy program, and money to help schools reopen and states and local governments avoid layoffs.

“I personally would like to see one more rescue package, but I must tell you the environment in Washington right now is exceedingly partisan because of the proximity to the election,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at an appearance in Kentucky last week. “We’ve been in discussion now for the last month or so with no results so far. So I can’t promise one final package.”

McConnell had been a force for a deal but does not appear eager to force a vote that exposes division in his ranks.

Many Senate Republicans are also wary or opposed outright to another major chunk of debt-financed virus relief, even as GOP senators imperiled in the election like Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado plead for more. Republicans are struggling to coalesce around a unified party position – and that’s before they engage with Democratic leaders, who are demanding far more.

The relationship between Pelosi and her preferred negotiating partner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is civil but isn’t generating much in the way of results, other than a promise to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month by keeping a government-wide temporary spending bill free of controversy. That measure is likely to keep the government running into December. It’s likely to contain a bunch of lower-profile steps, such as an extension of the federal flood insurance program and a temporary reauthorization of spending from the highway trust fund.

The decision for a “clean,” controversy-free stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, means that both sides will forgo gamesmanship that uses the threat of a government shutdown to try to gain leverage. Trump forced a shutdown in 2018-2019 in a failed attempt to extract money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, while Democrats lost a shutdown encounter in 2017 over legislation to help immigrants brought illegally to the country as children win permanent legal status.

“Now we can focus just on another relief bill, and we’re continuing to do that in good faith,” Vice President Mike Pence said Friday on CNBC.

But if talks continue to falter, there’s little to keep lawmakers in Washington long, particularly with the election fast approaching.

The Senate returns on Tuesday to resume its diet of judicial and administration nominations. The House doesn’t come back until Sept. 14 for a schedule laden with lower-profile measures such as clean energy legislation and a bill to decriminalize marijuana. Some Democrats are expected to continue to take advantage of remote voting and may not return to Washington at all.

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

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HUD Urges Local Governments to Distribute Housing Aid Funds

Gov. DeSantis authorized $120M of Florida’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to help Floridians hurt by the pandemic and struggling to pay expenses such as rent, mortgage payments and emergency repairs. The Florida Housing Corp. will distribute the money.

WASHINGTON – The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reiterated a commitment to “minimize displacement and evictions resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic national emergency.” It’s pushing grantees – states, cities, communities and nonprofits – to spend the money, which can be used for expenses, such as rent, mortgage payments and emergency repairs.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis authorized $120 million out of the State of Florida’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) for allocation. Local governments will distribute the funds to needy homeowners and renters. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing) will oversee distribution to local leaders.

It’s unclear how soon money will make it into the hands of homeowners and renters, however. The Florida Housing website says, “It is important to note that at this time your local government and SHIP office, who will be administering this program, are working on implementing the application requirements, process and system and may not be ready to accept applications.”

The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is part of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) signed into law in March. Florida Housing’s CRF Fund for Impacted Homeowners and Renters will be administered by the local State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) housing office in local communities.

“From day one of this pandemic, the administration has done everything in our power to ensure that the American people have a roof over their heads during these trying times,” says HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Senators to CFPB: Advertise Help for Homeowners

Not enough Americans hurt by COVID-19 know that the CARES Act included funding help for mortgage payments. The senators want a strong public awareness campaign.

WASHINGTON – Five U.S. senators on the Banking Committee wrote a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), saying there’s funding help for at-risk homeowners but too few know about it.

According to the senators – Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Van Hollen, Robert Menendez and Jack Reed – surveys have shown a “significant amount of eligible borrowers are not aware of mortgage relief options, with even larger gaps among black and Hispanic borrowers.”

According to the senators, CFPB has a “duty and the authority to take actions that ensure families can stay in their homes and prevent a series of irreversible foreclosures.” But they say CFPB isn’t taking enough proactive steps to tell homeowners about available programs.

The CFPB outlines coronavirus aid information for homeowners on its website.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows borrowers with federally backed mortgages the right to request a forbearance for up to one year. To do that, they must submit a request to their mortgage servicer and confirm that they’re experiencing “financial hardship during the COVID-19 emergency.”

“However, Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey, released last month, found that 56% of borrowers surveyed that made less than $50,000 were not familiar with the mortgage relief options,” the senators wrote.

The senators suggested three steps CFPB should take:

1. Aggressively enforce existing regulatory requirements for servicers to notify borrowers of their options to avoid foreclosure if they’re in default.

2. Issue additional guidance to servicers, including a model notice, to specify the procedures servicers should take to notify borrowers of their available options before a borrower ends up in delinquency.

3. Mount a strong public awareness campaign about mortgage borrower relief options, with a specific goal to reach minority borrowers, borrowers with limited English proficiency and borrowers with household incomes of less than $50,000.

“As the pandemic-induced economic collapse enters its sixth month, homeowners who lost their jobs and are relying on unemployment benefits to make ends meet just had their weekly benefits cut in half,” the senators wrote. “It is essential that the Bureau use every single tool at its disposal to ensure these individuals … understand their options to keep their homes during this unprecedented global pandemic.”

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Real Estate Coalition Asks Congress for Landlord Relief

NAR is part of a 12-association real estate coalition that wrote a letter to the top Democrat and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. The letter requests renter and landlord aid in the face of Pres. Trump’s moratorium banning most evictions and foreclosures until Jan. 1, 2021.

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 12 real estate associations and councils wrote a letter to the two party leaders in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, ask them to consider renter and landlord help in a new pandemic relief bill. The letter was sent to:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
  • House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

In the letter, the coalition told Congress that the latest eviction ban will “ultimately harm the very people it aims to help. It will be impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents.” I adds that it will also saddle renters “with an unmanageable amount of debt due to months of unpaid rent.”

The letter notes that a number of assistance proposals have been suggested, though it doesn’t back any specific solution. It does, however, ask Congress to “ensure whichever delivery mechanism(s) is chosen swiftly distributes funding at the property-level, while also protecting struggling renters.”

The letter is signed by:

  • CCIM Institute
  • Council for Affordable and Rural Housing
  • Institute of Real Estate Management
  • Manufactured Housing Institute
  • Mortgage Bankers Association
  • National Affordable Housing Management Association National Apartment Association
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • National Association of Housing Cooperatives National Association of REALTORS
  • National Leased Housing Association
  • National Multifamily Housing Council

A copy of the letter is posted on NAR’s website.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Mortgages: How Many Refinances Do You Get During a Pandemic?

While there aren’t any legal limitations, there are a lot of lender fake-outs and roadblocks that might make it harder, such as added costs and fees.

MONROVIA, Calif. – Paul and Laura DePerry shaved $260 off the mortgage payment for their Rancho Santa Margarita home when they refinanced last March. Their interest rate dropped to 3.63% from 4.25%.

Then the pandemic hit, and mortgage interest rates fell to record lows. Last week, the DePerrys locked in an additional $240-a-month savings with a new rate of 2.88%, paying about $3,200 in closing costs.

In total, their payment fell $500 per month after they cut their interest rate by almost 1.4%.

“It makes me feel ecstatic,” Paul DePerry said.

What if rates fall further? Could the DePerrys go for a trifecta? How many times can you refinance your mortgage?

There are no legal limitations.

But there are a lot of lender fake-outs and roadblocks that might make it harder for you to become a true serial refinancer.

Among them:

Added costs: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced plans to add a half-point fee (that is, 0.5%) for any refinance, effective Dec. 1. With the lag time it takes to get loans approved, that fee could be charged for all loans launched as early as September or October.

Even if there’s enough time to get your loan approved by Nov. 30, some lenders still may charge that adverse market fee.

Lender refusals: A second roadblock is something called EPO, or early payoff. That is where your lender may not be able to offer you a redo for four, six or as much as 12 months after your closing because the company advanced money to cover loan originator compensation or closing costs in exchange for a higher interest rate. These are known as zero-point or zero-cost loans.

In those cases, if you re-do your mortgage with any lender, or even sell your property, the lender may get a big claw-back bill from Fan or Fred for those advanced fees. So they have a timeout that you are strongly encouraged to participate in. Some originators make borrowers sign a pledge that they will not refinance for a certain amount of time or require them to reimburse the originator for its lender bill.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 banned any type of prepayment penalty for first loans on owner-occupied or second homes.

Qualifying: A third roadblock is much tougher underwriting. For example, did you go into forbearance and skip payments? Is your industry at further risk of a meltdown such as airlines, retail businesses and the like? Is your self-employed income declining from last year?

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that some lenders are requiring borrowers to sign documents pledging that they don’t intend to seek forbearance on their new loan. The good news is plenty of lenders are temporarily rescinding the adverse market fee. Separately, May data indicates 40% of all mortgages going to Fannie and Freddie are getting appraisal waivers, according to Ed Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute. That’s about a $600 reduction in your refinance costs.

Before calculating whether to refinance your own mortgage, be clear what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to shorten your term, lower your mortgage rate, or pull out cash?

Then do the math.

How much is it going to cost you? For example, most borrowers will refinance into a lower rate if they can save $100 or more per month without any points or fees. If you are paying closing costs, how long will it take to recoup your cost? For example, let’s say you are currently at 3.75% on a $400,000 loan and your payment is $1,852. You can get 2.875% without points, but you will have to pay $3,500 in closing costs. Assuming you add your settlement costs to the new loan amount, your new payment would be $1,674 a month on a $403,500 loan. Your savings is $178 per month.

Divide $3,500 in costs by $178 in payment savings. It will take about 20 months to recoup the cost.

Separately, do you have the stomach to subject yourself to the normally intrusive financial dive that has just gotten worse, thanks to more potential COVID-19 related job cuts and income losses? The Federal Housing Finance Agency projects at least $6 billion in losses for Fan and Fred, and it could be worse. So, the adverse market fee could increase further. Or, worse, refinance lending could come to a standstill.

Refinance only if it makes sense for you. Is a trifecta in your future?

Copyright © 2020 San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Jeff Lazerson, mortgage broker and columnist. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.

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Airbnb Locks Many Last-Minute Bookings

Airbnb is an official party-pooper. In the U.S., Canada and Australia, its tech has blocked 250K guests from booking last-minute homes close to where they live.

McLEAN, Va. – Airbnb really, really doesn’t want guests to host parties.

The company is rolling out an initiative in the U.S., Canada and Australia that blocks guests from booking homes on short notice in cities where they live in an effort to limit unauthorized house parties, according to a company statement provided by Airbnb spokesman Charlie Urbancic.

Airbnb began the pilot in March in the U.S. and Canada. Data from the company has shown last-minute reservations historically lead to a disproportionate number of parties. Parties have been a problem for the short-term rental company for some time, before and during the coronavirus pandemic. And some states around the country have specific social distancing measures in place and limits on gatherings.

Airbnb will use technology to block last-minute bookings of homes given risk factors, including information about the listing, reservation and guest. If a guest has no reviews and tries to book an entire home locally the day of their stay, they may be barred from doing so. A guest with positive reviews, however, may be able to book such a listing.

Guests unable to book would be redirected to the company’s boutique hotel offerings instead of an entire-home booking.

The company has blocked about 250,000 reservations between this pilot program and restrictions announced in July to guests under age 25. Airbnb announced a global ban on parties and events at Airbnb listings earlier this summer and an occupancy cap of 16 people worldwide.

“This party ban applies to all future bookings on Airbnb and it will remain in effect indefinitely until further notice,” according to a company statement provided by Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit at the time.

As the pandemic began, the company removed its “event friendly” search filter and its “parties and events allowed” house rules from listings. It also directed guests to follow local COVID-19 public health laws.

Unauthorized parties were not technically allowed on the platform, with 73% of its listings already banning them as part of their house rules. The company laid down stricter limits last year with a ban on “party houses” worldwide, or “listings that create persistent neighborhood nuisance.” It’s also done manual reviews of what it considers high-risk reservations and restricted the rental permissions for guests under age 25 as part of its effort to get house parties under control.

The company announced earlier this year that U.S. guests under 25 who have fewer than three positive reviews and any negative reviews would be restricted from booking entire homes in areas close to where they live. The company’s latest restriction complements this previous effort.

Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff, The Associated Press

Copyright © 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, David Oliver

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Condo Q&A: What Can We Do About Noisy Neighbors Upstairs?

Understand how your condo docs address nuisances. Then send your neighbor a written notice on how their noise is impacting you – and copy your property manager.

STUART, Fla. – Question: We are having a very difficult problem with noise created by the condo unit located directly above us. We have proof that the above unit has not been outfitted with a sound-barrier layer beneath the tiled floor. This situation has already caused us two years of awful stress. The occupant is unfriendly and the actual owners are ignoring us. Our management company has failed to take any action. What can we do? – B.B. Stuart

Answer: The first thing that you should do is to take a look at your condominium’s governing documents, including the declaration and bylaws. It is likely that the documents specifically address nuisances and provide that owners cannot create a nuisance. A nuisance occurs when there is a substantial, unreasonable interference with another person’s use or enjoyment of their property.

In other words, one property owner simply cannot use their property in a manner that interferes with another property owner’s right to use their property. In that regard, noise can certainly be considered a nuisance. But with a caveat. Florida law will protect individuals under what is known as a reasonable person standard. In short, would a “reasonable” person be bothered by the nuisance, in your case, the noise?

Noise is a subjective thing – what is unreasonable noise to one person may not be so to another who is similarly situated. Thus, the law was not designed to necessarily protect someone who may be “supersensitive” to noise. Some people tend to be more sensitive or allergic to things such as noise, smoke, mold, light, etc. When someone is hypersensitive, they may think that the non-sensitive persons living around them must legally accommodate their sensitivity. This is simply not the case.

That being said, condominium associations must enforce nuisance provisions in their documents when an actual legal nuisance arises. If the noise from your upstairs neighbor is demonstrably a nuisance, the property manager and the board should act upon it. You have the absolute right to legally complain if the conduct of your upstairs neighbor is impacting your use and enjoyment of your unit.

I understand from your question that your neighbor is a difficult individual and is ignoring you. But, if you have not done so already, my advice is that your first step is to put them on notice in writing and to copy your property manager on the letter. Since they are unfriendly and/or not responsive, perhaps they are not aware the extent to which the noise is affecting you. You should also speak to your other neighbors to see if they hear the noise and are unreasonably impacted. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to get an association to intervene in this kind of situation, especially where there is only one neighbor who complains. The more support you have for your complaints, the better position you will be if or when you make a formal complaint to the property manager and, ultimately the board.

Remember, the operative question is whether the sound that other residents are making is unreasonable? While the noise may cause you a disturbance, are your neighbors doing something that most people in your development would or would not consider to be a problem?

You also mentioned the issue of soundproofing between the floors. If that is a problem, your issue may not be with the neighbors, but with the level of sound transmission between the units. If that is the case and the building was just constructed in such a way that it allows sound to travel between the units, you likely don’t have a claim against the association and you should speak to an engineer or a general contractor about taking steps to minimize the decibels between your unit and the unit above. You may be able to have some sort of sound insulation installed to minimize the sound transmission impact.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there are all kinds of noises that people need to live with when they live in a building, whether it is an apartment building or a condominium building. As a resident in a building, there are just certain things that you have to put up with as normal noises and the law is not designed to protect residents from noises that are merely a part of ordinary building living.

However, if you truly believe that your issue rises to a level that is not considered “reasonable” or “normal,” then you may have an actionable legal claim. There are just so many factors that need to be considered before you embark on that road that you should consider speaking to a qualified attorney if your own efforts prove to be unsuccessful.

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

© 2020 Journal Media Group, Stuart News, Harris B. Katz, guest columnist

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How Do You Handle Bidding Wars Legally?

Offer advice but follow the law. Love letters some buyers send, for example, could violate the Fair Housing Act if they include “celebrating Christmas here” references.

CHICAGO – Ultra-competitive housing markets have fueled bidding wars between buyers frantically competing for a limited number of home listings. In these cases, real estate professionals find themselves helping clients navigate multiple offer situations.

But these agents must be careful to avoid misunderstandings and reduce the risk of discrimination in the process.

“Real estate professionals can help avoid complaints and fair housing issues while helping both the buyer and seller understand their options,” says Deanne Rymarowicz, associate counsel at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), in a new “Window to the Law” video.

Rymarowicz highlights three principles real estate professionals should follow when navigating multiple offer situations:

  • Be mindful of your legal and ethical duties. Most states have laws and regulations regarding timeframes for presenting offers and what needs to be disclosed to the other party in a multiple-offer situation. Some states, for example, prohibit revealing the terms of a buyer’s offer without the buyer’s consent.

    The Realtor Code of Ethics also speaks to handling multiple offer situations, such as requiring that Realtors “protect and promote the interest of their client.”

  • Watch for potential fair housing red flags. “Buyer love letters” – letters, videos and photos given to the seller from the buyer expressing their desire for a home – could possibly lead to fair housing violations.

    “These ‘love letters’ often innocently include personal information that reveals a prohibited basis for discrimination, such as ‘we can see our family celebrating Christmas around the fireplace’ or the ‘wide hallways will accommodate my wheelchair,” Rymarowicz says in the video. Fair housing centers on eliminating discriminating and “love letters” could potentially cause an implicit bias.

    “Accepting an offer based on anything other than the price, terms, and merits of the offer might violate fair housing law,” Rymarowicz says.

  • Let the client make the decision. Educate your client about multiple offers and strategies for responses. “You may even offer suggestion and advice based on your knowledge and experience,” Rymarowicz says. But ultimately, “it’s up to the client to decide what offers and counteroffers to negotiate, reject and ultimately accept.”

View more tips for handling multiple offers, without putting yourself at legal risk, by watching “Window to the Law: How to Handle Multiple Offers,” produced by NAR’s legal team.

Source: Realtor® Magazine Daily News

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

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Possible Agreement on Plan to Avoid Government Shutdown

National flood insurance – and needed U.S. government funding – ends on Sept. 30. But the House and Treasury seem close to an agreement that might keep both operating.

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration have informally agreed to keep a stopgap government-wide funding bill – needed to avert a shutdown at the end of this month – free of controversy or conflict.

The accord is aimed at keeping any possibility of a government shutdown off the table despite ongoing battles over COVID-19 relief legislation, while sidestepping the potential for other shutdown drama in the run-up to the November election.

That’s according to Democratic and GOP aides on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on a Tuesday conversation between Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They required anonymity to characterize an exchange they were informed of but not directly party to.

“House Democrats are for a clean continuing resolution,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, referring to the stopgap bill. The definition of “clean” tends to vary among those steeped in Capitol Hill jargon, but it would not necessarily rule out noncontroversial add-ons like routine extensions of programs like federal flood insurance or authority to spend money for highway programs. Some lawmakers are sure to seek substantive legislation and even COVID-related items if consensus could somehow evolve.

“We do believe that we’ll be able to get funding to avoid a shutdown,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday.

The duration of the temporary funding measure or what noncontroversial items might ride along haven’t been settled, aides say, and the Pelosi spokesman declined to further characterize the agreement.

The government faces a Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown like the 2018-2019 shutdown sparked by Trump’s insistence on more funding to construct his U.S.-Mexico border wall. There is sentiment among some Democrats for the stopgap legislation to extend into next year, but December appears to be the administration’s preference and a more likely result.

The development comes as lawmakers are absent from Washington but are preparing to return for a brief pre-election session that’s likely to involve battling over COVID relief legislation. But the chances of another rescue bill have ebbed as the summer is nearing an end.

The Mnuchin-Pelosi agreement on preventing a shutdown appears aimed at ensuring that the consequences of gridlock on the COVID relief front do not include a politically freighted partial shutdown.

The duration of the stopgap measure affects which modest changes – often referred to as “anomalies” – are added to address immediate needs like expiring authorizations at the Department of Health and Human Services or immediate needs at the Pentagon and the Department of Agriculture. A longer continuing resolution, or CR, requires more extensive negotiation.

Monica Crowley, a spokeswoman for Mnuchin, said Treasury would decline to comment.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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Don’t Believe These Cybersecurity Myths

Tired of hearing about cybercrime? Think you have nothing worth protecting? Think security software will protect you? If so, you’re probably wrong.

NEW YORK – Ransomware attacks, data breaches, and scams – along with a steady stream of extortion and phishing emails – have taken over the internet. We hear about cybercrime so often that it can quickly turn into white noise. That’s a mistake.

Here are 10 security myths you need to stop believing about your data:

1. I don’t have anything worth protecting

You might think your data isn’t worth anything. You might think because you’re broke, no one cares about your data. You might also think that since you have nothing to hide, there’s no point in protecting your identity or information.

Think about it this way: All those free social media apps you sign up for – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat – aren’t free at all. When you sign the Terms and Conditions, you’re signing away your right to privacy, which lets the apps build a detailed demographic profile of you.

The companies sell this information to marketers; that means your information is making these companies millions of dollars. So why wouldn’t hackers want to cash in on that?

2. I use security software, so I’m fine

Many people think that security software will act as an invincible shield between their data and hackers. A group of Russian hackers breached servers of three major antivirus providers. Now, all the information they stole is up for sale on the Dark Web.

So, what’s an excellent way to work around this danger? Keep your operating system software and security software updated. Do the same for your other devices, including your phone and tablet. Don’t forget about your router. Once hackers break into that, every device using it to connect to the internet is vulnerable.

3. With all these data breaches, I have nothing left to protect

Want to see if your data has already been breached? One website, haveibeenpwned.com, has been tracking data breaches for years and put a handy search tool online. You simply enter your email address and get a yes or no answer.

Let’s say you’re on the list. You may feel hopeless, and like there’s no point in protecting your data since it’s already been overtaken.

That’s not true. There are different types of data breaches that can have different impacts. For example, say your password and username to your bank account have been breached. Don’t give up – inaction empowers the hackers to pry for even more information, which could lead them to your Social Security number.

4. Phishing scams are easy to spot

Phishing scams are becoming more sophisticated as hackers infiltrate companies, CEO’s personal accounts, and even government agencies. Phishing scams have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Realistic-looking extortion scams are making the rounds. The scammer says unless you pay up, they will release the video of you that they took using your webcam when you visited a porn site.

Don’t buy it. The scammer got your email address and password from a data breach. If you are still using the combination of both, it’s best to change your password at the very least.

Sometimes, they use familiar faces against you.

5. My friends on social media won’t hurt me

The great thing about social media is that it connects you with your friends and relatives. Unfortunately, the web of connectivity can be an opening for spiders to turn friends into gateways for data breaches.

Say your friend has a weak password, and their account is breached. Say they send you a private message saying they found a funny new video or a cool new site you should check out. Since the link is coming from a familiar face, your guard may be down. Hackers bank on those lowered guards to corrupt your web and turn it into a jumping point for even more data breaches.

6. Hackers are mysterious, scary figures

It’s important to realize that hackers aren’t lone wolves. There are entire organizations – some government-funded – that work together to infiltrate data and rake in millions.

7. I only go to mainstream sites, so I don’t need security software

You need security software no matter where you go.

When multiple sites have a detailed profile of you, that increases your chances of getting your data breached, since all companies are vulnerable to a data breach. Security software keeps you safe. It’s like two-factor authentication: a necessary step towards protecting your privacy.

8. I use complex passwords

Even a long, complicated password isn’t enough to keep you safe in today’s security landscape.

Nowadays, there are speedy programs people use to run billions of password combinations – and it only takes a second to run these potential passwords. You should use password managers and two-factor authentication.

Copyright 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY

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IRS Tax Breaks for Working from Home Have Changed

Independent contractors can deduct a home office, and any pandemic-era upgrades probably can be deducted too. There are two ways to calculate the tax amount.

DETROIT – Struggling to teach a Zoom class from home this fall or working remotely on a project launch while your own children are home 24/7 seem like patriotic duties that should at least come with a tax break.

Shouldn’t someone be able to write off a few extra expenses like electricity or high-speed internet when fighting the spread of COVID-19 by working from home all the time? Shouldn’t working from home for six months or possibly more in 2020 account for some kind of tax break?

Short answer: Well, you probably are not going to like what you hear.

Many people are asking questions about potential tax breaks for home offices these days, as more office workers continue to juggle their lives and jobs from home.

While General Motors might consider bringing back some workers to the office in the fall, for example, the majority of GM white-collar workers could continue working remotely through year-end, according to the company’s latest plans.

Unfortunately, if you’re working for someone else, say you’re an employee of a school district or automaker, the tax rules don’t allow you to claim a home office deduction for unreimbursed business expenses relating to working from home. No such tax deduction is available for W-2 wage earners who are dealing with unreimbursed business expenses, according to James O’Rilley, CPA and tax director for Doeren Mayhew in Troy, Michigan.

Oddly enough, some remote employees would have had more options under the old tax rules if their unreimbursed business expenses, including the cost of a home office, exceeded 2% of their adjusted gross income. One rule then: You had to be required by your employer to work remotely, and not just doing it for your convenience.

But that tax break won’t work anymore due to changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. After 2018, the new tax law prevents employees from deducting unreimbursed expenses that they incur for their jobs.

“There is no deduction for an employee working out of their house. That went away with the Trump tax cuts,” said George W. Smith, a CPA with Andrews Hooper Pavlik in Southfield, Michigan.

Another key point: You can no longer deduct expenses related to finding a new job, either.

Even so, some people might be able to take advantage of a few tax breaks. Here’s a look at some possibilities depending on your situation.

Self-employed or independent contractors

If you are self-employed or an independent contractor, you can claim a home office deduction. These expenses do not need to exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income but you’re going to need to meet other tight rules.

You need a space whose “regular and exclusive use” is for business. See IRS Form 8829 , which you would file with Schedule C.

“If you are self-employed, you were always eligible to claim business use of home as a deduction,” O’Rilley said. “What may be new for those individuals is with more time spent at home many people have ‘invested’ more into their home offices – build-outs, new furniture, increased internet capabilities, copiers, printers, scanners – all which would be eligible for immediate expensing,” O’Rilley said.

When it comes to many build-outs, though, such as adding a back room onto your home, you would not get a deduction if that construction is a structural improvement to real estate, he said.

If you were an independent contractor who went to a job site but now work from home in the pandemic, you can claim the home office deduction for the time you’re working remotely. But keep records of when you began working from home and your expenses.

Two methods exist for claiming the deduction: You’d claim a percentage of expenses – such as mortgage or rent, utilities, real estate taxes and homeowners’ insurance – based on what percentage of your home is used for your business.

If 5% of your home is used for business, you’d take 5% of those expenses. This method demands more records and receipts.

Or the IRS has a simplified method where you could take a maximum deduction of up to $1,500 based on the square footage of your home office multiplied by $5. The maximum allowed is up to 300 square feet for business use of the home, if using this method.

Teachers

Whether they’re holding online classes or teaching in the classroom, teachers continue to receive a deduction of up to $250 for unreimbursed business expenses for classroom materials, such as books, supplies, computers including related software and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom.

If both spouses are teachers, the deduction can be up to $500 on a joint return.

The tax break applies to those who teach kindergarten through grade 12. This tax break does not apply for pre-school teachers or college instructors.

Although the statutory language states that the equipment and materials must be “used by the eligible educator in the classroom,” most tax experts believe that this language could apply to a virtual classroom as well as a physical one, according to Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting.

Going remote at a condo in another state

Those fortunate enough to choose to work from a lake home in another state could face a few more tax twists. Or maybe not, depending on the tax rules for those states.

Working out of your condo in Florida, if you live in Michigan, isn’t likely to cause tax headaches since Florida doesn’t have a state income tax.

Michigan also has reciprocity agreements with neighboring states, like Ohio, so there’s no issue there, O’Rilley said. Michigan has reciprocity agreements with Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

But some other states, including New York, will tax income earned in that state even if the person primarily resides and works in another state. Much will depend on how tax rules are worked out in the months ahead. But working remotely elsewhere could mean that you end up having to file two state income tax returns and the arrangement could trigger higher taxes overall, depending on the states.

Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, said 14 states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont – and the District of Columbia have enacted a specific COVID-19 exception.

Those states generally won’t tax workers who have made a temporary move there because of the pandemic, but state policies can vary.

Congress is also considering legislation to address the issue as it relates to the pandemic, which might change the rules. Luscombe noted that the Senate proposal as part of its HEALs bill states that only the state of residence can tax the income during this period, so there’s some concern that some states, like New York, could lose revenue.

Eileen Sherr, senior manager for tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of CPAs, said state CPA groups should consider advocating that state taxing authorities allow the employee who is temporarily telecommuting to continue to pay tax to the state where the employer is located, not where the employee is sheltering in place during the pandemic.

“This treatment would help prevent a double tax where one state uses the convenience of employer test to source wage payments and the other state uses the physical presence standard,” Sherr said.

Copyright 2020, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY

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Pres. Trump Executive Order Halts Evictions Until 2021

The order elicited protest from NAR as it’s unclear if property owners will bear the cost of the ban. Trump ordered the CDC to oversee it “to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

ORLANDO, Fla. – President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to half most evictions for the rest of 2020. In announcing the change on the White House website, he said, “I want to make it unmistakably clear that I’m protecting people from evictions.”

The order gives the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) oversight of the eviction moratorium, “in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.” The ban goes into effect on Sept. 4, and the CDC plans to post the eviction moratorium rules then. In the meantime, a version of those rules – not yet official – is posted online.

Shortly after the announcement, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) issued a statement along with CCIM and the Institute of Real Estate Management, saying the order “virtually halts all U.S. evictions through the end of the year.”

“While NAR appreciates and is supportive of administration efforts to ensure struggling Americans can remain in their homes, this order as-written will bring chaos to our nation’s critical rental housing sector and put countless property owners out of business,” says NAR President Vince Malta. “Any eviction moratorium must also come with rental assistance for property owners, the vast majority of which are mom-and-pop investors (who) are still required to meet their financial obligations even as they cease to receive income on their properties.”

Malta says in the statement that the eviction moratorium will “bring more havoc to our economy, not less.”

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) issued a similar statement, saying it could “result in unforeseen negative economic consequences without dedicated funding for rental assistance.”

Both NAR and NAHB pushed Congress and Trump to work together on a new coronavirus relief package that protects both renters and property owners.

“Absent rental income, … small mom and pop property owners must continue to pay their mortgage, property taxes, employees and cleaning/maintenance services,” says NAHB President Chuck Fowke. “And without sufficient rental income, a number of properties would be pushed into foreclosure.

While the details are not yet official, the outline from the White House includes some insight on how the eviction ban will work, saying, “American renters who meet certain conditions cannot be evicted if they have affirmatively exhausted their best efforts to pay rent, seek government rental assistance, and are likely to become homeless due to eviction.”

The order makes it clear that renters who benefit from the ban “are still obligated to pay accrued rent or housing payments in accordance with their lease or contract.”

In addition, “Landlords are still permitted to pursue eviction against tenants committing criminal acts, threatening the health or safety of other residents, and damaging property, among other offenses.”

NAR created a brief overview of the Executive Order’s main points that’s now available online.

© 2020 Florida Realtors®

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Wells Fargo Approved Forbearances Without Consent

Wells Fargo sometimes approved mortgage forbearance for customers who only asked for info. Some owners say it hurt their credit and propose a class action lawsuit.

NEW YORK – Wells Fargo is being sued. A proposed class-action lawsuit accuses the lending giant of automatically placing some borrowers’ mortgages in forbearance without their permission. Those borrowers now claim that the forbearance lowered scores in their credit reports and prevented them from obtaining other financial services, such as refinances.

Wells Fargo told media outlets that it placed some accounts in forbearance after those customers reached out to them and expressed financial hardship during the pandemic. The bank wanted “to ensure that every customer who needed payment relief would receive it without unnecessary delay,” Wells Fargo said in a statement.

“We sincerely apologize to any customer who received a forbearance and did not expressly request one, and [we] are actively working to assist each customer who may have been negatively affected,” Tom Goyda, spokesperson for Wells Fargo, said in the statement to Law360.

The federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act includes a provision that mortgage borrowers facing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic can ask for a temporary forbearance on their mortgage.

Pamela Delpapa has brought forward one of the lawsuits against the bank. She says she wasn’t able to refinance her home to a better mortgage rate because her loan had been placed in forbearance, which she says she never asked for.

“Banks may not institute it automatically,” the lawsuit against Wells Fargo states. “But that’s exactly what Wells Fargo did. As documented by the plaintiff and in consumer complaints from across the nation, Wells Fargo automatically placed borrowers in forbearance when they contacted the bank by phone or online to merely inquire about their options.”

An additional lawsuit filed on July 31 made similar claims against Wells Fargo. Last month, NBC News reported on borrowers in Chapter 13 bankruptcy who also claimed their loans were placed in forbearance without their consent.

“For a short period during the early stages of the crisis, in an attempt to ensure that all customers received the payment relief they needed in the midst of unprecedented levels of customer calls, we made a decision to provide mortgage forbearances to certain customers who had made an inquiry or expressed hardship but had not explicitly requested a payment suspension,” Wells Fargo told Law360.

Goyda says the bank notified customers whose loans were placed in forbearance and explained to them how they could change that status if they wanted.

Wells Fargo is one of the largest underwriters and home loan servicers in the U.S.

Source: “Borrowers Say Wells Fargo Misused Virus Forbearance Policy,” Law360.com (Aug. 27, 2020) and “More Wells Fargo Customers Say the Bank Decided to Pause Their Mortgage Payments Without Asking,” NBC News (July 22, 2020)

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