Author Archives: walker

Homeowners Want to List – but They Fear What Comes Next

Many owners would love to get top dollar for their home, but they weigh that perk against the downside – buying another home – and fears outweigh their desire to list.

NEW YORK – Some homeowners are reluctant to sell amid a hot housing market because the profit they stand to make is less of a concern than the burden of finding a new home.

Selling appears easy right now – list, accept multiple bids, and sell for top dollar. But the prospect of fierce and expensive bidding wars to secure their next home is discouraging.

Thad Wong, co-founder of @properties, says that “even with low rates and the appreciation of their home, they can’t find something better than what they live in right now.”

With so many homeowners unwilling to sell, housing inventory is extremely tight; the number of existing homes on the market at the end of April was down 20.5% year over year, while the number of listed homes plunged to record lows earlier this year. The low stock underpins continuing home price appreciation, making homeownership too costly for many buyers.

The timing of dual transactions – selling one home and buying another at the same time – contributes to the problem since many families can’t afford to buy a new property without selling a current one first. And since sellers often receive multiple bids in the current market, agents say offers with contingency clauses are likely to be rejected.

The supply shortage is particularly pronounced at lower price points. The National Association of Realtors said the supply of existing homes on the market priced between $100,000 and $250,000 fell more than 30% in April from a year earlier, while the stockpile of homes listed for over $500,000 grew.

“I don’t think we can really alleviate the shortage until people feel like they can sell their home and move,” says Meredith Hansen with Keller Williams Greater Seattle.

Source: Wall Street Journal (06/04/21) Friedman, Nicole

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Landlords Ask Supreme Court to End the Eviction Moratorium

One judge ruled to end the eviction moratorium, but an appeals court refused to make any changes right away. Landlords now want the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.

WASHINGTON – A lawyer representing landlords and housing providers asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to halt the Biden administration’s moratorium on evictions, which was put into place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The request comes after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Wednesday declined to stop the moratorium while a case challenging its constitutionality is pending.

“Landlords have been losing over $13 billion every month under the moratorium, and the total effect of the CDC’s overreach may reach up to $200 billion if it remains in effect for a year,” states the landlords’ request to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The landlords won in the district court in the District of Columbia, but the judge paused the ruling while it was appealed, leaving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium intact – for now.

The appeals court affirmed that move this week, allowing the lawsuit to proceed but kept landlords from evicting non-paying tenants.

“The moratorium was tailored to the necessity that prompted it,” wrote the three-judge panel. “[The Department of Health and Human Services] carefully targeted it to the subset of evictions it determined to be necessary to curb the spread of the deadly and quickly spreading COVID-19 pandemic.”

The landlords hope the Supreme Court will reverse that move.

“The stay order cannot stand. As both the Sixth Circuit and the district court here recognized, Congress never gave the CDC the staggering amount of power it now claims,” the landlord’s court filing states. The moratorium bans landlords from evicting tenants while the order is enforced, so landlords are unable to remove a renter who can’t pay rent.

The CDC first issued the moratorium in September under former President Trump, but the government has continued to renew it, even after vaccines have been widely distributed.

Lawyers for the landlords said they fear that the government will renew the moratorium again instead of letting it lapse at the end of June as scheduled.

Lawsuits challenging the government’s eviction moratorium are piling up, as property owners, including struggling mom-and-pop operators, ask the courts why they are expected to take a financial hit while non-paying tenants are protected by the moratoriums.

Some district courts have delivered wins for the landlords, while others have ruled for the government. Recently, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the government’s moratorium but did not issue a nationwide injunction.

© Copyright 2021 News World Communications Inc.

April Pending Home Sales Drop 4.4% Month-to-Month

Year-to-year, however, pending sales skyrocketed 51.7% since April 2020 was the start of nationwide lockdowns to fight a spreading pandemic. NAR Economist Yun says contract signings now are near pre-pandemic levels after the big surge during COVID-19 lockdowns.

WASHINGTON – Pending home sales took a step backward in April, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). All four U.S. regions saw year-over-year increases, but only the Midwest had month-over-month gains in pending home sales contract transactions.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) – a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings – fell 4.4% to 106.2 in April. Year-over-year, signings, however, jumped 51.7% higher, in part because April 2020 had a wave of pandemic-related shutdowns. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.

“Contract signings are approaching pre-pandemic levels after the big surge due to the lack of sufficient supply of affordable homes,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “The upper-end market is still moving sharply as inventory is more plentiful there.”

Yun thinks that housing supply will improve as soon as autumn. He points to an increase in the comfortability of homeowners more willing to list their homes, as well as a rise in sellers who might have to make difficult decisions after the eviction moratorium expires and their mortgage forbearance comes to an end.

“The Midwest region, which has the most affordable homes, was the only region to notch a gain in the latest month,” Yun adds. “Some buyers from the expensive cities in the West and Northeast, who have the flexibility to move and work from anywhere, could be opting for a larger-sized home at a lower price in the Midwest.”

April pending home sales regional breakdown: The Northeast PHSI declined 12.9% to 85.3 in April, though it was up 96.5% jump from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index increased 3.5% to 101.1 last month, up 39.4% compared to April 2020.

Pending sales transactions in the South fell 6.1% to an index of 128.9 in April, up 45.3% from April 2020. In the West, the index decreased 2.6% in April to 92.0, up 57.3% from a year prior.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

NAR Partners with LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance

The National Association of Realtors says the new partnership will “identify training opportunities … cultivate LGBTQ+ leaders and mobilize members.”

WASHINGTON – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) announced a new partnership with the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance. The Alliance was founded June 2020 and has chapters throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

According to NAR, the collaboration will allow the groups to identify training opportunities that cultivate LGBTQ+ leaders and mobilize members in support of mutually beneficial federal policies, including pro-LGBTQ+ and real estate industry initiatives.

“NAR has long championed LGBTQ+ rights in the housing market, and we’re proud to continue leading today’s industry in the fight against discrimination,” says NAR President Charlie Oppler. “As the nation recognizes Pride Month this June, we’re excited to announce this partnership with The Alliance and begin our work toward initiatives that will provide tremendous benefits to American real estate and our society as a whole.”

NAR amended its Code of Ethics in 2011 and 2014 to ensure Realtors® were upholding housing protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community. More recently, it worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development as the agency reformed its enforcement of the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“This partnership between NAR and The Alliance is built on a mutual desire to advance the shared interests of our members, supporting both the Alliance’s mission and NAR’s core values to lead change while advancing diversity and inclusion,” says NAR CEO Bob Goldberg.

The Alliance advocates on behalf of the LBGTQ+ community on a variety of home-related topics. A 501(c)6 non-profit, it also provides its members with learning and business opportunities.

“Having the leading trade association in the U.S. as a part of The Alliance is a huge step for our members and the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community,” says John Thorpe, The Alliance’s national president and board chairman.

Thorpe also commended NAR for its “prominent” role in the push to secure fair housing protections for LBGTQ+ Americans in states where those safeguards are not already codified.

“NAR’s support has been present for several months through acts of solidarity in the face of discriminatory acts against LGBTQ+ Realtors, their participation in our Policy Symposium this past April and their incredible support for our National Convention this September in Vegas,” says Ryan Weyandt, The Alliance’s CEO.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

U.S. Borders With Canada, Mexico Restricted Through June 21

Fla. real estate’s top source for international business faces visiting restrictions for at least another month. Until then, only trade and essential travel is allowed.

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security says the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico will remain restricted through at least June 21, with only trade and essential travel allowed.

The DHS confirmed the move Thursday and said it is “working closely with Canada & Mexico to safely ease restrictions as conditions improve.”

The agency, in conjunction with its Canadian and Mexican counterparts, originally closed the U.S.’s northern and southern borders to leisure travelers in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions have been extended monthly since.

In the intervening year, Canada has tightened its border security, requiring anyone entering by plane or land to be tested in advance for COVID-19. In addition, anyone traveling to Canada from the U.S. must prove that they are doing so for essential reasons and must quarantine upon arrival.

In February, Canada announced it was banning cruise ships from its waters until 2022. Since then, legislators have worked to salvage the 2021 Alaska cruise season. Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which would allow large cruise ships to skip required stops in Canadian ports while traveling between Washington and Alaska.

Earlier this month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that he would prefer to wait until 75% of his country is vaccinated before fully reopening the border; according to USA TODAY data, 48.1% have been at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday.

“My gut tells me it’s going to be (closed) at least well into the fall of 2021,” he predicted a week earlier.

Southbound travel from the U.S. into Mexico’s northern border cities has gone unchecked since the beginning of the pandemic, and Americans can still fly there. However, last week, the governor of Quintana Roo state warned it was at danger of “imminent lockdown” because of a five-week-long increase in COVID-19 cases there.

Anecdotal evidence suggests tourists are attracted to Mexico’s Caribbean resorts in part because there has been no lockdown, and sanitary measures are largely voluntary.

About 12.5% of Mexicans are fully vaccinated, and an additional 8.3% have had their first shot.

Contributing: Morgan Hines, Julia Thompson, USA TODAY; Lauren Villagran, El Paso Times

Copyright 2021,, USA TODAY

Florida Realtors to Go Global at International Trade Expo

The state association’s booth at Enterprise Florida’s virtual trade expo on March 16-18 will showcase members’ global expertise. Foreign attendees who want to know more about Florida Realtors and the state can connect with Realtors who speak Arabic, German, Spanish and more.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida Realtors® will join more than 150 major products and service providers across the Sunshine State in the first-ever virtual Florida International Trade Expo, March 16-18, 2021.

Presented by Enterprise Florida, the state’s official economic and trade development agency, the International Trade Expo serves as a virtual meeting place to connect international agents, buyers, wholesalers, end-users and professional service providers with Florida companies representing a range of businesses and industries. The event is reaching out to invite more than 5,000 attendees through Enterprise Florida’s overseas network, industry associations in 14 countries, American Chambers of Commerce, and the Internationally United Commercial Agents and Brokers Association.

To register for the virtual trade expo at no cost, go to the Florida International Trade Expo website; the agenda is available here.

Florida Realtors’ booth in the virtual International Trade Expo enables the state association to showcase its Realtor members’ global connections and international expertise, says 2021 Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert, broker-owner with Only Way Realty Citrus in Inverness. Attendees from other countries interested in learning more about Florida Realtors and the state can make an appointment with Realtors who speak their language, including Arabic, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian.

“Not only is Florida a great place to call home, it’s a great place to do business,” Lambert says. “Our state has made it a priority to not only encourage new businesses and industries to come here, but to provide the kind of supportive climate that investors and businesses need to succeed. Florida is the third largest state in the U.S and ranks as the second-best state for business (Chief Executive magazine). Florida’s Realtors stand ready to connect international investors and others with opportunities in markets across the state, whether they’re looking to relocate a business, invest in a new development or find their Florida dream home.”

Florida Realtors, the largest professional trade association in the state with 200,000 Realtor members in communities from the Panhandle to Key West, is key to connecting international visitors and investors to the world of opportunities available in Florida. Members are licensed real estate practitioners, including residential and commercial agents and brokers, appraisers, real estate counselors, property managers, and many other real estate specialists and related industry affiliates. Florida Realtors serves as the statewide organization for 51 local and regional Realtor associations or boards across the state.

Realtors in Florida work with buyers, sellers and investors from numerous countries. From August 2019 through July 2020, foreign buyers purchased 33,900 of Florida’s existing homes with a dollar volume of $15.6 billion – 11% of the dollar volume and 8% of the state’s existing home sales during that period, according to Florida Realtors’ 2020 Profile of International Residential Real Estate Activity.

Florida Realtors continually seeks to strengthen global partnerships and opportunities for its Realtor members and their clients in Florida and across the world. Current global partnerships include real estate and Realtor organizations in the United Kingdom, Canada, Panama, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, Dubai and Turkey, as well as the 19 Latin American countries associated with Confederación Inmobiliaria Latinoamericana (CILA).

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

Owners Visiting Zillow Will See Actual Offers for Their Home

Sellers checking their home’s Zillow listing will see a home-purchase quote, part of Zillow Offers, which the company says made about $20K profit per home in 4Q 2020.

SEATTLE – Homeowners across the country will soon see a live offer through Zillow’s home buying and selling website platform, replacing the “Zestimate.”

A live offer is essentially Zillow’s initial offer for a home, while the Zestimate is an automated valuation model that attempts to estimate what the home might get on the open market.

Nearly three years after it launched its direct-to-consumer home buying and selling platform Zillow Offers, the company is finally making money on each home it buys and subsequently sells, according to the company’s fourth-quarter earnings report. In a letter to shareholders, Zillow revealed it made, on average, a return of $19,206 per home sold in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Zillow Offers’ strong performance was attributed to a number of factors, including stronger-than-expected home price appreciation, a higher portion of homes sold that were acquired recently, and improved operational rigor across the business.

The company is also reaping rewards from the closing services division it launched in late 2019. The division expanded to 25 markets in the past 12 months, and the vast majority of the company’s customers now use that in-house closing service.

The increased profitability doesn’t reflect the ongoing migration from having partner agents manage Zillow Offers transactions to managing them in-house with licensed agent employees. The company began making that change recently – in the first quarter of 2021.

Source: Inman (02/10/21) Kearns, Patrick

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

S. Fla. Prices Keep Going Up – but Fewer People Leave

MIAMI – The rising cost of living has been driving Miami-Dade residents outward for a decade. Is the tide finally turning?

New projections from real estate group Redfin show that despite another year of outflows among existing residents of Southeastern Florida – driven largely by Miami-Dade County – the pace of the exodus appears to be slowing.

That’s good news for municipal coffers and the taxpayers who feed them.

Neither the state nor regional governments impose income taxes, leaving them dependent on revenues from sales and property taxes to pay for local services. More residents means more revenue – and generally, leaves locals free from property tax increases.

Now, it seems, more locals are staying put.

While Southeastern Florida was still on track to lose more current residents than it gained from elsewhere in the U.S., 2020 saw the area’s lowest “domestic loss” count in years, according to Redfin’s estimate: down 24,000 residents last year, compared with a loss of 39,000 in 2019 and 47,000 in 2018. (The precise Census figure for 2020 are not yet available.)

Redfin’s data is supported by other recent findings from geospatial analytics company Orbital Insight, with analysis by real estate investment firm FCP, which said Miami is now the nation’s third-most-popular destination for those moving amid the pandemic, trailing only Phoenix and Tampa (tied for first) and New York.

“It’s definitely a big slowdown of outflow compared to the past three years,” said Redfin economist Taylor Marr. “And it matches the search data where we’re seeing the strength of the [Southeast Florida] region.”

Redfin’s study looks at seven counties: Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Indian River, Palm Beach and St. Lucie.

Between 2010 and 2019, the area’s overall population in the area grew by some 700,000 residents, to approximately 6.9 million – thanks largely to international immigrants and births. But as foreign migration slowed in recent years, it was replaced by an influx of COVID and tax weary urbanites from places like New York, Chicago and California.

The ongoing influx of new residents brought a dramatic increase in local housing prices – as much as 150% over the past decade – while wages grew only about 17%. As a result, the region lost 107,151 existing residents in the seven counties to other parts of Florida and the rest of the U.S. Orlando and Jacksonville were among the gainers.

Now, the same quality-of-life factors attracting new residents – weather, restaurants, cultural activities – also appear to be keeping locals tethered to the region. Miami has never been more desirable for those who can afford it.

The city’s transformation drew venture capitalist and University of Miami graduate David Goldberg back to the region from New York, where he built his first business. Until recently, trying to do so from Miami wasn’t possible, he said. A decade ago, “there just was not enough talent and not enough capital.”

Still, he kept an eye on South Florida. When coronavirus hit, he moved his Alpaca venture capital fund here and found what he called a “validation of the lifestyle benefits” that the region has long touted.

And yet, for many more long-time locals, Miami’s home price math continues to cut the other way.

“We still don’t have the positive economic indicators that will slow down the moving out of the county in terms of wages and jobs, and especially in terms of housing,” said Maria Ilcheva, Assistant Director of Planning and Operations for the Jorge M. Perez Metropolitan Center at Florida International University. “That’s what’s primarily driving prices up: There is higher demand, but the higher demand is not being driven by local conditions.”

Goldberg says the pieces are in place to reverse the longstanding outflow trend.

“It’s like a flywheel,” he said. “First the investors come, then they attract the talent … we’re starting to see all the things we’d been waiting for.”

The region’s new opportunities didn’t come soon enough for Miami native Juan C. Rodriguez. Rodriguez, then a technician, and his wife moved into a townhome in South Dade in 2011, but he had always considered leaving – “not one for clubs, bars, or things like that,” he said via email. Then, one day in 2018, Rodriguez missed his daughter’s softball practice because of the clog of traffic on the Palmetto Expressway.

“I sat that day at home and opened a beer and started to look through pictures,” Rodriguez wrote. “I saw so many pictures my wife had sent me that I realized I was missing some of the best times of [my family’s] lives,” Rodriguez said. “That is when it sunk in, and hit me hard. Get another job or its time to leave the state.”

He ended up finding work at a commercial supplies dealership in Greenville, S.C., where he is a now a director. The family moved in 2019.

“We sold our townhome in Princeton … for $235,000,” he said. “We just purchased a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath on one-acre of property for $239,000. How is that not an easy trade off?”

© 2021 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Few Listings = Bidding Wars Off the Charts

The spring housing market unofficially began over Presidents Day weekend, and NAHB reports that 40% of potential buyers say they’ve been outbid at least once.

NEW YORK – The spring housing market season unofficially began last Presidents Day weekend, but experts warn that an uptick in buyers may lead to more frustrated buyers since bidding wars are off the charts even as home prices continue to skyrocket.

A new National Association of Home Builders survey found that about 40% of potential home buyers haven’t made purchases because they keep getting outbid.

Similar results were recorded by Redfin. In their survey, 56% of buyers faced a bidding war in January 2021, up from 52% in December 2020, and more than half of homes now go under contract in less than two weeks.

Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, expects bidding wars to be even more common in the spring season, and she advises homebuyers to get preapproved for a mortgage and see properties as soon as they hit the market.

Buyers also should know to walk away when a home’s price gets higher than what they’re willing to pay.

The bidding wars come as the market has record low supply and strong demand, driven by the stay-at-home culture of the COVID-19 pandemic and lackluster homebuilding. Record-low mortgage rates only fueled demand even more.

Source: CNBC (02/13/21) Olick, Diana

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Eight Ways to Improve Real Estate Videos

Strong marketing videos take a bit more than hitting a “record” button. Don’t start with self-promotion. The first few minutes should focus only on your customer.

NEW YORK – Videos keep growing in importance as a real estate marketing tool, and agents starting to use the tool should make sure they’re effective. A well-done video can help agents generate more leads and positively engage with clients over time. Ways to enhance and implement videos include:

  1. Have a strong opening. The first few seconds should focus entirely on the client. Agents should display their name and brokerage in a text overlay rather than verbally.
  1. Empathize with a problem or concern the buyer or seller may have. The goal is to find a solution to their real estate needs.
  1. Invest in a good microphone. If an audience can’t hear clearly, they quickly lose interest.
  1. Look directly at the camera most of the time.
  1. Use subtitles. Many viewers like to watch videos with the sound off.
  1. Be professional – and also personal. Most customers want to find a friend who is an expert on the real estate market.
  1. Add a call-to-action in the middle of the video. For the call-to-action, viewers could be encouraged to visit the agent’s blog, watch a related video or subscribe to a channel.
  1. Make sure the video’s backdrop is bright, organized, attractive and non-distracting. Interesting props can also be used.

Source: BHG Real Estate Blog (02/01/21)

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Foreclosure Ban Extended to June – Eviction Ban Unchanged

Pres. Biden signed an Executive Order extending forbearances and banning foreclosures until June 30. However, he did not make changes to the eviction ban ending March 31.

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is extending a ban on housing foreclosures to June 30 to help homeowners struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The moratorium on foreclosures of federally guaranteed mortgages had been set to expire on March 31. On his first day in office, Biden had extended the moratorium from Jan. 31. Census Bureau figures show that almost 12% of homeowners with mortgages were late on their payments.

The White House says coordinated actions announced Tuesday by the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture also will extend to June 30 the enrollment window for borrowers who want to request mortgage payment forbearance – a pause or reduction in payments – and will provide up to six additional months of forbearance for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30 of last year.

The White House says more than 10 million homeowners are behind on mortgage payments and Biden’s actions are to help keep people in their homes amid “a housing affordability crisis” triggered by the pandemic. It says “homeowners will receive urgently needed relief as we face this unprecedented national emergency.”

Biden’s administration says extending forbearance policies “will provide critical support to homeowners of color, who make up a disproportionate share of borrowers” having trouble paying their loans because of hardships related to the pandemic.

The actions announced Tuesday don’t address a federal moratorium through March 31 on evictions of tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

SentriLock Unveils New Home-Showing Service Option

Over a year ago, “our board directed us to develop a solution to address the growing lack of choice in this technology sector, given the natural fit with our current lockbox business,” says Scott Fisher, founder and CEO of SentriLock, a wholly owned NAR subsidiary.

CHICAGO – Many brokers and agents will soon have a new showing-service option. SentriLock LLC, a real estate tech provider, announced that it will launch SentriKey Showing Service for all of its current lockbox customers on March 31, 2020. It will be widely available to all Realtor® associations and multiple listing services (MLSs) later in the year.

The service will be available to all agents and brokers, regardless of which lockbox provider their MLS uses.

SentriLock, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), says it’s been assessing the need for a new product over the past year in light of growing industry consolidation in the showing service space.

“Our board directed us to develop a solution to address the growing lack of choice in this technology sector, given the natural fit with our current lockbox business,” says Scott Fisher, founder and CEO of SentriLock. “With recent industry acquisitions, this validates the decision that a trusted partner is needed more than ever to ensure Realtors have a choice in showing service solutions. We did this with great success in the lockbox space 18 years ago and look forward to extending this approach into showing services.”

Zillow’s announcement Wednesday that it’s acquiring the ShowingTime platform raised concerns for some real estate professionals about the security of their data. SentriKey says its commitment to safeguarding data entered into the system will be just as vigorous as the measures that SentriLock uses to protect clients’ homes.

For those who use SentriLock, the showing system will be accessible via the same secure, easy-to-use mobile app and website that customers already use to open and manage their lockboxes.

Over 350 MLSs and Realtor associations – and over 350,000 users – currently use SentriLock. The new lockbox system will be integrated into the showing scheduling platform, a first for the industry, to create a seamless access experience. According to SentriLock, the new platform leverages artificial intelligence to create a virtual assistant that frees agents from administrative tasks associated with setting up showing appointments.

“Consumers rely on the assistance of a trusted real estate professional to guide them through one of the most complex and consequential transactions of their life, and the development of SentriKey is part of our ongoing effort to ensure our members have the tools they need – best-in-class solutions – when working with buyers and sellers,” says NAR CEO Bob Goldberg. For decades, the embrace of disruption has been a central tenet at NAR. That principle guided not just the creation of Sentrilock but also the founding of, the country’s first listing portal, 25 years ago, Goldberg says.

“Now, of course, free online listings are a foregone conclusion for anyone selling or buying a home,” he adds. “Ultimately, we took a potential disruption and turned it into an opportunity. I’m confident SentriKey will have the same effect.”

Source: National Association of Realtors®

© 2021 Florida Realtors®–YPp0/sentrilock-unveils-new-home-showing-service-option

Some People Rushed to Buy Homes During COVID and Regret It

Rocked by stay-at-home orders and facing a tight home inventory, a few people snapped up houses without fully considering options. Now some have buyer’s remorse.

NEW YORK – Homebuyers shouldn’t rush into a purchase because, unlike expensive jewelry or clothing, homes can’t be returned if they’re unhappy.

However, millions of Americans made home purchases last year during the pandemic that they now regret, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Some left behind small apartments, bought vacation homes, or just wanted a change of scenery during lockdown.

Now, however, some of the people rushing to get out of town are regretting that quick decision.

Many now feel buyers’ remorse or financial strain, or they’re forced to contend with unexpected issues.

“Buying a home is a huge commitment. You have to be thorough,” says Priscilla Holloway, a Douglas Elliman agent in the Hamptons. “But people were getting all crazy, and they weren’t as thorough as they usually are.”

Fran O’Brien, division president of Chubb Personal Risk Services, says Chubb has seen large, non-weather-related losses rise in frequency and severity over the past two years. She attributed these losses partly to hasty home purchases.

“People are moving to places that they don’t know a lot about,” O’Brien says. “They’re thinking, ‘This looks like a nice place to live’ for amenities it may have. They don’t understand what risk there could be with that home.” However, when rushing to buy a home before someone else does, she said, “You run into this lack of awareness and lack of time, which is not a good combination.”

According to HomeAdvisor, Americans performed an average of 1.2 emergency home repairs in 2020, up from 0.4 in 2019, and emergency home spending surged to an average of $1,640, up $124 from the 2019 average.

Source: Wall Street Journal (02/11/21) Taylor, Candace

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Valentine’s Day, Love and Not Enough Money

An annual Love and Money survey found that couples talked more about money during the shutdown, but many conversations focused on delaying a home purchase.

CHERRY HILL, N.J. – TD Bank’s annual Love and Money survey attempted to quantify the impact the pandemic quarantine and economic slowdown had on couples and their finances.

According to the survey, 1 in 10 American couples were furloughed, lost their job or had work hours decreased as a result of COVID-19, forcing them to put off certain financial milestones. Despite a sharp decrease in large purchases, more couples stuck at home had conversations about money. The survey polled 1,709 U.S. individuals who are married, in a committed relationship or divorced.

Of the couples, two out of three (67%) said they’re finding it difficult to achieve certain milestones as a result of the pandemic. Despite the booming real estate market, nearly 1 in 4 couples with jobs impacted by COVID-19 said they had to delay purchasing a home until they feel financially ready. The proportion of millennials putting off a house purchase is seven times that of baby boomers (30% vs. 4%).

Financial hardships and resulting delays are particularly high among millennial couples, who also worry more about repaying their current debt than other generations – 1.5 times more. Millennials also say a lack of time to research (19%) and not knowing the next steps to take as they weather a newfound financial hardship (17%) are additional barriers to reaching financial goals.

Despite financial issues, though, more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans are very or extremely happy in their relationships, and 52% say they’ve found it easier to talk about money with their partner. In the 2019 survey, 13% of respondents said they keep financial secrets from their partner; in 2020, it dropped to 11%.

“Even with the clear financial setbacks imposed upon Americans by COVID-19, we’re seeing money conversations increasing among couples, and the stigma around discussing finances diminishing,” says Mike Kinane, head of consumer deposits, products and payments at TD Bank. “This silver lining creates a unique opportunity to educate couples about managing their money in the short-term, and how they can maintain an open dialogue about finances.”

Agree to disagree?

While American couples are talking about money more – 86% say they do so at least monthly – the discussions aren’t always positive. Among those discussing finances every month, 30% admit to financial arguments.

Prioritizing costs seems to be a particular point of tension: 44% of couples admit to disagreements about which expenses are “needs” and which are “wants,” with baby boomers more likely to agree (62%) and millennials (50%) least likely to agree.

Another sensitive topic: The perception of financial ownership within relationships. While 62% of men claim their household’s everyday financial decision-making is shared between them and their partner, 61% of women claim they’re the sole decision-makers, indicating a lack of alignment on who’s “in charge.”

Future expectations: Cautiously optimistic

Most Americans are staying optimistic, with 75% of those with a job impacted by the pandemic saying their financial confidence hasn’t declined. In fact, two out of five (39%) expect to bounce back from financial disruption within a year.

When asked about financial fears, 19% don’t have any – another sign that Americans seem to remain financially confident. Among other fears, 17% feared not being able to retire (significantly higher among baby boomers at 28%) and 11% about not being able to provide for their family.

While many remain confident, it’s likely because they acted quickly to curb spending in the early days of the pandemic.

More than half of all American couples say they quickly cut their budgets and spending habits to offset the impact of the pandemic: 58% reduced spending on nonessential items, 43% cancelled travel plans and 36% delayed larger purchases – unless you’re a millennial. Of that generation, 25% of couples engaged in excessive or frivolous spending behavior over the course of the year, further contributing to their financial setbacks.

“Aligning on a set of goals – especially around sensitive subjects like money – can be challenging when people have differing priorities and perceptions, but the pandemic has made many of these conversations unavoidable for couples and families who have been impacted with job loss or reduced earnings,” says Kinane. “Couples can use today’s financial challenges as a catalyst to discuss near- and long-term financial goals. While debt and bills may have been hard to talk about before, the pandemic has made it easier – and necessary – to have an open conversation on these topics.”

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

NAHB: Lumber Prices Rose More than 170% in 10 Months

Builders want a Commerce Dept. investigation to find out why lumber production is so low – and they say new-home appraisers fail to factor it into their valuations.

WASHINGTON – Soaring lumber prices add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home, pricing out millions of potential homebuyers and impeding the residential construction sector from moving the economy forward, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

“According to Random Lengths, the price of lumber hit a record high this week and is up more than 170% over the past 10 months,” says NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke, a custom home builder from Tampa. “NAHB is urging President Biden and Congress to help mitigate this growing threat to housing and the economy by urging domestic lumber producers to ramp up production to ease growing shortages, and to make it a priority to end tariffs on Canadian lumber shipments into the U.S. that are exacerbating unprecedented price volatility in the lumber market.”

Lumber price spikes aren’t only sidelining buyers during a period of high demand, they’re also causing sales to fall through and forcing builders to put projects on hold at a time when the inventory of for-sale homes has hit a record low.

“The increase in lumber prices is forcing our company to delay construction starts, which will only exacerbate the lack of supply in our market,” says NAHB First Vice Chairman Jerry Konter.

Alicia Huey, a high-end custom home builder and second vice chairman of NAHB, says the price of her lumber framing package on an identically-sized home has more than doubled over the past year from $35,000 to $71,000.

“This increase has definitely hurt my business,” she says. “I’ve had to absorb much of this added cost and even put some construction on hold because I would be losing money by moving forward.”

“Appraisers are not taking rising lumber costs into account, which is disrupting home sales and preventing closings,” added NAHB Third Vice Chairman Carl Harris, a custom builder from Wichita, Kan.

NAHB has complained about rising lumber prices for a while, but the latest release is the strongest stance so far.

“Clearly these price increases are unsustainable, particularly in light of a continued housing affordability crisis,” says Fowke. “Given this ongoing period of high demand, the Commerce Department should be investigating why output from lumber producers and lumber mills are at such low levels.”

Housing has been an economic bright spot amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for new homes has been cited by almost every housing industry expert, including the National Association of Realtors®’ Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. But the building industry’s potential to lead the economy forward is limited if lumber remains expensive and scarce.

A recent survey of NAHB members found that 96% cite inconsistent access to building materials their most urgent concern, and, in turn, supply shortages lead to higher prices.

In addition to lumber, the price of oriented strand board has more than tripled since last April.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

Buyers: Don’t Track Mortgage Rates, Track APRs

Smart buyers compare mortgage rates from multiple lenders, but the APR (annual percentage rate, which includes fees) is a better gauge of costs over time.

NEW YORK – At their current historic lows, mortgage rates provide serious savings to both home shoppers and refinancers. But a low mortgage rate is only the start. Each loan’s annual percentage rate needs to be considered to take into account upfront fees and other costs, financial experts say.

Once the additional fees are factored in, for example, a buyer with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of 2.9% may actually be paying 3.1%, according to financial site NextAdvisor.

“The annual percentage rate is always confusing … it’s a broader measure of the cost of borrowing money than the interest rate,” Linda Knowlton, president of the Florida Association of Mortgage Professionals, told NextAdvisor.

Mortgages have upfront costs that are not included in the loan’s interest rate. The cited mortgage rate is the percentage of what a buyer is paying to borrow money. However, the APR factors in the interest rate and fees such as closing costs, including underwriting fees and loan processing fees. Both of these rates are expressed as a percentage.

The APR fees you pay to get a loan vary from state to state and from lender to lender, Knowlton said. Two mortgages can have the same interest rate yet drastically different APRs.

But a buyer shouldn’t shop for a mortgage based solely on APR because that doesn’t take into account how long they plan to keep the loan and stay in the home – and those factors can influence the terms, financial experts say.

“Looking at a loan’s interest rate or APR can help you analyze different mortgages,” NextAdvisor notes in its article. “But you can’t stop there because there are factors that those numbers don’t take into consideration.”

In some cases, it’s not worth refinancing at all if an owner plans to stay in the home for only a couple years.

Source: “One Thing to Remember When You’re Shopping for Mortgage Rates, According to Experts,” NextAdvisor/TIME (Feb. 5, 2021)

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Condo Q&A: Special Assessment Required for Needed Repairs?

Also: A board wants to fine an owner $10,000 for violating the governing documents, which seems like a lot. Does any law or rule cap the amount of fines?

STUART, Fla. – Question: Our condominium association (I am on the board) already included a line item in this year’s annual budget for a new roof for one of the condominium buildings. However, the roof is in desperate need of replacement and we want to have it replaced immediately.

We cannot wait until all of the assessments are collected throughout the rest of this year to have the work done. What are our options to get the roof replaced now? Could we pass a special assessment and then reduce the monthly assessments for the remainder of the year? – D.G., Vero Beach

Answer: Assuming that your association included the roof replacement as a line item this year for the full amount of the roof replacement – due to the seemingly immediate need for it – and the roof replacement was not just included in the reserves, you cannot pass a special assessment for the same expense, as then you would be collecting twice as much as is necessary by the time you collected all of the regular assessments for the year.

However, you do have some other options. One option is if the association has segregated reserves for other items unrelated to the roof, the association may use the money in the reserves for other purposes. But in order to do so, you will need to get the approval of a majority of the members who attend a meeting of the members where quorum is attained.

A second option is that if the association has pooled reserves and there are reserves for the roof included therein, the association may use the full amount of those reserves for the roof without the need for a vote of the owners.

As a third option, the association can also try to obtain a loan to cover the up-front cost and then pay it back over time using the regular assessments that will be collected for the roof as stated in the budget.

Note that you may need to include additional monies in next year’s budget or pass a small special assessment to cover the costs of obtaining the loan and any interest that accrues against the money that is borrowed.

You will first need to check your governing documents to determine whether a vote of the membership is required in order to borrow money. If there are no restrictions requiring a vote of the membership, the board is permitted to borrow money with a vote of the board.

Question: My association’s board wants to fine an owner $10,000 for a violation of the governing documents. Is there any law or rule that caps the amount of a fine? – G.S., Stuart

Answer: If your association is a condominium, then a $10,000 fine is prohibited by 718.303 Florida statue which limits the maximum fine that the association can levy to $100 per violation and up to $1,000 in the aggregate for a continuing violation.

However, based on the context of your question, I am assuming that your association is an HOA. In that case, then 720.305 Florida Statute provides that, “a fine may not exceed $1,000 in the aggregate unless otherwise provided in the governing documents.”

If your association’s governing documents give the association the authority to levy fines larger than $1,000, that does not necessarily mean that the association can issue exorbitant fines in any amount they please. The aforementioned statute still requires that the amount of the fine must be reasonable, so the question is whether a $10,000 fine is reasonable under the circumstances in this case. Note that large fines like what you mention have been approved as reasonable by Florida courts in the past.

Many factors are considered by the court, such as home values and consistency of the association in applying such fines among other factors. On the other hand, courts have also struck down fines in lower amounts if they determined that the amount was arbitrary or capricious, or that the association was selectively applying such large fines against only some of the owners but not others.

Whether or not a $10,000 fine is reasonable for your association will require more facts as outlined above, so we recommend that you discuss this issue with a Florida licensed attorney who practices community association law.

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.

© 2021 Journal Media Group. Avi S. Tryson, Esq., is partner of the Law Firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross.

USA Today: Small States Getting More Rent Assistance Money

NEW YORK – Starr Lewis’ aunt and great-uncle both died from COVID-19 at the New Orleans hospital where she worked as a cook. Lewis, 27, kept going to work as others in the kitchen, too, fell prey to the coronavirus. Soon, the hospital started cutting her hours. By April, she was out of a job. Bills piled on. She fell behind on rent and utilities.

Even many months later, she still hasn’t been able to catch up.

“I’m a person that used to pay her rent on time,” said Lewis, who said she scours the internet all night looking for jobs. “It’s been hard on me because I can’t find help.”

Like Lewis, nearly 40 million Americans behind on rent and threatened with eviction have been waiting on federal aid for nearly a year. Many believed help was on the way Dec. 21 after Congress passed $25 billion in rental assistance that was supposed to pay rental arrears – in some cases covering up to 12 months of back rent.

But the Emergency Assistance Rental Program won’t benefit all Americans equally, according to a USA TODAY analysis. The government payments will overwhelmingly benefit Americans living in less populated states even though most Americans and most Americans affected by the pandemic and the recession live in the most populated states.

Part of the problem is there wasn’t enough rental assistance to go around in the first place. Then the government decided to calculate aid dollars for medium and large states according to the total population, while giving less populated states a set amount. That means renters living in states like New York, California and Massachusetts – home to some of the most expensive cities in the country – will come up short. Renters in less populated states like Vermont and Wyoming will get more money.

A USA TODAY analysis of rental allocation to all 50 states found Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming will receive substantially more money per eligible renter than other states. Vermont and Wyoming each received more than $2,600 per renter compared with the national average of $837. At $3.8 billion, heavily populated states New York and California got the highest amount of total aid overall but the least in per-renter funding: $378.76 and $443.56 respectively.

Even with the most optimistic calculations, these amounts won’t cover enormous gaps in arrears for renters, a majority of whom are ages 40 to 54 and live in the Northeast, the South or California, according to a report by Moody’s Analytics, a New York-based financial research firm: 61% of renters in California and 55% of renters in New York are people of color, according to U.S. census data.

“The typical delinquent renter will be almost four months and $5,600 behind on their monthly rent and utilities, with another $50 per month of late-payment penalties,” wrote chief economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics.

In all, Americans need $57 billion to pay off their back rent, about $32 billion short of the aid sent to states. The package Congress passed, according to Moody’s analysis, will be able to help only about 3.5 million renters pay back rent and utilities.

“A more precise formula would better target resources to communities with the greatest needs if it were based on the number of cost-burdened and low-income renters,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to ending America’s affordable-housing crisis.

Yaeko Scott, 48, a New Orleans hotel housekeeper, was laid off in October and owes $4,100 in rent and utilities. Louisiana received $308 million to bail out renters like Scott. That’s about $514 per renter.

“It’s too big of a gap,” Scott said. “My landlord will take the $500, but they are still going to want me to move out.”

Why the disparity?

Part of the disparity in state allocations occurred because Congress decided to set a minimum of $200 million to make sure less populated states would have enough money. But because the money wasn’t divided evenly, these states got more than their fair share.

Analysts and advocates call the practice the “small-state minimum” or “small-state bias.”

“The small-state minimum isn’t really based on need,” said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. “It’s a standard practice on virtually every formula for the distribution of money I have ever seen at the federal government level.”

“A formula not dialed in specifically to help families that owe back rent will be disastrous,” said Michael Anderson, director of the Housing Trust Fund Project at Community Change, a national civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

To receive federal rental assistance, renters need to qualify for unemployment or have had their income reduced because of COVID-19. They also need to have a household income at or below 80% of the area median income. Households that fall below 50% of the area median income should be at the front of the line, according to Treasury Department guidelines.

In California, renters must earn less than $60,188 to qualify versus $51,239 in Wyoming, according to USA TODAY’s calculations based on state median incomes reported by the Census Bureau.

The problem is that cost of living varies dramatically, as do homeownership rates.

The median gross rent in Wyoming is $855 compared to $1,550 in California. The national median rent is $1,062.

More than 70% of Wyoming residents are homeowners, compared with 54% of Californians. The national homeownership average is 64%. But for many people of color, homeownership rates lag behind the national average by at least 20 percentage points. Black Americans have a homeownership rate of 41% compared with 45% for Latino Americans and 53% for Asian Americans.

The Treasury Department did not respond to USA TODAY’s multiple requests for comment.

Neither the office of Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio nor Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania returned USA TODAY’s questions about why allocations failed to factor in need as opposed to population size. Both senators are in leadership positions on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and voted in favor of the stimulus. Brown pushed for rental assistance in the stimulus package in December.

“Finally families, small businesses, and communities will get much-needed help,” Brown said in a statement released shortly after Congress agreed to include the $25 billion in rental assistance last year. “This long-overdue compromise provides urgent relief to Americans suffering as a result of this health and economic crisis.”

Failure from both sides

COVID-19 and the economic downturn it has unleashed has disproportionately hit low-income Americans, especially those of color, who tend to live in large, densely populated urban centers and have died at record rates.

Less populated states tend to have a white majority population.

Of the top 10 states receiving the most rental assistance per renter household, more than half have a white population of more than 80%, the USA TODAY analysis found.

And the top 10 states with the largest white populations in the country – Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Idaho, Wyoming, Iowa, Utah, Montana and Nebraska – are among the 20 states receiving the most rental assistance per renter.

Peter Hepburn, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University in New Jersey and research fellow at the Eviction Lab, which tracks eviction filings nationwide, said there will be enough money in less populated states to make many people whole, but the bias in allocation inherently forces states with higher renter populations to perpetuate racial inequities.

“Larger states are going to be forced to make hard choices,” said Hepburn. “When you have to choose between winners and losers, it’s always communities of color that suffer.”

“There’s this failure to recognize how serious this is,” said Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, a community-led advocacy group out of New Orleans.

“These programs, even when administered by African Americans, even when managed by Democrats, even when designed by progressives, fail to meet the mark,” Morris said.

She added, “They are not breaking down the systemic biases.”

Copyright 2021,, USA TODAY

Lack of Black Neighbors Leads to Fair Housing Act Lawsuit

DETROIT – A trio of Detroit residents – two white and one Asian American – say they’ve been denied the opportunity to live in a racially integrated community, and they’ve filed a lawsuit over it.

A suit like theirs is uncommon but not unheard of, legal experts say. The standard of proof plaintiffs must present in such a case is high, experts say, and it’s hard to say how it will do in court.

Last summer, 16 residents in part of the Islandview neighborhood, near West Village and Belle Isle, met to talk about ways to support one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. They realized nearly all of the residents gathered were white, except for one person who was Asian American. And that was part of a bigger problem in their neighborhood, they say.

“We are white folks in a majority Black neighborhood,” said plaintiff Jo Messer, a member of the Villages Property Tenants Union and the only current tenant in the suit. Two other plaintiffs are former renters.

They say they tried to meet with their landlords to discuss some of their concerns but were denied. It culminated into a lawsuit filed last month in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Michigan, where the plaintiffs allege that defendants discriminated against Black renters by not leasing homes to them and refusing to make repairs.

There are no Black plaintiffs in the suit.

Among their allegations: Nearly all of the 24 units in a Jefferson Avenue complex are occupied by white tenants and defendants didn’t lease homes on Townsend and Beals Street shown to Black prospective tenants.

The complaint also alleges that a Black family needed repairs in their home, and withheld rent for two months in an effort to get those repairs. They eventually moved out. Landlords brought an eviction action against the former tenant and a $6,000 money judgment, according to the lawsuit and Detroit court records. In a text message to the Free Press, the former tenant declined to comment.

Non-Black tenants have requested repairs that were made and withheld rent without eviction actions, plaintiffs allege.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include three companies and their co-owners, Alex DeCamp and Reimer Priester.

Villages Property Management “firmly denies” the plaintiffs’ allegations, said Dan Austin, a spokesperson for DeCamp and Priester, in a statement last month.

“Any allegations regarding race-based discrimination are outrageous, offensive and wholly untrue. At no time has any applicant ever been denied based on the color of his or her skin, nor has (Village Property Management) ever made decisions regarding repairs or evictions based on the color of a tenant’s skin,” he said.

Of Village Property Management’s 35 long-term units, seven – or 20% – are currently rented by Black people, Austin said.

“Though they wish that number were higher, saying they discriminate against Black people is not only an offensive accusation but a demonstrably untrue one,” he said, adding that the person who runs the day-to-day operations, handles property tours and is in charge of the rental application and approval process, is Black.

“VPM has never had the intent or desire to change the racial demographic of the neighborhood or to displace Black families,” Austin said. “Their goal has simply been to restore vacant properties and be a positive impact in neighborhoods for all Detroiters.”

Toyia Watts, president of the Charlevoix Village Association, is a lifelong Detroiter who lives in her family’s Islandview home. She said her neighborhood is changing and it’s happening right before her eyes.

The plaintiffs are taking a “stance,” Watts said about the lawsuit, and it’s not about their race because “right is right” and “wrong is wrong.”

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act and “unlawfully deprived” them of the “social and professional benefits of living in a racially integrated society,” according to the court filing.

“Many people do not know that the (Fair Housing Act) has two goals,” Brian Gilmore, director of the Housing Clinic at Michigan State University’s College of Law, said in an email. “One is stopping discrimination in housing but the other lesser-known goal and often avoided goal is promotion of a diverse society, in this instance, a racially diverse community.”

He pointed to a 1972 case where white plaintiffs sued, alleging that they were denied the opportunity to reside in a diverse community, and the Supreme Court ruled they had standing, broadening the scope of who can allege housing discrimination.

“If you ask me, the fact that white Americans are getting involved on this level is needed much more in these cases and I welcome it,” he said.

Still, Gilmore said the standard of proof is high and that it is hard to say how successful these types of cases are because most settle or the parties reach an agreement to resolve their issues.

Steve Tomkowiak, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, said in an email that the plaintiffs must show they lost the benefits of living in an integrated community.

“The plaintiffs will need to prove that the actions of defendants sought to transform their neighborhood into an all-white or predominantly white community,” Tomkowiak said.

© 2021 the Detroit Free Press, Nushrat Rahman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The Big Foreclosure Story? There Aren’t Many – Yet

ATTOM: In Jan. 2021, Fla. foreclosures were down 83% year-to-year, in part due to the foreclosure moratorium, which “doesn’t reflect market reality.”

IRVINE, Calif. – ATTOM Data Solutions’ January 2021 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report found a total of 9,702 U.S. properties with foreclosure filings – default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions – a drop from 11% from a month earlier and 80% from a year ago.

In Florida, the number of REO properties was down 83% year-to-year in January.

 “January foreclosure activity declined at least in part due to the Biden Administration’s decision to continue the foreclosure moratorium on government-backed loans through the end of March,” says Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac executive vice president. “The moratorium and CARES Act mortgage forbearance program have effectively prevented millions of seriously delinquent loans from entering the foreclosure process.”

But Sharga adds that the current numbers don’t “reflect market reality – and that’s something we’ll need to deal with once these government programs expire.”

In the final half of the Great Recession, many homes went into foreclosure, but many also had no equity – or negative equity. In the current pandemic-led downturn, housing values have hit record highs, and many homeowners who can’t make their monthly payments or refinance may still have equity in their homes. In those cases, they might prefer a short sale rather than a foreclosure if they can’t work out an agreement with their lender.

Even as foreclosures bottom out, however, Florida remains one of the top states for activity. According to ATTOM, the states with the highest foreclosure rates were Delaware (one in every 4,923 housing units had a foreclosure filing), Louisiana (one in every 6,581 housing units), Florida (one in every 7,920 housing units), Indiana (one in every 8,668 housing units) and Alabama (one in every 8,707 housing units).

 Miami also made the list for “major metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with a population greater than 200,000 that saw the greatest number of REOs,” even though the numbers aren’t high. The list includes Birmingham, Alabama (124 REOs); Chicago (65 REOs); Baltimore, (41 REOs); Miami (40 REOs); and Beaumont, Texas (38 REOs).

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

Florida Legislature: Vacation Rental Fight Revs Up Again

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A years-long effort to block local governments from regulating vacation rentals is on the move again, as House and Senate leaders revive a proposal to prevent cities and counties from inspecting and licensing properties offered on platforms such as Airbnb.

In a 10-7 vote on Wednesday, the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee gave an initial nod to the latest iteration of the proposal (HB 219).

While the legislation has morphed over the past few years, the controversy over the issue has remained consistent, and it’s a top priority for Florida Realtors heading into the 2021 session of the Florida Legislature.

“It’s always been a fun bill to present in committees,” Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican who has shepherded the proposal in recent years, joked as he introduced the bill to the panel on Wednesday.

The measure would, for the first time, require online platforms such as Airbnb to collect and remit taxes on vacation rental properties, ensure that only properly licensed rentals are advertised and provide the state with specific information about the rentals.

In exchange, regulation would be “preempted” to the state. Local governments could regulate the rentals as long as those regulations apply uniformly to all properties in neighborhoods, a restriction that cities and counties strenuously oppose.

Florida already bans local governments from passing ordinances to outlaw vacation rentals, but many local municipalities are adopting regulations that make it difficult to rent properties on a short-term basis.

While acknowledging that his bill faces opposition, Fischer argued that the changes are necessary.

“The current way vacation rentals are handled isn’t working. Nobody’s, I think, really happy about the current state of things,” he said, adding that his proposal would “fix the dysfunction of the regulatory scheme across the state of Florida.”

Vacation-rental preemption has become a perennial fight for local officials and property owners in some high-end neighborhoods who complain about noise, parking and trash issues stemming from “party houses” owned by non-resident investors or unidentifiable businesses.

“It’s like déjà vu all over again. I’m sure you all are just as tired of us coming up here as we are,” Indian River County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan told the House panel.

The proposal would do away with ordinances regulating short-term rentals adopted after June 1, 2011, which opponents said would be problematic for areas that worked to develop local regulations since then.

“The problem with vacation rentals is, it’s not the activity. It’s the frequency and duration of it,” O’Bryan said. “If you preempt us back to 2011, you’re going to wipe out all of these communities where we have sat down with the industry, we have done the right thing, and we have an ordinance that’s working.”

Democratic lawmakers also said the proposal would worsen the state’s dearth of affordable housing.

But Fischer said “a fundamental principle in America is private-property rights” and that people who want to use properties as affordable housing can do so if they choose.

“They have by right the ability to go and purchase those properties and develop them in a way that they think will meet their policy objective,” he said.

Fischer’s bill was amended Wednesday to include a provision that would limit sex offenders from staying in vacation rentals for more than 24 hours. Florida law restricts sex offenders from staying at hotels for more than three days. The amended proposal also included a carve-out for the Florida Keys.

Arguing against the proposal, Rep. Mike Grieco called short-term rentals a “commercial operation” that should be regulated differently than residences.

“You’re essentially turning, a lot of times, a single-family home into a perpetual kind of mini-hotel,” Grieco, a Miami Beach Democrat who is an attorney, said.

The hotel industry, which for years sought to have vacation rentals governed in the same manner as other lodging establishments, is split on the proposal. Lisa Lombardi, chief people and culture officer of HDG Hotels, told House members Wednesday that the bill “has a lot of potential to make sure that we can all recognize who is in our state providing lodging of any form.”

But Lombardi said her group, which operates 19 hotels in Florida, wants fines for non-compliance and auditing requirements added to the measure. “As it currently stands, there’s room for improvement,” said Lombardi, who serves on the board of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Carol Dover, president and CEO of the association, told The News Service of Florida that her organization supports the plan.

But Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said his group isn’t behind the proposal.

“Florida is unique in how it regulates hotels, and we’re appreciative of that and in no way are we suggesting that that should be changed,” Rogers said in a recent phone interview. “The dividing issue that we have … is the preemption of what really amounts to zoning. No other business gets this type of preemption. It’s unheard of anywhere else in the country where a local city can’t enforce its own zoning on properties.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, made the vacation-rentals issue a priority before he took over as the Senate’s leader in November.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, put the kibosh on a similar plan during last year’s legislative session.

In a vehement display, busloads of homeowners from across Florida traveled to Tallahassee last year to decry the proposal, pointing to a Pandora’s box of woes arising from party houses.

But other property owners told lawmakers they rely on earnings from short-term rentals to supplement their retirement income, allow them to work from home or as an investment for their golden years.

DeSantis told reporters last February that he hadn’t made up his mind but that he was “leaning against” the legislative efforts. “We have 22 million people almost. We are a very diverse state. For us to be micromanaging vacation rentals, I am not sure that is the right thing to do,” DeSantis said at the time.

Source: News Service of Florida

Floridians Have Voluntarily Taxed Themselves $10.8B

Florida TaxWatch: Since 2010, Fla. voters have voluntarily passed 142 local tax referenda and new bond issues, often increasing their own sales taxes or property taxes.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida TaxWatch today released its latest report, A Decade of Self-Taxing. It provides an overview of the $10.8 billion in local taxes and bond issues that voters have approved since 2010.

Overall, Floridians have voted in favor of local tax referenda a total of 142 times – worth $4.8 billion annually – while also passing $6 billion in new bond issues in the last decade.

“The findings contained in this report indicate that Florida voters want to be directly involved in local decision-making and ensure their hard-earned money is being put to good use in their communities,” says Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro “They have repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to increase their own taxes if they believe it will fund critical government services and generate an excellent return on investment, but the voters must ensure that local officials are held accountable for these billions of dollars in spending.”

Report findings

 Since 2010, Floridians have considered 189 tax referenda, and passed three out of four (75.1%). Bonds fared slightly better. During the same timeframe, voters approved 77.4% of the 93 referenda to authorize local governments to issue debt.

When examined in terms of potential dollars approved, both tax and bond referenda did even better than measured as a percentage of the number approved. For taxes, 78.4% of the $6.2 billion in total tax increases proposed were approved. Of the $6.7 billion in bond proposals, 89.6% passed.

Most of the tax increases fall into two major categories – local option sales taxes and ad valorem (property tax) levies for schools, which require referenda by state law. Local governments also occasionally let voters decide on property taxes for other issues, including conservation and environmental land purchases, children’s services, libraries, cultural and historic projects, and even mosquito control and animal services.

 © 2021 Florida Realtors®

NAHB’s ‘Biggest Remodel of 2021’ Is in Winter Haven

Builders picked a lakeside 1973 home as their “2021 New American Remodel.” In a major redo, the home gained higher ceilings and grew 1,400 square feet.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – As remodeling surged during the pandemic, the International Builders’ Show unveiled a supersized renovation of a 1973 home. The lakeside house in Winter Haven, Fla., became the pick for the 2021 New American Remodel, one of the show homes on display at the virtual IBS conference this week that spotlights the latest home improvement trends and building innovations.

The home received a big overhaul of its original 4,081-square-foot, five-level space. Builders added 1,400 square feet and reduced the layout to four floors while lifting ceiling heights. The home contains six bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths, and a fully furnished cabana and outdoor entertaining area with a lanai.

Some of the biggest updates to the nearly 50-year-old home include raising its ceilings to let in more light, adding ultra-energy-efficient appliances, and creating a more seamless connection between the outdoor and indoor spaces. The home now features a nearly all-glass front with windows and sliding doors that enhance views, as well as gathering spots throughout the home’s multiple balconies. The home’s original solid railings were swapped out for all-glass fronts to prevent blocking outdoor views.

Mindful of the views from the inside, Rob Smith, owner of E2 Homes – which executed the remodel – said his company opted against bulky kitchen lighting. Instead, the company used LED strip lights embedded in the drywall to minimize the visual impact.

Smith said the home, prior to the renovation work, was one of the worst energy performers of New American Remodel show homes ever selected. So, E2 Homes added numerous energy-efficient windows and appliances, insulation, smart-home tech products, solar panels and a tighter building envelope to improve the home’s energy performance and indoor air quality.

Smith said one of the biggest remodeling trends, which the home showcases, is a more seamless connection to the outdoors. The use of folding glass doors serves as a way to open up indoor space to the outside.

The home features several entertainment spots throughout, including a new pool, splash pad, hot tub, shallow beach area, an outdoor kitchen and green space.

A video tour of the New American Remodel is available online.

Source: National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

HUD Prohibits Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Discrimination

HUD now considers sexual orientation and gender identity to be protected classes under the Fair Housing Act, calling its change “the correct reading of the law.”

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) made the announcement in a memorandum, which says HUD interprets the Fair Housing Act to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and direct HUD offices and recipients of HUD funds to enforce the Act accordingly.

The memorandum implements policy in President Biden’s Executive Order 13988 on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, which directed executive branch agencies to examine further steps that could be taken to combat such discrimination.

HUD “will fully enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” says Acting Assistant Secretary of FHEO, Jeanine M. Worden. “Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”

Why the change?

In making the announcement, HUD said that “a number of housing discrimination studies … indicate that same-sex couples and transgender persons in communities across the country experience demonstrably less favorable treatment than their straight and cisgender counterparts when seeking rental housing.” However, it’s been “constrained” due to legal uncertainty about whether this type of discrimination was “within HUD’s reach.”

HUD says it legally believes the Fair Housing Act covers LGBTQ and transgender discrimination because it’s “comparable in text and purpose to those of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars sex discrimination in the workplace.” While the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the Fair Housing Act, it did hear a court case (Bostock v Clayton County) about the Civil Rights Act and ruled that workplace prohibitions on sex discrimination include discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.

HUD says it’s extending that ruling to Fair Housing Act protections.

“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act to combat housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the correct reading of the law after Bostock,” says HUD Principal Deputy General Counsel Damon Y. Smith. “We are simply saying that the same discrimination that the Supreme Court has said is illegal in the workplace is also illegal in the housing market.”

Planned enforcement actions

The memorandum directs actions by HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and HUD-funded fair housing partners to enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Specifically, the memorandum directs the following:

  • HUD will accept and investigate all jurisdictional complaints of sex discrimination, including discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation, and enforce the Fair Housing Act where it finds discrimination occurred.
  • HUD will conduct all activities involving the application, interpretation and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination consistent with its conclusion that it includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • State and local jurisdictions funded by HUD’s Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) that enforce the Fair Housing Act through their HUD-certified substantially equivalent laws must prohibit discrimination because of gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Organizations and agencies that receive grants through the Department’s Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) must also prevent and combat discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity in HUD-funded activities.
  • FHEO Regional Offices, FHAP agencies and FHIP grantees are instructed to review, within 30 days, all records of allegations (inquiries, complaints, phone logs, etc.) received since Jan. 20, 2020, and notify anyone alleging discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation that their claims may be “timely and jurisdictional for filing under this memorandum.”

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

Investors See Best ROI in Medical Facilities, Opportunity Zones

Millionacres, a Motley Fool service, surveyed readers to determine their 2021 investment expectations. Medical topped the list, followed by industrial and self-storage.

NEW YORK – What will the real estate investment market look like this year? Millionacres, a Motley Fool news service, surveyed 250 of its readers and real estate investing experts to learn their 2021 predictions.

They found investors particularly bullish on medical buildings, with 39% of survey respondents saying such facilities will become the hottest type of commercial real estate property this year. Industrial followed at 32% and self-storage properties at 18%. But due to the pandemic, investors continue to express concerns about the office and retail sectors.

“The pandemic is de-emphasizing the unnecessary conventional office model, and there will be an increasing number of people realizing they don’t have to live in crowded cities to be gainfully employed and can have a better quality of life elsewhere,” said one survey respondent.

Still, investors believe that retail properties will slowly bounce back as the pandemic comes under control. As of Nov. 30, 2020, an estimated 8,379 stores closed during the year, according to Coresight Research. Analyst Maurie Backman told Millionacres that mall operators are struggling as they lose tenants and anchor department stores.

She offers an idea to spark more foot traffic from shoppers: walk-in health care clinics and diagnostic centers. “It may be a little unconventional to sandwich a doctor’s office between a clothing store and an accessory shop,” Backman said. “But if it brings in the revenue malls need, so be it.”

Opportunity zones could be another area ripe for growth with investors in 2021, according to the survey. While only 16% of survey respondents said they’ll definitely invest in an opportunity zone in 2021, 40% said they’ll consider it.

Analyst Tyler Crowe told Millionacres that holding periods of at least 10 years, which would enable investors to ride out market volatility, could make opportunity zones more appealing. He added that all investments are seeing a lower rate of return during the pandemic, so the standard rate of return for opportunity zones may be more appealing to investors.

“There are still monumental tax benefits for real estate investors in qualified opportunity zones, but investors should still look for quality deals with proven developers rather than chase a risky bet simply for the tax advantages,” Crowe says.

Other findings from Millionacres’ 2021 investment survey:

  • Venture capital opportunities – particularly around real estate technology – could be big.
  • 40% of investors believe housing prices will remain high.
  • Urban rents likely won’t return to pre-pandemic levels this year, 73% of survey respondents say.

Source: “Real Estate Investing in 2021: Predictions From Investors and Experts,” (Jan. 22, 2021)

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Ex-Urbanites Bring Rude Awakening to Quiet Suburbs

Some city dwellers who left during the pandemic brought the city with them, causing a few suburbanites to say their new neighbors are noisy and seemingly awake 24/7.

NEW YORK – Former urban dwellers who have fled to quieter, smaller towns during the pandemic may find resistance to their big-city lifestyles among their new neighbors. An estimated 5% of New York’s population – more than 300,000 people – moved to the suburbs over the last year, according to U.S. Postal Service data.

Olga Avdaev, a resident of New York suburb Rockaway, N.J., told the New York Post about her new neighbors arriving from the Big Apple: “They seem to have a different life understanding: That living in New Jersey is just like living in the city – the constant noise, hosting friends until the wee hours of night. I used to live in the city. I know the mentality. But after living so long in the suburbs, you become neighborly. They are not there yet.”

Similar complaints are growing. Many new suburbanites may not be in tune with the slower, more neighborly vibe of suburban life, taking on noisy remodeling projects that irk their neighbors, letting their dogs relieve themselves on neighbors’ lawns, and hosting loud late-night parties – despite the health risks of doing so.

Noise violations are becoming more common in suburban communities, and real estate pros are sometimes caught in the middle, having to set expectations that buyers from urban areas may not be used to.

“Whether it be construction early in the morning or late-night music – it’s just unacceptable,” says Alison Bernstein, founder and president of The Suburban Jungle, a real estate advisory and tech firm. “Understanding your family’s personality and planning accordingly will give you a greater shot at having successful relations with your neighbors. If you’re a family of six who likes to stay up late with two barking dogs, you may want to think about living where there is space and separation.”

But suburban residents can’t be too irritated with incoming ex-urbanites: They’re helping drive suburban home prices to new highs, which is good for current homeowners who may sell in the future.

Suburban home prices in some locales in New Jersey and New York alone have jumped between 35% and 45% as a result of urban flight during the pandemic, according to data.

Source: “Obnoxious New Yorkers Who Fled to Suburbs Are Driving Neighbors Nuts,” New York Post (Feb. 4, 2021)

© Copyright 2021 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

4Q 2020 Housing Affordability: No Change but Challenges Loom

The NAHB/Wells Fargo index found that lower interest rates offset rising home prices in the latest quarter – but that will change if mortgage rates start to rise.

WASHINGTON – Record-low mortgage rates offset record-high home prices to keep housing affordability steady in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI).

Though affordability rates held firm, regulatory and supply-side challenges threaten to aggravate new-home affordability problems in the year ahead, and a rise in average mortgage rates could change the equation. However, a general move to the suburbs could do the opposite and help make overall housing more affordable.

In all, 58.3% of new and existing homes sold between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 were affordable to families earning an adjusted U.S. median income of $72,900, which is unchanged from the 58.3% of homes sold in the third quarter of 2020 that were affordable to median-income earners. The third quarter reading the lowest since the fourth quarter of 2018.

“While historically low mortgage rates are helping on the affordability front, there was a significant jump in year-over-year home pricing from 2020 to 2019, as inventory remained lean due to supply chain issues and the COVID-19 pandemic,” says NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke, a custom home builder from Tampa. “Moreover, lumber prices remain extremely high, and builders anticipate that regulatory costs are likely to rise, which will put even more upward pressure on home prices.”

“Looking forward, interest rates are likely to rise as the pace of vaccines increase and economic activity climbs back to more normal levels,” adds NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “One trend that will help counterbalance growing affordability concerns is the suburban shift in home sales and construction to smaller markets. An increase in telecommuting is providing more ‘market power’ to prospective buyers, allowing them to live in lower cost, lower density markets.”

The HOI found that the national median home price jumped to an all-time high of $320,000 in the fourth quarter, surpassing the previous record-high of $313,000 set in the third quarter. At the same time, though, average mortgage rates fell by 20 basis points in the fourth quarter to a record-low of 2.85%. In the third quarter, mortgage rates averaged 3.05%.

Overall, three of the top five most affordable housing markets were in Pennsylvania, while all of the least affordable markets were in California.

Lansing-East Lansing, Mich., was the nation’s most affordable major housing market (metros with a population of at least 500,000), with 89.9% of all new and existing homes sold in the fourth quarter affordable for families earning the area’s median income of $75,000.

Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, Pa.; and St. Louis, Mo.

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., supplanted San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif., as the nation’s least affordable major housing market. In the LA area, just 9.1% of homes sold during the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $71,800.

Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were in California. In descending order, they included San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine; San Diego-Carlsbad; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®

Fla.-Owned Citizens Insurance Expanding Beyond S. Fla.

ORLANDO, Fla. – State-run Citizens Property Insurance is sounding alarm bells over their rising number of policies it holds in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties.

CEO Barry Gilway says Florida’s overall insurance market is “unhealthy” and has warned of higher premiums ahead for all Florida homeowners if the trend continues.

Question: What is Citizens Property Insurance?

Answer: Citizens was created by the Florida Legislature in 2002 as a not-for-profit government entity to insure the homes that private insurers wouldn’t cover. After 1992’s Hurricane Andrew bankrupted insurance companies and left many coastal homes without coverage, the state began working on a solution to covering catastrophically endangered properties, which eventually led to the creation of Florida’s “insurer of last resort.”

Question: Is Citizens state-subsidized?

Answer: Yes. While taxpayers don’t directly foot the bill for Citizens policies, Citizens has a 10% annual cap on rate increases to individual policies, which has kept prices lower than average. Private companies are capped by the state at 15%, but they can ask for and receive more. Last year, insurers were granted exemptions to hike rates by as much as 33.5%.

Citizens’ losses from a hurricane or other natural disaster can become a problem for all Florida homeowners. More on that later.

Question: Why is Central Florida getting all this attention?

Answer: “Historically in Florida, the riskier policies are considered to be on the coast,” said Citizens spokesperson Michael Peltier. Hence, growth in Citizens policies was usually treated as a major issue for coastal and South Florida counties.

In Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties in 2015, there was a total of 4,863 Citizens policies for all personal residential properties. Those numbers began rising in 2016, and those four counties have more than doubled their policy counts to more than 10,000.

Question: Why is this happening?

Answer: The largest reason for the exodus to Citizens is private insurers are leaving the area, Peltier says. “As companies try to shore up their books, they’re being more restrictive on the policies that they cover.”

One factor that has caused private insurers to pack up is the rising cost of reinsurance, which is when insurers underwrite other insurers to help ease some of the risks. After active hurricane seasons in the past five years, including last year’s record-breaking season, rates for reinsurance have been on the rise.

But the factor private insurance companies are complaining about most in Central Florida is a rise in lawsuits they say is caused by misuse of Assignment of Benefits (AOB) agreements.

Question: What is Assignment of Benefits?

Answer: Assignment of Benefits is an agreement where a homeowner gives a third party the right to file insurance claims and handle the payout. If something in a home is broken, a restoration company may ask for an AOB agreement so that they can submit the claim and be paid directly by the insurance company.

Question: How does this hurt the insurance companies?

Answer: After major hurricanes, public adjusters or restoration companies such as roofers would approach homeowners who had minimal, if any, damage and promise them a new roof if they would sign an AOB. Then the company would file a claim for damages. The insurance company would deny the claim, saying the damages weren’t caused by the storm or were related to the roof being old.

Then the claim would go to court. The problem for insurance companies is that if they lose, they wind up paying more than if they hadn’t gone to court. A report by Citizens found that a litigated water claim in 2020 cost on average $48,814, compared with $10,097 for a claim that stayed out of the courts.

While this used to be a problem mostly related to the coasts, insurance experts say this has become a major issue inland. Some public adjusters even advertise about approaching homeowners directly. At a Florida Senate committee on banking and insurance in January, Gilway produced a flyer from a company that read, “Your neighbors are getting new roofs. Have you gotten your new roof yet?”

This is particularly true in Central Florida counties that have seen a jump in litigation. Since 2016, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake have seen a 580% increase in property claims that have gone to court, according to data from Citizens.

As litigation rates have risen, private insurers have stepped out of the market. “As the insurer of last resort, if people cannot find reliable coverage in the private market, most people are going to come back to Citizens,” Peltier said.

Question: Why is this a problem for people who don’t have Citizens?

Answer: If Citizens’ payouts for claims exceed the company’s funds, the company can add a surcharge on all Florida homeowner policies to recoup their losses.

After the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons, which saw damage from a combined eight storms, Citizens was left with a $1.7 billion shortfall. Beginning in 2007, Citizens issued a 10-year bond and levied a 1.4% assessment on all Florida property insurance policyholders. That assessment dropped to 1% in 2011 and ended in 2015.

As of September, Central Florida counties represented $1.5 billion in potential exposure for Citizens policies, according to Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation

Citizens has a $6 billion surplus to cover catastrophes. “We’re in a strong position,” Peltier said. “We have enough to cover a 1-in-100 storm.”

But that number has eroded from a peak of $7.4 billion in 2016. “We had to dip into reserves in recent years to pay claims,” Peltier said.

Question: How has Citizens solved this problem in the past?

Answer: Citizens peaked in 2012 with 1.5 million policies. The company worked with private insurers to take on some of their customers, getting down to less than 420,000 policies in 2015, a number Peltier calls “a pretty good benchmark of those policyholders that a true residual market can handle.”

That program, referred to as the Depopulation or Take-Out Program, isn’t working this time. “Most of the policies that private insurers wanted have been taken out already,” Peltier said.

As of February, Citizens had a total of 545,000 policies in force statewide, a rise of 57,000 policies since the end of 2015. Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake represent nearly 9% of that change.

Question: Can’t they make changes to AOB?

Answer: They did. In 2019, the Legislature passed a couple of reforms to the AOB process, creating stricter rules for companies that file them and allowing homeowners to cancel the deal under particular circumstances.

Peltier said the reforms have been an improvement, but they haven’t stemmed the tide of litigation the way insurance companies were hoping.

Question: What solutions is the state proposing?

Answer: Senate President Wilton Simpson has proposed legislation that would eliminate multipliers, a special agreement in which an attorney can ask a judge on a complex case to multiply the award if he or she wins. Simpson thinks the change would reduce the number of attorneys willing to take on cases.

Simpson has also suggested looking at reducing the time to file a claim after a hurricane from three years to one.

Question: What do attorneys have to say about this?

Answer: Attorneys who regularly battle with insurance companies say these moves will make it harder for average people to get a claim paid. “You think there are a lot of denials now? Think about if people like me didn’t exist,” Mark Nation told the Orlando Sentinel. Nation also said that multipliers were “rarely asked for and rarely received.”

Question: What is Citizens doing?

Answer: Citizens’ Board of Governors in January approved a plan to charge new customers “actuarially sound rates,” essentially erasing the 10% rate-change cap for new policies. The plan must be approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

All of these solutions will have consequences on consumers, from rising rates to potential hurdles in litigating claims.

© 2021 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Emotional Support Animals: What You Can and Can’t Do

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Other than political debate, perhaps nothing else evokes more of an “emotional” response than the issue of emotional support animals in a no-pet community. While this is not a new issue, new laws in Florida may affect how your community may handle a request for an association to make a reasonable accommodation to its governing documents, rules and regulations or policies to allow a resident to maintain an emotional support animal in a no-pet community. These new laws may also affect how or what an applicant submits, what an association can be required to submit and may temper some of the, shall we say, not necessarily accurate portrayal of a requestor.

I want to be very clear that the comments in this article, as well as the new laws discussed, would have no effect at all on a legitimate application for an emotional support animal from an applicant that qualifies for an emotional support animal. The new laws have been enacted, and have unfortunately become necessary, to address the plethora of requests for a reasonable accommodation for persons who do not qualify for such an accommodation and merely want to bring their pet into a no-pet community because they want to, not because they need to medically.

Such inappropriate applications have been accompanied by, for example, letters from podiatrists attesting to psychological issues; letters from registered nurses attesting to psychological issues, etc. No disrespect to our podiatrist and registered nurse friends; I just use them as an easy example of health care practitioners that have written letters stating a person is disabled due to a psychological issue.

We are all familiar with the basic requirements that must be provided by a medical health care provider’s letter in support of an applicant’s request for a reasonable accommodation to maintain an emotional support animal in a no-pet community. The letter must state that the applicant is disabled, that the disability affects a major life function, which one, and how the animal ameliorates the effects of the disability on the major life function.

Recent changes to the law in Florida affect what is required in order for a person to make a valid request for a reasonable accommodation in Florida. Changes in §413.08, F.S.; §419.001, F.S.; §456.072, F.S.; §760.22, F.S.; §760.23, F.S.; §760.24, F.S.; §760.25, F.S.; §760.27, F.S.; §760.29, F.S.; §760.31, F.S.; §817.265, F.S., all of which are effective as of July 1, 2020, have changed the landscape a bit in regard to such requests.

For example, Section 817.265, Florida Statutes, provides:

A person who falsifies information or written documentation, or knowingly provides fraudulent information or written documentation, for an emotional support animal under s. 760.27, or otherwise knowingly and willfully misrepresents himself or herself, through his or her conduct or through a verbal or written notice, as having a disability or disability-related need for an emotional support animal or being otherwise qualified to use an emotional support animal, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083. In addition, within 6 months after a conviction under this section, a person must perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves persons with disabilities or for another entity or organization that the court determines is appropriate.

In addition, Section 456.072, Florida Statute, was amended to provide that a health professional who provides information, including written documentation, indicating that a person has a disability or which documentation supports a person’s need for an ESA without personal knowledge of the person’s disability or disability-related need for the specific ESA, is subject to disciplinary action.

Moreover, Section 760.27, Florida Statutes, provides, in relevant part:

DEFINITIONS. As used in this section, the term:

(a) “Emotional support animal” means an animal that does not require training to do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide therapeutic emotional support by virtue of its presence which alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

(c) If a person’s disability-related need for an emotional support animal is not readily apparent, request reliable information that reasonably supports the person’s need for the particular emotional support animal being requested. Supporting information may include:

Information identifying the particular assistance or therapeutic emotional support provided by the specific animal from a health care practitioner, as defined in s. 456.001; a telehealth provider, as defined in s. 456.47; or any other similarly licensed or certified practitioner or provider in good standing with his or her profession’s regulatory body in another state. Such information is reliable if the practitioner or provider has personal knowledge of the person’s disability and is acting within the scope of his or her practice to provide the supporting information.

Finally, pursuant to FHEO-2020-01, dated January 28, 2020, HUD advised that a housing provider may take into consideration the totality of the circumstances surrounding the request, including facts such as, but not limited to, bringing the animal on property without seeking approval, the documentation provided was purchased online, etc.

The changes in the law apply to condominium, cooperatives and homeowners’ association. Some of the changes allow a housing provider, including a community association, to request certain written documentation prepared by a health care practitioner in a format prescribed in rule by the Department of Health.

The practitioner or provider of the supporting information must have personal knowledge of the person’s disability and must be acting within the scope of his or her practice. The new laws also provide that if a person falsifies information or written documentation or knowingly provides fraudulent information to obtain an emotional support animal, they can be charged with a misdemeanor of the second degree.

These new laws can, and should be, a deterrent to those who do not really qualify for a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal from applying for a reasonable accommodation, as well as a deterrent for health care professionals providing such letters for those who do not qualify for them.

Enforcing these new requirements and laws should make is easier for those who legitimately require the services of an emotional support animal to qualify with an association.

Remember, all requests for an emotional support animal should be discussed with your association attorney to make sure the request contains the required information. An association should never merely deny an application for a reasonable accommodation; the association is required to engage in the “interactive process” in an attempt to obtain the required information. For these reasons you should always discuss any type of request for a reasonable accommodation with the association attorney.

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

© Mondaq Ltd, 2021. Mr. Howard J. Perl, Becker & Poliakoff, 1 East Broward Blvd., Suite 1800. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Marketing Must: Supply, Demand and Genuinely Good Content

With lots of how-to marketing advice, it’s easy to miss one important detail: You must have truly good content plus demand from people who want that information.

NEW YORK – Decades into the information era, it has become overwhelmingly apparent just how crucial content can be. Content, whether in real estate syndication or any other industry, will ultimately be what helps your business land on the front page of Google and what helps your enterprise gain the trust of prospective investors. Content will help you attract new leads, close deals, and pursue all of your other long-term goals. Content is something that everybody needs, but the question remains – what makes content genuinely good?

“Good” content, like pretty much every other commodity you can think of, is directly affected by the forces of supply and demand. If a sponsor wants to be well positioned on Google (and discovered by possible prospects), it will need to supply content that is well written, well structured, enjoyable for readers to consume and unlikely to be found elsewhere.

Plenty of companies have already written articles relating to real estate investment basics – “What is the Internal Rate of Return?”, “What is Crowdfunding?” and “The Most Important Things to Know About Commercial Real Estate,” are all articles that have been published countless times. This is not to say that writing about these topics, whether for beginners or for seasoned investors, is something you’ll need to avoid. In fact, you must write about the most common topics also, because if you do not share your angle on these subjects, your competition will and you will lose prospects to them.

But if you truly want to distinguish your brand from the many alternatives, you will need to supply something that has at least some degree of ingenuity.

However, just because something is unique doesn’t necessarily mean that it is (at least in an economic sense) good. The content you are supplying will not only need to be original, but also be something that prospective readers and investors will actually want to commit to reading because it brings value to them in some way.

Good content, economically, is content that is currently in demand. The real estate syndication industry is one that is constantly perpetuating new questions. These questions demand answers and firms that can effectively answer them will be well-positioned for long-term success. But in order to know how to answer these questions, you will first need to know what these questions actually are.

Forever keeping an ear to the ground

In the world of digital marketing, there are countless resources available to help you find the questions that people are asking (or Googling), and the keywords that are frequently being searched. But what is even more beneficial than having access to these tools – which typically generate hot lists using impersonal algorithms – is having direct access to the industry, in the real world.

If your firm is experiencing “digital writer’s block,” think about the last interaction that you had with a current or prospective investor or sponsor. What questions were they asking? What information were they looking for? What were their foremost fears and concerns?

If one person has a question, about anything, then it is extremely likely that other people have that same question as well. If the last time you talked to a prospective investor, they said “I am interested in real estate crowdfunding, but these are my objections …,” then you already have a highly demanded topic to write an article about, ready to go.

In the content you are creating, respond to these objections and offer any solutions you might have. Through your own interactions, it will be clear that certain varieties of content are being demanded – now, it remains up to you, the content creator, to actually supply it.

It can be difficult to know whether one specific piece of content actually has a direct impact on your enterprise’s bottom line. But if you can consistently answer the questions that many industry participants might have, you will continue building a reputation as a thought leader. It might be years from now, but there will be a specific moment in your prospective investor’s mind where they think, “I think it’s time to begin investing in commercial real estate – where should I begin?” If you have already done the leg work and have clearly established yourself as someone who sincerely knows what they are talking about, then you will be significantly more likely to be the first place this investor decides to look.

Ultimately, digital marketing (the modern world’s version of pre-internet direct marketing) involves both the yin and the yang – it is a process of constantly giving and constantly taking. Over time, you will need to learn how to sculpt your content in order to ensure that it is actually unique and has a comfortable home with your target audience.

But if you can continue drawing on your own experiences, continue trying to answer important questions, and continue finding ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors, you will be much closer to achieving your long-term goals.

© 2021 Penton Media; Adam Gower, Ph.D., builds digital marketing systems for real estate professionals who want to find more investors.