Monthly Archives: June 2021

Can Tenant Claim ‘Emotional Support Animal’ at Any Time?

RE Q&A: A condo board denied a tenant’s dog that was 30 pounds above their weight limit, but she later got documentation showing it’s an emotional support animal. Can she do that? Also: Condos, HOAs, noise and pickleball.

NAPLES, Fla. – Question: A tenant seeking approval to reside in our condominium has a dog weighing 60 pounds. We have a 30-pound limit on all dogs. When we denied the application because of the dog, the tenant then claimed that the dog is an emotional support animal and provided a letter dated after our original denial from a mental health professional. Do we have to allow this dog? – T.A., Naples

Answer: There are multiple issues here, but the short answer is that the weight of a valid emotional support animal is irrelevant. If a dog is also an emotional support animal, it is not subject to pet restrictions based on weight, size or even breed. That is because the emotional support animal is viewed as a medical device and not as a dog.

The bigger issue is whether the request is valid in the first place. Emotional support animals provide a valuable medical benefit for many, but it is no secret that there are also abuses of the laws just to circumvent otherwise valid pet restrictions. If the disability is not readily apparent, the association is permitted to request reasonably reliable medical documentation from a health care provider in the relevant field. This information should provide the board with a sufficient basis to determine whether the emotional support animal is necessary to allow full use and enjoyment of the premises. The relevant laws and the analysis are the same whether the requesting party is an owner or a tenant.

The fact that the letter from the medical professional is dated after the original denial may mean that the person only sought the medical opinion when it became necessary to find a way to bring the dog into the unit. Alternatively, it could just mean that the tenant has been receiving valuable medical care for years but never previously requested the letter.

There is a relatively new Florida statute as well, which requires certain minimum requirements when the health care provider is from outside of Florida. There can be serious consequences for denying an appropriate request for an accommodation to the association’s pet policies for an emotional support animal, and thus we always recommend having the request and supporting documents reviewed by a licensed Florida attorney to determine if the request is consistent with federal and Florida laws governing this issue.

Question: We want to construct some new pickleball courts at our amenity center because there is so much demand to play. Some owners are objecting to the new courts, arguing that they will be too loud. Can they prevent the association from installing the courts? – B.B., Naples

Answer: This is a very popular question. The two main issues involve objections over noise and the association’s discretionary ability to alter its common areas to construct popular amenities.

First, owners living close to the proposed pickleball location will likely argue that the noise created by pickleball constitutes a nuisance. This will generally require the association to perform an analysis of its specific nuisance provisions in the covenants and also to review other covenants applicable to recreational areas. For example, if the proposed pickleball location is on a platted tract dedicated as a recreational tract, it is a good argument that the objecting owner had knowledge that noise and activity was always a possibility. Just because tennis is generally quieter than pickleball, that doesn’t necessary mean that owners consented to noise levels generated only by tennis. Additionally, there are noise engineers that can perform an analysis of your property and natural features that would amplify sound. The engineer can recommend mitigating improvements that can further minimize an owners’ objection.

The second issue is typically whether the board had the discretion to approve pickleball courts without membership approval. In a condominium, for example, it would be a material alteration to construct new pickleball courts or to convert existing tennis courts into pickleball courts. So, in a condominium, it is possible that the owners would need to approve the change.

In an HOA however, there is no statutory concept of material alterations and thus each HOA needs to analyze its own specific covenants to determine whether it has a self-imposed restriction on alterations to common areas or amenities.

In short, the noise objection is a common one, but an objection that can largely be overcome with reasonable options to mitigate sound and the fact that noise was always a possibility in a recreation area. Before moving forward with construction, however, we recommend you consult your legal counsel to review your specific governing documents (for condominiums and HOAs) to determine whether the board has the discretion to make this improvement or whether a larger vote is required by the membership.

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. Attorney Steven J. Adamczyk is a shareholder at the law firm of Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross.


Lady Bird Deed Allows Inheritor of Property to Avoid Probate

Fla. property can easily transfer after an owner’s death if they set up a lady bird deed. It’s similar to a trust fund set up for finances but applies to a property asset.

SEBRING, Fla. – “Often an individual who inherits property thinks that the property automatically transfers to him or her upon the death of the original owner. What the individual doesn’t realize is that the property first has to go through probate, even if the original owner had a will, which can be a costly and lengthy process,” Dawn Dell, Broker Associate, BHHS Florida Properties Group, said recently on her Facebook page.
“A lot of people don’t know that in Florida and five other states there is a real estate planning tool by which probate can be avoided. It’s called an enhanced life estate deed or a lady bird deed,” Dell said.
The deed got its nickname after President Lyndon B. Johnson used it to convey property to his wife, Lady Bird.
As outlined on DeedClaims.com, here’s how it works:
The current owner signs a lady bird deed, transferring his or her Florida property to himself or herself for life. The deed also names one or more people, trusts or organizations who are to inherit the property after the current owner dies. The inheritors are called remainder beneficiaries or remaindermen.
The lady bird deed is an enhanced life estate deed, meaning the owner retains control of the property for as long as he or she is alive. At any point during that time, the owner can change his or her mind and do something else with the property, like sell it, mortgage it, or gift it to someone else. Furthermore, he or she may do so without permission or involvement of the remainder beneficiaries.
If the original owner dies with the lady bird deed in place, the property passes automatically to the remainder beneficiaries. There is no need to probate the deceased owner’s estate. Title to the property is simply transferred to the new owner.
While there are websites where individuals can create their own lady bird deeds, “it is best to pay a few hundred dollars to have an attorney or a title company do it to ensure total accuracy,” Dell advises.
Also, individual situations vary; that is another good reason to seek expert assistance.
© Copyright © 2021, Highlands News-Sun, all rights reserved.


Florida Realtors Awards $222,800 in Scholarships

Across Fla., 177 young people are getting help with their college costs from Florida Realtors Education Foundation, as they prepare for a more usual experience this fall.

ORLANDO, Fla. – As pandemic turmoil fades, many young people look forward to a more usual college campus experience this fall. A number of them will receive help with their college costs from Florida Realtors® Education Foundation Inc., which has awarded scholarships to 177 well-deserving young people living in communities throughout the state.

A not-for-profit corporation established by the state Realtor association, the Florida Realtors Education Foundation Inc. provides real estate-related educational scholarships. The Foundation’s Board of Directors awarded $222,800 in scholarships to help pay for higher education expenses for 177 young people in the 2021-2022 school year. All recipients are Florida residents and will attend community colleges, four-year universities, graduate programs or law schools, both in state and out-of-state. Some students wish to pursue careers in real estate.

“For 11 years, the Florida Realtors Education Foundation Student Scholarship Program has helped 1,364 young people realize their dreams for the future by continuing their education,” said Brenda Fioretti, chair of Florida Realtors Education Foundation Inc. “Florida Realtors has awarded a total of $1,968,200 in scholarships – nearly $2 million – to help these students and their families with financial support for college. These scholarships are an investment in the future, and Florida Realtors feels privileged to give back to our communities by helping these deserving young people.”

Scholarship recipients are enrolled at institutions of higher learning throughout the state, such as the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Central Florida, University of North Florida, Florida Atlantic University, University of South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University, as well as other colleges throughout the U.S., including Yale University, George Washington University, Troy University, Duke University, Auburn and Stanford, to name a few. A variety of criteria was considered for successful applicants including academic achievements, financial need, relationship to the Realtor family and contributions to family, school and community.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


NAR: Solid Rebound for May Pending Home Sales

Pending sales rose 8% month-to-month in May and 13.1% year-to-year – the highest May reading (114.7) since 2005. NAR’s economist calls it a surprise following April’s decline and less affordability; but higher wealth and “rising prices evidently provided funds for purchases.”

WASHINGTON – Pending home sales rebounded strongly in May, reaching the highest reading ever for the month of May since 2005, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). All four U.S. regions included in the report saw both month-over-month and year-over-year gains in pending home-sale-contract transactions for the month.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) – a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings – rose 8.0% to 114.7 in May. Year-over-year, signings increased 13.1%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.

“May’s strong increase in transactions – following April’s decline, as well as a sudden erosion in home affordability – was indeed a surprise,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “The housing market is attracting buyers due to the decline in mortgage rates, which fell below 3%, and from an uptick in listings.”

Although the past year saw its share of obstacles – including a pandemic, record-high prices and all-time low inventory – buyers still lined up at a feverish pace, according to Yun.

“While these hurdles have contributed to pricing out some would-be buyers, the record-high aggregate wealth in the country from the elevated stock market and rising home prices is evidently providing funds for home purchases,” Yun says. “More market listings will appear in the second half of 2021, in part from the winding down of the federal mortgage forbearance program and from more home building.

Yun expects home prices to “steadily moderate,” but “a broad and prolonged decline in prices is unlikely. However, if a (price) reduction occurs in some markets, homebuyers will view the lower home price as a second-chance opportunity to get into the market after being outbid in previous multiple-bid market conditions.”

Realtor.com’s Hottest Housing Markets data revealed that out of the largest 40 metros, the most improved metros over the past year, as of June 29, were Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater; Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Mich.; Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn.; Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.; and Jacksonville.

May pending home sales regional breakdown: The Northeast PHSI increased 15.5% to 98.5 in May, a 54.6% year-to-year climb. In the Midwest, the index grew 6.7% to 107.7 last month, up 7.8% from May 2020.

Pending home sales transactions in the South rose 4.9% to an index of 135.5, up 6.1% from a year ago. The index in the West increased 10.9% in May to 102.0, up 12.5% year-to-year.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Credit Card Offer: Charge Rent, Save Points for a Down Payment

Using a new credit card could boost credit scores and help move to homeownership, though it would take 10 years to accumulate $6,000 if paying $1,500 per month.

NEW YORK – A real estate startup wants to help renters become homeowners. Bilt Technologies teamed with Evolve Bank & Trust and Mastercard to launch a credit card that enables cardholders to accumulate reward points they can use toward rent and other bills – or a down payment on a future home.

Many property providers already accept credit cards for rental payments, and using a credit card can help renters improve their credit scores, an important component of buying a house.

“We believe paying rent should build your credit score because it’s your single largest liability,” Bilt founder Ankur Jain told The Wall Street Journal. The new credit card does not have any added fees.

Bilt says that if a cardholder wants to use their points for a down payment on a home, the card operators will convert reward points into cash and deposit the money into an escrow account.

“It should be a path to homeownership,” Jain says.

It takes time to accumulate enough points to make a sizable down payment, however. A cardholder who spends about $1,500 on monthly rent for 10 years would accumulate only enough points for a $6,000 down payment.

Using a credit card to make rental payments also comes with a warning: Pay it off every month. Credit cards usually come with high interest rates. The Bilt card, for instance, has an interest rate between 15% and 22.5%.

Source: “Renters Could Collect Home Down-Payment Points With Credit Card,” The Wall Street Journal and Mastercard

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


U.S. Supreme Court: CDC Lacks Eviction-Ban Authority

However, the CDC previously said a July 31 extension would be the last, and the court will keep the ban in place for the “orderly distribution of … rental assistance funds.”

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lacked authority to implement a blanket, nationwide eviction moratorium in a case brought by the Georgia and Alabama Associations of Realtors®.

The CDC recently extended the ban to July 31, 2021, though, and the court also agreed to keep the ban in place until then. The ruling, however, means that there won’t be a surprise extension again in the waning months of July.

National Association of Realtors® (NAR) President Charlie Oppler called it a victory in a statement, even though the ban will continue for another month. Beyond the ending date, he said it gives property owners “absolute clarity from our federal court system regarding property rights in America to avoid similar financial harm in the future.”

Oppler also called for governments to immediately get $50 billion in rental relief into the hands of landlords and property owners.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4. Justice Brett Kavanaugh offered a brief concurring opinion with the majority, even though he agreed that the CDC exceeded its authority; however, he also signed off on the current July 31 deadline and allowed it to stand because it will “allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.”

According to Kavanaugh, “clear and specific congressional authorization would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31.”

The Realtor associations turned to the Supreme Court in June after a federal district judge ruled that the CDC eviction ban was illegal. That judge, however, issued a stay on the ruling while the government appealed the decision. The Realtors were now asking the Supreme Court to uphold the district judge’s ruling and cancel the stay, so that evictions would again be allowed.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Dictionaries, Differing Definitions and the Law

Common words often have specific legal definitions and might not mean what you think. Sometimes, the definition is specific to a contract. Sometimes it’s industry-specific. And sometimes a regular dictionary is the right reference source.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The practice of law is built on words. Whether it’s a written contract, oral argument, or analysis of a case, words are at the center. Precision matters. Therefore, it’s important to know where to find definitions and, once located, where there’s room to debate a definition.

Words defined within a contract

Contract drafters know the value of precision, so they often take control by writing contract-specific definitions. When they do this, they typically capitalize an otherwise common word to signal the reader that the contract uses its own internal definition that has little connection to what the word means outside of the contractual relationship.

Here’s an example: Some members using the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar CR-5 Rider G Short Sale Approval Contingency have reported that a lender gave short sale approval, but then, weeks later, objected to something on the closing statement. Where do parties stand if they can’t work this out? The answer lies in something the parties overlooked – the contractual definition of “Short Sale Approval.”

Short Sale Approval is defined in paragraph 1 of the addendum. The definition includes, among other things, “Seller’s lender(s) and all other lien holder(s) (collectively “Seller’s Lender”) approving the Purchase Price, terms of the Contract and the HUD-1 settlement statement …”

Applying this definition to our scenario, the problem becomes obvious. Although the parties thought a written approval message from the main lender was short sale approval, the contract’s definition requires approval of the purchase price, all terms of the contract, and the HUD-1 settlement statement (now called the Closing Disclosure, or generally called a closing statement). Since the lender never reviewed the closing statement when they issued an approval letter, the parties were mistaken about having received Short Sale Approval.

In the same vein, if the lender’s approval letter requires anything different from what the parties have in their purchase and sale agreement, like a shorter closing date, then that is also not Short Sale Approval, since the lender did not approve “terms of the Contract.” In these situations, the parties should be flexible and can hopefully smooth over any issues that arise, despite not receiving Short Sale Approval as defined in the contract.

Note that the rider defines “Seller’s Lender” within the definition of Short Sale Approval, and references “Seller’s Lender” multiple times after that. Normally, you’d assume this is singular – one lender – right? Wrong. Because this specific contractual definition includes “all lender(s) and lien holder(s),” the capitalized term Seller’s Lender will frequently refer to multiple parties. Therefore, it’s very important to seek short sale approval from all lenders and lien holders.

What’s the takeaway? Any time you see capitalized terms in a contract, you should never assume it matches everyday use. You must check to see if that contract has a specific definition, which could differ quite a bit from a dictionary definition.

Words with industry-specific definitions

Specialized areas of study often have their own jargon. These definitions are often difficult for those outside the industry to understand. The contract mentions “marketable title” in a few different places but doesn’t define it. Marketable title refers to a concept that real estate attorneys and title industry experts should understand. Sure, you could find a very basic definition in a law dictionary or even in a general dictionary, but Section 18(A) points to the correct place to look for further information, as “Marketable title shall be determined according to applicable Title Standards adopted by authority of The Florida Bar and in accordance with law.”

This isn’t really a definition, but instead points to two resources that real estate attorneys in Florida will know (or will know how to research). Note that the word “Title Standards” is capitalized here. Although it’s not defined in the contract, as you might expect after reading the last section, the fact that it’s capitalized signals that it’s referring to a very specific document, which is The Uniform Title Standards published by the Florida Bar Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section.

The second source, if it applies, is simply “the law” generally, to cover circumstances where a case or statute impacts a particular title issue. The reason is that this word doesn’t lend itself to an easy definition – it requires familiarity with those industry-specific sources to understand what marketable title means.

Words with general definitions

Finally, there are just … words. If there’s any question about what they mean, you go to a dictionary. If there are multiple definitions, you use context clues to figure out which definition is most fitting. If the parties can’t agree, then a court’s interpretation is the ultimate tiebreaker.

One example of a word we find ourselves defining frequently on the Florida Realtors Legal Hotline is the word “calendar day.” People often get confused on when time periods end, since they’re looking for a precise clock time in the contract. However, the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar contracts simply say in Section 18(F) “Calendar days shall be used in computing time periods.”

If you look up the word “calendar days” in the dictionary, Merriam-Webster defines it as “a civil day: the time from midnight to midnight.” Therefore, if you’re looking for a precise minute on the clock, the calendar day expires when the clock strikes midnight, due to its dictionary definition.

Joel Maxson is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


New Challenge to Rising Supply Costs: Replacement Coverage

If disaster destroys a home, the owner’s “replacement coverage” should cover the cost of rebuilding – but maybe not if current building costs have outpaced policy limits.

NEWARK, N.J. – If your home is destroyed by fire or another disaster – natural or man-made – do you have enough insurance to rebuild it?

Maybe not, experts say. Blame the pandemic.

With soaring prices for building materials due to shortages associated with COVID-19, the cost to rebuild has drastically increased, while most homeowner’s insurance policies have remained the same.

Stuck at home during the pandemic, homeowners tried to make the best of the situation. Industry experts said people spruced up their houses, remodeled or built additions for extra living space to accommodate their new life of working and learning remotely.

The projects put a strain on the availability of materials, and prices shot up.

This is a trend seen during the last 12 to 15 months of the pandemic, said Paul Felsen of Felsen Insurance. The delay in getting supplies, combined with a shortage of labor in the construction industry, has caused home rebuilding to become much more expensive.

“We’ve seen some pricing increases anywhere from 3 to 5%, maybe even to 6% with some insurance carriers,” Felsen said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lumber, which is beginning to show signs of leveling off, was not the only material that drastically increased in price. It is more difficult and more expensive to buy iron, marble and granite tiles, new flooring, paint and plumbing fixtures.

Just last week, 1,000 board feet of lumber, which traditionally cost under $400, was selling for more than $1,000, reports show. The price has dropped to about $900.

“I’ve never seen rebuilding costs escalate this much,” Felsen said. “If it used to cost $300,000 to rebuild a house, now it might cost $350,000.”

This is the time, he said, to review the insurance policy.

Homeowners should go over their policies and discuss any changes with their insurance agent. When renewing an insurance policy, it is important to reassess each time. “Don’t just take the automatic renewal. Talk to your agent and review your policies,” Felsen said.

Eva Loayza, the public affairs manager with the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, agrees.

“In general, the department encourages homeowners to periodically review their policy and coverage,” she said. “It is recommended that consumers shop around to determine the policy that best meets their needs.”

Homeowner’s insurance policies are purchased to cover destruction or damages, theft of personal items from the home and personal liability if others are harmed, industry experts said. There are three levels of coverage: the actual cash value of the home and property, the cost to replace the home and property, and extended replacement cost and value. The cost is based not only on the home, but on the homeowner and history as well.

Experts recommend getting at least five quotes before buying a policy.

“Throughout the summer and fall, the housing market significantly increased in price,” said Ilene Horowitz, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker New Jersey. She said the shortage of homes inventory has pushed prices up. “We have a lack of supply, so there’s a shortage of homes for sale, and there’s a strong buyer demand,” Horowitz said. “So sellers are able to test the market and ask for a little bit higher than what the market might indicate.”

The higher home prices and the low inventory have contributed to homeowners’ opting to upgrade their current houses instead of moving.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to sit out,” said Horowitz, who specializes in Morris County real estate. “Because when you’re buying a home, you’re just not buying a product, you’re buying a lifestyle.”

Homeowner’s insurance, she said, is based on the costs of what it takes to rebuild a house: As materials increase in price, so should insurance coverage.

This can also go the other way, Horowitz said. Keep an eye on trends, and as the inventory of building materials increases, the prices should come down, and so will the cost of rebuilding.

© 2021 The Neighbor News, North Jersey Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Surfside Condo Tragedy Could Influence RE Market

MIAMI – As grim images of rescue workers sifting through the wreckage of the Champlain South Tower circulate around the world, Miami’s kingpin condo real-estate industry is bracing for a slide.

“In the short-term, the effect of the collapse will be jarring,” said real estate attorney Jesse-Dean Kluger, who said he spent the weekend fielding calls from clients under contract for units in older buildings.

“You’re going to have some pushback from buyers on the closing dates, because why would you close before you have an inspection and a satisfactory report?” he said. “This could be a deal-breaker for some clients.”

Built in 1981, the beachfront Champlain Towers South condo, located at 8777 Collins Ave., partially collapsed on the morning of June 24 shortly after 1:30 a.m. The building was going through its 40-year recertification process. Search and rescue efforts are ongoing.

While the exact cause of the collapse probably won’t be known for at least a year, two suspected contributors – salt air and ocean water – are cause for concern for would-be buyers of waterfront condos in older buildings.

In the short-term, at least, some experts say they expect the brakes to slam on what has been a county-wide sales bonanza.

“At the very least, people are being more sensitive to association fees and checking the financial health of the association,” said Ron Shuffield, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty. “These 40-year recertifications are now something that everyone is aware of, instead of just the industry. Buyers are also looking more closely to the construction of the building.”

Increased attention to such detail is a positive development, said Shuffield. But it likely also will lead to higher prices and deter some buyers, say experts.

“Every condo, especially the older ones, are going to want to hire an expert and verify the integrity of their buildings,” said Alex Barthet, managing member of the Barthet Construction Law Firm and publisher of thelienzone.com website.

“These are probably not fully budgeted items, so this will increase the assessments,” Barthet said. “That’s going to send buyers away, because they only have a certain number of dollars to spend, so why spend them on an older building?”

According to the Miami Association of Realtors, sales of existing condos jumped a whopping 286% in May year-over-year, from 563 to 2,176, driven primarily by U.S. buyers from tax-burdened states.

The median sales price of existing condos rose to $325,000, a 25% year-over-year increase, and sales of existing condos priced between $400,000-$600,000 – a range that includes many older waterfront buildings – increased 475.4% to a total of 328 transactions.

The Champlain Towers South, where property records show a total of 14 units were sold over the last three years, was part of the sales boom. Condos in the town of Surfside may be particularly hard hit for the next year, especially in older buildings, said Ana Bozovic, founder of brokerage and consulting firm Analytics Miami.

Buildings located near the collapse site may be most affected. Bozovic said resale prices might drop for the ultra-luxury Eighty Seven Park, which is adjacent to the site of the collapse and currently has seven units for sale priced between $2 million-$11 million.

“Who wants to buy something overlooking this collapse? People died there,” she said. “People don’t want to look at the site.”

“When 9/11 happened, it affected the lower Manhattan area,” she said. “It’s going to be the same thing here.”

Buyer hesitation also may affect newer buildings, say experts.

Such was the case for an attorney whose clients were scheduled to close on a Bal Harbour condo the day after the Surfside collapse. “They got cold feet, even though the building where they were buying is only three years old,” said the lawyer, who declined to be named. “They just needed a minute to hear more about what happened at the Champlain Tower. A lot of people with active contracts can delay their closings, but they can’t pull out because they would lose their deposits. They’re stuck.”

Inspections underway

Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami Beach have started doing visual inspections and audits of buildings nearing or at their 40-year recertification process, which is required by county law. The city of Miami has gone further, requiring inspections of all buildings 40 years and older that are six stories or taller. The city has given condo associations a 45-day deadline to provide letters detailing the condition of their buildings signed by licensed structural engineers.

But the enforcement boost hasn’t eased buyer concerns.

“The question is, does being able to walk out on the sand surpass the value of safety?” said real estate analyst Jack McCabe. “What I thought was going to be paradise could now be a danger.

“This collapse is the tip of the iceberg,” McCabe said. There are a lot of other buildings affected by sea level rise and hurricanes that are 40-50 years old, that have not been well maintained, and that have put off special assessments” – that can run into millions.

Favorable pricing has been the chief attraction of older buildings.

“It comes back to affordability,” said Dan Kodsi, CEO of the Miami-based development firm Royal Palms Companies, which developed the Paramount Worldcenter tower. “A lot of people live in those older buildings because they can afford it and still get to live by the water.”

But repairs can diminish the differential.

“Getting hit with a huge assessment bill is going to become a bigger factor in the minds of buyers,” McCabe said. “It could be a much more costly endeavor buying an existing unit than it was in the past.”

Age matters

The numbers tell the story.

According to the real estate firm Condovulturesrealty.com, some 1,660 units in buildings on the barrier islands built before 2000 – or before Florida’s building code was strengthened to its current standard – currently are listed for sale, with an average price per unit of $589,692. During the first three months of 2021, 779 sales were closed at an average price of $487,384. Currently 491 units are under contract at an average price of $484,821.

In comparison, the current 1,241 active listings of condos in buildings on the barrier islands built after 2000 have an average asking price of $3,141,845 – a price tag beyond the reach of all but the wealthy.

The gap likely will widen.

“What you’re going to see is anything built before 2000 is going to suffer and [drop] their prices,” said Peter Zalewski, co-founder of Condo Vultures. “We have always told our clients not to look at anything built before then. Right now the system is stacked against any due diligence by the buyer. The associations are very private, and they’re not going to share any information that might impact pricing. They give the condo docs, and in three days your offer is locked in by default according to state law.”

According to Zalewski, there were 139 towers fronting the Atlantic Ocean in Miami-Dade County as of November 2019. Of those, only 60 were built between 2000-2019. The other 79 towers were built between 1930-1999.

While waterfront has long been considered prime territory, inland locations have been gaining favor as waterfront prices soar and climate change becomes a greater concern. A recent study of “climate gentrification” in Miami-Dade showed home buyers and renters are increasingly choosing properties on higher-elevation land, most of which happens to be in primarily Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The collapse may speed the inland migration. Cordelia Anderson, founder of the Miami-based I Heart Real Estate LLC brokerage firm, said one of her prospective condo buyers from New York is now considering moving her search more inland, expressing concern about the structural integrity of coastal buildings and sea level rise.

Falling prices?

The seemingly inevitable price drop of older condos in beachfront locations isn’t just a problem for their owners and brokers. According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, the county is poised to collect more than $94 billion in 2020 taxes from condominium owners – money that goes to everything from schools and police and fire services to infrastructure repairs and maintenance.

If prices of older condos take a nosedive, all Miami-Dade residents will feel the pinch, since taxes are calculated by property values.

But if prices drop far enough in older buildings to make selling too much of a loss for the owner, there’s another possible scenario that could eliminate the problem altogether, said Alicia Cervera, chairman and principal of Cervera Real Estate: Condo termination, in which owners decide to sell the entire building to a developer interested in building something new at the location.

“When you sell an entire building in a triple-A location to a developer, you get a much better price for your condo,” she said. “It may be that some associations are not doing the repairs because they simply can’t afford it. Selling to a developer could be a solution for the owners and would result in the buildings being taken down before they become unlivable. It’s a good exit strategy for a lot of condo owners.”

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


Dear Joey: Do I Really Have to Update my Listing?

An MLS fined an agent for not updating her listing in a timely manner – but she closed out the listing in less than a month. An update wouldn’t have made a difference, so why does it matter?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dear Joey: When should status changes occur and why are timely status changes important?

I received a fine for not updating my listing status in a timely manner, even though I closed it out in the same month. So why did I receive a fine? It shouldn’t even matter.
Dear Untimely Status Changer: Although it may not matter to you, as a participant or subscriber in the MLS, it should matter – and it’s important to your fellow Realtors. My best advice would be to contact your MLS or review your local MLS rules and regulations. Each MLS has specific rules regarding timeframes when listing updates are required.

Below are just a few reasons why timely status changes are important:

  1. It helps your fellow Realtors: To ensure everyone has the most accurate and up to date information from their MLS, it’s important that the information reflect the property’s true status. As Article 12 of the Code of Ethics states “REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”

    How would you feel if potential buyers fell in love with a property only to find out shortly thereafter that it’s pending? What do you say when they ask, “Why didn’t you know?”

    Knowing the answers to all your clients’ questions – which requires having access to accurate up-to-date listing information – helps establish you as the market expert and builds rapport with your clients and fellow Realtors.

  2. It makes the market work: When there is accurate data and status changes are done according to the MLS’ rules and regulations, it helps market statistics, CMAs and appraisals be more accurate and timelier. And that helps everyone’s business run more efficiently.
  3. It’s important to follow the rules: Yes, it may seem redundant, “just follow the rules,” but as a participant and subscriber in an MLS, you agree to abide by the rules and regulations, and that includes making timely status changes. To avoid unnecessary fines from your MLS for failing to abide by the rules, be sure to understand the rules and make all status changes in accordance with those rules.

At the end of the day, especially in crazy markets such as the current one, everyone needs to be consistent and abide by the MLS rules. In doing so, it not only benefits Realtors, but also the homebuyers and sellers of Florida.

It helps sellers determine an appropriate list price, and it helps potential buyers achieve the dream of homeownership. After all, nobody wants to be untimely.

Joey Sale is the Director of Local Association Services for Florida Realtors

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


U.S. Consumer Confidence Moves Higher in June

National consumer confidence has moved higher four months in a row, and June numbers hit their highest level since the start of the pandemic – in March 2020.

BOSTON – The attitudes of everyday American consumers seem to be rebounding from the pandemic-era’s lockdowns. The monthly Consumer Confidence Index hit its highest level this June since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

The Index now stands at 127.3, up from 120.0 (an upward revision) in May. The Present Situation Index – based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – rose from 148.7 to 157.7. The Expectations Index – based on consumers’ short-term future outlook for income, business and labor market conditions – rose to 107.0, up from 100.9 last month.

“Consumer confidence increased in June and is currently at its highest level since the onset of the pandemic’s first surge in March 2020,” says Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board.

Franco says the uptick in current conditions suggests “economic growth has strengthened further in (second quarter of 2021). Consumers’ short-term optimism rebounded, buoyed by expectations that business conditions and their own financial prospects will continue improving in the months ahead.”

While inflation saw a notable uptick recently, most American consumers seem to share the belief that it’s a short-term event as production works out pandemic-caused supply chain problems. It “had little impact on consumers’ confidence or purchasing intentions,” Franco says. “In fact, the proportion of consumers planning to purchase homes, automobiles and major appliances all rose – a sign that consumer spending will continue to support economic growth in the short-term. Vacation intentions also rose, reflecting a continued increase in spending on services.”

Present situation

Consumers’ appraisal of current business conditions improved in June:

  • 24.5% of consumers said business conditions are “good”, up from to 19.9%.
  • 19.5% of consumers claimed business conditions are “bad”, down from 20.6%.

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market also improved:

  • 54.4% of consumers said jobs are “plentiful”, up from 48.5%.
  • 10.9% of consumers claimed jobs are “hard to get”, down from 11.6%.

Expectations six months from now

Consumers’ optimism about the short-term business conditions outlook rebounded in June.

  • 33.3% of consumers expect business conditions will improve, up from 31.0%.
  • Just 10.6% expect business conditions to worsen, down from 14.4%.

Consumers were mixed about the short-term labor market outlook:

  • 25.7% of consumers expect more jobs to be available in the months ahead, down from 27.7%.
  • Conversely, 16.0% anticipate fewer jobs, down from 17.5%.

Consumers were more upbeat about their short-term financial prospects:

  • 18.6% of consumers expect their incomes to increase, up from 16.2%.
  • Only 8.5% expect their incomes to decrease, down from 9.3%.

 The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted for The Conference Board by Toluna, a technology company that delivers real-time consumer insights and market research.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


New Fla. Laws Go into Effect on July 1

Three bills from the 2021 final report on the Legislature become effective Thursday, including a new property insurance law and $900M to help the environment.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Realtors® advocated for a number of issues in the 2021 session of the Florida Legislature, including three that were signed by Gov. DeSantis and go into effect on Thursday, July 1.

Property insurance: The first, SB 76, is a comprehensive property insurance bill that implements several measures intended to address rising insurance costs within the state, by generally tightening some issues that can lead to rising insurance costs, including:

  • Limiting some of the things contractors may do in relation to insurance claims for roof damage
  • Limiting the fees attorneys representing claimants may receive
  • Requiring policyholders to file claims within three years of a loss
  • Strengthening Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) oversight of companies affiliated with Florida property insurers
  • Requiring Florida residential property insurers to file a comprehensive annual report with OIR regarding closed claims
  • Increases the 10% cap on Citizens rate increases by 1% annually beginning in 2022, until the cap reaches 15% in 2026

Environment: As part of the state budget, nearly $900 million will also be available to help the environment on July 1. This year’s fiscal budget includes money for:

  • Everglades restoration: $487 million
  • Springs protection: $50 million
  • Beach projects: $100 million
  • The Wastewater Grant Program: $116 million
  • The Resilient Florida Grant Program: $29 million

The federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed during the pandemic also includes a total of $1.08 billion in federal funding that has been allocated for several of the environmental programs.

Unlicensed activity: The Florida Legislature also allocated up to $500,000 to be used during the new fiscal year to prevent unlicensed real estate activity.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Fla. Wants Residents to Report Unsolicited Real Estate Calls

The tight listing inventory has led to an uptick in phone calls asking homeowners if they’re interested in selling – but occasionally U.S. and state do-not-call laws are ignored. The Fla. Dept. of Agriculture says complaints are up 41% this year, and it wants all violations reported.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Ann Sloan has no intention of selling the Belle Isle home she’s lived in for more than 40 years. “I love it,” the 83-year-old said. She says she fell in love with it the first time she walked through it. But Sloan’s refusal hasn’t stopped her from receiving phone calls once or twice a week asking if she’s ready to part with her house. “I usually cut them off pretty quick,” she said.

A quick cutoff is more polite than Shirley Kay Torres is with texts to buy her house in Union Park. “I just reply with, ‘You’re a scumbag,” she said.

With home prices rocketing upward and housing supply squeezed, many homeowners and others have been inundated with calls, texts, and flyers about buying or selling houses. And Orlando Regional Realtor® Association President Natalie Arrowsmith says people should expect to see more of it.

“We have close to 19,000 Realtors® in the area and only 2,500 homes to sell,” Arrowsmith said. “So Realtors are trying hard to drum up business and get people to sell their homes.”

In the first half of 2021, Florida’s Department of Agriculture, which handles the state’s Do Not Call list, received 365 complaints related to unsolicited real estate communications, a 41% increase over the same time last year, and up 46% from 2019.

Alan Parkinson, bureau chief for mediation and enforcement, says not all unsolicited calls are violations of the Do Not Call list, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reported.

“I would always be cautious about getting unsolicited communications,” he said. “Always.”

While Parkinson doesn’t know of any specific scams related to real estate advertising, he says there is still value in people making complaints about what they’re receiving. “Every report is unique and we can cross-reference to look for trends,” he said. “Even if that person is not concerned for themselves, we encourage them to report.”

Sloan said some of the calls get personal, asking her age and how long she’s lived in the house. “If they want to buy my house, they don’t need to know that,” she said. “Makes me wonder if they’re planning to rob me or something.”

Parkinson said such questions should be a red flag. “Is there any unique inquiry that isn’t relevant to the nature of the initial communication? All things that seem a little off,” he said.

Another way these calls are often “off” is when they offer to buy a house from someone who isn’t the homeowner. Real estate agent Kimberly Zeidner said that’s usually a result of a buyer with bad information.

“[Real estate agents] use a variety of tools, all of which pull data from the property appraisers,” Zeidner said. But she says the process is reliant upon agents to set their communications to be with homeowners.

Zeidner, who works mostly in the Dr. Phillips area, said she mostly used internet and social media advertising during the pandemic. “We know that during the shutdown, more people were inside and just scrolling,” she said. Zeidner has also used texts, mailers and other internet advertising. And she asks the public try to see advertisements and contacts from the agents’ point of view.

“Without doing these things, we wouldn’t get nearly as much business,” she said. For example, she likes to remind homeowners regularly of how many homes are selling in their area and what people are getting. “If you’re doing it on a regular basis, people are more susceptible to it,” she said.

Parkinson understands this, but still encourages people to make reports so that his department can have a record of business names, phone numbers and other data that can reveal patterns of behavior. “The more information we have, the clearer the picture,” he said.

Consumers who wish to report unsolicited communications or sign up for the Do Not Call registry can visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com or call 1-800-435-7352 for English or 1-800-352-9832 for Spanish.

Also see: What Realtors Need to Know About ‘Do Not Call’ Rules. More information about the U.S. do-not-call list can be found at the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry website.

© 2021 Orlando Sentinel. Visit orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Fannie’s Chair Warns Owners: Don’t Take Out Too Much Equity

During the Great Recession, some owners treated their home like a piggy bank, later finding themselves underwater. Don’t make that mistake again, Fannie’s chair says.

WASHINGTON – Home prices have posted double-digit annual gains and homeowners are feeling richer. Those higher prices are also driving an uptick in cash-out refinancings, in which owners retain some of their home’s equity when they refinance their mortgage.

In 2020, about $185 billion of equity was taken out through cash-out refinances – the highest amount since 2007, according to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But Fannie Mae’s board of directors chair Sheila Bair warns in a new column at Yahoo! Money that homeowners need to be careful about using cash-out refinances and taking out too much of their home’s equity.

“In many cases, a cash-out refinance makes sense, allowing a family to cover a medical emergency or a longer-term investment such as college tuition or a home renovation,” Bair writes. “But cash-out refinances can also carry risks that every homeowner – and every lender – should consider, especially during times of rapid home price increases such as now.”

Home prices can’t rise indefinitely, and there’s always a risk with cash-out refinances that home values could fall below the loan’s value.

It’s less likely today thanks to stricter lending standards developed in large part due to the Great Recession. Fannie Mae, for example, now requires that cash-out refinance loans be no greater than 80% of the home’s value, and homeowners must have at least six months of verified reserves if their monthly debt payments are 45% or more of their monthly incomes.

Lenders and homeowners are also being more cautious: 36% of 2020 cash-out refinances resulted in a mortgage balance 5% or greater than the previous balance. From 2005 to 2008, it was 78%.

“The overall picture of today’s cash-out refinance market is one calling for caution, but not alarm,” Bair says.

Bair urges any homeowners considering a cash-out refinance to recognize the importance of not missing any payments – a missed monthly payment on a cash-out refinance loan could cost them their home – and to be aware that refinancing still costs money. Closing costs could make up 2% to 5% of the loan amount. Also, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not back a cash-out refinance loan with less than 20% equity.

“Homeownership can be one of the most effective ways of building wealth,” Bair writes for Yahoo! Money. “However, entering into a long-term mortgage and building equity requires care and diligence.”

Source: “Tempted to Turn Your Home’s Soaring Equity Into Cash? Don’t Do it Lightly: Fannie Mae Chair,” Yahoo! Money (June 26, 2021)

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


Floridians’ Confidence Up in June After Dip in May

The UF gauge of Florida consumer outlooks fell in May but rose 1.5 points to 82.7 in June. Economist expects confidence to “keep recovering slowly in the months ahead.”

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After falling in May, consumer sentiment among Floridians rose 1.5 points in June to 82.7 from a revised figure of 81.2 in May, according to the monthly Florida Consumer Sentiment Index published by the University of Florida (UF).

All five components that make up the index went up.

Current conditions: Floridians’ opinions of personal financial situations now compared with a year ago increased 3.2 points, rising from 73.5 to 76.7 and the greatest increase of any reading this month. All Floridians generally agree, but it’s even stronger among people with an annual income under $50,000.

Attitudes as to whether “it’s a good time to buy a big-ticket item such as a refrigerator, car or furniture” increased slightly – by less than one point – going from 76.7 to 77.5.

“While the latest jobs report noted that the unemployment rate in Florida went up by 0.1% in May, reaching 4.9%, new filings for unemployment benefits have followed a downward trend in May and reached a pandemic-low in early June. The latter trend suggests that Florida’s labor market will continue to recover in the months ahead,” says Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“The reason behind this move is to push people back into the workforce,” he adds. “However, critics say these benefits have a small impact on job search and workers availability. It remains to be seen whether this move will have a significant effect on the labor market,” Sandoval added.

“Furthermore, by the end of June, Florida will stop providing $300 a week in federal unemployment assistance to jobless Floridians on top of the maximum provided by the state.

Future expectations: An index question about personal finances one year from now increased 1.3 points, from 90.3 to 91.6, though Florida’s older demographic had a less favorable view.

When asked about U.S. economic conditions over the next year, the index also rose slightly, again by less than a full point, going from 82.5 to 83.3. However, longer-term expectations about conditions five years in the future increased 1.1 point, rising from 83.1 to 84.2.

“Overall, Floridians are more optimistic in June,” says Sandoval. “Nonetheless, consumer confidence has remained mostly unchanged over the past months. Looking ahead, we expect consumer sentiment to keep recovering slowly in the months ahead.”

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Home Price Increase: The Highest in More than 15 Years

The April Case-Shiller home price report found prices rising at their highest pace since 2005, and the forces pushing prices higher offer “little evidence of abating.”

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. home prices soared in April at the fastest pace since 2005 as potential buyers bid up prices on a limited supply of available properties.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, jumped nearly 15% in April from the previous year. That is up from a 13.4% annual gain in March.

Many Americans have sought more living space since the pandemic began, seeking larger homes in suburbs rather than apartments or smaller homes in cities. Historically low mortgage rates, restrained in part by the Federal Reserve’s low-interest rate policies, have also spurred demand, just as the large millennial generation ages into a peak home-buying period. The price gains have been so dramatic that home sales have started to slow as more would-be buyers are priced out of the market.

Still, economists said there is little sign that the housing market’s blistering price increases are likely to cool off soon.

“The forces that have propelled home price growth to new highs over the past year remain in place and are offering little evidence of abating,” said Matthew Speakman, an economist at real estate data provider Zillow.

All 20 cities that make up the index reported higher year-over-year price gains in April than the previous month. Five cities – Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver and Seattle – had the largest 12-month price increases on records dating back 30 years.

Even as demand rose during the pandemic, fewer Americans were willing to sell their properties, perhaps reluctant to have waves of potential buyers troop through their homes. That sharply reduced the number of houses available, setting off bidding wars for most properties. Last month, nearly half of homes sold were selling for above their asking price, according to realty company Redfin.

In May, the number of available homes ticked up slightly, to 1.23 million. But that was still down 21% compared with a year earlier.

Sales of existing homes have fallen for four straight months, likely because soaring prices have discouraged some would-be buyers. Still, demand is strong enough that a typical home was on the market for just 17 days last month, the National Association of Realtors® said. Nearly 9 of 10 homes were on the market for less than a month.

Phoenix reported the largest price gain in April for the 22nd straight month, according to the Case-Shiller index, with an increase of 22.3% from a year earlier. San Diego followed at 21.6%, followed by Seattle at 20.2%.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


FHA Adds New Help for Homeowners Impacted by COVID-19

In addition to a foreclosure extension, owners with an FHA home loan now have forbearance extension options and can find help via FHA’s new outreach program.

WASHINGTON – On Friday, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced more measures to help homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages who are struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures provide additional, immediate relief, while expanding outreach about home retention options for struggling homeowners.

“We must continue to take action to ensure that those who may have experienced hardships brought on by COVID-19 have the support they need to remain in their homes,” says Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge.

“These measures are important steps we need to take to ensure that the individuals and families that continue to struggle financially due to COVID-19 have access to effective and meaningful recovery options,” adds FHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Lopa Kolluri, saying FHA will also “continue to assess additional solutions to help homeowners in distress keep their homes and avoid future foreclosure where possible.”

Extended single family foreclosure and eviction moratoria

In conjunction with the president and other federal agencies, FHA extended its foreclosure and eviction moratoria for all FHA-insured single family mortgages, except vacant or abandoned properties, through July 31, 2021.

FHA also continued its deadline extension for a first legal action and reasonable diligence timeframes for 180 days after July 31, 2021. It says that will give servicers additional time to focus on assisting distressed homeowners. The extension excludes vacant or abandoned properties.

Extended covid-19 forbearance request timeframes

FHA extended the time period for homeowners to start a new forbearance plan to Sept. 30, 2021, so those who haven’t previously applied for COVID-19 forbearance can request a pause or reduction in mortgage payments. The COVID-19 Forbearance for homeowners who newly request assistance between July 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021, is for six months.

For homeowners who received a forbearance from their mortgage servicer between July 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020, FHA is providing one additional three-month forbearance extension for those who need and request additional time to recover financially before resuming mortgage payments.

COVID-19 advance loan modification

FHA also introduced a new home retention option – the COVID-19 Advance Loan Modification (COVID-19 ALM) – which could offer significant payment relief to eligible owners.

The COVID-19 ALM will be offered to borrowers who are 90 or more days delinquent or at the end of their COVID-19 forbearance. It’s directed at owners who have a 30-year rate and term mortgage modification, and will bring the mortgage current and reduce the principal and interest portion of their monthly mortgage payment by at least 25%.

Mortgage servicers must now review their FHA servicing portfolio and offer the new COVID-19 ALM to distressed homeowners who qualify. To accept the modification, borrowers simply need to sign and return the mortgage modification documents to their mortgage servicer.

Failure to accept the ALM doesn’t cancel out other loss mitigation options. Borrowers who cannot make the modified mortgage payments with the COVID-19 ALM or have other questions should contact their mortgage servicer to learn about other options.

Home Equity conversion mortgage COVID-19 extensions

To assist seniors with Home Equity Conversion (reverse) Mortgages (HECMs), FHA extended their ability to request an extension before the servicer may request the loan be called due and payable. For extension requests received between July 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021, servicers must grant homeowners an extension of up to six months.

For HECM homeowners with loans that have already been called due and payable, servicers must approve homeowner requests for an extension for any deadline related to foreclosure and claim submission of up to six months when the request is received between July 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021.

For all HECMs that received an extension between July 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020, FHA is providing one additional three-month extension period if needed, providing the homeowner requests an extension from their mortgage servicer.

FHA urges all at-risk homeowners to contact their servicers immediately if they haven’t already done so. They can also consider contacting a HUD-approved housing counseling agency.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


CFPB Issues Rules to Create Smooth Forbearance Transition

The consumer bureau’s acting director, Dave Uejio, says the foreclosure-ban end will “drain billions of dollars in wealth from the Black and Hispanic communities.” The rules require lenders to assertively help homeowners stay in their homes and understand their options.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized amendments to the federal mortgage servicing regulations to reinforce the ongoing economic recovery as the federal foreclosure moratoria are phased out. It also published an Executive Summary of those rules.

Overall, CFPB says it created the rules to help protect mortgage borrowers from unwelcome surprises as they exit forbearance.

According to CFPB, the amendments will support the housing market’s “smooth and orderly transition to post-pandemic operation” by creating temporary safeguards to help ensure that borrowers have time before a foreclosure to explore their options, such as loan modifications and selling homes.

The rules cover loans on principal residences, generally exclude small servicers, and take effect on Aug. 31, 2021.

“As the nation shifts from the COVID-19 emergency to the economic recovery, we cannot be complacent about the dangers we still face,” says CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio. “An unchecked wave of foreclosures would drain billions of dollars in wealth from the Black and Hispanic communities hardest hit by the pandemic and still recovering from the impact of the Great Recession just over a decade ago. An unchecked wave of foreclosures would also risk destabilizing the housing market for all consumers.”

Uejio says CFPB is “giving homeowners the time and opportunity to make informed decisions.” And it’s giving mortgage servicing firms “the flexibility they need to serve homeowners with dignity,” even while they’re servicing an “unprecedented volume of borrowers.”

Over seven million American homeowners temporarily stopped making monthly mortgage payments through COVID-19 hardship forbearance, about two million are still participating. However, most of the latter are expected to be in forbearance for over a year. CFPB expects about 900,000 homeowners to exit forbearance between now and the end of the year.

The number of homeowners currently in forbearance is greater than the number of at-risk homeowners during the Great Recession. Over 3% of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage are at least four months behind on mortgage payments.

New rules: A smooth and orderly transition

The new rules require servicers to redouble efforts to prevent avoidable foreclosures. The rules will:

  • Give borrowers a “meaningful opportunity” to pursue loss mitigation options. To ensure borrowers can do this, servicers must meet temporary “special procedural safeguards” before initiating foreclosures for certain mortgages through the end of the year.
  • Allow mortgage servicers to help borrowers faster. Servicers can offer streamlined loan modifications to borrowers with COVID-19-related hardships without making borrowers submit all paperwork for every possible option. These streamlined loan modifications cannot increase borrowers’ payments and have other protections built into them.
  • Tell borrowers their options. Servicers must increase outreach to borrowers before initiating foreclosure and tell borrowers key information about their repayment or other options.

Generally, borrowers will have at least three options to bring their mortgages current and avoid foreclosure. Borrowers may:

  • Resume regular mortgage payments. Servicers can move a borrower’s missed payments to the end of the mortgage, commonly called “deferral.”
  • Lower their monthly mortgage payments. Modifications can change the interest rate, principal balance or length of the mortgage.
  • Sell their homes. For homeowners with sufficient equity, a sale may be possible. However, long-term forbearance may have eroded borrowers’ equity.

In some cases, foreclosures can’t be avoided. Under the CFPB’s rule, foreclosures will be able to start if the borrower:

  • Abandoned the property
  • Was more than 120 days behind on their mortgage before March 1, 2020
  • Is more than 120 days behind on their mortgage payments and has not responded to specific required outreach from the mortgage servicer for 90 days
  • Has been evaluated for all options other than foreclosure and there are none

The CFPB offers extensive consumer resources, including information on how to contact HUD-approved housing counselors, online at consumerfinance.gov/housing.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


NAR: Realtors Relief Foundation Announces 20th Anniversary

The Realtors Relief Foundation formed during the aftermath of 9-11. In the past 20 years, it’s helped over 17,000 families and distributed $33M in housing-related aid.

WASHINGTON (June 28, 2021) – The Realtors® Relief Foundation (RRF) was created in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, with the belief that no American should be left homeless because of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Within 100 days of that attack, Realtors raised $8.4 million. In the years since then, it’s raised and disbursed tens of millions in additional funds to the victims of hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other disasters.

As the nation marks two decades since 9-11, RRF commemorates its 20th anniversary by launching Hope Rising, a campaign designed to ensure the Foundation can respond to disasters as quickly and effectively as possible.

“Today, almost 20 years after its founding, the Realtors Relief Foundation continues to respond to the nation’s biggest disasters, ensuring Americans have a roof over their heads and a place they can call home even in the worst of times,” says National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) President Charlie Oppler. “RRF embodies a history of giving back and a future of paying it forward, and as it is called upon with increasing frequency to respond to natural disasters, the role it plays becomes even more critical.”

In May, Florida Realtors® gave RRF a one-time donation of $500,000.

“I’m always so proud of how Realtors respond when someone needs a helping hand,” Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert said at the time. “Our members believe in strong communities. They volunteer their time, talent and labor to give back in so many ways, whether it’s organizing food and supply drives, raising money for a good cause or helping to rebuild following a hurricane. As the largest state association in the nation, Florida Realtors is honored to stand with NAR and support the Realtor Relief Foundation as it shifts to this new sustainable way of raising funds.”

With major natural disasters in the U.S. becoming more common, RRF has been forced to intensify its focus on sustainability for the years ahead. Hope Rising is part of a deliberate effort to better position RRF for the next 20 years, formally shifting its fundraising efforts to a more proactive model.

When a major disaster occurs, RRF mobilizes its outreach efforts and turns to NAR members and other constituents for support. New goals set as part of Hope Rising will help maximize the impact the Foundation can have on communities and people in need by ensuring it has the resources it needs to respond to any disaster at a moment’s notice.

“As we commemorate the RRF’s 20th anniversary, we have a bold vision to ‘never say no’ to a victim in need,” says RRF President Michael Ford, who noted the Foundation has already raised more than $4 million of its $8.5 million campaign goal. “The goal of our 20th Anniversary Campaign is to ensure that we are able to immediately respond and protect people in a time of need, and I’m confident that we’ll be successful.”

Realtor.com, a Founders Club-level supporter of the Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Campaign, was RRF’s first corporate investor in the real estate industry. “At realtor.com, home means everything,” says CMO Mickey Neuberger.

NAR covers 100% of RRF’s administrative costs, so every dollar donated to RRF goes directly to disaster relief efforts. To date, funds have been used in response to some 105 events across 40 U.S. states and territories, and helped 17,000 families with housing-related financial assistance.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Remote Work Losing Luster as Employers Call People Back

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After months of keeping employees at home to dodge COVID-19, companies in South Florida are concluding that the best place for most of their workers is back at the office.

The pandemic proved that people don’t need to sit in the office full time, but many South Florida employers are bringing people back on at least flexible schedules, shattering the illusion of a workplace revolution that leaves most people signing on from home.

“Nobody has that full crystal ball,” said Jenni Morejon, president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority. “Human beings are creatures of habit, and the notion that people will never go back to the office – that is probably a lot of hype and hysteria.”

She believes the real question is the degree to which workers are burned out “from remote working full time.”

A national survey of 185 companies by CBRE, a real estate service firm, suggests that managements now see the office as a better means of supporting collaborative work than relying on remote communications.

The firm’s Spring 2021 Occupier Survey found 41% of companies interviewed intend to return to steady office use in the third quarter of this year, while 20% are targeting the fourth quarter. Another 23% said their workers have already returned to their places of employment.

“Multiple factors support this sentiment, including the ongoing rebound of the U.S. economy and companies’ realization that they need to retain more office space than they previously thought,” said Julie Whelan, CBRE’s head of occupier research.

Some observers think companies have no choice but to recall most workers because clients are restless about the services they’re receiving.

“The biggest user of office space in South Florida tends to be banks, investment shops, wealth management companies, law firms and real estate companies,” said Stephen Bittel, chairman of the real estate services firm Terranova. “We tend not to have large corporate users here. Those service firms had businesses that are well designed to work from home.”

“They congratulated themselves” for cutting expenses through remote work, he said. But the cuts may have boomeranged for some.

“They have spent no money on travel and client entertainment, and have not replaced employees and support staff,” Bittel said. “They think they’ve bottled lightning for a moment. The flip side is that clients and customers are screaming about the incredibly slow pace of transactions getting completed.”

While many acknowledge that remote work demonstrated the benefits of technology, there is a strong belief that communication and training are better done in person. That includes people who are learning on the job.

Isabella Guttuso is a student intern from the University of Florida at EDSA of Fort Lauderdale, a decades-old architectural firm. She insists that human interaction is important for growth and for learning how to collaborate with other adults in the workplace. She is studying landscape architecture and believes it’s unlikely she’d pick up the nuances of the business via Zoom.

“I’m trying to learn and get my feet wet,” she said. “I definitely needed that interpersonal experience. We’re constantly sketching and working together and getting people’s feedback in that way. I feel like even for people not in the design field, that sense of community you get from the workplace is so important.”

Training is better done in person, agreed Brandon Isner, associate research director for Florida with CBRE. Technology can accomplish only so much.

“When people come into the office everyone is so glad to see each other,” he said, “Technology is great, and I love Zoom. That said, that human element cannot be replicated by Zoom. That’s eventually what’s going to win out.”

Firms heading back to the office

During the pandemic, the benefits of remote work depended on the industry. While harder to pull off in hospitality and leisure, which relies heavily on personal contacts with customers, professional service firms found an easier path.

“Allowing employers to work remotely on a wholesale basis will in some situations be driven by the industry,” said Denise Heekin, a labor and employment lawyer and Broward County resident who manages the Miami law office of Bryant, Miller, Olive P.A.

“Certainly, technology has made it a lot easier for attorneys to work from home and staff to work from home, and certainly it’s nice to have that option,” she said.

The firm allowed employees to work at home except for one person who staffed the office.

“We just recently went back to having each person come in at least twice a week, and we rotate that,” Heekin said. “We have papers and files and documents that may not all be on our computers, We will need a brick-and-mortar footprint.”

Some believe it will take until the end of summer before most South Florida employers settle on where their employees should land as managements try to figure out a new normal while COVID-19 variants lurk in the background.

One upshot could be smaller spaces for some companies that conclude that portions of their work forces can continue spending some of their workweeks at home.

At the same time, office spaces that remain empty are likely to be snapped up by out-of-state companies seeking new homes for their headquarters or regional operations.

“I do think we will have a reduced footprint in South Florida and around the country,’ said Siri Terjeson, professor of entrepreneurship at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business. “But the good news is more and more companies are relocating to South Florida. That’s your silver lining.”

Some companies will reduce spaces “because you don’t need people in the office eight hours a day, five days a week,” she said.

“When people’s leases are up for renewal they will dial back the space,” she added.

The volume of companies seeking office space is on the rise, said Ken Krasnow, vice chairman of institutional investor services at Colliers International, the real estate services firm.

“Six months ago, at the height of the pandemic, there was a real thought of ‘do people need to go back to the office in total?” ‘he said. “What we’ve heard from our clients is the number of companies looking for space has exponentially increased in the last 30 to 60 days. You talk to office brokers out there and they’ll tell you there are a lot of tours.”

The theme is an important sales point for commercial real estate brokers who have clients with space to lease.

“Across the board, whether companies are adopting more flexible office schedules or not – the space itself is being viewed as a place to support a company’s ability to attract and retain talent,” said Tere Blanca, CEO of Miami-based Blanca Commercial Real Estate, which represents large commercial landlords in Broward County.

Locally, the demand for space from companies seeking to relocate is on the rise, brokers say,

A unique market

From Miami to West Palm Beach, analysts say, the office market is unlike any other in the country, with more new tenants signing leases,

“Miami and South Florida are a bit of an outlier,” said Isner of CBRE. “No one’s concerned about our office market right now. We’ve seen an unprecedented amount of new interest in this market.”

Isner has seen heavy leasing activity by new tenants in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Plantation and Fort Lauderdale. “They’re signing leases and they’re expanding,” he said.

Interior design firms are getting a lift.

“We’ve seen a major impact in our industry all the way around in the last six months or so,” said Brianna Brown, president and CEO of Fine Line Furniture and Accessories in Coral Gables.

“We’re seen a huge increase in professionals wanting to reopen their businesses, or we have an influx of corporations coming from other places in the U.S.,” she said. “They know and they understand how people feel about returning to work. They’re really trying to alter their atmospheres. Some people want to jump back in. For those [employees] who are hesitant, they’re trying to make it a better environment to appease them.”

In downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has seen a building boom of high rises designed for office, retail and apartment living, economic development advocates argue the city’s business district will remain attractive as a center for work.

“I think downtown Fort Lauderdale is going to be well-positioned” as a place for more companies to set up shop, said Morejon, at the Downtown Development Authority. “There’s this sense of community and place as opposed to suburban office parks where you’re back to driving to the parking lot and walking into the building.”

The city’s leasing rates are cheaper than its counterparts, which is another incentive to move downtown, she said.

Christina Stine Jolley, a vice president of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale, said the 35-floor The Main Las Olas, a new 1.4 million-square-foot, mixed-use office, residential and retail community, is leasing up quickly.

“Over 50% of that activity is from out of the [local] market,” she said. Two professional service firms from New York each signed for between 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. She declined to identify them.

“We’re over 50% leased right now,” Stine Jolley said. “If we close every deal we are negotiating, we would only have two floors left.”

Allure of suburbia

Outside the city limits, brokers and employers see advantages operating in the suburbs, where people don’t have to jostle each other in crowded elevators and battle downtown traffic.

“It seems like there is a reevaluation taking place of the need to be in an urban center,” asserted Jonathan Calderon, director at Gibraltar Realty & Management. His firm represents Monarch Gardens in Miramar, which offers nearly 100,000 square feet of office and retail space.

“This whole [pandemic] experience has proved how people can work outside of the office, but on a human level there is a desire to collaborate in person and not have appointment-driven dialogues with your peers,” he said.

How companies choose to reconfigure workspaces “will come down to the resourcefulness and empathy of each individual company,” he said. “Those companies that want a smaller footprint will undoubtedly have an easier go of it than somebody occupying an entire floor plate.”

© 2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


‘Housing Funds for Housing’ Amendment: Download, Sign, Send

Should doc stamp money collected for housing be spent only on housing? Florida Realtors members think so, and the association throws its full support behind a drive to amend Florida’s constitution. But that petition drive needs almost 1M signatures – including yours.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The concept is simple: “Housing funds for housing.”

But the effort is complicated, and Realtors® throughout Florida now have a chance to codify housing support into Florida’s constitution. However, the effort requires work from every Realtor in the state, and that starts with signing a petition.

In theory, the 1992 Sadowski Act created an affordable housing-support system where a portion of documentary stamp money – charged on Florida property sales – goes directly to affordable housing efforts.

In practice, it’s a different story. Over the years, the Florida Legislature has “swept” $2.3 billion out of the affordable housing money and moved it into general revenue, essentially using the money to pay for other state expenses.

Year after year, Florida Realtors® has advocated for affordable housing, asking the Legislature not to use the doc stamp money for other purposes. But during the 2021 session, lawmakers brought the issue to a breaking point when they created a new law to permanently reduce the funds by 50%.

Realtors in Florida decided to take action by creating a constitutional amendment that would codify “housing funds for housing” into the Florida Constitution. If approved by 60% of voters during the 2022 election, Florida’s housing market could then have an ongoing and reliable source of income to help first-time homebuyers, such as nurses, firefighters and teachers.

The challenge of a constitutional amendment

The first step was completed with the formation of “Floridians for Housing,” a Florida Realtors-funded Political Action Committee (PAC) overseeing the effort to advertise the project, collect petition signatures and create a path to the 2022 ballot. The drive officially began on Monday, June 28, 2021, and a copy of the full proposal is posted on the Florida Division of Elections’ website.

The second step: The Florida Supreme Court must consider and approve the proposed amendment language. But to get there, the drive first needs to collect 225,000 signatures from registered voters.

The third step: Once the court approves the amendment language, Floridians for Housing must collect more than 1 million signatures from registered voters. To reach that level, the state’s brokers and agents must not only sign and return a petition, but they must also advocate for their industry and collect additional signatures from family, friends and customers.

Gathering, signing and sending petitions

Petitions can be downloaded at the Floridians for Housing website or directly here: https://floridarealtors.org/petition

Petitions must be physically signed and filled out to qualify. Once printed and signed, they must be stamped and snail-mailed. While the petition lists Florida Realtors’ Orlando address as the sponsor, send all completed petitions to:

Floridians For Housing
3515 NW 98th Street, Ste. 200
Gainesville, FL 32606

Over the years, “billions of dollars from the trust funds have been siphoned away to be used for purposes other than housing,” says Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert. “Getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot and passed by voters is a heavy lift that will take considerable resources, time and the involvement of our entire membership – but we have the resources and we have the passion.”

For Realtors in Florida, it’s time for action. Sign and share the petition today.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Scam Warning: Local Association Member Doesn’t Have Sick Son

An existing Realtor scam asks members to help pay for a sick son’s surgery, but it now appears as if the request for help was sent by your local association.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Little Manuel, Erica and Diana don’t need help – they don’t exist. But Realtors® still receive bogus donation requests to help a child with a fatal disease.

In a new twist, however, scammers have personalized the requests by making them appear as if they’re coming from a local association, rather than Florida Realtors® or the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

In a version of the latest email scam, a Realtor was told that a fellow member’s son was “critically ill” and “needs to be operated urgently.” It includes a photo of a small child in a hospital bed and asks that donations be sent to a fundraising campaign set up for that purpose.

If you receive this email or a similar one, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center IC3.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Habitat for Humanity Struggles with High Construction Costs

NEW YORK – Reeling from massive cutbacks in volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic and grappling with high construction costs, Habitat for Humanity leaders would be the first to admit they’re struggling.

The past year has felt like one punch after the other, they say. First hit: Habitat’s local affiliates had to limit volunteers over virus concerns, forcing them to fork over more money to hire contractors. Second hit: Revenue was dented by temporary closures of ReStores, the reuse stores operated by local Habitat organizations. The third: Construction delays caused by pandemic-induced kinks in the supply chain, which make affiliates wait longer for supplies.

What could have been the knockout blow was the spike in construction costs. Lumber prices, according to the National Association of Home Builders, increased by more than 300% since April 2020. Demand for new homes, as well as demand for supplies for renovation projects and other factors, also kept costs high, experts say. Prices have come down in recent weeks, but they are still significantly higher than before the pandemic.

Morgan Pfaff, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Wisconsin River Area, which operates in rural Baraboo, Wisconsin, said the group had to cancel the second house it was going to build this year because it just can’t afford it. The one house they are building is costing more because it doesn’t have enough volunteers. “It’s going to be, at least, an additional $13,000 of contracted labor that we hadn’t budgeted for,” Pfaff said. “Then you add in the cost of materials, and it’s really upside down.”

Faced with challenges on all sides, Habitat’s network of independent, locally run affiliates are trying to cope with increased costs by taking out loans, increasing fundraising and using alternative construction materials, among other things. Some affiliates are using materials local stores helped them stockpile before the price hikes went into effect. Now, in the midst of the surges, officials say donors are also stepping up.

In each of the past three years, the nonprofit has built an average of 3,000 new homes in the U.S. It continues to be one of the top affordable homebuilders in the country, despite a 4% drop so far this year compared to 2019, according to Adrienne Goolsby, senior vice president of U.S. and Canada at Habitat for Humanity International. However, experts say its work – and the work of other housing nonprofits – can’t solve the shortage of nearly 7 million affordable homes in America alone.

Habitat received about $1.5 billion in contributions and other in-kind gifts throughout its network, according to the organization’s annual report for fiscal year 2019, which shows the latest figures without the impact of the pandemic. Those gifts, coupled with federal grants, help affiliates subsidize mortgages for Habitat homes, which families build alongside volunteers and pay off through a no-interest mortgage that cannot exceed 30% of the homeowners’ monthly income.

“One of the challenges facing Habitat is that a lot of affiliates are working with families who were previously approved for a finance package that did not account for these increased costs,” said Nancy Lee, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity South Carolina, which oversees 29 local affiliates in the state.

“As the cost to build increases, we’re seeing a lot of affiliates absorbing that financial burden themselves,” she added. “That is not a sustainable approach, and the ramifications we’re seeing in South Carolina include affiliates having to consider either slowing down anticipated build schedules and/or finding alternative ways to overcome the price increases, if this situation persists.”

Another reason Habitat homes are affordable is because the affiliates get materials for free or at a low-cost from Habitat for Humanity International’s corporate partners. But, the affiliates still have to make purchases at a market rate. Burdened by the recent cost spikes, some are now focusing more on home repairs instead of new construction, said Goolsby.

“Our affiliates are quite innovative as well, some of them are using substitute materials where it’s allowed,” Goolsby said. For example, instead of using wood-based exterior sheathing for homes, some are considering a shift to rigid board insulation, which is made of foam.

Others chose not to change their building model to counteract the lumber prices and will continue to absorb the costs. One such affiliate, Tennessee’s Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, will begin to pass an 8% increase onto homeowners for future builds, said Rob Selkow, its executive director. Even with the hikes, he notes most of the future recipient families will fall in the same low-income bracket.

Since the Habitat affiliates operate independently, it’s unclear how many will pass more costs on to homeowners. Lee, of South Carolina, says some affiliates base a home’s sale price on their total out-of-pocket expenses, which could price out some families. That’s a scenario they want to avoid, she said.

In South Carolina, affiliates are absorbing much of the extra cost through forgivable second mortgages. Those typically aren’t paid back to the affiliates unless a family moves, or sells the home they’ve purchased before paying off their first mortgage, according to Lee.

All of this has contributed to construction setbacks. Habitat for Humanity International, which expects high construction costs to be sustained, says it will “continue to look at how production has been affected, and identify and manage risks to affordable home construction.”

Aware of the challenges, individual donors have stepped up their giving to the umbrella organization, which has been able to provide grants to struggling affiliates, Goolsby says. Some have also been getting more funding from local community foundations.

“You know what’s going through my head right now? Staying alive. We’re working hard on staying alive,” said Virginia Ohler, the executive director of the West Tuality Habitat for Humanity in Forest Grove, Oregon. Her affiliate has been spending more time fundraising. It has also borrowed money and stockpiled construction materials.

“Some of our local suppliers have been extremely helpful to us, and they’ve worked with us to help mitigate costs,” she said. “But, you can’t buy a year’s worth of materials ahead of time. So at some point, it’ll catch up with us.”

Though there are challenges left and right, the recent decrease in lumber prices is one bright spot. Habitat for Humanity International also lifted its recommended guidance on volunteer usage earlier this month, which could soon start saving affiliates labor costs.

But the price hikes, nonprofits say, have extended beyond the cost of basic construction. Lee Jeter, Sr., executive director of the Fuller Center for Housing of Northwest Louisiana, an affiliate of the Georgia-based housing nonprofit The Fuller Center for Housing, says his office has also seen an increase in their payments of property and liability insurance.

The increase is “really going to cost us, as a non-profit, to relook our whole portfolio and how we conduct business,” he said. “With all of these increasing costs, how do we continue to maintain the same quality of service that we provide to our clients without placing ourselves in a financial hardship? Those are hard questions.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. The Associated Press receives support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits.


Miami Herald Editorial: We Need to Protect Affordable Housing

“When it comes to (Florida’s) affordable-housing needs, we need all the help we can get,” editors write. The state’s “housing funds help people who are first responders, our teachers, our paramedics with down-payment assistance,” says Florida Realtors President-Elect Christina Pappas.

MIAMI – June 20, 2021, editorial published by Miami Herald staff:

For years, we asked what it would take for lawmakers in Tallahassee to take the affordable-housing shortage South Florida – and most of the state – are facing seriously.

We got our answer this year. And it wasn’t the right response.

After raiding Florida’s affordable-housing trust fund – known as the Sadowski Trust Fund – for more than a decade to pay for unrelated things, the Legislature passed a bill to enshrine that practice into law. Under Senate Bill 2512, money previously slated for affordable housing will now be divided three ways: for sea-level rise mitigation and wastewater projects, in addition to affordable-housing programs. Lawmakers said the state had a limited amount of money for those priorities, even though Florida got billions from the federal government, and tax revenue this year surpassed expectations by $2 billion, making that change not only wrong, but unnecessary.

We have gotten used to the idea that we will just learn to live with whatever the Legislature shoves down our throats, unless lawsuits get legislation overturned. But, now, voters might get to have a say if a proposed constitutional amendment makes it on the 2022 ballot.

Realtors step up

Florida Realtors, the trade association representing Realtors, is bankrolling a ballot initiative that would undo SB 2512 and return to the original intent of the affordable-housing trust fund, the group told the Herald Editorial Board.

The proposal would direct 25% of the revenue from taxes levied on real estate transaction documents to programs addressing new construction, down-payment and closing-cost assistance, rehabilitation and financing of affordable-housing development. The amendment also would prohibit that money from being used for non-housing purposes and mandate that at least 65% be used to help people buy homes instead of renting.

Realtors were among the interest groups that worked to dedicate a portion of documentary-stamp tax proceeds to housing in 1992, when the state’s Sadowski Trust Fund was created.

Now, Florida Realtors has donated $5 million to pursuing the ballot initiative. President-elect Christina Pappas told the Board that the group had been watching the Legislature sweep more than $2 billion from the affordable housing trust since 2007, costing the state an estimated 94,000 housing units that weren’t built, according to the Florida Housing Coalition estimates.

This year’s bill was the last straw, Pappas said.

“These housing funds help people who are first responders, our teachers, our paramedics with down-payment assistance,” Pappas said. “And so, as Realtors, we see this firsthand how hard it can be for some of these great people to afford to buy homes.”

Floridians For Housing, the group sponsoring the proposed ballot initiative, needs to gather nearly 223,000 signatures to trigger a judicial review of the ballot language by the Florida Supreme Court and more than 891,000 by Feb. 1 to get it on the ballot. Then, it would need at least 60% of the vote to be added to the state Constitution.

Lawmakers fail to act

Ballot initiatives are a lousy way to make policy – that’s why we elect representatives to the Florida House and Senate. But, increasingly, it has become the only way to do things when the Legislature fails to act – as was the case with the minimum-wage increase and voting rights for ex-felons.

The housing ballot initiative is far from being a perfect solution.

By undoing the bill passed this year, it would take a steady source of money away from sea-level rise and wastewater projects such as septic-to-sewer conversions, also important needs. That would force lawmakers to find other funding sources for those projects, which is what they should’ve done from the beginning instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul. But there’s no guarantee they will actually do that.

On the other hand, when it comes to our affordable-housing needs, we need all the help we can get.

Miami-Dade currently needs 160,000 affordable rental units – and 210,000 will be needed by 2030, according to a study commissioned by Miami Homes for All.

By putting affordable housing in the state Constitution, the amendment would prevent future legislatures from sweeping the trust fund.

The bill passed this year did that, but at the expense of what will be available for this purpose. It would have been worse if Gov. Ron DeSantis and some lawmakers hadn’t pushed to increase the amount that’s locked in for housing to $209 million in 2021-22, the largest amount in 12 years.

While that’s progress, it’s nowhere near the more than $420 million DeSantis initially asked from lawmakers. (It’s worth pointing out DeSantis has sought to fully fund affordable housing over the years, but the Legislature controls the purse strings.)

We elect politicians so they can focus on what’s important. On this issue, that hasn’t happened.

Now Florida voters might have to resort to fixing this mess themselves.

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


How to Win a Bidding War?

In the end, coming out on top largely depends on the highest offer. But one Realtor also calls the seller’s agent to see what the seller considers most important.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Windermere Realty Trust broker Sarah Renard details how she helped a buyer win a 20-offer bidding war in Portland, Oregon, and offers advice for agents in similar situations.

Her client, a first-time buyer, found a three-bedroom residence with backyard space for her dog in a market characterized by few homes for sale, skyrocketing home prices and eager buyers.

Renard’s first move was to look at homes with the expectation that they were going to top the asking price, thus positioning the client to be a strong contender in potential bidding wars.

“We’re just making an assumption that most of the active homes are going to go somewhere between 7% to 10% over asking right now,” Renard says.

Once the client decided to bid, Renard reached out to the seller’s agent to ensure the price range was competitive. She also recommends that agents ask the seller’s agent what terms are most important to their client.

Although making a high enough bid is undoubtedly the most important element in a bidding war, Renard says other factors can be considered; examples include appraisal gap coverage and waived repair requests.

She also recommends that agents ensure their buyers have a “must have” and a “nice to have” list so they can trim down the number of homes they need to show buyers.

In addition, agents should make sure buyers are pre-approved and know enough about the housing market to determine a house’s value to them.

Source: Inman (06/21/21) Brandt, Libertina

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


HUD to Bring Back Stronger Discrimination Rules

HUD wants to restore a 2013 rule that focused on “disparate impact,” which is an analysis of a practice’s outcome even if the practice itself isn’t discriminatory.

WASHINGTON – Calling it the “the latest step HUD is taking to fulfill its duty to ensure more fair and equitable housing,” Marcia Fudge, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), announced that a rule on “disparate impact” would be changed, following publication in the Federal Register as “a notice of proposed rulemaking.” Once published, a 60-day comment period will follow.

Disparate impact is a type of discrimination prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, but identifying that discrimination requires a look at overall results to a group of people who are protected under the Act. Individual behaviors that create broad disparate-impact discrimination are not, by themselves, necessarily discriminatory. HUD refers to it as the “systemic racism” component of fair housing.

The proposed rule would rescind a 2020 update that eased some of the nation’s disparate-impact rules and restore original rules created in 2013. HUD calls the 2013 rule more consistent with decades of case law, and says it would work better to fix remedial problems and “eradicate unnecessary discriminatory practices from the housing market.”

“We must acknowledge that discrimination in housing continues today, and that individuals, including people of color and those with disabilities, continue to be denied equal access to rental housing and homeownership,” says Fudge in HUD’s media release. “It is a new day at HUD and our department is working to lift barriers to housing and promote diverse, inclusive communities across the country.”

According to HUD, disparate impact has been used to challenge policies that unnecessarily exclude people from housing opportunities, including zoning requirements, lending and property insurance policies, and criminal records policies.

Under the 2013 rule that HUD plans to restore, officials say the discriminatory effects framework was fairly straightforward: a policy that had a discriminatory effect on a protected class was unlawful if it did not serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest, or if a less discriminatory alternative could also serve that interest. In the announcement, HUD says that the 2020 rule added “new pleading requirements, new proof requirements and new defenses, all of which made it harder to establish that a policy violates the Fair Housing Act.”

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Mortgage Rates Hit 10-Week High – Rise Above 3%

The average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rose from last week’s 2.93% to 3.02% in one week, likely due to a surging economy and elevated inflation.

MCLEAN, Va. – Mortgage rates rose about 3% – to 3.02% – for the first time in 10 weeks, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

“As the economy progresses and inflation remains elevated, we expect that rates will continue to gradually rise in the second half of the year,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “For those homeowners who have not yet refinanced – and there remain many borrowers who could benefit from doing so – now is the time.”

Average mortgage rate overview for the week of June 24, 2021

  • The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.02% with an average 0.7 point, up from last week’s 2.93%. A year ago, it averaged 3.13%.
  • The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.34% with an average 0.7 point, up from last week’s 2.24%. One year ago, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.59%.
  • The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.53% with an average 0.3 point, up slightly from last week’s 2.52%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.08%.

Freddie Mac’s weekly rate study focuses on conventional, conforming, fully amortizing home purchase loans for borrowers who put 20% down and have excellent credit.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Eviction and Foreclosure Moratoriums Extended to July 31

The CDC extended the federal eviction moratorium for another month, from June 30 to July 31, further frustrating landlords. However, CDC also said it’s likely that this new deadline will be the last one. FHFA also announced that its foreclosure moratorium was extended to July 31.

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that it was extending its eviction ban by one month, to July 31, 2021. However, the CDC also said it plans to make this the last extension.

In response to the announcement, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) said it was “disappointed by the extension of the CDC moratorium, which no longer serves the purpose it was intended for and is no longer needed on a national level.”

U.S. courts have already ruled against CDC’s power to halt evictions, after decisions that favored challenges from the Georgia and Alabama Associations of Realtors. However, the rulings did not end the eviction ban because the court halted enforcement pending an appeal by the Department of Justice. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering the issue.

In addition to the tenant eviction ban, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced an extension of the ban that protects homeowners from foreclosures. However, FHFA’s ban only applies to homeowners with a Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-backed single-family mortgage – slightly over half of all U.S. homes with a mortgage. The foreclosure moratorium was also extended from June 30 to July 31.

The eviction ban extension frustrates landlords and apartment owners, many of whom have their own mortgages to pay on their rental properties. In a few cases, renters may not have paid for their units since the ban’s start in September 2020.

The eviction moratorium prevents housing providers from evicting tenants who can’t pay all or some of their rent, providing a number of conditions are in place. They must have suffered a loss of income and have attempted to obtain rental assistance. The tenant’s income cannot be more than $99,000 per year ($198,000 for joint filers) in 2020 or they don’t expect to make that much in 2021.

They must also undertake “best efforts” to make timely partial payments, and eviction would likely render them homeless or force them into shared living.

After the CDC and FHFA announcements, the White House announced a new effort to help tenants after the bans end – a set of buffer policies to ease the transition if a large number of people are evicted at the same time.

In general, the fact sheet, called “Initiatives to Promote Housing Stability by Supporting Vulnerable Tenants and Preventing Foreclosures,” outlines plans to coordinate actions by federal agencies, working with state, local and national governments. The overall goal is to help tenants and housing providers access rental assistance funds and programs, develop anti-eviction diversion practices and relieve some of the burden on the court systems.

Some initiatives announced by the White House

  • Encourage state and local courts to adopt “anti-eviction diversion practices” that help housing providers and tenants reach agreements and access rental assistance. If successful, it would keep people in their homes and help make housing providers whole
  • Highlight the federal assistance funds for state and local governments, plus their range of potential uses – including eviction diversion plans
  • Hold a White House summit for eviction prevention plans, which will include state and local governments as well as various legal groups. The plans should coordinate efforts to develop “locally-tailored” solutions to incentivize the use of emergency rental assistance program (ERAP) funds
  • Accelerate and broaden disbursement of ERAP funds
  • Ensure enforcement of the 30-day eviction notice requirement for federally backed properties (HUD/FHA/USDA, Freddie and Fannie)
  • Create guidance produced by HUD to prevent Fair Housing Act violations within the scope of eviction actions against tenants, and collaborate with the DOJ to publicize that guidance

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


HUD Focuses on Housing Protections for ‘Returning Citizens’

HUD Secretary Fudge wrote a letter making it clear that ex-prisoners qualify for emergency vouchers – and to avoid “overbroad denial … on the basis of criminal records.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge outlined actions that HUD is taking to “improve public safety” – specifically by addressing the housing needs of ex-prisoners, which she calls “returning citizens.

In a letter sent to public housing authorities, Fudge said that returning citizens should be included in distribution of the recently awarded 70,000 emergency housing vouchers funded by the American Rescue Plan.

Secretary Fudge’s letter is tied to the Biden-Harris Administration’s new comprehensive strategy to increase public safety.

“The President and I believe that everyone deserves a second chance and a stable home from which to rebuild their lives,” Fudge says. “To that end, HUD is committed to taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the housing needs of returning citizens and people with criminal records, and by doing so, increasing public safety within our communities.”

Fudge says HUD’s focus will help advance equity and reverse systemic racism, “given the racial disparities evident in the criminal justice system.”

She also mentions additional steps HUD is taking to meet the housing needs of returning citizens. Those include:

  • Developing additional tools to ensure applicant screening and tenant selection practices avoid unnecessarily overbroad denial of housing to applicants on the basis of criminal records. HUD reminds landlords that these can lead to Fair Housing violations, consistent with the 2016 memo on disparate impact and criminal records
  • Reviewing existing HUD policies and regulations that limit access to housing and HUD assistance among people with criminal conviction histories
  • Publishing findings regarding best and promising practices on reentry housing, including through HUD’s existing programs and demonstrations like the Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program and the Pay for Success Permanent Supportive Housing Demonstration

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


New-Home Sales Drop 5.9% as Builders Wait for Supplies

May new-home sales dropped to the lowest pace in a year, with prices up 18%. Part of the reason: 20% of builders limited sales activity to manage supply chain problems.

WASHINGTON – New home sales fell to its lowest pace in a year, with prices jumping 18% on a year-over-year basis. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) largely blames the high cost and uncertain availability of building materials, lots and labor.

Sales of newly built, single-family homes fell 5.9% in May to a 769,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. The May number follows significant downward revisions to the April estimate and previous months’ readings.

“New home prices have increased over the last year due to higher material costs and delays for deliveries,” says Chuck Fowke, NAHB chair and a custom home builder from Tampa. “Policymakers must take action to improve supply-chains in order to protect housing affordability. While lumber costs have come down in recent weeks, they are still more than 210% higher than a year ago. And OSB (lumber) prices are up 380% over the last year.”

NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz says the new-home sales slowdown was expected.

“While higher prices have shifted some buyers to the sidelines, NAHB survey data indicates that approximately 20% of builders have limited sales activity in recent months in order to manage supply-chains of materials and labor availability,” Dietz says.

A new home sale occurs when a sales contract is signed or a deposit accepted. The home can be in any stage of construction: not yet started, under construction or completed. In addition to adjusting for seasonal effects, the May reading of 769,000 units is the number of homes that would sell if the current pace continued for the next 12 months.

Inventory remains low at a 5.1-month supply, with 330,000 new single-family homes for sale, 3.8% lower than May 2020. Supply-side challenges remain an issue, with the count of new homes sold that had not started construction, up 76% over the last year. The count of new homes sold that are completed and ready to occupy is down 33%.

The median sales price in May was $374,400, up 18% from the $317,100 median sales price a year earlier.

“Entry-level buyers are most affected by higher prices,” says Dietz. “Just a year ago, shares of sales priced below $300,000 accounted for 44% of sales, while this May it dropped to 26%.”

On a year-to-date basis new home sales rose in all four regions included in the new-home monthly survey – up 48.7% in the Northeast, 33.5% in the Midwest, 32.3% in the South, and 5.6% in the West. However, those significant increases are due in part to lower sales volume during the Covid crisis one year ago.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®