Monthly Archives: November 2021

FHFA: Fla. Metro Price Increases Top National Average

U.S. home prices rose 18.5% year-to-year in 3Q, but the increases in eight Fla. metros ranged from 20.5% in Central Florida to 34.7% in Cape Coral-Fort Myers.

WASHINGTON – U.S. house prices rose 18.5% year-to-year – from the third quarter of 2020 to the third quarter (3Q) of 2021 – according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency House Price Index (FHFA HPI).

However, Florida price increases rose even higher. Of eight state metro areas included in FHFA’s analysis, the lowest year-to-year price gain, 20.5% in Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, ranked 28th out of 100 national metros. And the highest Florida price gain (Cape Coral-Fort Myers at 34.7%) ranked second-highest nationwide. Only Boise City, Idaho, ranked higher with a year-to-year price rise of 37.3%.

However, FHFA also compared third-quarter home prices to the second quarter of 2021, and two U.S. metros saw prices surge over 9% in just three months – No. 1 Cape Coral-Fort Myers at 9.8%, and No. 2 Jacksonville at 9.1%.

“House price appreciation reached its highest historical level in the quarterly series,” says William Doerner, Ph.D., supervisory economist in FHFA’s Division of Research and Statistics. “Compared to a year ago, annual gains have increased in every state and metro area. Real estate prices have risen exceptionally fast, but market momentum peaked in July as month-over-month gains have moderated.”

Florida metros ranked in FHFA’s 3Q top 100 price study

2. Cape Coral-Fort Myers: 34.7% year-to-year, 9.8% quarter-to-quarter

8. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton: 25.6% year-to-year, 6.6% quarter-to-quarter

9. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach: 25.5% year-to-year, 5.7% quarter-to-quarter

10. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater: 25.2% year-to-year, 6.5% quarter-to-quarter

15. Jacksonville: 23.3% year-to-year, 9.1% quarter-to-quarter

17. Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Sunrise: 22.4% year-to-year, 6.5% quarter-to-quarter

24. Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall: 21.2% year-to-year, 5.4% quarter-to-quarter

28. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford: 20.5% year-to-year, 6.3% quarter-to-quarter

FHFA calculates housing prices using seasonally adjusted, purchase-only data from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

FHFA’s 3Q ‘significant findings’

  • House prices rose in all 50 states and the District of Columbia between the third quarters of 2020 and 2021. The five states with the highest annual appreciation: 1) Idaho 35.8%; 2) Utah 30.3%; 3) Arizona 27.7%; 4) Montana 26.0%; and 5) Florida 24.8%. The areas showing the lowest annual appreciation: 1) District of Columbia 8.0%; 2) North Dakota 10.5%; 3) Louisiana 10.9%; 4) Maryland 12.5%; and 5) Iowa 13.0%.
  • House prices rose in all of the top 100 largest metropolitan areas over the last four quarters. Annual price increases were weakest in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they increased by 9.9%.
  • Of the nine census divisions, the Mountain division recorded the strongest four-quarter appreciation, posting a 25.0% gain between the third quarters of 2020 and 2021 and a 5.8% increase in the third quarter of 2021. Annual house price appreciation was weakest in the West North Central division, where prices rose by 14.8% between the third quarters of 2020 and 2021.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Assignment-of-Benefits Loophole Puts Owners at Risk

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Imagine receiving an unexpected $7,500 invoice telling you that your payment is more than 30 days past due and that you’re responsible for it if your homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover it.

That’s the scare that Carla Axelrod experienced after her water heater sprang a leak in September. Insurance experts in Florida are warning that it’s the result of the latest billing strategy by repair contractors that leaves homeowners vulnerable to surprisingly high invoices, liens against their homes and lawsuits if insurers fail to pay.

The strategy involves requiring homeowners to sign what’s called a “Direction to Pay,” and it gives contractors the right to bill insurance companies directly for their repair services. It sounds convenient, but what customers might not know is that by signing the document, they agree to pay whatever portion of the contractor’s invoice is not paid by the insurer – even if the contractor assured them that the work would be covered by their policy.

The trend is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between contractors and home insurance companies in Florida.

Prior to 2019, many contractors specializing in water dry-out services and roofing required homeowners to sign what’s called an Assignment of Benefits (AOB), which enabled contractors to assume the policyholder’s right to sue an insurer over claims. Insurers say this promoted abuse.

Lawsuits against insurers exploded, and so did insurance costs for all Florida homeowners. As a result, the state enacted restrictions and consumer protections in 2019 that were intended to curb abuses and runaway costs.

Insurers now contend that contractors are using a document called a Direction to Pay, also known as a Direct Payment Authorization, and work authorization contracts to avoid complying with the reforms. Insurers are calling on the state Legislature to extend existing Assignment of Benefits restrictions to all contracts authorizing repairs of damage covered by property insurance.

Axelrod, a Boca Raton retiree, learned the hard way that she was ultimately responsible for paying a $7,476 invoice to a company that obtained her signature to perform extensive dry-out services after her aging water heater sprang a leak in September.

Axelrod said she called Roto-Rooter because she wanted a cost estimate for a new water heater.

But a Roto-Rooter field supervisor who came to her house showed her moisture test readings that he said proved that the leak had seeped into her walls and could lead to mold infestation, a serious health risk, she said.

“The first thing the field supervisor asked was, ‘Do you have homeowner insurance?’ I said, ‘yes,’ and he said, ‘They’ll pay for everything except the water heater and installation.’”

He handed her an electronic tablet and told her to sign her name in a box. Then, she said, he told her not to bother calling her insurance company. “He said, ‘I’ll call them.’”

Later that night, Roto-Rooter workers arrived and tore out tile baseboards from the bottoms of walls in areas surrounding the water heater. They installed plastic sheeting and seven machines to remove moisture from the air and her walls. They did not replace the water heater.

Six weeks later, Axelrod received an invoice from Roto-Rooter for $7,476 along with an ominously worded letter saying her invoice was more than 30 days past due and that she would have to pay it if her insurer did not pay within 30 days.

Axelrod said she was shocked at the bill amount and requested an itemized invoice. Services listed on the invoice left her shaking her head: Most of the charges were related to set-up and use of the dry-out machines. But there were also $193.44 for “content manipulation,” $18.02 for cleaning her kitchen sink, and $182.63 for hauling away the half-dozen or so sections of torn-out baseboard. She was surprised to see charges totaling $304 for removal, resetting and cleaning her refrigerator and dishwasher, which she does not remember occurring.

Roto-Rooter spokesmen interviewed for this story said the appliances must have been removed, reset and cleaned when Axelrod was not present in the kitchen. “We do not bill for services we do not provide,” said Jason Trace, general manager of the company’s Fort Lauderdale office.

Axelrod won’t have to pay Roto-Rooter’s invoice. After the South Florida Sun Sentinel contacted Roto-Rooter and her insurer, Universal Property & Casualty, about her situation, a Universal representative called Axelrod and assured her that the invoice would be covered.

And she’ll be able to use a $6,200 check that Universal gave her in September to cover repairs to her home, including replacing the baseboards that Roto-Rooter tore out. Axelrod said she was afraid she’d be forced to give that check to Roto-Rooter, leaving her unable to afford the fixes.

‘Assignment’ reforms increase policyholder risk

Until the Assignment of Benefits reforms were enacted in 2019, Axelrod might have never seen the itemized invoice that Roto-Rooter submitted to her insurer, just as policyholders were often not notified when contractors filed lawsuits in their names.

In state legislative hearings over the reforms enacted in 2019, contractors and insurers blamed one another for increases in litigation and costs. Contractors complained that insurers over-scrutinized their invoices and typically offered to pay just a fraction of what was owed.

Insurers said many contractors and attorneys routinely submitted fraudulent claims to obtain as much money as possible.

And while the reforms have succeeded in reducing assignments, contractors have turned to the Direction to Pay as a way to avoid the 2019 restrictions while retaining the ability to invoice insurers directly, insurers say.

Consumers left with fewer protections

As a result, consumers who sign Direction to Pay contracts lose the protections built into the 2019 reforms, including immunity from being sued by contractors and the right to receive a detailed estimate. Axelrod said she would not have authorized Roto-Rooter to provide such extensive dry-out services if she had known beforehand what the company planned to do.

Under Direction to Pay contracts, customers only have three days to cancel work agreements. The Assignment of Benefits reforms allow 14 days to cancel. Axelrod’s contract with Roto-Rooter includes a clause waiving any right of cancellation.

In addition, the Assignment of Benefits reforms forbid contractors from trying to collect from customers any money not paid by insurers, including by filing liens against their homes or suing them in court. No such restrictions exist under a Direction to Pay agreement.

Other loopholes not addressed in the 2019 reforms put policyholders at risk, insurers say.

Locke Burt, president and CEO of the Ormond Beach-based firm Security First Insurance, says consumers who sign Direction to Pay contracts are in effect “signing a blank check” to contractors, he said. Contractors “can assign work to someone else without permission. They can keep the (payment) difference if they assign the work to someone else,” Burt said.

The biggest problem, according to Paul Handerhan, president of the consumer-focused Federal Association for Insurance Reform, is “nondisclosure of the scope of work” and what it will cost.

In an email, Tasha Carter, the state’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, said she has spoken with numerous consumers who were left unprotected after signing Direction to Pay agreements. Some allow contractors to assess fees to consumers who terminate their contracts, she said. Although the contracts state that the consumers are not signing over benefits of their insurance policies, they function in much the same way, by allowing “a contractor to exercise control over a consumer’s insurance claim, often to the detriment of the consumer,” she said.

Carter is calling for the Legislature to extend consumer protections enacted for Assignments of Benefits to Direction to Pay agreements and related contracts during the upcoming session that begins in January. Her proposal includes a requirement that insurers send payments directly to the policyholder rather than the contractor.

“Policyholders may not be aware that payments have been issued, the amount of those payments, and the assignee/contractor can take the money and never complete the work,” she wrote.

Jeff Johnston, a lobbyist for Restoration Association of Florida, a trade association, said contractors who don’t get paid need the legal right to pursue policyholders. Some consumers – not a majority – will keep their insurance checks after they receive them and laugh when contractors threaten to file a lien, he said.

“I can’t collect on that lien unless they sell the house, and sometimes there’s 18 liens above mine,” he said. “At the very least, insurers should be required to put contractors’ names on the checks.”

Detailed cost estimates, he said, aren’t always feasible when homeowners are facing serious flooding and leaks that must be addressed immediately. While some reforms might be necessary, ultimately it’s insurance companies’ responsibilities to evaluate contractors’ invoices, he said.

“Instead, the insurance industry’s first answer is always, ‘Let’s enact more laws,’” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the Legislature will address the issue next year. Insurance industry officials say they sense a reluctance among lawmakers to take on new issues after enacting major reforms two of the past three years.

© 2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Floridians’ Consumer Confidence Dips Again in Nov.

The one-point decline to 70.8 isn’t big – but it’s the fourth month in a row for a decrease as rising prices and supply-chain frustrations take a toll.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Consumer sentiment in Florida slipped for a fourth consecutive month in November, down one point from a revised figure of 70.8 in October. Among the five components that make up the complete index, two increased and three decreased.

“Current economic conditions among Floridians deteriorated in November as consumers are seeing higher prices across the board due to persistent supply-chain problems, labor shortages and strong demand,” says Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at the University of Florida’s (UF) Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Remarkably, the annual rate of inflation reached 6.2% in October – the highest in three decades,”

Current conditions: Floridians’ opinions about their personal finances weighed down the overall index, dropping 4.9 points from 69.8 to 64.9, the largest decrease of any reading this month.

Similarly, opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big- ticket household item such as a refrigerator or furniture dropped 4 points from 62.3 to 58.3.

Future expectations: Floridians’ opinions about future economic conditions were mixed and seem to suggest that current conditions may improve.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now decreased slightly six-tenths of a point from 84.8 to 84.2. However, opinions were split across demographics. Men, people older than 60, and people with an annual income above $50,000 expressed more-favorable views. On the contrary, expectations about U.S. economic conditions over the next year rose 1.8 points from 66.5 to 68.3, while the outlook of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years increased 2.6 points from 70.4 to 73.0. These expectations were shared by all Floridians except for women in both components, and except for people older than 60 in the former component and people with annual income under $50,000 in the latter.

While Florida’s labor market hasn’t fully recovered yet, the latest Florida jobs report finds the unemployment rate declined again in October to 4.6%, down 0.2% from September. And new unemployment benefits claims continue to approach average levels observed before the pandemic. In addition, labor force participation has increased over the past months, reaching 59.1% in October, up 0.1% from September.

“While economic conditions continue to improve, especially in the labor market, rising inflation remains a threat that could erode the purchasing power of consumers,” Sandoval says. “Moreover, the uncertainty around the spread of the omicron variant could worsen global supply-chain problems and inflation, slowing the overall pace of the economic recovery. Looking ahead, consumer sentiment is likely to remain weak over the coming months as a result.”

Conducted Oct. 1 through Nov. 25, the UF study reflects the responses of 601 individuals, representing a demographic cross section of Florida. It’s 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®


Report: Fla. a Top State for Tiny Homes

Want sun, sand and surf, and don’t mind a stove that’s two feet from your bed? Many people do, and Fla. ranked fourth for tiny homes, which cost about $50K.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A report by Fidelity National Financial subsidiary IPX1031 Investment Property Exchange Services lists Florida among the best U.S. states for living in a tiny home, with the state ranking fourth.

An average tiny home costs $50,460 in a state with a 100.4 cost of living index, a median income of $59,227, a park land percentage of 6.63% and an average temperature of 71.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If it’s sunshine and outdoor living you’re looking for, then look no further than Florida for tiny home living,” according to the report. “The state’s abundance of both state and national parks make it ideal for indoor/outdoor living.”

A review of metro Orlando’s four counties – Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Sumter – shows that affordable-housing demand greatly overtakes supply, a dearth of nearly 73,000 units of affordable and available rental housing in the counties.

Persistent low wages during a historic spike in housing costs is also a consistent theme throughout that region. Nearly 58% of households in Orange and Osceola counties – about 226,000 – are considered cost burdened, which means more than 30% of Central Floridians’ paychecks are spent on housing costs; meanwhile, over 27% are paying more than half their wages on housing.

The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies estimated that out of Florida’s 20 metro areas, Orlando is tied with Tallahassee in 19th place for having the highest number of cost-burdened households, lagging behind only Miami-Dade.

Source: Orlando Business Journal (11/23/21) Lundine, Susan

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


Fla.’s Insurer-of-Last-Resort Sees Lawsuits Spike

From Jan. through Sept., Citizens Ins. received an average 878 new lawsuits each month – a 45% increase compared to the same timeframe in 2020.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was hit with 7,899 lawsuits during the first nine months of 2021 – an increase in new and pending cases, according to an executive summary prepared for a committee of the Citizens Board of Governors.

The average of 878 new lawsuits a month from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 was a 45% increase over the same period in 2020. As of Sept. 30, Citizens had 16,240 pending lawsuits, a 34% increase from a year earlier.

The executive summary, prepared for a Thursday meeting of the board’s Claims Committee, said 7,798 of the new lawsuits (over 99%) involved residential properties. Of those, 6,623 (85%) were from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, a so-called “tri-county” area where Citizens has large numbers of customers.

“While the tri-county area continues to lead the state in lawsuit volume, we continue to experience an increasing trend of new, incoming lawsuits arising out of the Central West (Tampa area) region and other areas of the state,” the executive summary said.

Lawmakers this spring passed a measure (SB 76) that included steps to try to curb lawsuits against property insurers, but the executive summary said it’s too early to see the impact of the measure on litigation.

A continuing number of Florida homeowners have been turning to Citizens after years of declining policy numbers. As of Oct. 31, Citizens had 725,942 policies, an increase from 420,000 policies in October 2019.

© 2021 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.


U.S. Consumers Less Happy but More Optimistic

The Nov. Consumer Confidence Index fell from 111.6 to 109.5. “Expectations about short-term growth prospects ticked up, but job and income prospects ticked down.”

BOSTON – The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index decreased in November, following an increase in October. The Index now stands at 109.5, down from 111.6 in October.

The Present Situation Index – consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – fell to 142.5 from 145.5 last month. The Expectations Index – consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions – fell to 87.6 from 89.0.

“Consumer confidence moderated in November, following a gain in October,” says Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “Expectations about short-term growth prospects ticked up, but job and income prospects ticked down. Concerns about rising prices – and, to a lesser degree, the delta variant – were the primary drivers of the slight decline in confidence.”

Franco says the “proportion of consumers planning to purchase homes, automobiles and major appliances over the next six months decreased” but the Conference Board also says it expects a good holiday season for retailers – and confidence levels suggest the economic expansion will continue into early 2022.

“However, both confidence and spending will likely face headwinds from rising prices and a potential resurgence of COVID-19 in the coming months,” Franco adds.

Present situation: Consumers’ appraisal of current business conditions was less favorable in November.

  • 17.0% of consumers said business conditions are “good,” down from 18.3%
  • 29.0% of consumers said business conditions are “bad,” up from 25.7%

Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was moderately more favorable.

  • 58.0% of consumers said jobs are “plentiful,” up from 54.8%
  • 11.1% of consumers said jobs are “hard to get,” virtually unchanged from 11.0%

Expectations six months into the future: Consumers’ optimism about short-term business conditions increased in November.

  • 24.1% expect business conditions to improve, up from 22.7%
  • 20.7% expect business conditions to worsen, down from 21.9%

Consumers were less optimistic about the short-term labor market outlook.

  • 22.1% expect more jobs in the months ahead, down from 24.4%
  • 18.9% anticipate fewer jobs, up slightly from 18.7%

Consumers were less positive about personal short-term financial prospects.

  • 17.9% of consumers expect their incomes to increase, down from 18.4%
  • 12.0% expect their incomes will decrease, up from 11.2%

 The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey is conducted for The Conference Board by Toluna, a technology company. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was Nov. 19 – before recent news of the omicron COVID-19 variant.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Florida Realtors/Florida Bar Residential & AS IS Contracts

One Month Ago, FR/Bar Contracts Changed

Many Realtors study updates, but details can get hazy after a few months. However, Florida Realtors/Florida Bar help is still online, including the “talking contract,” videos and redline copies of the contracts.

One Month Ago, FR/Bar Contracts Changed

Many Realtors study updates, but details can get hazy after a few months. However, Florida Realtors/Florida Bar help is still online, including the “talking contract,” videos and redline copies of the contracts.


NAR: Oct. Pending Home Sales Jump 7.5%

On-the-fence buyers fearful of rising mortgage rates and rental costs pushed pending sales up 7.5%; 2021 could now break a 15-year record for housing sales.

WASHINGTON – Pending home sales increased in October, rebounding after a decline in September, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), with contract activity up month-over-month in each of the four major U.S. regions.

On a year-over-year basis, however, transactions were split: two regions reported drops and two others posted gains.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) – a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings – rose 7.5% to 125.2 in October. Year-over-year, however, signings fell 1.4%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.

“Motivated by fast-rising rents and the anticipated increase in mortgage rates, consumers on strong financial footing are signing contracts to purchase a home sooner rather than later,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “This solid buying is a testament to demand still being relatively high, as it is occurring during a time when inventory is still markedly low.”

The strong showing in October, “assures that total existing-home sales in 2021 will exceed 6 million, which will shape up to be the best performance in 15 years,” Yun adds.

While the market should remain robust, Yun forecasts home prices will rise at a gentler pace over the course of the next several months and expects demand to be milder as mortgage rates increase.

Realtor.com’s Hottest Housing Markets data found three Florida metro areas in its “most improved” over the past year: Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Jacksonville, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington in Texas and Nashville-Davidson in Tennessee.

Regional breakdown: Compared to the previous month, contract signings rose at the strongest pace in the Midwest and South regions. Month-over-month, the Northeast PHSI increased 6.9% to 99.5 in October, though it fell 10% from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index climbed 11.8% to 124.6, which is also up 5.1% year-to-year.

Pending home sales transactions in the South rose 8.0% to an index of 149.7 in October, which is also up 0.6% from October 2020. The index in the West grew 2.1% in October to 107.5, though it dropped 6.2% year-to-year.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Can a Condo Buyer Inspect a Rooftop A/C Unit?

Before trying to schedule a rooftop air conditioning inspection, a condo buyer should first find out who’s responsible for A/C maintenance – the unit owner or the association.

NAPLES, Fla.: Question: I have recently signed an agreement to purchase a condominium unit from an owner in a condominium association. That being said, I would like to inspect the A/C unit for the condominium unit I am purchasing that is located on the condominium association’s roof. What are my rights in terms of accessing the condominium association’s roof? – L.B., Sunrise

Answer: The answer to this question very much depends on the party responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of the A/C units. Additionally, for the purpose of this question, I am going to assume that the roof is a common element of the condominium association.

If the roof is a common element, then the condominium association is very likely responsible for not only the maintenance, repair, and replacement, but also access to the roof, absent a provision otherwise in the Declaration of Condominium. Additionally, if we assume that the condominium association is also responsible for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the A/C units, including for the condominium unit you are agreeing to purchase, then it is likely not required to provide you and/or the current owner access to the roof to inspect the A/C unit as you and/or the current owner are not required or responsible to maintain, repair and replace the A/C unit in the first place.

However, if the opposite is true and an owner is responsible for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the A/C unit that services only his/her condominium unit, then the current owner likely has rights to access the roof in order to fulfill his/her maintenance responsibilities.

The condominium association probably already has procedures for owners to provide notice and to schedule time to access the roof in order to maintain, repair or replace the A/C units. To that end, with the cooperation of the current owner by scheduling time with the condominium association to access the roof, you will be able to inspect the A/C unit.

It is important to actually determine which party is responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of the A/C units in this condominium association. As such, I encourage you to speak to your legal counsel regarding a review of the Declaration of Condominium and the Rules and Regulations in order to determine the extent of the current owner’s and your legal rights.

S. Kyla Thomson Esq., is a partner of the law firm Goede, DeBoest & Cross. 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, 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


The Pain of Panes: New Windows in Short Supply

Two-thirds of builders cited a glass shortage for windows, shower doors, etc. The supply problem? A lot of it is manufactured in China, Mexico and India.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Glass joined the list of building materials in short supply. A range of industries, including shower door manufacturers and window installers, report glass shortages.

Nearly two-thirds of home builders cited windows as their biggest material shortage, according to a recent survey from John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Rounding out the top four in additional shortages are lumber, engineered wood products and concrete.

Window delays could range from four to 15 weeks, though some are stretching up to 45 weeks.

Why glass? An international logistics backlog led to shortages of glass and other materials, experts say. Many glass manufacturers have moved operations overseas, and China, Mexico and India traditionally export the most glass and stone to the U.S.

The problem also impacts other industries. The glass shortage has especially affected the supply of glass jars and bottles, a contributor to the rising cost of grocery products lately.

Source: “Builders Reeling From Painful Window Shortage,” BusinessObserverFl.com (Nov. 10, 2021) and “Why Glass Is So Hard to Find Right Now – and How to Deal With the Shortage,” Inc.com (Nov. 23, 2021)

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


Single-Family Rental Demand ‘Through the Roof’

NEW YORK – Lance Butler made a tidy profit when he sold his 1,800-square-foot home in Nampa, Idaho, this year.

“If I would have held out for another three months, I probably could have gotten another $40,000 out of my house,” says Butler, who sold his $250,000 home for $410,000.

But that was not an option. Butler and his wife had just had their second child and the family needed more space. “Plus, my neighbor being a ‘jackwagon,’ I wanted out of there, too,” he says with a laugh.

But instead of buying a bigger home, the couple decided to rent a new 2,000-square-foot single-family home for $2,100 a month in Burlingame, Idaho.

The couple benefited in two ways: They stayed out of a frenzied real estate market that drove up the value of their house by 64% in two years. And they got to live maintenance-free. Everything from landscaping to small repairs around the house is managed by American Homes 4 Rent, which owns and operates the development of 74 homes.

“I don’t mind getting down and dirty,” says Butler, who works in construction. “But it was actually nice to look out and be like, ‘my yard’s been mowed, my sprinklers are taken care of and the weeds have been pulled.’ It’s just one less thing that you got to do when you get home.”

The intense competition and shortage of homes for sale have contributed to the rising popularity of the single-family rental market, spawning many built-for-rent communities. In the last five years, the number of homes built exclusively for rent has increased 30%, according to the National Association of Home Builders. They now make up 5% of new single-family homes under construction, says Robert Dietz, the chief economist at NAHB.

But that building push hasn’t closed a big shortage in houses to buy. The U.S. has built 5.5 million fewer homes in the past 20 years compared with long-term historical levels, according to a June report by the National Association of Realtors.

The shortfall has driven prices higher, reducing affordability at a time when millennials, the largest generation group in the U.S, are approaching their first-time homebuying years. And with more employees working from home because of the pandemic, house hunters want large outdoor spaces, office rooms and gyms – wish lists that are supercharging demand for single-family homes.

Housing: A ‘resilient asset class’

The $5 trillion U.S. single-family rental market has also drawn the attention of Wall Street.

Institutional investors such as banks, pension funds and hedge funds poured $6 billion into the single-family rental segment during the first quarter of 2021. That investment marked more than half of the $10 billion committed to the space over the past three years, according to Yardi Matrix, a real estate intelligence firm. By comparison, the volume of investment in both office and retail fell by over 40% year over year during the same period.

Meanwhile, U.S. single-family rent growth increased 8.5% in July 2021, the fastest year-over-year increase in 16 years, according to the CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index.

The interest in single-family rental homes as an investment is growing because it has proven to be a more resilient asset class than offices and hotels, says Don Walker, managing principal and chief financial officer for John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

“That was clearly demonstrated during the pandemic when many hotels had to close down because of COVID and people could not go to offices anymore,” he says, adding, “What I like about built-for-rent is that it’s providing new housing to the market, and they are newer and much more energy-efficient than the typical house that’s 30 or 40 years old.”

While close to 90% of homes are still owned by small, mom-and-pop investors, there’s been an infusion of capital targeted at the single-family rental space, says Walker.

Around 12% of new single-family construction in 2021 is dedicated to future rentals, according to John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

Walker estimates that around $30 billion will be deployed to the single-family rental sector in the next several years, with at least half of that earmarked towards existing single-family rental homes.

For homes, ‘cash is king’

The typical value of built-for-rent or the existing single-family homes investors buy up tends to fall in the $250,000 to $350,000, roughly the median U.S. home price, say experts.

That is a cause for concern, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

“High-income households would rather buy than rent. The institutional buying is for the purpose of rent and targets the low, moderate and middle-income households,” says Yun. “With the housing shortage, cash is king, and institutional buyers are preventing first-time buyers from entering the market and in a sense forcing the households to remain renters for a longer period.”

Institutional buyers will stay interested until the housing supply increases significantly, says Yun.

Ed Golding, executive director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Golub Center for Finance and Policy, and former head of the Federal Housing Administration, says institutional investors play an important role in the market by improving the quality of the housing stock and increasing the supply of good quality rental housing.

Better quality housing stock

He says institutional investors typically buy homes that need repair and can leverage their operational and financing advantages to fix these properties faster and more efficiently.

And that, he believes in not such a bad thing.

“It’s good for markets in general. It’s good for people to be able to have this as an option,” he says. “It’s a drag on homeownership but it’s not a big drag.”

Golding says there is a host of issues that can be tackled to improve homeownership rates, such as providing home rehabilitation loans, expanding down-payment assistance, changing some of the underwriting practices and de-emphasizing debt-to-income ratios and constructing more entry-level homes.

Two of the largest single-family institutional buyers’ annual reports illustrate the substantial amount institutional investors spend on these renovations, according to a report Golding co-authored for the Urban Institute.

Invitation Homes, the largest single-family leasing company, indicates in its annual report that it spent $39,000 per home for up-front renovations completed during 2020. And American Homes 4 Rent, for example, notes that they typically spend between $15,000 and $30,000 to renovate an existing home acquired.

“We calculate that the typical homeowner spends $6,300 during the first year after purchasing a home,” he says.

American Homes 4 Rent was founded in 2011 after it acquired 45 homes in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It currently owns 54,785 single-family properties in 22 states. Four years ago, the company got into the business of building homes to rent and has completed 4,500 homes in 22 states.

“The demand for single-family rentals is through the roof,” says David P. Singelyn, CEO of American Homes for Rent. “We’ve been getting five applications on every home.”

The company has housing developments with 120-plus homes each nearing or under construction in the Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Tampa, Florida, markets.

“We went to markets with high population growth, where people were moving to,” Singelyn says.

Single-family rentals now make up approximately 35% of all U.S. rentals, according to Freddie Mac.

Charles Gullotta and his wife Kathryn moved from Tarrytown, New York, to South Carolina in August.

Gullotta, who worked as an executive chef, and his wife, who worked in the dental industry, both suffered significant loss of income over the pandemic and decided to move to a less expensive and warmer place.

“All those things combined made it very difficult to maintain our lifestyle,” he says. “We had to dip into retirement accounts to stay afloat during the times when both of us were out of work.”

The couple decided to take advantage of the hot housing market and sell their house before moving down south. “We bought our home for just under $800,000 six years ago and we sold it for just over $900,000. So at least it was a plus,” he says.

Once in South Carolina, they found a four-bedroom rental house through American Homes 4 Rent for $2,250 a month in Summerville, near Charleston.

“This is such a big adjustment from New York to South Carolina that we need to really get a better idea of the surrounding areas, whether we want to be more inland or we want to be more on the coast,” he says. “We didn’t want to buy right away.”

The best part of the rental was the price, he says.

“We were spending almost $29,000 a year in taxes,” he says of Tarrytown. “And it’s just over $27,000 to rent this place for the year. And that’s including utilities, lawn care, water and trash pickup.”

Gullotta says they are going to rent for the foreseeable future until they find something they absolutely love.

Butler, the Boise-area renter, feels the same way.

“If we’re going to purchase something, it’s got to be the forever home,” he says. “The home that my wife and I are in for the next 20 years until my two kids are grown and gone.”

Until then, he’s happy to rent.

Copyright 2021, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY


Heard About the Dog Selling a Mansion? It’s Fake

The widely reported news: A German Shepard sold a Miami mansion once owned by Madonna. It’s not true, and that story has been reappearing for 20 years.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – For more than 20 years, a line of German shepherds named Gunther has been presented in news stories as the wealthy beneficiaries of a German countess.

The story appears to be a ruse created by Maurizio Mian, the scion of an Italian pharmaceutical company, who has used the tale of the globe-trotting canine to promote real estate sales and other projects.

The Associated Press reported last week that a dog, Gunther VI, was selling a Miami mansion that it had purchased from Madonna for $7.5 million in 2000 for $31.75 million. The story cited claims from Gunther’s “handler” that the dog was from a long line of dogs bequeathed the fortune of a German countess.

While the mansion is in fact owned and being sold by the Gunther Corp., according to Miami-Dade County property records, the dog’s role appears to be little more than a joke that’s carried on for decades.

And there is no evidence of a German countess.

The AP reported on the story after receiving a press release from publicists representing the real estate agents who had the listing.

“The AP published a story that did not meet our standards and should not have been published. We did not do our due diligence in the reporting process. We have corrected the story, and we apologize,” AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said in a statement.

Mian told an Italian newspaper in 1995 that the countess “was just an invention to publicize the philosophy” of his foundation. Mian at other points has claimed his confessions about the countess are the real hoax and the dog stories are, in fact, real.

Mian’s own money appears to have come from his family’s Italian pharmaceutical business. Istituto Gentili, which developed a treatment for the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis with the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck, was purchased by Merck in 1997. An Italian cellphone number listed for Mian was not answered Tuesday.

Responding to questions from the AP Tuesday about the veracity of the story, Monica Tirado, director of the Gunther Group, said that Carla Riccitelli, who described herself to the AP as Gunther’s handler, is Mian’s “ex-partner.” Tirado said that the company couldn’t answer further questions, including about the story of the German countess, because “there is an exclusive contract with a Netflix production.” A request for comment with Netflix to get details about any production was not returned.

This is just the latest in a string of tales about Gunther told by Mian.

In 1999, The Miami Herald reported that Gunther IV was trying to purchase a mansion from actor Sylvester Stallone. The next day, the Herald reported that it was just a publicity stunt.

“If you want to write it’s a joke, you can write that,” Mian told the Herald. “I won’t do anything.”

In Mian’s tale of the dogs, the Gunthers are supposedly supported by a multi-million dollar trust set up by German countess Karlotta Liebenstein when she died in 1992 to care for her dog, Gunther III, and his progeny. The AP has found no evidence that Liebenstein existed.

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


New Single-Family Homes Get Bigger Again

After years of expansion, the average size of a new home started to come down – but a desire for more space in 3Q 2021 pushed new-home sizes 6.2% higher.

CHICAGO – The pandemic has prompted more Americans to want to supersize their homes.

According to Census Bureau data reported by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the median single-family square floor area increased to 2,337 square feet as of the third quarter, while the average (mean) square footage of new single-family homes rose to 2,541.

The average size of new single-family home is now 6.2% bigger compared to lows reached during the Great Recession.

“Going forward we expect home size to increase again, given a shift in consumer preferences for more space due to the increased use and roles of homes – for work, for study – in the post-COVID-19 environment,” writes Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist, on the association’s Eye on Housing blog.

The desire for more space also impacts existing homes.

According to the Q4 2020 Kitchen & Bath Market Index released by the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and John Burns Real Estate Consulting last spring, existing homeowners are also expanding their spaces and taking on larger remodeling projects to either enlarge or rearrange floor plans.

“We’re seeing an incomparable surge in homeowners looking to rearrange floor plans, tear out complete kitchens, baths and other rooms to make space for increased activity within the home – and generally create a space that better suits their evolving needs,” Bill Darcy, NKBA’s CEO, said in March when releasing the report.

Meanwhile, the supply of starter homes dwindled by more than half over the past five years, according to realtor.com listing data. Realtor.com defines starter homes as ones generally less than 1,850 square feet. Under that definition, only 300,000 starter homes were listed for sale in September.

In addition, the median listing price for a starter home reached $260,000 last month, about 11% higher than a year ago, according to realtor.com, which tracks listing prices rather than selling prices.

Starter homes are now 64% more expensive than they were in 2016 compared with larger homes, which grew 43% in that same period.

Source: “Single-Family Home Size Continues to Trend Higher,” National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing blog (Nov. 22, 2021)

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


Higher Home Values Mean Higher Property Taxes

Homebuyers who think property taxes will match the amount the seller had paid often find they’re wrong – and rising home values may might make them very wrong.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Property values have skyrocketed across South Florida in the past year, and now we’re seeing it in our property tax bills.

The pandemic hasn’t slowed the red-hot housing market: In Broward County, home values rose 4.3% from the last year. In Palm Beach County, they increased at least 5%.

“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the pandemic had zero negative effect on the residential market,” said Tim Wilmath, chief appraiser for the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office. “In the past year, we have seen fairly dramatic increases in residential values.”

As property owners in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties see their tax bills come in, they’re seeing the increases first-hand. The money is due by March. Here are some essential tips to know as you ready to pay your property taxes this year.

You can save some money if you pay early

The values keep going up. Cities that have waterfront homes are still among the most expensive properties. Still, cities that are farther west are seeing their values rising at a higher percentage rate.

For example, records from June show values in Fort Lauderdale went up almost 7% this year, and about 6.5% in wealthy Hillsboro Beach. But values soared 11.2% in Lauderhill, 9% in West Park and 8% in North Lauderdale.

Don’t wait until the last minute to pay your property taxes: Whoever pays early can see some savings. There’s a discount for paying in November and that starts to peter out as you get closer to the deadline: You’ll see a 4% savings if you file by November, 3% in December, 2% in January and 1% in February.

There are multiple ways to pay, but be wary of an extra fee for using a credit card. For more information, you can contact your local property appraiser. County officials can help translate your tax bill. For help:

Your best bet to avoid sticker shock

Marty Kiar, Broward County’s property appraiser, regularly gets tearful calls from new homeowners who mistakenly thought they’d be paying the same amount in taxes as the person who owned a house before them.

It’s fair, surely, since the house size hasn’t changed, right? Well, no.

“I feel so bad [when the] first-time homebuyer didn’t know their property was going to get reset to market value” based on purchase price, he said. “They always think they pay what the previous owner paid.”

“Save our Homes” is a Florida law that caps the annual increase that a homesteaded property can rise in value to either 3% or the change in the National Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. That means the longer you stay in a house, and the value continues to climb, you won’t pay as much in taxes as the newbie next door. Because when you buy, the value is reset on Jan. 1 the next year based on purchase price.

Kiar recommends prospective buyers check out his agency’s online tax estimator to make sure they can afford the taxes for their new home before they buy.

“Usually the young families, they are so excited … and now have to pay more money,” he said. “I talk with these young families every day and there’s nothing we can do under the law.”

In Miami-Dade, the property appraiser’s office also has an online calculating tool and a “buyer beware” warning displayed high on its website. “When buying real estate property, do not assume property taxes will remain the same.”

Prepare to also pay more in 2022

In Broward County, Kiar correctly predicted in March that nearly everyone would pay more in taxes this year. Although there’s still another month to go to finish out 2021, he’s making the same prediction for tax bills in 2022.

“One thing definitely apparent is values, especially in residential, are going to continue to rise for tax purposes because people are paying enormous amounts of money for properties,” he said.

People are flocking from places such as California and New York, which have state income taxes, and agreeing to pay cash for property here in Florida. He added, “I feel confident there will be an increase overall.”

There wasn’t as much property that sold in 2020, but those homes that did “sold for a lot more money,” he said. “Now in 2021, we have lots of property selling for very high prices. Throughout the county, I can’t think of one place where it’s not the trend.”

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


Oct. New Homes Sales Up 0.4% as Prices Climb

While new-home sales increased, the amount of that increase was less than economists predicted. Year-to-year, new-home sales were down 23%.

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. sales of new homes edged up 0.4% last month, coming in below expectations as housing prices continued to climb.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that sales of new single-family homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 745,000 last month from 742,000 in September. Economists had expected October new home sales to come in at a 795,000 annual pace. And the September sales rate was revised sharply lower from 800,000 in Commerce’s original report.

New home sales were down 23% from a year earlier.

The median price of a new home, the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less, rose to a record $407,700 last month, up nearly 18% from a year earlier.

New home sales rose 11% from September to October in the Midwest and 0.2% in the South. They fell 11.8% in the Northeast and 1.1% in the West.

The housing market has been hot, thanks to rock-bottom mortgage rates and pent-up demand from consumers locked in last year by the pandemic.

On Monday, the National Association of Realtors® reported that sales of previously occupied homes rose 0.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.3 million, the strongest annual pace since January.

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


One Pandemic Perk? Credit Scores Reach All-Time High

Relief programs and slower consumer spending boosted the average credit score 8 points, to 716, putting homeownership within reach for more buyers.

WASHINGTON – Since the beginning of the pandemic, the average FICO credit score increased by eight points to reach 716, according to Fair Isaac Corp. Pandemic-related relief programs and decreased consumer spending early in the pandemic may have helped Americans improve credit histories if they paid down existing debts and curtailed new debt.

The increase has largely been driven by consumers who had a credit score below 600. FICO usually considers a score between 670 to 739 to be good; anything below 580 is considered poor.

Consumers in that category averaged a 581 credit score in April 2020. One year later, those scores had climbed to an average of 601.

But economists warn that improvements could be wiped away with an increase in inflation, which is now at a 31-year high. Americans are paying more for groceries, gasoline and products. That could lead to more consumers taking on debt, too.

Still, “inflation by itself … is not going to have a significant impact on the overall national credit score,” says William Lansing, CEO of FICO, to MarketWatch. “But if prices outstrip income and people wind up taking on more debt – that obviously would have an impact on their FICO credit score. There’s also a seasonal component – typically in the fourth quarter around holiday time, consumers take on more debt. So we could see a modest downtick from that.”

Earlier this fall, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that renters’ financial conditions were improving despite poor labor market conditions. Renters’ credit scores increased by 16 points during the pandemic. However, those scores still remain substantially below those of homeowners.

Renters could soon get another credit score boost: Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both announced new programs to help renters build their credit profiles by providing a means for owners or managers of multifamily properties to report on-time rental payments to the three major credit bureaus. Currently, less than 10% of renters see their on-time rental payment history reflected in their credit scores.

Source: “Credit Scores Hit an All-Time High During the Pandemic – Will Inflation Bring Them Down? FICO’s CEO Weighs In,” MarketWatch.com (Nov. 18, 2021); Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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


Florida Dodges Bullet as Storm Season Set to End

For the second year in a row, homeowners and insurers got through a hurricane season without facing any major storms.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the second consecutive year, the hurricane season has exhausted a list of storm names.

But with days to go before the Nov. 30 end of the season, Florida has had brushes with only three named systems – Elsa, Fred and Mindy – that were mostly rainmakers with tropical-storm force winds.

All things considered, the state has been relatively unscathed in the highly active storm season, allowing emergency staff in Florida – who also needed to react to wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic – to continue addressing lingering impacts of past storms.

“We’re still working Hurricane Michael. We’re still working Hurricane Irma, Matthew, Hermine, Dorian and so on,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the state Division of Emergency Management. “So, yeah, it was good for us to be able to work on some of those past disasters and get them working towards closing out.”

For a third year, Florida can chalk up the outcome of the six-month season to luck or the fate of wobbles. The 2021 hurricane season officially ends on Dec. 1.

“The storm season that happened last year in Louisiana, if you would have taken that track and moved it a number of miles to the east, then we would have had in that exact same path, you would have had major landfalling hurricanes into Jacksonville, the Panhandle and South Florida in the exact same year,” Guthrie said.

Quoting National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, Guthrie added, “Wobbles matter. Little wobbles matter.”

This year was the sixth consecutive above-average storm season and came after Florida suffered historic strikes from Irma in 2017 and Michael in 2018. But this year is essentially the third consecutive season without a hurricane directly causing massive damage to Florida. And there were opportunities, with much warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the subtropical Atlantic, along with an enhanced west Africa monsoon and weak upper-level winds that contribute to easier hurricane formations.

“It only takes one big storm to cause problems in the state of Florida,” Guthrie said. “This is not going to be the norm. We are Florida. We get hit by hurricanes. It is going to happen.”

The Atlantic saw 21 named storms, the third-most active season on record. That included seven hurricanes and four reaching Category 3 strength.

When Ana formed on May 22, forecasters recorded the seventh consecutive year in which a system emerged before the June 1 designated start of the season.

Elsa made landfall in Taylor County after dropping from hurricane to tropical-storm strength in early July. Tropical Storm Fred made landfall near Cape San Blas in the Panhandle with maximum sustained winds around 65 mph in mid-August. Tropical Storm Mindy found the Panhandle’s St. Vincent Island on Sept. 9.

With earlier and more active seasons seemingly becoming the norm, state lawmakers also might readjust efforts to help people prepare. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has proposed a measure (SB 808) that for the first time would split up what has been a sales tax “holiday” at the beginning of the storm season to help people stockpile disaster supplies.

Under Gruters’ proposal, which will be considered during the 2022 legislative session, tax breaks on supplies such as tarps, batteries, radios and portable generators would be offered from June 2 through June 6 and from Sept. 8 through Sept. 12.

Source: News Service of Florida


Should You Be Marketing in the Metaverse?

Facebook and Microsoft envision metaverse growth, but it’s unclear if “living avatars” existing in a “hyper-real alternative world” are a fad or opportunity.

NEW YORK – The metaverse has been a hot topic of conversation recently, with Facebook and Microsoft both staking claims. But what is the metaverse? And when will it get here?

Author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term “metaverse” in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” in which he envisioned lifelike avatars who met in realistic 3D buildings and other virtual reality environments.

Since then, various developments have made mileposts on the way toward a real metaverse, an online virtual world which incorporates augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars, video and other means of communication. As the metaverse expands, it will offer a hyper-real alternative world for you to coexist in.

Inklings of the metaverse already exist in online game universes such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox. And the companies behind those games have ambitions to be part of the evolution of the metaverse.

What is the metaverse?

It’s a combination of multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality and video where users “live” within a digital universe. Supporters of the metaverse envision its users working, playing and staying connected with friends through everything from concerts and conferences to virtual trips around the world.

“Right now, we are on the cusp of the next internet,” said Matthew Ball, managing partner of venture capital firm Epyllion Industries, in a February 2021 essay on his website.

When can we expect to see it?

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the newly named Meta (formerly Facebook), estimates it could take five to 10 years before the key features of the metaverse become mainstream. But aspects of the metaverse currently exist. Ultra-fast broadband speeds, virtual reality headsets and persistent always-on online worlds are already running, even though they may not be accessible to all.

What are some examples of it?

Here’s a look at what’s happening today that could lead to the metaverse of tomorrow:

  • Meta. The tech giant formerly known as Facebook has already made significant investments in virtual reality, including the 2014 acquisition of Oculus. Meta envisions a virtual world where digital avatars connect through work, travel or entertainment using VR headsets. Zuckerberg has been bullish on the metaverse, believing it could replace the internet as we know it.

    “The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it, and we call this the metaverse,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month after the company rebrand.

  • Microsoft. The software giant already uses holograms and is developing mixed and extended reality (XR) applications with its Microsoft Mesh platform, which combine the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality. Earlier this month, Microsoft showed off its plans for bringing mixed-reality, including holograms and virtual avatars, to Microsoft Teams in 2022.

    Also in the works for next year: explorable 3D virtual connected spaces for retail and workplaces. The U.S. Army is currently working with Microsoft on an augmented reality Hololens 2 headset for soldiers to train, rehearse and fight in. Beyond that, Xbox Live already connects millions of video game players across the globe, too.

  • Epic Games. Tim Sweeney, CEO of the company that developed Fortnite, has said, “It’s no secret that Epic is invested in building the metaverse.” It’s held concerts by the likes of Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, movie trailers and music debuts and even an “immersive” re-imagining of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 historic “I Have A Dream” speech. And it’s developing photorealistic digital humans with its MetaHuman Creator, which could be how you customize your digital doppelganger in future open-world games.
  • Roblox. The platform, founded in 2004, houses scores of user-generated games, including role-playing offerings like Bloxburg and Brookhaven, where users can build homes, work and play out scenarios. Roblox is now valued at more than $45 billion after going public this year. On the day of its IPO in March, Roblox founder and CEO David Baszucki tweeted a thank you to all who helped bring the platform “one step closer to fulfilling our vision of the #Metaverse.” Since then, Roblox has teamed up with skateboarding shoe company Vans to create Vans World, a virtual skateboarding park where players can dress up in fresh Vans gear and opened a limited Gucci Garden, where you can try and buy clothing and accessories for your virtual self.
  • Minecraft. Another virtual universe beloved by kids, the Microsoft-owned Minecraft is essentially the digital equivalent of Legos, where players can create their own digital character and build whatever they desire. As of August, Minecraft boasts more than 140 million monthly active users. During the pandemic, it has exploded in popularity among kids who had to rely more heavily on virtual connections.

Some lesser-known companies have launched their own online worlds. The online fantasy world Second Life, founded in 2003, is in its second decade as an alternate reality. The online haven Nowhere has persistent and temporary virtual spaces – for public or private use – to hold concerts, festivals, reunions, and conferences. The Windmill Factory, the New York production company, which began developing the platform more than a year ago, has done projects for Lady Gaga and Nine Inch Nails.

The Sensorium Galaxy earlier this year opened the first two of its planned galaxy of various connected online “worlds” to explore with VR headsets or desktop computers. Prism, the first to open, involves music – virtual DJs play, for instance – in futuristic landscapes.

Copyright 2021, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY


Oregon Bans Buyer “Love Letters” – Broker Sues

So-called love letters from buyers to sellers potentially raise fair housing concerns, but a brokerage says it violates First Amendment free speech rights.

NEW YORK – A real estate firm is suing Oregon lawmakers over a new state law that bans real estate professionals from delivering “love letters” written from homebuyers to sellers when submitting an offer on a house. The lawsuit alleges that the state ban violates the First Amendment rights of real estate brokers and their clients.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court last Friday by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Total Real Estate Group.

“This censorship is based on mere speculation that sellers might sometimes rely on information in these letters to discriminate based on a protected class,” the lawsuit alleges.

Buyer love letters have come under scrutiny over recent months as their popularity has grown. They are most likely to be used by buyers in multiple-offer situations and in transactions where buyers are trying to make their offer stand out from the pack by expressing their desire for a home.

Industry leaders, however, believe love letters could sway sellers to choose or discard a buyer’s bid based on personal information that could violate fair housing laws, like insight into the buyer’s family, marital status, race, religious status or more. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has warned real estate professionals about the practice and recommended that agents advise buyers not to write them. At a minimum, NAR suggests, agents should stress the importance of avoiding information in the letter that could be used to illegally discriminate. Agents should also avoid helping buyers draft or deliver love letters, although NAR hasn’t formally barred their use.

Oregon is the only state to implement an outright ban on the practice. Under the law that goes into effect in January, real estate professionals wouldn’t be allowed to pass love letters from buyers that include details about their lives, or any photographs and videos.

Real estate professionals who favor the letters say the personal expressions can help their buyers stand out in a competitive situation and demonstrate a strong desire for the home. In the lawsuit, the real estate group also argues that they haven’t been shown any examples of fair housing complaints or lawsuits that stemming from the practice.

“This censorship is based on mere speculation that sellers might sometimes rely on information in these letters to discriminate based on a protected class,” according to the lawsuit.

In August, Mark Meek, a Democratic representative in Oregon who sponsored the legislation, told USA Today that the ban on buyer love letters does not impede free speech. “We are limiting transmission of communications that are not relevant and could potentially be breaking fair housing laws,” Meek told USA Today at the time.

Source: “Oregon Slapped With Lawsuit Over ‘Love Letters’ Ban in Hot Real Estate Market,” USA Today (Nov. 21, 2021)

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


Builders’ Hope Manufactured Homes Will Find Buyers

Homes largely built in factories and assembled onsite cost notably less, and builders say that option can help solve the affordable-home shortage.

NEW YORK – As home prices surge, more homebuyers show an interest in manufactured housing. Even buyers not looking for manufactured homes may discover that some listings that intrigue them are actually manufactured since they more closely resemble site-built homes nowadays.

The manufactured housing segment has long contended with a reputation of poorly made or cheap products, but companies say the latest designs are modern, often energy-efficient and built to withstand even the most severe weather.

The main difference between a site-built home and a manufactured one focuses on where components, such as walls, are built. With manufactured, they’re built in a factory and then assembled onsite. This technique allows homes to be built faster and cheaper.

Some builders and developers now hope that buyers locked out of homeownership may consider manufactured housing as an option. Some lenders are also showing more interest in manufactured housing, believing it could help with housing inventory and affordability challenges.

“We have a lot of teachers, first-time homebuyers, and folks downsizing after retirement,” says Dustin Arp, managing partner of Spark Homes LLC, which has developed manufactured home communities. “Maybe they used to qualify for site-built housing but no longer do.”

A new single-family built on site sold for about $392,000, on average, in 2020; subtracting the cost of the land, the house itself cost about $309,000, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing government data. For comparison, a new manufactured home costs $87,000, excluding the land.

More than 100,000 new manufactured homes will be built this year, the highest amount since 2006, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

But the sector may still need to convince buyers that manufactured housing is a smart, cost-effective alternative. The homes, often sold by dealerships, may offer limited financing options.

“In those cases, a person might buy a manufactured house as a piece of personal property, like a car, rather than getting a mortgage that tethers the house to underlying land,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Further, about 42% of manufactured home purchases use loans secured by the home. Those purchases do not include the plot of land, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The non-land loans could come with higher interest rates, and owners may be at greater risk of losing their homes if they don’t own the land as well.

Recently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have adopted new programs that make it easier for lenders to extend conventional mortgages on certain manufactured homes, including those that have features like porches or garages built on site.

Source: “Home Prices Are Surging. The Manufactured-Housing Industry Sees an Opening,” The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 21, 2021) [Log-in required.]

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


Support a Florida Realtors Charity on #GivingTuesday

Realtors® are known for their giving spirit and love of community. Help us gift a smile or two this GivingTuesday by supporting a worthy cause.

GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement that started in 2012 as a way to encourage people to do good. Through the movement, participants give their time or their resources each and every Tuesday throughout the year with an annual celebration taking place on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving.

Realtors are known for their giving spirit and support of the community, and Florida Realtors® has established the following charities to help bring that spirit to life.

This year, the annual GivingTuesday celebration takes place today, November 30, 2021, and we’re hoping that you’ll extend your generosity to a Florida Realtors® charity.

Florida Realtors charities to support

Disaster Relief Fund: The Florida Realtors Disaster Relief Fund was formed as a trust in the state of Florida in August 1992, and since then it has been assisting Realtors and their employees as well as local associations and staff who experienced damage to their primary residences or offices caused by natural disasters. CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Education Foundation: Founded in 2009, the Florida Realtors Education Foundation Inc. has provided scholarships totally almost $2 million to over 1,000 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. In 2021, the Foundation began accepting outside donations. CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Homeownership for All: Since 2006, more than $1.4 million has been raised through the sale of Florida Realtors “Support Homeownership for All” specialty license plates, which help fund affordable housing programs across Florida. The goal is to provide housing assistance to teachers, nurses and others unable to afford a home. In 2021, the fund began accepting donations in addition to license-plate purchases. Ninety percent of the proceeds from the sale of the “Support Homeownership for All” license plate goes to support affordable housing programs. CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Silent Angels: Founded in 2002, Silent Angels is a charitable organization composed of Realtors for the purpose of providing funds, supplies and services to individuals with medical issues, job loss or other hardships. CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Want to do even more?

AmazonSmile: Donate while you shop this holiday season through AmazonSmile. Instead of shopping on amazon.com, go to smile.amazon.com. It’s the same website as usual, but through this link, Amazon will donate 0.5% of purchases to a charity of your choice. 

Once you land on the AmazonSmile homepage, simply click “get started” and then type the name of the charity you would like to support, hit search and then select the charity name from the list of results. Search the below terms to locate the Florida Realtors charities:

  • Homeownership for All Inc
  • Florida Association of Realtors Disaster Relief Fund
  • Silent Angels Fund

Facebook fundraisers: Get your family and friends involved in your GivingTuesday efforts by hosting a Facebook Fundraiser. To celebrate GivingTuesday, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has pledged to match up to $8 million in donations made to eligible fundraisers on Facebook.

To set up a fundraiser, navigate to the fundraising page on Facebook, search and select a nonprofit, enter your goal and add any other information you would like to include in your fundraiser. To make things even easier, you can also automatically generate a fundraiser for Disaster Relief Fund or Silent Angels by clicking the hyperlinks.

It’s not just about money

Whether you have time to give or resources to share, there are many ways you can get involved this GivingTuesday. Remember, that your participation can take place at any time throughout the year and does not have to be limited to November 30.

Here are a few community-involvement -deas:

  • Coordinate a food drive or winter clothing drive in your neighborhood or office
  • Make plans to volunteer at your local food bank
  • Check on and visit with your elderly neighbors

 However you choose to give back this year, Florida Realtors appreciates all that you do for your community.


Florida Realtors Targeted With Scam Using GoFundMe

Scammers created a fake “GoFundMe” campaign to raise money for a Florida Realtors’ member’s child suffering from a rare disease. Don’t believe it.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A fake “GoFundMe” campaign purports to raise money for a Florida Realtors®’ member’s child suffering from a rare disease. Don’t believe it.

The “Tony Needs You” email appears to come from Florida Realtors.

Florida Realtors did not send this email. Also, Florida Realtors will never send a GoFundMe request to our members.

If a fake email asks for “a favor” or donation, don’t buy into it – or any other email simply because you trust the sender.

If you receive an email from a person or organization that you can’t seem to ignore, take the following precautions:

  • Call that person or their office directly to confirm they actually sent the email
  • Check the “from” box at the top of the email. Scammers often have a legit title in the space before the “@”, but a questionable title after the “@”. Sometimes the title after the “@” looks valid but has a single letter or number that has been changed.
  • Be especially wary of any email sent from a Gmail, Hotmail or other service that allows anyone to sign up for an email address.
  • If you do receive a spam email, mark it as spam with your email service provider.

Also consider reporting the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Reservoir Completion Should Ease Toxic Algae Problems

The Corps of Engineers finished a $339M project to reroute excess water, which should cut St. Lucie River algae blooms that plagued nearby homeowners.

STUART, Fla. (AP) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed work on a $339 million Everglades restoration project aimed at cleansing water runoff before it flows into a troubled Florida river.

Corps and local officials held a ceremony Friday for the 12,000-acre (4,800-hectare) project in Martin County known officially as the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area. It’s a key part of a broader effort to restore the vast Florida Everglades.

The reservoir will capture, store and clean fertilizer-laden runoff from farms and development before it is routed into the St. Lucie River and ultimately the Indian River Lagoon. Both have been plagued by harmful algae blooms and other long-term problems associated with water pollution that threatens wildlife and human health.

“I think it’s huge” for the east coast, said Chauncey Goss, chair of the South Florida Water Management District. “Not only symbolically, but it’s also going to be taking water, cleaning it up and helping to get rid of some of these discharges, which is really the goal of all of this.”

The project can store 19.7 billion gallons (71 billion liters) of water, according to state water managers. It will use plants such as cattails to suck up about 35 metric tons of phosphorus every year before the water makes its way into the St. Lucie River.

The C-44 canal, first dug in 1923, was built to divert potential flood water from Lake Okeechobee to the river flowing east. Some environmental groups say the new reservoir will still permit too much fresh water to flow into the river and coastal estuaries, upsetting the natural balance.

“The bottom line: Too much freshwater is too much freshwater. It’s going to be cleaner water with less sediment. That’s all good. But a gallon’s a gallon, and it’s going to come through those gates eventually,” said Indian Riverkeeper Mike Conner.

The project is part of the Indian River Lagoon-South Project, which is a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. That long-term program encompasses 68 projects designed to restore, protect and preserve the Everglades ecosystem.

The new C-44 reservoir is the first fully completed part of the overall restoration plan.

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


NAR: Oct. Sales Up 0.8% – but Down 13.1% Year-to-Year

Despite rising mortgage rates and a tight listing inventory (down 12% year-to-year), determined Americans kept purchasing homes in Oct.

WASHINGTON – Even with market challenges, existing-home sales increased in October, marking two straight months of growth, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

Two of the four major U.S. regions NAR tracks saw month-over-month sales climb, one region reported a drop and the fourth area held steady in October. On a year-over-year basis, however, home sales were down in every region.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – rose 0.8% from September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.34 million. However, sales fell 5.8% year-to-year (6.73 million in October 2020).

“Home sales remain resilient, despite low inventory and increasing affordability challenges,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Inflationary pressures, such as fast-rising rents and increasing consumer prices, may have some prospective buyers seeking the protection of a fixed, consistent mortgage payment.”

Total housing inventory at the end of October amounted to 1.25 million units, down 0.8% from September and down 12.0% from one year ago (1.42 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.4-month supply at the current sales pace, equal to September’s supply, and down from 2.5 months in October 2020.

In October, the median existing-home price for all housing types was $353,900 – a 13.1% year-to-year increase, with prices up in all four regions studied. It marks 116 straight months of year-over-year price increases, the longest-running streak on record.

“Among some of the workforce, there is an ongoing trend of flexibility to work anywhere, and this has contributed to an increase in sales in some parts of the country,” says Yun. “Record-high stock markets and all-time high home prices have worked to significantly raise total consumer wealth and, when coupled with extended remote work flexibility, elevated housing demand in vacation regions.”

Properties typically remained on the market for 18 days in October, up from 17 days in September and down from 21 days in October 2020. Eight out of 10 homes (82%) sold in October were on the market for less than a month.

In October, 29% of sales went to first-time buyers, up from 28% in September and down from 32% in October 2020.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, which make up many cash sales, purchased 17% of homes in October, up from 13% in September and 14% in October 2020. All-cash sales accounted for 24% of transactions in October, up from 23% in September and 19% in October 2020.

Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented less than 1% of sales in October, equal to the percentage seen a month prior and equal to October 2020.

According to Freddie Mac, October’s average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.07%, up from 2.90% in September. The average commitment rate for all of 2020 was 3.11%.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales: Single-family home sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.66 million in October, up 1.3% from 5.59 million in September and down 5.8% year-to-year. The median existing single-family home price was $360,800 in October, up 13.5% since October 2020.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 680,000 units in October, down 2.9% from 700,000 in September and down 5.6% from one year ago. The median existing condo price was $296,700 in October, an annual increase of 8.7%.

Regional breakdown: Existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 2.6% in October (an annual rate of 750,000), down 13.8% decline from October 2020. The median price in the Northeast was $379,100, up 6.4% year-to-year.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 4.2% to an annual rate of 1,500,000, a 6.3% decrease from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $259,800, 7.8% higher year-to-year.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 0.4% in October, posting an annual rate of 2,780,000, a 3.5% drop from one year ago. The median price in the South was $315,500, a 16.1% climb from one year prior.

Existing-home sales in the West were unchanged month-to-month (annual rate of 1,310,000), but they were down 5.1% year-to-year. The median price in the West was $507,200, up 7.7% from October 2020.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Fla. Market: Median Prices Up, Amid Low Oct. Inventory

Florida Realtors’ data: Demand, low inventory impact prices. Single-family home median sale price up 17.7% to $358,950, condo median price up 17.6% to $260,000.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s housing market showed higher median prices, more cash sales and tight inventory levels in October compared to a year ago, according to Florida Realtors® latest housing data.

Sales remained strong in Florida’s housing market in October, and low inventory continued to keep prices high in the face of strong demand.

“In markets across the state, the for-sale inventory continues at low levels, and that puts pressure on prices and also impacts closed sales – some buyers may have paused their home search for now,” says 2021 Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert, broker-owner with Only Way Realty Citrus in Inverness. “Last month, the median time to a contract was 12 days for single-family homes and 15 days for condo-townhouse properties.” The median time to contract is the midpoint of the number of days it took for a property to receive a sales contract during that time.

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in October was $358,950, up 17.7% from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’s statewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $260,000, up 17.6% over October 2020. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

However, closed sales of single-family homes statewide last month totaled 27,628, down 6.8% year-over-year, while existing condo-townhouse sales totaled 11,433, down 5.6% from October 2020. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

“In 2020, Florida’s housing market had perhaps the best second half of any year in recent memory,” says Erica Plemmons, Florida Realtors economist and director of housing statistics. “Part of this was due to the shifting spring buying season: The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed a lot of sales that would have occurred in spring, back into the late summer and fall. But other factors were at play as well, including record-low mortgage rates, changes in consumers’ housing preferences, and the demand pressure from continued movement of millennials into their prime home-buying years.”

Here in the second half of 2021, the Florida housing market still has many of these demand drivers in place. So, while sales were down year-over-year, she explained that “if we compare this October’s home sales to two years ago, before the pandemic, they were up over 18%. Similarly, condo and townhouse sales, while down 5.6% year-over-year, were still up 23% compared to October 2019.”

In a continuing trend over the past few months, the share of closed sales that were cash purchases rose last month compared to the previous year. In October, single-family existing home sales paid in cash increased by 25.4% year-over-year, while cash sales of condo-townhouse units rose by 6.5%.

On the supply side of the market, new listings and inventory (active listings) remained restricted last month.

“Low inventory levels continue to hold back the market,” says Plemmons. “At the end of October, single-family inventory (active listings) was 29.9% lower than it was a year ago, while condo and townhouse inventory was down 54% year-over-year.”

Single-family existing homes were at a low 1.3-months’ supply in October, while condo-townhouse properties were at a 1.6-months’ supply.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.07% last month, up from the 2.83% averaged during October 2020.

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to Florida Realtors Tools and Resources. Realtors also have access to local market data (password protected) through Florida Realtors SunStats resource.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


Fed will Maintain Current Policies Under Current Chair

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden announced Monday that he’s nominating Jerome Powell for a second four-year term as Federal Reserve chair, endorsing Powell’s stewardship of the economy through a brutal pandemic recession in which the Fed’s ultra-low rate policies helped bolster confidence and revitalize the job market.

Biden also said he would nominate Lael Brainard, the lone Democrat on the Fed’s Board of Governors and the preferred alternative to Powell among many progressives, as vice chair, the No. 2 slot.

A separate position of vice chair for supervision, a bank regulatory post, remains vacant, along with two other slots on the Fed’s board. Those positions will be filled in early December, the president said.

Biden’s decision, reached after extensive consideration, strikes a note of continuity and bipartisanship at a time when surging inflation is burdening households and raising risks to the economy’s recovery. In backing Powell, a Republican who was first elevated to his post by President Donald Trump, Biden brushed aside complaints from progressives that the Fed has weakened bank regulation and has been slow to take account of climate change in its supervision of banks.

“If we want to continue to build on the economic success of this year, we need stability and independence at the Federal Reserve – and I have full confidence after their trial by fire over the last 20 months that Chair Powell and Dr. Brainard will provide the strong leadership our country needs,” Biden said in a statement.

In a second term, to begin in February, Powell would face a difficult and high-risk balancing act: Rising inflation is causing hardships for millions of families, clouding the economic recovery and undercutting the Fed’s mandate to keep prices stable. But with the economy still 4 million-plus jobs shy of its pre-pandemic level, the Fed has yet to meet its other mandate of maximizing employment.

Next year, the Fed is widely expected to begin raising rates, at least once if not more. If the Fed moves too slowly to raise rates, inflation may accelerate further and force the central bank to take more draconian steps later to rein it in, potentially causing a recession. Yet if the Fed hikes rates too quickly, it could choke off hiring and the economic recovery.

Powell’s re-nomination must be approved in a vote by the Senate Banking Committee and then confirmed by the full Senate, which is considered very likely.

If confirmed, Powell would remain one of the most powerful economic officials in the world. By either raising or lowering its benchmark interest rate, the Fed seeks to either cool or stimulate growth and hiring, and to keep prices stable. Its efforts to direct the U.S. economy, the largest in the world, typically have global consequences.

The Fed’s short-term rate, which has been pegged near zero since the pandemic hammered the economy in March 2020, influences a wide range of consumer and business borrowing costs, including for mortgages and credit cards. The Fed also oversees the nation’s largest banks.

The chair of the Senate Banking panel, Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and the committee’s senior Republican, Pat Toomey, both immediately endorsed Powell on Monday.

“I look forward to working with Powell to stand up to Wall Street and stand up for workers, so that they share in the prosperity they create,” Brown said.

Toomey said that while he has disagreed with Powell’s continuation of the Fed’s ultra-low-rates policies, “his recent comments give me confidence that he recognizes the risks of higher and more persistent inflation and is willing to act accordingly to control it.”

Powell, a 68-year-old lawyer by training, was nominated for the Fed’s Board of Governors in 2011 by President Barack Obama after having built a lucrative career in private equity and having served in a number of federal government roles.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors, Powell lacks a Ph.D. in economics. Yet he has earned generally high marks for managing perhaps the most important financial position in the world, especially in his response to the coronavirus-induced recession.

The subsequent spike in inflation has forced the Powell Fed to dial back its economic stimulus sooner than it had envisioned. At its latest meeting in early November, the central bank said it would start reducing its monthly bond purchases and likely end them by mid-2022. Those purchases have been intended to keep longer-term borrowing costs low to spur borrowing and spending.

Powell has avoided much of the blame, at least on Capitol Hill, for the jump in inflation to a three-decade high, even though one of the Fed’s mandates is to maintain stable prices through its control of interest rates. Republicans in Congress have instead pointed to President Joe Biden’s economic policies as the main culprit.

For months, Powell characterized inflation as “transitory” and said it mainly reflected unusual supply-chain bottlenecks stemming from the pandemic and from a surge in demand for goods such as autos, furniture, electronics and appliances.

More recently, the Fed chair conceded that higher prices have persisted longer than he had expected and have broadened to such categories as rents and medical care that aren’t directly related to supply shortages. At a news conference this month, Powell acknowledged that high inflation could last into late summer 2022.

Brainard’s elevation to the Fed’s No. 2 position follows the key role she played in the Fed’s emergency response to the pandemic recession. She is part of a “troika” of top policymakers that includes Powell and Richard Clarida, whose term as vice chair will end in January.

Brainard was also an architect of the Fed’s new policy framework, adopted in August 2020, under which it said it would no longer raise rates simply because the unemployment rate had fallen to a low level that could spur inflation. Instead, the Fed said it would await actual evidence that prices are rising. That reflects a view among some Fed officials that low unemployment and even rising wages no longer necessarily accelerate inflation.

Yet that new policy approach, which was crafted in an atmosphere of persistently low inflation, has come under heavy pressure this year as inflation has surged.

Brainard also played a key role in the Fed’s re-definition of its maximum employment goal as “broad and inclusive.” That means it now takes into account such measures as the unemployment rate for African Americans, and not just for Americans as a whole, in its policy decisions.

But her most far-reaching role was helping Powell direct the Fed’s response to the brutal pandemic recession. In the spring of 2020, as businesses shut down and 22 million Americans were laid off, the Powell Fed slashed its key short-term rate to zero. To restore confidence in the banking system, the Fed unleashed a suite of emergency lending programs.

It also bought corporate bonds for the first time, as well as municipal bonds, to steady financial markets. And the central bank purchased $4.2 trillion in Treasurys and mortgage-backed bonds to keep longer-term interest rates low.

Still, the Fed also took steps that loosened financial regulations put in place after the 2008-2009 financial crisis and recession, prompting Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, to call Powell “a dangerous man” to lead the Fed.

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


Some Fla. Counties Disburse 100% of Rental-Aid Money

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Busy signals. Long waits on hold. Conflicting messages about required documentation and eligibility. And what seems like endless limbo before finding out whether money is on the way.

Sound familiar? Millions of laid-off workers in Florida experienced those nightmares when trying to access unemployment benefits after COVID-19 shut down the national economy in spring 2020. Today, Florida tenants seeking a slice of nearly $2 billion in emergency rental assistance funding allocated by the federal government this year report encountering the same mind-numbing frustrations and delays.

Some of the largest programs set up by the state, counties and cities to provide up to 12 months of past-due rent and up to three months of future rent are distributing money at a turtle’s pace. On a Facebook support group for assistance applicants, some report getting evicted while their assistance applications languish.

“Got evicted today with a 24-hour notice,” wrote Orlando resident Joselyn Bisono. “I’m so depressed. No money. Nowhere to go. I feel so ashamed and lonely.”

In Broward County, distribution has been slow. Just 3,630 households out of 14,142 tenants who applied through the county’s online portal have received payments, averaging $8,011, through last week, county data shows. Programs in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have each distributed aid to more than twice as many homes.

Applicants wonder whether governments can do anything right when it comes to helping people keep their homes, their livelihoods, and their dignity.

“It’s a complete communication breakdown,” said Judith Krim, a Stuart resident who has been waiting since August to find out if she’ll be approved for assistance by a statewide program run by the Department of Children and Families. “There’s no way to get any relief because you cannot get any response from the state.”

Few successes, many complaints

Thirty-two large Florida counties and cities, along with the state, created separate programs this year to distribute $1.97 billion federal dollars earmarked for rental assistance. Nationwide, $46.6 billion was earmarked to help prevent tenants who experienced loss of income from become homeless.

But after depositing the first $1.4 billion in January, those Florida programs have operated with widely varying results.

A few success stories stand out:

  • Miami-Dade County, for example, distributed 100% of its initial $60.9 million allocation by Sept. 30, according to U.S. Treasury Dept. data. The county is quickly distributing a second allocation of $28.9 million, Miami-Dade officials say.
  • Palm Beach County has distributed 100% of its initial $45.2 million allocation and is now working through another $19.6 million.
  • Broward County’s program, by contrast, is among nine that distributed 32% or less of their available funds through Sept. 30. Just $19.9 million of the county’s $59 million allocation had gone to those in need.

In October, beset with complaints, County Administrator Bertha Henry terminated the county’s contract with a private vendor, Tetra Tech Recovery Services, and created a “strike team” of county staff members to move applications more quickly through the system.

Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller said complaints have increased since the county’s program launched in April. He says the slow distribution pace results from efforts to avoid giving money to unqualified applicants. Officials were concerned that the federal government will demand repayment of money given to fraudsters, he said.

But revised guidance from the Treasury Department encourages programs to relax their documentation requirements and get money out quicker. In cases where an applicant can’t produce documents proving loss of income or risk of homelessness, programs are supposed to accept “self attestation” – or take applicants at their word.

Fort Lauderdale resident Natalie Kasper said her application was denied in July after a caseworker demanded that she submit several years of tax returns.

Geller said he’s not aware of specific reasons why Tetra Tech did not work out. “But looking at the results, it’s absolutely unacceptable. We have to get this done. It’s taken too long.” Tetra Tech officials did not respond to requests to discuss why the company was terminated.

According to data released last week, the number of applicants declared ineligible or who failed to respond to requests for more information – 5,846 – exceeded the 3,916 approved for benefits.

Broward’s program is required to confirm whether applicants are also seeking aid from the state or cities operating their own rental assistance programs, said Natalie Beasley, assistant director of Broward’s Family Services Division, which oversees the assistance program. She said that under Treasury Dept. guidelines, “we cannot pay for the same months of assistance that has been paid by another entity.” Most applicants, she added, “appear to be applying for assistance across multiple programs.”

Speeding up distribution of benefits, Geller said, will require the county to accept some degree of fraud. “It’s a tradeoff,” he said.

Another problem, Geller said, is that many landlords have refused to participate in the program because they would rather bring in new tenants at higher rental rates. Participation requires landlords to allow tenants to remain in their units into the future.

Since Tetra Tech’s contract was terminated, the distribution pace has sped up significantly, Beasley said. After distributing just 31% of its $59 million to 2,840 households through Sept. 30, the county as of last week has spent 51% and provided funds to 3,772 homes. That figure includes 142 tenants facing eviction who qualified for assistance through a special mediation program set up with the county’s court system.

Stories shared in support group

Florida’s statewide program distributed just 24% of its initial $871 million allocation to 43,914 households through Sept. 30. How much has been distributed since then is unknown. Officials of the Department of Children and Families did not produce up-to-date figures requested by the South Florida Sun Sentinel early last week. Nor did they respond to questions about issues identified by members of a Facebook support group created by applicants.

The group, which has 1,200 members, identifies common issues when trying to navigate the program’s website or call for assistance:

  • Members of the group shared news last week about in-person assistance centers opening across the state. Two members then posted photos of an empty desk at the Fort Myers assistance center, saying they’d made reservations but no worker showed up.
  • Stuart resident Judith Krim described getting an email directing her to log in to her application account and upload documentation proving that she suffered a loss of income. But when she logged in, there was no way to upload revised documents.
  • Stephen Fletcher of North Lauderdale says he’s been waiting since September to find out whether he’ll be approved for three months of rent assistance. When he sought help last week at a DCF-operated assistance center near his home, he said he could not reach anyone.

    Voice mail messages go unreturned and caseworkers keep changing, he said. “I’ve called 10 times and now I can’t even get a human on the phone,” he said.

Why some programs succeed

What separates programs with high distribution rates from those that struggle to get money out is a willingness to “streamline” qualification processes, said Sarah Gallagher, senior project director for the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s program, End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions (ERASE).

Philadelphia’s program, she said, uses data from Medicaid and other benefit programs to prequalify likely recipients. Connecticut approves applicants from low-income census tracts who self-certify that they lost income or are at risk of homelessness.

Concerns that the federal government will “claw back” funds given to unqualified applicants, she said, are unfounded. “Recent federal guidance is clear that they’re not going to do that and that’s not a fear [program officials] should have.”

In fact, an Oct. 4 letter from the Treasury Department warned programs that failed to distribute 90% of their funds by Sept. 30 that they could be required to give back up to 10% of their undistributed money. Programs can avoid that by submitting improvement plans that describe how they plan to loosen eligibility guidelines, including by requiring less documentation and allowing more self-attestation, to speed up distribution.

Organizers of Miami-Dade County’s assistance program have been able to distribute more than $80 million of its funds to 8,200 households because leaders there prepared early, said Ignacio Ortiz-Petit, spokesman for the county’s Public Housing and Community Development department.

“When we learned that there might be federal assistance, we already started to get ready,” he said. “Once the money got here, we were pretty close to being set up.” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, former director of the non-profit advocacy group for low-income residents, Catalyst Miami, took a personal interest in the program’s launch, Ortiz-Pettit said.

Michael Liu, the county’s public housing director, directly oversaw its creation. “He’s a taskmaster, always asking for weekly and daily tallies: ‘How much money is going out the door? What are we doing?’”

While the county hired two outside vendors, it also worked closely with charities and community organizations to spread the word among potential applicants, he said. They advertised on social media, television and print publications in English, Spanish and Creole.

An ombudsman position was created to help expedite applications that had issues, he said. “If we received a complaint, we immediately flag it and send it to the ombudsman to make sure it doesn’t get lost.”

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


Office Market: Owners Deferring to Employees on Return Plans

Office managers aren’t sure about future space needs because they aren’t sure how many workers will return. In a tight labor market, many are letting employees decide.

NEW YORK – As return-to-work plans gather more steam, a survey of building managers and commercial real estate advisors found firms are largely deferring to their employees to determine what shape office life will take.

There’s one facet of the office’s future where workers are getting the most wiggle room: their schedules.

Most organizations plan to let employees pick how many days they will work remotely, according to a report by commercial real estate advisory Blue Skyre IBE. The firm surveyed more than 450 real estate professionals in the U.S. and Canada over late July and early August.

Respondents said remote work allowances will be key to firms retaining talent.

Office managers largely predicted a hybrid approach to in-office work, with 55% forecasting a balance of three to five days per week and 23% saying employees would split remote and office work 50-50. Only 21% said most of their employees would work remotely a majority of the time.

Nearly half of organizations would also give employees access to wellness amenities and the flexibility to work from anywhere, the survey said. Most would award employees a one-time bonus and about one-third of companies would pay for employees to relocate.

The swell of perks comes amid a shift in the power dynamics that govern the labor market.

With the workforce still down 3 million workers from pre-pandemic levels and the “Great Resignation” adding to the labor shortage, employers are going the extra mile, hiking wages and tacking on benefits to woo back workers.

Half of the firms referenced in the survey also said they plan to expand budgets to pay for building upgrades, like improved security, HVAC systems and technology, in addition to a fresh crop of amenities.

As a possible cost-saving measure, just under half of building managers said their organization would alter its building space. Within that cohort, 45% would shave space by up to a quarter and 32% expected floor plans to decrease by at least 10%.

Copyright © 2021 Local TV LLC, all rights reserved.


What Will Infrastructure Bill Do for Fla.’s Realtors?

The new law is controversial, but one element – a big investment in broadband for rural areas – could open up areas of Fla. to buyers who no longer commute to work.

WASHINGTON – On Monday, Nov. 15, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in law, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package approved by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress.

Transportation historically leads development, and South Florida’s growth can be traced to Henry Flagler’s new railroad. While money slated for road repair will theoretically ease commutes and repair roadways, the law’s commitment to expanded broadband technology may subtly change Florida’s housing market by boosting demand for rural areas and small towns that don’t currently have strong internet access.

According to a release from Florida Rep. Charlie Crist, $100 million from an approved $65 billion will go to Florida. He estimates that will help 700,000 Floridians gain high-speed broadband access.

According to Crist, Florida money from the infrastructure bill will include:

Nearly $16 billion in state formula funds for highways, bridges and transit, including:

  • $13.1 billion for highways
  • $245 million for bridge replacement and repairs
  • $2.6 billion for public transit
  • $1.2 billion for airports
  • $1.6 billion in state revolving formula funds to improve water infrastructure
  • $26 million to protect against wildfires
  • $29 million to protect against cyberattacks
  • Access to $3.5 billion in national funding for weatherization upgrades

Florida is also eligible for $12.5 billion in competitive, discretionary funds through the Bridge Investment Program for economically important bridges and $16 billion in competitive, discretionary funds for major projects too large or complex for traditional transportation funding programs.

Nationwide, the bill authorizes:

  • $39 billion in new spending to modernize public transit and improve accessibility
  • $25 billion to repair and upgrade airports
  • $17 billion for ports and waterways to ease shipping congestion
  • $55 billion for clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, including: $15 billion for lead pipe replacement; $10 billion to address PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl) chemicals, and $23.4 billion for Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs
  • $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electric vehicle chargers
  • $198 million for EV (electric vehicle) charging
  • $50 billion to protect infrastructure from hurricanes, floods, extreme heat, wildfires and cyberattacks

© 2021 Florida Realtors®


New Bidding Wars Expected as International Buyers Return

Inventory remains tight, but it could get tighter if more buyers arrive. Some S. Fla. agents say they’re already getting calls from returning international buyers.

MIAMI – Real estate agents are bracing for a wave of international buyers to flood the South Florida housing market as a result of the Biden administration easing pandemic-related travel restrictions. Foreign buyers make up about 5% of the dollar volume of sales in the state, and observers expect that with travel restrictions lifted, many will be making their way to South Florida to buy a home or condo.

“An enlarged buyer pool looking to purchase when the inventory is at all-time lows will likely ignite the competitive bidding processes,” says Bonnie Heatzig, executive director of luxury sales with Douglas Elliman in Boca Raton.

Most foreign buyers looking to purchase properties in Florida come from five countries: Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, according to a report from Florida Realtors®. South Florida is the most popular, with the tri-county area getting about 52% of buyers, the report noted.

Real estate agents and brokers have already begun to get calls from these international buyers. Heatzig recently received inquiries from buyers in India, England and Finland.

Ignacio Diaz, co-owner of Group P6, a firm of luxury residential developers, said they have gotten several calls from buyers in Canada and are starting to see some interest from Latin America.

“It’s hard to generalize, but mainly the foreign buyer tends to go towards condos because of the convenience,” said Edgardo Defortuna, President & CEO of Fortune International Group.

Source: Tribune News Service (11/14/21)

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