Monthly Archives: March 2023

Study: High Number of Buyers Still Move State-to-State

In Feb., the number of buyers searching listings outside their state dropped 3.6% year-to-year – but those looking locally fell 14.4%. 5 Fla. metros are top go-to spots.

SEATTLE – The number of home searchers looking to relocate to a new metro fell 3.6% year-to-year in February, according to a report from Redfin – but that’s less than a 14.4% drop looking to relocate within their current metro. And once again, Florida and other Sun Belt states sparked the most interest.

Rising mortgage rates dented buyer demand in general, but it’s had little impact on where buyers wish to move. In some cases, buyers moving from high-cost metros, such as the San Francisco Bay area, can compensate for higher interest rates by buying a home in less costly metro areas, such as many in Florida. High rates don’t impact those buyers as much because they’re getting a cheaper house and possibly pocketing some proceeds from a home sale in a more expensive area.

Additionally, some relocating homebuyers have a non-negotiable reason for their move, such as a better job or to be closer to family. High rates are less likely to deter those buyers than ones simply considering a different house within the same town.

Buyers moving to a new metro

Of the buyers nationwide seeking a home, one in four (25.1%) looked to relocate to a new metro in February. A year earlier, it was 22.9%. Before the pandemic, it was roughly 18%.

For state-to-state movers, five of the top 10 go-to destinations are in Florida.

Top 10 go-to metro areas

  1. Miami
  2. Phoenix
  3. Las Vegas
  4. Sacramento, California
  5. Tampa
  6. Orlando
  7. Cape Coral
  8. Dallas
  9. North Port-Sarasota
  10. Houston

Popularity is determined by net inflow – how many home shoppers looked to move into an area rather than out of that area.

The typical home in popular go-to destinations is less expensive than the typical home they want to leave behind. The typical Miami home sold for $485,000 in February, for example, compared with $640,000 in New York, the most common origin for its incoming homebuyers.

Top 10 move-out metro areas

  1. San Francisco
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Washington, D.C.
  5. Chicago
  6. Boston
  7. Seattle
  8. Denver
  9. Hartford
  10. Portland

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Supreme Court Will Hear Disability Activist Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether a Fla. woman who filed over 600 lawsuits against hotels has “standing” to sue since she never planned to visit them.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court will decide whether a disabled activist can file disability rights lawsuits against hotels she doesn’t intend to visit.

The high court said Monday it would decide a case involving Deborah Laufer. Laufer, who lives in Florida, has filed over 600 federal lawsuits against hotel owners and operators, according to a Supreme Court filing.

Laufer has a vision impairment, uses a cane or wheelchair to get around, and has limited use of her hands, according to court documents. Her lawsuits contend that the websites of accommodations, generally small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, are not clear enough about whether they are accessible to people with disabilities.

Under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), hotels must identify and describe their accessible features including guest rooms in sufficient detail.

Laufer’s lawsuits and lawsuits by other self-appointed “testers” have divided federal appeals courts. The question is whether Laufer and others have suffered an injury that gives them the ability to sue, called “standing.” Some courts have ruled that people who never intend to visit the accommodations they are challenging can nonetheless sue. Other courts have declined to allow the lawsuits.

The case the court agreed to hear involves the Coast Village Inn and Cottages in Wells, Maine. A federal trial court dismissed Laufer’s lawsuit alleging the hotel’s website contained insufficient information on disability accommodations. But a federal appeals court allowed the case to go forward.

The hotel currently has a notice at the top of its website that reads: “Please Note: Unfortunately, we do not have the capabilities to provide pet-friendly or ADA compliant lodging. We apologize for the inconvenience!”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Belt Tightening? Six Cost-Cutting Tips

When sales decline, agents look for ways to trim pennies – but it’s not always a smart move to cut back on some expenses. Consider how it could impact business.

NEW YORK – In market slowdowns, real estate agents need ways to save money without negatively impacting business growth.


  • Buy a coffeemaker to cut back on the time and expense of going out for coffee.
  • Invest in a reliable document management system. It will eliminate paper and printing costs – and it’s good for the environment.
  • Use creative promotions, like a “free seminar for first-time homebuyers (or sellers).” Also look for co-marketing partnerships working with other local businesses.
  • Negotiate necessary expenses, such as brokerage fees, multiple listing service fees and marketing costs. Shop around, compare prices and negotiate with all vendors to get the best possible terms.
  • Take advantage of free and inexpensive online resources, like apps and tools.
  • Network strategically. Attend the events most likely to lead to potential clients and business partners.

Source: Inman (03/22/23) Davis, Darryl

© Copyright 2023 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688


Consumers Grew a Bit More Confident in March

The confidence index rose from 103.4 (Feb.) to 104.2, with future outlooks rosier than current ones. Many consumers plan to cut down on “highly discretionary” spending.

BOSTON, Mass. – The March Consumer Confidence Index from the Conference Board increased slightly to 104.2 – up from 103.4 in February.

However, attitudes about the future improved more than attitudes about today.

The Present Situation Index – consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – decreased to 151.1 from 153.0 last month, a 2.9-point increase.

The Expectations Index – consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions – ticked up to 73.0 from 70.4 in February for a 2.6-point decrease. According to the Conference Board, the number has been below 80 for 12 of the past 13 months, which often indicates an upcoming recession.

“Driven by an uptick in expectations, consumer confidence improved somewhat in March, but remains below the average level seen in 2022 (104.5),” says Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director, economics at The Conference Board. “The gain reflects an improved outlook for consumers under 55 years of age and for households earning $50,000 and over.”

Jobs have started to worry some Americans as interest rates rise and the economy threatens to contract.

“While consumers feel a bit more confident about what’s ahead, they are slightly less optimistic about the current landscape,” says Ozyildirim. “The share of consumers saying jobs are ‘plentiful’ fell, while the share of those saying jobs are ‘not so plentiful’ rose. The latest results also reveal that their expectations of inflation over the next 12 months remains elevated – at 6.3%.”

In a special question this month, the Consumer Confidence Survey asked about consumers’ about their spending plans on services over the next six months. Overall, they plan to spend less on highly discretionary categories, such as playing the lottery, visiting amusement parks, going to the movies, personal lodging and dining.

But consumers say they’ll spend more on less discretionary categories, such as healthcare, home auto maintenance and repair, and economical entertainment options, such as streaming services.

Present situation

Consumers’ assessment of current business conditions worsened in March:

  • 18.4% said business conditions were “good,” up slightly from 18.0%.
  • But 19.3% said business conditions were “bad,” up from 17.4%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was less favorable:

  • 49.1% said jobs were “plentiful,” down from 51.2%.
  • 10.3% said jobs were “hard to get,” about the same as last month.

Expectations for six months in the future

Consumers became slightly less pessimistic about the short-term business conditions outlook in March:

  • 15.5% of consumers expect business conditions to improve, up from 14.6%.
  • 18.5% expect business conditions to worsen, down from 21.6%.

Consumers’ assessment about the short-term labor market outlook was also a bit more positive:

  • 15.0% expect more jobs to be available, up from 14.5%.
  • 19.9% anticipate fewer jobs, down from 21.2%.

Consumers’ short-term income prospects was, on balance, less upbeat:

  • 14.9% expect their incomes to increase, up from 14.4% last month.
  • On the other hand, 13.6% expect their incomes will decrease, up from 11.6% last month.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Case-Shiller: Prices Still Up – but Not as Much

Jan. prices rose 3.8% compared to 5.6% in Dec., in part due to up-and-down mortgage rates. But Miami ranked No. 1 with a 13.8% jump, with Tampa No. 2 at 10.5%.

NEW YORK – The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices for January 2023 finds that home prices continue to go up, but the rate of those increases continues to slow.

In some metro areas, prices are down, notably West Coast markets that include San Francisco, San Diego, Portland and Seattle.

“2023 began as 2022 had ended, with U.S. home prices falling for the seventh consecutive month,” says Craig J. Lazzara, managing director at S&P DJI. “The national composite declined by 0.5% in January, and now stands 5.1% below its peak in June 2022. On a trailing 12-month basis, the National Composite is only 3.8% ahead of its level in January 2022, a result also reflected in our 10- and 20-City Composites (both up 2.5% year-over-year).”


The Index, which covers nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.8% annual price gain in January, down from 5.6% in the previous month.

The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 2.5%, down from 4.4% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.5% year-over-year gain, down from 4.6% the previous month.

Miami, Tampa and Atlanta again reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in January. Miami led the way with a 13.8% year-over-year price increase, followed by Tampa in second with a 10.5% increase, and Atlanta ranked third with an 8.4% increase.


Before seasonal adjustment, the U.S. National Index posted a 0.5% month-over-month decrease in January, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites posted decreases of 0.5% and 0.6%, respectively.

After seasonal adjustment – a tinkering of the numbers to fairly compare months without their normal seasonal variations – the U.S. National Index posted a month-over-month decrease of 0.2%, while both the 10-City and 20-City Composites posted decreases of 0.4%.

Before seasonal adjustment, 19 cities reported declines in Jan. with one exception: Miami reported an increase of 0.1%. After seasonal adjustment, 15 cities reported declines while Miami, Boston, Charlotte and Cleveland had slight increases.

“Miami (up 13.8% year-over-year) was the best performing city in January, extending its winning streak to six consecutive months,” says Lazzara. “Tampa (up 10.5%) and Atlanta (up 8.4%) continued in second and third place, with Charlotte (up 8.1%) not far behind.”

Lazarra calls continued weakness in some West Coast cities one of the month’s most interesting aspects. “San Diego and Portland joined San Francisco and Seattle in negative year-over-year territory,” he says. “It’s therefore unsurprising that the Southeast (up 10.2%) continues as the country’s strongest region, while the West (down 1.5%) continues as the weakest.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Commercial RE Braces for a Tough Credit Market

NEW YORK – A firestorm among the banking sector, including the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and New York’s Signature and infusions of capital into First Republic Bank and Credit Suisse, has real estate investors scrambling to figure out what this all means for accessing debt.

“Our house view is that there is certainly a more constrained credit market, at least temporarily,” says Michael Riccio, senior managing director and co-head of national production at CBRE Capital Markets. “However, it is still fairly early, and every lender is trying to determine how they are going to react to this change in the market,” he says.

Some real estate pros credit the federal government for moving quickly to prevent a bigger systemic crisis and returning some sense of stability, albeit precariously. A joint statement issued by the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and FDIC said that it would fully protect depositors of both Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. “Our view is that it may be contained because of what the federal government has done. So, we’re thinking that there might not be widespread collateral damage,” adds Riccio.

Yet the turmoil is already reducing liquidity in the commercial real estate capital markets. Lenders are expected to err on the side of caution with more conservative underwriting. That pullback is already evident in the past week with spreads that have widened across most lender groups – commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), debt funds and banks. And CMBS issuance has ground to a halt due to the volatility in the market.

“After the closures of SVB and Signature Bank, it seems almost inevitable that commercial real estate (CRE) credit spreads will increase and lending liquidity will decrease over the short run,” says JP Verma, senior product director, banking solutions at Trepp. “However, there are still several questions that don’t have an easy or immediate answer, such as whether lending liquidity is drying up, how lending spreads are reacting, and how long this fallout will last.”

The sector may not have helped its own cause with reports that a run of New York City real estate investors pulling money out of Signature Bank contributed to its failure. The bank also had been one of the largest players in New York City lending with $35 billion in loans to the sector on its balance sheet.

Meanwhile, according to CoStar, at least four REITs – Cousins Properties, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Paramount Group and Hudson Pacific Properties – reported that they face risk because of dealings with Silicon Valley Bank or its parent, SVB Financial Group.

A silver lining to all the doom and gloom is that when risk increases, as it has in recent days, investors often flock to safe investments like Treasury bonds, which pushes down yields and increases their price, notes Verma. This in turn should result in lower losses on bond sales, which is a positive for commercial real estate borrowers, as this means that mortgage rates that had spiked in recent months could now decrease.

Banks conserve capital

Banks are coming off a record year of commercial real estate loan originations in 2022. According to Trepp, banks originated $479.1 billion in loans – nearly 60% of the total origination volume among all sources. With the current issues on top of a high interest rate environment, banks are likely to pull back, assess portfolio risk and focus on protecting deposits.

“I think 2023 definitely will be a slower year for banks. Banks are very focused on funding at the moment. Deposit growth is not nearly as strong as it was in 2022. So, that in and of itself will cause banks to be a bit more cautious from a lending perspective,” says Johannes Moller, CFA, FRM, a director and ratings analyst in the financial institutions group at Fitch Ratings.

The capitol spigot is not turned off completely. Banks likely will reserve capital for customers that have existing relationships, especially their depositors, Moller adds. In addition, banks are apt to have different appetites for property types based on current portfolio concentrations, as well as supply and demand dynamics in the markets where they active.

Taking some of the recent bank turmoil out of the equation, the larger money center banks were already more constrained in real estate lending both late last year and the beginning of 2023. In comparison, regional and community banks remained very active.

“We did an awful lot of our business with that group of banks last year,” notes Riccio.

Anecdotally, Riccio is still hearing that some banks have strong balance sheets and good liquidity. While they may underwrite a little more conservatively because there may be more concern about a possible recession ahead, they are still in the market and have plenty of money to lend, he says.

Strong commercial real estate fundamentals may help counter some of the current turmoil. From a high level, asset and credit quality metrics for commercial real estate are strong for banks, notes Moller. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, delinquencies on commercial and multifamily mortgages held by banks and thrifts was below 0.5% as of the fourth quarter of 2022. When taking a closer look at some of the leading indicators – such as criticized or classified loans – there has been a modest uptick in areas such as office, but levels even overall are still well below long-term averages.

“Banks are not starting to wave red flags, but they are mentioning that there is some degree of concern around the ability of their borrowers, specifically these office properties, to be able to perform long term given the dynamic we’re seeing from work from home,” says Moller.

More conservative lending is not good news for borrowers with looming loan maturities. According to Trepp, there are more than $60 billion in fixed-rate loans that will soon require refinancing at higher interest rates. Additionally, there are more than $140 billion in floating-rate CMBS loans that will mature in the next two years, according to Goldman Sachs.

“Floating-rate borrowers will have to reset interest rate hedges to extend their mortgage at a higher cost and these hedges have become very expensive,” says Verma. Delinquencies also are expected to rise, especially for the floating-rate loan borrowers. Office properties in particular is expected to be hard hit due to falling values and softening demand related to hybrid and remote work.

Monitoring CRE lending risk

Banks are the largest holders of commercial real estate mortgages in the U.S., holding roughly 40% of total commercial and multifamily outstanding debt. Banks also have indirect real estate exposure through their lending to non-bank financial institutions. However, much of that risk is concentrated in smaller banks. The largest banks in the U.S. have very modest exposures to this asset class, at an average of about 5% of assets, according to Fitch.

“Commercial real estate has always been more the domain of small banks, and it’s why small banks fail,” says Julie Solar, a group credit officer Fitch Ratings’ Credit Policy Group.

Within the Fitch-rated U.S. bank universe, the agency has four banks on Rating Outlook Negative (RON). In addition to Signature Bank, the other three banks are Dime Bank, New York Community Bank and M&T Bank Corp. M&T Bank is the only one with a RON due to real estate exposure. Relative to peers, M&T has high exposure to hospitality loans, which warrants keeping an eye on even though the hotel sector has been recovering since the pandemic, notes Moller.

Another factor that could weigh on bank liquidity is stress testing. Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review stress testing is a set of forward-looking requirements used by the regulators to oversee banks’ capital adequacy, capital distribution and capital planning processes under various economic scenarios, including a severely adverse macroeconomic stress scenario provided by the regulators themselves. These tests tend to focus on capital adequacy rather than on liquidity and over the last several cycles, all the participants (mostly large banks) have been passing the stress tests, notes Verma. Results from the annual stress tests are typically released in June.

Banks will be applying fairly adverse hypothetical scenarios for their stress testing models, which include a 40% reduction in commercial real estate values and a projected loss rate of 9.8%. Even under these stress test scenarios, banks are still well capitalized, notes Solar.

“Over the last handful of years, the stress tests continue to demonstrate the resiliency of the large U.S. banks that participate,” she says. Banks also have much greater liquidity as compared to levels heading into the Great Financial Crisis.

That said, asset quality is probably unsustainably low, adds Solar. Over the last three years, there have only been 85 basis points in cumulative losses related to commercial real estate loans. Those losses will inevitably increase given the higher interest rates, expectations for lower property values and slowing economy that will make it more difficult for borrowers.

“Where you will see the most pain will be smaller banks that are going to be more concentrated,” she says.

© 2023 Penton Media


Fla. Legislature Passes ‘Live Local’ Housing Bill

An exhaustive pro-housing bill – one of Florida Realtors’ top priorities – passed the Legislature on Friday. It now needs only Gov. DeSantis’ signature to become law.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On Friday, the Florida Legislature passed SB 102, a comprehensive housing bill and one of Florida Realtors®’ top priorities during the 2023 session.

Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) created and strongly backed the bill, called the “Live Local” plan. On social media, Florida Realtors also thanked Speaker of the House Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) and Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables) for their efforts in getting the bill passed.

“The Live Local plan … is the product of my discussions with stakeholders over a number of years,” Passidimo said when introducing the bill in January. “With their advice and input, we are tackling this complex issue from all angles – from incentivizing private sector investment, to increasing state funding, to common sense reductions in regulations, this plan will improve options for both homeownership and affordable rental units in communities across our state.”

No single solution exists for solving Florida’s affordable housing shortage, and the bill does not take a single approach. Any change that might help boost housing and provide shelter for Floridians was considered, and the final version passed on Friday is comprehensive.

Broad changes in SB 102

  • Funding: The $811 million in total funding includes $252 million to SHIP (State Housing Initiatives Partnership) and $259 to SAIL (State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program). Going forward, it includes $150 million a year to SAIL for 10 years (total of $1.5 billion)
  • Hometown Heroes: It expands the Hometown Heroes Program strongly backed by Florida Realtors in the 2022 session of the Florida Legislature. SB 102 adds to the program by appropriating $100 million more. It also widens eligibility from career-based assistance to income-based down payment assistance. Previously, maximum loans were $25,000; under SB 102, that rises to $35,000.
  • Tax credits: It raises community contribution tax credit programs limits, which encourage Florida businesses to make donations towards community development and housing projects for low-income Floridians.
  • Private-sector investment: Encourages private investment in affordable housing through a new corporate tax donation program. Businesses can contribute to SAIL instead of paying portions of corporate and insurance premium taxes, up to $100 million a year. It also provides a small refund on sales taxes for building materials used by developments financed through the FHFC (Florida Housing Finance Corporation) and provides additional gap financing to workforce housing programs that may face construction hardships.
  • Property tax exemptions: The bill creates three new property tax exemptions:
    — It allows counties and municipalities to offer a property tax exemption to property owners who dedicate units for affordable housing at extremely-low-income, very-low-income or both.
    — It provides a property tax exemption for land owned by a nonprofit leased for at least 99 years as affordable housing for extremely-low to moderate-income people.
    — It authorizes a local-option property-tax exemption to property owners who dedicate units for affordable housing for extremely low income and/or very low income Floridians. 
  • Missing Middle exemption: Creates a new “Missing Middle” property tax exemption for new or recently rehabilitated developments that set aside at least 70 current market rate units into affordable units.
  • Local government regulations: Under the bill, a local government cannot regulate the use, density or height (with some exceptions) of an affordable housing development if a proposed rental project is multifamily or mixed-use residential and in any area zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed use. It also defines, by percentages, what types of multifamily projects qualify. A local government cannot require an authorized development to obtain a zoning/land use change, special exception, conditional use approval, variance or comp plan amendment for use, density, or height.
  • Public property: It encourages the use of public property for affordable housing and allows for expedited permits and development orders for local governments.
  • Rent control: It removes provisions in current law that allowed local governments to impose rent control under certain limited circumstances. Under SB 102, rent control is banned under all circumstances.
  • Advertising affordable-housing land: Requires local governments to publish online their inventory of local government-owned property that may be suitable for affordable housing development. It also encourages local governments to consider “best practices”  it requires technical assistance to help facilitate the use of public property.

“This is one of the most significant and transformative affordable housing bills seen in Florida since the Sadowski Act was passed in 1992,” says Florida Realtors Vice President of Public Policy Andy Gonzalez. “Not only does it allocate hundreds of millions of new dollars to the state’s affordable housing programs, it does so in a balanced way, prioritizing both homeownership and rental opportunities equally.”

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


LinkedIn Launches AI to Expand Agent Content

As a business social media site, LinkedIn encourages online networking. To push that effort, it’s adding AI-written content that incites conversations.

NEW YORK – The worldwide artificial intelligence (AI) market, valued at $136 billion, is impacting various sectors, including real estate.

LinkedIn intends to merge AI technologies into its platform to better serve users. The company will develop “collaborative articles” driven by AI-based content to encourage conversations among creators on the platform, for example.

The AI will suggest potential topics and reach out to creators who fit the parameters of the topic. Those creators will then be prompted to contribute and add their own personal experiences, insights and research. The AI starts things off so people in the LinkedIn community can contribute and engage with the subject matter.

People who successfully participate can earn badges and other perks.

Other benefits of AI for real estate agents include the ability to generate graphics, create strong listings and optimize contact databases. AI can categorize contacts based on certain criteria and create a schedule for when and how often agents should reach out to them. Once agents have a system in place, they need to make sure that no relationship gets overlooked, and that they’re regularly scheduling lunches, coffee outings and other social meetings that build professional relationships.

Furthermore, AI can help agents create SEO-rich content (search engine optimization) and using local keywords. When agents use AI, it will study their website, look at how people interact with it, and analyze how other websites successfully engage users.

Source: Realty Biz News (03/13/2023) Shepardson, Ben

© Copyright 2023 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688


Fake Property Insurer Stole Homeowners’ Money

U.S. Attorney’s Office: A Pensacola man created a fake insurance company, sold policies, kept premiums, and led homeowners to falsely believe they had coverage.

PENSACOLA, Fla. – An insurance company is permanently shut down after dozens of clients paid over $4.8 million for policies that were fake, federal officials said. Instead of buying insurance for his clients, John Thomas, 52, of Pensacola, Florida, deposited their money into his bank account, according to court documents.

Through the years-long scheme, he used his clients’ money to buy a Pensacola Beach condo, real estate in Utah, a Lexus and more, court documents show.

Thomas Insurance LLC clients were misled into believing they were insured because Thomas gave them what appeared to be real insurance policy documents after they paid him, according to prosecutors. The documents, however, were fake, prosecutors said.

Now, Thomas has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for wire fraud and money laundering, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida announced in a March 22 news release. A judge also ordered him to pay more than $8.3 million in restitution as part of his sentencing, the release said.

“The victims in this case suffered significant loss and pain as a result of this deception, never knowing they were without insurance coverage until disaster struck,” Sherri E. Onks, FBI special agent in charge of the agency’s Jacksonville division, said in a statement.

McClatchy News contacted Thomas’ attorney for comment on March 23 and didn’t immediately receive a response.

67 victims defrauded in fake insurance scheme

From September 2013 to February 2021, Thomas defrauded at least 67 people by selling them fake commercial property insurance, commercial flood insurance, general liability insurance and more, according to an indictment.

“By not purchasing insurance with the premiums paid by his clients, (he) caused approximately $2,262,956.74 in unpaid claim losses caused by hurricane, fire and liability claims,” the indictment says.

Thomas emailed these clients fake certificates of insurance that were supposed to show their valid insurance policy had been written and issued, according to the indictment. He faked the information on the certificates, including policy numbers, expiration dates and insurance limits, the indictment says.

Google reviews of Thomas’ now permanently closed business show a few negative reviews, including from one individual who wrote that he’d stolen more than $5,000 from them. Other reviews reference the federal charges against him.

Another individual wrote that Thomas’ business “does not answer or return phone calls once they have your money.”

The FBI and the Florida Department of Financial Services jointly investigated the case against Thomas, according to the release.

© 2023 The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Will Bank Turmoil Create Mortgage Challenge?

Buyers may need to shop around for a mortgage. If clients pulled money from a regional bank or deposits went down, the bank may make it harder to qualify.

NEW YORK – Banking center unrest could make it more difficult for some consumers to get a mortgage loan or a loan for other big-ticket items.

Real estate agents report increased hesitancy among buyers, even compared with recent months when mortgage rates hit record highs. Before the recent banking tumult, consumers were under pressure after borrowing costs rose dramatically over the past year as the Federal Reserve lifted rates.

But to the extent banks are “having difficulty getting deposits, they’re going to have to cut back on lending, which they’ve already started to do,” says Jack Ablin, a founding partner of wealth-management company Cresset Wealth Advisors LLC. “Someone who wants to refinance a mortgage or buy a boat or fund a kitchen remodel – they’re going to have a more difficult time.”

It isn’t only the credit crunch that could cause consumers to delay big purchases, says Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard. It’s also a loss of confidence and a reluctance to take a financial leap when the landing spot is a moving target.

Consumers uncertain about their personal finances or the broader state of the economy might reconsider a major financial decision, and whether waiting might be the more prudent move at the moment.

Blitz says more consumers are asking, “Am I going to go now and take out a first mortgage and buy a house?”

Source: Wall Street Journal (03/21/23) Rubin, Gabriel

© Copyright 2023 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688


Russian Oligarch Hunt Impacts Foreign Investors

The U.S. sanctioned many Russians who now cannot buy U.S. real estate. But identifying corporate ownership is tricky, and FinCEN is looking at all foreign buyers.

WASHINGTON – On January 25, 2023, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an alert that could significantly impact the acquisition of commercial real estate (CRE) in the U.S. by foreign individuals and entities.

The new alert complements ongoing U.S. government efforts to isolate sanctioned Russian elites, oligarchs, and their proxies. It builds on a June 28, 2022, joint alert by FinCEN and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) advising financial institutions to be aware of individuals or entities attempting to circumvent U.S. export controls related to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The U.S. CRE market presents unique challenges for financial institutions in detecting sanctions evasion. Some methods of sanctions evasion identified by FinCEN include:

  • the use of pooled investment vehicles
  • the role of shell companies and trusts
  • the involvement of third parties
  • inconspicuous CRE investments that provide stable returns

FinCEN identified red flags involving CRE, including, among others:

  • Use of an offshore private investment vehicle to purchase CRE that includes foreign nationals (particularly family members or close associates of sanctioned Russian elites and their proxies) as investors.
  • Reluctance to provide the identity of the ultimate beneficial owners.
  • Presence of multiple limited liability companies, corporations, partnerships, or trusts that are involved in a transaction with ties to sanctioned Russian elites and their proxies, and the entities name variations.

Financial institutions are required to have appropriate risk-based compliance procedures for conducting ongoing customer due diligence that include, but are not limited to:

  • Understanding the nature and purpose of customer relationships for the purpose of developing a customer risk profile.
  • Conducting ongoing monitoring to identify and report suspicious transactions and, on a risk basis, to maintain and update customer information. Certain financial institutions are required to identify and verify the identity of beneficial owners of legal entity customers, subject to certain exclusions and exemptions.

Will history repeat itself?

As a result of the recent Chinese balloon incident and the purchase by a Chinese national of farmland near U.S. military bases, at least 11 state legislatures are proposing to limit or ban the acquisition of real estate by foreign entities and individuals. For example, the Texas Senate has proposed legislation that would prohibit ownership of any type of real property in Texas by any individual or entity from Russia, China, Iran or North Korea.

The proposed legislation brings to mind the Aliens Land Laws, which were a series of state laws adopted by 15 states in the 19th and 20th centuries prohibiting Chinese, Japanese, and other foreign individuals and entities from purchasing and leasing real estate in the U.S. Ultimately, these Alien Land Laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952. The proposed Texas legislation will be watched closely and likely will be challenged again.


In light of the proposed legislation in Texas and other states and the recent FinCEN Alert, it is vital for financial institutions as well as brokers and sellers in any CRE transaction to have a rigorous compliance check to ensure there are no violation of laws or regulations that could result in an enforcement action.

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

© Mondaq Ltd, 2023. Mr. Thomas Brooks, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, 633 West Fifth Street, Suite 4000, Los Angeles, California


Bank Crisis’ Silver Lining: Inflation Reduction

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Reserve is getting some unwanted help in its drive to slow the U.S. economy and defeat the worst bout of inflation in four decades: a cutback in bank lending.

The upheaval in the financial system that’s followed the collapse of two major U.S. banks is raising the likelihood that lending standards will become sharply more restrictive. Fewer loans would mean less spending by consumers and businesses. That, in turn, would make it harder for companies to raise prices, thereby reducing inflationary pressures.

At the same time, some economists worry that the slowdown might prove so severe as to send the economy sliding into a painful recession.

On Wednesday, the Fed raised its benchmark interest rate for the ninth time in just over a year. The central bank’s policymakers are struggling with a persistently high inflation rate that has bedeviled American households and heightened the uncertainties overhanging the economy. At roughly 6%, U.S. inflation remains well below last year’s peak yet is still far above the Fed’s 2% annual target.

But the Fed also signaled that it might be nearing the end of its rate hikes. In part, that is because a decline in bank lending could help the central bank achieve its overarching goal of slowing the economy and taming inflation.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday after the Fed’s announcement, Chair Jerome Powell suggested that stricter lending standards, resulting in a pullback in loans, could have the same slowing effect on inflation that a Fed hike can.

“It doesn’t all have to come from rate hikes,” Powell said. “It can come from tighter credit conditions.”

Similarly, after the European Central Bank raised its own benchmark rate by a substantial half percentage point last week, its president, Christine Lagarde, said the ECB was not locking itself into a preset plan for rate hikes and that future rate decisions would be made on a meeting-to-meeting basis.

Anxieties surrounding the European banking system “might have an impact on demand and might actually do some of the work that might otherwise be done by monetary policy,” Lagarde said just days after two major U.S. banks collapsed and the Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse required a rescue by its rival UBS.

Indeed, if Europe were to experience a credit crunch, analysts say, last week’s ECB rate hike might be its last for a while.

ECB officials have said their banks are “resilient” and have strong enough capital buffers and cash to cover whatever deposit withdrawals they face. European supervisors have applied international standards, requiring more ready cash on hand. By contrast, U.S. regulators exempted all but the very largest U.S. banks. Silicon Valley Bank was one of those exempted banks.

And when loans are more expensive and harder to qualify for, consumers, who drive most of the U.S. economy’s growth, are less likely to spend.

Gregory Daco, chief economist at the consulting firm EY-Parthenon, said he thinks a significant credit squeeze would have “slightly more” of an economic impact than the quarter-point rate hike the Fed announced Wednesday.

Edward Yardeni, an independent economist, said he would estimate that the impact would be even larger – the equivalent of a full percentage point hike by the Fed.

Inflation could slow as a result, helping the central bank accomplish its long-standing goal. But the toll on economic growth could be substantial, too. Most economists have said they expect a recession to occur in the United States by the second half of this year. The main question is how severe it might be.

Signs of a possible credit crunch in the United States had begun to emerge even before Silicon Valley Bank collapsed on March 10, raising worries about the stability of the financial system. In the face of rising rates and a deteriorating economic outlook, banks were already becoming stingier about approving loans to businesses at the end of 2022, according to a Fed survey of bank lending officers.

And bank “commercial and industrial” loans to businesses dropped last month for the first time since September 2021, according to the Fed.

Since then, the stress on banks has only grown. Silicon Valley Bank, which had been the nation’s 16th biggest bank, failed after accumulating huge losses on its bond portfolio that led worried depositors to withdraw their money. Two days later, regulators shut down New York-based Signature Bank.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures bank deposits up to $250,000, said that banks were sitting on $620 billion of paper losses in their investment portfolios at the end of last year. That was largely because higher interest rates had sharply reduced the value of their holdings in the bond market.

Powell declared Wednesday that the banking system is “sound” and “resilient.” Yet fear remains that more depositors will pull their money out of all but the biggest American banks, intensifying pressure on financial institutions to lend less and conserve cash to meet withdrawals.

Cash-short banks were still lining up this week to borrow money from the Fed. The Fed said Thursday that emergency lending to banks fell slightly in the past week – to $164 billion – but remained high.

More than $110 billion in borrowing went through a longstanding program called the “discount window.” That was down from a record $153 billion the week before. Banks can borrow from the discount window for up to 90 days. In a normal week, they only borrow about $5 billion that way.

The Fed also lent nearly $54 billion over the past week from a special lending facility it set up two days after the Silicon Bank failure. That was up from nearly $12 billion the week before – when the program was just getting set up.

Banks with less than $250 billion in assets account for about half of all business and consumer lending and two-thirds of home mortgages, noted Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

“Credit is really the grease that oils the U.S. economy and allows it to function and grow at a stable pace,” Daco said. “Without credit – or with slower credit growth – we’re likely to see businesses be more hesitant when it comes to investment decisions, when it comes to hiring decisions.”

A tightening of bank credit, he said, “noticeably increases the risk of a recession.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. AP Business Writer David McHugh in Frankfurt and AP Economics Writer Christopher Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.


Florida Realtors’ Tech Wins National Awards

Form Simplicity and Tech Helpline won 2023 HW Tech100 awards for “the most innovative technology companies serving the mortgage and real estate industries.”

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida Realtors®’ Form Simplicity and Tech Helpline have both been recognized as individual winners of the 2023 HW Tech100 Real Estate awards from HousingWire, a leading source for U.S. mortgage and housing news.

Form Simplicity is also featured as one of the “Top 5 Transaction Management” systems listed on the 2023 Tech 200, an analysis of the best-in-class technology products for the real estate industry by real estate consulting firm T3 Sixty.

“These honors and recognition from a highly respected and influential trade news organization and a top consulting firm validate the hard work and dedication of everyone who works for both Form Simplicity and Tech Helpline,” says 2023 Florida Realtors President G. Mike McGraw, a broker-associate with RE/MAX Central Realty in Apopka. “It also shows the impact of continuous innovation as Florida Realtors strives to make sure every real estate professional who uses Form Simplicity and the Tech Helpline has what they need to succeed in business.”

The Tech100 Real Estate award recognizes 100 technology companies “that are changing the home sales process forever – from home search to lead management solutions, and remote closing to transaction management software,” according to HousingWire. It identifies the residential real estate brokerage industry’s best-in-class tech products designed to help brokers, teams and agents, helping them grow and streamline their businesses. T3 Sixty selected leading products from 78 companies for the 2023 Tech 200.

Wholly owned and operated by Florida Realtors, Form Simplicity serves the real estate industry by providing an end-to-end, digital real estate transaction management solution to expedite real estate transactions – more deals and less paperwork. It gives real estate agents and brokers tools to create, manage, share and store transactions digitally in the cloud, the key to fully digital transactions that can be created and edited on mobile devices.

Tech Helpline is real estate’s No. 1 tech support service, accessible to 750,000 members across the U.S. and Canada. It offers easy-to-understand technical advice and friendly customer service. In addition to serving Florida Realtors, Tech Helpline offers its service to other Realtor Associations and organizations, Multiple Listing Services (MLSs) and real estate brokerage firms.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Google Local-Ad Expansion Can Help RE Agents

70 types of service businesses, including real estate agents, can more easily target ads to consumers whose search terms seem to match a Realtor’s services.

NEW YORK – Google expanded its Local Services Ads by introducing a wider and more versatile toolset. This service now allows agents to incorporate advertising products and services whenever someone uses the Google search engine to look for local answers.

Google’s local-ad option now encompasses more than 70 types of service businesses, as well as storefront businesses. As a result, real estate agents have greater ability to advertise their services at the top of Google Search results.

Moreover, the service is cost effective. Its pay-per-click format means agents need pay only if a user contacts them via the local ad.

Google also improved its booking feature. It now gives prospects essential information that works to direct them to the agent’s marketing channel. That info includes detailed data about the real estate agency, reviews or testimonials from past clients, and agency-based photos.

In addition, Google enhanced its booking features by allowing prospective customers to place calls, send messages or book appointments without navigating away from the ad.

Finally, Local Ad Services now features performance tracking, including the ability to listen to call recordings left by prospects.

All the new features are accessible on desktops, Android devices and iOS devices to better help real estate professionals leverage their strengths within specific neighborhoods.

Source: Realty Biz News (03/20/2023) Shepardson, Ben

© Copyright 2023 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688


FEMA Realtor Webinars to Explain Risk Rating 2.0

How does flood insurance Risk Rating 2.0 calculate NFIP premiums? What is covered? FEMA will host free webinars to help Fla.’s Realtors understand the process.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its risk rating system under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and called the update “Risk Rating 2.0: Equity in Action.”

Prior to 2.0, a home’s flood insurance cost was based on that area’s flood zone and elevations. Under 2.0, however, the flood risk is one factor used to create a final price quote. Neighboring properties may be quoted different rates depending on a number of factors, including things like storm mitigation efforts one homeowner might have taken.

To help Realtors in Florida understand how Risk Rating 2.0 works, FEMA has scheduled three free Zoom webinars, called the “National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Introduction to Risk Rating 2.0 – Equity in Action for Real Estate Professionals.”

“We’re excited to share the National Flood Insurance Program online webinar/presentations with Florida Realtors®’ professional members,” says Floodplain Management and Insurance Taskforce Leader Deborah Parker. “Statistics show that as little as one inch of water can cause approximately $25,000 of flood damage to a home. FEMA continues to provide training for real estate professionals because they have personal relationships with homeowners and homebuyers.”

The three Zoom sessions will each last for one hour – 45 minutes for the presentation and 15 minutes for questions and answers. There is no cost to join, but participation is limited to 300 attendees, and some members may be cut off from attending any single webinar if attendance exceeds that number. Should demand remain strong, however, FEMA will schedule additional webinars.

Webinar dates

  • March 29, 2023: 10-11 a.m. ET
  • April 5: 10-11 a.m. ET
  • April 19: 10-11 a.m. ET

Webinar agenda

  • The NFIP today
  • What has changed
  • What has not changed
  • Transition of current policies
  • Resources
  • Questions and answers

To join a ZoomGov meeting:


Meeting ID: 160 343 9176

Passcode: 143832

Members can also attend by phone. Info on the numbers to call with the United States or nationally can be found on the Zoom for Government website.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Mortgage Rates Drop Again to Average 6.42%

Last week, the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.6%. It’s the second weekly drop and a dash of hope for anxious spring homebuyers.

NEW YORK – The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate fell for the second straight week which, combined with moderating home prices, could give house hunters a break and the housing market a boost as the spring buying season begins.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average on the benchmark 30-year rate fell to 6.42% from 6.6% last week. The average rate a year ago was 4.42%.

Even though financial markets remain jittery over recent bank collapses and the Fed raised its benchmark lending rate by another 25 basis points Wednesday, some economists think there may be light at the end of the tunnel for the downtrodden housing market.

“On the homebuyer front, the news is more positive with improved purchase demand and stabilizing home prices,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “If mortgage rates continue to slide over the next few weeks, look for a continued rebound during the first weeks of the spring homebuying season.”

Last year’s big rise in mortgage rates – which can add hundreds of dollars a month in costs for homebuyers – chilled the housing market. Before surging 14.5% in February, sales of existing homes had fallen for 12 straight months to the slowest pace in more than a dozen years.

In 2022, existing U.S. home sales fell 17.8% from 2021, the weakest year for home sales since 2014 and the biggest annual decline since the housing crisis began in 2008, the National Association of Realtors reported earlier this year.

But recently there has been some good news for those seeking to move: The national median home price slipped 0.2% from February last year to $363,000, marking the first annual decline in 13 years, according to NAR.

The average long-term rate hit 7.08% in the fall – a two-decade high – as the Federal Reserve cranked up its key lending rate in a bid to cool the economy and stymie persistent, four-decade high inflation.

In their latest quarterly economic projections, the policymakers forecast that they expect to raise that key rate just once more – from its new level of about 4.9% to 5.1%, the same peak they had projected in December.

While the Fed’s rate hikes do impact borrowing rates across the board for businesses and families, rates on 30-year mortgages usually track the moves in the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. Investor expectations for future inflation, global demand for U.S. Treasurys and what the Federal Reserve does with interest rates can also influence the cost of borrowing for a home.

Treasury yields have fluctuated wildly since the collapse of two mid-size U.S. banks two weeks ago, with the 10-year falling to 3.47% Thursday. The 10-year yield reached 5.07% before the bank collapses, its highest level since 2007.

The rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with those refinancing their homes, also came down again this week, to 5.68% from 5.9% last week. It was 3.63% one year ago.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Attom: 2022 Home Flipping Up, Profits Down

Higher interest rates took a bite out of profits, even as home-flipping hit its highest rate in 15 years. But Orlando ranked high for both flips and profits.

IRVINE, Calif. – Attom’s 2022 U.S. Home Flipping Report finds that 407,417 U.S. single-family homes and condos were flipped in 2022 – up 14% from 2021 and up 58% from 2020, hitting the highest point since at least 2005.

Of all 2022 U.S. home sales, investors purchased 8.4%, or close to one in 10. That’s an increase of 5.9% compared to 2021 and 5.8% in 2020.

But 2022 profit margins are another story, according to Attom. Gross profit margins on home flips sank to their lowest level since 2008 following the second major drop in two years.

Homes flipped in 2022 typically generated a gross profit of $67,900 nationwide – the difference between the median sales price and the median amount originally paid by investors. That’s down 3% from $70,000 in 2021 and translates into just a 26.9% return on investment (ROI) compared to the original acquisition price. It’s down from 32.6% in 2021 and 41.9% in 2020.

Attom calculates the ROI without accounting for mortgage interest, property taxes, renovation expenses and other holding costs.

Investors saw profit margins drop for the fifth time in the past six years, largely because the median value of the homes flipped rose more slowly than the median price they paid to purchase properties – 12% versus 17%.

“Last year, home flippers throughout the U.S. experienced another tough period as returns took yet another hit. For the second straight year, more investors were flipping but found no simple path to quick profits,” says Rob Barber, chief executive officer at Attom.

Barber says returns have hit a point where “they could easily be wiped out by the carrying costs during the renovation and repair process, which usually accounts for 20 to 33% of the resale price.”

Only one Florida city made Attom’s list of top cities for home flipping growth – Orlando – which also topped the list for ROI.

Among the 25 largest increases in annual flipping rates in metros with a population of at least 200,000, 20 were in the South and West. They were led by Burlington, Vermont (rate up 283.7%); Prescott, Arizona (up 183.1%); Bremerton, Washington (up 182.7%); Jackson, Mississippi (up 176%) and Honolulu, Hawaii (up 172.6%).

Honolulu also topped the list of flipping rate increases for metros with at least 1 million people, which includes Orlando:

  1. Honolulu: Up 172.6%
  2. Sacramento, California: Up 116.4%
  3. Atlanta: Up 94.3%
  4. Minneapolis: Up 72.8%
  5. Orlando: Up 72.2%

The only metro areas with fewer home flips in 2022 were New Orleans (down 8.2%) and Green Bay Wisconsin (down 2.9%).

Nationally, the percentage of flipped homes purchased with financing decreased in 2022 to 35.2%, down from 35.9% in 2021 and from 41% in 2020.

2022 return on investment

The gross profit margin on the typical home flip fell to 26.9% – the smallest investment return since at least 2005. The ROI on median-priced home flips dropped 15 percentage points since 2020 and 24 points since 2016.

Margins fell as the median nationwide resale price on flipped homes increased just 12.3% – from $285,000 in 2021 to $320,000 – in 2022. But the price investors paid for homes rose 17.3%.

The typical home-flipping investment return decreased from 2021 to 2022 in 168 (77%) of the 218 metro areas analyzed.

In metros with at least a million people, Orlando also ranked in the top 5 for returns on investment in 2022 compared to 2021:

  1. Cleveland: ROI up from 26.8% in 2021 to 41.4% in 2022
  2. New Orleans: Up from 54.1% to 64.6%
  3. Cincinnati: Up from 38.4% to 47.4%
  4. Honolulu: Up from 5.7% to 7.4%
  5. Orlando: Up from 17.6% to 18.7%

Other 2022 home flipping takeaways

•Flips took an average of 164 days (about 5 ½ months) to complete, up from 152 days in 2021 but down from 182 days in 2020.

•8.4% of 2022 flips were sold to buyers using a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan – up slightly from 8% in 2021 but below 13.9% in 2020.

•More than 200 counties had a home flipping rate of at least 10% in 2022

 “While declining margin is certainly a cause for caution, it is important to remember that these numbers are somewhat backward looking in that they reflect dispositions of properties that were acquired in 2021 or early 2022 amidst the Covid-induced bidding wars in many locales,” says Maksim Stavinsky, co-founder and president of Roc360.

“On the other hand, it is encouraging that investors were able to clear in excess of four hundred thousand properties – the most ever – in an environment of rising interest rates, without a meaningful increase in project timelines,” he adds.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Feb. New-Home Sales Rose 1.1%

Sales rose month-to-month but are down 19% year-to-year, with Feb.’s sales falling solidly into the “not good news but not bad news” category.

WASHINGTON – Higher mortgage rates and home prices, as well as increased construction costs contributed to lackluster new home sales in February, but signs point to improvement later in the year.

Sales of newly built, single-family homes in February increased 1.1% to a 640,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate (the number of homes that would sell in one year at the current month’s rate) from a downwardly revised reading in January, according to newly released data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, new home sales are down 19% year-to-year.

“The lack of existing home inventory means demand for new homes will rise as interest rates decline over the coming quarters,” says Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). However, Huey also notes builders’ ongoing challenges, including “higher interest rates, elevated construction costs and access to critical materials like electrical transformers.”

NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz says February’s data “points to an increase for the monthly pace of single-family construction starts later in 2023 given a rise in builder sentiment and an increase for sales of homes not yet started construction.”

Dietz’s top concern, though, is possibly tighter credit conditions stemming from recent bank problems. He says that could impact acquisition, development and construction loans for smaller builders.

New single-family home inventory fell for the fifth straight month. The February reading indicated an 8.2-months’ supply at the current building pace. A measure near a 6 months’ supply is considered balanced. However, single-family resale home inventory stands at a reduced level of 2.5 months.

The median new-home sale price rose in February to $438,200, up 2.5% year-to-year, based largely on elevated costs of construction. A year ago, roughly 15% of new-home sales were priced below $300,000; that share is now just 10%.

On a year-to-date basis, new home sales fell in all regions: Down 29.2% in the Northeast, 21.3% in the Midwest, 7.3% in the South and 40.6% in the West.

A new home sale registers when a sales contract is signed or a deposit is accepted. The home can be in any stage of construction: not yet started, under construction or completed. In addition to adjusting for seasonal effects, the February reading of 640,000 units is the number of homes that would sell if this pace continued for the next 12 months.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


New RE Idea: Affordable Senior Housing

A senior-housing project aimed at middle-class adults gives them an option other than “dying in my house.” The Mass. prototype charges only $1,800 per month.

NEWTON, Mass. – The developer 2Life Communities broke ground March 6 on a senior housing project that’s affordable to middle-class residents. Monthly rents will be as low as $1,800 at the $100 million development in Newton, Mass.

Comparable independent living communities in the Boston region charge $4,200 a month, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

The entrance fee at the affordable community starts at $395,000, which is about one-third the entrance cost at other senior housing facilities. Plus when a resident leaves or dies, 80% of the fee will be refunded to them or family members.

Almost all of the project’s 174 units have been reserved with deposits, says Amy Schectman, 2Life’s chief executive.

The senior housing industry is closely watching the project to see whether some of its money-saving efforts are exportable. For example, 2Life serves group dinners only three nights a week and requires residents to volunteer 10 hours a month.

The high costs of development, labor, meal services, transportation and programming have made it very difficult to cut rents at the U.S.’s 1.8 million senior housing units, which provide a range of care from just meals and programming for adults who live in their own apartments to skilled nursing and memory care.

Efforts to offer affordable housing have been made even more difficult since the pandemic because senior housing initially was crushed by soaring costs and a nosedive in occupancy.

Source: Wall Street Journal (03/07/23) Grant, Peter

© Copyright 2023 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688


Is Being a Landlord Worth It?

Real estate is a time-tested, tried-and-true investment for people who can afford it, but it also involves work. Not everyone wants to be a landlord.

NEW YORK – Real estate has been a popular investment for a very long time – for those who can afford it. But in recent years, trends such as house flipping, “house hacking” (living in one room of a property while renting out the others) and short-term vacation rentals have made real estate investment much more accessible, especially for millennials seeking a second income stream in an uncertain economy.

Though the potential profit is tempting, being a landlord may not be for everyone. Rental properties involve significant upfront costs, time commitment, legal liabilities and ethical dilemmas that can put a dent in your dividends.

So before you take out a loan to buy an investment property in an “up-and-coming neighborhood,” here are three things to consider.

Know what you can commit to

There are many ways to oversee rental real estate, from being fully hands-on to hiring someone else to manage a property you’ve never seen in person. When weighing your options, assess the time and money you can commit to a potential rental and the market you want to enter.

If you have more time than money, you might prefer a fixer-upper you can bring up to market value with low-cost do-it-yourself projects. If you have the cash but not the time, it may be better to purchase a place that’s ready to rent and even hire a property manager to handle the day-to-day upkeep.

But with rising mortgage interest rates – up to almost 7% as of this writing – and property prices increasing every year nationwide, investing in real estate may be out of reach for many.

Make sure you can weather a financial storm

Most investments come with some risk, but real estate has its own unique hurdles. Upfront and ongoing repairs, vacancies and tenants who don’t pay rent can tank your profits and even affect your ability to pay the property’s mortgage.

Before you get in over your head, ensure you have enough money to get through a downswing. Having a cash reserve or credit line can save you if your property is vacant for a few months or if your tenant has an emergency situation and can’t pay rent.

“If you need full occupancy and full rent to break even, with no flexibility, then your mortgage isn’t sustainable,” says Nancy Neiman, who rents out an in-law suite attached to her garage to help pay her mortgage after refinancing the property in Claremont, California.

Many real estate investors, with large portfolios funded by loans, put themselves and their tenants in difficult situations because of this lack of flexibility. If you’re relying on future profits to provide the cash for your loan payments, your property may be at risk.

“Circumstances happen that are out of your control,” Neiman, a politics professor, says. “You need to build in a cushion to your business plan before you start so those obstacles don’t make you vulnerable.”

Understand the tenant perspective

Rental properties are a unique type of investment; you’re interacting with real people. The more you treat them with respect and understanding, the more likely you are to get a reliable return on your investment.

“Look at your tenants as partners,” says Alonzo Johnson, who led a rent strike in 2020 against real estate company Emerald Equity Group as the tenant association president for one of the company’s properties in East Harlem, New York, where Johnson says he still lives.

“This is a symbiotic relationship; you provide the housing and maintain a quality of livability, and we pay for that service,” he says.

Investors with large, loan-funded real estate portfolios have historically taken advantage of legal loopholes in housing regulations, exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in major cities. But with growing tenants’ rights protections such as the New York state’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (which tightened rules on evictions and rent increases, among other things), keeping rent prices reasonable isn’t just ethical – it’s sometimes legally required.

Even if you plan to operate on a smaller scale, knowing ahead of time what you’d need to charge in rent in order to turn a profit can help ensure that you’re not pricing out locals or negatively affecting housing access in your community.

“Being an ethical landlord means being flexible enough with people’s life circumstances that you are OK with some degree of rent forgiveness if you have to be,” Neiman says. “If you’re unmovable, you won’t be able to absorb emergency costs and will find yourself either being unethical or going under.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. The content is for educational and informational purposes and does not constitute investment advice.


Fla.’s Feb. Housing: Inventory, Median Prices Up

Florida Realtors: Closed single-family sales fell 21.3% last month amid inflation and higher interest rates, but for-sale inventory rose 131.4% to a 2.7-months’ supply.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s housing market in February continued to show increasing inventory (active listings) and higher median prices compared to a year ago, according to Florida Realtors®’ latest housing data.

Still, economic uncertainty, inflation and interest rates fluctuating above 6% impacted the state’s housing sector. Closed sales of single-family homes statewide last month totaled 18,627, down 21.3% year-over-year, while existing condo-townhouse sales totaled 7,665, down 30.2% from February 2022, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

“The 30-year fixed mortgage rate was in the 6- to 6.5% range for much of January, which helped spur some renewed activity in the existing home sales market,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “While closed sales were still down substantially year over year, the numbers for February were much more favorable than what we saw in January.

“One area where we worsened compared to last month, however, was in new listings. The last time there were this few new listings in the month of February was in 2013, in both property type categories. This lack of new listings kept inventories from expanding much at all. Single-family inventory actually declined month-over-month, though it was still higher year-over-year.”

In February, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $395,000, up 3.5% from the previous year; for condo-townhouse units, it was $315,000, up 8.6% over February 2022. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

“The supply of for-sale homes is slowly building, which is easing inventory constraints in many markets across the state,” says Florida Realtors® President G. Mike McGraw, a broker-associate with RE/MAX Central Realty in Apopka. “As more inventory becomes available, it will begin to ease some of the pressure on home prices – and that helps buyers dealing with higher interest rates and affordability challenges.

“Working with a local Realtor means consumers have an expert guide who can help them understand the complex and emotional process of buying or selling a home.”

Statewide inventory in February was higher than a year ago for both existing single-family homes, increasing by 131.4%, and for condo-townhouse units, up 106%. The supply of single-family existing homes was at a 2.7-months’ supply while existing condo-townhouse properties were at a 3.2-months’ supply last month.

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to the Florida Realtors Newsroom at and look under Latest Releases or download the February 2023 data report PDFs under Market Data.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


$5M to Help 11% of Floridians Without Internet

Fla.’s State Broadband Officer will use $5M from HUD to connect some of the 11% who can’t access the internet, including the 3% who have no connection options.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a new guidebook for states and organizations to consider when deploying high-speed internet service projects. The guide was created to help multifamily housing owners and operations, public housing authorities and tribes understand the mechanics of the programs.

“We are committed to making sure every home has access to high-speed internet, through initiatives like HUD’s ConnectHome and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Affordable Connectivity Program,” says HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge.

In Florida, the program falls under State Broadband Officer Katie Smith. According to HUD’s analysis, 3% of the state’s population has no options for broadband internet connection and 11% have no access for other reasons, many times due to affordability.

Floridians and the internet

  • Residents with high-speed internet available: 97%
  • Percentage where high-speed internet is unavailable: 3%
  • Percentage without access to a device (including slow-speed connections): 7%
  • Percentage not using the internet: 11%
  • Percentage with no internet access or a device: 11%

To address the need to connect everyone in America to affordable and reliable high-speed internet service, Congress created funding for high-speed internet service through the $65 billion Internet for All initiative and called the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. Of that money, Florida will receive $4,999,976.99.

Nationwide, BEAD will provide $42.45 billion to help connect unserved and underserved locations, while Digital Equity programs will provide another $2.75 billion to help communities provide devices, digital skills training and other activities to help underserved communities.

All 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have received planning funding under both of these programs. State Broadband Offices (SBO) are currently developing action plans and will be submitting them in the coming months.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


HUD Restores ‘Discriminatory Effects’ Rule

A rule changed in 2020 was reinstated. As a result, HUD still considers “disparate impact” and “perpetuation of segregation” illegal forms of discrimination.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) submitted a Final Rule entitled “Restoring HUD’s Discriminatory Effects Standard.” It will appear in the Federal Register.

The rule rescinds a 2020 rule governing “disparate impact” claims and restores the 2013 discriminatory effects rule, a part of the Fair Housing Act.

“Discrimination in housing continues today and individuals, including people of color and people with disabilities, continue to be denied equal access to rental housing and homeownership,” says HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge. “Today’s rule brings us one step closer to ensuring fair housing is a reality for all in this country.”

Nothing, however, changes. A 2013 Rule made clear that “discriminatory effects” includes both “disparate impact” and “perpetuation of segregation,” and it made both illegal. Under the Trump Administration, a 2020 Rule “added multiple new procedural requirements and defenses that collectively made it virtually impossible for a plaintiff to plead a disparate impact case,” HUD says.

But the changes from the 2020 Rule never went into effect, causing confusion over the nation’s standards for fair housing. It was challenged in three separate lawsuits.

“The 2020 Rule, while technically not in effect, was published in the Federal Register and shows up as the current regulation,” according to HUD’s Fact Sheet on the latest change. “It has been causing confusion about HUD’s position as to the standards HUD and private litigants must meet to pursue discriminatory effects claims.”

“Disparate impact” and “perpetuation of segregation”

The discriminatory effects doctrine – which includes disparate impact and perpetuation of segregation – is a tool for addressing policies that unnecessarily cause systemic inequality in housing, even if they weren’t adopted with discriminatory intent.

It has been used to challenge policies that unnecessarily exclude people from housing opportunities, and has focused on issues such as zoning requirements, lending and property insurance policies, and criminal records policies.

  • Disparate impact: In this case, a policy appears neutral but affects people in protected classes differently. Rather than look directly at a policy, analysts often look at the results of that policy. If the results appear to discriminate, the policy may be questioned.
  • Perpetuation of segregation: Here, a policy “creates, reinforces or perpetuates segregated housing patterns but does not necessarily have a disparate impact.”

HUD’s new rule goes into effect 30 days after published in the Federal Register. But since the 2020 Rule never went into effect, regulated entities complying with the 2013 Rule don’t need to change any practices they have in place to comply with this rule.

HUD posted a Fact Sheet on its website that answers many of the frequently asked questions about the Fair Housing Act policies.

© 2023 Florida Realtors


NAR: Sales Up, Prices Down After 131-Month Streak

In Feb., month-to-month home sales surged 14.5% as buyers locked in lower mortgage rates, but a 0.2% price drop is the first decline in almost 11 years.

WASHINGTON – Existing-home sales reversed a 12-month slide in February, registering the largest monthly percentage increase since July 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

Month-over-month sales rose in all four major U.S. regions – but they also all saw year-over-year declines.

Total existing-home sales – completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops – climbed 14.5% from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.58 million in February. Year-over-year, sales fell 22.6% (down from 5.92 million in February 2022).

“Conscious of changing mortgage rates, homebuyers are taking advantage of any rate declines,” says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Moreover, we’re seeing stronger sales gains in areas where home prices are decreasing and the local economies are adding jobs.”

Total housing inventory at the end of February was 980,000 units, identical to January and up 15.3% from one year ago (850,000). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.6-month supply at the current sales pace, down 10.3% from January but up from 1.7 months in February 2022.

“Inventory levels are still at historic lows,” Yun adds. “Consequently, multiple offers are returning on a good number of properties.”

February median existing home prices fell for the first time in 131 months– almost eleven years – according to NAR. The median existing-home price for all housing types was $363,000, a decline of 0.2% from February 2022 ($363,700), as prices climbed in the Midwest and South yet waned in the Northeast and West.

Properties typically remained on the market for 34 days in February, up from 33 days in January and 18 days in February 2022. Still, most homes (57%) sold in February were on the market for less than a month.

Buyer types

  • First-time buyers were responsible for 27% of sales in February, down from 31% in January and 29% in February 2022.
  • All-cash sales accounted for 28% of transactions in February, down from 29% in January but up from 25% in February 2022.
  • Individual investors or second-home buyers, who make up many cash sales, purchased 18% of homes in February, up from 16% in January but down from 19% in February 2022.
  • Distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – represented 2% of sales in February, nearly identical to last month and one year ago.

According to Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.60% as of March 16. That’s down from 6.73% from the previous week but up from 4.16% one year ago.

Single-family and condo/co-op sales: Single-family home sales soared to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.14 million in February, up 15.3% from 3.59 million in January but down 21.4% from the previous year. The median existing single-family home price was $367,500 in February, down 0.7% from February 2022.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 440,000 units in February, up from 410,000 in January but down 32.3% from one year ago. The median existing condo price was $321,000 in February, an annual increase of 2.5%.

“Owning a home provides a path to long-term financial security and is a vehicle by which to transfer wealth to future generations,” said NAR President Kenny Parcell. “Realtors deliver expert guidance, objectivity and professionalism to consumers during the complex process of purchasing a home.”

Regional breakdown: Existing-home sales in the Northeast improved 4.0% from January to an annual rate of 520,000 in February, down 25.7% from February 2022. The median price in the Northeast was $366,100, down 4.5% from the previous year.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales grew 13.5% from the previous month to an annual rate of 1.09 million in February, down 18.7% from one year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $261,200, up 5.0% from February 2022.

Existing-home sales in the South rebounded 15.9% in February from January to an annual rate of 2.11 million, a 21.3% decrease from the prior year. The median price in the South was $342,000, an increase of 2.7% from one year ago.

In the West, existing-home sales rocketed 19.4% in February from the prior month to an annual rate of 860,000, down 28.3% from the previous year. The median price in the West was $541,100, down 5.6% from February 2022.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


N.Y. Coldwell Banker Settles Discrimination Allegation

A Newsday report on Long Island, N.Y., housing discrimination led the state’s attorney general to investigate. This week she announced a settlement with Coldwell Banker.

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday a settlement with Coldwell Banker, putting an end to the real estate brokerage’s alleged discriminatory practices against Black, Hispanic, and other homebuyers of color on Long Island, which is considered by some to be the most segregated part of the United States.

“There is zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind in New York state,” said Attorney General James. “My office’s investigation into Coldwell Banker uncovered a persistent pattern of prospective homebuyers receiving different treatment because of their race. Discriminating against people because of race is not just shameful – it is illegal. Housing is and always will be a human right, and my office will continue to address these pervasive and discriminatory practices statewide.”

The settlement comes after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) launched an investigation into Coldwell Banker and other brokerages following Newsday’s investigative report on housing discrimination.

The OAG found evidence that Coldwell Banker agents may have subjected prospective homebuyers of color to different requirements, steered them towards predominantly non-white neighborhoods, and engaged in other biased behavior. As part of the settlement, Coldwell Banker will pay $20,000 in penalties, $10,000 to Suffolk County to support fair housing law enforcement and compliance, provide fair housing training to its agents, and make a discrimination complaint form available on its website.

The investigation was initiated in 2019 after Newsday exposed several brokerage firms’ discriminatory practices, involving five paired tests conducted on Coldwell Banker agents in Great Neck, East Setauket, Bellmore and Massapequa Park.

Agents were found to have warned white homebuyers about diverse neighborhoods but withheld such information from Black and Hispanic homebuyers. In one case, an agent showed a white homebuyer properties in 83% white neighborhoods while showing a Black homebuyer properties in a more diverse neighborhood of Freeport.

This news is a reminder that “redlining” has not been eliminated and still plays a role in where people live throughout the state.

Redlining is a discriminatory practice that began in the United States in the 1930s, when the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created color-coded maps to assess the creditworthiness of neighborhoods. The term “redlining” originates from these maps, where the riskiest areas – usually those inhabited by African Americans and other minority groups – were marked in red. This practice led to racial segregation, disinvestment, and long-lasting disparities in wealth and opportunities in many American cities, including New York.

In New York, redlining affected various neighborhoods, especially those with predominantly Black or immigrant populations. Areas like Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the South Bronx experienced severe disinvestment as a result of redlining. Banks and other financial institutions were less likely to grant loans or provide mortgages to residents in these neighborhoods, leading to reduced investment in housing, businesses, and public services.

Redlining was reinforced by racially restrictive covenants in housing deeds, which explicitly prohibited the sale or rental of properties to certain racial or ethnic groups. These practices were eventually declared illegal by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which aimed to prevent discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, or national origin.

Long Island has been described as one of the most racially segregated regions in the United States. This segregation is a result of several historical and ongoing factors, including discriminatory housing practices, exclusionary zoning, and economic disparities. The phenomenon of “white flight,” in which white families moved to suburban areas to escape racial integration in urban centers, also contributed to Long Island’s segregation.

© Copyright © 2023 Everything Brooklyn Media, all rights reserved.


RE Q&A: What’s the Right Way to Plan My Estate?

There is no “right way” to plan an estate – but there are wrong ways. Plans could include wills, life estate deeds, trusts and joint tenancy, individually or in combination.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: My daughter wants me to put my apartment into a joint tenancy with survivorship to make things easier when I eventually pass away. I want to make things easier, but I don’t know what this means. Is this safe and something I should do? – Laura

Answer: Planning for our eventual demise can save those we leave behind a lot of headaches. There is no “right” way to plan your estate; there is only the best way based on your situation.

You can use many tools, such as wills, life estate deeds, trusts, and joint tenancy, which, individually or in combination, might be the right choice for your circumstances.

The point of planning your estate is to ensure your assets and savings go your loved ones instead of creditors in a way that is simple and inexpensive for those you leave behind. This lets your family grieve your loss rather than dealing with creditors, lawyers and bankers.

A typical planning tool is to deed your loved ones onto your property with you. However, transferring an interest in your home can have significant consequences. Depending on how it is done, it can raise your property taxes, increase your liability, and create a situation where you need to ask your kids for permission to sell or mortgage your home.

That said, properly doing this can be a great planning tool to accomplish specific goals.

Your daughter is suggesting that you include her in the ownership of your home. Jointly owned property can be shared in three ways:

  • The default type of joint ownership is known as “tenants in common.” Each owner owns their part of the property individually. The co-owners can each have the same shares, for example, each owning half, or they can agree to a different arrangement. When one owner dies, their share goes to their heirs, typically through the probate court.
  • Property can also be owned as “joint tenants with right of survivorship.” With this type, each person owns the entire property without any division from the other owners. When one owner dies, the entire property remains with the other owners, and the deceased’s heirs inherit nothing.
  • The final form of ownership, called “tenants by the entireties,” is similar to this but is reserved for spouses and offers additional advantages reserved for married couples.

Other options, like a life estate or lady bird deed, will allow you to maintain more control over the property while alive but still avoid probate when you pass.

The varied choices can make this all seem confusing, and to some extent, it is. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you sort through this and find the best solution for your family.

Property estate planning often proves the adage that “an ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure.”

Copyright © South Florida Sun Sentinel, Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. All rights reserved.


Scam: Deepfake Phone Calls from Trusted Cohorts

ChatGPT fake writing can now be used with software that imitates voices. That means a seemingly personal call from a client, title agent or friend could be a scam.

NEW YORK – You have just returned home after a long day at work and are about to sit down for dinner when suddenly your phone starts buzzing. On the other end is a loved one, perhaps a parent, a child or a childhood friend, begging you to send them money immediately.

You ask them questions, attempting to understand. There is something off about their answers, which are either vague or out of character, and sometimes there is a peculiar delay, almost as though they were thinking a little too slowly. Yet, you are certain that it is definitely your loved one speaking: That is their voice you hear, and the caller ID is showing their number. Chalking up the strangeness to their panic, you dutifully send the money to the bank account they provide you.

The next day, you call them back to make sure everything is all right. Your loved one has no idea what you are talking about. That is because they never called you – you have been tricked by technology: a voice deepfake. Thousands of people were scammed this way in 2022.

As computer security researchers, we see that ongoing advancements in deep-learning algorithms, audio editing and engineering, and synthetic voice generation have meant that it is increasingly possible to convincingly simulate a person’s voice.

Even worse, chatbots like ChatGPT are starting to generate realistic scripts with adaptive real-time responses. By combining these technologies with voice generation, a deepfake goes from being a static recording to a live, lifelike avatar that can convincingly have a phone conversation.

Cloning a voice

Crafting a compelling high-quality deepfake, whether video or audio, is not the easiest thing to do. It requires a wealth of artistic and technical skills, powerful hardware and a fairly hefty sample of the target voice.

There are a growing number of services offering to produce moderate- to high-quality voice clones for a fee, and some voice deepfake tools need a sample of only a minute long, or even just a few seconds, to produce a voice clone that could be convincing enough to fool someone. However, to convince a loved one – for example, to use in an impersonation scam – it would likely take a significantly larger sample.

Protecting against scams and disinformation

With all that said, we at the DeFake Project of the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Mississippi and Michigan State University, and other researchers are working hard to be able to detect video and audio deepfakes and limit the harm they cause. There are also straightforward and everyday actions that you can take to protect yourself.

For starters, voice phishing, or “vishing,” scams like the one described above are the most likely voice deepfakes you might encounter in everyday life, both at work and at home. In 2019, an energy firm was scammed out of $243,000 when criminals simulated the voice of its parent company’s boss to order an employee to transfer funds to a supplier. In 2022, people were swindled out of an estimated $11 million by simulated voices, including of close, personal connections.

What can you do?

Be mindful of unexpected calls, even from people you know well. This is not to say you need to schedule every call, but it helps to at least email or text message ahead. Also, do not rely on caller ID, since that can be faked, too. For example, if you receive a call from someone claiming to represent your bank, hang up and call the bank directly to confirm the call’s legitimacy. Be sure to use the number you have written down, saved in your contacts list or that you can find on Google.

Additionally, be careful with your personal identifying information, like your Social Security number, home address, birth date, phone number, middle name and even the names of your children and pets. Scammers can use this information to impersonate you to banks, realtors and others, enriching themselves while bankrupting you or destroying your credit.

Here is another piece of advice: know yourself. Specifically, know your intellectual and emotional biases and vulnerabilities. This is good life advice in general, but it is key to protect yourself from being manipulated. Scammers typically seek to suss out and then prey on your financial anxieties, your political attachments or other inclinations, whatever those may be.

This alertness is also a decent defense against disinformation using voice deepfakes. Deepfakes can be used to take advantage of your confirmation bias, or what you are inclined to believe about someone.

If you hear an important person, whether from your community or the government, saying something that either seems very uncharacteristic for them or confirms your worst suspicions of them, you would be wise to be wary.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. Matthew Wright, Rochester Institute of Technology and Christopher Schwartz, Rochester Institute of Technology


Watchdogs: Insurers Limited Hurricane Ian payouts

An insurance watchdog group alleges insurers illegally reduced disaster estimates after Hurricane Ian and says it will submit the crime evidence to Fla. law enforcement.

ORLANDO, Fla. – An insurance industry watchdog group says that it will submit to Florida law enforcement evidence of crimes committed by insurance company employees in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian last year.

The announcement comes after a story in the Washington Post alleged that insurers dramatically reduced adjuster estimates of Hurricane Ian damage in southwest Florida to justify much lower payout amounts to storm victims.

Both the office of state CFO Jimmy Patronis and the Office of Insurance Regulation confirmed that they had opened investigations into the matter but were unable to provide details.

Douglas Quinn, executive director of the nonprofit American Policyholder Association, told the Orlando Sentinel that whistleblowers and internal documents showed “claims were intentionally reduced by 70%-90% from legitimate estimates provided by experienced claims professionals hired by the insurers themselves.”

Quinn said the investigations involve more than one Florida-based regional carrier. The association plans to refer its findings to the Department of Financial Services, district attorneys in affected counties and possibly the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he said.

“A lack of arrests & prosecution against those in the insurance industry has created a moral hazard in which ethically compromised claims personnel can cheat Florida consumers and be virtually assured of no consequences,” Quinn wrote in an email. “Effective criminal prosecution will act as a deterrent to those who would consider cheating Florida consumers out of an honest claim in the future.”

In one instance, an adjuster who turned in a report showing $200,000 in damage to a home found it changed later, with his name still on it, to only reflect a payout of $27,000, the Post reported.

Mark Friedlander, director of communications for the Insurance Information Institute, who was quoted in the Post story, told the Orlando Sentinel that the alleged actions in the Post story were “clearly not the norm” among insurers following Ian. He said his organization estimates payouts from the storm will total over $60 billion.

“These allegations need to be taken very seriously and thoroughly investigated by state regulators,” Friedlander said.

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis and lawmakers held two special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property-insurance crisis, resulting in new regulations such as changes to attorney’s fees that make it harder to take insurance companies to court.

But reforms did not provide any direct relief for skyrocketing premiums.

Florida Democrats seized on the Post story. “This is the real ‘Florida Blueprint’ DeSantis doesn’t want the country to see – making it easier for property insurance companies to shift more costs to homeowners,” the party wrote in an email to supporters.

DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin, did not respond to the criticism and referred questions to the Office of Insurance Regulation.

OIR did not address the allegations in the Post story directly, but communications director Samantha Bequer said it was conducting investigations into “company claims handling for Hurricane Ian.”

© 2023 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Opinion: Rates of 2% Aren’t Good for the Industry

Nest Seekers Chief Economist Erin Sykes says the market’s long-term health works best if rates stay in the 6% range. After a 2% flash sale ends, sellers just hunker down.

NEW YORK – While mortgage rates may have dipped slightly this week due to several bank failures, five consecutive weeks of increases have undone the temporary decrease that began last November. And with the Federal Reserve warning that rate increases will continue in an effort to curb inflation, many are concerned about what that means for home and commercial real estate sales.

But not everyone.

A year ago, mortgage interest rates were in the 2% to 3% range. But Nest Seekers International Chief Economist and Real Estate Wealth Adviser Erin Sykes says that economic scenario wasn’t necessarily good for the market.

“Real estate acquisition is a long-term play. Those who bought houses, kept them for two years and flipped them (when the rates were low) were absolutely illogical, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again,” she told Benzinga. “If you buy a home, you should hold onto it for five or 10 years. Six percent interest rates are a fair rate to pay for a 30-year loan. People have been spoiled. I hope never to see a 2% interest rate again.”

Sykes, who has appeared on national television programs on Fox Business, CNBC, CNN and the NBC Nightly News, admits that she is a “contrarian” in the industry. She also loves to quote Warren Buffett partner Charlie Munger, who famously said, “If you do what everyone else does, you’re going to get the same results that everyone else gets.”

Meanwhile, indicators like another healthy job report and comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell this week that rates may go up higher this year than predicted mean that the Fed is not yet done with its pledge to curb inflation by raising interest rates, which in turn affects mortgage interest rate levels.

“Mortgage rates continue their upward trajectory as the Federal Reserve signals a more aggressive stance on monetary policy. Overall, consumers are spending in sectors that are not interest rate-sensitive, such as travel and dining out,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater said. “However, rate-sensitive sectors, such as housing, continue to be adversely affected. As a result, would-be homebuyers continue to face the compounding challenges of affordability and low inventory.”

Sykes said the frequent complaint about low inventory is overwrought.

“It depends where you live,” she said. “A lot of the ‘housing shortage’ line is manufactured, and people use that statistic too much.” She claims the inventory issue props up the belief that home prices, in general, should remain high and buyers should be coming into the market with offers that are between 5% and 20% less than the asking price.

“Anyone expecting to get the same price (for their home) as a year ago is naive. This is one of the best times to be a buyer. I don’t care what the interest rate is.”

© 2023 Benzinga.com – Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.


House Prices Declining but Still Up 7.7% Year-to-Year

NEW CASTLE, Ind. – Home values in some states began to fall at the end of last year and may continue to drop, according to the latest data from the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Prices NSA Index, the leading measure of U.S. home prices. Nationally, prices decreased 0.6% from June to November 2022.

But despite a growing trend of falling prices the last few months, house prices are still up 7.7% year over year.

Insurify has rounded up the top 10 states with the fastest-falling home prices. To identify these states, Insurify’s data scientists analyzed Zillow’s seasonally adjusted housing data to see where median home values have fallen the most over the second half of 2022.

Overall, home prices in the Western United States fell in the latter half of 2022. Nevada led the charge, followed by Arizona, California, and Utah. Of the 10 states featured on our list, eight are in the West. Home prices in Nevada fell the most, with a 4.8% decline in prices between June and November 2022. Home prices in Massachusetts fell the least, with just a 0.1% drop in prices in the latter half of last year.

While housing prices in the West are falling the fastest, markets in the South and Southeast continue to be strong, with Miami, Tampa, and Atlanta showing the biggest jumps in prices.

The Federal Reserve announced a quarter-point increase in February 2023 and signaled further rate increases over the course of the year. Increases in interest rates typically lead to falling home prices, so you can expect home prices to drop even further as the year progresses.

What does this mean?

Prospective homebuyers can expect cheaper prices, but as the Fed continues to implement interest rate hikes, they can also expect higher mortgage rates and higher home insurance rates. Still, it all comes down to specifics – you might be able to afford the higher mortgage and insurance rates if you find a good deal on a house.

But a good deal might be hard to find, according to Jorge DosSantos, branch manager at a Total Mortgage in the New England area.

“Rate increases kicked a lot of buyers out of qualifying, and some sellers are simply waiting because they don’t want to give up the 3% rate they have currently to go into a 6% rate,” DosSantos said. “But on the other hand, we have some markets still increasing because of inventory! Not enough houses on the market creates bidding wars.”

All that to say, higher inflation rates, higher interest rates, and higher home insurance rates ahead in 2023 may prove to be hurdles for prospective homebuyers, even with falling home prices.

States where home prices are falling the fastest

To identify the top states where home prices are falling the fastest, Insurify’s data scientists analyzed Zillow’s seasonally adjusted housing data to see where median home values have fallen the most over the second half of 2022.

10. Massachusetts

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $536,487
  • Value decline between June and November: -0.1%
  • Difference between the average Massachusetts home and national average: +50%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +2%
  • The average cost of a home in Massachusetts was 50% higher than the national average in November. But prices are starting to come down and have decreased 0.1% since June 2022.

While still very much above the average cost of a house in the U.S., if you’re looking to buy in New England, Massachusetts is the only state in the region with falling prices. Housing costs in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont continue to climb. Rates are also slightly going up in similar-sized states, such as Virginia, Tennessee, and Indiana.

9. Washington

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $608,350
  • Value decline between June and November: -1.5%
  • Difference between the average Washington home and national average: +70%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +17%
  • While housing prices in Washington have come down 1.5% since June 2022, they’re still 70% higher than the national average home price of $357,544.

Washington isn’t the only state in the Pacific Northwest with falling housing prices; the cost of homes in Oregon is dropping, too. But housing prices in states with similar population sizes to Washington – such as New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia – are still on the rise. Home insurance costs in Washington are on the rise too, with a whopping 17% jump in insurance rates between 2021 and 2022.

8. Oregon

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $511,447
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -1.6%
  • Difference between the average Oregon home and national average: +43%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +11%
  • In November 2022, the average price of a house in Oregon was 1.6% less than in June of that year. While 43% higher than the national average, houses in Oregon are more affordable than its Pacific Northwest neighbor, Washington.

States with similar-sized populations to Oregon, like Connecticut, Kentucky, and Louisiana, are still experiencing rising rates.

If you’re house-hunting in Oregon, keep in mind that while house prices have come down, insurance prices rose 11% in just one year. In 2021, the average cost of insurance was $85 per month, but increased to $94 in 2022.

7. Colorado

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $572,691
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -1.7%
  • Difference between the average Colorado home and national average: +60%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +39%
  • Home prices in Colorado have come down 1.7% from June 2022 to November 2022. But keep in mind the average cost of a home in Colorado is still over 60% higher than the U.S. average.

Home costs have also fallen in Utah, Colorado’s neighbor to the west. But similar-sized states, such as Maryland, Minnesota, Wisconsin, are still seeing increases.

For Colorado house hunters, it’s worth noting that the cost of insurance in Colorado went up a staggering 39% from 2021 to 2022. So if you’re thinking about buying a house soon, you can expect to pay about $325 a month for insurance.

6. District of Columbia

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $675,448
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -2.1%
  • Difference between the average D.C. home and national average: +89%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +31%
  • Prices dropped 2.1% from June 2022 to November 2022 in the nation’s capital But they still cost close to 90% more than the national average.

It’s worth noting that if you want to buy in the D.C. area you may be able to find a more affordable house in Maryland or Virginia. While rates are still rising, the average cost of a house in Maryland is $406,314. You can expect to pay even less in Virginia, at an average of just $383,765.

Insurance prices in D.C. had a significant jump of 31% from 2021 to 2022. So, if you’re house hunting in the District of Columbia, be sure you budget about $131 a month for insurance.

5. Idaho

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $462,487
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -2.5%
  • Difference between the average Idaho home and national average: +29%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +7%
  • The average Idaho home price decreased 2.5% between June and November 2022. While prices have come down, they’re still almost 30% above the national average price of $357,544. Still, Idaho has the third-lowest home costs of the states featured on this list.

Similar-sized states by population, such Hawaii, Nebraska, and West Virginia, are still seeing prices increase. Interestingly, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah, which all border Idaho, are also seeing decreases in home values.

Insurance has gone up 7% in Idaho from 2021 to 2022. You can expect to pay about $107 a month for coverage.

4. Utah

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $554,955
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -3.1%
  • Difference between the average Utah home and national average: +55%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +7%
  • The average home price in Utah decreased 3.1% from November to June 2022. Even so, the average cost of a house in Utah is 55% higher than the national average.

Surrounding states, like Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada are also experiencing falling rates. So, if you’re interested in buying out West, now might be a good time.

Insurance rates in Utah have gone up 7% from 2021 to 2022, with rates averaging $116 a month.

3. California

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $762,245
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -3.7%
  • Difference between the average California home and national average: +113%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +5%
  • California was one of the most expensive states to buy in as of November 2022. But, while a house in California will cost you 113% more than the national average, prices have fallen 3.7% in the Golden State since June 2022.

Housing prices in surrounding Western states, including Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona, are also coming down. However, prices are still on the rise in states with similar-sized populations, such as Florida, Texas, and New York.

Insurance costs in California have jumped a modest 5% from $166 in 2021 to $175 per month in 2022.

2. Arizona

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $423,437
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -4.2%
  • Difference between the average Arizona home and national average: +18%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +18%
  • If you’re looking to buy out West, prices dropped in Arizona 4.2% from June to November 2022. The average Arizona home costs about 18% more than the national average.

But Arizona isn’t the only Western state to see house prices drop. Other states in the region with falling home prices include California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Utah.

Insurance costs in Arizona are up, however. You can expect to pay 18% more, with rates rising from an average of $97 a month to $114 year over year.

1. Nevada

  • Typical home price in November 2022: $438,170
  • Decline in value between June and November 2022: -4.8%
  • Difference between the average Nevada home and national average: +22%
  • Difference in insurance costs between 2021 and 2022: +24%
  • Nevada home prices saw the biggest decrease between June and November 2022, falling 4.8%. The average cost of a house in Nevada is 22% higher than the national average.

Prices are also falling in other parts of the West – including Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. But rates in comparably sized states, such as Mississippi and Kansas are still on the rise.

In Nevada, however, you can expect to pay $109 a month for insurance. This marks a 24% jump in rates between 2021 and 2022.

© Copyright 2023, The Courier-Times, all rights reserved.