Monthly Archives: May 2023

RE Investors Pull Back, Buy 49% Fewer Homes

Investor purchases dropped almost by half year-to-year in the first quarter. In Fla., it ranged from a 56.6% decline in Jacksonville to 28.8% in West Palm Beach.

SEATTLE – Real estate investors purchased 48.6% fewer homes in the first quarter of 2023 than they did a year earlier as elevated interest rates along with declining rents and housing values ate into potential profits, according to a report from Redfin. Of total home sales, investors had a 17.6% share.

It’s the largest annual decline since Redfin started tracking investor purchases, and it’s higher than a 40.7% drop in overall home purchases in 40 major metros tracked by Redfin.

However, part of the drop relates to the strength of the investor market in the first quarter of 2022 – it’s not that the drop in 1Q 2023 investors was so bad, it’s that the investor market in 1Q 2022 was so good. The percentage of investor purchases was down year-to-year in 1Q, but it’s still higher than any quarter on record before the pandemic.

On a quarter-to-quarter basis, investor purchases were down 15.9% compared to the fourth quarter of 2022. Comparatively, overall home purchases dropped less at 14.7%.

Florida saw diverse results metro-by-metro in the number of investor purchases and year-to-year declines. The number of Jacksonville investors, for example, fell by 56.6% year-to-year, though they were part of almost one in five purchases (18.4%).

At the other end of the spectrum, the share of real estate investors only fell 28.8% year-to-year in West Palm Beach, though as a percentage of all sales, the investor percentage is just shy of Jacksonville numbers at 17.3%.

1Q 2023 investor purchases in Florida

  • Jacksonville: Down 56.6% – an 18.4% share of all home purchases
  • Tampa: Down 54.8% – a 17.5% share of purchases
  • Orlando: Down 54.7% – a 20.1% share of purchases
  • Miami: Down 44.9% – a 30.0% share of purchases
  • Fort Lauderdale: Down 46.9% – an 18.4% of purchases
  • West Palm Beach: Down 28.8% – a 17.3% of purchases

“While investors have pumped the brakes on home purchases, they’re still scooping up a bigger share of homes than they were before the pandemic, which can create challenges for individual buyers at a time when there are so few homes for sale,” says Redfin Senior Economist Sheharyar Bokhari. “Investors have gravitated toward more affordable properties due to still-high housing costs and rising mortgage rates, which has left first-time homebuyers with fewer starter homes to choose from.”

Investors bought up scores of homes during the pandemic as record-low mortgage rates and skyrocketing demand made it very profitable historically. But they’re now pulling back in as interest rates rise since even cash buyers often take out non-mortgage loans to cover renovations and other expenses.

“It’s been about eight months since one of my listings sold to an investor,” says Jacksonville Redfin Premier real estate agent Heather Kruayai. “I rarely get offers from investors these days, and when I do, it’s a lowball offer on a house that’s been sitting for a while. Some smaller companies and mom-and-pop investors are still active in the market, but the big corporations aren’t buying anymore.”

Investors may pull back from the housing market further in the second quarter, though investor purchases typically rise in the spring.

For investors who plan to be landlords, slowing rent growth is creating another challenge.

In some areas of the country, flipping has also become a challenge. In March, about one of every five homes (20.8%) sold by an investor closed for less than the investor originally paid for it.

Sun Belt states see the biggest drop for investors

In Nassau County, N.Y., investor home purchases fell 67.9% year over year in the first quarter – the largest decline among the 40 metros Redfin analyzed. Of the top 10, all metros saw a drop greater than 50%:

  1. Nassau County, N.Y. (down 67.9%)
  2. Atlanta (down 66%)
  3. Charlotte, N.C. (down 66%)
  4. Phoenix (down 64.2%)
  5. Nashville, Tenn. (down 60.4%)
  6. Las Vegas (down 60.2%)
  7. Jacksonville (down 56.6%)
  8. Philadelphia (down 56.5%)
  9. Tampa (down 54.8%)
  10. Orlando (down 54.7%)

All but two of the metros (Nassau County and Philadelphia) are in Sun Belt states, which soared in popularity among homebuyers during the pandemic. Investors piled in to capitalize on surging rents and home values, and are now pulling back.

Investors lost most market share

Investors lost market share in 17 of the 40 metros Redfin analyzed. Many of those are places where investor purchases dropped significantly. In Charlotte, investors bought 18.4% of homes purchased in the first quarter, down 14.1 percentage points (ppts) from 32.5% a year earlier. That’s the largest percentage-point drop among the metros in this analysis.

Next came Atlanta (down 14 ppts), Phoenix (down 11.1 ppts), Jacksonville (down 10.7 ppts) and Nashville (down 9.3 ppts).

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Over 500K Fla. Renters Lie About Having a Pet

Many landlords don’t want pets, so about 1 in 5 Fla. renters (19%) say they lie to their landlord about living with a pet – roughly 504,684 undocumented animals.

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Having a pet and renting a property poses challenges. Landlords are often reluctant to allow them – barking, shredded cushions and scratched furniture are some of the reasons. But figures show that 86 million households own a pet – and also that 1 in 3 of them rent. Ergo, this must mean that there are a lot of renters out there who live with their pets in someone else’s property – but how many of them have actually declared them to their landlord?

AgentAdvice.com wanted to find out and surveyed 3,000 pet-owning tenants. They first discovered that 18% of them had kept the existence of Buddy quiet – equating to about 7.7 million pets across the country. That’s a lot of barking to try and cough over, or scratched table legs to try and cover-up.

In Florida, 19% of pet-owning renters admit to not disclosing this to their landlords (equating to 504,684 illegal pets).

The guiltiest pet owners are in Vermont, with the percentage of households hiding illegal pets reaching 50%, or 36,791 furry friends. The most law-abiding pet-owning renters live in Indiana, where the figure is just 4% or 32,400 pets.

Renters have it tough enough as it is, with landlords always having the upper hand in the situation. However, given the choice, the survey found that 82% of pet owners would be willing to pay an additional fee to keep their furry friend in the rental property with them – the extra cost could quite easily be used to make any repairs to anything that was damaged.

And when it comes to how much people would be willing to pay on top of their rent, the average amount was $375.69.

Not all neighbors would be put off by the fact someone next door had a pet, either. AgentAdvice.com also asked, hypothetically, “If your property renewal was coming up and someone new was moving in with a dog, would you consider finding somewhere else to live?” Only 26% said yes, suggesting that the vast majority of Floridians are actually pet-friendly.

The research also revealed that two-thirds thought it was fair for landlords to ask tenants to leave the property if it turned out they had pets that were not permitted. The challenge of finding a rental property that allows pets discourages 58% of people from getting a pet if they are renters.

“Caring for a pet is a responsibility that requires commitment and dedication, yet the current rental market often makes it challenging for pet owners to find suitable and affordable accommodations. Discriminatory pet policies and limited pet-friendly options not only place an undue burden on renters but also deny them the joy and companionship that pets bring to their lives,” says Chris Heller of AgentAdvice.com.

© Copyright 2023 Florida Weekly. All rights reserved. Agent Advice is an organization for real estate agents that offers marketing tools for the real estate industry.


Business: How to Reduce Money Clutter

It’s easy to accumulate no-longer-used credit cards, old statements, etc. Consolidating, automating and organizing will make it all simple to understand.

NEW YORK – Professional organizers might define household clutter as a pile of unmade decisions. Money clutter is much the same.

Those credit cards you no longer use but haven’t closed? That’s money clutter. So is the retirement account you left behind three jobs ago and the financial paperwork you keep but no longer need. Money clutter also can include broken systems that should be mended, such as a bill payment routine that leads to overdrafts or late fees.

You can simplify your financial life by dealing with those long-delayed decisions now and streamlining how you manage your money going forward. Here are five tasks to consider.

1. Consolidate accounts

The more financial accounts you have to monitor, the more stress you’re likely to feel, says Chicago financial planner Sheila Padden, president of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners. It’s too easy to lose track of an account, miss a due date or fail to notice a fraudulent transaction.

“Like any machinery, if there’s a lot of moving parts, then it’s more likely to break down,” Padden says.

One relatively easy way to consolidate is to combine workplace retirement accounts. You may be able to transfer old 401(k) accounts to your new employer’s plan, for example, or roll them into a single individual retirement account, or IRA.

Closing unused credit cards is another task worth considering, although shuttering accounts may ding your credit scores. Minimize potential damage by hanging on to your oldest and highest-limit cards. If you have multiple cards with the same issuer, ask whether the credit limit on a card you want to close can be reallocated to one you want to keep. And don’t close cards if you’re about to apply for a major loan such as a mortgage or an auto loan.

2. Get it all on one page

Budgeting apps allow you to link your bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts so you can view all your transactions in one place. Your bank or brokerage may offer a similar feature that allows you to link outside accounts.

Learning how to use these tools takes a little time, but getting this overview can help you better manage your money without having to log in to multiple accounts, says Pamela Ladd, senior manager of personal financial planning at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

“You can get a really good snapshot of your finances in one place,” Ladd says.

3. Automate what you can

Automating bill payments can help you avoid late fees and damage to your credit scores from missed payments. Start with bills that stay consistent, such as your mortgage or auto loan.

Bills that vary each month can be trickier. Many people worry an unexpectedly large utility or credit card bill could overdraft their checking accounts if they don’t have a sufficient cash cushion. A “set it and forget it” mentality also can set in, Padden notes.

“It’s handy, but then if you never look at your credit card statement, then that is the downside,” she says.

Where automating really shines is with saving, Padden says. She recommends figuring out how much you need to save for your goals, such as retirement or an emergency fund, and then automate regular contributions.

4. Reduce paper clutter

Ladd admits she was a latecomer to the digital world and didn’t switch to paperless statements and bills until a few years ago. Now she relies on email reminders to check her monthly statements and bills rather than receiving a paper “trigger” in the mail. Financial institutions typically store statements for six or more years, so she doesn’t have to deal with filing or shredding paperwork. She finds the change “liberating.”

“It’s less clutter, one less thing to do,” Ladd says.

Most paperwork from the past can be safely scanned or downloaded into a computer – as long as the machine is backed up regularly. You can search online for lists of when to shred existing paperwork, or ask a tax pro or financial planner for guidance.

5. Consider hiring help

Padden says she understands the urge to do it all yourself. As a certified public accountant, she felt she should be able to handle her own finances but eventually realized she didn’t know enough to do so successfully.

Padden’s response to this revelation was to study for and obtain a certified financial planner credential and open her own financial planning practice. She recommends others consider hiring the help they need, if they can.

A tax pro can file your returns and answer tax questions. An accredited financial counselor or financial coach can assist with budgeting, debt management, retirement savings and more. A financial planner can help with virtually every aspect of your finances. Hiring help can give you the personalized information you need to make decisions and stress less. Ultimately, that’s what simplifying your financial life is all about.

“If you feel like you’ve always got things that need attending to, you really cannot live your most fulfilled life and live with ease,” Padden says.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and the author of “Your Credit Score.”

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.


Floridians a Bit More Confident in May

UF: After a drop in April – the only one in 2023 so far – Floridians’ consumer outlook rose modestly again in May as the state bucks national trends.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida continues to defy national trends. According to the monthly consumer sentiment study from the University of Florida’s (UF) Bureau of Economic and Business Research, consumer sentiment among Floridians inched up one-tenth of a point in May to 68.8 from a revised figure of 68.7 in April – the only month so far this year that saw a decline.

Nationally, consumer sentiment fell 4.3 points.

“Despite the ups and downs in consumer sentiment observed over the last 12 months, Florida’s consumer confidence has trended upwards, with a notable increase of 8 points in May compared to a year ago,” says Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“This positive trend is consistent with a strong labor market and aligns well with the general decline in inflation levels since its peak in June,” says. “Nonetheless, it is worth noting that consumer confidence continues to remain at historically low levels.”

Among the five components that make up the full index, three increased and two decreased.

Current economic conditions: Floridians’ opinions about current economic conditions portrayed a slightly more optimistic outlook in May. Views of personal financial situations now compared with a year ago increased slightly by nine-tenths of a point from 62.6 to 63.5.

Similarly, opinions as to whether it’s a good time to buy a big-ticket household item such as a refrigerator or furniture increased 1.7 points from 59.6 to 61.3.

Future expectations: The three components focusing on Floridians’ attitudes about the future were mixed. Expectations of personal finances a year from now decreased slightly, three-tenths of a point, from 83.6 to 83.3.

On the other hand, expectations about U.S. economic conditions over the next year increased slightly – three-tenths of a point from 66.3 to 66.6 – but the outlook for U.S. economic conditions over the next five years dropped 2.6 points from 71.7 to 69.1.

Florida’s labor market has remained robust, with strong demand for workers and a consistently low unemployment rate, according to the report. In April, the state’s unemployment rate held steady at 2.6% for the fourth consecutive month, which is lower than the national rate. Moreover, the leisure and hospitality industry showed the largest percent change in job gains over the year, experiencing and increase of 7.3%.

“Despite concerns about persistent inflation, the recent turmoil in the banking sector and the possibility of further interest rate hikes, we anticipate that consumer confidence among Floridians will continue to trend upward in the months ahead,” says Sandoval. “This is based on the expectation that Florida’s tourism industry will experience an increase in demand during the upcoming summer season.”

Sandoval adds a caveat, however, saying that outlook “may change drastically if the debt-ceiling standoff fails to be resolved and payments on U.S. government debt are not made.”

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

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


It’s Hurricane Season: Checked Your Insurance Policy?

The worst time to discover you have less insurance coverage than you thought? The day after a hurricane. The 2023 season starts today and runs through Nov. 30.

SEBRING, Fla. – June is here; that means sunscreen, bathing suits, sweet tea and yes, hurricane season.

Hurricane season starts June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

In a previous interview, State Farm Public Affairs Specialist Jose Soto urged homeowners to take a look at their insurance policies before the season starts to ensure their coverage is up to date. Homeowners will want to know what their policies cover and don’t.

Sound drastic? Any Floridian who has been through a major hurricane such as Ian, Irma or Andrew can attest to the damage one storm can do. Floridians impacted by storms can attest to all manner of inconveniences from a power outage to needing a new roof.

Those on Florida’s west coast and as far inland as Hardee County can attest to the importance of home insurance after Hurricane Ian’s winds and waters destroyed homes last season. Ian’s destruction was so great, the name was retired forever.

Hurricane Ian was responsible directly or indirectly for more than 150 deaths. The Category 4 storm was the deadliest storm in 87 years. It caused $12 billion in damage, making it the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history and the third costliest in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While Highlands County doesn’t have to worry about storm surge, flooding is a different story. Many residents, especially those new to Florida, assume their homeowner’s policy covers water damage associated with hurricanes. However, only flood insurance covers floods, even if it was a result of the storm, NOAA said.

The National Flood Insurance Program stated one inch of water in a home can cause $25,000 worth of damage. Landlords may have flood insurance on their buildings but not on the inside contents of them. The renter’s belongings are their responsibility to insure.

“There is a 30-day waiting period when it comes to a flood policy,” Soto said. “Any new policy added to a home will have a 30-day waiting period. If the home was a new purchase, there would be no waiting period for flood insurance.”

Soto also said if a house was refinanced and a flood insurance policy was added, there would still be a 30-day waiting period.

Named storms or hurricanes will also affect home insurance purchases.

“Insurance companies won’t write homeowner policies when there is a named storm,” Soto said. “Once a storm has been named, that’s it.”

Many people may only be able to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For information on flood insurance, visit fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.

Renters should also check their insurance policy if they have one. Both homeowners and renters should take a digital inventory of their valuables. Pictures of receipts and serial numbers is an easy way to document high dollar items. Documenting valuables can help recover items if they are stolen too.

Keep the videos or lists of valuables, along with copies of the insurance policy in a fireproof/waterproof safe.

© Copyright © 2023, Highlands News-Sun, all rights reserved.


Wetlands Oversight Still Confusing After Court Decision

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has stripped federal agencies of authority over millions of acres of wetlands, weakening a bedrock environmental law enacted a half-century ago to cleanse the country’s badly polluted waters.

A 5-4 majority significantly expanded the ability of farmers, homebuilders and other developers to dig up or fill wetlands near rivers, lakes and streams, finding the government had long overreached in limiting such activities.

The ruling Thursday may nullify key parts of a rule the Biden administration imposed in December, which two federal judges already had blocked from being enforced in 26 states. It’s the latest turn in a decades-old struggle by courts and regulators to determine which waters are subject to protection under the Clean Water Act.

Some experts say the battle over wetlands now may shift to states, with red and blue states writing laws that take dramatically different approaches.

The high court’s decision follows one in 2022 curtailing federal power to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and indicates a willingness by the court’s emboldened conservatives to limit environmental laws and agency powers.

“This is one of the saddest chapters in the 50-year history of the Clean Water Act,” said Jim Murphy, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation.

Industry and farm groups praised the ruling.

“We’re absolutely thrilled with the results,” said Travis Cushman, deputy general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “This is the exact answer that we’ve been asking for a long time.”

The court’s majority sided with an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. Chantell and Michael Sackett objected when federal officials identified a soggy portion of the property as a wetland requiring them to get a permit before filling it with rocks and soil.

“Now that the case is finally over … they’ll be able to make reasonable use of their property,” said Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the couple.

While all nine justices agreed the Sacketts’ property was not covered by the law, they disagreed over the definition of “waters of the United States” and which wetlands it includes.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, echoed a 2006 opinion by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. It said federally protected wetlands must be directly adjacent to a “relatively permanent” waterway “connected to traditional interstate navigable waters” such as a river or ocean. They also must have a “continuous surface connection with that water, making it difficult to determine where the ‘water’ ends and the ‘wetland’ begins,” Alito wrote.

The court jettisoned a 17-year-old opinion by their former colleague, Anthony Kennedy, describing covered wetlands as having a “significant nexus” to larger bodies of water. It had been the standard for evaluating whether permits were required for discharges under the 1972 landmark environmental law. Opponents had objected that the standard was vague and unworkable.

Justice Elena Kagan, one of three liberals on the court, said the majority rewrote the law to reach the political decision it wanted by coming up with new ways to curtail environmental protection powers Congress gave the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The court will not allow the Clean (Water) Act to work as Congress instructed,” Kagan wrote. “The court, rather than Congress, will decide how much regulation is too much.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the decision “erodes longstanding clean water protections” and the agency was considering its options.

The Biden administration regulations replaced a Trump-era rule that federal courts had thrown out and environmentalists said left waterways vulnerable to pollution.

Even after the latest court ruling, some experts said ambiguities remain – and likely will persist as the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers craft yet more regulations tailored to the court’s edicts.

Landowners wishing to develop property near waterways will still need to hire consultants, “walk the land and figure out whether you’re in or out” of federal reach, Boston real estate attorney Peter Alpert said. “There’s still going to be a lot of doubt about what’s in the gray area.”

The ruling could scuttle protections for at least 45 million acres of wetlands, an area roughly the size of Florida, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. “They just put huge swaths of wetlands at risk,” said Kelly Moser, an attorney with the center.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the majority likely stripped protections from wetlands that were long considered regulated, including those behind levees along the flood-prone Mississippi River. Despite their vital role in blocking flood waters and filtering out pollutants, those wetlands may lose protection because they aren’t directly connected to the river, he said in an opinion that concurred on the Sackett case but disagreed significantly with the majority on the broader issues.

The ruling will have a big impact in the arid Southwest, where some rivers and streams dry up between infrequent rainstorms, experts said. The court majority said the Clean Water Act protects only wetlands connected to rivers and streams that are “relatively permanent” or “continuous.”

“Continuous is a big deal because we don’t have water, really, for 10 months of the year,” said Maureen Gorsen, a California environment and regulatory attorney.

The ruling might lead some developers to decide they don’t need to seek permits for projects that could disturb wetlands, said Jim Murphy, director of legal advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation.

And those who are discussing settlements for wetland damage or building new ones to compensate for losses might back out, said Alpert, the Boston attorney.

“Everybody involved in enforcement actions … is going to hit the pause button on negotiations with agencies right now and question with their consultants whether under this decision there is a reason to even be talking with the government,” he said.

Environmental advocates will prod Congress and states to “plug some of the gaps that have been created by this decision,” Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation said.

But Congress showed in March it is in no mood to do so, voting to overturn the administration’s wetlands rules and prompting a veto from President Joe Biden.

State governments may become another battleground. More than a dozen prohibit environmental regulations tougher than federal ones.

“You’re going to see a patchwork of regulation depending on what state you are in,” said Ashley Peck, an environmental attorney in Salt Lake City.

The Supreme Court ruling will likely create “‘red state’ and ‘blue state’ approaches to water protection,” said Cara Horowitz of the UCLA School of Law.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. Reporters Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this story.


Tracking Hurricanes? You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The 2022 hurricane season was a harsh teacher. Not because of the number of storms – it was a fairly average year – but because of the tricky nature of the two storms, Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, that hit Florida.

The big lesson to learn from 2022? Experts say it’s to break out of the habit of obsession over the cone, spaghetti models and the storm’s category, and start focusing on hazards such as storm surge warnings, rainfall flooding and even tornadoes.

Ian and Nicole proved why old habits won’t give you an accurate sense of how dangerous a storm is to you, your family and property. They serve as a warning heading into the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1.

Ian slammed Florida at Cayo Costa, just off Fort Myers, on Sept. 28 as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds. But the real story, according to Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, was the resulting hazards. The storm pushed 10 to 15 feet of storm surge over barrier islands and into neighborhoods. Inland, it dumped nearly 27 inches of rain in some areas, causing profound flooding outside Orlando.

All told, the storm caused 66 direct fatalities, destroyed 5,000 homes and caused $109.5 billion in damage in Florida – the costliest storm to ever hit the state.

Multiple agencies performed 5,500 rescues, according to Gracia Szczech of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Four million customers lost power. Ian tied the record for the fifth-strongest hurricane to strike the U.S., and was the fastest intensifying hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic season.

Hurricane Nicole, too, shattered norms. It showed up very late in the season – the latest hurricane ever recorded – making landfall as a Category 1 storm at Vero Beach on Nov. 10. Its waves carved away the beach, causing homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea, 120 miles from the eye, to collapse into the Atlantic.

“A lot of people get enamored with the calendar and fixate on when hurricanes can and can’t come to the area,” Rhome said. “I hear it all the time – ‘It’s October, they don’t come here. It’s November, they don’t come here.’ Another case of – don’t get stuck in the conventional wisdoms. … Although it was late, it certainly packed a decent punch, with U.S. damages of $1 billion.”

Stop focusing on the cone, category and calendar

Who among us doesn’t gaze at spaghetti models, or check on the boundaries of a cone, or poo-poo a Category 1 storm, or assume hurricane season is over after Halloween? 2022 challenged all those habits.

“The season last year had similar lessons from past years, but it really was quite acute during 2022,” said Rhome in reference to Ian’s and Nicole’s behavior.

Both the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service (NWS) are in lockstep in their messaging for 2023: Don’t rely on categories, calendars and cones. The cones they’re referring to are the “track forecast cones” we all obsess over when a storm heads our way. They show where the eye will likely travel, but not the limit of the storm’s fury.

“As a community we are far too focused on models,” Rhome said. “We need to help people shift from just using the cone to using our newer risk-based products.”

Those products are the watches and warnings that the NHC puts out. Watches come out 48 hours before conditions arrive, and warnings 36 hours before conditions arrive.

As for the spaghetti models, Rhome and Robert Molleda, his peer at the National Weather Service, incorporate those models into their decisions to issue watches and warnings.

“We have to pay attention to watches and warnings,” Molleda said. “That is our primary risk communication tool. We are looking at every available piece of information, and then make a decision” about watches and warnings. “They’re the end result of all the work we do.”

If you’re in a warning zone, it means that condition is expected to occur somewhere in there, but not everywhere within the warning.

Rhome also worried that the public focuses too much on whether a storm is Category 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, a wind-speed rating system known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

“There was way too much emphasis on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It’s telling you the peak winds anywhere within the storm. But it’s not telling you whether or not those winds are going to impact you. Nor is it telling you anything about the rest of the hazards that come with the storm, namely the water-based hazards, which are historically the biggest killers,” he said.

He points to 2022’s Hurricane Fiona, which was only a Category 1 storm when it hit Puerto Rico, but dumped 32 inches of rain.

Cone addiction

Another issue, said Rhome and Molleda, is our cone addiction.

It’s easy to assume that anything outside the cone is safe. But the cone indicates the area where the eye of the storm is more likely to pass, based on the success of the NHC’s last five years of predictions. The center of the storm has a 2-in-3 chance of falling within the cone, Molleda said.

The destructive muscle of a storm can reach well beyond the cone – it doesn’t tell us how far out the hurricane force winds will extend, or where and how deep storm surge will be.

With Ian, hurricane force winds extended 45 miles on either side of the eye at landfall. Naples, nearly 40 miles from the eye, was buried under five to eight feet of surge.

Let’s look at the east coast of Florida under similar circumstances. If Miami were at the northern edge of the cone, Miami could get the eye. If it did, Boca Raton, 45 miles north and well outside the cone, would get blasted by hurricane-force wind and the storm surge that comes with it.

In a real-world example, 1992’s Category 5 Hurricane Andrew made landfall in Homestead at high tide. Storm surge 16 miles north hit 16 feet. Forty miles north, at Coconut Grove, surge reached 9 feet.

“Just looking at the cone or track models is like looking at the cover of a book and assuming you’ve read the book,” Rhome said. He calls the cone the “executive summary” but you can’t stop there. You need to take in watches and warnings. Rhome, who makes a living understanding these complexities, said, “I cannot deduce my personal risk from a hurricane from the cone alone.”

The warnings make it simple, he says. “If there’s a hurricane warning in your community, that means you need to protect your house, property and family,” Rhome said.

Anatomy of an evacuation

The cone vs. surge warning debate played out in Lee County, where Ian made landfall. Sixty-one people died in Lee County, and 80% of those victims lived in an evacuation zone. Officials there have been criticized for the timing of evacuations.

According to Wink News, Lee County officials ordered the evacuation at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 31 hours before the storm hit. Wink reported that “a study by the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council shows it would take 36 hours to evacuate all of Zone A.” In other words, there may not have been enough time to evacuate.

According to Molleda, the NWS issued a storm surge watch for Lee and Collier counties, the area of highest impact, on Sunday evening, more than 60 hours before landfall. They issued the storm surge warning from Tampa all the way to Flamingo, in Everglades National Park, a day later.

The takeaway, says Molleda, is that the cone can’t be the only lens through which to judge risk.

“Every community is different,” said Mary Blakeney, Palm Beach County’s director of emergency management. “I don’t want to speak to another community’s decision making. I can tell you here, we plan for a safe evacuation during daylight hours, and you’re planning it for the amount of time it would take to get residents safely out of a hazard area to the shelter. In Palm Beach County, we have significant shelter space.”

“We’re always talking about the strength of the storm, but I think we really need to talk about those other hazards,” Blakeney said. “Ian is a perfect example of that. Those storm surge watches and warnings were in place for places well outside of the cone. And that’s the thing, people think, ‘Oh, if I’m not in that cone I’m not going to get storm surge or wind,’ and that’s just not true when you have storms as big as Hurricane Ian.”

When the South Florida Sun Sentinel asked Lee County officials about adjustments to 2023 protocols, the county offered a video recording of public safety director Ben Abes stating that the county is working on an after-action report, and that they expect areas that need improvement.

Surge is the new villain

Rhome sees storm surge as the real story of Hurricane Ian. Ian exposed more people to life-threatening storm surge, 157,000, than all 10 of the impactful storms of 2020 and 2021, and 20 times more than 2018’s Hurricane Michael, which made landfall at Mexico Beach, Florida, as a Category 5 storm.

Of the 66 direct Ian deaths, 41 came from storm surge and 12 from inland flooding. Surge traveled 4 to 6 miles inland in Lee County, said Sandra TapfumaneyiI, of FEMA.

“When we issue a storm surge watch or warning, we mean it,” Rhome said. “It should have the same shock as the hurricane watch or warning.”

Inevitably, surge warnings cover much larger areas than the cone. Ian’s surge warning stretched from the north of Tampa all the way to Flamingo, in Everglades National Park.

When comparing the east and west coasts of Florida, Molleda said that the southeast isn’t quite as vulnerable to extreme storm surge as the southwest coast – the long gradual slope of the Gulf of Mexico means water has nowhere to go but sideways, into land. “Most of the southeast isn’t as vulnerable to very high storm surge, like 15 feet, or something like that,” he said. “But it doesn’t take 15 feet of storm surge to produce significant impacts or cause deaths.”

In the Naples areas, there were three deaths attributed to storm surge, and those particular areas only had about five feet of flooding.

“If a storm surge watch or warning is issued in your area, that means you’re in danger of life-threatening storm surge. That’s the take-away here,” said Molleda.

Rapid intensification

Ian was the fastest intensifying hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic season, gaining 50 mph in just 24 hours.

“We have seen more of those rapidly intensifying systems in the last decade or so,” said Molleda, noting that there are myriad causes.

“There’s some new research suggesting that the chances of rapid intensification may be increasing in a warming climate, but I wouldn’t say the science is a slam dunk,” Rhome said. “Storms could have the opportunity to rapidly intensify more frequently in climate change, but that’s not to say that every storm that rapidly intensifies is due to climate change.”

How does the intensification trend affect warnings?

“If you come out too strong, and the storm doesn’t develop, you’ve done huge damage to your credibility,” said Rhome. “Likewise, if you wait for certainty, you waste precious time.”

“Unfortunately it pushes us more down the path of giving early warnings, but the more you push out in time in sounding the alarm, the higher the probability of a false alarm, or the cry wolf syndrome. It’s a huge dilemma for us. If we sit on a forecast until it’s absolutely certain it’s going to happen, we’ve failed society – we have not given them enough lead time. Likewise, if we warn a community at the earliest indications of something possibly happening, we’re crying wolf and nobody will listen to us anymore. So we’re trying to find that balance.”

As for county decision-making, Blakeney said, “I can tell you that we’re seeing almost every catastrophic landfalling hurricane that’s hit the United States has really formed significantly less than 72 hours before landfall.” As a result, she said that she and her team reviewed their decision-making points for the county. “We were happy to see that a majority of decision-making and a lot of the real tough things about moving people and assets really happens after that 72-hour time frame. So we wouldn’t be behind [schedule] in any way.”

A new Florida reality

Climate change and development have brought a new hurricane reality to the Sunshine State. Sea levels in Southeast Florida, measured by NOAA at Virginia Key, have risen 4.2 inches since Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 and 8 inches since 1950. That just gives a storm more ammunition.

Additionally, South Florida gained 30,000 new residents in the past year, according to data from the U.S. Census.

Water temperatures both in the Eastern Atlantic, where tropical systems form, and across the Caribbean, where they strengthen, are up, and natural forces such as Rossby waves, which cause seas to raise and dip slightly over decades, are causing sea levels to increase faster in Florida than in other parts of the U.S.

Broward County’s 1,800 miles of canals are a maze of funnels through which all that extra water pushes and drains.

“The impacts [of Ian and Nicole] reinforce the need for resilience dealing with sea level rise and storm surge,” said Jennifer Jurado, Broward’s chief resilience officer. She said that when the county started working on seawall ordinances in 2017, it was the first time they had formally incorporated sea level rise into plans for county codes and land use plans. She said the county has begun to incorporate new Federal Emergency Management Agency data on flooding, as well as data on sea level rise, into their evacuation plans.

One concern is that when a storm hits, surge and sea level rise will inundate canals and rivers, and block any drainage needed for rainfall flooding. “We have been reviewing the early model output in the last several weeks, and we will apply that in our adaptation planning, and hope to have the work complete this time next year,” she said.

Blakeney is addressing sea level rise as well. “We’re changing our response and actions based on trends in all types of hazards, whether it’s more people moving into an evacuation zone, or an important street that floods during heavy rainfall or higher tides. So we look at those things when we talk about evacuating people or telling them it’s safe to return.”

Florida Power & Light said that as part of its Storm Secure Underground Program, which swaps overhead power lines for underground lines, it has completed 237 projects in Broward and has 100 more planned for 2023, and 267 projects in Palm Beach County, with 88 planned for 2023.

Each project is about 4/10th of a mile of lines. FPL said they select neighborhoods for such projects “based on a history of outages during past hurricanes, interruptions caused by trees and vegetation and other metrics.”

Words of advice

Molleda’s advice for 2023 is to watch out for all hazards, not just wind. Rainfall flooding and tornadoes can occur far from the storm’s track. In fact, Ian, as far away as it was, spawned a tornado with gusts of more than 100 mph in Palm Beach County.

“When a hurricane of that magnitude makes landfall, the impacts are going to be pretty severe, for not just one hazard, but for multiple hazards,” Molleda said.

“We have to make sure that we know if we live in an evacuation zone,” Molleda said. Blakeney concurred. “We have a lot of new residents,” said Blakeney. “And some of them may not know what can happen in a hurricane, and all of those other hazards – the heavy rainfall, the potential for tornadoes, the wind, the storm surge, so we need to make sure everybody is prepared.”

She said that residents should know, right now, if they live in a hurricane evacuation zone.

To find out, search for “Know Your Zone” tab at discover.pbcgov.org and type in your address to see if you’re in a hurricane evacuation zone and/or a flood zone. The Broward County zones can be found at broward.org/Hurricane/pages/evacuationroutes.aspx.

Rhome, who lives in Broward, had some advice as well.

“A lot of people on the southeast coast of Florida have this working narrative that because we have not had a direct impact in a long time, that somehow infers a lack of risk. But the longer we go without a direct landfall impact from a major hurricane, the more our risk has gone up,” he said. “And we’re long, long, long overdue.”

And though the outlooks for the 2023 hurricane season includes a possible El Niño, which would, in theory, steer storms north, he thinks it’s a distraction.

“Hurricane Andrew happened in an El Niño year. El Niños are not going to stop hurricanes. El Niño may reduce total numbers, but it doesn’t stop them from coming to your community.”

© 2023 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


S. Fla.’s Fastest Rising Home Values? Near Rail Stations

Transportation drives growth but transit growth also drives housing. Home values near a S. Fla. transit rail station are appreciating faster than those farther out.

MIAMI – Home values for properties near South Florida’s expanding rapid transit rail system are appreciating faster than other homes in the region.

The privately-owned rail service Brightline opened stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in 2018, and opened two more in Aventura and Boca Raton in 2022. This month, Brightline started selling tickets for a new stop in Orlando, scheduled to open toward the end of the summer.

The rail line’s popularity has enabled home sellers to command higher prices based on their proximity to the transportation system, according to an analysis by the real-estate data and analytics firm Green Street.

In Fort Lauderdale, home values for residences within the ZIP Code near the station have appreciated by 67% from 2018 to last year, compared with a 33% median price increase for the Broward County area over that period. In Miami, property values near the station were up 83% in price over that period, compared with a 38% median increase for the Miami area.

Rent has also increased at a higher rate near the Brightline train stops. In Fort Lauderdale, rental premiums are up most – 28% higher than the market average, according to Green Street.

With the new Orlando station and others under consideration, Brightline is helping to create the transportation grid South Florida needs to continue its growth trajectory, says Javier Aviñó, a lawyer who represents developers and specializes in land development and government relations.

Source: Wall Street Journal (05/23/23) Acosta, Deborah

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


U.S. Consumer Confidence Slips a Bit in May

The Conference Board say inflation continues to drag down attitudes about the economy. However, job and income expectations through Oct. remain positive.

BOSTON – The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index in May eased down to 102.3, down from April’s upwardly revised 103.7.

The Present Situation Index – consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions – decreased to 148.6 from 151.8 last month. The Expectations Index – consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions – decreased slightly to 71.5 from 71.7.

The Expectations Index has now remained below 80 since February 2022 – a level often associated with a recession in the not-so-distant future – though it did rise a bit in one of those months, December 2022.

“Consumer confidence declined in May as consumers’ view of current conditions became somewhat less upbeat, while their expectations remained gloomy,” says Ataman Ozyildirim, senior director of economics at The Conference Board.

“Their assessment of current employment conditions saw the most significant deterioration, with the proportion of consumers reporting jobs are ‘plentiful’ falling 4 percentage points from 47.5% in April to 43.5% in May. Consumers also became more downbeat about future business conditions, weighing on the expectations index.”

“However, expectations for jobs and incomes over the next six months held relatively steady,” Ozyildirim adds, noting that the expectation drop was most noticeable among over 55 years of age.

“Consumers in May expected inflation to average 6.1% over the next 12 months – essentially unchanged from 6.2% in April, though down substantially from the peak of 7.9% reached last year,” he says. “Nonetheless, consumers continued to view inflation as a major influence on their view of the U.S. economy.”

When asked about buying within the next six months, the Conference Board found little change in May, with the percentage holding steady at 5.6% of those surveyed. Still, that’s down from 6 to 7% in Q4 2022. However, plans to purchase autos and big-ticket appliances ticked up somewhat compared to April.”

Present situation

Consumers’ assessment of current business conditions improved marginally in May:

  • 19.6% of consumers said business conditions were “good,” up from 19.0% last month.
  • 17.0% said business conditions were “bad,” down from 18.1%.

Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market deteriorated:

  • 43.5% said jobs were “plentiful,” down from 47.5%.
  • 12.5% said jobs were “hard to get,” up from 10.6% last month.

Expectations six months hence

Consumers remained pessimistic about the short-term business conditions:

  • 12.9% expect business conditions to improve, down from 14.1%.
  • 20.6% expect business conditions to worsen, down slightly from 21.4%.

Assessments about the short-term labor market were slightly more favorable:

  • 13.6% expect more jobs to be available, down from 14.3%.
  • 20.2% anticipate fewer jobs, down from 21.3%.

Short-term income prospects were, on balance, slightly more favorable:

  • 17.8% expect their incomes to increase, up slightly from 17.3% last month.
  • 11.5% expect their incomes to decrease, the same as in April.

Toluna conducts the monthly consumer confidence survey for the Conference Board. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was May 22 before Congress and President Biden reached a final agreement on the U.S. debt ceiling.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


No Legal Protection in ‘AI Broke the Law, Not Me!’

NEW YORK (AP) – As concerns grow over increasingly powerful artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, the nation’s financial watchdog says it’s working to ensure that companies follow the law when they’re using AI.

Already, automated systems and algorithms help determine credit ratings, loan terms, bank account fees, and other aspects of our financial lives. AI also affects hiring, housing and working conditions.

Ben Winters, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said a joint statement on enforcement released by federal agencies last month was a positive first step.

“There’s this narrative that AI is entirely unregulated, which is not really true,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Just because you use AI to make a decision, that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from responsibility regarding the impacts of that decision. This is our opinion on this. We’re watching.’”

In the past year, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it has fined banks over mismanaged automated systems that resulted in wrongful home foreclosures, car repossessions, and lost benefit payments, after the institutions relied on new technology and faulty algorithms.

There will be no “AI exemptions” to consumer protection, regulators say, pointing to these enforcement actions as examples.

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra said the agency has “already started some work to continue to muscle up internally when it comes to bringing on board data scientists, technologists and others to make sure we can confront these challenges” and that the agency is continuing to identify potentially illegal activity.

Representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Justice, as well as the CFPB, all say they’re directing resources and staff to take aim at new tech and identify negative ways it could affect consumers’ lives.

“One of the things we’re trying to make crystal clear is that if companies don’t even understand how their AI is making decisions, they can’t really use it,” Chopra said. “In other cases, we’re looking at how our fair lending laws are being adhered to when it comes to the use of all of this data.”

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act (EEOC), for example, financial providers have a legal obligation to explain any adverse credit decision. Those regulations likewise apply to decisions made about housing and employment. Where AI make decisions in ways that are too opaque to explain, regulators say the algorithms shouldn’t be used.

“I think there was a sense that, ‘Oh, let’s just give it to the robots and there will be no more discrimination,’” Chopra said. “I think the learning is that that actually isn’t true at all. In some ways the bias is built into the data.”

EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said there will be enforcement against AI hiring technology that screens out job applicants with disabilities, for example, as well as so-called “bossware” that illegally surveils workers. Burrows also described ways that algorithms might dictate how and when employees can work in ways that would violate existing law.

“If you need a break because you have a disability or perhaps you’re pregnant, you need a break,” she said. “The algorithm doesn’t necessarily take into account that accommodation. Those are things that we are looking closely at … I want to be clear that while we recognize that the technology is evolving, the underlying message here is the laws still apply and we do have tools to enforce.”

OpenAI’s top lawyer, at a conference this month, suggested an industry-led approach to regulation.

“I think it first starts with trying to get to some kind of standards,” Jason Kwon, OpenAI’s general counsel, told a tech summit in Washington, DC, hosted by software industry group BSA. “Those could start with industry standards and some sort of coalescing around that. And decisions about whether or not to make those compulsory, and also then what’s the process for updating them, those things are probably fertile ground for more conversation.”

Sam Altman, the head of OpenAI, which makes ChatGPT, said government intervention “will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful” AI systems, suggesting the formation of a U.S. or global agency to license and regulate the technology.

While there’s no immediate sign that Congress will craft sweeping new AI rules, as European lawmakers are doing, societal concerns brought Altman and other tech CEOs to the White House this month to answer hard questions about the implications of these tools.

Winters, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the agencies could do more to study and publish information on the relevant AI markets, how the industry is working, who the biggest players are, and how the information collected is being used – the way regulators have done in the past with new consumer finance products and technologies.

“The CFPB did a pretty good job on this with the ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ companies,” he said. “There are so many parts of the AI ecosystem that are still so unknown. Publishing that information would go a long way.”

The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism. Technology reporter Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.


One U.S. State Beats Fla. In Percentage of Seniors

Older adults either love Fla. weather or desire a full winter. The Census Bureau’s latest stats find that 18.7% of Floridians are aged 65 to 84 – but in Maine it’s 19.4%.

Highest percentages of population ages 65 to 84

  1. Maine: 19.4%
  2. Florida: 18.7%
  3. Vermont: 18.4%
  4. West Virginia: 18.3%
  5. Montana: 17.8%
  6. Delaware: 17.7%
  7. New Hampshire: 17.2%
  8. South Carolina: 17.2%
  9. Arizona: 16.8%
  10. Hawaii: 16.8%
  11. Oregon: 16.8%

Lowest percentages of population ages 65 to 84

  1. Utah: 10.5%
  2. Texas: 12.1%
  3. Alaska: 12.1%
  4. Georgia: 13.4%
  5. California: 13.4%
  6. Colorado: 13.5%
  7. North Dakota: 13.7%
  8. Maryland: 14.1%
  9. Nebraska: 14.3%
  10. Illinois: 14.4%
  11. New Jersey: 14.4%
  12. Virginia: 14.4%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

© 2023 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved; see terms.


FHFA: 1Q Home Prices Up 4.3% – but More in Fla.

The Miami area led the nation in price gains with 14.1%, year-to-year, but of 8 Fla. metros included, even the lowest-ranking one (Tampa, No. 36) saw a 5.6% gain.

WASHINGTON – U.S. house prices rose 4.3% between the first quarters of 2022 and 2023, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (FHFA HPI).

However, year-to-year home prices increases were higher in all eight Florida metros tracked by the study. Six of those were in the top 25 nationally for prices increases, and Tampa, at No. 36, still had a greater year-to-year 1Q price increase the two-thirds of U.S. cities.

Florida year-to-year and quarter-to-quarter rankings in top 100

1. Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall: 14.1% year-to-year, 2.7% quarter-to-quarter

11. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton: 8.8% YtoY, but down 1.5% QtoQ

14. West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach: 8.1% YtoY, 0.3% QtoQ

15. Cape Coral-Fort Myers: 8.0% YtoY, 0.6% QtoQ

16. Jacksonville: 7.9% YtoY, 0.8% QtoQ

21. Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Sunrise: 7.2% YtoY, but down 1.5% QtoQ

33. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford: 5.9%, but down 2.2% QtoQ

36. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater: 5.6: YtoY, 0.7% QtoQ

Quarter-to-quarter, U.S. house prices were up 0.5% in the first quarter. And month-to-month, the seasonally adjusted index found March up 0.6% from February.

“U.S. house prices generally increased modestly in the first quarter” said Dr. Anju Vajja, principal associate director in FHFA’s Division of Research and Statistics, called the price rise modest, but “year over year prices in many western states have started to decline for the first time in over ten years.”

Notable findings

  • The U.S. housing market has had positive annual appreciation each quarter since the start of 2012.
  • House prices rose in 43 states between the first quarters of 2022 and 2023.
  • House prices rose in 78 of the top 100 largest metropolitan areas over the last four quarters. The annual price increase was greatest in Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall at 14.1%. The metropolitan area that experienced the greatest price decline was San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California, which declined 10.1%.
  • Of the seven census divisions with positive house price changes, the South Atlantic division recorded the strongest four-quarter appreciation, posting a 7.2% increase between the first quarters of 2022 and 2023. House prices depreciated in two census divisions: down 2.4% in the Pacific division and 0.1% in the Mountain division.

FHFA releases HPI data and reports quarterly and monthly. The flagship FHFA HPI uses seasonally adjusted, purchase-only data from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, covering more than half of all U.S. loans.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Regulators OK $1.25B in Credit Lines for Citizens

As prep for hurricane season, Citizens can tap the credit if needed to help pay claims and expenses for its personal-lines account, which includes homeowners’ policies.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As the start of hurricane season nears, regulators this week approved lines of credit totaling $1.25 billion for the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky signed an order Tuesday approving a Citizens plan for a $750 million line of credit with Bank of America and a $500 million line of credit with Wells Fargo. Citizens could tap into the money if needed to help pay claims and expenses for what is known as its personal-lines account, which includes homeowners’ policies.

“The purpose of the lines of credit is to provide the personal lines account with needed liquidity in preparation for the 2023 hurricane season,” Yaworsky’s order said. “Citizens has determined that the lines of credit will enable it to efficiently meet its financial obligations and are consistent with the Citizens Act (a state law).”

The lines of credit would provide a way to have quick access to money as Citizens waits for revenue from such things as policyholder premiums and reinsurance reimbursements. Citizens also has the authority to collect additional charges – known as assessments – from policyholders. Assessments can be pledged to repay borrowed money, according to the order.

With the six-month hurricane season starting June 1, Citizens has seen explosive growth in its number of policies because of financial problems in the private insurance market. Citizens, which was created as an insurer of last resort, totaled more than 1.29 million policies as of last week.

© 2023 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.


Inflation Measure Tracked by Fed Reserve Up in April

A key index of U.S. prices ticked up 0.4% in April from March, and consumer spending rebounded 0.8%, a sign that inflationary pressures in the economy remain high.

WASHINGTON (AP) – A key index of U.S. prices ticked higher in April, and consumer spending rebounded, a sign that inflationary pressures in the economy remain high.

The index, which the Federal Reserve closely monitors, showed that prices rose 0.4% from March to April, much higher than the 0.1% rise the previous month. Measured year over year, prices were up 4.4% in April, up from 4.2% in March, according to Friday’s report from the government. The year-over-year figure is down sharply from a 7% peak last June but remains far above the Fed’s 2% target.

Consumers kept spending last month despite the price rise: Their spending jumped 0.8% from March to April, the biggest increase since January.

Despite longstanding predictions of a forthcoming recession, Friday’s report underscores the U.S. economy’s surprising resilience. Americans, at least those with higher incomes, are clearly still willing to spend even as prices have continued to rise. Consumer spending, which drives most of the U.S. economy, has been bolstered by solid job gains and pay increases.

The economy, which grew at a sluggish 1.3% annual rate in the first three months of the year, is projected to accelerate to a 2% pace in the current April-June quarter.

The inflation gauge that was issued Friday, called the personal consumption expenditures price index, is separate from the government’s better-known consumer price index. The government reported earlier this month that the CPI rose 4.9% in April from 12 months earlier.

Since inflation began surging after the pandemic recession, the PCE index has tended to show lower inflation than CPI. In part, that was because rents, which were among the biggest inflation drivers, carry twice the weight in the CPI that they do in the PCE.

In addition, the PCE index seeks to account for changes in how people shop when inflation jumps. As a result, it can capture emerging trends – when, for example, consumers shift away from pricey national brands in favor of cheaper store brands.

Fed officials particularly watch a category of prices called core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food costs and is considered a better gauge of underlying inflation. Core prices rose 0.4% from March to April, the same as in the previous month, and 4.7% from 12 months earlier. The year-over-year core inflation figure has changed little since it first touched 4.6% in December.

The latest inflation figures arrive as Fed officials are noisily debating their next steps after having raised their key interest rate 10 times in the past 14 months. Several of the policymakers have said they favor raising rates even higher in the coming months. But most Fed watchers expect the central bank to forgo another hike at its next meeting in mid-June – a stance that some top policymakers, including Chair Jerome Powell, appear to support.

Powell said last week that after raising its benchmark rate to a 16-year high of about 5.1%, Fed officials can afford to wait and see how those increases have affected the economy. It can take a year or more for rate hikes to significantly slow the job market and the overall economy. undergo

The Fed’s ultimate goal is to make borrowing costlier for consumers and businesses and thereby reduce spending, growth and inflation. Its rate increases have led to a more than doubling of mortgage rates and elevated the costs of auto loans, credit card borrowing and business loans. They have also heightened the risk of a recession, which most economists predict will begin sometime this year.

Even some officials who likely favor skipping a rate hike in June, like Philip Jefferson, a member of the Fed’s influential Board of Governors, have said they are disappointed that inflation hasn’t slowed more than it has. Much of the latest inflation pressure reflects persistently higher prices for services, including restaurant meals, hotel rooms and auto maintenance.

Inflation is a big reason why millions of Americans have expressed a gloomy outlook about the economy, even though the unemployment rate is at a half-century low of 3.4% and many workers have received solid pay gains.

Yet a Federal Reserve report this week found that, on average, inflation has outstripped those wage increases and left many people worse off.

At the end of last year, just below three-quarters of Americans said they were “doing OK” financially or living comfortably. That marked a drop of 5 percentage points from the previous year and was among the lowest such levels measured since the survey began in 2016.

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


Supreme Court Limits Some Fed Wetlands Regulations

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sharply limited the federal government’s authority to police water pollution into certain wetlands, the second decision in as many years in which a conservative majority narrowed the reach of environmental regulations.

The outcome could threaten efforts to control flooding on the Mississippi River and protect the Chesapeake Bay, among many projects, wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, breaking with the other five conservatives. Environmental advocates said the decision would strip protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands.

The justices boosted property rights over concerns about clean water in a ruling in favor of an Idaho couple who sought to build a house near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle. Chantell and Michael Sackett objected when federal officials identified a soggy portion of the property as wetlands that required them to get a permit before filling it with rocks and soil.

By a 5-4 vote, the court said in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that wetlands can only be regulated under the Clean Water Act if they have a “continuous surface connection” to larger, regulated bodies of water. There is no such connection on the Sacketts’ property.

President Joe Biden said the court’s decision defies science and undermines a law that has been used for a half-century to make American waters cleaner.

“The Supreme Court’s disappointing decision in Sackett v. EPA will take our country backwards. It puts our nation’s wetlands – and the rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds connected to them – at risk of pollution and destruction, jeopardizing the sources of clean water that millions of American families, farmers, and businesses rely on,” Biden said in a statement.

The court jettisoned the 17-year-old opinion by their former colleague, Anthony Kennedy, allowing regulation of what can be discharged into wetlands that could affect the health of the larger waterways.

Kennedy’s opinion covering wetlands that have a “significant nexus” to larger bodies of water had been the standard for evaluating whether permits were required for discharges under the 1972 landmark environmental law. Opponents had objected that the standard was vague and unworkable.

Reacting to the decision, Manish Bapna, the chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called on Congress to amend the Clean Water Act to restore wetlands protections and on states to strengthen their own laws.

“The Supreme Court ripped the heart out of the law we depend on to protect American waters and wetlands. The majority chose to protect polluters at the expense of healthy wetlands and waterways. This decision will cause incalculable harm. Communities across the country will pay the price,” Bapna said in a statement.

The outcome almost certainly will affect ongoing court battles over new water regulations, including for wetlands, that the Biden administration put in place in December. Two federal judges have temporarily blocked those rules from being enforced in 26 states.

Congress voted in March to overturn the administration’s new water rule and, even though President Joe Biden vetoed the measure, the prospect of legislative action to restore wetlands protections anytime soon is remote.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Michael S. Regan, credited the Clean Water Act with leading to “transformational progress” in cleaning up the nation’s waterways. “I am disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision that erodes longstanding clean water protections,” Regan said in a statement.

Damien Schiff, who represented the Sacketts at the Supreme Court, said the decision appropriately narrowed the reach of the law. “Courts now have a clear measuring stick for fairness and consistency by federal regulators. Today’s ruling is a profound win for property rights and the constitutional separation of powers,” Schiff said in a statement issued by the property rights-focused Pacific Legal Foundation.

In Thursday’s ruling, all nine justices agreed that the wetlands on the Sacketts’ property are not covered by the act.

But only five justices joined in the opinion that imposed a new test for evaluating when wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Alito would have adopted the narrower standard in 2006, in the last big wetlands case at the Supreme Court. They were joined Thursday by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

Kavanaugh and the court’s three liberal justices charged that their colleagues had rewritten that law.

Kavanaugh wrote that the court’s “new and overly narrow test may leave long-regulated and long-accepted-to-be regulable wetlands suddenly beyond the scope of the agencies’ regulatory authority.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority’s rewriting of the act was “an effort to cabin the anti-pollution actions Congress thought appropriate.” Kagan referenced last year’s decision limiting the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

In both cases, she noted, the court had appointed “itself as the national decision-maker on environmental policy.” Kagan was joined in what she wrote by her liberal colleagues Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Sacketts paid $23,000 for a 0.63-acre lot near Priest Lake in 2005 and started building a three-bedroom home two years later.

They had filled part of the property, described in an appellate ruling as a “soggy residential lot,” with rocks and soil in preparation for construction, when officials with the EPA showed up and ordered a halt in the work.

They also won an earlier round in their legal fight at the Supreme Court.

The federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the EPA’s determination in 2021, finding that part of the property, 300 feet from the lake and 30 feet from an unnamed waterway that flows into the lake, was wetlands.

The Sacketts’ own consultant had similarly advised them years ago that their property contained wetlands.

Copyright © 2023 Associated Press, Mark Sherman and Jessica Gresko. All rights reserved.


Increase Your Local Rankings as a Real Estate Agent

Optimize your RE website for search engines by integrating keyword phrases into content, metadata and titles – and also make sure your website is mobile-friendly.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – It is crucial for agents to optimize their real estate website by integrating keyword phrases into content, metadata, and titles. This process in known as search engine optimization, which also involves adding external links from reliable sources such as business directories and news outlets, optimizing page speed, and making sure the website is mobile-friendly.

Content marketing involves creating content that is valuable, educational, and keyword-rich. For example, agents can write blog articles about local market trends, make neighborhood guides, and provide infographics to explain the home-buying process.

Agents should also try to gain positive reviews by responding to queries quickly, providing excellent customer service, and sending follow-up emails that request clients to give feedback.

Online review management tools can help agents keep track of reviews and respond quickly. Local directory citations refer to a business’ name, address, and phone number that appear on other websites. Agents should seek to build a strong profile of citations to strengthen their rankings in local search results.

Meanwhile, social media platforms can be used for sharing content, announcing new listings, offering helpful advice, and interacting with local businesses. To incorporate more videos, agents can consider offering virtual tours, lifestyle videos, or real estate market updates.

Agents may consider hiring a professional for web design, development, or digital marketing to ensure their websites and targeted campaigns are effective. However, agents must be sure to be consistent in their efforts and regularly supply content, in particular for social media.

Source: Realty Biz News (01/23/2023) Shepardson, Ben

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


How Are Investors Rethinking The Financial Future?

Nearly eight in 10 (78%) are reviewing their finances, with at least 44% interested in learning more about investing in real estate and other opportunities.

MARIETTA, Ga. – Nearly eight in 10 (78%) American investors are rethinking their financial future – especially high earners.

That’s according to a recent poll of 1,000 US investors, which revealed 85% of high earners (those with a household income between $150,000 and $199,999) were likely to reexamine their approach to their finances.

Most investors (62%) already have a strategy to build wealth and over three-fourths (77%) believe it is not only important to save for retirement, but to also pass on wealth to their families.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Cadre, the survey found that while the most common investments over the years were stocks (57%), cryptocurrency (55%) and bonds (49%), investors are now expressing interest in learning more about other investment opportunities, such as real estate (44%).

Of those investing in commercial real estate (525 respondents), 53% are very confident that their current strategy will help them reach their wealth goals, while only 19% of those not invested in commercial real estate say the same.

That said, if opportunities such as the potential for steady income (52%), inflation protection (50%) and tax benefits or incentives (48%) presented themselves, investors would take advantage.

“Our research shows people continue to be more open to exploring alternative investments, perhaps in response to increasing economic instability,” said Ryan Williams, founder, CEO, and executive chairman of Cadre. “While common investments such as stocks and bonds are impacted by market cycles, commercial real estate is one asset class that can potentially offer a hedge against inflation and steady cash flow for future-minded investors.”

The research also aimed to uncover how investors are reimagining their retirement and savings.

Currently, most are using brokerage accounts (65%), traditional checking and savings accounts (60%) and traditional or Roth IRAs (55%) to save for retirement.

But these approaches are impacted by unpredictable factors such as inflation (42%), health care expenses (38%) and the stock market (36%). Among respondents with $150,000 in their stock portfolios, more than 80% have lost money in the last two years.

More than three-quarters (77%) of investors say the economy is making them nervous about their retirement and just over half (52%) are open to modifying their retirement timeframe.

That doesn’t mean it’s being written off entirely. Results also showed that respondents are open to adjusting the methods they use to save (58%) as well as how much they’re saving (58%) and spending (56%).

Sometimes, that could mean reconsidering whether to rent or buy. Thirty-five percent of respondents claimed buying a home was more cost-effective than renting an apartment, which only 17% of respondents thought to be more practical, while 36% believed both options were equally worthwhile.

“According to our data, those who have invested in commercial real estate are much more likely to be ‘very confident’ in their ability to retire comfortably than those who haven’t (62% vs. 23%). With risk-adjusted returns as well as the flexibility of choice between individual projects or diversified funds, commercial real estate may be an option for those looking for a safer investment that can help them secure their financial future,” Williams added.

What would investors do with extra money?

• Invest more – 61%

• Purchase necessities – 57%

• Pay for utilities – 55%

• Pay off debts – 52%

• Purchase non-essential items – 52%

• Donate to charity – 49%

Top ways investors are saving for retirement

• Investment (brokerage) account – 65%

• Traditional checking/savings account – 60%

• Traditional or Roth IRA – 55%

• Health Savings Account (HSA) – 55%401(k) – 36%

• Traditional pension – 35%

Survey methodology: This random double-opt-in survey of 1,000 U.S. adults who invest was commissioned by Cadre Advance between March 27 and March 31, 2023. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

Copyright © 2023, Marietta Daily Journal. All rights reserved.


Gov. DeSantis Signs Package of Tax Breaks

It includes a disaster-preparedness holiday through June 9 eliminating sales taxes on some storm supplies and other goods; and a reduction in the commercial-lease tax.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With two sales-tax “holiday” periods poised to start, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a nearly $1.3 billion package of tax breaks. Lawmakers unanimously passed the package (HB 7053) on May 5.

It includes a series of tax holidays, reducing a commercial-lease tax and providing permanent sales-tax exemptions for such things as diapers and incontinence products and baby and toddler items. DeSantis did not hold a public event to sign the bill but issued a statement that said, in part, “we are ensuring that our state’s economic success gets passed on to the people that made it possible. I will continue to push smart fiscal policy that will allow Florida families to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets. Stronger families make a stronger Florida.”

DeSantis signed the bill two days before the start of a disaster-preparedness holiday on May 27 that will allow shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on a variety of storm supplies and household goods. The holiday, which will last through June 9, is geared around the June 1 start of hurricane season.

Also, a three-month collection of tax breaks, dubbed “Freedom Summer,” will start Monday and will last through Sept. 4. That holiday will allow shoppers to avoid paying sales taxes on such things as tickets to movies, live musicals and sporting events, entry to state parks, children’s athletic equipment and supplies for boating, camping and fishing.

“We’ve got an exceptionally robust package out there of sales-tax holidays, two of which kick off almost immediately, with disaster preparedness starting on May 27,” Scott Shalley, president of the Florida Retail Federation, said. “It provides a great opportunity for consumers to save, and it provides a great opportunity to generate retail activity.”

The nearly $1.3 billion total includes some tax cuts that will continue in future years, according to a House staff analysis.

©2023 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.


1Q U.S. Economy: Tepid but No Recession Yet

From Jan. to March, the U.S. economy grew a small 1.3%, though that beat 1.1% expectations. But consumer spending, which makes up about 70% of that, was up 3.8%.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. economy grew at a lackluster 1.3% annual rate from January through March as businesses wary of an economic slowdown trimmed their inventories, the government said Thursday in a slight upgrade from its initial estimate. The government had previously estimated that the economy grew at a 1.1% annual rate last quarter.

The Commerce Department’s revised measure of growth in the nation’s gross domestic product – the economy’s total output of goods and services – marked a deceleration from 3.2% annual growth from July through September and 2.6% from October through December.

Despite the first-quarter slowdown, consumer spending, which accounts for around 70% of America’s economic output, rose at a 3.8% annual pace, the most in nearly two years and an encouraging sign of household confidence. Specifically, spending on physical goods, like appliances and cars, rose 6.3%, also the fastest growth rate since April-June of last year.

A cutback in business inventories shaved 2.1 percentage points off January-March growth.

The steady slowdown in the nation’s economic growth is a consequence of the Federal Reserve’s aggressive drive to tame inflation, with 10 interest rate hikes over the past 14 months. Across the economy, the Fed’s rate increase have elevated the costs of auto loans, credit card borrowing and business loans.

“Consumers – the critical lynchpin to the U.S. economy – are still spending, tapping into savings and credit to be able to do so,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer for Plante Moran Financial Advisors. “That can’t persist indefinitely though, raising the risk of a more pronounced slowdown or recession the longer the Fed’s battle with inflation drags on.”

With mortgage rates having doubled over the past year, the real estate market has already taken a beating: Investment in housing fell at a 0.2% annual rate from January through March. In April, sales of existing homes were 23% below their level a year earlier.

As the Fed’s rate hikes have gradually slowed growth, inflation has eased from the four-decade high it reached last year. Still, consumer prices were still up 4.9% in April from a year earlier – well above the Fed’s 2% target.

The economy’s slowdown is widely expected to lead to a recession later this year. In addition to higher borrowing rates, the economy’s other obstacles include a cutback in lending as banks conserve cash after three big bank failures in recent months.

There is also the looming risk that House Republicans will refuse to raise the statutory limit on what the government can borrow, if President Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t agree to sharp spending cuts. That would leave the Treasury unable for the first time to pay all its bills on time. Economists say a protracted debt default would cause downgrades of the U.S. credit and likely trigger a recession deeper and sooner than the one that is already expected.

For now, though, most sectors of the economy other than housing are showing surprising resilience. Retail sales have continued to rise. So have orders for manufactured goods.

Most significantly, the nation’s job market remains fundamentally solid. In April, employers added 253,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate matched a 54-year low. The pace of layoffs remains comparatively low. And job openings, though declining, are still well above pre-pandemic levels.

While the U.S. economy remains durable for now, Europe’s largest economy, Germany, has fallen into a downturn. Its economy shrank unexpectedly in the first three months of this year, marking a second quarter of contraction that is one definition of recession, data released Thursday shows. Germany’s GDP declined by 0.3% from January to March after a drop of 0.5% during the final quarter of 2022.

Though employment in Germany rose in the first quarter and inflation has eased, higher interest rates will keeping weighing on spending and investment, said Franziska Palmas, senior Europe economist for Capital Economics.

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


Study: 2 Out of 5 Sellers Make Buyer Concessions

In 1Q 2023, 42.9% of sellers made a buyer concession; in 1Q 2022, it was 25.5%. Some do it to keep a transaction moving forward, others to match homebuilders’ freebies.

SEATTLE – Home sellers gave concessions to buyers in 42.9% of U.S. home sales during the three months ending April 30, up from 25.5% a year earlier, according to a new report from Redfin. That’s just shy of a 45.6% record high hit in February.

The share of home sellers providing concessions – things like money toward repairs, closing costs and mortgage-rate buydowns – likely inched down from February’s peak due to typical seasonality. In the early spring, more buyers typically enter the market. That increases competition, gives sellers more power, and generally lowers the number of concessions.

However, this spring’s drop in buyers concessions is less than it was in the two previous years, in part because sellers had to go the extra mile as mortgage rates began to rise.

Top reasons some sellers are offering concessions

  • Buyers backing out of the market. Many house hunters have put buying plans on hold because rising mortgage rates have made homeownership more expensive. And while U.S. home prices have fallen 4% year-to-year, that price drop isn’t enough to offset the cost of higher rates. Another factor dampening demand is the lack of supply: Fewer people are listing their homes because they want to hold onto their current ultra-low mortgage rates.
  • Sellers need to sell. Many people who list their homes are moving because they must due to life events, such as divorces, new children or new far-away jobs. These sellers provide concessions because they have a stronger desire to sell their home quickly.
  • Competition from new-home builders. There was a surge in homebuilding during the pandemic as builders tried to capitalize on the moving frenzy, especially in pandemic homebuying hotspots. Now that rising rates have pushed many buyers out of the market, builders are trying to sell off their backlog of inventory by offering perks like money toward the buyer’s closing costs, gift cards and even free cars.

In many areas, sellers still don’t have a strong need to offer buyer concessions, however. In some areas, there are so few homes for sale that homebuyers still face stiff competition to buy a home.

“High mortgage rates and low supply have thrown the housing market out of whack, and each deal is different. Some buyers are asking sellers for the sun, the moon and the stars in addition to offering below the asking price, and some are requesting no extras because they’re so motivated to secure one of the few homes on the market,” says Boise, Idaho, Redfin agent Shauna Pendleton. “The one consistency in the market right now is homebuilders handing out freebies. Most builders are offering concessions equal to about 3% of the sale price … to offload properties. Buyers are using the extra cash to cover closing costs or buy down their mortgage rate.”

Sellers also accepting less money for homes

  • In 1Q 2023, just over one in seven (15.7%) home sellers dropped their asking price in addition to providing a concession – almost four times the share a year earlier (4.2%).
  • Roughly one in five (20.5%) homes that sold in 1Q had a final sale price below the asking price in addition to a concession, up from about 7% a year earlier.
  • And about one in 10 (9.4%) had all three: A concession, a price drop and a final sale price below the original list price. That’s up from 2.2% a year earlier.

Those shares have all inched down from record highs set in February, which is typical for this time of year, and 2023’s declines are actually smaller than the declines in 2021 and 2022.

Seller concessions up most in pandemic boomtowns

Tampa saw a bigger year-over-year jump in seller concessions than any other metro analyzed. Tampa sellers gave concessions to buyers in 58% of home sales during the three months ending April 30, up from 12% a year earlier.

The next-biggest increases were in Nashville (49%, up from 5.6%), Salt Lake City (46.8%, up from 12.3%), Seattle (45.7%, up from 11.7%) and Raleigh, North Carolina (64.6%, up from 31.2%).

However, buyers concessions rose year-to-year in all metros analyzed.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Mortgage Rate Averages 6.57%, Highest In 2 Months

Freddie Mac economist: “The U.S. economy is showing continued resilience which, combined with debt ceiling concerns, led to higher mortgage rates this week.”

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate rose this week to its highest level since mid-March, driving up borrowing costs for prospective homebuyers facing a housing market that’s constrained by a dearth of homes for sale.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year home loan rose to 6.57% from 6.39% last week. The average rate a year ago was 5.10%.

High rates can add hundreds of dollars a month in costs for homebuyers, limiting how much buyers can afford in a market that remains unaffordable to many Americans after years of soaring home prices and limited housing inventory.

The average rate on a 30-year home loan has risen two weeks in a row, echoing moves in the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. The 10-year Treasury yield has been mostly rising of late, climbing to 3.77% in midday trading Thursday. Two weeks ago, it was at 3.39%.

The move up in bond yields comes as investors react to stronger-than-expected economic data and the implications that could have on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again next month. Bond traders are also factoring in the possibility that the U.S. government may default on its debt as the White House and GOP leadership wrangle over a deal to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling so it can avoid an unprecedented default as soon as June 1.

“The U.S. economy is showing continued resilience which, combined with debt ceiling concerns, led to higher mortgage rates this week,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Investors’ expectations for future inflation, global demand for U.S. Treasurys and what the Fed does with interest rates also influence rates on home loans.

The Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate 10 times in 14 months. At its last meeting of policymakers, the central bank signaled that it could finally pause its yearlong campaign of rate hikes, though a pause would likely only nudge mortgage rates slightly lower.

Low mortgage rates helped fuel the housing market for much of the past decade, easing the way for borrowers to finance ever-higher home prices. That trend began to reverse a little over a year ago, when the Fed started to hike its key short-term rate in a bid to slow the economy and cool the highest inflation in four decades.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, popular with those refinancing their homes, rose to 5.97% this week from 5.75% last week. A year ago, it averaged 4.31%, Freddie Mac said.

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


Survey: Climate Change a Growing Fla. Concern

Climate change is no longer a dividing political issue. Many Floridians have faced a weather event possibly tied to climate change, and 61% of them are concerned.

MIAMI – An increasing number of Floridians agree that human actions are causing climate change, including a record number of Florida Republicans, according to a new survey from Florida Atlantic University. This finding reinforces the trend observed in the prior seven Florida Climate Resilience Surveys, conducted by FAU’s Center for Environmental Studies within the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Three main messages emerge from this latest poll. First, climate change is no longer an effective partisan wedge issue. Virtually all respondents (90%) believe climate change is happening, with 65% attributing the causes to human actions, including 49% of GOP voters. This belief is leading to concern for the future: 61% of Floridians are moderately-to-extremely concerned about flooding worsening due to climate change, and 68% are moderately-to-extremely concerned about hurricanes worsening due to climate change.

Second, this belief in and concern about human-caused climate change appears to be translating into support for policies to reduce emissions and reduce impacts. For example, a majority of Floridians (52%) support a hypothetical $10/month tax to strengthen Florida’s infrastructure to weather hazards. Younger Democrats and Republicans are leading this trend, with 64% of GOP or Democratic voters under age 35 in support.

Second, 71% of Floridians currently support the teaching of climate change causes and impacts in public K-12 classrooms. Finally, the Aug. 16, 2022 Federal Inflation Reduction Act enjoys broad support (55%) in Florida, with only 16% opposed. This act includes significant new funding and other incentives to accelerate the transition to a clean economy, especially in electricity generation and transportation fuel.

Third, the explanation for this emerging consensus may be grounded in people’s lived experiences with weather events. The preceding hurricane season included two major storms impacting Florida. Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 23, 2022 in Southwest Florida, and Nicole on Nov. 7, 2022 on Florida’s East coast. According to NOAA, both storms caused significant financial and physical damage, totaling more than $112 billion and an estimated 157 deaths.

Approximately three-quarters (77%) of Floridians have been exposed to at least one weather hazard in the past 12 months. Almost half of respondents (47%) were impacted by flooding in the last 12 months, and an even greater proportion (67%) by strong winds from hurricanes or tornadoes.

The survey was conducted in English and Spanish on March 14. The sample consisted of 1,400 Floridians, age 18 and older, with a survey margin of error of +/- 2.62 percentage points. The data were collected using an online panel provided by GreatBlue Research. Responses for the entire sample were weighted to adjust for age, race, income, education and gender, according to the 2020 United States Bureau of the Census American Community Surveys. It is important to remember that subsets carry higher margins of error.

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.

© 2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Streamlining Tasks: Which AI Is Right for You?

Wish you could tell an AI tool to independently handle meeting requests, track conversion rates, send emails and schedule your social media posts? Well, you can.

NEW YORK – Real estate professionals using artificial intelligence (AI) calendar tools enjoy some special benefits.

An AI-scheduling tool called Clockwise offers a free version, while paid plans start at $6.75 per user per month. Clockwise lets users input their “ideal day,” which serves as a basis for scheduling such things as focused work time, muting notifications and lunch breaks.

When synced with Slack, Clockwise links the entire team’s calendars and will find appropriate meeting time slots. It’s also possible to reserve certain days for no scheduled meetings.

An analytics tab enables users to see how many meeting conflicts have been resolved and how many schedules the tool helped with.

Another AI-scheduling tool called Reclaim prioritizes recurring events, both work-related and personal. These include events such as one-on-one meetings, gym sessions, team calls and picking up the kids from school.

On the platform’s primary screen, users set working hours, identify high and low-priority routines, and tell the AI program how much leeway it has for scheduling. Users can also empower the tool to proactively change meetings, set focus times and issue reminders of upcoming deadlines.

Finally, an AI scheduling assistant called Kronologic is useful for following up with leads and tending to clients. The tool can manage high-density scheduling, while its language recognition tools can handle communication if users don’t want to get involved.

The app also tracks lead conversion rates in real-time and can sync an entire team’s calendars, in addition to those of clients and leads. Kronologic can also send emails, schedule social media posts and analyze outreach efforts.

Source: RealTrends (05/22/23) Lee, Audrey

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


NAR: Pending Sales Unchanged in April

While the number of homes didn’t change, it varied by region. Of the four included in NAR’s report, pending sales fell only in the Northeast but rose everywhere else.

WASHINGTON – Pending home sales were unchanged month-to-month in April, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ (NAR) monthly report.

Pending sales rose in three of the four regions broken out in the report, with the decline in only one region – the Northeast – dragging down the overall number. However, all four regions saw a year-to-year drop in pending sales.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) – a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings – remained at 78.9 in April, the same as in March. Year-over-year,  pending transactions dropped by 20.3%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.

“Not all buying interests are being completed due to limited inventory,” says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Affordability challenges certainly remain and continue to hold back contract signings, but a sizeable increase in housing inventory will be critical to get more Americans moving.”

Pending home sales regional breakdown: The Northeast PHSI dropped 11.3% from March to 59.1, a decrease of 21.8% year-to-year. The Midwest index improved 3.6% to 78.4 in April, down 21.4% from a year ago.

The South PHSI, which includes Florida, increased 0.1% to 99.6 in April, down 16.7% from the prior year. The West index rose 4.7% in April to 62.2, sliding 26.0% year-to-year.

“Minor monthly variations in regional activity are typical,” says Yun. “However, cumulative results over many years clearly point towards a much greater number of home sales in the South. The South’s pending home sales activity is similar to that of 2001 (the year NAR created the NFIP), but the Midwest’s activity has decreased by 22% in that same period, and the Northeast and West regions are both about 40% lower than they were in 2001.”

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Census Bureau: April New-Home Sales Up 4.1%

More buyers frustrated with the limited number of existing homes turned to builders for relief in April. Sales growth is notably rising in the $200K-$400K range.

WASHINGTON – Sales of newly built, single-family homes increased 4.1% to a 683,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate in April. That’s up from a downwardly revised reading in March, according to new data by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s the highest level of new-home sales since March 2022.

“A lack of existing (home) inventory supported sales of newly-built, single-family homes in April,” says Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “Even more encouraging, we’re seeing sales growth in the more affordable price ranges of $200,000 to $400,000.”

“April saw an increase … even as builders struggle to keep up with demand because of a shortage of distribution transformers and skilled construction workers,” adds NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. However, “sales for 2023 thus far are still down 9.7% on a year-to-date basis due to elevated interest rates, and sales may weaken in the months ahead given the recent rise in interest rates.”

A new home sale occurs 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 April reading of 683,000 units is the number of homes that would sell if this pace continued for the next 12 months.

New single-family home inventory increased 0.2% in April and remained elevated at a 7.6-months’ supply at the current building pace. A measure near a 6-months’ supply is considered balanced.

However, the lack of resale, existing-home inventory means that overall inventory for the single-family market remains tight.

The median new home sale price fell in April to $420,800 – down 8% compared to a year ago.

In general, the April report found growth in the lower price ranges, with 9,000 sales in the $200,000-$299,999 price range compared to just 4,000 sales a year prior. The $300,000-$399,999 price bracket grew by 14,000 sales in that same timeframe.

Regionally, on a year-to-date basis, new home sales fell in all regions, down 19.2% in the Northeast, 9.8% in the Midwest, 0.7% in the South and 27.5% in the West.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


What Would Famous Cartoon Homes Be Worth?

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – At the end of 2022, mortgage balances in the United States topped 11 trillion dollars – with almost $1 trillion in interest and refinanced debt added during 2021. As real-life Americans struggle through a housing affordability crisis, it only makes sense that many of our favorite animated characters may no longer afford their hometowns in today’s market.

A recent study notes that housing costs should make up 30% or less of the overall household budget, yet nearly half the country is spending more than that. Interestingly, America’s favorite animated TV families seem worse off than the average real-life homeowner. Clustered in states such as New York, California, Oregon, and New Jersey, they represent some of the least affordable areas in the entire country.

So what would the Simpsons pay for their mortgage today or the Griffin family for their four-bedroom Rhode Island home? Interior design experts at Hovia used information from Zillow to estimate the current prices of iconic homes from different animated TV series.

The Simpsons – 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield

Estimated Price: $458,730

The Simpson family lives in a four-bedroom home with an attached garage, basement, and a generous fenced-in yard in the fictional town of Springfield. Although the location of Springfield isn’t clear in the series, the show’s creator Matt Groening revealed in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine in 2012 that it is based on where he grew up in Springfield, Oregon, a few hours from Portland.

A four-bedroom home in Springfield, Oregon, would set the Simpson family back around $458,730 today. Given Homer’s salary as a nuclear power plant safety inspector and Marge’s fragmented employment history, the family would likely find it difficult to afford a property like this in the current climate, especially with two kids.

Family Guy – 31 Spooner Street, Quahog, Rhode Island

Estimated Price: $357,958

The Griffin family from Family Guy lives in the fictional city of Quahog, Rhode Island. The family is described as “lower-middle-class,” with Peter working in a brewery and Lois working a part-time side job as teacher throughout the series.

The show’s creator Seth MacFarlane reportedly resided in Providence, Rhode Island, during his time as a student, with the city serving as the inspiration for Quahog. In real life, the Griffins’ four-bedroom home, based in Providence, would cost them around $357,958 today. This figure isn’t impossible for the family to afford based on their salaries, but as the show points out, it is difficult for them to maintain.

South Park – 2001 E. Bonanza Street, South Park, Colorado

Estimated Price: $741,919

South Park’s Stan Marsh lives in the fictional town which gives the show its name. Fans online agree that Fairplay, Colorado was likely the inspiration for South Park. According to Colorado’s official tourism website, the town was actually re-named ‘South Park City’ in 1869 before being changed back to ‘Fairplay’ in 1874.

Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have said that although visually based on Fairplay, the show’s characters were based on their experiences growing up in Denver, Colorado.

A four-bedroom home in Fairplay currently costs a pricey $741,919, which considering Randy’s salary as a geologist and Sharon’s as a receptionist, is not totally out of reach for them.

Futurama – Robot Arms Apartments, New New York

Estimated Price: $799,950

Futurama takes place in New New York in the year 3000. The show’s protagonist, Philip J. Fry, lives with Bender, the robot, in an apartment block built specifically to house robots in the city.

Each apartment has a closet the size of a regular two-bedroom apartment, costing around $799,950 in New York today. Fry and Bender work for Professor Farnsworth’s delivery company Planet Express. One is an executive delivery boy, and the other as an assistant sales manager, so this certainly seems out of reach for them, even before taking into account 975+ years of inflation.

SpongeBob SquarePants – 124 Conch Street, Bikini Bottom, Pacific Ocean

Estimated Price: $55

SpongeBob SquarePants lives in a pineapple, which can cost around $4 in a store. However, for a pineapple big enough to call home, the study looked at the Giant Kew variety, which can reach up to twenty pounds in weight. Using an average of $2.78 per pound, the estimated cost of SpongeBob’s home under the sea would be $55. With his salary as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, this estimation means his home is well within his budget.

King of The Hill – 84 Rainey Street, Arlen, Texas

Estimated Price: $382,781

King of the Hill takes place in the fictional city of Arlen, Texas. The show’s co-creator, Mike Judge, told The New York Times that the Dallas suburb of Richardson inspired Arlen.

The show’s central character Hank Hill is known for his frugal nature, so owning a three-bedroom home in rural Texas isn’t necessarily out of the question. In real life, if the Hills lived in Richardson, their home would cost around $382,781.

Bob’s Burgers – Ocean Avenue, New Jersey

Estimated Price: $705,809

The show takes place on the fictional Ocean Avenue along the northern Jersey shore. Seaside towns aren’t cheap, and the Belchers live in a three-bedroom apartment above the shop throughout the series.

Using Ocean City, New Jersey, as the closest real-life location, a three-bedroom home would go for around $705,809 today, which doesn’t even include the cost of the shop. Even though the Belchers rent the building, their housing costs are still extremely high compared to the profits they likely bring in.

Rugrats – 1258 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood

Estimated Price: $668,851

Stu and Didi Pickles from Rugrats own a four-bedroom home with a garage in Los Angeles.

The address was shown in one episode to be the location of the studio that produced the series, implying that the family lives in Hollywood, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. With Stu making money as an inventor of children’s toys and Didi being a part-time teacher, it’s debatable whether they could afford this home with an estimated value of $668,851.

DuckTales – McDuck Manor

Estimated Price: $25,000,000

The most expensive home on this list belongs, appropriately enough, to the uber-wealthy Scrooge McDuck from the Disney series DuckTales.

The manor has impressive gothic architecture and, if it were real, would rival the Biltmore Estate, which is currently the largest home in the U.S. and was valued at around $37 million for the house alone in 2017.

As it is smaller than the Biltmore Estate, McDuck Manor would likely be valued at around $25 million, making it the most expensive property on the list.

Fact and fiction

While Hollywood has long taken creative license with the real-life affordability of its characters’ lifestyles, the recent housing crisis has brought up an interesting phenomenon. What may have once been perceived as an average lifestyle for these animated stars when the shows initially aired is no longer within reach today, thanks to economic forces outside their control.

A spokesperson for Hovia comments, “It’s fascinating to see just how much these fictional homes could cost in today’s housing market. Shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, which have been on the air for decades, feature homes that might once have been affordable for their characters, yet now seem unrealistic given the nature of their jobs in the show.”

Copyright © 2023, Highlands News-Sun, all rights reserved. This post was produced by Wealthy Nickel and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Study: Prices Way-Up or Way-Down Across U.S.

Metro-to-metro variations that peaked in spring 2022 continue this spring. In Miami, for example, home prices are up 10.9%; in San Francisco, they’re down 10.1%.

SEATTLE – A national home-price trend may provide a macro view of U.S. home price direction in general, but it means very little at the local level. Metro-to-metro variations in home-price growth reached a 13-year high in spring 2022, the tail end of the pandemic homebuying boom, and the variation has only dropped a small amount since then.

A historic price-growth gap between San Francisco and Miami illustrates the diversity of home prices. The San Francisco Bay area is losing homebuyers while South Florida is attracting them. As a result, San Francisco home prices are down 10.1% year-over-year, while Miami prices are up 10.9% – a near-record high.

That 21-percentage-point difference is near the biggest in over three decades (a peak of 23 points in August 2022), and it’s the largest gap among the major U.S. metros Redfin analyzed in a study.

The wide gap between San Francisco and Miami creates a starkly different homebuying experience in those parts of the country. Some Bay Area house hunters who have been priced out for the last few years, for example, may finally be able to break into the market – if they can afford today’s elevated mortgage rates and still-high prices and find a home for sale amid the supply shortage.

Meanwhile, many South Florida locals are finding it harder than ever to afford a home.

“The stark difference in home-price dynamics between the Bay Area and Miami may be a reflection of a long-term, pandemic-fueled shift in where people choose to live,” says Redfin Deputy Chief Economist Taylor Marr. “The fact that Miami prices are holding up well despite the national pullback in homebuying suggests the relative popularity of Florida is here to stay. Even though some employees are returning to offices at least a few days a week, the pandemic has given many Americans much more freedom on where they choose to live – and a lot of them are choosing places where shelling out $1.5 million for a run-of-the-mill home isn’t the norm.”

The Bay Area is still much more expensive than South Florida, but as San Francisco’s home prices fall and Miami’s rise, the amount of money a homebuyer saves by moving across the country has diminished. San Francisco’s median home-sale price was still 2.9 times higher than Miami’s in February (roughly $1.42 million versus $483,000), but that’s down from 4.4 times higher in February 2020.

After San Francisco and Miami, the metros with the next-biggest gaps are also expensive West Coast tech hubs paired with relatively affordable Sun Belt locales.

  • Seattle-Miami: -9.4% year-over-year versus +10.9% year-over-year
  • San Francisco-Tampa: -10.1% versus +7.7%
  • Seattle-Tampa: -9.4% versus +7.7%
  • San Francisco-Atlanta: -10.1% versus +6.6%

For homebuyers and sellers, the fact that prices vary widely from metro to metro means it’s more important than ever to focus on local trends.

“If you’re buying a home here in the D.C. area, don’t rely on real estate advice from your friend in the Midwest or your cousin in California,” says Washington, D.C., Redfin agent Steve Centrella. “Insights from other parts of the country can create confusion because they don’t necessarily reflect what’s happening on the ground in your neighborhood. For instance, demand for downtown condos is returning here as government employees return to the office, so buyers may encounter competition for desirable units. That may not be the case in other parts of the country.”

“Extreme moments in history lead to extreme swings in home prices,” adds Redfin Deputy Chief Economist Taylor Marr.

“During economic boom times … homebuying demand soars because many people have the means to buy both primary and vacation homes, and perhaps move from one part of the country to another,” she says. “That pushes prices up in certain places and grabs the attention of home flippers, who jump into the ring and push prices up even further. When there’s a recession like there was in 2009, or economic uncertainty and fears of a recession like in 2023, homebuyers quickly pull back and prices swing down in some areas.”

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


If DeSantis Signs Bill, Disaster Tax Holiday Starts Sat.

Fla. lawmakers created six sales tax “holidays” in 2023, with expanded timelines and products. Once the bill is signed, the first hurricane holiday starts Sat.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Retailers are awaiting action by Gov. Ron DeSantis as two of the six sales tax “holiday” periods included in a nearly $1 billion proposed tax-relief package are scheduled to begin this weekend.

Key components of the tax package (HB 7063) include a 14-day period in which sales taxes would be lifted on hurricane supplies, common household items and pet supplies, along with a separate three-month effort encouraging people to be more physically active, dubbed “Freedom Summer.” The proposal accompanies the state budget (SB 2500), which also is pending action by DeSantis.

The two upcoming sales-tax holidays, strongly supported by the Florida Retail Federation, are vastly expanded from previous years’ tax breaks. According to state economists, the holidays are expected to account for nearly 40% of the $965.6 million in sales tax and time-limited tax credits in the tax package.

But Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Tallahassee-based lobbying group, said it’s uncertain how shoppers will respond to the proposed tax breaks.

“We really don’t have a feel yet because it’s new. And because we are on a relatively short schedule here with regard to the approval of the governor,” Shalley told The News Service of Florida. “We’re very appreciative of how robust the factors are. We just want to make sure that people are educated and that they get out and shop.”

Expanded roster of items for hurricane sales-tax holiday

Much of the initial focus will be on storm-preparation discounts, which would now go beyond batteries and portable radios to include common household supplies, such as laundry, trash bags and even pet foods. The already-active 2023 Atlantic Hurricane season officially begins on June 1.

“Keep in mind, this is a holiday that is intended to be geared towards disaster preparedness, but certainly not restricted to that,” Shalley said. “So, it’s a great time to shop for those items and get out and save a few dollars.”

If approved by DeSantis, the “disaster preparedness” holiday period would run from Saturday to June 9. It will be rerun just before the peak of the storm season, from Aug. 26 to Sept. 8.

The second upcoming holiday would lift sales taxes throughout the summer on a variety of items for outside activities, from exercising and camping to attending a ball game, concert or art museum. The “freedom” holiday for the past two years was a week-long tax holiday that ran across the Independence Day weekend.

This year’s plan would stretch from Monday to Labor Day, Sept. 4.

State economists have estimated that the disaster-prep periods would save shoppers $143.8 million, with “Freedom Summer” carrying a $229.9 million price tag for state and local revenue.

The tax package also would lift taxes on Energy Star appliances and gas ranges for all of fiscal year 2023-2024, which starts July 1. The proposal also includes sales-tax holidays on school items from July 24 to Aug. 6 and again from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14, and a tax break on skilled workers’ tools from Sept. 2 to Sept. 8.

As of Monday, the governor had not yet received the tax package or the record $117 billion state spending plan.

Here is a look at what lawmakers included in the disaster-preparedness holiday:

  • Items $10 or less: cans or pouches of wet dog food or cat food.
  • Items $15 or less: manual can openers, pet waste disposal bags, cat litter pans, collapsible or travel-sized food bowls or water bowls, and hamster or rabbit substrate.
  • Items $20 or less: reusable ice, pet leashes, collars and muzzles and pet pads.
  • Items $25 or less: cat litter weighing 25 or fewer pounds.
  • Items $30 or less: laundry detergent and supplies, such as fabric softener, dryer sheets and bleach; toilet paper; paper towels, paper napkins and tissues; hand soap, bar soap and body wash; sunscreen; dish soap and detergents; cleaning or disinfecting wipes and sprays; hand sanitizer; and trash bags.
  • Items $40 or less: portable self-powered light sources and pet beds.
  • Items $50 or less: batteries, not including automobile and boat batteries; gas or diesel fuel tanks; portable self-powered radios; two-way radios; and weather-band radio.
  • Items $60 or less: portable power banks and nonelectric food storage coolers.
  • Items $70 or less: Smoke detectors or smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Items $100 or less: bags of dry dog food or cat food weighing 50 pounds or less, over-the-counter pet medications, portable kennels or pet carriers, tarpaulins or other flexible waterproof sheeting and ground anchor systems or tie-down kits.
  • Items $3,000 or less: Portable generators.

Here’s a glance at proposed “Freedom Summer” discounts:

  • Tickets for a live music event, live sporting event, fair, festival, ballet, play or movie in a theater scheduled to be held between May 29 and Dec. 31.
  • Entry to a museum or state park, including any annual passes, and gym memberships.
  • Items $5 or less: bait or fishing tackle.
  • Items $15 or less: sunscreen, sunblock and insect repellant.
  • Items $25 or less: snorkels, goggles and swimming masks.
  • Items $30 or less: camping lanterns and flashlights, tackle boxes or bags, and water bottles.
  • Items $35 or less: recreational pool tubes, pool floats, inflatable chairs and pool toys.
  • Items $50 or less: sleeping bags, portable hammocks, camping stoves, collapsible camping chairs, safety flares, hydration packs and bicycle helmets.
  • Items $75 or less: fishing rods and reels; life jackets; coolers; paddles and oars.
  • Items $100 or less: children’s athletic equipment for an individual 12 or younger, sunglasses, and residential pool and spa replacement parts.
  • Items $150 or less: water skis; wakeboards; kneeboards; recreational inflatable water tubes or floats capable of being towed; and residential pool and spa chemicals, when purchased for individual use.
  • Items $200 or less: tents and binoculars.
  • Items $250 or less: outdoor gas and charcoal grills.
  • Items $300 or less: paddleboards and surfboards.
  • Items $500 or less: canoes, kayaks and bicycles.

© 2023 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.


Fla. Sued Over New Law Blocking Chinese Buyers

The lawsuit alleges that the law casts an “undue burden of suspicion” on anyone with a name sounding “remotely Asian, Russian, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan or Syrian.”

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A group of Chinese citizens living and working in Florida sued the state Monday over a new law that bans Chinese nationals from purchasing property in large swaths of the state.

The law applies to properties within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of military installations and other “critical infrastructure” and also affects citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. But Chinese citizens and those selling property to them face the harshest penalties. The prohibition also applies to agricultural land.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the law will have a substantial chilling effect on sales to Chinese and Asian people who can legally buy property. The suit says the law unfairly equates Chinese people with the actions of their government and there is no evidence of national security risk from Chinese citizens buying Florida property.

The law “will codify and expand housing discrimination against people of Asian descent in violation of the Constitution and the Fair Housing Act,” the ACLU said in a news release announcing the suit. “It will also cast an undue burden of suspicion on anyone seeking to buy property whose name sounds remotely Asian, Russian, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, or Syrian.”

U.S.-China ties are strained amid growing tensions over security and trade. In nearly a dozen statehouses and Congress, a decades-old worry about foreign land ownership has spiked since a Chinese spy balloon traversed the skies from Alaska to South Carolina last month.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential campaign this week, signed the bill May 8. His office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The law is set to take affect July 1. It will be a felony for Chinese people to buy property in restricted areas, and a misdemeanor for any person or real estate company to knowingly sell to restricted people. For the other targeted nations, the penalty is a misdemeanor for buyers and sellers.

It applies to military instillations as well as infrastructure like airports and seaports, water and wastewater treatment plants, natural gas and oil processing facilities, power plants, spaceports, and telecommunications central switching offices.

The ACLU says the law “will have the net effect of creating ‘Chinese exclusion zones’ that will cover immense portions of Florida, including many of the state’s most densely populated and developed areas.”

“This impact is exactly what laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the California Alien Land Law of 1913 did more than a hundred years ago,” the lawsuit says.

Those on the restricted list that already own property near critical infrastructure must register with the state or face fines of up to $1,000 a day. They’re also prohibited from acquiring additional property. The law has provisions to allow the state to seize property from violators.

The number of states restricting foreign ownership of agricultural land has risen by 50% this year. Heading into 2023, 14 states had laws restricting foreign ownership or investments in private agricultural land. So far this year, restrictive laws also have been enacted in Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.

Foreign land ownership has become “a political flashpoint,” said Micah Brown, a staff attorney for the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas.

Brown said the recent surge in state laws targeting land ownership by foreign entities stems from some highly publicized cases of Chinese-connected companies purchasing land near military bases. Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force said that the Fufeng Group’s planned $700 million wet corn milling plant near a base in Grand Forks, North Dakota, poses a “significant threat to national security.”

After a Chinese army veteran and real estate tycoon bought a wind farm near an Air Force base in Texas, that state responded in 2021 by banning infrastructure deals with individuals tied to hostile governments, including China.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. Associated Press writer David Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.


Q&A: Doug Bauer, CEO of Tri Pointe Homes

Homebuilder stocks are up 20%, and Bauer says buyers have adapted to the higher mortgage rates. He also thinks builders will start to cut back on buying incentives.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – By almost any measure, the U.S. housing market has yet to emerge from a more than year-long slump. Through the first three months of 2023, sales of previously occupied U.S. homes are running 28% below the pace in the same quarter last year, while sales of new homes are down 16%.

And yet, many homebuilder stocks are up 20% or more this year, reflecting optimism on Wall Street that builders are in a plum spot to capitalize on a housing market held back in large part by a near-historic low number of existing homes for sale.

Homebuilder Tri Pointe Homes’ stock is up 60% this year. The Incline Village, Nevada-based company builds homes in California, Arizona, Texas and seven other states.

CEO Doug Bauer spoke with The Associated Press about the state of the housing market and how lowering prices and beefing up incentives have helped win over buyers despite higher interest rates. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Question: How do you see the housing market shaping up so far this year?

Answer: It’s a very normal spring seasonal demand after the back half of 2022 when the Fed increased interest rates seven times and pretty much put everybody on the sidelines. And what I mean by that is you see a spring selling season that’s very healthy. People are trying to find a house to move their families in by the summer or fall. And then you’ll see the summer calm down a little bit. That’s a normal seasonal pattern. And that’s what we’re seeing, and that’s what we’re forecasting for the rest of this year.

And when you look at the demand characteristics and the population, and there’s very little resale market to pick from, I personally believe that the new homebuilders are going to increase market share over the next decade, especially if rates are staying at the level that they’re at today in that 6% range.

Question: But weren’t your net new home orders down in the first quarter?

Answer: Well, you’re comparing orders year-over-year. If you’re going to make that comparison, that’s kind of irrelevant, to be honest with you, because that was during a pandemic when you had this hyper demand. You’re going to see some really positive comparisons for the rest of this year. More relevant is the current spring demand, which is very healthy.

Question: The average rate on a 30-year mortgage has been hovering around 6.3% in recent weeks. Have homebuyers adjusted to these higher rates?

Answer: The consumer has definitely adjusted to these rates as the new normal. I started in this business with mortgage rates at 15% to 18%. The psychology of the buyer was in shock in the back half of ‘22 when rates were going through the roof. Then what happened in the beginning of this year is builders repositioned pricing, we came up with more affordable product, and the consumer adjusted to the new rate environment.

I saw this back in the ‘90s, the 2000s. So they definitely adapt, but pricing has adapted and incentives have adapted.

Question: Like many other builders, Tri Pointe has offered rate buydowns and other incentives as mortgage rates climbed sharply. Is this the new normal?

Answer: We’re starting to roll those incentives back a little bit. We give incentives for closing costs, we may give some incentives off options and then let’s say if I have $30,000 in incentives, I could use that for a permanent or temporary rate buy down. Our incentives are trending back a little bit, but as long as mortgage rates stay in the 6.5% range, I think you’ll still see a combination of those three incentives.

Question: What’s it going to take to improve housing affordability in America?

Answer: There’s a lot of layers to that question. Since the pandemic, prices of new homes, broadly speaking, have gone up 30% to 40%. Our company has peeled back that pricing on average 10% to 15% from the peak.

So one way to address affordability is pulling price back. Number two, attacking affordability with smaller, more cost-effective product types that we can introduce at lower price points based on the income levels in various markets, is our second strategy. And then the big macro strategy – and this is true across the nation – is our states, counties and governments need to lower some of the regulatory hurdles for new housing.

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