Author Archives: Florida Realtors® News (Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved.)

Deed Theft Scam? Some Counties Offer Text Alerts

If a Broward County homeowner signs up for “Owner Alert,” they’ll receive a text message any time a deed is filed on their property claiming ownership.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With no time to spare, Broward homeowners who want instant alerts of any change in their property status to guard against fraud can now sign up for text messages.

The Broward County Property Appraiser’s initiative called “Owner Alert” debuted in 2021 to notify a property owner by email or regular mail if a deed is filed on their property changing ownership. The idea was to crack down on deed fraud, a growing problem in Broward County, where scammers have filed fake deeds to steal entire houses.

Currently, 195,000 property owners have signed up for Owner Alert system. To upgrade for free to include text messages in Broward County, property owners must visit web.bcpa.net/owneralert to re-enroll for the new service.

Marty Kiar, Broward’s property appraiser, said it was time for the enhancement to include text messages.

“Although an email notification is quick, residents still need to open their email to see it,” he said. “A text message will be sent directly to the phone number provided and alert a property owner in real time so that they can quickly act to protect their property. “It has been a priority of mine to help our residents protect themselves from people who try to steal their property through deed fraud,” he said.

The faster a property owner is notified of a deed change, the quicker they can protect themselves from a criminal trying to steal their property and cloud their title, Kiar said.

“A text notification is generally the fastest form of communication as people have their cellphones on and receive text messages in real time,” he said.

In Palm Beach County, the free Property Fraud Alert program also notifies people by email or phone when a document such as a deed or mortgage is recorded with the Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller’s office using their name or business’s name.

The alerts are for all changes, including legitimate ones, such as when a mortgage and deed are recorded.

Sign up is at erec.mypalmbeachclerk.com/FraudAlert or call 800-728-3858 or 561-355-2991. The Property Fraud Alert program launched in 2015.

As of December, nearly 40,000 Palm Beach users have registered for that county’s service since 2015, and more than 300,000 alerts have gone out.

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


June Is National Homeownership Month

Help Florida Realtors recognize the impact homeownership has on people’s lives and local communities. Spread the word and celebrate the month.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida Realtors®, along with Realtors® in the Sunshine State and across the U.S., celebrate June as National Homeownership Month. The recognition acknowledges the importance of owning a home and the impact it has on the lives of American families, local communities and the nation’s economic health. This month marks the 21st anniversary of National Homeownership Month.

“Buying a home is often the biggest financial investment of a lifetime – but it also means so much more,” says 2023 Florida Realtors President G. Mike McGraw, a broker-associate with RE/MAX Central Realty in Orlando. “Our homes are where we share our lives, build our futures together and make priceless memories. Not only do our homes provide shelter, security and stability, they also give us a sense of place and community.

“Each and every day, Realtors in Florida promote housing opportunities and help people realize the American dream of homeownership.”

For generations of families, homeownership has been essential to their plans for their lives and their futures. Beyond the emotional and social benefits, homeownership builds household wealth. A homeowner’s average net worth in 2021 was $300,000 – nearly 40 times that of a renter at $8,000, according to recent research from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

President Joe Biden has issued a proclamation recognizing June as National Homeownership Month, showcasing homeownership as a source of economic strength and emphasizing the need to increase the ranks of homeowners, especially among minorities.

The proclamation stated, “During National Homeownership Month, we recognize the power of owning a home when raising a family, planting roots in a community, building equity and passing down generational wealth to continue the American Dream for generations to come. We recognize that a place to call home, regardless of owning or renting, is essential to a life of security, dignity and hope.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the homeownership rate in Florida was 66.6% in first quarter 2023; the U.S. homeownership rate was 66% for the same period.

This national spotlight on homeownership began as a weeklong recognition in 1995 and was first proclaimed to last the entire month in June 2002 under former President George W. Bush.

Realtors are celebrating this June as Homeownership Month with homebuyers and sellers in communities across Florida, with the help of materials from Florida Realtors. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) also has info and more available on its Homeownership Month Resources webpage.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers assistance and helpful info on homeownership, housing policies, programs, counseling and more at their website, hud.gov/.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Webinar: Changes to the Hometown Hero Program

Mark T. Pease with Florida Housing is hosting four webinars to help Realtors understand recent changes to a program that helps community-support workers buy a home.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The “Live Local Act” passed during the 2023 session of the Florida Legislature made some changes to the state’s Hometown Hero Program, including an expansion of eligibility requirements and the maximum loan amount offered.

The changes, effective July 1, 2023, will be explained by Mark T. Pease with Florida Housing, the state’s arm for many affordable housing programs. The webinars take place: June 13, 14, 15 and 16, all 2-3 p.m., EST.

The Hometown Hero Program provides down payment and closing cost assistance to first-time, income-qualified homebuyers for purchasing a primary residence in the community where they work and serve. The Florida Hometown Heroes Loan Program also offers a lower first mortgage interest rate and additional special benefits to those who have served and continue to serve their country.

To sign up for a webinar, register online. (Note: This isn’t a Florida Realtors-sponsored event.)

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Louisiana, Others Sue FEMA Over Flood Ins. Rates

What data does FEMA use to calculate flood insurance costs? La. wants to know if it considers flood-protection mitigation, such as a house raising or nearby levees.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Louisiana and nine other states filed a lawsuit against the federal government Thursday to block sharp increases in national flood insurance rates that are slated to be phased in over the coming years, saying the steeper price could cost some people their homes.

Dozens of local Louisiana governments and flood control districts also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court in New Orleans. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are among the defendants.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry joined several local officials and business leaders at a news conference announcing the suit Thursday morning.

FEMA has said its new premium system is an improvement over past methods, incorporating data that wasn’t used in the past, including scientific models and costs involved in rebuilding a home. The agency has said the old method could result in people with lower-valued homes paying more than a fair share while those with higher-value homes pay relatively less.

However, Louisiana officials have been complaining for months about the coming rate hikes, saying they could impose impossible financial burdens on some in the state. Increases are capped at 18% annually. But when they are fully implemented, some residents will be paying significantly more.

An April analysis of Louisiana rates by The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate put the average increase in the state at 134%. But officials have been pointing to various individuals facing eventual tenfold increases in their annual premiums, including some whose homes have never flooded.

In a lawsuit filed in April seeking access to information and data used to calculate rates, St. Charles Parish officials said the average cost of flood insurance policies there will increase from $815 to $2,766 annually.

At Thursday’s news conference, state and local officials renewed complaints that federal officials have refused to divulge methodology and data used in computing the new rates. And, they said, the new premium rates fail to take into account individual homeowners’ flood mitigation efforts, such as house raising, or local governments’ construction of levees and other flood protection measures.

The high rates could drive some people from their homes, bring on foreclosures and contribute to Louisiana’s loss of population, Landry said. “We want reasonable, reliable premiums so that Louisiana can grow and thrive,” he said.

Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia are the other states listed as plaintiffs by Landry’s office.

“It’s not just a coastal issue, although it does deeply, deeply impact our coastal communities,” Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill said. “It impacts working communities. It impacts anybody who lives near water.”

FEMA declined comment in an email, citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

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


Will Mortgage Rates Keep Rising? Probably Not

The 30-year mortgage rate moved closer to the 7% range, but most experts still predict wobbling rates in the upper-6% range.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With home prices in South Florida still on the rise, the ebb and flow of mortgage rates is making the market tricky for buyers and sellers.

Mortgage rates reached 6.9% this week, the highest level seen since last November, according to a weekly survey done by the Mortgage Bankers Association. Some lenders were also quoting rates for 30-year loans with rates above 7% last week, the association added.

In response to rising rates, purchase applications for a home on a national level decreased once again, dropping about 3% compared to the week before. They were 31% lower than the year prior.

“Application volumes for both purchase and refinance loans decreased last week due to these higher rates. While refinance demand is almost entirely driven by the level of rates, purchase volume continues to be constrained by the lack of homes on the market,” said Mike Fratantoni, the chief economist and senior vice president of Research and Industry Technology.

The jump in rates has put a pause for some buyers looking to get into a home, while others are constrained by high prices that show little signs of dropping.

“People want the best rate possible,” said Diane Mastay, mortgage director of Tropical Credit Union. “I think we would see more activity if our rates were in the fours or fives, but I think it’s a wait-and-see attitude to see if rates will go down.”

Mortgage rates have been on the upswing for the past month, due to economic concerns about inflation and the debt ceiling being raised or not.

“Inflation is still running too high, and recent economic data is beginning to convince investors that the Federal Reserve will not be cutting rates anytime soon,” added Fratantoni.

It remains to be seen if rates will continue to rise in the next few weeks.

“I don’t see them staying high,” added Mastay. “Just in last April they were in the low 6s. I think it’s going to continue to vary a little bit. It’s not going to dip down to the threes and fours, however.”

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


6 Fed Agencies Plan Automated Appraisal Changes

Home inspectors’ automated valuation models (AVMs) need quality-control to keep historic discrimination out, the agencies say. They’re currently accepting comments.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Six federal regulatory agencies issued a request for public comment on a proposed rule they say will “ensure the credibility and integrity of models used in real estate valuations.”

The proposed rule – Quality Control Standards for Automated Valuation Models Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – would specifically create quality control standards for automated valuation models (AVMs) used by mortgage originators and secondary market issuers to value real estate used as collateral when securing a mortgage loan. The proposed rule is now accepting comments before it’s finalized and/or changed.

Agencies seeking comment

  • Department of the Treasury
  • Federal Reserve System
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  • National Credit Union Administration
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Federal Housing Finance Agency

Under the proposal, institutions using AVMs must “adopt policies, practices, procedures and control systems to ensure that AVMs adhere to quality control standards.” The agencies say those standards would “ensure the credibility and integrity of valuations.”

All six agencies released a similar media announcement claiming that the ultimate goal of rulemaking is to ensure a high level of confidence in AVM estimates. Once established, the new rules should help:

  • Limit data manipulation
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Find weak spots by requiring random sample testing and reviews
  • Promote compliance with nondiscrimination laws

AVMs are part of the real estate valuation process, driven in part by advances in database and modeling technology and the availability of larger property datasets. While advances in AVM technology and data availability have the potential to contribute to lower costs and reduce loan cycle times, institutions using AVMs must take steps to ensure the credibility and integrity of their valuations. Since historic home sale data is used as a basis in most AVM models, there’s a danger that historic patterns of discrimination will become part of future AVM valuations.

Comments must be received within 60 days of the proposed rule’s publication in the Federal Register. Instructions for submitting comments are included in the propose rule link.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Mortgage Rates Hit 6.79% – Highest Since Nov.

Growing fears of another Fed interest rate hike and debt-ceiling talks pushed the average 30-year, fixed-rate loan closer to 7%. Last week it was 6.57%.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate climbed this week to its highest level since November, driving up borrowing costs for would-be homebuyers at a time when the housing market is being held back by a near record-low inventory of homes on the market.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year home loan rose to 6.79% from 6.57% last week. A year ago, the rate averaged 5.09%.

The latest increase marks the third in three weeks and lifts the average rate on a 30-year home loan to its highest level since it surged to 7.08% in early November.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, popular with those refinancing their homes, rose to 6.18% this week from 5.97% last week. A year ago, it averaged 4.32%, Freddie Mac said.

Mortgage rates have ticked higher along with the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. The yield hit 3.81% last week, its highest point since early March, reflecting uncertainty among bond investors over whether the federal government would be able to avoid a debt default and renewed worries that the Federal Reserve may not be done hiking interest rates.

“Mortgage rates jumped this week, as a buoyant economy has prompted the market to price-in the likelihood of another Federal Reserve rate hike,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Although there has been a steady flow of purchase demand around rates in the low- to mid-6% range, that demand is likely to weaken as rates approach 7%.”

The House of Representatives approved a deal on Wednesday to prevent a possible default on the U.S. government’s debt. But uncertainty over what the Fed will do at its upcoming interest rate policy meeting this month, and beyond, could keep the bond market on edge, driving more mortgage rate volatility.

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

The Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate 10 times in 14 months in a bid to lower stubbornly high inflation. Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other central bank officials have recently signaled that the Fed may forego another interest rate hike at this month’s meeting of policymakers. Such a move would give the Fed time to evaluate the economic impact of its previous rate increases.

Still, a pause now doesn’t mean the Fed couldn’t resume hiking later this year. And other Fed officials continue to express support for more hikes, given inflation remains elevated. The consumer price index, which tracks inflation at the consumer level, rose 4.9% in April from 12 months earlier.

The U.S. housing market has been slow to regain its footing this year, with elevated mortgage rates and a thin inventory of homes on the market working to limit sales. As a result, home purchase loans were down 44.3% in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, according to an analysis released Thursday by real estate data firm Attom.

The higher rates have sharply reduced demand for mortgage refinancing loans, which slumped 72.5% in the first quarter from a year earlier, Attom said.

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


FHA Proposes New Way to Prevent Foreclosures

FHA’s foreclosure-prevention options don’t work as well thanks to higher interest rates, so it’s taking comments about a proposed “Payment Supplement Partial Claim.”

WASHINGTON – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) posted a proposal for a new home retention option to help struggling homeowners meet their mortgage obligations. It’s now taking comments from the public about the proposed changes until June 30, 2023.

The new option – called the Payment Supplement Partial Claim – would allow mortgage servicers to use the FHA Partial Claim for two things – to bring a borrower’s mortgage current and to provide temporary reductions to their monthly mortgage payments for up to five years.

Interest rate increases over the past year have limited the effectiveness of some of FHA’s existing loss mitigation options if assisting borrowers. Its widely used loan modification option, which has historically reduced borrowers’ monthly payments to levels they can afford, isn’t as effective because borrowers have to modify their loans at today’s market rates. In most cases, those are higher – and sometimes a lot higher – than their original loan rates.

Under the Payment Supplement Partial Claim, homeowners experiencing hardship and unable to find any other options would be able to keep their existing interest rate and reduce their monthly payment temporarily using funds from the FHA Partial Claim, which is a subordinate zero-interest lien. The homeowners would then pay FHA back when they sell their home or refinance.

“Many homeowners continue to experience hardships due to health or financial difficulties that occurred during the pandemic, and these challenges have been exacerbated for these and other borrowers by current economic uncertainties,” says Assistant Secretary for Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner Julia Gordon. “When we saw that our existing loan modifications were no longer providing adequate payment relief, our team painstakingly explored every possible alternative to provide relief in the current rate environment, resulting in this innovative proposal.”

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Hurricanes: 20% Don’t Prepare, 24% Don’t Evacuate

A survey by AAA asked Floridians how they prepare for the hurricane season, and one in five said they simply ignore evacuation warnings.

MIAMI – A recent hurricane prep survey by AAA revealed how Floridians plan – or don’t plan – for deadly storms.

The annual survey shows that 20% of those asked said they do nothing at all to prepare for hurricane season. AAA conducted the survey, which queried 400 residents ranging in age from 18 to over 65, in late April.

As for how they react to evacuation warnings, 24% said they simply ignore them. Of those who actually heed them, 56% say the hurricane needs to be at least Category 3 storm, with wind speeds reaching 111–129 mph, to drive them from their homes. About 10% said that the only way they’d leave is if the storm is a Category 5 storm, with wind speeds of 157 mph or greater.

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be “near normal” said the National Hurricane Center director Michael Brennan in a news conference on Wednesday. “That means that there are going to be hurricanes. There’s nothing good about a near normal hurricane season … [that means] 5 to 9 hurricanes,” he said.

Last year’s Hurricane Ian sent 15 feet of storm surge into parts of Florida’ west coast, killing 66 people, and in April of this year, a sudden storm dumped 26 inches of rain on Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, causing severe flooding in various areas of Fort Lauderdale. When asked if those events persuade anyone who did not already have flood insurance to buy or consider it, half of the Floridians said no, and 25% said yes.

AAA noted that homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood damage, and that flood insurance is a separate policy. They also suggested that people store insurance and flood policy numbers, as well as their insurance providers contact information on their phones.

The AAA findings about evacuation and flooding stand in stark contrast to warnings from the NHC and the Federal Emergency Management Association.

“The hazards of the storm are what kill people,” said Brennan. “It’s storm surge, rainfall flooding, wind, tornadoes, rip currents. Ninety percent of the fatalities in hurricanes and tropical storms in the last … 60 years come from water in some way, shape or form.

He explained that storm surge watches and warnings are the most dire warning the NHC can issue, and that they represent life-threatening inundation. “Just because you’ve lived somewhere your entire life and you haven’t seen storm surge or flooding affect your area doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” he said.

Evacuation can seem like a drastic measure, but Brennan noted that it doesn’t mean you have to travel far. “You don’t have to drive out-of-state to escape the dangers of storm surge, you just have to drive somewhere safe outside of that storm surge evacuation zone. It might only be five or 10 miles – to get inland to a shelter, to a friend’s or loved one’s home that’s safe.”

As for how this 2023 season is shaping up, there’s been a lot of talk about a potential El Niño in the Pacific which would, in theory, push Atlantic hurricanes to the north.

Brennan cautioned against letting your guard down. “There’s uncertainty in how the El Niño is going to evolve,” he said. “And there are other factors in the Atlantic Basin that would suggest a busy year – very warm sea surface temperatures … an African monsoon that’s more active … these forces are going to fight it out in the course of this hurricane season, and we don’t know how it’s going to play out … you have to prepare as if you’re going to be affected.”

Deanne Criswell of FEMA, also at the news conference, implored people to plan. “Know what evacuation zone you live in, and know what you’re going to do in case you’re asked to evacuate,” she said.

She also emphasized that storms have been intensifying quickly.

“Know how you’re going to get information. These storms are developing fast. They’re intensifying more rapidly than they ever have in the past. You can download the FEMA app, or you can go to the NOAA website, but know how you’re going to get lifesaving information so you can take action when time is going to be your most important commodity,” she said.

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


Fed Less Likely to Raise Rates this Month

More officials on the Federal Reserve are backing a decision not to raise rates in a few weeks, saying it will give them time to collect more data.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Leading Federal Reserve officials are sending out stronger signals that they will forego an interest rate increase at the central bank’s next meeting in June, though they indicate hikes could resume later this year.

“Skipping a rate hike at a coming meeting would allow (Fed policymakers) to see more data before making decisions” about whether to further increase rates, said Fed Governor Philip Jefferson in a speech Wednesday. Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker made similar comments Wednesday.

Jefferson has been nominated by President Joe Biden to be the Fed’s vice chair, though he has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. But his nomination places him close to the center of Fed policymaking.

Including Jefferson, three top Fed officials have been united in support of the idea of skipping a rate hike in June, despite a slew of tough talk from other Fed policymakers and a disappointing inflation report last week.

On May 19, Fed Chair Jerome Powell hinted that he also supported pausing rate hikes at the June meeting, to give the Fed time to evaluate the economic impact of its previous rate increases.

And John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, another key member of the Fed’s leadership, has also indicated he would prefer to hold off from lifting rates at the June meeting.

“All the pieces of a skip are here and told more forcefully than in past weeks,” Tim Duy, chief U.S. economist at SGH Macro Advisors, said.

The Fed has implemented 10 straight rate hikes over the past 14 months, pushing its benchmark interest rate to about 5.1%, the highest in 16 years. The rate increases have made mortgages, auto loans, credit card borrowing, and business loans more expensive. Fed officials hope that higher rates will slow spending, cool the economy, and bring down inflation.

Tough talk on inflation from other Fed officials continued this week. Loretta Mester, president of the Cleveland Fed, expressed support for another hike in June during an interview published Wednesday in the Financial Times.

“I don’t really see a compelling reason to pause – meaning wait until you get more evidence to decide what to do,” she said. “I would see more of a compelling case for bringing (rates) up.”

And last Friday, a report showed that U.S inflation picked up to 4.4% in April, compared with a year ago, up from 4.2% in March, according to the Fed’s preferred inflation measure. That is far above the Fed’s target of 2%. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices rose 4.7% from a year ago, also higher than the previous month.

The inflation figures and comments from officials such as Mester caused Wall Street traders to put the odds of a rate hike in June as high as 70% early Wednesday. But Jefferson’s remarks, as well as similar comments by Harker, reversed traders’ expectations, with markets pricing in 65% odds of no hike in June later Wednesday afternoon.

“I am definitely in the camp of thinking about skipping any increase in this meeting,” Harker said. He is a voting member of the Fed’s interest-rate setting committee this year, while Mester is not.

Both Jefferson and Harker were much more explicit, however, than Fed officials have been previously about their willingness to return to rate hikes at upcoming meetings, should inflation show few signs of declining.

“A decision to hold our policy rate constant at a coming meeting should not be interpreted to mean that we have reached the peak rate for this cycle,” Jefferson said.

“We might have to do more in subsequent meetings,” Harker said. “And I’m … willing to do that, but I want to give it a little bit of time.”

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


How Far Would You Go for a $14M Listing?

Some high-income sellers test agents to see if they’re worthy. In one of two “strangest request” stories, a Houston agent agreed to undergo acupuncture.

NEW YORK – Two real estate agents recall the strangest requests made by clients. Dee Dee Guggenheim Howes at Houston-based Compass Real Estate said one client asked that she and possibly her assistants undergo acupuncture when they visited him for a listing appointment.

“It was a test,” Howes said. “At this price point – the house was about $14 million – clients sort of think they can test you. It was his way of seeing whether I would do what I needed to do to get the listing and follow along with him and his ways.”

The lesson Howes said she took from the session? “You never know what to expect [in the luxury market]: You just have to go with it.”

Bianca D’Alessio, founder of the New York City-based Masters Division of Nest Seekers International, recalled showing a historic building near Lincoln Center to a musician. He wanted to be certain that the sound trash makes going down the garbage chute wouldn’t bleed into the apartment. The testing process involved four or five showings at different times of day, and dropping various types of filled garbage bags into the chute from several different floors before the client was satisfied.

Source: Wall Street Journal (05/29/23) Gamerman, Amy

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


Gov. Signs 3 Property Insurance Bills into Law

HB 881 expands the My Safe Florida Home program to most areas and increases minimum home values. SB 7052 boosts consumer protections and insurer accountability. HB 799 changes Citizens’ price increase “glide path” mainly for non-homesteaded properties.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three bills on Wednesday that impact property insurance in Florida. Together, they push property insurance discounts for homeowners who strengthen their home to minimize storm damage, help some Floridians pay for upgrades based on the recommendations of a free inspection, limit policy cancellations and make a number of other changes.

My Safe Florida Home program

House Bill 881 expands the eligibility requirements of Florida’s home hardening grant program, known as My Safe Florida Home. It now covers homes with an insured value up to $700,000 – an increase from $500,000 – and it includes townhomes.

While the My Safe Florida Home existed before the governor signed HB 881, the program now offers grants – $2 for every $1 spent up to $10,000 – to almost every Floridian, even if they’re outside a windborne debris region.

The Florida Legislature also appropriated another $100 million to extend the program. It’s effective July 1, 2023.

Citizens Property Insurance and more

HB 799 includes a number of provisions, such as requiring property insurers to allow for mitigation discounts if a homeowner reduced their potential for losses in a windstorm.

However, the major change affects policies on second and vacation homes insured by Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s state-owned “insurer of last resort.” HB 799 treats Florida residents – owners with a homestead exemption on their property – differently than investment properties.

While homesteaded owners will still have a “glide path” to higher payments as Citizens raises rates, vacation and second-home owners will not. Investment homeowners, both new and existing, will likely see a higher bill sometime over the next year as policies renew or non-homesteaded owners with another insurer switch their coverage to Citizens.

Homesteaded owners who switch to Citizens because their current insurer became insolvent are similarly impacted. Effective July 1, 2023.

Insurer accountability

Senate Bill 7052 contains a number of consumer-protection provisions, such as new restrictions on insurers canceling a policy with an open claim, increased fines against insurers, limits on insurer executive compensation under certain circumstances, and guardrails for insurers who amend insurance adjuster reports. It’s also effective July 1, 2023.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


RE Q&A: Should Upstairs Neighbor Pay Water Damage?

A leaky toilet damaged the condo below, in part because it took the upstairs neighbor a long time to fix. Now he refuses to reimburse about $1,000 in damages. What can the downstairs neighbor do?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Question: The upstairs neighbor in my high-rise condominium had a leaking toilet, and the water damaged my ceiling. The repairs cost me over a thousand dollars.

It took several phone calls and follow-ups to get him to fix the leaking toilet, and now he refuses to pay for the necessary repairs to my bathroom ceiling. What can I do? – Don

Answer: People are responsible for the damage they cause. Everyone is responsible for maintaining their property well enough that it does not harm a neighbor’s property.

Your upstairs neighbor is responsible for the damage his leaking toilet caused you.

Calling him to try to resolve the problem was a good first step. Since it did not work, your next step should be to document your attempt to work things out by sending him a certified letter. Be firm and polite, explaining the issue and asking your neighbor to step up and fix the damage he caused.

Keep detailed records of the damage, cost, and each step you take to resolve the dispute.

If the letter does not have the intended effect, your next step is to involve your community association. Speak to your property manager and follow up in writing. Remember to keep a record of every step you take.

Your condominium’s rules likely require each unit owner to maintain their property. These rules also make your neighbor responsible for his negligence, and your community association should be able to help resolve the problem.

If none of these efforts get your neighbor to pay for your loss, you will have no choice but to take him to court.

While hiring a lawyer for a thousand-dollar loss may be uneconomical, you can sue him in small claims court. As the name implies, small claims court is designed to help people resolve more minor disputes and have a simplified procedure that many people can navigate even without the help of an attorney.

Check the court’s website or head down there for the simplified forms and instructions to bring your claim. The records you kept will help you prevail when you get your day in court.

Copyright © South Florida Sun Sentinel, Gary M. Singer. All rights reserved.


Using AI in Your Business? Remember Copyrights

If artificial intelligence (AI) wrote your listing copy, who owns that copyright – you or some robot? And almost everything online has copyright protection, but If AI creates images from hundreds of online photos, do photographers still retain some rights?

WASHINGTON – Real estate professionals experimenting with content creation through artificial intelligence (AI) should keep the Realtor Code of Ethics in mind as case law evolves.

Although copyright law is rooted in human authorship going back to a Supreme Court decision from the 1880s, various cases involving fast-moving artificial intelligence technology are now challenging that rule of law, according to Chloe Hecht, senior counsel at the National Association of Realtors®.

Hecht shared a few cases that illustrate the murky legal issues involving AI-generated works during the Risk Management Issues Committee meeting at the recent Realtors Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C.

Plaintiff Stephen Thaler, for example, is suing the U.S. Copyright Office (Thaler v. Perlmutter) because it denied him copyright ownership for an image produced by his AI system, the Creativity Machine. He claims it was a work made for hire between himself and the AI generator. Despite various denials by the Copyright Office, “Thaler argues that human authorship isn’t required and, therefore, his work should be entitled to protection,” Hecht said.

Thaler has indicated he will appeal his case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

In another case, an artist and author wrote text for a graphic novel and created images using AI. The Copyright Office granted her protection initially but limited the registration to the text and arrangement of the images when it learned they were AI-generated.

“But the author maintains she didn’t just input a prompt,” Hecht elaborated. “She took the image and asked AI to change and tweak it until it reflected what she wanted.”

Finally, Hecht described a case involving stock image giant Getty Images, which this year sued an AI company, Stability AI Inc., for using 12 million Getty images and their accompanying metadata to “train” its system.

“That’s a sticking point for creators,” Hecht said of the technology. Someone developing AI uses other people’s work to train their system, which lets AI generate new work based on those originals.

The cases leave a lot of unanswered questions for real estate practitioners and others seeking to use the AI evolving technology. Nonetheless, the Code of Ethics offers guidance, Hecht said, citing Articles 2 and 12.

Article 2 holds that “REALTORS® shall avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction.” Article 12 says, “REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations.

“Using AI to remove a structural crack from a wall violates those two Articles,” says Hecht, “but removing a hose and bucket accidentally caught in a picture is different.”

Hecht’s three takeaways for using AI as safely as possible

  • Always review AI-generated content for accuracy.
  • Don’t use AI to create a work you want to be able to protect.
  • Don’t assume any third-party content was created by AI and, therefore, available for your use. Always get permission in writing for the way you want to use the work, and save that documentation.

Source: Christina Hoffmann, senior speech writer, National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


What’s a Variable Rate Commission? Must It Be Disclosed?

Dear Shannon: A listing broker got paid more than a cooperating broker and didn’t disclose that they would get paid different amounts. Doesn’t the Code of Ethics say that variable rates of commission must be disclosed?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dear Shannon: I’m a cooperating broker, forgive me, but I’m furious! I always work hard for my buyers, but in this case … well, I won’t bore you with the long story and painful details. I’m furious because I had a challenging transaction and at the closing table, I discovered the listing broker got paid more than me.

The listing broker didn’t disclose that we were getting paid different amounts. And while I know the Code of Ethics requires variable rates disclosures, one of my trusted colleagues – a self-proclaimed professional standards geek – says if I file an ethics complaint, the grievance committee probably won’t even send it to a hearing panel because it’s NOT a violation.

As a result, I’m turning to you. I know variable rates of commission must be disclosed. In my case, the listing broker and cooperating broker were paid different amounts, and I believe it should have been disclosed.

I’m angry. Please back me on this. – Furious

Dear Furious: Glad you reached out. But, unfortunately, I’m afraid I won’t be able to back you on all of this.

Your trusted colleague sounds like a true professional standards pro. Obviously, I cannot tell you what any particular grievance committee would decide, but I agree with your colleague: On its face, even if true, this doesn’t sound like a Code of Ethics violation.

The questions are twofold: First, does the Code of Ethics require variable rates of commission to be disclosed? And second: Is what you’ve described a variable rate commission? Let’s look at the section of the Code of Ethics (Code) that seems to apply to this situation.

Standard of Practice (SOP) 3-4 says: Realtors®, acting as listing brokers, have an affirmative obligation to disclose the existence of dual or variable rate commission arrangements (i.e., listings where one amount of commission is payable if the listing broker’s firm is the procuring cause of sale/lease and a different amount of commission is payable if the sale/lease results through the efforts of the seller/landlord or a cooperating broker). The listing broker shall, as soon as practical, disclose the existence of such arrangements to potential cooperating brokers and shall, in response to inquiries from cooperating brokers, disclose the differential that would result in a cooperative transaction or in a sale/lease that results through the efforts of the seller/landlord. If the cooperating broker is a buyer/tenant representative, the buyer/tenant representative must disclose such information to their client before the client makes an offer to purchase or lease. (Amended 1/02)

First, does the Code of Ethics require variable rates of commission to be disclosed? Yes – you are correct that variable rate commission arrangements must be disclosed.

The plain language of SOP 3-4 says the listing broker had an affirmative obligation to disclose the existence of variable rate commission arrangements. If there was a variable rate commission arrangement and the listing broker failed to disclose it, this could be a violation of the Code of Ethics.

Let’s take a look at SOP 3-4 again and notice where variable rate commission is defined: Realtors®, acting as listing brokers, have an affirmative obligation to disclose the existence of dual or variable rate commission arrangements (i.e., listings where one amount of commission is payable if the listing broker’s firm is the procuring cause of sale/lease and a different amount of commission is payable if the sale/lease results through the efforts of the seller/landlord or a cooperating broker). The listing broker shall, as soon as practical, disclose the existence of such arrangements to potential cooperating brokers and shall, in response to inquiries from cooperating brokers, disclose the differential that would result in a cooperative transaction or in a sale/lease that results through the efforts of the seller/landlord. If the cooperating broker is a buyer/tenant representative, the buyer/tenant representative must disclose such information to their client before the client makes an offer to purchase or lease. (Amended 1/02)

As to the second question, is what you’ve described a variable rate commission? The answer is no. You said the amount the listing broker got paid “varied” (or was different) from the amount you got paid and that this was a “variable” rate commission that should have been disclosed. This is a common misunderstanding of “variable rate.”

SOP 3-4 defines variable rate commission as one amount of commission is payable if the listing broker’s firm is the procuring cause of the sale and a different amount of commission is payable if the sale results through the efforts of the seller or a cooperating broker.

As outlined here, a seller could get a discounted commission if the listing broker’s firm was procuring cause of the sale.

Here’s a common example: In negotiating with a seller to list their home, a listing broker could offer the seller a commission discount if the listing broker’s firm is procuring cause of the sale. Sellers might find this variable rate commission arrangement (or possible commission discount) appealing if they’re considering multiple brokers to represent them in listing their property. If the seller agrees to those terms, they’d then expect to pay a higher commission if a cooperating broker was procuring cause.

Now do you see why it is important for this “variable rate commission arrangement” to be disclosed by the listing broker? If you’re a potential cooperating broker, you can tell your buyers about the existence of the variable rate commission so they have the opportunity to make a more competitive offer to purchase the property.

In your situation, you and the listing broker were paid different amounts. Under the Code, this is NOT considered a variable rate. A “variable rate commission” specifically focuses on the commission rate the seller agrees to pay their listing broker. The variation of commission rate refers to the potential commission discount offered by the listing broker to the seller, where the seller might pay the listing broker differently (a varying amount) depending on whether or not the listing broker’s firm is the procuring cause of the sale.

Keep in mind that commission is always negotiable and there is NO rule that says both the listing broker and the cooperating broker must be paid the same amount.

Shannon Allen, Esq., AHWD is Florida Realtors Director of Local Association Services
Note: Advice deemed accurate on date of publication. Other laws and rules may apply.

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


Homeowners vs. Condo Associations: The Differences

Florida’s HOA and condo laws are very similar, but they also have important differences. A previous article covered the similarities. This month we focus on the differences.

ORLANDO, Fla. – With over 1.5 million condominium units (condos) in Florida and over 3.71 million homes in homeowners’ associations (HOAs), most Florida Realtors® members have helped parties prepare contracts that address issues associated with association rules.

There are important contract riders associated with each type of community. We’ll look at two specific riders – the CR-6x A Condominium Rider and the CR-6 B Homeowners’ Association/Community Disclosure.

For similarities, see: Homeowners vs. Condo Associations: The Similarities

Difference 1: Document delivery

A seller has an obligation to deliver certain association documents only for condominiums. This obligation comes from the Florida Statutes and is found in the ALL CAPS section of the rider.

The condo rider includes statutory disclosure language in Section 5, Non-Developer Disclosure. There are two options – box (a) or (b). Option (a) works if the buyer already received the documents at least 3 business days before signing the contract. Option (b) is far more common, though, so see below for a copy of that disclosure.

Note that the buyer will have a powerful right to void the contract until 3 business days after receiving the listed documents. Therefore, it’s usually in the seller’s best interest to remove this right to void as quickly as possible by delivering the documents and waiting for the 3-day clock to run out.


The HOA disclosure language doesn’t obligate a seller to deliver documents. Instead, item 9 of the statutory disclosure (page 1 of the rider) informs the buyer on where to locate them. The buyer can track them down (or not), but there is no right to void the contract like there is in the condo disclosure copied above. If a buyer doesn’t know how to navigate a county’s public records, a title agent can usually assist in finding a HOA’s covenants and governing documents.


Difference 2: The Condo Rider addresses more issues

Condos generally have more regulations that impact a sale, so there are additional clauses to address them. Here are some clauses in the condo rider that aren’t mentioned in the HOA rider:

  • right of first refusal
  • disclosure of pending or anticipated litigation
  • information about a sprinkler system retrofit
  • clauses for a buyer to request documents or confirm receipt of documents
  • common elements
  • parking
  • a brief summary of new regulations created in the wake of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside

Difference 3: Similar clauses use slightly different words

While there are some similar clauses, the wording is not identical. For example, both riders contain a clause about association approval. Most of the words are the same, but there are subtle differences. For example, the association approval clause in the condo rider provides “If Buyer is not approved within the stated time period, this Contract shall terminate …” The HOA rider, however, provides “If approval is not granted within the stated time period above, Buyer may terminate this Contract …”

Therefore, while the condo rider would terminate automatically if the association hasn’t approved by the deadline (no notice required from either party), the HOA rider gives the buyer an option to terminate.

It’s subtle differences like this that should encourage a buyer or seller to re-read any clauses that address issues that arise in a transaction, consulting their own attorney if they need assistance or want to see how their issue fits within the larger framework of resolving legal disputes.

Joel Maxson is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors
Note: Information deemed accurate on date of publication

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


At What Exact Point Has a Closing Occurred?

Contracts have specific guidelines that determine the moment a transaction officially closes – and if calls to Florida Realtors Legal Hotline are any indication, it may not be when you think.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A frequent call to the Florida Realtors Legal Hotline involves questions about the closing of transactions – not the date, mind you, but what exactly does a closing entail? What is to occur for closing to happen?

Using the most popular form contract, the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar residential contracts (“FR/Bar contracts”), let’s break down what closing is. Hopefully, we’ll get everyone on the same page. For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on paragraphs 4, 6(a), and Standard 18(S), as all of these together lay out what needs to occur and what constitutes closing.

Paragraph 4 of the FR/Bar contracts reads as follows:


  • The closing of this transaction shall occur when all funds required for closing are received by Closing Agent and Collected pursuant to STANDARD S and all closing documents required to be furnished by each party pursuant to this Contract  are delivered (“Closing”). Unless modified by other provisions of this Contract, the Closing shall occur on _____________________ (“Closing Date”), at the time established by the Closing Agent.

The first section of this paragraph lays out the definition of closing because the term – (“Closing”) – is in quotations and parentheses at the end of the sentence – a standard way for contracts to say, “This is how we’ll refer to this term throughout the rest of this contract, with the preceding language defining the meaning of the term.” (Note: STANDARD18(I)(ii) lists out closing documents required by the Contract.)

So what IS Closing? It occurs when two things happen:

  1. All funds required for the closing are received by the Closing Agent and Collected pursuant to STANDARD S
  2. All closing documents required to be furnished by each party pursuant to this Contract are delivered.

Many calls begin with a member saying, “But the seller signed all the documents already!” And while signing is PART of the process, signing in and of itself does not constitute closing based on the definition in the FR/Bar contracts.

What else, aside from signing all the required documents, has to occur? All funds required for the closing must be received by the Closing Agent – and not just received: They must be COLLECTED as defined in STANDARD S of the FR/Bar contracts. Let’s look at that section.

STANDARD S of the contracts reads:


  • “Collection” or “Collected” means any checks tendered or received, including Deposits, have become actually and finally collected and deposited in the account of Escrow Agent or Closing Agent. Closing and disbursement of funds and delivery of closing documents may be delayed by Closing Agent until such amounts have been Collected in Closing Agent’s accounts.

What does this mean? STANDARD S clarifies that the funds have to be actually and finally collected and IN the account. In other words, the funds must be available in the Closing Agent’s accounts, not just in the form of a check delivered at closing. For this reason, sending funds via wire may be preferable, as the funds can be “collected” in less time since a wire transfer will likely go through quicker than a check that must be physically deposited.

Members representing sellers often call the Hotline, claiming, “My seller isn’t happy. They just signed all the required documents at closing, but the money isn’t in their bank account yet!”

But both parties should note this: The contract specifically states that disbursement of funds may be delayed UNTIL such amounts have been Collected. And note the language doesn’t require the funds to be in the SELLERS’ account for closing to occur.

We also get calls saying sellers refuse to give keys to buyers because they don’t yet see the funds in their bank account. Here is where paragraph 6(a) comes into play. Let’s look at the relevant portion of paragraph 6 with respect to what needs to take place at Closing.


  • (a) Unless Paragraph 6(b) is checked,, Seller shall, at Closing, deliver occupancy and possession of the Property to Buyer free of tenants, occupants and future tenancies. Also, at Closing, Seller shall have removed all personal items and trash from Property and shall deliver all keys, garage door openers, access devices and codes, as applicable, to Buyer.

This makes it clear that Seller SHALL deliver occupancy and possession of the Property, plus have all personal items and trash removed, and give all keys and other applicable devices to the buyer at closing. Sellers who won’t turn over the keys until the funds appear in their account aren’t, in my opinion, in compliance with the contract. (Note: Paragraph 6(b) is checked when the Property is subject to lease(s) or occupancy after Closing and is not addressed for the purposes of this article.)

As an agent, it’s important to understand what constitutes closing. The signing of all required documents and COLLECTED funds in the Closing Agent’s account – not the sellers – defines closing. And in the absence of paragraph 6(b), sellers are to convey occupancy, possession of the property, free of personal belongings and trash in addition to delivering keys (and other applicable devices).

However, remember, the only one who can really confirm closing has occurred is the Closing Agent. Communicate regularly with the Closing Agent during the transaction. It’s the best way to serve clients and make sure everyone stays on track for a smooth closing process.

Meredith Caruso is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors
Note: Information deemed accurate on date of publication

© 2023 Florida Realtors®


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.