Oct. 11, 2017

With flood insurance, what does ‘substantial damage’ mean?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Oct. 10, 2017 – Before you begin to rebuild your Florida home, there may be a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) term you need understand: "substantial damage."

It's common to think that substantially damaged merely describes a structure that has sustained a large amount of damage by a flood, fire, tornado or earthquake.

In reality, substantial damage is a specific term that applies to a damaged structure in a Special Flood Hazard Area – or floodplain – for which the total cost of repairs is 50 percent or more of the structure's market value before the disaster occurred. For example, if a structure's market value before the damage was $200,000 and repairs are estimated to cost $120,000, that structure is "substantially damaged." Land value is excluded from the determination.

It's important to know the percentage of structural damage because that information helps property owners decide whether to repair or replace a damaged dwelling, and whether additional work will be needed to comply with all local codes and ordinances, such as elevating a house in a floodplain.

The decision about a structure being substantially damaged is made at a local government level, generally by a building official or floodplain manager.

For communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), substantial damage determinations generally are required by local floodplain management ordinances. These ordinances must be in place for residents of a community to purchase flood insurance.

To calculate substantial damage, the local official makes a visual inspection of a house, making notes of the impacts to the structure itself and, when possible, to the interior. These notes, coupled with other information such as property valuations and estimated costs to repair, are used to calculate the percentage of damage to the structure.

Once a determination on the percentage of damage is made, local officials then share that information with the property owners if their structure is substantially damaged.

If a building in a floodplain is determined to be substantially damaged, it must be brought into compliance with local floodplain management regulations: Owners who decide to rebuild may need to elevate their structures, or change them in some other way to comply with local floodplain regulations and avoid future flood losses. Owners of non-residential structures may be allowed to flood proof their buildings instead of elevating.

For more information about how or why a substantial damage determination was made, property owners should contact their local building official.

All property owners should check with local building officials to determine if permits for repair are required before beginning the work. Depending on local codes and ordinances, there can be serious consequences for not complying with the permitting process.

Property owners who have a flood insurance policy and a substantially damaged building in a Special Flood Hazard Area may be able to use additional funds from their flood insurance policy (up to $30,000) to help defray the costs of elevating, relocating or demolishing a structure.

For more information on this provision – also known as Increased Cost of Compliance – contact your insurance agent.

For more information on general flood insurance, contact your local floodplain administrator, the National Flood Insurance Program at 800-427-4661 or your local insurance agent. Information also is available at www.fema.gov and www.floodsmart.gov.  

Oct. 10, 2017

‘We’re open for business,’ Florida tells the world

NAPLES, Fla. – Oct. 9, 2017 – For most of September, Florida hoteliers and businesses catering to tourists battled Hurricane Irma and the havoc it wrought.

Now that October is here, they're battling the perceptions it left behind.

"The early national media certainly painted a picture we were going to get hit very hard. People listen to that," said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau.

From one end of Florida to the other, tourism professionals are using traditional and social media to get the word out: "We're open for business."

As bad as Irma was – displacing tens of thousands of residents, knocking out power to millions and being blamed for 72 deaths in the state – physical damage to the tourism infrastructure was not as bad as it might have been.

Even the hardest-hit of the destinations, the Florida Keys, officially reopened for tourism on Oct. 1.

Traditions such as Key West's Fantasy Fest at the end of this month, Halloween Horror nights at Universal Orlando and Everglades City's Seafood Festival in February are all to take place as scheduled, organizers say.

It's not that there isn't damage. Some of Southwest Florida's environmental attractions, like portions of the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, are still closed.

In the Keys, tourism officials are cautioning people to call ahead to make sure their intended lodgings are up and running. They are also urging businesses to be honest about the extent of damage when talking to prospective visitors.

The island chain suffered varying degrees of damage, said Jodie Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West. In some cases, the difference between being on the bay side and the Atlantic side of an island could mean the difference between being open and still being shut down.

But, she said, "By and large, the reconstruction is happening faster than we had hoped for. They're doing a great job."

There are hard costs to the economy associated with the storm. Businesses and hotels were closed for days or weeks, costing employee wages and denying sales and tourist tax dollars to state and local governments.

Those figures, while yet to be tallied, will be in the millions.

For example, Disney World shut down Sept. 10 and 11 for the storm.

Hurricane Matthew in September 2016 reportedly cost Disney about $40 million because of missed attendance to its parks.

On Marco Island, the J.W. Marriott hotel was closed to the public from just prior to Irma until Oct. 1. Most of its 850 employees were able to work, since the hotel housed first responders and restoration crews. Amanda Cox, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, said it was still important to get employees back to their normal hours and jobs since many faced financial hardships of their own due to the storm.

The closure meant the loss of several group events and five weddings. Cox said a renewed marketing push called "Return to Paradise" is underway, and bookings are picking up for the coming season, including rebooking of some events that were postponed.

"Four of the couples rescheduled their weddings. That was one of my most pleasant surprises," Cox said.

Concern about the lingering perception of widespread damage and its detrimental effect on the state's economic lifeblood on tourism extends northward as far as St. Augustine.

Barbara Golden, communications manager for the St. Augustine Visitor and Convention Bureau, said lessons learned from Matthew last year are being put to use now. Social media – a Facebook Page with 400,000 followers, for instance – is an effective vehicle for getting the word out.

"We're trying to derail the notion that we're in dire straits, and we've been doing it on social media," she said. Live Facebook broadcasts featuring open businesses and happy customers are a good way to show the world St. Augustine is ready to welcome them, Golden said.

At the same time, Golden said, it is important the tourism industry not present too light a picture.

"There's a sensitivity to our friends and neighbors who did suffer," she said.

Some of the worst of that suffering occurred in the Middle and Lower Keys, the string of Islands north of Key West. That's where the eye of Irma first hit the U.S.

Most businesses there are still shut down as residents try to piece their lives back together.

"Everyone wants to take care of their family and their home first. That's understandable," said Bill Kinsey, president of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce and owner of Lower Keys Tackle on Pine Key.

Tourism won't rebound there until businesses can reopen and roads are cleared to establish a sense of normalcy, he said. "If you drive where we live, we still have 40-, 50-foot stacks of garbage in the street. It's like a war zone."

Businesses being closed means tourists aren't coming and employees aren't getting paid. That disrupts the normal economic model.

"No one's fishing right now. That's the reality," Kinsey said.

But, he said, an alternative economy is springing up in the Lower Keys, as people find temporary jobs with the companies clearing debris or doing other cleanup work.

"There is work here. There are jobs available. The money is being spent but not in the normal ways. The economic machine will always work, one way or the other," Kinsey said.

He worries that the Lower Keys will be overlooked as attention is focused on Key West, where damage wasn't nearly as extensive.

It's frustrating, but understandable, he said. "If Key West dies, we all die."

At the quaint White Sands Inn on Marathon's Grassy Key, manager Rachel Price surveyed the extensive damage and saw an uncertain future.

"We're going to try to rebuild it if we can," she said, "mainly for our guests who love it here." she said. She acknowledged that her mother, resort owner Janice Stephens, may have to sell the place if repairs prove too costly.

Gidget Jackson of Realty Executives in the Middle Keys says White Sands may become an example of what she called a "changing of the guard," where older, uniquely Keys properties that can't afford to come back are replaced by others that can rebuild.

Back in Collier County, Wert, the tourism director, said Irma represents the biggest challenge to the tourism industry here since the BP oil spill in 2010.

Like Irma, that disaster didn't negatively impact Collier County as much as first feared. But it is important to get that word out early, he said.

"We are really following our crisis communication plan," he said.

Elements of the crisis communication plan include a slogan, "The Paradise Coast is Clear," and a series of talking points that those in the industry can use to explain the status of lodging and attractions that are still recovering.

Wert has been able to measure some of the hurricane's early effects on tourism.

When the storm hit, only 19 of Collier's roughly 80 hotels and motels were open, he said. Now, the county lists just a dozen that are still closed. Most of those have opening dates planned in the next few weeks.

The fact that the hurricane occurred in September, when tourism is at its lowest ebb, helped minimize the damage to the industry, Wert said.

The short-term dip in numbers was unavoidable. Now the goal is to prevent the storm from keeping numbers down during the coming tourist season.

The visitors bureau is asking county commissioners to free up $250,000 in tourist tax reserves to correct any impression that there is lasting damage to Southwest Florida beaches and other attractions.

Coupled with the regular budget, "we've probably got $1 million we can spend between now and the end of the year to try to change that perception," Wert said.

Copyright © 2017 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.), Brent Batten. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Wayne T. Price and Patricia Borns contributed to this article.

Oct. 9, 2017

White House: No flood insurance for new homes in high-risk zones

WASHINGTON – Oct. 6, 2017 – The Trump administration proposed and end to federal flood insurance for new homes built in high-risk flood areas – a change that could curtail new construction in parts of Florida.

Home builders warned that the plan could stifle the economy and strongly opposed the idea. On the opposite side of the debate, climate activists praised it, suggesting it would put less people in harm's way.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, sent a letter to Congress that included the proposal. The letter called for changes to the taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program, which is $25 billion in debt thanks to ever-worsening storms.

Mulvaney's proposals included one that would prevent new homes built in flood plains after 2020 from obtaining insurance under the program. It wouldn't block construction in high-risk zones since their owners could still seek private coverage, but that's often a lot more expensive if it's available at all.

The National Association of Home Builders argues that the proposal would "harm local communities and impair economic growth."

In addition to curtailing the flood coverage, the plan would authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cut-off coverage for properties that flood repeatedly.

Lawmakers face a deadline of Dec. 8 to reauthorize the program after it was temporarily extended in September.

Source: Insurance Journal (10/05/17)

© Copyright 2017 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Oct. 6, 2017

22 Hard lessons businesses learned after the hurricane

NEW YORK (AP) – Oct. 5, 2017 – Harvey, Irma and Maria have taught small business owners that disaster planning is more than just evacuating and trying to mitigate physical damage – it's also about the "what ifs."

Many realized they hadn't done the right kind of preparation, including buying flood insurance. Some say they want to have their own generators. But even those with carefully made plans ran into situations their plans didn't account for.

Michael Mohl, owner of a Senior Helpers home care business in Palm Beach, Florida, thought he had a thorough strategy in place before Hurricane Irma hit. It included plans to meet the specific care needs of each client, a list of hurricane shelters and alternate routes for staffers, reminders to fill their gas tanks, and Mohl having supplies and extra cash on hand.

"But we didn't plan on cellphone towers going down," Mohl says. Without them, he couldn't communicate with employees. He now plans to buy two-way radios like the ones emergency responders use.

Here's what some other owners learned:

Owner: Lexi Montgomery, Darling Web Design, Miami Beach, Florida

Her story: Irma was the first hurricane that Montgomery, who is originally from Missouri, experienced. She and her husband drove out of Miami Beach with their two dogs as the storm approached Florida and headed to Tampa, where she expected to run her business from a hotel. Several staffers were staying in Tampa as well. When the storm changed course and it appeared Tampa would take a direct hit, Montgomery and her husband fled to Atlanta, a drive that took 14 hours instead of the normal six to seven because the roads were packed.

Atlanta isn't usually a hurricane target but turned out to be in Irma's path. Montgomery's hotel was left without power and Wi-Fi. She struggled to stay in touch with U.S. and overseas clients using the internet at cafes, and wasn't able to return home for 11 days. When she did, there was no power or air conditioning and her office had developed mold from the humidity.

What she learned: Montgomery, who lost revenue because her company fell behind, realized she needs a portable generator to be sure she can keep working. And she's going to stock up on supplies like heavy-duty flashlights, canned food, extra dog medication and heavy boots. She also believes she left Miami Beach too late, and didn't seek safety far enough away.

"As soon as I hear there's a storm, I'm leaving. And if it's a sudden thing and I can't leave, I would have a portable generator," she says. She's even considering renting an apartment on the West Coast for the entire hurricane season next year.

Owner: Rachel Charlupski, The Babysitting Co., based in Miami

Her story: Charlupski's company has branches in several cities, but Florida is a key market with many clients being visitors to the state. She had more than 500 cancellations starting the week before Irma hit, and lost thousands of dollars in revenue since clients weren't charged. Moreover, she has paid the baby sitters who committed to appointments that were canceled.

What she learned: Charlupski had accepted appointments through Thursday, Sept. 7, when the storm wasn't expected to hit until the weekend. "Next time what we would do differently is not take on additional reservations when the weather conditions are bad," Charlupski says.

She's also considering instituting a cancellation policy, explaining to clients that they'll be charged if they cancel after a sitter has been lined up. But safety will be her first consideration.

"We would never penalize reservations when it is not safe for a sitter to work," she says.

Owner: Jonathan Marsh, Home Helpers, in Bradenton, Florida

His story: Marsh had a plan to ensure that the company's elderly and sick clients and its employees would be safe. The office windows were boarded up and the electronic and paper business records were secured. Administrative staff members were to meet at the office after the storm to arrange for caregivers to visit clients who had not evacuated.

But Irma was a larger and more violent storm than any Marsh had been through, and took out the power, internet and cellphone service. That made it impossible to contact caregivers and arrange for all the client visits.

What he learned: Like others, Marsh plans to get a backup generator – "That is my biggest concern," he says. But he's also changing post-storm procedures to deal with the possibility that communication will be difficult or impossible. After the next big storm, all staffers including caregivers are to meet at the office to arrange for client care.

Marsh is also thinking about the possibility that caregivers won't be able to travel to the office, or a backup location like his home, in addition to being out of touch. In that case, they'll "be empowered to assist clients in their area after the storm, regardless of any communication problems with the office," he says.

Owner: Michael Motylinski, wedding planner and officiant, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

His story: Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused extensive damage to the Virgin Islands. Dozens of couples, worried that their dream Caribbean beach weddings wouldn't happen, tried to get in touch with Motylinski and his partner, but phone and internet service was down. About 40 couples canceled, including some whose weddings weren't scheduled until next summer. "By all appearances we'll be back on track by then," Motylinski says.

What he learned: Before the next storm, Motylinski and his partner will be in touch with clients to try to quell their anxiety. Then either Motylinski or his partner will leave St. Thomas and go to a location where clients can reach them. He's also planning to include in future contracts a provision that he can move the weddings if necessary to a resort on St. Croix, 40 miles away, as long as St. Croix hasn't been hard hit.

"If an event were to occur in St. Thomas again, we would be set up and ready for business within two to three days at our new location," Motylinski says.

Posted in National News
Sept. 26, 2017

Harsh reality hitting Floridians without flood policies

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sept. 25, 2017 – Anita Dennis talked on the phone with her homeowner's insurance company, her furrowed brow expressing more than words could say. The 72-year-old widow carried flood insurance on her home years ago, then let it lapse after learning her neighborhood in The Villas in south Fort Myers was expected to flood only every 100 years.

The house, built in 1973, has flooded twice in the past month.

Dennis shared her plight from the sweltering sunroom of her gutted, still-powerless home.

"I never expected this to happen," she said. "I'm here 25 years. I've never had water like this. Never, never, never."

A rainmaker brought 4 inches of water into the 1,800-square-foot home a few weeks ago, then Hurricane Irma brought 7 inches of water inside.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, who ran the National Flood Insurance Program in the 1970s, expressed concern for financially strapped homeowners who live in more inland communities such as Lehigh Acres who did not carry flood insurance, many of whom just scrape by.

"Being poor, some people have high mortgages with little equity," he said. "What happens next? It all depends on how damaged the house is, how much money the family has, how much equity in the home they have in terms of what they do."

Hunter admonished the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for doing a poor job of ensuring that homeowners mandated to carry flood insurance are doing so. "FEMA has done a terrible job of monitoring the banks to make sure they have flood insurance," he said. "Something is really, really wrong."

Property owners, he said, make two fundamental errors when it comes to flood insurance:

  • They have a false sense of immunity from catastrophe. "They assume it won't happen to them because they haven't seen water anywhere near where they live, and they've been there for 30 years."
  • They expect a government bailout. If flooding happens, it's going to be so bad the government is going to come in and dole out disaster relief. "It might be a small grant, but the bulk of disaster relief is a loan. Those two things together really impact people," Hunter said.

Hurricane Irma resulted in 335,000 insurance claims representing $1.9 billion in property losses. Irma has exceeded the claims and losses from the two hurricanes (Matthew and Hermine) that hit Florida last year, the state Office of Insurance Regulation reported Monday.

That's just for starters. Hunter said Irma may surpass Hurricane Andrew's $26 billion damage cost, but "it's going to be close."

Despite back-to-back hurricanes hammering the USA, Hunter said the homeowner's insurance industry should be fine.

"There's some reports they could raise rates, but that's crazy," he said. "The models to set the rates already contain in them storms in the averages that are like Irma and Harvey. They shouldn't have any impact on the pricing. There's no reason for them to raise rates or cancel people's insurance."

An Associated Press analysis in early September – before Irma battered Florida – showed a steep drop in flood insurance policies across the state. In five years, the number of federal flood insurance policies in Florida has fallen by 15 percent, according to FEMA data. Property owners in Florida still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state – 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets – but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

Florida has roughly 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, more than three times that of any other state, FEMA estimates. Yet, across Florida's 38 coastal counties, 42 percent of these homes are covered. Florida's overall flood insurance rate for hazard-zone homes is 41 percent. Fannie Mae ostensibly requires mortgage lenders to make sure property owners buy this insurance to qualify for federally backed loans, yet in 59 percent of the cases, that insurance isn't being paid for.

About seven of 10 homeowners have federally backed mortgages, and if they live in a high-risk area, they still are required to have flood insurance. Many let their policies slip without the lender noticing; loans get sold and repackaged; paperwork gets lost; and new lenders don't follow up.

FEMA, which is ultimately responsible for enforcing flood insurance requirements, did not respond to an email seeking comment from its Washington office.

John Dickson, a flood insurance expert based in Montana, said a common scenario played out after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. "People that need flood insurance are not the ones who carry it," he said. "You have too many people exposed to this. We as an industry and a community need to do more."

Dennis, the south Fort Myers homeowner, doesn't know how expensive it will be to repair her house. She was told that her windstorm policy will not cover most of the damage.

"I think it's going to be a lot; that's why I hope FEMA can help," she said.

Copyright © 2017, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Casey Logan

Sept. 22, 2017

Nothing stops growth along U.S. coastlines

TAMPA, Fla. – Sept. 21, 2017 – Rising sea levels and fierce storms have failed to stop relentless population growth along U.S. coasts in recent years, a new Associated Press analysis shows. The latest punishing hurricanes scored bull's-eyes on two of the country's fastest growing regions: coastal Texas around Houston and resort areas of southwest Florida.

Nothing seems to curb America's appetite for life near the sea, especially in the warmer climates of the South. Coastal development destroys natural barriers such as islands and wetlands, promotes erosion and flooding, and positions more buildings and people in the path of future destruction, according to researchers and policy advisers who study hurricanes.

"History gives us a lesson, but we don't always learn from it," said Graham Tobin, a disaster researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa. That city took a glancing hit from Hurricane Irma – one of the most intense U.S. hurricanes in years – but suffered less flooding and damage than some other parts of the state.

In 2005, coastal communities took heed of more than 1,800 deaths and $108 billion in damages from Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. Images of New Orleans under water elicited solemn resolutions that such a thing should never happen again – until Superstorm Sandy inundated lower Manhattan in 2012. Last year, Hurricane Matthew spread more deaths, flooding and blackouts across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. From 2010-2016, major hurricanes and tropical storms are blamed for more than 280 deaths and $100 billion in damages, according to data from the federal National Centers for Environmental Information.

Harvey, another historically big hurricane, flooded sections of Houston in recent weeks. Four counties around Houston, where growth has been buoyed by the oil business, took the full force of the storm. The population of those counties expanded by 12 percent from 2010 to 2016, to a total of 5.3 million people, the AP analysis shows.

During the same years, two of Florida's fastest-growing coastline counties – retirement-friendly Lee and Manatee, both south of Tampa – welcomed 16 percent more people. That area took a second direct hit from Irma after it made first landfall in the Florida Keys, where damage was far more devastating.

Overall growth of 10 percent in Texas Gulf counties and 9 percent along Florida's coasts during the same period was surpassed only by South Carolina. Its seaside population, led by the Myrtle Beach area of Horry County, ballooned by more than 13 percent.

Nationally, coastline counties grew an average of 5.6 percent since 2010, while inland counties gained just 4 percent. This recent trend tracks with decades of development along U.S. coasts. Between 1960 and 2008, the national coastline population rose by 84 percent, compared with 64 percent inland, according to the Census Bureau.

Cindy Gerstner, a retiree from the inland mountains of upstate New York, moved to a new home in January in Dunedin, Florida, west of Tampa. The ranch house sits on a flood plain three blocks from a sound off the Gulf of Mexico. She was told it hadn't flooded in 20 years – and she wasn't worried anyway.

"I never gave it a thought," she said during a visit back to New York as Irma raked Florida. "I always wanted to live down there. I always thought people who lived in California on earthquake faults were foolish."

Her enthusiasm for her new home was undiminished by Irma, which broke her fence and knocked out power but left her house dry.

In Horry County, where 19 percent growth has led all of South Carolina coastline counties, Irma caused only minor coastal flooding. The county's low property taxes are made possible by rapid development and tourism fees, allowing retirees from the North and Midwest to live more cheaply. Ironically, punishing hurricanes farther south in recent years has pushed some Northerners known locally as "half-backers" to return halfway home from Florida and to resettle in coastal South Carolina.

Add the area's moderate weather, appealing golf courses, and long white strands — the county is home to Myrtle Beach — and maybe no one can slow development there. "I don't see how you do it," said Johnny Vaught, vice chairman of the county council. "The only thing you can do is modulate it, so developments are well designed."

Strong building codes with elevation and drainage requirements, careful emergency preparations, and a good network of roads for evacuation help make the area more resilient to big storms, said the council chairman, Mark Lazarus. Such measures give people "a sense of comfort," said Laura Crowther, CEO of the local Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors.

Risk researchers say more is needed. "We're getting better at emergency response," said Tobin at the University of South Florida. "We're not so good at long-term control of urban development in hazardous areas."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency helps recovery efforts with community relief and flood insurance payments. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It provides community grants for projects aimed at avoiding future losses. Some projects elevate properties, build flood barriers, or strengthen roofs and windows against high winds. Others purchase properties subject to repeated damage and allow owners to move.

But coastline communities face more storm threats in the future.

Global warming from human-generated greenhouse gases is melting polar ice and elevating sea levels at an increasing pace, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That amplifies storm surges and other flooding. Also, some climate models used by scientists predict stronger, more frequent hurricanes as another effect of global warming in coming decades.

"There will be some real challenges for coastal towns," predicted Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. "We'll see some of these homes that are part of their tax base becoming unlivable."

Hazard researchers said they see nothing in the near term to reverse the trend toward bigger storm losses. As a stopgap, communities should cease building new high-rises on the oceanfront, said Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

He said big changes probably will not happen unless multiple giant storms overwhelm federal and state budgets.

"The reason why this development still continues is that people are making money doing it," he said. "Communities are still increasing their tax base — and that's what politicians like."

Sept. 21, 2017

Florida's housing market continued positive track in Aug.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Sept. 20, 2017 – Florida's housing market continued its positive track in August, with more closed sales, increased pending sales, more new listings and rising median prices, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 25,235 last month, up 0.9 percent compared to August 2016.

"Housing market trends we have been seeing for months in Florida continued in August," says 2017 Florida Realtors President Maria Wells, broker-owner with Lifestyle Realty Group in Stuart. "More owners are deciding to enter the market and list their homes for sale, while demand from buyers continues to grow, especially for homes in the $250,000-and-under range. Homes are continuing to sell quickly, though tight inventory is putting pressure on rising median prices and creating affordability challenges for many first-time buyers.

"Any consumer who is looking to buy or sell a home in Florida should consult a local Realtor, who can help them understand local market conditions and be prepared to act when the right home or offer comes along."

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes last month was $240,000, up 6.7 percent from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. The statewide median price for townhouse-condo properties in August was $170,000, up 6.3 percent over the year-ago figure. August marked the 69th consecutive month that statewide median prices for both sectors rose year-over-year. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the national median sales price for existing single-family homes in July 2017 was $260,600, up 6.3 percent from the previous year; the national median existing condo price was $239,800. In California, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in July was $549,460; in Massachusetts, it was $400,000; in Maryland, it was $296,665; and in New York, it was $270,000.

Looking at Florida's townhouse-condo market, statewide closed sales totaled 9,716 last month, up 2.6 percent compared to August 2016. Closed sales data reflected fewer short sales and foreclosures last month: Short sales for townhouse-condo properties declined 39.4 percent and foreclosures fell 49.1 percent year-to-year; short sales for single-family homes dropped 34.8 percent and foreclosures fell 45.4 percent year-to-year. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

"As August's data shows, the winding down of the niche market for distressed properties that has existed in Florida over the past several years, along with the general shortage of homes for sale on the more affordable end of the market, has slowed down year-over-year sales growth," said Florida Realtors® Chief Economist Dr. Brad O'Connor. "At the same time, we're seeing strong price growth year-over-year, but it's actually quite modest relative to the double-digit percentage growth we've experienced in recent years."

Inventory continued to tighten in August with a 3.8-months' supply for single-family homes and a 5.4-months' supply for townhouse-condo properties, according to Florida Realtors.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.88 percent in August 2017; it averaged 3.44 percent during the same month a year earlier.

For the full statewide housing activity reports, go to the Florida Realtors Research & Statistics section on floridarealtors.org. Realtors also have access to local market stats (password protected) on Florida Realtors' website.

© 2017 Florida Realtors®

Sept. 20, 2017

SE Florida's Real Estate market OK despite Irma’s punch

SOUTHEAST FLORIDA – Sept. 19, 2017 – Hurricane Irma's effect on South Florida's vibrant real estate market is not likely to be much more than the hassles of delayed home deliveries and closings, industry observers say.

Twelve years ago, Hurricane Wilma swept across Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, causing major damage to roofs. Blue tarps became a common sight in many neighborhoods hammered by Wilma's winds.

But Irma's glancing blow resulted mostly in uprooted trees, debris in the streets and minor damage to screened-patio enclosures, said Jim Flood, regional manager for Supreme Lending in Fort Lauderdale.

Homes that were in the sales pipeline to close when Irma hit will have to be reinspected, and that can't happen until the homes have power again, Flood said.

Supreme will cover the $200 average cost of reinspections and extend interest rates for 10 days to help clients minimize delays, he said.

"We feel bad, but we also feel grateful," Flood said. "It just seems like it will be a few weeks to get the motor running again for the region. We think the market will find its way back and recover pretty quickly."

Sunrise-based GL Homes is building about 700 homes across Florida, including suburban Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. The builder also has projects in communities hit harder by Irma – Naples, Bonita Beach, Fort Myers and Tampa.

All the areas fared well, with only minimal damage, mostly to landscaping and screen enclosures, according to Marcie DePlaza, chief operating officer for privately held GL.

DePlaza said some closings will be delayed, but only by a few weeks at the most.

Miami-based Lennar Corp., the nation's second-largest builder by closings, said a "very preliminary assessment" showed only minor damage to its Florida communities. Lennar said Irma likely will delay roughly 700 fourth-quarter home deliveries until 2018.

"The expected shift of deliveries this year not only takes into account damage from the storm but also short-term labor challenges, power outages, potential delays in new home utility connections and building department inspection and permitting delays," Stuart Miller, CEO of Lennar, said in a statement.

GL, Lennar and another major builder, 13th Floor Homes, all say they expect new homes to be even more in demand than they already are because of how well the newly built properties held up during the hurricane.

Under the current building code, the homes GL is building in Palm Beach County are designed to withstand 170 mph winds, DePlaza said.

Mike Nunziata, division president for Miami-based 13th Floor, said workers were still taking down plywood from model homes after Irma when two people drove up and said they wanted to buy a new home instead of an existing one.

"With an existing home, you don't really know what you're getting in the quality of construction," Nunziata said.

At Auberge Beach Residences & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, a crane collapsed during the storm, but there were no injuries and only minor damage, said Patrick Campbell, a vice president for the Related Group, one of the developers of the two-building project.

Campbell said the crane should be removed by the end of the weekend and won't affect completion of the oceanfront luxury condominium next year. "We don't foresee a delay," he said. "We were very fortunate."

Although residents in many condo towers have to evacuate during a hurricane, the buildings tend to get power back quickly, said Peter Zalewski, principal at the Condo Vultures consulting firm.

"I think that will be the [builders'] sales pitch," he said.

The commercial real estate market also appears to have emerged from Irma largely unscathed, said Ken Krasnow, managing director of Colliers International South Florida. Colliers' portfolio of 7 million square feet in the region had only one minor roof issue, and that was expected, he said.

More than a decade ago, analysts worried a spate of storms would hurt the region's real estate market by persuading buyers and business owners to look for safer locales across the country. But those fears largely went unfounded, and Irma isn't likely to frighten people away, observers say.

"This was a pretty significant storm, and the fact that we weathered it so well, long-term it bodes well," Krasnow said. "Coming out of this, I think we are a more resilient region."

Aug. 15, 2017

3 ways to make counteroffers easier

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. – Aug. 14, 2017 – No matter if your client is buying or selling, counteroffers can pose sticky negotiations from both sides. Here are three tips for successfully responding to counteroffers from Desare Kohn-Laski, broker-owner of Skye Louis Realty in Coconut Creek, Fla.

1. Ask for something in return
Sellers and buyers alike should remember that counteroffers are made because the other party wants something very specific they want in the transaction, Kohn-Laski says. For example, if your buyers find that appliances are not included in the seller's counteroffer, then your buyers might want to offer more money to include the appliances in their second offer.

2. Offer incentives
If you're on the seller side, your client could offer to pay the buyer's homeowners association fees for a specific period. "Capitalize on the primary truth that most buyers will need extra cash after the big purchase," Kohn-Laski says. Incentive ideas for buyers include interior repainting or a year of free lawn services. For sellers, covering moving costs or repair costs from an issue found during inspection could also be useful incentives.

3. Know when to split the difference
Meeting the other side halfway is usually a winning solution – an art that leads to closing deals, Kohn-Laski says. When a few thousand or few hundred dollars appear to be the hurdle, you can counter by offering to split the difference. For instance, if the list price is $435,000 and your buyer wants it for $430,000, split the $5,000 difference to achieve $432,500.

Source: Skye Louis Realty

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July 31, 2017

Bill would allow Canadian snowbirds to stay longer

WASHINGTON – July 28, 2017 – U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York) introduced the "Canadian Snowbird Visa Act" into the U.S. House.

Under the bill – which would need to be passed by Congress and signed by the president to be law – Canadians would be allowed to stay an extra two months in the United States if they own or lease a home.

Deutch says the bipartisan measure would be good for business because Canadians visiting Florida add about $4.5 billion annually to the state's economy.

"If our chilly neighbors to the north want to spend more time on our warm Florida beaches, we should welcome them with open arms," Deutch says.

Canada is the top source of international visitors to Florida, but the numbers have been falling, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism organization. Approximately 3.2 million Canadians visited Florida in 2016, down 15 percent from the previous year.

Existing law limits the amount of time a Canadian visitor may spend in the U.S. to 182 days per year – about six months. Deutch's bill would permit Canadians over the age of 50 who own or rent a U.S. residence to stay in the U.S. for an additional two months each year. They would be prohibited from working for a U.S. employer or collecting public assistance, and they would still be subject to the vetting process required by law.

Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (07/28/17) Swisher, Skyler