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Irma claims top $6B, Citizens braces for 50,000-plus new customers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dec. 14, 2017 – After Hurricane Irma stung property insurers for $6.3 billion in claims and counting, Florida’s state-run and second-largest carrier expects to add more than 50,000 customers in 2018.

“We’re expecting to go from 442,000 back to 500,000,” Barry Gilway, president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., told the company’s board meeting Wednesday.

Citizens has not always been right in its own forecasts, initially failing to predict it would shrink as much as it has from a high of about 1.5 million customers several years ago.

But as private insurers’ appetite for new business grew during Florida’s 11-year hurricane hiatus ending in 2016, now it is expected to weaken in Irma’s wake. Many private companies limit their risk exposure, particularly in Southeast Florida, for reasons ranging from hurricane risk to assertions that claim costs in the region are abusively inflated by contractors, public adjusters and lawyers.

Even at a reduced size, Citizens remains the state’s second-largest insurer. Growing to 500,000 customers next year would represent about a 14 percent increase.

Citizens has about 42,000 customers in Palm Beach County.

The company’s risk exposure, or the value of the properties it covers, is expected to grow from about $112 billion to $120 billion, Gilway said.

Citizens expects to pay about $1.2 billion for Irma claims and preserve a $6.4 billion surplus, meaning a reserve to pay future claims. Industrywide, more than 850,000 claims have been filed representing nearly $6.3 billion, including more than 36,000 claims in Palm Beach County.

Copyright © 2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Charles Elmore. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Fixer-upper or money pit? How to decide

NEW YORK – Dec. 13, 2017 – With inventories so tight, some home buyers are giving fixer-upper homes a second look. The price point and location may attract more buyers to bite, even if the home needs some TLC.

But how do you tell a hidden gem from a hidden mess when shopping for a fixer-upper?

Paul Skema, president of the architecture and construction firm Roth Design + Build, and Jean Brownhill, founder of Sweeten, an online contracting service, shared considerations for home shoppers looking at a fixer-upper. Here are a few of their tips, via

Determine the scope of the project
Are the renovations mostly cosmetic or structural? “Before you even look for an apartment or home, you want to understand what type of project you’re comfortable with,” says Skema. Projects where owners start making additions or knocking down walls can add a lot of money, time and risk. “One small bathroom renovation is hundreds of decisions you’re going to need to make,” says Brownhill. “You have to understand who you are as a person and how easily you make decisions.”

Set a budget
After the downpayment, how much money will your buyers set aside for the fixer-upper? Factor in unexpected costs, such as planning an alternative living situation while the work is being done on the home. The architect and contractor should be able to provide you with estimates. “By setting the price, you’re setting the approximate level of craft, finishes, and customer service that you’re looking for,” Brownhill says.

Establish a team
Larger projects require an architect, who will then hire a general contractor and then subcontractors. Homeowners will need to establish a communication path to prevent delays or budget pitfalls. And don’t just hire the lowest-bidding architect or contractor, Skema warns. “Higher-quality firms limit the risk of the project,” Skema says. “Cheaper firms, many with less knowledge and less experience, will require more involvement from the homeowner and ultimately bring more risk.” Select a team with the right experience, solid references and a communication style that complements your own.

Meet the neighbors and the building association
Significant renovations may require approval from the homeowner’s association. Meet your potential neighbors beforehand and warn them so as not to aggravate them. Learn about the permit process through your city’s building department ahead of time. Upgrading plumbing and electrical systems, moving walls or changing structural elements will probably require a permit.

Protect yourself
Make sure the contractor has both liability insurance and workman’s compensation, and make sure he or she has a Florida license. Also, ensure that your homeowner’s policy will protect you from any contractor-caused issues.

Source: “Considering a Fixer-Upper? Here’s What You Need to Know,” (Dec. 6, 2017)

Remodeling for profit? Unlikely

SARASOTA, Fla. – Dec. 12, 2017 – Home renovations as an investment for a future sale with hopes of recovering the improvement costs are a dicey prospect at best. Real estate agents and remodeling construction specialists caution against that assumption.

“Hardly anything will offer a net profit,” says Barry Grooms, Realtor, broker and co-owner of SaraBay Real Estate with his wife, Sherry. But some improvements “will help sell the property faster and will fetch a higher sales price.”

On the flip side, renovations for personal and lifestyle inclinations or remodeling an older residence after a purchase are commonplace and prudent. The popularity of HGTV’s portfolio of “reno” shows reflects public interest, but solid evidence comes from BuildFax. The data analytics firm has a new report showing residential remodeling outpacing new construction spending.

“Residential remodeling activity has increased by 30 percent since 2010,” BuildFax reported, though that began trending down in the Southeast during the last half of 2016.

Denny Yoder, president of Yoder Homes & Remodeling, is well acquainted with remodeling motivations. “The majority of our clients are improving their homes for personal lifestyle reasons,” he said. “About a third of our clients have just purchased the property or are converting it from a rental to a retirement home.

“While the concern for appropriate investment and not over improving is always important, we advise clients the more years they plan on keeping the property the less important this consideration is.”

While cosmetic and lifestyle enhancements are attractive and advantageous to homeowners, prospective buyers will take a different view should those renovations be unappealing.

The return on investment for an updated kitchen averages about 60 percent, a bathroom remodel around 68 percent and a master suite addition about 53 percent, Grooms said.

Michael Moulton, a broker-associate with Michael Saunders & Company, cites expensive new marble and/or wood floors as iffy. Those are “too much of a gamble that a new owner may want something other than what you install.” Plus, he said, “not all buyers would appreciate” expensive windows such as Pella and Anderson.

Basic infrastructure upgrades could prove valuable, though.

“The best improvements a home seller can make are replacing the roof, HVAC, electrical and plumbing,” Grooms said. “The reason for this is that most home buyers will have a professional inspection and most homes require homeowners insurance, and if the aforementioned items are not in good condition, it may increase carrying costs for the new buyer or an immediate out-of-pocket burden that is too much and break up a deal.”

Moulton emphasizes re-plumbing a house in neighborhoods where that is typically needed and replacing an aging roof.

That falls in line with the “Remodeling 2017 Cost vs. Value Report.” The website – – compares the average cost for 29 popular remodeling projects with the value those upgrades retain at resale in 99 U.S. markets, including the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice region. Nationally, home maintenance projects, such as siding replacement, paid off best.

Curiously, every one of those projects undertaken in Southwest Florida, for example, paid back a higher return on investment than the national average. The highest differential came in at 27 percentage points – a garage door replacement – 104.1 percent here versus 69.3 percent nationwide.

“In general,” the report stated, “the hotter the market, the bigger the payback.”

This is the 30th anniversary of Remodeling Magazine’s first such survey, undertaken with the goal of providing an unbiased, third-party report on how much it costs for a professional to do a typical remodeling project as well as how much a real estate pro believes that project will increase a home’s value if it’s sold within a year of when the work was completed.

The methodology includes such factors as the cost of materials and labor in each market, subcontractor payments, taxes and additional considerations. The study compares the costs for the same hypothetical project in all 99 markets surveyed. Nationally, the 29 projects in this year’s survey paid an average of 64.3 cents on the dollar in resale value. The study broken down into 19 mid-range and 10 upscale projects.

Overall, the report found that newer and older trends continued. Improvements to the outside of a home produce higher returns on investment than interior projects. Curb appeal upgrades sell, be they to doors, windows or siding. Replacing those features proved better than a remodel, real estate pros said.

On the lifestyle front, Yoder cited bathroom remodels as “very common,” with hand-held and multiple shower heads being very popular. “Other popular requests in bathrooms are replacing bathtubs with walk-in showers and stand-alone tubs,” he said.

“Next in popularity are kitchen remodels followed by closet organization,” he added.

In several areas that Remodeling did not address, Grooms did. “Landscaping on average can return up to 150 percent of a return of investment,” he said. “Fencing may return up to 95 percent.”

The fence issue brings up an important matter. “The other area that I have observed that often helps a home seller faster and for more money is homes that are ‘pet friendly’,” Grooms said – which translates into wood, tile or laminate flooring, fenced yard or large yards. “More than 65 percent of homebuyers have pets, so making a home friendlier or decreasing the maintenance may help a buyer choose your home over one that is not!”

In the Sarasota market, Remodeling Magazine, published by Hanley Wood, reported only four projects with positive resale values. The installation of fiberglass attic insulation scored the best, with 124.4 percent rate of return. That is followed by replacing the entry door with a steel one (106.9 percent), installing a new garage door (104.1 percent), replacing the garage door with an upscale model (104 percent) and replacing the siding (100.9 percent).

Of the 2017 national averages, only attic insulation recouped more than the job cost, at 107.7 percent.

In upscale projects in SW Florida, a bathroom remodel (61.8 percent), a bathroom addition (64.1 percent), a master suite expansion (65.9 percent) and a major kitchen remodel (69.1 percent) scored the worst ROI (return on investment).

“Consumers often are surprised to see that some of the most common remodeling projects recoup the least costs,” the report said. The rate on investment for a mid-range bathroom addition scored the worst payback at only a 53.8 percent average across the country. “Not a single kitchen or bath project ranked higher than 17th out of the 29 projects,” Remodeling found.

The magazine’s research put quantitative figures on the value of curb appeal. Exterior projects had an average payback of 74.9 percent nationally, while interior projects returned 63.5 percent, the study said. Almost an identical percentage differential separated replacement and repair costs from remodeling improvement projects.

Plus, kitchen and bath upgrades require more costly skill and labor. “As a general rule,” the study said, “the simpler the job, the cheaper it is and the more likely it will have a high ROI.”

Here in hurricane country, a backup power generator holds a lot of appeal. The addition of that piece of equipment came in dead last among mid-range projects in Sarasota at 66.4 percent.

But the survey’s information was gathered before Irma knocked out electricity to thousands of households in September, and residents scrambled to purchase those units.

“Timing also figures here,” the study stated. Generator popularity surged after Superstorm Sandy struck, soaring some 20 percentage points. ROI has been slipping since then, but Hurricane Irma served as a reminder of the value of that equipment.

Remodeling hugely popular

The remodeling and replacement industry continues to reach new heights. One only needs to check the large audiences for HGTV’s numerous programs that highlight home overhauls. “Fixer Upper” – HGTV’s highest-rated show ever – has made media darlings and design icons out of Chip and Joanna Gaines. Their Waco retail business has skyrocketed and their 40-acre farm made the Texas city a destination.

This year, with an average of more than 30,000 visitors a week, their Magnolia Market business, complete with grain silos, should draw about 1.6 million people, according to the Waco Convention and Visitors bureau.

Their “blockbuster” series ranked as one of the top two most-watched cable telecasts in Nielsen data that covered their season four finale this past summer. Two of HGTV’s other home renovation series, “Property Brothers” and “Flip or Flop,” have also fueled the network’s rise even as ratings for other cable television companies fell.

One common denominator of these shows is ripping out walls to unite kitchen, dining and living rooms. Moulton supports the open floor plan as a positive on home values.

One remodeling desire is pretty much a non-starter. “A common request or want in older homes is to raise the ceilings,” Yoder said. “However, most considerations, whether in a condo or residential home, do not materialize because of the reality of the complexity and cost.”

Metrostudy, a housing data and analytics company, released its third-quarter 2017 Residential Remodeling Index (RRI) this month and found the RRI rose 4.8 percent from one year earlier and 1.2 percent from the previous quarter.

That marks 22 consecutive quarters of year-over-year gains in the index since remodeling activity hit rock bottom in 2011. The company expects the RRI to continue increasing throughout 2018 with an average 4.7 percent quarterly gain year-over-year.

With mortgage rates expected to rise over the next few years and home prices increasing, more homeowners will likely remain in their homes and remodel to suit their lifestyle, Metrostudy chief economist Mark Boud said.

Plus, the Florida and Texas repair and remodel industry will remain busy in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Miami ranks first among U.S. cities for residential remodeling, with Jacksonville ranked 2nd nationally. According to BuildFax, residential remodeling increased 30 percent since 2010.

BuildFax, Inc. develops a national data source for property condition in the United States. The company creates a database of historical building permit data that include unrivaled property-level details on relevant property events, such as remodels, additions, solar installations, and new roofs. In addition, it offers construction data sets that enable analysts with insights to predict trends in the economy; property history reports that allow home inspectors to access the database of building permits; and various indices in the areas of residential and commercial remodeling and new construction.

© 2017 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla., Chris Wille. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

9 grants and programs that help secure a first home

WASHINGTON – Dec. 11, 2017 – Money issues often stand in the way of homeownership. A survey by rental service Apartment List found that 80 percent of millennial renters want to buy a home, but most say they can’t afford to.

What you may not realize is that many first-time homebuyer programs and grants offer financial help, and you may be eligible for various types of assistance.

Here are nine first-time homebuyer programs and grants designed to help you land a great mortgage and get a place of your own.

FHA loan
In an FHA loan, the Federal Housing Administration insures the mortgage. The FHA’s backing offers lenders a layer of protection, meaning that your lender won’t experience a loss if you default on the mortgage.

FHA loans typically come with competitive interest rates, smaller downpayments and lower closing costs than conventional loans.

If you have a credit score of 580 or higher, you could be eligible for a mortgage with a downpayment as low as 3.5 percent of the purchase price. If your credit score is lower than 580, you still might qualify for an FHA mortgage, but the downpayment would be at least 10 percent of the purchase amount.

USDA loan
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a lesser known homebuyer assistance program. While the program focuses on homes in certain rural areas, you don’t need to buy or run a farm to be eligible.

The USDA guarantees the home loan. There may be no downpayment required, and the loan payments are fixed.

Applicants with a credit score of 640 or higher typically get streamlined processing. With a credit score below 640, you still can qualify for a USDA loan, but the lender will ask for extra documentation about your payment history.

Keep in mind that there are income limitations, which can vary by region.

VA loan
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helps active-duty military members, veterans and surviving spouses buy homes.

The VA guarantees part of the loan, making it possible for lenders to offer some special features. VA loans come with competitive interest rates and require no downpayment. You aren’t required to pay for private mortgage insurance, and a minimum credit score isn’t needed for eligibility.

If it becomes difficult to make payments on the mortgage, the VA can negotiate with the lender on your behalf.

Good Neighbor Next Door
The Good Neighbor Next Door program, sponsored by HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development), provides housing aid for law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers.

Through this program, you can receive a discount of 50 percent on a home’s listed price in regions known as “revitalization areas.” Using the program’s website, you can search for properties available in your state. You must commit to living in the home for at least 36 months.

Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-sponsored entities. They work with local lenders to offer mortgage options that benefit low- and moderate-income families. With the backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, lenders can offer competitive interest rates and accept downpayments as low as 3 percent of the purchase price.

Fannie Mae also provides homeownership education for first-time homebuyers through its “HomePath Ready Buyer” program.

Energy-efficient mortgage
An energy-efficient, or “green” mortgage is designed to help you add improvements to your home to make it more environmentally friendly. The federal government supports EEM loans by insuring them through the FHA or VA programs. The key advantage of this mortgage is that it lets you create an energy-efficient home without having to make a larger downpayment. The extra cost is rolled into your primary loan.

Some improvements you can make include installing double-paned windows, new insulation or a modern heating-and-cooling system.

FHA Section 203(k)
If you’ve run the numbers to see how much house you can afford and have determined a fixer-upper is best for your budget, the Section 203(k) rehabilitation program may be a good fit. This type of loan, backed by the FHA, takes into consideration the value of the residence after improvements have been made. It then lets you borrow the funds you’ll need to carry out the project and includes them in your main mortgage.

The downpayment for a 203(k) loan can be as low as 3 percent.

Native American Direct Loan
Since 1992, the Native American Veteran Direct Loan program has helped Native American veterans and their spouses buy homes on federal trust lands. The VA serves as the lender. If you’re eligible, you won’t be required to make a downpayment or pay for private mortgage insurance.

This first-time homebuyer loan also offers low closing costs and a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Local grants and programs
In addition to the various programs provided by the federal government, many states and cities offer help to first-time homebuyers. Before buying a home, check your state’s or community’s website for information on housing grants and programs available in your area.

You also might consider contacting a real estate agent or local HUD-approved housing counseling agency to learn more about programs in your area that might apply to your situation.

Copyright © 2017, Highlands News-Sun; all rights reserved.

Owners have some reasons not to sell

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Dec. 8, 2017 – After living in her townhouse for 12 years, Agi Thompson felt an urge to move. She found a real estate agent and toured a number of homes in northern Palm Beach County. But the search left her frustrated. Homes were more expensive and less plentiful than she expected.

“There isn’t that much around, and I’d still have to pay $150,000 or $200,000 more than I could get for my place,” Thompson said. “Sometimes you look around and you realize what you have is pretty darn good.”

So Thompson changed her mind about moving, and instead embraced an option that countless homeowners are turning to: She plans to stay in her Palm Beach Gardens townhouse and hire a contractor to gut her kitchen and redo a bathroom.

Americans are remaining in their homes longer than at any time in recent memory. Homeowners who sold this year had been in their homes for a median of 10 years, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors. Before 2009, home sellers typically lived in their homes for just six years before moving on.

The trend reverberates through the housing market. With homeowners staying in place longer, fewer homes come on the market. Realtors in Palm Beach County and nationwide lament a lack of properties for sale, as do buyers like Thompson.

“For the price, she felt like she just couldn’t get the value,” said Kevin Spina, a Keyes Co. agent who showed Thompson a number of homes for sale.

Her decision to stay and renovate is an increasingly common one.

“I’m seeing clients I sold houses to 10 years ago, 12 years ago still sitting in the same homes,” Spina said.

It’s a reality that limited the choices Thompson found as she considered a move. And, of course, by not moving, she’s keeping her property off the market.

Homeowners’ longer tenure is part of the reason that home sales have yet to return to pre-recession levels. Before the housing crash, national levels of home sales regularly topped 6 million units a year. Since the crash, sales routinely have fallen below 5 million – despite a growing population, a rebounding labor market and a stock market that has soared to record levels since Donald Trump’s election.

For renovation contractors such as Marty Wallach of Boynton Beach, the renovation boom is a welcome trend.

“I’m having a banner year, and I’m booked up all through next year,” said Wallach, owner of Wallach Builders & Remodeling. “The floodgates are open on the remodeling market, that’s for sure.”

For homeowners, staying in a home for years or decades can be a wise financial move. By not selling, they build equity and avoid real estate commissions. They also avoid moving costs and the closing costs associated with taking a new mortgage.

The trend of homeowners staying in place might intensify, in part because of rising interest rates. While mortgage rates have held at rock-bottom levels since the Great Recession, economists expect rates to begin climbing, from less than 4 percent in late 2017 to 5 percent in late 2018.

Homeowners can’t take their cheap mortgages with them when they move, and the thought of taking out a loan at a higher rate might turn off some potential sellers.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering a proposal that would take away a tax incentive for quick sales. Under current tax law, married taxpayers who sell a home need not pay taxes on the first $500,000 in capital gains so long as they’ve lived in the property for two of the past five years. The House tax plan would lengthen that period to five of the past seven years.

“We may have more homeowners staying put for longer,” said National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “That may pull inventory back even further.”

Florida’s property tax system also encourages owners to stay in place. Because the taxable value of homesteaded properties can rise no more than 3 percent a year, longtime owners reap the benefits of low property tax bills.

But moving to a more expensive home resets the clock on the Save Our Homes cap, a consideration that figured into Thompson’s calculus about moving. Before moving into her current home, Thompson said, she routinely moved every few years.

“I used to be the five-year girl,” Thompson said.

© 2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Jeff Ostrowski. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

While u.s. homelessness up–florida is down 4.1%

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dec. 6, 2017 – The nation’s homeless population increased this year for the first time since 2010, driven by a surge in the number of people living on the streets in Los Angeles and other West Coast cities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its annual Point in Time count Wednesday, a report that showed nearly 554,000 homeless people across the country during local tallies conducted in January. That figure is up nearly 1 percent from 2016.

Of that total, 193,000 people had no access to nightly shelter and instead were staying in vehicles, tents, the streets and other places considered uninhabitable. The unsheltered figure is up by more than 9 percent compared to two years ago.

Increases are higher in several West Coast cities, where the explosion in homelessness has prompted at least 10 city and county governments to declare states of emergency since 2015. City officials, homeless advocates and those living on the streets point to a main culprit: the region’s booming economy.

Rents have soared beyond affordability for many lower-wage workers who until just a just few years ago could typically find a place to stay. Now, even a temporary setback can be enough to leave them out on the streets.

“A lot of people in America don’t realize they might be two checks, three checks, four checks away from being homeless,” said Thomas Butler Jr., who stays in a carefully organized tent near a freeway ramp in downtown Los Angeles. Butler said he was in transitional housing – a type of program that prepares people for permanent homes – for a while but mostly has lived on the streets for the past couple of years.

The numbers in the report back up what many people in California, Oregon and Washington have been experiencing in their communities: encampments sprouting along freeways and rivers; local governments struggling to come up with money for long-term solutions; conflicts over whether to crack down on street camping and even feeding the homeless.

The most alarming consequence of the West Coast homeless explosion is a deadly hepatitis A outbreak that has affected Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and San Diego, the popular tourist destination in a county where more than 5,600 people now live on the streets or in their cars. The disease is spread through a liver-damaging virus that lives in feces.

The outbreak prompted California officials to declare a state of emergency in October.

The HUD report underscores the severity of the problem along the West Coast.

While the overall homeless population in California, Oregon and Washington grew by 14 percent over the past two years, the part of that population considered unsheltered climbed 23 percent to 108,000. That is in part due a shortage of affordable housing.

In booming Seattle, for example, the HUD report shows the unsheltered population grew by 44 percent over two years to nearly 5,500.

The homeless service area that includes most of Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis, saw its total homeless count top 55,000 people, up by more than 13,000 from 2016. Four out of every five homeless individuals there are considered unsheltered, leaving tens of thousands of people with no place to sleep other than the streets or parks.

By comparison, while New York City’s homeless population grew to more than 76,000, only about 5 percent are considered unsheltered thanks to a system that can get people a cot under a roof immediately.

In the West Coast states, the surge in homelessness has become part of the fabric of daily life.

The Monty, a bar in the Westlake neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, usually doesn’t open until 8 p.m. Partner and general manager Corey Allen said that’s because a nearby shelter requires people staying there to be in the building by 7. Waiting until after that to open means the streets outside are calmer.

Allen said the homeless have come into his bar to bathe in the restroom wash basins, and employees have developed a strategy for stopping people from coming in to panhandle among customers.

Seventy-eight-year-old Theodore Neubauer sees the other side of it. Neubauer says he served in Vietnam but now lives in a tent in downtown Los Angeles. He is surrounded by thriving business and entertainment districts, and new apartments that are attracting scores of young people to the heart of the nation’s second-most populous city.

“Well, there’s a million-dollar view,” he said.

Helping those like Neubauer is a top policy priority and political issue in Los Angeles.

Since last year, voters in the city and Los Angeles County have passed a pair of tax-boosting ballot initiatives to raise an expected $4.7 billion over the next decade for affordable housing and services for the homeless. HUD Secretary Ben Carson praised the region for dealing with the issue and not relying solely on the federal government.

“We need to move a little bit away from the concept that only the government can solve the problem,” he said.

But Mayor Eric Garcetti said that insufficient federal funding for affordable housing and anti-homelessness programs are part of the reason for the city’s current crisis. “Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis was not created in a vacuum, and it cannot be solved by L.A. alone,” Garcetti said in a statement.

Excluding the Los Angeles region, total homelessness nationwide would have been down by about 1.5 percent compared with 2016.

The California counties of Sacramento, which includes the state capital, and Alameda, which is home to Oakland, also had one-year increases of more than 1,000 homeless people.

In contrast, the HUD report showed a long-running decline in homelessness continuing in most other regions. Nationally, the overall homeless number was down by 13 percent since 2010 and the unsheltered number has dropped by 17 percent over that seven-year span, although some changes in methodology and definitions over the years can affect comparisons.

Places where the numbers went down included Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, the Denver area and Hawaii, which declared a statewide homelessness emergency in 2015.

The homeless point-in-time survey is based on counts at shelters and on the streets. While imperfect, it attempts to represent how many people are homeless at a given time. Those who work regularly with the homeless say it is certainly an undercount, although many advocates and officials believe it correctly identifies trend lines.

The report is submitted to Congress and used by government agencies as a factor in distributing money for programs designed to help the homeless.

AP Logo Copyright © 2017 The Associated Press, Christopher Weber and Geoff Mulvihill. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. AP videographer Krysta Fauria and photographer Jae Hong in Los Angeles contributed to this article.  

Citizens Insurance says finances solid after Irma

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dec. 1, 2017 – Citizens Property Insurance appears to have emerged from the 2017 Atlantic storm season on firm financial footing, even with an anticipated $1.2 billion hit from Hurricane Irma.

Policyholders of the state-backed insurer have filed 62,000 Irma-related claims, including more than 42,400 from Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. Nearly two-thirds of the claims had been closed as the annual hurricane season ended Thursday.

Citizens anticipates over the next year its number of claims from Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10, will grow to as many as 70,000, with $1.2 billion in policyholder damages. But Citizens pointed to steps taken to build up money and buy reinsurance – essentially backup insurance for insurers – that helped it weather Irma.

“With $6.4 billion in surplus and substantial reinsurance coverage, Citizens remains fiscally sound after responding quickly and effectively to Hurricane Irma,” Citizens Chairman Chris Gardner said in a prepared statement. “But we still have much work to do. Our focus will remain on our policyholders until we have satisfactorily handled all outstanding claims.”

Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said about half of the closed claims have resulted in payments. Many policyholders who did not receive payments reported damages that failed to reach their hurricane deductibles.

For those receiving money, the average residential claim payment has been $13,040.

As of Nov. 13, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation reported that Irma had caused more than 830,000 property-insurance claims for insurers across the state, with estimated insured losses of $5.88 billion.

Just over 38 percent of the claims had been closed with payments made. Another 26 percent were closed without any money changing hands.

The state office is expected to update the post-storm numbers on Monday.

Citizens made landfall in Monroe and Collier counties and then caused widespread damage as it moved up the state. Days after the storm made landfall, Citizens was bracing for up to 125,000 claims.

The company, which has estimated that a 100-year storm hitting Florida could result in up to $6.6 billion in claims, has $7.4 billion in surplus and reinsurance.

In addition, Citizens continues to expect to recoup about $193 million after Irma from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which also provides backup coverage.

With 448,737 policies statewide as of Oct. 31, Citizens has less exposure than it did five years ago when it covered nearly 1.5 million properties.

Last year, Citizens paid out $10.7 million in claims related to hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, with about 4,000 claims filed.

Hermine, which made landfall south of Tallahassee as a Category 1 storm, resulted in 19,699 claims industry-wide that totaled $139 million in losses. Matthew, which never made landfall as it ran up the East Coast, had 119,345 claims, with losses projected at $1.182 billion.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Turner

Floridians’ optimism switches gears: Up 1.9 points in Nov.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Nov. 28, 2017 – After three months of consecutive declines, consumer sentiment among Floridians rose to 96.7 in November, up 1.9 points from October’s revised figure of 94.8, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.


Consumer sentiment in Florida started 2017 with a record-breaking figure and, during the first half of the year, reached its highest level in 15 years. And now, despite downturns in the second half of the year, the index is still half a point higher than its 2017 average as the year draws to a close.

Among the five components that make up the index, four increased and one decreased in November.

Perceptions of personal financial situations now compared with a year ago rose 2.2 points, from 86.5 to 88.7. However, opinions as to whether it’s a good time to buy a big-ticket household item like an appliance dropped eight-tenths of a point, from 102.7 to 101.9. Readings varied across demographic groups without a clear pattern.

“Despite one reading going up and the other down this month, the perceptions of current economic conditions among Floridians have remained positive and stable during 2017,” says Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now ticked up 1.2 points to 105.4. Anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year showed the greatest increase, up 4.6 points from 91.5 to 96.1. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years increased 2.3 points from 89.1 to 91.4.

“Future expectations improved greatly in this month’s reading. Similar to the perceptions of current economic conditions, they have remained consistent in 2017,” Sandoval says. “Overall, Floridians are more optimistic, and the gain in November’s sentiment came from consumers’ future expectations about the economy in the medium- and long-run. Nonetheless, consumer sentiment has been very favorable over the year.”

Economic indicators in Florida have remained largely positive, and the prospects for 2018 appear good. Since the beginning of the year, Florida’s labor market has strengthened, with solid job gains statewide every month. Between January and October, the Florida unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points, from 5 to 3.6 percent, reaching the lowest rate in the past 10 years.

Also, Florida’s gross domestic product increased 3.6 percent in the second quarter of 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The leading contributors to economic growth in Florida include professional, scientific and technical services, the real estate and leasing sector, and retail trade.

“The favorable local economic conditions and positive trends on the labor market, combined with the positive expectations about the U.S. economy in the short and long run will have a positive impact on Florida’s economy in the beginning of next year,” Sandoval said.

Conducted Nov. 1-20, the UF study reflects the responses of 482 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross section of Florida. 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.

© 2017 Florida Realtors Housing boom is officially back


CHICAGO – Nov. 14, 2017 – Housing prices have returned to the “boom levels” of a decade ago, but this time around, the fast appreciation is being fueled by strong supply-and-demand dynamics this time – not 2006’s predatory lending practices, investor speculation and too much construction, according to new data released Monday.

“As we compare today’s market dynamics to those of a decade ago, it’s important to remember rising prices didn’t cause the housing crash,” says Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “It was rising prices stoked by subprime and low-documentation mortgages, as well as people looking for short-term gains – versus today’s truer market vitality – that created the environment for the crash.”

The national median price for a home in 2016 was $236,000 – 2 percent higher than in pre-recession 2006 – according to

Out of the country’s 50 largest housing markets, 31 have returned to their levels during the last housing bubble (62 percent). researchers finger Austin, Texas, as the city that has posted the largest increases in home prices – 63 percent – over the past 10 years. Denver and Dallas have also seen some of the biggest gains, at 54 percent and 52 percent, respectively.

On the other hand, three markets remained more than 20 percent below their 2006 highs: Las Vegas (25 percent below); Tucson, Ariz. (22 percent); and Riverside, Calif. (22 percent).


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

2017 Profile of international RE activity in Fla.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nov. 10, 2017 – Since 2005, Florida Realtors has released an annual study on international real estate activity in Florida. Conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Research Group, it attempts to understand the interaction of members with international clients, the challenges and opportunities they face serving foreign clients, and the characteristics of foreign buyers who purchase Florida property.


The 2017 Profile of International Residential Real Estate Activity in Florida covers the 12-month period of August 2016-July 2017 and includes info on U.S. clients seeking to purchase property abroad.

The survey considers only residential purchases in the state.

Survey highlights

Florida residential property purchases by foreign buyers

  • Foreign purchases in the state increased to $24.2 billion, a $4.8 billion increase from 2016’s $19.4 billion
  • Foreign transactions accounted for 21 percent of Florida’s residential dollar volume of sales, a 2 percent increase year-to-year
  • Foreign buyers purchased 61,300 Florida properties (47,000 in 2016), which made up 15 percent of Florida’s residential market (12 percent in 2016)
  • The median purchase price paid by foreign buyers increased to $259,400 ($252,500 in 2016), which was in line with the overall increase in Florida prices
  • The median price paid by foreign buyers was 18 percent higher than the median price paid by all Florida buyers

Nationalities of Florida’s foreign residential buyers

  • Latin American and Caribbean buyers accounted for the largest portion of Florida foreign buyers (34 percent), though this group made up 39 percent the previous year.
  • Canadian buyers increased to 22 percent (19 percent in 2016)
  • Other countries remained consistent year-to-year: The share of European buyers was unchanged at 23 percent; Asian buyers at 10 percent; and African buyers at one percent
  • Most foreign buyers were concentrated in five metropolitan areas: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach (53percent); Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (11percent); Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (nine percent); Cape Coral-Fort Myers (six percent); and North Point-Sarasota-Bradenton (five percent)

Transaction details

  • 72 percent of foreign buyers made an all-cash purchase
  • 68 percent of foreign buyers purchased residential property for vacation, residential rental or for both uses (72 percent in 2016); 49 percent bought a townhouse or condominium (52 percent in 2016)
  • 35 percent (40 percent in 2016) purchased in a central city/urban area; 15 percent purchased in a resort area (14 percent in 2016)
  • 93 percent of foreign buyers visited Florida at least once before purchasing a property (92 percent in 2016)

Florida clients searching properties abroad

  • 17 percent of Florida’s Realtors said they had a client seeking to purchase property abroad, up from 14 percent in 2016
  • Top countries of interest from Florida residents looking elsewhere: Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain, Canada and the Dominican Republic
  • 75 percent were interested in residential property (79 percent in 2016)
  • 75 percent intended to use the property for vacation, residential rental or both uses (84 percent in 2016)

Florida’s Realtors interaction with international clients

  • While international business rose, fewer Realtors in Florida (44 percent) said they worked with an international client in 2017 (48 percent in 2016)
  • 61 percent of Realtors said they did not have cultural and language problems
  • Personal contacts, previous clients and business contacts accounted for 72 percent of referrals or leads
  • An agent’s firm, franchise website or social media was the primary source of online leads, followed by other aggregator websites and
  • Respondents were evenly split about the outlook in the next 12 months: 43 percent expected the same or an increase in international clients, 42 percent expected a decrease, and 15 percent had no opinion.
  • 56 percent expect foreign retirees to be potential clients

© 2017 Florida Realtors