South Florida Real Estate Blog by Michael Catino, Realtor

IRS reopens income verification service used by lenders

 While the partial government shutdown did not affect conventional home loans, some lender requirements were impacted, such as an IRS-based system to verify borrowers' incomes. When the Internal Revenue Service shut down, lenders lost the ability to verify incomes and had to create alternate systems.

However the U.S. Department of the Treasury says it will again verify incomes even through the government shutdown.

"While the IRS remains closed during the partial government shutdown, the agency recognizes the immediate hardship incurred if information is not available through the Income Verification Express Service (IVES) program as well as by taxpayers who have been unable to certify their residency in the United States for certain tax treaty benefits or by those who have been unable to obtain photocopies of tax returns," the department said in a statement.

The IRS began processing requests on Jan. 7 for transcript information through IVES. It says that IVES is a user fee-based program used primarily by mortgage lenders and others within the financial community to confirm the income of a borrower during the processing of a loan application, and those fees will be used to pay for the program during the shutdown, along with other user fee-based services, such as providing a letter needed by some taxpayers to certify their residency in the United States and responding to requests for photocopies of tax returns.

"It will take time to bring this service up to normal operating status," the Treasury statement added. "The IRS advises IVES participants that it may initially take longer than the standard 72-hour turnaround time for the IRS to process these requests. This is due to employees being brought back to work to begin processing backlogged requests since the funding lapse began on Dec. 22."


Fla. Gov. DeSantis signs order to fight algae, red tide

 Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis began following up on a campaign promise to make the environment a priority by signing an order Thursday seeking to tackle Florida's problems with blue-green algae in its rivers and red tide off its coast.

DeSantis signed the order in Bonita Springs in southwest Florida, one of the areas where slimy algae have coated waterways because of pollutants flowing downstream from Lake Okeechobee.

"I pledged I would take action, and today we are taking action," DeSantis said. "What we've done is really, really strong … I think this is something that can unite all Floridians."

DeSantis said he will seek $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and water resources. The order not only touches on algae problems, but also rising sea levels and the ongoing battle with Georgia over water diverted for Atlanta's use instead of flowing downstream to Apalachicola Bay. The reduction of fresh water entering the bay has hurt the region's oyster industry.

He didn't say where the money would come from, and his office didn't immediately respond when asked about the funding.

Late in the day, DeSantis demanded the resignations of all nine members of the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees the Everglades area. The board in November extended a lease with sugar farmers for land needed for a reservoir that is key to water purification efforts, angering DeSantis.

While critics often said DeSantis' predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, ignored science and rising sea levels, DeSantis addressed it on his second full day in office. He is creating an Office of Resiliency tasked with protecting coastal communities and wildlife from sea level rise.

"As we've seen things like increased flooding (and) rising waters, we want to make sure that Florida is doing what it needs to do...

Florida Realtors 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

In many ways, Florida homebuyers and sellers look very similar to U.S. buyers and sellers – but in some ways they differ.

The average age of a Florida homebuyer, for example, is 57 years old, reflecting perhaps the state's fame as a retirement mecca, while the typical U.S. buyer is 46 years old, according to the newly release 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers Florida Report.

The state also has a noticeably higher number of newly built home sales. According to the profile, they made up 20 percent of all 2018 sales; nationally, only 14 percent of 2018 sales were for new homes.

Report highlights

Florida homebuyer characteristics

  • First-time buyers made up 24 percent of Florida homebuyers (33 percent nationally).
  • The typical Florida buyer was 57 years old (46 years old nationally).
  • The 2018 median income was $85,000 ($91,600 nationally).
  • 63 percent of buyers were married couples, 19 percent were single females, 8 percent were single males, and 6 percent were unmarried couples.
  • 12 percent of homebuyers purchased a multi-generational home, to take care of aging parents, for cost savings, and/or because children over age 18 were moving back home.
  • 89 percent identified as heterosexual, 5 percent as gay or lesbian, and 1 percent as bisexual.
  • 21 percent of recent homebuyers are veterans and 3 percent are active-duty service members.
  • The primary reason for purchasing a home was a desire to own a home of their own (25 percent of Florida buyers).

Characteristics of Florida homes purchased

  • Buyers of new homes made up 20 percent (14 percent nationally) and buyers of previously owned homes made up 80 percent (86 percent nationally)....

Survey: Impact fees and regulations hurt affordable housing

new policy study from the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee looked at the effects of impact fees and land-use regulations on the price of houses in several southwestern Florida communities.

Based on the results, the study's authors suggest that impact fees, land-use regulations and permitting delays increase the price of houses, and they're proportionally larger for smaller houses, making homeownership difficult for lower-income working families at a time when housing affordability is a major concern.

"Florida is on the verge of another housing affordability crisis, and local regulations are playing an important role in making the problem worse," says Sam Staley, Ph.D., director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University (FSU). "Our research strongly suggests that workforce housing is being squeezed out by lengthy permitting delays and unwieldy permit fees in those areas that need it most. Impact fees were created by the state to fund infrastructure, but our research shows lower-income households suffer the most. Uncertain fees combined with a lack of transparency in the process are contributing to delayed housing development and higher costs."

Adam Millsap, Ph.D., assistant director of the L. Charles Hilton Jr. Center at FSU, agrees.

"Housing prices will continue to rise in Florida unless supply keeps up with demand," Millsap says. "This means we need to build more, not less, but in many Florida communities zoning regulations like minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, and parking requirements get in the way."


Pulte Homes reaches $78M settlement for stucco issues

Pulte Homes Company LLC will pay more than $78 million to Florida homeowners after faulty stucco caused cracks and leaks in homes throughout the state.

The settlement was reached after Pulte spent approximately $64 million to repair affected homes, according to Attorney General Pam Bondi's office. Pulte is required to pay $4.7 million in restitution, which includes out-of-pocket expenses incurred by homeowners due to the construction defects and repair work.

According to Bondi's office, Pulte did not build the homes up to Florida code and failed to disclose the information to homeowners, denied homeowner repair claims without adequate inspections, and withheld customer deposits in certain instances.

In a statement from Pulte, the company has agreed to the settlement to prevent any further litigation and plans to continue to respond to claims. The statement does not include what led to the faulty stucco work in the homes in Florida.

The issues with Pulte began in 2016 when authorities out of Orlando alerted Bondi's office to the stucco issue in town homes built by Pulte in Windermere, The Orlando Sentinel reported.

Pulte Homes Company LLC is part of Atlanta-based Pulte Homes Group and has some 65 communities across Florida. Several homes built by the company are in Lakewood Ranch and Babcock Ranch.

Pulte also has homes in Florida under three other brands, Centex, DelWebb and DiVosta. The settlement does include the homes built under these brands.

DiVosta is the builder for IslandWalk in the West Villages and has built homes in Palmer Ranch and Lakewood Ranch in Sarasota.

The settlement directs Pulte to repair the homes and compensate homeowners who have been affected by the poor stucco work and any damages caused. Pulte will repair brand new homes up to two years old as of July 1, 2018, with a 1/16-inch or greater excessive stucco cracking and paint area.

Pulte is also required to seal any other opening that may allow...

Housing market will be slower, steadier in 2019

Jan. 4, 2018 – Forget fevered bidding wars and snap home-buying decisions. Slower and steadier will characterize next year's housing market.

That follows a 2018 that started off hot but softened into the fall as buyers – put off by high prices and few choices – sat out rather than paid up.

Affordability issues will remain a top concern going into 2019, exacerbated by rising mortgage rates. But some of 2018's more intractable issues will begin to loosen up. The volume of for-sale homes is expected to rise and diversify, while the number of buyers is forecast to shrink.

"For home sellers, they need to recognize those days of frenzied market are over. They must price competitively to sell their home," said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "For buyers, there will be challenges when it comes to rising interest rates, but they don't have to make hurried decisions anymore."

Still, some cash-strapped first-time buyers will simply be priced out, while a cohort of potential move-up buyers will decide to stay in their existing home, make renovations and enjoy their current low mortgage rate. Price increases will moderate, and everyone in the market will need to adjust.

Finally, more homes to choose from

One of the biggest complaints among buyers in the last several years is that there weren't enough homes for sale. In fact, the supply of houses hit historic lows in the winter of 2017 and has yet to rebound substantially. That fueled bidding wars, price increases and frustration.

The supply crunch is expected to ease some in 2019 with inventory rising 10 percent to 15 percent, according to Yun.

But the increase will be skewed toward the mid-to-high end of the market – houses priced $250,000 and higher – especially when it comes to newly built houses, said Danielle Hale, chief economist of That's good news for move-up buyers, but not so much...

Your need to know guide to buying an older home

Five Amazing Reasons to Choose an Older Home

Buyers who are into the details are going to love owning an older home. Not only do you get all those little bits of period hardware, real wood floors and intricate trim work, your home has a real history that you can trace should you be so interested. Older homes can become a real love story really fast.

There are a lot of reasons to choose an older home, here are five to get you started:

The neighborhood is established. You may not be giving any thought to this particular item right now, but when you’re living with the sound of bulldozers, skid loaders and other heavy equipment nearby as they add even more streets to a newer neighborhood, you might wish you had gone another way. Established neighborhoods don’t give you a lot of room to move, but you also know exactly what to expect day to day.

Mature landscaping! Even if you’re not a gardener, you can appreciate that 50 or 80 year old shade tree that protects your house like a giant leafy umbrella. If past owners put in plants, you may also have bought into a hedge or foundation plantings that will give you lots of green without lots of effort.

High ceilings. Although the types of ceiling treatments that are in modern homes rarely pop up in older homes, you may find high ceilings in older homes (this will depend on how old of a house you’re looking for). Before air conditioning, those high ceilings helped keep occupants cooler in the summer. Today they give you a more spacious atmosphere and more room for vertical storage.

Lots of natural light. One of the best features of many older homes is the sheer number of windows that have been installed. So many windows means so much more light...