South Florida Real Estate Blog by Michael Catino, Realtor

Thousands of Floridians aren’t insuring their homes

When people in Florida have a mortgage, banks require them to obtain homeowners insurance to protect their investment. After the mortgage is satisfied, however, thousands of people stop paying those insurance premiums, which puts them at risk, experts say.

"It's totally crazy not to have insurance unless you are super rich and you can be self-insured but I don't think that's the case for most of us," says Victor Roldan, director of RMS.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners says Florida had the third-highest average premium for homeowners insurance compared to other states in 2016, costing homeowners $1,918 annually. Compared to the national average, Floridians pay $726 more per year.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one out of 10 (12.8 percent) owner-occupied Florida homes don't have property insurance, and it rises to 14.4 percent in Miami – double the national average of 6.8 percent.

Source: NBC Miami (02/25/19) Masihy, Myriam; Esquivel, Sandra


U.S. consumer confidence surges higher in Feb.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased in February following a decline in January. The Index now stands at 131.4, an almost 10-point increase from January's 121.7.

The Present Situation Index – consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions – improved, moving from 170.2 to 173.5.

The Expectations Index – consumers' outlook for income, business and labor market conditions six months from now– increased from 89.4 last month to 103.4 this month.

"Consumer confidence rebounded in February, following three months of consecutive declines," says Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. "The Present Situation Index improved, as consumers continue to view both business and labor market conditions favorably. Expectations, which had been negatively impacted in recent months by financial market volatility and the government shutdown, recovered in February. Looking ahead, consumers expect the economy to continue expanding."

Franco says that The Conference Board's economic forecasts, however, peg the pace of economic expansion to moderate in 2019.

Current conditions
Consumers' appraisal of current conditions improved moderately in February. Those stating business conditions are "good" increased from 36.4 percent to 41.2 percent, while those saying business conditions are "bad" was unchanged at 10.8 percent.

Consumers' assessment of the labor market was mixed. Those stating jobs are "plentiful" decreased slightly from 46.7 percent to 46.1 percent, but those claiming jobs are "hard to get" also decreased, from 12.6 percent to 11.8 percent.

Future conditions
Consumers' optimism about the short-term future rebounded in February. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased from 16.3 percent to 19.7 percent; those expecting business conditions...

Housing issues may be major focus of 2020 election

 In the race for the White House, housing seldom gets much attention – but that could be about to change.

As California and other states face dramatically rising rents and home prices, three of the top Democratic contenders in 2020 – Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren – have already introduced major proposals in the Senate that would reshape affordable housing in America.

"We've already seen more attention on housing and affordable housing policy in these first few weeks and months than we have in entire presidential campaigns in the past," said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She called the candidates' plans more ambitious than any housing policies adopted by the federal government in "generations."

The proposals – which include renter tax credits, ramped up federal funding for housing construction, and controversial moves to reform local zoning – would also cost tens of billions of dollars, the latest examples of 2020 hopefuls embracing ideas from the left.

Here's how the candidates' plans would work and what they would mean for Californians:

Giving renters a helping hand

Federal tax law has long favored homeownership, doling out deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes. Harris and Booker's plans would give renters a piece of the pie, guaranteeing tax credits for those spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent (including utilities). More than half of California renters pay at least that much, according to a Harvard University study, the highest rate in the country after Florida.

Under Booker's bill, the Housing, Opportunity, Mobility and Equity (HOME) Act, those cost-burdened renters would get a tax credit for the difference between 30 percent of their income and the rent they're paying, up to the area fair market rent.

"We've gotten to a point in America where...

How has housing improved since the Great Recession?

LendingTree analyzed the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas in the U.S. to see how housing prices, income and unemployment rates have recovered the most since the height of the Great Recession – and where values are still struggling. The analysis compares the latest available housing values to 2009.

When the real estate bubble burst in late 2008, many Americans saw their home values fall drastically, but a lot has changed in the 10 years since. Though the rapid ascent of home prices increases is starting to slow, they already exceed 2006 highs.

Key findings

  • On average, median home values have increased by nearly $50,000 across the 50 largest metros in the United States since 2009, likely due to increasing incomes and falling unemployment rates.
  • Hartford, Conn., Chicago, Virginia Beach, Va., and Baltimore are the only metros in the study where median housing prices have fallen since 2009. On average, these areas have seen home prices fall nearly $6,700. A lack of strong employment opportunities and out-of-state migration might play a role.
  • California housing markets – San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles – have recovered the most since 2009. Each of area has seen average housing prices climb by six-digit figures, with an average increase of $243,600, likely due the prevalence of high-paying jobs brought by tech companies like Google and Apple.
  • Unemployment rates have fallen an average of 4.7 percentage points in the nation’s 50 largest metros – every metro included in LendingTree’s study. Detroit’s drop of nearly 10 percentage points is the largest in the nation; Houston’s 1.7 percentage point decrease is the smallest.
  • The median household income in the surveyed metros has increased by an average $11,344 since 2009. San Antonio was the only metro where the median household income fell.

Florida cities included in the study...

What do buyers want? NAHB lists 2019’s top features

Laundry rooms and energy-saving features such as Energy Star appliances, windows and whole house certification are among the most wanted home features, according to survey results from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released during a press conference at the NAHB International Builders' Show in Las Vegas.

NAHB surveyed nearly 4,000 homebuyers – people who recently purchased a home or plan to purchase one within the next three years – ranking 175 features based on how essential they are to a home purchasing decision.

The top 10 features also included home-storage needs, such as garage storage and walk-in pantries, as well as hardwood flooring, a patio and exterior lighting.

Overall housing trends

Average home sizes continue to decline, and there is a decreased demand for upscale features such as three-plus-car garages. In 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average new-home started declined to 2,576 square feet – down from its peak at 2,689 square feet in 2015 – driven in part by increased production in townhouses, which comprised 14 percent of new home starts.

"Builders are trying to meet demand where it's hottest, and that is at the lower price points," says Rose Quint, association vice president of survey research at NAHB. "To that end, they are building more townhomes and smaller detached homes. Townhomes take up less land, and that automatically brings the price down."

New homes have been downsizing since 2016; fewer have four or more bedrooms, or three or more bathrooms. It shows "that builders are trying to respond to the crisis around housing affordability," Quint says.

NAHB's survey also includes key information on types and location of homes desired by buyers:

  • Suburbs are the most desirable home location (64 percent), followed by a rural setting (24 percent) and the central city (11 percent).
  • Millennials are the most likely to want...

3 outside-the-box ways to help homebuyers succeed

The housing market may continue to be strained, especially for homes in the lower price ranges. Most affordable inventory is snapped up quickly and often the least desirable and priciest properties languish on the market.

In fact, Freddie Mac economists estimate that the U.S. could use almost 5 million more housing units.

However, there are a few outside-the-box solutions to the housing crunch that the industry has been exploring for years.

Factory-built homes
One is factory-built homes, which the Urban Institute says are 35 percent to 47 percent cheaper than traditional "site-built" properties.

However, restrictive zoning has put a damper on take-up rates for manufactured homes, along with the fact that lenders can struggle to make mortgages on them because it's hard to find comparable properties for appraisals, in part because most owners do not own the land on which the homes sit.

Communal living homes
Another option is communal living. In this type of housing, a community land trust owns and retains ownership of the land and offers long-term leases to homeowners.

Fixer-uppers can be another solution. The cost of a fixup can be rolled into a single renovation mortgage, so that home plus remodeling costs can be paid for over time. However, this will probably require a bit more patience on the part of buyers since the process can be cumbersome, and most renovation loans require that contractors be paid on a draw basis, making many uninterested in such projects.

However, Jamie Zeitz of Homebridge Financial Services says that "there's no safer way" to enter into a construction deal since the work being done is part of a financing package that requires all parties to be satisfied with the results.


Hurricane Michael drops home sales by a third

A new report shows how much Hurricane Michael has affected home sales in the area of the Florida Panhandle where it made landfall last October.

The report by Florida Realtors shows that year-over-year sales of single-family homes declined by more than a third in the Panama City metro area during the last quarter of last year.

Sales of townhouses and condos were down almost 30 percent in the last quarter.

By comparison, statewide sales of single-family homes were up a tenth of a percent year-over-year, and sales of townhouses and condos were up almost 2 percent.

The report was released Tuesday.

Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10 as a Category 4 storm, devastating a large swath of the metro Panama City area.


Fla.’s housing market: Sales, new listings, median price up at end of 2018

Florida's housing market wrapped up 2018 with more sales, higher median sale prices and more new listings compared to the year before, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

"Florida's economy is growing, the jobs outlook remains strong and more people are moving to the Sunshine State," says 2019 Florida Realtors President Eric Sain, . "And, while mortgage interest rates have fluctuated in recent months, they remain at historically low levels. All of these factors are positive signs for the state's housing market in 2019."

Year-end 2018

Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 277,827 in 2018, up 2.2 percent compared to the 2017 figure, according to data from Florida Realtors research department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations.

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in 2018 was $254,505, up 7.2 percent from the previous year. New listings for existing single-family homes rose 6.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

Looking at Florida's year-to-year comparison for sales of townhouse-condos, a total of 116,706 units sold statewide in 2018, up 4.9 percent from 2017. The closed sales data reflected fewer short sales and foreclosures statewide in 2018 compared to the previous year: Short sales for condo-townhouse properties declined 37.5 percent and foreclosures dropped 33.9 percent; short sales for single-family homes dropped 41.4 percent while foreclosures declined 39.5 percent.

The statewide median price for townhouse-condo properties in 2018 was $185,000, up 7.2 percent over the previous year. New listings for townhouse-condos for the year increased 5.9 percent compared to a year ago.

At the end of 2018 and also for 4Q 2018, inventory for single-family homes stood at a 4-months' supply, while inventory for townhouse-condo properties was at a 5.7-months' supply, according to Florida...

Flipping luxury homes growing in popularity – for now

 Investors are taking on bigger projects and finding an increasing appetite for flipped high-end homes.

In 2018, 2.6 percent of homes valued at over $1 million were flipped, compared to 2.2 percent in 2017, according to data from, which analyzed markets where at least 20 flipped homes sold for more than $1 million from January to October 2018. They define "flip" as a home that sold twice for a profit within one year.

The markets seeing some of the largest number of luxury housing flips are in California, particularly the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim, where the percentage of luxury home flips increased from 3.4 percent in 2017 to 4 percent in 2018.

"It was one of the fastest-growing luxury markets last year overall, so it's a function of sales being higher and growing at a healthy pace, which can result in flips growing at a healthy pace," Javier Vivas, director of economic research at, told Mansion Global. "The share of inventory above $1 million in Los Angeles is large, too, and above most other markets."

International buyers are targeting the area for flips as well, says Santiago Arana, a broker with The Agency in Los Angeles.

While luxury home flipping homes is rising across the country, activity is still lower than it was a decade ago, says Vivas.

Luxury home flipping in many markets could taper off though this year, too. Housing analysts point to changes in the U.S. tax code that could make investors more reluctant to take on bigger purchases this year.

"Buyers and sellers are adjusting their expectations," Vivas says. "We're already seeing a lot of that with price reductions and increases in the amount and types of price cuts happening above the $1 million mark."


Tax-deduction cap could turn expected refunds into bills

The big tax question of the year: Will you get a super-size refund or suddenly discover that you're going to end up writing one monster check?

No one really knows for sure in light of sweeping changes that hit homeowners, two-paycheck couples and families who once had a string of itemized deductions but no longer can take some breaks under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Taxpayers are getting their first look at how the new tax overhaul hits their pocketbooks when they file their 2018 federal income-tax returns. The devil involving those deductions, such as those for property taxes and state income taxes, is in the details.

If you think you're getting the same refund as last year – or even bigger with the tax cuts – think again. It's not that simple. Some are owing more money.

A Novi, Michigan, homeowner told me that he was shocked when he was smacked with having to write a big check to pay his tax bill after he completed his 2018 tax return.

He owes more than $3,000 when typically he received roughly a $4,000 refund in the past.

The couple, in their 50s, both have jobs and receive W-2s to report their wages. They pay about $9,000 in state income taxes and another $10,000 or so for property taxes on their Novi condo. Their children are older, so they don't qualify for any child tax credit.

The homeowner asked to remain anonymous, citing a desire to keep his family's financial situation private.

The homeowner told me that he understood there was a $10,000 limit on how much one could deduct for property taxes on the federal return, after the major tax overhaul.

What he didn't know: The $10,000 cap includes much more than property taxes. The limit also affects how much the couple can deduct when it comes to what they paid for state income taxes.

Together, what would have been more than a $19,000 deduction was limited to $10,000.

"Your total deduction for state and local income, sales and property...