Saturday, October 30, 2021
Monday, October 18, 2021
The concept of condominium ownership began in Florida in 1963 and in the next 18 years over a half million units were built. Those units are now at least 40 years old and represent 38% of the over 1.5 million units currently existing in the state. After the deadly collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside in June this year, the Florida Bar assembled a task force to review Florida Condominium law related to management, maintenance and inspection and to determine if changes or additions to current law could prevent or minimize the likelihood of a similar tragedy. The Task Force has completed it's review and has drafted recommendations for the Governor and Florida Legislature. Their recommendations, if adopted into law will affect all existing Florida condominiums.
After reading the report, here are some of my big takeaways. These are my interpretations and may not be exactly as intended by the writers of the report but I think I'm close.
Florida BAR Task Force Recommendations
Structural Inspections: Requiring a structural and life-safety inspection by a structural engineer or architect by December 31, 2024 for all 3-story plus buildings older than five years and every five years thereafter. Miami/Dade and Broward Counties currently require an inspection and structural recertification for buildings by the time they're 40 years old. Boards will be required to inform owners of the building/s' condition after inspection. As it currently stands Boards are not required to share building issues with the owners and, in my experience, some Boards actively discourage discussions of issues to preclude those appearing in meeting minutes which could discourage prospective buyers. The report also recommends a path for owners to engage the State should a Board not perform it's duties to inspect and maintain.
Special Assessments: Voiding any limitations in the condo docs that limits the Board's ability to levy special assessments or to borrow money to perform repairs including requiring unit owner approval or voting to perform those repairs. This means that unit owners can't vote down special assessments they don't want to pay. Also, establishing a source of long term loans for owners who may not be able to afford a large special assessment.
Reserves: Establishing a baseline for reserves. Currently a Florida condominium association may elect to have zero reserves and, instead, levy special assessments to cover maintenance as needed. Most associations in our area have some level of reserves but very few have 100% funded reserves and even those that do rarely have funds specified for concrete repairs included. The Task Force recommendations are for at least 50% reserves for previously mandatory items and, included for the first time, building components with greater than 40 year life such as concrete, the whopper expense for any coastal high-rise building.
Local Government: Establishing some responsibility of local government to be involved in, or oversight of, the inspection process.
Insurance: The recommendations are vague here but the practice of under-insuring and using very high deductibles needs to be changed.
Summary - More regulation of condos is required to ensure public safety. That regulation will include building inspections (by both public and private sources), more frequent maintenance, higher reserves with newly included reserve items and better insurance coverage among other things. The impact to unit owners will be reflected in higher monthly fees to cover these new expenses. The impact will be felt least in well-maintained buildings with good reserves but associations with low monthly fees and deferred maintenance are about to become much more expensive for their owners. This is without considering insurance premium increases that may result from reconsidered risk in older Florida condo buildings that has nothing to do with the Task Force.
As a prospective buyer of a unit in an older condominium I would proceed with the assumption that the monthly fee will be increasing substantially over the next three years and that concrete work, if obviously needed, will probably be happening during that period along with a special assessment to pay for same. If I owned a unit in an older building with low reserves and with deferred maintenance I would probably be considering selling. Hey, don't shoot the messenger. This has been brewing for a long time. Will unit values in these buildings be affected? Absolutely, but they will almost certainly continue to go up until the impact is widely known. There may be a considerable period of continued appreciation before the piper demands payment. Feeling lucky? Well, do you?
Here is the entire Task Force report for those so inclined.
"I missed it in 96 and I'm not gonna miss it again." Ben Gravy referring to the approaching Hurricane Larry swell last month
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Masked bandit at the Cocoa Beach Country Club.
This is an excerpt from a post five years ago. Those who haven't been involved in a Florida real estate transaction often don't know what to expect nor who pays for what. Here's a simplification of the basics. As always, the contract spells out the exact responsibilities for the parties involved. It is entirely possible to negotiate to have the opposite party pay for an item that is not customarily paid by their side.
A real estate contract is considered executed when all parties have finished signing. After that, the next step is to send the file to the closing agent which in Florida is usually a title company or, sometimes, an attorney's office that is also a title company. The title company then does the title search, co-ordinates with the buyer's lender if a mortgage is involved, determines tax liabilities and gets an estoppel letter from the association if the property is a condo. They then pull all this together and generate a settlement statement with exact numbers in enough time for the buyers to wire their funds for arrival by day of closing and then have all parties sign their respective documents (couriered or emailed to parties who will not be attending actual closing), disburse funds after closing and record the relevant documents. It's a complicated and under-appreciated job. The majority of closers I work with are legit rock stars at the process. I often think of them when I'm in one of those closings that has run past an hour and the closer is slowly reading every document before sliding it over for signatures. I see it like paper route math. As a paper boy if I've got 100 papers to deliver and can throw four a minute from my speeding bike, I can do my route in 25 minutes. Slow my pace down by just 21 seconds per paper or stop for a couple of short discussions with customers and that same route takes an hour. A closer who can only do one signature page per minute is going to take at least an hour to do a 60 page closing. There are stars who can do a sixty page closing in 15 minutes. You know who you are and I appreciate you more than I can express.Title insurance rates tend to be very close among the different companies and government charges are identical but the settlement and other fees paid to the title company can vary by several hundred dollars. In my experience, the slower and less efficient the title company, the higher these additional fees. Makes sense. A closer who can only close two or three deals a day needs to charge more to make up for inefficiency.
In Florida the seller typically selects the title company since they are the ones paying (usually) for the buyer's owner's policy. If the seller doesn't have a preference, their listing agent will suggest a title company that's, hopefully, conveniently located and good at what they do. Sometimes they are neither. I wish it were different because the difference in closing agent can be the difference in whether a transaction closes on time or actually closes at all. Since the buyer has very little influence in the selection I would encourage listing agents to recommend title companies that are good at what they do and to please use one somewhat close to the property and/or principals. It is a disservice to the seller and buyer of a Cocoa Beach condo when the listing agent selects a title company in Palm Bay because it's convenient to her office. Likewise for continuing to use a company that wastes everyone's time with closings that last way too long. I'm thinking specifically about a closing last month attended by nine people that took an hour and a half for no good reason. There were times when I expected someone to poke the closer to see if she was still awake. For the record, this was at an attorney's office and not a title company.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
By comparison, in 2021 we have closed 95 direct ocean units so far at prices between $228 and $519 per square foot (dropping the high and the low). The median was $339/sf with 71 of the 95 selling for over $300 per square foot and 18 of those over $400/sf. Prices have been in uncharted territory for all of this year and are still climbing. Buyer appetite is still strong although we are going through typical fall slowdown in activity right now. Sellers are playing hardball and buyers are competing with one another for good properties. Multiple offers are to be expected on any desirable property. Knowing that some buyers are willing to knowingly overpay in a rising market will be beneficial knowledge for buyers who find themselves in multiple offer situations. Buyers and sellers need to remember that their estimate of value, no matter how they arrived at it, is an estimate. The opposing party will almost always have a different estimate. Sales happen only when the two parties can reach an agreement or compromise on that estimate.
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” __George Orwell 1984
Monday, September 13, 2021
French kids enjoying the Thousand Islands in Cocoa Beach. Happy Birthday Alesia and Bianca.
What's happening with Cocoa Beach real estate and which property types are seeing the most interest? What has been the impact locally, if any, from the Surfside condo collapse and should I avoid older condos altogether? What is the future for Cocoa Beach property prices and property insurance costs? These are some of the questions I have gotten recently.
One hot property type has been vacation rentals. After being a small, relatively unnoticed segment of the local market, demand for vacation rental properties has exploded. There are only about a dozen oceanfront condo complexes in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral that allow weekly rentals and until recently, short-term rentals, with a couple of exceptions, were only allowed in those particular condos plus oceanfront homes and duplexes. The City of Cocoa Beach no longer aggressively restricts short-term rentals and that has blown up demand for non-oceanfront properties with vacation rental potential. As these other properties have entered the vacation rental market, demand has been surprisingly strong from holiday goers. Apparently, for vacationers, an ocean view is not the must-have we thought it was. Long term single-family rental homes in quiet Cocoa Beach neighborhoods are shifting to AirBnB rentals and the character of those neighborhoods is changing. I've heard a few nightmare stories about rotating beach party crowds in once-quiet neighborhoods. The City, so far, has been unresponsive. In the meantime, prices for properties with vacation rental appeal are soaring. At the moment, among all the oceanfront condos that allow weekly rentals, there is only one for sale, a 760 square foot one bedroom with no ocean view asking $299,900.
In south Florida, post-Surfside collapse, high-rise buildings are required to do a structural inspection and recertification by their 40 year birthday. That requirement does not exist here...yet. Many of our older buildings are putting off making needed repairs because of the expense. At least one oceanfront building in Cocoa Beach has been recently flagged by the City as unsafe and occupants of units above the ground floor are prohibited from entering their units. I can think of a few other buildings that could find themselves in the same situation if they don't take care of their issues. I have not heard of any increases in condo master policy insurance yet but I think it's safe to expect rising premiums as policies hit their renewal date. Buyers and owners of units in older oceanfront condos would be well-advised to anticipate increases in condo fees as a result of repairs that can no longer be ignored and more expensive master policies. If higher premiums don't materialize, the repairs still have to happen and be paid for. As always, there is value in buying in a building that has been diligently maintained. I hesitate to speculate what could happen if insurers decide that poorly-maintained older buildings are no longer worth the risk.
Waterfront Cocoa Beach single family homes have been money in the bank for the last ten years. Will that continue to be the case? Extremely short supply and zero land on which to build more supports the positive. The big question is insurance. Will the new flood insurance rates beginning in October affect values? I suspect that even higher insurance will not change the story. The limited supply can't change. There are only nine waterfront Cocoa Beach single family homes for sale today, only one of them asking less than $749,000. Four waterfront homes have accepted an offer since September 1st.
Condo inventory stands at 72 exiting units for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Thirty five units have gone under contract since September 1st which means, at the same sales rate, our current inventory will be gone in less than a month. Have questions? I'm happy to try to answer questions about Cocoa Beach real estate. My contacts are at the top of the page.
Here's an excerpt from an older post that is even more relevant now and those looking to purchase will be better prepared having read it.
Buyers need to keep this low inventory in mind when looking and offering. The more stringent one's must-have list the more crucial it becomes to shoot for success when offering. This is not the time to offer low and work up to fair. If the perfect property becomes available now is the time to be aggressive. Considering the pace of new listings, it could be a long time for another acceptable listing to appear and by that time, prices are likely to have increased. If you hope to buy a property in this market at this point in history, be bold and quick with your offers or be prepared to never buy. I don't like it either but, as I heard a high-ranking figure recently say, it is what it is. Know that if you do have to overpay for your perfect beach getaway, the tight inventory and vigorous demand will likely push the value up to your purchase price and beyond in short order.
SpaceX is scheduled to launch four non-professional astronauts on a private three day orbital mission on Wednesday night. Two of the astronauts won their trip in contests. Night launches, manned or not, are always spectacular. Don't miss it.
"If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck." __Rick Nelson
Sunday, August 22, 2021
There are 24 existing single family homes on the market right now with another seven yet-to-be-built offered in south Cocoa Beach at the long delayed project at the Old Fisherman's Wharf location. Fifteen homes have gone under contract so far in August. During the same time, 37 condo units have received an accepted contract.
Prices being asked continue to astound. How about a small rundown Cocoa Beach duplex for $675,000? Or a 900 square foot, 58 year old, 1st floor oceanfront condo with no garage for $499,999? It is remodeled and furnished for what that's worth. I would advise some caution for buyers. It's been extremely competitive with multiple offers on almost every decent property priced anywhere near reasonable and some buyers have payed crazy prices to get what they wanted. I wouldn't mind overpaying somewhat to get a perfect property but there appears to be less pressure with increasing inventory and slowing sales. Someone looking for a rare specific property type may have to overpay to get it but those who have flexibility should be in no rush to jump on the next thing that comes close to their criteria. We are entering our typically slow season until Christmas so there is likely to be less competition and more supply. Decent deals are still being had for those who have been patient and diligent.
FEMA will be overhauling the National Flood Insurance Program and resetting rates this fall. They are taking into account rising worldwide sea levels in addition to flood history for specific areas. I have no idea what that will mean for rates in our area but the usual increase without an overhaul is around 10%. Reporting suggests that higher-risk areas like Florida may be in for much higher increases. This is in addition to the still unknown changes we're going to see for master policies for older oceanfront buildings as a consequence of the Surfside condo collapse in June. A big increase in premiums for either of these things could slam the brakes on the affected sectors of our already cooling market.
It's a little over one week until snook season opens here, the anniversary of Hurricane Dorian destroying Abaco in 2019. If the surf remains as calm as it has been recently, this could be a good year for surf fishing for snook and all the other predators along the beach feasting on the annual mullet run. I haven't seen any schools of mullet yet in south Cocoa Beach but they are bound to be here shortly. Good luck and good eating to all the surf fishers.
"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own." _Andy Warhol
Monday, August 09, 2021
The fees are charged by unscrupulous agents to squeeze a few more dollars out of every deal, at least those deals in which they can get away with it. Agents often justify these fees to their clients as necessary to pay the office personnel who handle the paperwork of the transaction. That seems reasonable and many consumers agree to it because they don't know that the vast majority of real estate agents and brokers pay their office staff out of the already substantial commissions being collected. My advice to anyone being asked to pay a transaction fee whether as a buyer or seller is to Just. Say. No. Your agent is not going to walk away from the thousands of dollars he stand to make off your deal over a few hundred dollar junk fee.
From an older post on this same subject:
Thanks for the feedback from those of you with knowledge of this ripoff. It didn't take me long to find several more examples of the same local brokerage charging their clients the junk fee. The "Broker Only Commission" is exactly the same as the infamous "Regulatory Compliance Fee" that used to be charged by another local brokerage. It's a junk fee that has no place on the vast majority of settlement statements. One reader was kind enough to forward me a portion of their contract that showed the fee disclosed and pre-printed on the last page, presumably to make it seem legit. In two other cases that I looked at, that line was omitted from the contract but the fee was inserted on the settlement statement.
People, do not pay a fee to your agent or broker above the commission they are receiving unless it's a case of reduced or no commission and you want them to be paid an appropriate amount for their work. If you are presented with a contract or settlement statement showing a "Broker Only Commission", "Regulatory Compliance Fee" or any other fee paid to your broker by you, refuse to pay it unless you previously agreed to and are OK with paying it. No agent or broker is going to let the deal die because you refused to be robbed of $345 at closing.
Agents, don't be bullied into ripping off your clients. This is a shady practice and it won't continue without your complicity. There are plenty of good brokerages that don't encourage you to treat your clients poorly. Do the right thing.
Check out this preparation of a very unusual seafood ingredient by the very talented Chef Jason at the Flavour Kitchen and Wine Bar in downtown Cocoa Beach.
"You said I'm full of diseases. Your eyes were full of regret and then you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet." from A Change of Heart by The 1975
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
It's that time of year in Brevard County again. We typically have alternating good and bad mango seasons and 2021 is turning out to be one of the really good ones. Everyone's trees are producing in such quantity that those with trees in their yards are sharing bags of fruit with friends, neighbors and strangers much to everyone's delight. I am forced this time of year to eat an unadvisable amount of sweet fruit that I rationalize with the thought of the waste should I not do my part. Consuming several ripe mangoes every day may not be the healthiest dietary decision but it does make me a happy person during the weeks that the fruit are ripening.
In lieu of any interesting agent interactions I'm posting a previously shared account of a weird transaction from 2017. These strange interactions happen more frequently than one would imagine. I am the listing agent in this story.
This is the true account of an interesting and perplexing transaction last month with a mysterious buyer and his communication-impaired buyer's agent from another city.
November 3, 2017: A buyer's agent calls the listing agent of a condo in Cocoa Beach asking to show. The unit is vacant and available to show anytime, but, being from Orlando, the buyer's agent doesn't have access to the local electronic lockbox system so he asks if listing agent can unlock the unit for him. No problem.
November 8: After no contact for five days after showing, the buyer's agent delivers a very low offer contingent upon a mortgage. The listing agent presents the offer to the seller who doesn't want to counter as the unit is in a condotel complex where a mortgage is impossible to acquire unless it is from an unconventional source. The listing agent suggests countering without a financing contingency. Done.
November 9: Buyer counters at a lower number, cash, close in 30 days.
November 10: Negotiations ensue and buyer and seller verbally agree upon a higher number, cash purchase with a 30 day close and buyer's agent asks listing agent to write it up and he'll get buyer to sign. Written, signed by seller and delivered to buyer's agent same day.
November 11: Buyer's agent sends a lender's condo questionnaire but no signed contract. What? This was a cash offer. Buyer's agent says don't worry, buyer is just exploring his options. OK, management company completes the questionnaire three days later and listing agent forwards it to buyer's agent. Buyer's agent goes radio silent.
December 7: The buyer's agent hasn't responded to any emails, texts or phone calls from listing agent for three weeks. Suddenly, 26 days after last contact, he emails listing agent to say that buyer is moving forward if the property is still available and is sending the signed contract shortly. Listing agent informs seller that the dead have arisen but neither holds their breath.
December 8: Signed contract is received from the buyer's agent with escrow deposit due in three days and a ten day inspection period with a close date of Dec. 30. Buyer's agent returns to his Faraday cage and relights the "Do Not Disturb" sign. Listing agent marks the MLS listing as "Backups" rather than "Contingent" and notes in the narrative that the contract is "shaky" and encourages backup offers. Fingers are crossed but seller's and listing agent's expectations remain minimal.
December 14: Escrow deposit is received, three days late. Buyer's agent surfaces briefly to acknowledge receipt and reenters suspension chamber blithely letting the inspection period expire four days later with zero contact..
December 27: late night: Buyer's agent emails inspection report with a demand for all items to be repaired prior to closing on the 30th.
December 28: Seller refuses to do repairs but offers $300 credit at closing for the small items found. and buyer responds that he is willing to delay closing to give seller time to repair. Seller says, no dice, and closing will still happen on Dec. 30 or he will keep the deposit which became non-refundable ten days earlier at the expiration of the inspection period.
December 29: Buyer wisely agrees to the $300 repair credit, signs closing documents and initiates wire of funds late in the day which does not arrive until Jan. 3 for unknown reasons.
January 3: Buyer's agent who has been absent since demanding repairs the previous week sends his last text to the listing agent "Did you receive commission yet?"
While frustrating, this all-too-common level of incompetence from some of my fellow practitioners does provide entertainment and makes for lively discussions when the used house salesmen gather round the table for refreshments. I'd like to thank this buyer's agent and his peers for making the rest of us look better than we would sans the contrast. A hearty toast merry fellows.
“Ask a child to draw a car, and certainly he will draw it red.” - Enzo Ferrari