Thursday, April 30, 2020

Towards the Light

Last day of April and sea turtle nesting is off to robust early start in south Cocoa Beach. I counted thirteen new nests on my morning walk yesterday. I took the photo above a couple of years ago on a morning walk when a late-hatching nest was being blitzed by a group of crows. Most hatching happens during darkness when birds can't see the vulnerable young turtles as they make their way from the nest to the ocean. Those that don't make it to the water before sunrise are at the mercy of birds who fly along the beach looking for an easy meal. This particular hatchling was among several dozen that were being attacked by a group of aggressive crows. I and another walker who was passing by were able to keep the crows shooed away long enough for most of the little ones to make it into the ocean safely.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has announced a reopening plan that will allow restaurants and retail stores, except for three counties in southeast Florida, to open Monday, May 4 at reduced capacity. He mentioned no requirements for masks.  Indoor seating at restaurants and retail stores will be limited to 25% capacity. Local governments may continue to enforce more stringent policies. The Brevard County Commission is meeting today to discuss whether to move forward with allowing vacation rentals to begin accepting new guests on Monday as planned.

There have been no new confirmed coronavirus cases in Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral in over a week. We are standing at nine confirmed cases, combined, as of yesterdays report.

Real estate activity in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral picked up this past week with fifteen condo units contracted in seven days bringing April's total so far to 46 accepted contracts. Those hoping for virus-related bargain prices have so far been disappointed. There are still no new vacation rental condo listings.

As we get back out in public and around one another again it would be reassuring if everyone wore masks and maintained their distance. Despite not being mandated as part of Florida's reopening, masks are a polite reminder to others that you're probably being attentive to and practicing safe behavior. Not wearing a mask suggests that you're probably not. Not to mention, masks are kinda fun. It's Halloween everyday. Enjoy it.

"I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better." __Georg C. Lichtenberg

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Liberate Sunbathers

Jigsaw puzzles have probably seen a resurgence in popularity everywhere if my house is any indication. This one by former Cocoa Beachling David Hale has been a mind-bender.

There was an interesting swerve in real estate sales in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral this week. The slowdown in condo contracts continued but single family homes had an unusually strong week despite the shutdown. There were only seven new condo contracts since last Saturday but five single family homes were contracted in the same period. One week is not long enough to call a trend change but surprising nonetheless.

We've had 34 residential properties go under contract since April Fools Day, nine of those single family homes. Compare that to 65 contracts during the same 25 day period last year. Closings are just now starting to reflect the impact of the shutdown as the closings so far this month were, all but one, contracted in previous months. So far in April, 45 residential properties of all types  have closed in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, 31% of those for cash. Five of those sales happened without being offered to the public and all but eight sold within two months.

Inventory is steady with 209 existing condo and townhome units and 53 single family homes offered for sale on the MLS. About a quarter of these listings have been offered for five months or longer signaling overpricing. Perhaps the slowdown will encourage some of these sellers to dip an exploratory toe into the reality pond. Maybe not. Reducing an asking price is a difficult step to take for most sellers even when the initial price was crazy high. If you're reading this and your property has been listed since last year without a contract maybe this is a good time to reevaluate your asking price. Why wasn't your property among the 251 that have already closed this year? With very few exceptions, the answer is because it's priced too high. With the reduced demand we're seeing right now, chances of finding a buyer willing to overpay have gotten even closer to zero.

In addition to walkers, fishermen and surfers who have been allowed all along, our beach has reopened to those who want to sit or sunbathe as long as they maintain distancing and gather in groups of no more than five. Beach parking is still closed. I was happy to hear this week that Publix has begun buying surplus produce and milk that farmers can't sell and donating it to food banks. In a time of massive grift it's encouraging to hear stories of corporate benevolence. Good on ya, Publix.

The Cocoa Beach Community Food Drive is providing food and supplies for local citizens in need at two locations. They are:

Lutheran Resurrection Church at 525 Minutemen Cswy. Food Pantry is open Saturday 10 -12

Society of St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry (through Our Savior’s Catholic Church) is open Monday, Wednesday, Fridays 9:30 am- 1:00 pm. Site pick up is different than the church so please call ahead 321-799-3677 for pick up. The location is 130 Cleveland, Unit C.

There were no new confirmed cases of coronavirus in Cocoa Beach (7) or Cape Canaveral (2) this week. Testing has loosened up somewhat and free tests are available to those with symptoms (see above) and antibody test are available to anyone for $100 from Omni in Melbourne (321.802.5515) or

"You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into."  __anonymous

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Now the ISS. Then Mars and Beyond.

The 1067 foot Norwegian Breakaway anchored five miles offshore Cocoa Beach. This ship would normally be carrying over 4000 paying passengers but for now it is anchored outside the Port along with several others waiting out the virus shutdown.

As of yesterday's report, our number of confirmed Covid-19 cases are unchanged with seven in Cocoa Beach and two in Cape Canaveral. Only 41 people have been hospitalized so far in our entire county due to coronavirus. Our governor is straining at his leash to reopen businesses and reports are we could see outdoor dining and elective surgery resumed by next week. I guess professional wrestling isn't generating the kind of tax revenues he'd been hoping for. The Brevard County Office of Tourism will shortly be launching a big marketing campaign targeting the "drive market" of visitors that are within a short drive of the Space Coast. They are hoping to curb the estimated loss of over $7,000,000 in tourist tax revenue in our county from the shutdown.

American astronauts are scheduled to be launching from American soil  late next month for the first time since 2011 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on a mission to the International Space Station. This is a long-awaited event and locals are excited to see the resumption of Human Spaceflight from the Cape.

Real estate inventory and sales in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are little changed since my last post. Activity is slow but far from stopped. Video walk-throughs have become the standard for property showings and are safe for everyone involved. Most agents are happy to Facetime or otherwise video properties that their clients may be interested in. Ask them.

As of yesterday more than 1.5 million Floridians had applied for unemployment benefits since March 15. Of those one and a half million jobless people, only 40,193 have received any benefits and about 90% of the applications have not even been reviewed. The system is working exactly as designed.

I commented in my last post that customers considering ordering takeout would probably appreciate and respond positively to knowing what coronavirus protective measures a restaurant is taking. A picture of the staff with all wearing masks would probably do more for takeout business than a 15% off coupon. The day after my post a local restaurant posted a short video to Instagram showing an employee dispensing food into a large container while not wearing a mask. Seems tone-deaf to go to the trouble of posting something intended to spur business that instead shares an unmasked food handler standing over the food they're hoping to sell. Better to be silent and assumed to be practicing safety than to post and prove that you're not. I was a germophobe before all this started so my opinion is probably too extreme. Be safe all and wear your masks in public. Even if you don't think masks are effective wear it as a show of solidarity with everyone who wants to get back to normal, whatever that is now. Thanks in advance from the germophobe community.

Happy 61st Birthday to Robert Smith of The Cure.

"Clusters anywhere are a threat to people everywhere." MM Fill, MD

Friday, April 17, 2020

Essential Wrestling

Scene from the Ft. Lauderdale airport on March 15.

Suggestion: Restaurants that are taking measures to ensure that employees are healthy should be sharing their efforts with the public. Instead of a free roll of toilet paper with my pizza I'd be more inclined to order takeout if I knew that all employees were wearing masks and none reported for work with a temperature above 100°. Beneficial for the owner and the other employees and very reassuring for the customers. Cost? Minimal. Porque no?

April 16 Covid-19 report shows no new cases in Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral. Confirmed cases still stand at six and one respectively.

Inventory of homes and condos for sale in the two cities has contracted slightly with a total of 206 existing condo units and 55 single family homes for sale this morning. There are another 26 units and homes offered as pre-construction reservations.

Sales activity as measured by new contracts is declining rapidly with a 40% decline in new contracts in the last 30 days compared to the same period in 2019 and is off by more than 50% in the month of April so far; 32 contracts in 2019 from April 1 through April 17 versus 17 this year. Even though real estate has been designated an "essential" service by the Florida governor, buyers are reticent during uncertain times. For what it's worth, Governor DeSantis also included professional wrestling on the essential services list. Florida Man's reputation reconfirmed in the minds of the world.

The vacation rental market is at a full halt but, surprisingly, there hasn't been a new listing of one for sale in over four months. With over 1000 weekly rental units in our two cities, the collective lost rent during the shutdown is over $1,000,000 a week. The vast majority of these units don't carry a mortgage so the pressure to sell isn't as urgent for these owners even though rent is currently zero. I expect to see new listings of vacation rental units if the no-rent order persists. People will vacation again after the coronavirus shutdown so those with resources (and courage) who have wanted to purchase a short-term unit may have opportunities during the coming months. Note that mortgages are difficult if not impossible to obtain on most of these properties in the best of times.

There is a lot of discussion and disagreement going on in condo associations about whether pools and other common amenities should be closed during the shutdown. I would advise Boards to seek legal advice before relying on what the neighboring building may be doing or what may have been reported on Facebook. Coronavirus may be seen as a "known hazard" and actions taken or not taken relating to it may be judged on that basis. If there is disagreement within your association about this, seek guidance from your association's attorney.

Stay safe, wear a mask in public and please stand at least six feet from me. I appreciate it.

"If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined." _______King Pyrrhus of Epirus

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What Comes Next?

Other than the shutdown of vacation rentals until April 30 (could be extended again) and slowed buyer activity the impact of the pandemic on real estate in Cocoa Beach is yet to be revealed. There have been some significant changes with mortgage requirements but I have not heard of a local sale that has been affected by those changes, yet. There has been no surge in new listings and no noticeable movement in prices as the economy has ground to a halt. Perhaps the effects on our little market will be minimal. As of the April 13 report there are still just six cases of Covid-19 in Cocoa Beach and one in Cape Canaveral.

How about long-term rentals? What happens to the newly unemployed renters of Cocoa Beach and their landlords as the coronavirus shutdown lingers? On April 2, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures for 45 days amid the coronavirus pandemic. What happens afterwards?

Being a tourist destination Cocoa Beach has a large number of restaurants and bars and a significant number of the renters here are employed in those businesses. We are past Easter and it appears the shutdown will be extending for several more weeks at a minimum and possibly into summer. Whether the public will be willing to crowd into restaurants and bars when they reopen is unknown but it's probably safe to assume the fear of close contact will remain with a lot of us beyond the reopening. Best case scenario is that the virus goes away quickly, all our establishments survive the shutdown and reopen with their full staffs to packed houses. The more likely scenario is that some don't survive and close permanently and those that do reopen do so with limited staffing until something like normality returns. That scenario leaves a large number of servers, bussers, bartenders and back of house workers with reduced hours or without a job in a beach town without a lot of alternative jobs.

Who will rent these condos and apartments if a substantial number of these workers are forced to move elsewhere seeking employment? What happens to rents and the value of the properties that these workers have been renting? Smaller, inexpensive condo and apartment units are the primary property type these workers are renting. For the record, maximum unemployment compensation in Florida for those who qualify and can wade through the excruciating application process is $275 a week. The CARES legislation promises additional compensation but we'll have to see how that plays out as it is administrated through Florida's broken and overloaded system. Average rent for a one bedroom condo in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral is $1200 a month and average selling price of these units is around $130,000. I have no idea how this will resolve as most everyone is still frozen in place with fingers crossed hoping for a miracle. I don't know if the number of affected renters will be enough to matter but at first glance it appears to be a possibility.

I would be interested in readers' thoughts and stories related to our coronavirus reality. Feel free to comment to this post or email me directly. All input contributes to our understanding.

"When times are good, investors tend to forget about risk and focus on opportunity. When times are bad, investors tend to forget about opportunity and focus on risk."  __unknown

Sunday, April 12, 2020

I'd Love It If We Made It

Lots of clam shells on the beach recently.

The latest report indicates there are now six Covid-19 cases in Cocoa Beach and one in Cape Canaveral. There are six cruise ships either anchored or drifting offshore at the moment with one at dock inside the Port. Officials at Port Canaveral have said that in the first three months of the "no-sail" order from the CDC they expect to lose $22.5 million in docking, passenger and parking fees. They are still taking in $1.5 to $2 million a month in fees from the short dockings when the ships take on supplies before returning to anchorage offshore. The lost revenue to associated local businesses from the tens of thousands of missing cruise passengers is much more difficult to estimate but it's safe to assume it's quite large.

Hearing reports of wildlife taking advantage of abandoned cities including photos of coyotes walking  down empty city streets in San Francisco and Chicago did not prepare me for the sight of a wild turkey strolling across my yard yesterday. This hen was last seen heading north on the beach side of A1A in south Cocoa Beach. Best of luck to her and I hope she doesn't cross paths with our bobcat.

Real estate activity continues to decelerate with only seven residential properties going under contract in our two cities in the last seven days. We've managed to close 15 in the same seven days but I expect that number to ramp down as the pipeline of new contracts dwindles. There are 219 existing condo units for sale this morning and another 21 offered as pre-construction reservations. I have not heard if the new oceanfront project in downtown that represents the bulk of those 21 pre-construction units has decided to delay ground-breaking but I imagine there have been discussions. I will report as I hear of developments.

Florida's online unemployment compensation system has crashed and the only way to apply now is with a paper form. For locals who need to file, paper forms are available at the front of the Cocoa Beach Library which is closed for other business. Best of luck to those trying to navigate this morass that was designed to fail which it has just done in magnificent form. The politicians must be proud.

A happy and healthy Easter to all.

"And I'd love it if we made it."  __Matty Healy - The 1975

Friday, April 10, 2020

Maintaining the Interval

Yesterday's report indicated there were a total of 5 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Cocoa Beach. There are drive-up testing locations elsewhere in Brevard County for those who meet the stringent qualifications for testing. Most people I see in Cocoa Beach seem to be observing good distancing practices. On-street parking downtown is empty and a few people are strolling about or picking up to-go orders from the downtown restaurants. I usually see a handful of well-spaced people waiting outside Surfinista for pickup orders around lunchtime. My household has gone to Instacart delivery for groceries from Publix and the experience so far has been excellent. I made a dash into Coastal Produce a couple of days ago for fresh produce and was the only customer in the store. The only employee I saw was the cashier who was wearing a mask as was I. Incidentally, they had toilet paper for sale.

Among the restaurants adapting to the shutdown, Papa Vito's has really excelled at stepping up their game. They were early to adapt to the coronavirus shutdown by offering a free roll of toilet paper with every pickup or delivery and are now offering produce, meats and paper products for delivery or pickup in addition to pizza and Italian dishes. They will surely be among the restaurants who survive after the shutdown. The 4th Street Fillin Station is another who has excelled at transitioning to takeout only. Their Instagram is worth following just for the photos of yummy food and drinks. I encourage everyone to support your favorite restaurants during the shutdown if you want to be able to visit them again in the future. In addition to take out orders, gift cards are a great way to support them.

Fortunately our beach is still open for much needed exercise and fresh air with distancing being enforced. With all beach parking closed the beaches are practically empty. This was the beach yesterday at low tide walking back into south Cocoa Beach from Patrick Air Force Base. No distancing issue here.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” ________John Donne

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Sitting in Chairs Outlawed - Surfing Encouraged

Remember in the 90s when Fifer ran for Mayor of Cocoa Beach with a platform that included legalizing skateboarding? This was at a time when No Skateboarding signs were quite common around town. Times have changed. Cocoa Beach now embraces skateboarding and there is a skate park behind the school. Adding validation for our other board sport, Cocoa Beach has issued an Emergency Proclamation that specifically legalizes surfing during the beach restrictions related to cocronavirus. It is a welcome instance of common sense in our leaders' often bizarre responses to the outbreak. Thanks to Mayor Ben and the rest of our City leadership for the practical guidance.

Pursuant to the authority vested in me as Cocoa Beach City Manager by the City Commission of the City of Cocoa Beach, in accordance with Amendment #1, City of Cocoa Beach, Florida, Declaration of Emergency Proclamation, approved March 19, 2020, I hereby Order that all ocean beaches in the City of Cocoa Beach are closed to all activities except walking, jogging, biking, fishing, surfing and swimming.  Activities such as sunbathing, sitting in chairs, organized sports or laying on blankets and grouping of persons is not permitted.  A minimum of six foot social distancing shall apply.  When your activity is complete, you will be required to leave the beach area.  This follows State of Florida Executive Order 20-91, as modified by Executive Order 20-92, Safer at Home, specifically Essential Activities.  Beach parking, beach access parking, and the parking garage will remain closed.  Failure to comply with the Order may result in further restrictions being applied.  Fine for violation (pursuant to Cocoa Beach City Code Section 8.5-6) is set at $500.00 per occurrence.
          Done and ordered this 2nd day of April, 2020.

"The argument that the elderly and weak may just have to die to enrich the young and strong — painted as some sort of sacrifice, rather than a horrific outcome that we should fight against — is so bleak and hopeless. Lord, change hearts. Lord, protect the weak." __Haley Byrd