ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 21, 2018 – Hurricanes hit, insurance rates rose, team ad rules got an update. and a real estate market marked by rising prices and tight inventory showed the first potential signs of change.
Michael throws a boat ashore
On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael slammed Florida's Panhandle as the eye crossed near Mexico Beach. The category 4 storm was the first to target Northwest Florida and will forever impact future planning for the area – building codes, insurance rates and safety – after residents suddenly realized that their area faces just as much risk from deadly storms as the seemingly more vulnerable Florida cities to the south. The day after the storm, Florida Realtors® Disaster Relief Fund started accepting applications for aid and donations from Realtors throughout the state who wanted to help. A short while later, the national association's Realtors Relief Fund (RRF) announced $400,000 in housing assistance for storm victims. Realtors, association staff, families and neighbors need so much. Any help you can offer is most appreciated.
Insurance woes, from flood to AOB
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) needs a major update but Congress keeps kicking the issue down the road. NFIP is deeply in debt but relied on by homeowners who need or want coverage. 2018 ended up where it started without a long-term solution, even though Realtors had a massive Call for Action before an expiration in September. On the property insurance side, coverage keeps getting more expensive, thanks in part to assignment of benefits (AOB) rules. Change is difficult without action by the Florida Legislature, and the problem could get worse as unscrupulous third parties over-charge for their work and then demand reimbursement from insurance companies, which may then pass increased costs on to their policyholders.
What's the word I'm looking for?
For some Florida Realtor teams, a Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC) rule update may be the biggest story of 2018. While new team ad-rule requirements became official last summer, they give teams a full-year to prepare because, for some, it could mean a new name and major overhaul in every advertisement where it appears. FREC then opened the door to changes in individual ad rules, with a specific eye on the size of licensee names compared to broker names. The discussion will continue in 2019.
Did you feel that? The market shifted
In the years leading up to 2018, a seller's market dominated most areas of Florida. During the first half of 2018, a tight supply of for-sale homes frustrated buyers as median prices and interest rates moved higher and higher. As a result, buyers started to drop out, more sellers lowered asking prices, and bidding wars thinned out. By the second half of the year, quickly rising home prices became slowly rising home prices. Will all of this lead to a balanced market of buyers and sellers in 2019? Maybe. And when will the normal real estate cycle shift again to a buyers' market? Stay tuned.
The 'higher mortgage rates' prediction finally came true
For five years, experts' end-of-year predictions called for higher mortgage rates in the new year – and for five years they've been wrong. But that changed in 2018. While rates continue to hover below 5 percent, which is still historically low, they ended the year about a full percentage point higher than when the year began. In part that's because the Federal Reserve boosted interest rates four times in 2018 and plans a couple more next year. The Fed's interest rate increases immediately raise the cost of adjustable-rate mortgages and indirectly put pressure on fixed-rate loans.
A tip o' the hat to the cap
Florida voters passed Amendment 2 in November, which made permanent a 10 percent cap on non-homestead property assessments each year. Florida Realtors advocated strongly for passage and celebrated the win after 66 percent of voters agreed. A permanent constitutional cap now gives the state's small businesses some assurance they wouldn't be priced out of the market on Jan. 1 of each year simply because property values went up.
Another cut to the business rent tax
Florida businesses will save $31 million dollars each year thanks to the Florida Legislature, which cut the state's business rent tax again. The new rent-tax rate on commercial leases drops to 5.7 percent on Jan. 1, 2019. After the final gavel fell on the 2018 session of the Florida Legislature, Florida Realtors President Christine Hansen said that Realtors knew it was going to be a rough session given the state's tight finances, but "with the help of our members, we managed to keep the momentum going to further reduce the Business Rent Tax."
Does a non-Realtor business model have legs?
iBuyers – Opendoor, Offerpad, etc. – purchase homes directly from owners without an MLS or Realtor. Survey after survey finds that buyers and sellers want a trusted advisor to help them through a stressful transaction, but is there a chance iBuyers could eventually take over a significant share of the real estate market? Realtors find it hard to believe, and the data, so far, isn't impressive. However, Wall Street is heavily backing these new iBuyers: Opendoor alone had raised $325 million by September, and an ATTOM survey found that institutional investors have shown an increasing interest in iBuyer-owned properties. It remains to be seen if these new models will crash and burn like many tech stocks or if they start to take over the business.
Blockchain could unblock closings
Blockchain technology is often associated with Bitcoin, but as a tool, it essentially takes a complex, multi-user transaction and makes it safer. Instead of the data sitting on a single server that all participants tap into, it replicates the data on everyone's computer, making it harder for any single participant to fudge the figures. However, this additional safety and spread of data could also cut the paperwork time to closing in half – or more – if every necessary piece of data becomes instantly available to agents, title companies, lenders, etc. While change always takes time, it could lead to a system where a contract signed on Saturday can close by Thursday.
Builders can't catch a break
The nation needs more new homes – but the cost for new construction keeps moving higher. There's not enough vacant land; impact fees (a development charge by local governments to pay for increased city services) are going up; supplies cost more (in part due to Canadian lumber tariffs); there aren't enough workers – and if there are, they don't have the necessary skills. New home construction, once seen as the solution to a tight housing inventory, did not appear in 2018 – and it doesn't seem to be on the horizon for 2019 either.
© 2018 Florida Realtors®