Richard W. Barkett, CEO, Greater Fort Lauderdale REALTORS

Last week: I was reading an article in USA Today, “Retirement Living,” (Don’t ask me why as I am not there yet) and thought about Downtown Fort Lauderdale. The jest of the story was more baby boomers are being lured to the city for retirement, selling their suburban McMansions for a smaller urban home where stores, restaurants, and social events are within walking distance. Living in a city like Fort Lauderdale provides greater opportunities for part-time jobs, more robust amenities, and closer proximity to universities and special outdoor events like the Winterfest Boat Parade.        

Looking ahead: Governor Rick Scott wants to cut $500 million in taxes and fees next year and he’s asking businesses and citizens for ideas as he travels around the state on his “It’s Your Money” tour, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale. I find this interesting, that the 2013 session was noteworthy for its lack of talk of tax cuts. One place to cut taxes is to reduce the sales tax on commercial leases beginning in 2014. Businesses are unable to expand or hire new employees because of the impact of this sales tax. Ax the tax on commercial leases would create more jobs and keep us on the path toward economic recovery.

Sept. 1

Last week: Wow! I don't know which is the story of the week... We all know the 50th anniversary of MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech in the famous Washington DC march. Or could it be the use of WMD in Syria and the escalation of their civil war causing rising gas prices. Or the loss of Gus, the popular polar bear at Central Park Zoo who died at the age of 27.

Looking ahead: As the date for implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act draws near, folks in other states are receiving useful information from state governments to help them understand how the new law works and how to get the maximum benefit to meet their needs. But in Florida, health care companies have been awarded approximately $8 million for outreach education and enrollment assistance outside of state assistance. Right or Wrong, Florida refused to set up its own exchange and is slow to administer the new law. With an estimated 3.5 million Floridians uninsured, I hope the legislature keeps its eye on this ball.

Aug. 25

Last week: Only in Florida. I find it interesting that Governor Rick Scott seems to be in no rush to select a replacement for Lieutenant Governor.  The job has been vacant for five months or so and has raised questions as to whether the position is needed.  I understand Florida went nearly 100 years without the post of Lieutenant Governor until 1968.  The best part is the job has no defined responsibilities besides replacing the governor if he leaves office or dies.

Next week: The growing ranks of repeat home buyers are helping to drive the housing recovery, making up for the dwindling numbers of first-time buyers. Repeat home buyers accounted for 54 percent of existing-home sales in June, up from 49 percent just one year prior, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Meanwhile, first-time buyers — who usually account for 40 percent of the market share — shrank to 29 percent in June. A lack of lower-priced homes and strict lending requirements are edging more first-time buyers out of the market. This is a major concern.

Aug. 18

Last week: Last week Florida CFO Jeff Atwater asked Florida's insurance commissioner why homeowners policy costs have not gone down this year since we have not had a hurricane since 2005. This week insurance commissioner Kevin McCarty said there are reasons why rates are not coming down despite reports that insurers are starting to save money and he said that in some instances rates may still go up. Enough is enough. Insurance company savings need to be passed back to policy holders.

Looking ahead: If Congress shuts down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, borrowers likely will end up paying slightly higher mortgage rates.  Proposed House and Senate bills would wind down the two firms over five years and scale back the government intervention in guaranteeing mortgage securities. The House bill would privatize the mortgage market, while the Senate's bipartisan plan would limit Washington's role in insuring mortgage securities and retain the federal government as an insurer of last resort.  Both plans are meant to shift more mortgage financing risk from the government to the private sector in order to prevent future taxpayer-funded bailouts.

Aug. 11

Last week: The big news is in newspapers — that Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon is buying The Washington Post. John Henry owner of Boston Red Sox is buying the Boston Globe. Some say that the purchase is to buy influence, but both owners have proven to be long-term thinkers that may foster different experimental news products and future innovation.

Looking ahead: President Barack Obama made it clear in his housing-focused economic speech Tuesday that he envisions the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to be the centerpiece of any reformed mortgage system. He also said his administration plans to continue the phase-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — the two secondary mortgage market companies that are in conservatorship.

Aug. 4

Last week: This week the Broward School District proposes a slight tax hike of 7.48%.  I see this as a benefit to property values and improvement to our overall quality of life.  The question before us "is it enough" with our aging schools particular on the Eastside and teacher raises. Homeownership, Transportation issues and public School funding is a problem that will not go away and options need to be explored.

Looking ahead: Homeownership point of view-Tax Reform is underway on Capitol Hill. The Senate has adopted a "Blank Slate" approach that initially eliminates every provision in the tax code, including those that encourage real estate ownership and investment.
Consumers need to make their voices heard now so real estate provisions are on the top of the Senators' lists.  When approaching tax reform, Congress needs to be careful not to adversely affect the unique legacy of homeownership and real estate investment. It is precisely this legacy that has contributed to our country's historical prosperity and the revitalization of today’s economy. 

July 28

Last week: The Royal Family birth of their new prince. I found it interesting that there is so much speculation on the naming of this beautiful baby boy. By the time you are reading this a name may have been announced, but I strongly feel that it should be Richard--Prince Richard.

Looking ahead: From a housing market standpoint we are experiencing a new type of homebuyer coming back into the market. "Boomerang buyers” — former homeowners who have gone through a short sale, foreclosure or bankruptcy in the past few years and are saving up for a down payment to purchase a home again — are coming back. They're expected in the coming years to flood back into our market since South Florida was one of the hardest hit areas for short sales and foreclosures. Rising rents and the desire to own again now that the economy is more stable are driving many boomerang buyers to re-enter the market. They also want to jump in before interest rates and home prices climb too much higher.