April 10th, 2007 4:39 PM by Ron Mastrodonato
Senate bills to bolster the state’s insurance sector gain groundTALLAHASSEE, Fla. – April 10, 2007 – A bill that would allow Citizens Property Insurance to expand further and solidify its tax-exempt status moved forward Monday with full approval from the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
The bill got a big push from Gov. Charlie Crist, who made a surprise appearance in the last minutes of the committee meeting to lobby for the bill, which was originally proposed by Sen. Rudy Garcia, a Hialeah Republican.
“It does turn things on its head, and that’s the whole idea. It gives more power back to the people for them to have the opportunity for Citizens, and other competition, as a result of this good legislation to be able to get lower rates,” said Crist.
The Garcia bill was modified to allow homeowners to opt for coverage from the state-run insurer if they have an offer from a private insurer that’s 15 percent higher than the premium charged by Citizens.
In the insurance bill passed in January, the threshold was set at 25 percent. Senate bill 2498 initially would have allowed any homeowner to stay with Citizens regardless of the rate offered by a private market insurance company.
Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, has sponsored an identical bill in the House, but it hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing as of late last week.
Of course, the idea of expanding and possibly competing head on with private insurers doesn’t sit well with the insurance industry. The worry is that all Florida residents would be hit with large future assessments to make up for a shortfall in Citizens if a massive storm hits an area of the state where the company has a large concentration of policies.
William Stander, assistant vice president and regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, also questioned the wisdom of allowing homeowners who could buy insurance in the private market to stay with Citizens if its rates were lower. “We could be subsidizing homeowners who could afford to pay higher rates.”
Another bill approved by Senate committee made a few changes in the state’s My Safe Florida Home program that was started last year to provide grants to homeowners to harden their homes.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Posey of Rockledge, modifies the current program by lowering the value of the homes available for grants to $300,000 from $500,000. It also puts the emphasis on providing shutters for homes, rather than roof repairs and renovations.
In order to provide more grants, the grant amount also would be reduced to $2,500 with a matching grant from the homeowners. It now stands at $5,000.
“We have a perfect storm set up for the economic future of this state if we don’t beat the next eight storms to their destinations,” said Posey, noting that making homes and businesses stronger against future storms was the only way to lower insured losses down the road.
Another insurance bill passed by the Senate committee attempts to fix a few so-called “glitches” in the special-session bill.
It supports Citizens’ tax-exempt status by clearly stating that the insurer wasn’t a private insurance company.
Among its provisions, the bill would prohibit insurers from using the state’s provision that allows them to begin using new, possibly higher rates first, and it requires them to first file the paperwork for the needed regulatory approvals on any rate filings done after Jan. 27 and through Dec. 31, 2008.
It also reiterated the 90-day requirement for insurers to settle claims from residential homeowners, including condo-unit owners.
Copyright © 2007 The Miami Herald, Beatrice E. Garcia. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
NAR urges HUD to revamp FHA programWASHINGTON – April 10, 2007 – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) yesterday encouraged the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to quickly change the FHA mortgage insurance program. In a letter sent to HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, NAR President Pat Vredevoogd Combs strongly urged HUD to change FHA rules and waive the requirement that a homeowner’s mortgage be “current” in order to refinance into an FHA loan product.
“Many homeowners who were able to make timely payments under the original terms of their loan are finding it difficult to make payments after rate adjustments,” says Combs. “We believe FHA can design a mechanism where credit-worthy borrowers could refinance subject to prudent guidelines, and therefore avoid losing their homes. … The goal for all – government, lenders, banks, individuals and Realtors – should be to help keep people in their homes and to avoid or minimize foreclosures.”
NAR encouraged HUD and the FHA to undertake a “robust public education campaign” to promote foreclosure prevention and raise awareness of FHA and HUD programs. NAR has partnered with HUD and FHA in the past to create and distribute brochures designed to inform potential homebuyers about the various FHA programs. NAR also continues to be a consistent advocate for FHA modernization to keep the products and services they offer pertinent to today’s consumers and housing market.
“We believe that with some minor regulatory adjustments to the FHA program, a significant subset of borrowers facing the prospect of foreclosure could safely refinance into an FHA mortgage. We are committed to continue our efforts with HUD and FHA. We not only want to see people achieve the American dream of homeownership, but also we want them to keep it,” says Combs.
© 2007 FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
The new geography of luxury real estateNEW YORK – April 10, 2007 – If you could spend a few million on a modest Manhattan condo and a cozy [read: tiny] Hamptons shack, or put the same amount toward a penthouse in Minneapolis and a lakeside mansion in nearby Wayzata, Minn., which would you choose?
People continue to sacrifice size and quality for location and salary. That’s why states such as New York and California still have the hottest markets for luxury homes. And the top addresses on Fifth Avenue and in Bel-Air just keep on rising in value despite the spreading malaise at the lower end of the housing food chain. But that doesn’t mean that luxury real estate isn’t continuing to appreciate in other areas as well.
“The hot luxury markets are moving around, based on where the lifestyle is wonderful and the economic fundamentals are solid,” says Laurie Moore-Moore, president of the Dallas-based Institute for Luxury Home Marketing. “Today, we’re looking at a whole different group.”
In 2000, only 0.37 percent of the homes in Virginia were valued at $1 million or more, according to the decennial census. The Census Bureau’s 2005 survey revealed that the number of homes valued in the $1 million-plus range had increased 470 percent. Luxury homes now accounted for 1.92 percent of total existing homes – nearly as much as Florida’s 2.08 percent.
The Washington [D.C.] metro area, including the affluent suburbs of Alexandria and Arlington, Va., has always attracted well-heeled homeowners, many of them lobbyists, high-ranking government officials, and senior business executives. Luxury buyers are still flocking to homes along the Potomac and driving up prices, says Valerie Moss, a realtor at Coldwell Banker Elite in Stafford, Va. Oceanfront towns like Virginia Beach also remain popular spots for vacation homes. “You’re going to see them anywhere there’s water or golf courses,” says Moss.
Virginia’s economy continues to grow, bringing in wealthy business leaders. Business-site selector Pollina Corporate Real Estate chose the state as the top pro-business state in the U.S. for 2007, citing its strong job creation and low corporate income taxes. Companies headquartered in the state include Capital One Financial (COF) in McLean, electronics retailer Circuit City (CC) in Richmond, and Argon ST (STST), an engineering company in Fairfax that designs and produces systems and sensors for U.S. military and intelligence clients.
Booming business isn’t the only thing fueling the emergence of luxury home hot spots. Alternative markets for second homes and retirement have popped up across the country as traditional markets grew unaffordable to many in the first half of the decade. In Rhode Island, the high-end market for oceanfront property has grown well beyond Newport’s fabled Gilded Age mansions – the number of homes valued at $1 million or more jumped from 898 in 2000 to 4,209 in 2005.
“The smart money has started to appear,” says Melanie Delman, president of Lila Delman Real Estate, an affiliate of Christie’s Great Estates in Narragansett. “But the pricing here is still better compared to the Hamptons and Nantucket. It’s still a little bit undiscovered.” According to Delman, Rhode Island coastal towns such as Watch Hill, Westerly, and Misquamicut are winning the attention of professionals from New York City and Boston, as well as retirees.
Price appreciation in the past few years has also played a role in the expansion of luxury markets in many states. “There were many homes in the mid-to-late ‘90s in the $700,000-$900,000 price range that because of the significant appreciation were pushed into the price category north of $1 million,” says Robert Hare, a Realtor at White Oak Real Estate Advisors in Wayzata, Minn., specializing in upper-bracket homes.
In Minnesota, however, price appreciation rates remained lower than in more speculative markets, so relatively lower home prices to begin with may also account for some of the state’s recent high-end home growth. “Minnesota has always been a conservative market, even though there are many wealthy people,” says Hare. “In the past it wasn’t unusual for someone to have a home in Florida or Arizona of greater value than their principal residence in Minnesota.”
But in recent years, Hare says it has become more “socially acceptable” to live in a $1 million-plus home in the state. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of Minnesota homes valued at $1 million or more increased from 3,500, or 0.25 percent of total homes, to nearly 14,000, or 0.91 percent of total homes. This growth is concentrated in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro and around the lakes in the Brainerd-Nisswa region.
In the Southwest, the Arizona luxury market started to sizzle when California’s prices skyrocketed and people wanted more for their money. The percentage of total homes in the $1 million-plus range went from 0.47 percent in 2000 to 1.32 percent in 2005, with a large part of that increase occurring in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. “There are no hurricanes or fires here,” says Laura Mance, regional vice-president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage for Southern Arizona.
The Tucson-area luxury home market is also up and coming. Mance remembers the first time one of her agents sold a $1 million home in that market in the late 1990s: “It was the first $1 million home anyone remembered selling.” Now, Mance says it’s common for homes to sell north of $1 million, mostly to baby boomers and retirees from all over California, New York, New Jersey, and the Midwest. “Two million gets you twice as much here,” she notes.
As “spillover” markets like Arizona shift across the country, new luxury real estate markets should surface in 2007. Moore-Moore of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing expects to see strong showings from the Carolinas and Texas cities like Austin and Houston.
“We have a new group of hot markets for 2007 where economic fundamentals are good, homes have not gone through rapid appreciation, and lifestyle is attractive,” Moore-Moore says. “These markets will be the big winners in 2007.”
Copyright © 2007 The McGraw-Hill Cos., Maya Roney, Business Week Online. All rights reserved.
Panhandle Realtor hero for cancer research fundraiserFORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. – April 10, 2007 – Joyce Pybus is a breast cancer survivor, and no stranger to the annual Ultimate Drive event to raise money for breast cancer research.
The 62-year-old Fort Walton Beach woman has spent nine years serving as the chairwoman of the event.
This year, she gets to stand in the spotlight and be recognized as the local hero honored for their personal effort in the fight against breast cancer.
“I’m really gad that she’s getting a little recognition for what’s she’s done for the community,” said her son Brandon, who works with her as part of her real estate team. Pybus was in Brazil on a business trip and unavailable for an interview.
Since Pybus was diagnosed in 1991, she has been unrelenting in helping others with their own battle. She fought the disease through chemotherapy, and had a mastectomy. To help others, she founded and serves as facilitator of the Destin/South Walton Breast Cancer Support Group as well as being a leader in the local BMW program.
In the support group, she led a drive to raise $200,000 so one member of the group could get a stem cell transplant.
She had the contacts to get things done in the business community: Pybus is a Realtor with Re/Max Coastal Properties.
“When she moved down here from Alabama, she discovered that there wasn’t a local breast cancer support group affiliated with the American Cancer Society,” Brandon said. “So, she was really active in getting one started, and I think it’s been really helpful to a lot of people. I know I’m proud of her.”
According to cancer survivor Belva Parrett and member of the support group, Pybus is “very outgoing, vivacious, positive, always caring and willing to help.”
That caring attitude means she goes above and beyond what most survivors do. She works with the local ACS to visit newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and talk to them about resources and strategies.
“She makes the contact and provides them with all kinds of information,” Parrett said. “You can imagine how very needed that is, having someone to talk to who can answer questions from A to Z about the disease and who isn’t a medical professional or a member of their family.”
Parrett points out that it takes someone special to be willing this far after dealing with her own cancer to take the time to help someone else.
“She really deserves a lot of accolades, but like most cancer survivors who volunteer, she doesn’t do it for the accolades, she does it because she remembers what it was like for her,” Parrett said.
Don’t do it for accolades, know where they were
The local dealership participating in the Ultimate Drive is Quality Imports at 1006 Beal Parkway NW in Fort Walton Beach.
On April 16, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., participants will be able to test drive a specially decorated Titanium Silver BMW at that location, and for each mile driven, $1 will be donated to the Susan B. Komen Foundation.
The 19 vehicles brought to Fort Walton Beach for this event are each a living interactive timeline that documents the event route through a graphic representation – a pink modernist map – depicting each participating state starting in Georgia and ending in Arizona.
Pybus’ photo will be affixed to one of two BMW X5 Signature Vehicles along with their signature. The Signature Vehicle will become a living memorial to those who have lost their battle against breast cancer and a sign of hope and inspiration to others fighting the disease.
This is the 11th year that the fundraising program has been traveling throughout the country, stopping at 237 BMW centers with the goal of raising $1 million by logging 1 million miles.
The grassroots campaign has raised more than $1 billion so far, to directly support breast cancer research, education, screening and community outreach programs provided by the Komen organization.
Copyright © 2007 Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach,Angie Toole. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.