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Pollster shake-up casts shadow over Trump's big 2020 launch

Monday, June 17, 2019

(CNN)President Donald Trump plans to spend this week triumphantly setting course for a second term, but turmoil within his campaign is hinting at alarming liabilities in his bid for re-election.

Trump aides said Sunday that several pollsters have paid with their jobs after revealing lagging early swing state data that raises doubts over Trump's ability to make political lightning strike again in 2020.
The firings are casting a shadow over Trump's huge Florida rally on Tuesday night to formally inaugurate a re-election campaign that in reality started even before he took the oath of office.
Sources told CNN that the President has been angry for days about the internal polls leaked to the media last week that showed him losing to Democrats, including Joe Biden, in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.
Trump's campaign has publicly pushed back against data that it says is weeks old and doesn't reflect the current situation, especially after the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.
But privately, a person familiar with the situation told CNN that the dismissals were less to do with the quality of the pollsters' work than about pacifying the President.
Trump typically fulminates against polls that show him doing badly while cherry picking others, that however dubiously, appear to show him in a more favorable political position.
In a Monday morning tweet, the President warned his followers not to believe any polling that showed him trailing Democrats.
"Only Fake Polls show us behind the Motley Crew. We are looking really good, but it is far too early to be focused on that. Much work to do! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" Trump wrote.
The 40 wildest lines from Donald's Trump's birthday appearance on 'Fox and Friends'
The 40 wildest lines from Donald's Trump's birthday appearance on 'Fox and Friends'
Going after Biden
But the latest campaign intrigue may offer a window into some of the uncertainties and potential weaknesses that surround Trump's re-election campaign at the moment he plans to amp it up.
Any softening of the President's popularity in the blue-collar Midwestern heartland would set warning signals flashing inside his camp given his relatively narrow path to re-election.
Whomever comes out of the 20-plus field of Democrats to face the President will have to be prepared for a man who is adept at attacking his rivals, as evidenced during the 2016 campaign and throughout his presidency.
Trump accused Biden of flip-flopping -- most recently on abortion -- under pressure from more radical Democrats in an interview clip released over the weekend.
"He has recalibrated on everything," Trump told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. "Everything he's said he's taken back two weeks later because he's getting slammed by the left."
Signs that Biden -- the Democratic frontrunner -- is a serious threat would further play on Trump's mind on a topic over which he has spent considerable time agonizing, sources say.
The President even attacked Biden during a recent trip to Japan -- using assaults on the former vice president's mental capacity by North Korea's official media -- to back up his case.
The leaked polls could have a double electoral consequence in that they appear to bolster Biden's central campaign argument that he is the Democrat most likely to dispatch Trump in 2020.
But more fundamentally, a candidate that cannot bear to learn the truth about his own campaign is not one who can be considered in a strong position on the eve of its formal launch, or who can easily make tactical adjustments all successful re-election bids require.
The campaign that never ended
Early state polling is not always predictive of how a race ends. And other first-term presidents have often looked more vulnerable than they turned out to be after months on the trail.
Incumbent presidents — especially those steering a strong economy like Trump — have historically had a clear advantage when seeking a second term in office.
And few politicians are as good at defining and eviscerating a campaign trail foe than Trump. So in many ways, the 2020 race will not begin until there is a Democratic nominee.
Yet the President cannot offer as an excuse for worrying poll numbers the usual incumbent's argument that he has been so consumed with governing that he has had no time for politics.
In fact, his kickoff rally in Orlando on Tuesday night expected to feature an overflow crowd and include Vice President Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump, may be the most superfluous campaign launch in US political history.
Not only did Trump never stop running after his staggering 2016 election win, he has devoted almost every day since to defending the legitimacy of his presidency and positioning for re-election.
Crafting his message
In thousands of tweets, scores of rallies, multiple speeches, and friendly TV interviews, Trump has celebrated his 2016 triumph and obsessively cultivated his political base.
He spent the weekend setting the tone for his re-election push, blasting Democrats, the Russia probe, the media, touting his border wall and warning of a national disaster if he loses.
In a tweet, the President boasted that the economy was setting records "and has a long way up to go..." typically augmenting reality in leveraging his best argument for re-election.
"If anyone but me takes over in 2020 (I know the competition very well), there will be a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before! KEEP AMERICA GREAT," he wrote.
Trump has generally sought refuge in friendly interviews inside the conservative media machine in recent months. The ABC interview appeared to be an attempt to engage a wider audience. But the plan may have backfired because it delivered days of unflattering headlines for the President as individual excerpts were released.
Trump's tweets offer a nutshell introduction to his re-election strategy that will likely be fleshed out on Tuesday: Make exaggerated claims for his own success, tear at cultural and social fault lines that helped him win power, and whip up anger against those he defines as political enemies.
His rhetoric in recent weeks also suggests Trump will make a case to Republicans who backed him in 2016 that he's worked tirelessly to honor his campaign vows and proven to be a great deal maker — despite debatable evidence.
He will highlight the lowest unemployment rate in half a century, gutted government regulations, the travel ban his aides say kept Americans safe, the elimination of a key Obamacare mandate and increased defense spending by NATO members.
He's already raised nearly $100 million for the "Keep America Great" campaign and has crushed dissent within the GOP to ensure the best possible chance at a unified party in the re-election effort.
Donald Trump's cash machine grows stronger as Democrats prepare for primary brawl
Donald Trump's cash machine grows stronger as Democrats prepare for primary brawl
Rallying the base in the battleground states
Washington buzz about turmoil in his campaign polling machine is unlikely to penetrate the crowds drawn from Trump's uber-loyal political base — especially in Florida where he racked up huge turnout in 2016, particularly in the northwestern panhandle area.
But the decision to begin there rather than in his midwestern bastion is a reminder that the Sunshine State will be vital if 2020 is even closer than 2016 should some of his heartland battlegrounds return to Democratic control.
Trump's entire presidency so far has been a bet that the fiercely loyal grass roots voters who helped him win in 2016 will do so again against a Democrat not named Hillary Clinton.
The theory of Trump/Pence 2020, initiated in unusual campaign rallies during the presidential transition, has disdained broadening his base in favor of keeping voters who idolize him motivated and sufficiently angry to return to polling places in huge numbers.
The 17-month race to Election Day that Trump will preview in Florida on Tuesday night will test whether that strategy is a shrewd bet on a nation that is more polarized than in previous decades.
Or it could reveal that Trump's tumultuous presidency did not just succeed in electrifying his base — but sparked a Democratic backlash that could ultimately send him home to New York.
That's why the leaked polling data from inside Trump's campaign — whether it reflects the current state of the race on the ground or not — could be an early danger sign for Trump in 2020.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jeff Zeleny, Jeremy Diamond and Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.


Trump tries damage control after offer to foreign spies

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump threw up a smokescreen of deflection and confusing counter attacks Thursday as a furor mounted over his staggering comment that he would be open to dirt dug up on his 2020 opponents by foreign powers such as Russia or China.

The President even implied -- clearly erroneously -- that he had been merely referring to the content of his conversations with foreign dignitaries such as the Queen of England and Prince Charles when he made the remark in an ABC News interview.
Even in a presidency that long ago burned through all conceivable superlatives, Trump's statement was a stunner.
This was more than a mere candidate calling on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's emails. It went further than dumping on US intelligence agencies by believing Russian President Vladimir Putin's smirking denials of election interference. Or Trump's claims that the Kremlin's 2016 interference caper is one big Democratic hoax.
Trump says he would accept dirt on political rivals from foreign governments
Trump says he would accept dirt on political rivals from foreign governments
This was the President of the United States -- the man charged with protecting the Constitution, American democracy and the Western world -- sitting at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, saying he would accept damaging information from Russia and China on his 2020 Democratic foe.
"I think you might want to listen. There's nothing wrong with listening," Trump told ABC News on Wednesday.
Anchor George Stephanopoulos brought up FBI Director Christopher Wray's warning that anyone who received incriminating information from a foreign power should call the bureau.
"The FBI director is wrong," Trump said, anger hardening his voice. He denied that interfering in American elections -- as Russia did in 2016 to help him win -- is even a problem.
"It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong," the President said.
Then again, Trump had said moments earlier: "I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI."
On the morning after his interview broke the President launched a sometimes nonsensical Twitter tear, apparently seeking to fog understanding of his remark and to offer his defenders ammunition to push back against his critics.
"The fact is that the phony Witch Hunt is a giant scam where Democrats ... and other really bad people, SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!" the President wrote in one tweet.
New calls for impeachment
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Pelosi: Impeachment is not off the table 01:19
The immediate political effect of Trump's interview was to fan more Democratic calls for the President's impeachment -- and to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's life more difficult.
"It is past sad. It is past frustration. This is criminal. It is criminal. And we need to hold this president accountable," Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, told CNN's Erin Burnett.
"I feel we have to begin that process," said Lawrence, one of a growing minority of Democratic House members urging more robust action against Trump, referring to impeachment.
It would not be farfetched to argue that the President's remarks in themselves might end up as part of an impeachment case if things ever get that far.
The Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidates competed with one another to hit the impeachment talking point -- suggesting the growing power of the argument even though the Russia investigation is not a dominant 2020 issue.
"The #MuellerReport made it clear: A foreign government attacked our 2016 elections to support Trump, Trump welcomed that help, and Trump obstructed the investigation," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, tweeted.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said he was not shocked since he believed that Trump does not respect the Constitution.
"I believe the House should begin impeachment inquiries," Sanders told CNN's Anderson Cooper.
And Sen. Kamala Harris of California -- the state's former attorney general -- tweeted: "China is listening. Russia is listening. North Korea is listening. Let's speak the truth: this president is a national security threat."
Anything it takes
Play Video

Clapper stunned by Trump's remarks to ABC 01:39
But the political consequences of Trump's statements on Wednesday may pale in comparison with the intelligence and national security problems they will seed.
The President did not just risk the integrity of the 2020 vote, he reinforced the already strong impression that he would do anything it takes -- anything -- to win. Since he has the power of the presidency, that's a troubling thought.
Given that reality, any foreign entity that helps him in 2020 might expect all kinds of unspecified accommodations in policy or otherwise -- one reason why Trump's private meetings with Putin so trouble his opponents.
US intelligence partners wary of Barr's Russia review
US intelligence partners wary of Barr's Russia review
If he takes dirt from a foreign power, the President could then place himself in a dangerous, compromised position.
While US intelligence agencies -- and even the White House -- say they are doing everything they can to protect the election, the most powerful man in the world is signaling he doesn't care and would be willing to undermine those efforts.
And it may not even matter if any dirt gleaned on his opponents is true, since the Russian effort in 2016 showed that rumor and misinformation can be just as powerful as genuine information.
Trump's swipe at Wray will also spark new speculation about the position of the President's second FBI director.
There was no immediate comment from the bureau.
But will it even matter?
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John King knocks GOP 'selective outrage' over Stone raid 02:47
The lesson of Trump's two-plus years in power is that convention-shattering comments like these will do nothing to crumble the rigid GOP base of support that sustains his presidency.
On the evidence of past kerfuffles, Republican senators can be expected to dodge and hedge. Conservative pundits will deny he did anything wrong. And his White House may accuse journalists of taking him out of context or deny the evidence on tape that the President said it at all.
Every Trump-engineered outrage ends the same way, with his critics fulminating and the President untouched and unrepentant, reinforcing his brand as a flamethrower torching the structures of Washington governance, as he promised his fans he would.
Trump knows what he's doing. He makes such incendiary statements well aware that they will unleash a media storm that will explode heads in Washington, further divide the nation and agitate the political base he needs to turn out in droves in 2020.
By now, it's almost as if Trump is intent on demonstrating that in the turbulent political era he spawned there are no enforceable standards of minimally acceptable public conduct. That his power cannot be constrained and reality is what he says it is. Yet another presidential constraint obliterated, and a new outrage will be along soon.
The cost to democracy
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Elizabeth Warren: Impeachment not about politics 04:56
That is not to say there will not be reverberations from the President's interview. In the real world, there will be political, practical and intelligence implications.
After all, he's inviting anyone to play in the process that ultimately underscores American democracy. If elections have no integrity, the public's faith in those to whom it grants power cannot be guaranteed and the system will be in severe jeopardy.
Trump's comments represented a particular repudiation of special counsel Robert Mueller, who even in his taciturn way made an impassioned plea for Americans to protect their democracy.
On the first page of the Mueller report, the special counsel writes that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in "a sweeping and systematic fashion."
At the end of his news conference last month, Mueller strove again to get his message across with the final act of his assignment: "There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Trump delivered his response on Wednesday, taking issue with the central pillar of Mueller's case -- effectively arguing that the targeting of an opponent by a foreign espionage operation is acceptable.
"It's called oppo research," Trump told ABC.
Adding insult to injury, the President also flagrantly misrepresented Mueller's account of multiple meetings between his team and Russians in the 2016 campaign: "In fact, it said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia; that we actually pushed them back -- we rebuffed them."
Mueller did not find a conspiracy between the Trump team and Russia. But he wrote in the report that "the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."
The ultimate question posed by the special counsel's parting warning and Trump's response is whether Mueller's plea will resonate, or whether another presidential restraint will dissolve in plain sight.


What to know about new seller disclosure rules in Miami-Dade County

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Starting June 14, 2019, home sellers in Miami-Dade County, along with their agents, will need to adhere to new disclosure rules related to special assessment district (formerly known as a special taxing district). In an email sent to members of the Miami Association of Realtors, the organization’s government affairs office elaborated the most important changes to the rule impacting real estate agents and their clients.

What is changing?

According to the Miami Realtors bulletin, beginning June 14, “sellers will be required to disclose that their property is located within a special taxing district via an addendum to the residential contract for sale and purchase.” Miami Realtors members will see this updated addendum in Form Simplicity, the digital transaction management service available through the association.

What is a special assessment district or special taxing district?

Special Assessment Districts (generally known as special taxing districts) are entities created at the request of homeowners or HOAs and managed through a division of Miami-Dade County’s Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces department. According to the county, at least 1,000 such districts are in place throughout the area, covering some 271,000 households. Special taxing districts serve as a funding mechanism for various services or improvements shared by a single community. Some common uses for special taxing districts include:

  • Garbage disposal
  • Community security guards
  • Street lighting
  • Installation of water or sewer utility lines
  • General maintenance (such as landscaping)

Homeowners located within a special taxing district pay a share of the fees to fund these services as part of their annual property tax statement from the county. However, these fees are not technically the same as property taxes — they are assessed “on the basis of benefit [non-ad valorem] rather than property value [ad valorem] and they are assigned to specific properties rather than all properties within a general taxing district,” per the county’s website.

What should agents do next?

The Miami Realtors Association advised members to first determine if any of their listings are within a special taxing district. This can be accomplished through an online search. For any properties within a special taxing district, agents will just need to ensure the seller signs the new disclosure.

The association also pointed out that after hearing input from its government affairs team, Miami-Dade officials drafting the new disclosure rules did not adopt more stringent language that would have required sellers to disclose any of the following:

  • The dollar amount of any fees levied through special taxing districts.
  • Any pending petitions to create a new special taxing district that would affect the seller’s property.

The home seller also does not need to record the disclosure with the county clerk and pay a recording fee.


How much Miami homeowners saved on taxes last year

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A new report by John Burns Real Estate Consulting attempts to quantify and forecast the real estate impact of 2017’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and takes stock of some measurable aspects of the law’s effects about a year and a half after its enactment.

The researchers who wrote the report calculated the law’s impact for a typical two-person married household filing jointly in 32 major metropolitan areas and found that in 2018, the law was responsible for an average savings of $1,508 in tax savings across those markets.

In Miami, those savings penciled out to $1,382 for a married couple filing jointly. Nashville offered homeowners the most tax savings of any major city, at $2,335 on average.

Before the new tax law’s passage, experts had predicted that it would disproportionately benefit those in Republican-leaning states in the South and Midwest. The John Burns researchers’ conclusions largely support this prediction, with the top six metros for tax savings in states that went for Trump in 2016. Still, a few large metros within blue states, including Boston, Chicago and Seattle also showed a lightened tax burden for homeowners owing to the new tax law.

Homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area fared poorly. Those who purchased homes in 2018 paid an average of $899 more in San Jose and $1,409 more in San Francisco than they would have if they’d bought before the law’s implementation. The newly-imposed cap of $24,000 on the state and local tax and mortgage interest deductions is cited as the direct reason for the spike in these homeowners’ tax bills.

In every other metro included in the study, households that fit the researchers’ criteria saved money on taxes after the implementation of the new tax law.


How and why your clients undertake remodeling projects

Monday, June 10, 2019

Spending stats and project types

Typical renovation spending by Miami homeowners was above the national median, at $20,000 compared to $15,000 nationwide. The survey also found that the share of homeowners investing less than $5,000 in a remodel ticked up from 16 percent in 2017 to 19 percent in 2018.

Kitchens retained their spot as the favored remodel target. But they also remained the most expensive. The median remodel price tag for a kitchen jumped to $14,000 in 2018, from $11,000 in 2017. This marked a 27 percent increase, and the next most expensive project was a distant second: master bathrooms at $8,000.

Though kitchens steal the show, technology is working its way in slowly but surely. Security upgrades continued to gain popularity in this year’s edition of the report, with an average annual growth of 20 percent over the past three years. Similarly, outdoor security is having what report authors characterized as a “major moment,” with nearly 50 percent growth year-over-year. In terms of smart-home tech, millennials are 1.5 times more likely to upgrade home automation and are two times more likely to upgrade to a smart thermostat than baby boomers. Still, one in four millennials rank smart-home technology as a low priority overall.

Driving factors

While 57 percent of respondents said their main reason for undertaking a remodeling project was “wanting to do it all along and finally having the time or financial means,” the second most common response was “wanting to customize a recently bought home.”

Of course, time spent in the home played a role as well. Sixty-one percent of long-term owners said their main driver in deciding to remodel was that they “wanted to stay” in their current home. For recent homebuyers, 56 percent cited personalization as the most important factor. In terms of priorities, 88 percent of homeowners sought to improve their home’s design, and 81 percent were looking to improve functionality. Next on that list was resale value, at 67 percent.

What your clients need

The study found the majority of respondents get professional help during renovations. Despite the popular conception of millennials as avid DIYers, the gap between Gen Y and baby boomers in terms of how likely they are to hire professional help is relatively small (82 percent versus 89 percent, respectively).

While 29 percent of respondents said their top challenge was “finding the right service providers” in 2016, that number grew to 32 percent in 2018. That was tied for first place with “staying on budget.” As for the types of pros you should have on your referral list, Houzz found more than half of respondents hired a specialist such as an electrician or a plumber, more than a third hired a construction manager, and one in five hired an architect or a designer.


Real estate in brief: Fannie and Freddie plans, LGBT house-hunting and more

Friday, June 7, 2019

Fannie, Freddie conservatorship plans in final stages

Long-discussed plans to take Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of their government-controlled conservatorship status and return ownership to private shareholders may be nearly complete. The Wall Street Journal reported May 30 that according to anonymous sources, the Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency could release the first detailed roadmap of the privatization plan as early as this month. Sources also said that the plans include measures that would protect Fannie and Freddie in the event of another crisis like what happened in 2008, the event that led the U.S. government to effectively nationalize the two mortgage firms.

However, the Journal noted that based on discussions with “former officials of the companies and housing market experts,” the act of returning ownership of Fannie and Freddie could prove “daunting.” That’s because the companies would need to secure new funding, most likely by selling new shares on the stock market. To ensure that Fannie and Freddie have enough capital to cushion the blow of another housing market panic, they would need to raise an estimated $125 billion from the stock market, far more than any publicly traded company has ever raised by selling shares. Even when plans are released to the public, though, they could still change after input from the Trump administration or Congress.

Mortgage rates move lower still, opening up refi opportunities

The average rate on the standard 30-year fixed mortgage fell to its lowest level in almost two years, according to a June 6 report from Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey. At 3.82 percent, the fresh low reached last week could benefit existing homeowners paying down mortgages, not to mention buyers currently shopping for a loan. According to Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater, around $2 trillion in outstanding mortgage debt may now be eligible for refinancing at a lower rate, even loans originated less than a year ago when interest rates were approaching 5 percent.

Affordable LGBT neighborhoods around the U.S.

For LGBT residents looking for affordable places to live, there are several urban areas categorized as “gayborhoods” nationwide that have homes valued under $300,000 as Zillow found. Most LGBT-friendly neighborhoods have premiums that are too high for most members of that community, such as West Palm Springs, California, where a typical home costs about $1.2 million. More affordable places include San Antonio with a median home value of $111,500 in its LGBT district, which is about 37 percent less expensive than the typical San Antonio home. The most expensive LGBT neighborhood listed by Zillow was in Chicago’s Edgewater and Lakeview, where the average home value was nearly $300,000. This was a 30 percent premium compared to average values in the market as a whole.

Wells Fargo pledges $1 billion for affordable housing

Wells Fargo & Co. pledged $1 billion in a philanthropic mission supporting affordable housing for six years. As the bank faces previous scandals, efforts to clean up its reputation are underway, with the company also supporting small businesses and helping consumers manage their finances through other programs. Citigroup Inc.’s Brandee McHale will oversee the company’s new philanthropic push.

Congress approves flood insurance

Right in time for hurricane season, Congress passed a bill to extend the National Flood Insurance Program by four months as part of a disaster aid bill following large storms including Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Residents with federally-backed mortgages on properties on 100-year floodplains are required to purchase flood insurance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That number of people is projected to increase as much as 45 percent by 2100 due to climate change. The National Association of Realtors predicted that a lapse in the NFIP would delay about 40,000 home sales a month since buyers would not be able to get funding for their loans.


Miami developers, agents seek returns in untapped markets

Thursday, June 6, 2019

As Miami’s condo market sent mixed signals over the last year, one prominent resident saw firsthand how price fluctuations could impact sellers. Jorge Pérez, CEO of the Related Group, one of the most prominent developers in the U.S., relisted his Miami Beach condo at a 45 percent discount to its original list price three years earlier.

“My expectations were way too high, I admit,” Pérez said in an interview with Mansion Global. “But I was responding to what I saw in that moment in the market, without any immediate need to sell. Now, I’m saying, ‘Boy I should have sold.’”

But other developers in Miami, including Pérez’s son and heir-apparent Jon Paul Pérez, are hardly bearish on the Miami real estate market. The younger Pérez, a vice president of development at Related, told Miami Agent Magazine that while he recognizes the adversity developers face today in segments of the market, he still plans to press forward and capitalize on new opportunities. One area of focus right now is Wynwood, where Pérez said he is “doubling down.”

“When you drive around on a Friday or Saturday night and look at where people are hanging out, it’s Wynwood,” he said. “We think it has some of the best growth potential of any other neighborhood in Miami, better than more established areas.”

Under the direction of Pérez, Related is on track to deliver the first major residential project in Wynwood, called Wynwood 25, a milestone for an area that until this point had been dominated by industrial parcels. Related is working with East End Capital to coordinate financing for the project, which will include 289 rental units, 31,000 square-feet of retail space on the ground floor and 340 parking spaces.

“Interest rates are low right now for construction loans, but Miami and Wynwood especially are growing,” said Jonathon Yormak, founder and managing principal of East End Capital. Yormak also noted that parking transactions are up 25 to 30 percent in the area, a key data point that demonstrates why Wynwood is such an ideal development opportunity. Pérez said Related wants to add another 1,500 residential units to the area, along with at least 250,000 square feet of new office space in the near future.

Why luxury condo agents are still bullish

Even though the son of Miami’s famed “Condo King” is focusing more on rental developments these days, the condo market continues to thrive thanks to a shift in favor of buyers. Karen Elmir, leader of the Elmir Group at Cervera Real Estate, has made a name for herself closing high-end condo deals. Elmir’s recent multi-million dollar sales at Brickell Flatiron, Grove at Grand Bay and Biscayne Beach have broken price records in their respective neighborhoods, and she hopes to keep her hot streak going even as Miami condo prices cool.

“Luxury clients are not looking for a salesperson,” Elmir said. “My job is to facilitate that high-end experience in any way I can. If they need to charter a boat or a plane, or need an interior designer, or a luxury car rental, I have all of those people on speed dial.”

In addition to her focus on service, Elmir is optimistic on her business prospects thanks to the recent influx of buyers from the Northeast and California, who are decamping to Florida and especially Miami in droves to capitalize on new tax laws.

“Miami is evolving and growing,” Elmir said. “Before [my buyers] were all international clients or investors. But in the last year and a half, most of my clients are from New York, Chicago, Boston — people who want to eventually move here full-time.”

Elmir has her sights set on East Edgewater as the next in-demand Miami neighborhood for luxury sales prospects. This follows the recent trend of growth seen in markets that until recently had gone untapped by developers, particularly high-end residential buildings.

Expanding the horizons of luxury

David Wolf, president of development marketing and sales firm ON Collaborative, sees plenty of potential all around South Florida, too. Wolf is leading his company’s first foray into the South Florida market, starting with the $1.5 billion mixed-use Metropica project in western Broward County. ON Collaborative, which is part of Coldwell Banker and NRT, took over sales and marketing for the residential component of Metropica from another firm, spotting an opportunity to leverage Coldwell Banker and NRT’s scale in a new way.

“What the project lacked was support from the local brokerage community, which is normal in new construction projects early on,” Wolf said. “Because of our integration with Coldwell Banker and ON Collaborative’s marketing acumen, we could increase engagement with the local broker community. That’s given us an all-star sales team, and we saw the results immediately.”

Wolf and ON Collaborative also consult with the development team (led by prominent local developer Joseph Kavana) on what they call “placemaking,” or creating a vibrant community that can stand on its own, replete with retail, hotel and office space as well as a public park. Its residences — expected to total 2,250 condo units across eight towers — will also come fully appointed with balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows and community amenities like tennis and basketball courts, a movie theater, bike paths, a spa and fitness center, and much more.

“The No. 1 amenity is the community,” Wolf said. “This is an urban concept in a suburban area. We are finding a lot of people in suburban environments who are sick of single-family living, between the extra space and maintenance.”

For residences that easily qualify as luxury, and especially considering what comparable properties sell for closer to the shore, Metropica’s condos are reasonably priced. Listings start in the $400,000 range and span up to $1.1 million for penthouse units, although a three-bed condo can go for around $580,000.

“If you define luxury based on price alone, this would not qualify,” Wolf said. “But from a quality and design standpoint, it rivals or even exceeds anything else you will find in Miami. Everybody who’s bought so far has bought because of what the community will look like once it’s complete.”


Home sales price behavior moderates as rates keep falling

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A surge in demand for homes combined with a widespread shortage of supply caused home prices to surge beyond the reach of many buyers in the last year. Fortunately for prospective buyers and the U.S. housing market at large, though, this trend appeared to retreat this spring at the same time that mortgage rates are sliding.

According to a recent report from CoreLogic based on home sales data through March, the share of listings sold at or above list price fell to within historical averages after peaking last year. As of Q1 2019, around 31 percent of sales closed above list, down from a recent peak of 40 percent seen in Q2 2018.

“As annual home price growth started to slow in Q3 2018, the share of home buyers able to negotiate a better price began to rise,” CoreLogic economist Shu Chen wrote in the report. Despite recently sluggish price growth, sellers still found themselves in a relatively strong position, too: CoreLogic’s national home price index as of April 2019 was 7.7 percent above its pre-recession peak, not accounting for inflation.

These national trends don’t always apply to the conditions in some of the country’s biggest home markets, however. For example, CoreLogic found that 69 percent of homes sold in San Francisco were sold at or above list price, for an average premium of 4.6 percent more than list. At the other end of the spectrum, only 14 percent of sales in Miami came in above list during the same month, while the vast majority sold at an average discount of 7.8 percent below list. This could be explained in part by the two cities’ differences in listing inventory.

“San Francisco’s 2.3 months of supply in March 2019 was among the lowest in the nation and about half of the national level,” Chen wrote in the CoreLogic report. “At the other extreme, Miami had 11 months of supply this March.”

Source: CoreLogic

Looking ahead, the situation is still fluid in terms of home price behavior across the U.S. An unexpected dip in mortgage rates has changed economists’ expectations for the housing market this year, although predictions now vary widely. In a June 4 press release, CoreLogic Chief Economist Frank Nothaft said the company expects to see its home price index grow 4.7 percent between April 2019 and April 2020. On the other hand, as of the most recent survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, agents and other market-watchers polled think prices will grow by only 2.9 percent over the same time period.

“Mortgage rates are 0.6 percentage points below what they were one year ago and incomes are up, which has improved affordability for buyers,” Nothaft said in explaining his home price hypothesis. Indeed, as of the latest mortgage rate report from Freddie Mac, average 30-year mortgage rates fell below 4 percent at the end of May for the first time in about 18 months.


Artificial intelligence and investment firms sign leases at Rosemary Square

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

High tech and big money are continuing to bet on West Palm Beach.

An artificial intelligence company and a private investment firm signed leases for a combined 42,000 square feet at the Related Companies’ Rosemary Square in downtown West Palm Beach, according to a release.


Comvest Partners, an investment firm with $3.2 billion of assets under management, has signed the first lease for 26,000 square feet at Related Companies’ 360 Rosemary, the release said. The Class A office tower is currently under constuction. Comvest will move from another office it has in Rosemary Square at 525 Okeechobee Boulevard.

Levatas LLC, an artificial intelligence solutions and software company, is relocating its headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens to a 16,000-square-foot space in Rosemary Square. Levatas’s new office is expected to open in early 2020, and will not be in 360 Rosemary, according to the release.

360 Rosemary broke ground on May 16 and will be built within Rosemary Square, the development formerly known as CityPlace. It is expected to be completed in early 2021, the release said.

Jon Blunk of Tower Commercial Real Estate is the exclusive leasing agent for 360 Rosemary and represented Related in both transactions.

CBRE’s Kevin McCarthy and Kevin Probel represented Comvest, while JLL’s Cameron Tallon represented Levatas.

360 Rosemary is one of the few new office buildings planned for West Palm Beach. It will total 300,000 square feet and was designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects and Leo A. Daly.

Related Companies officially changed the name of CityPlace to Rosemary Square in April. The mixed-use property is currently undergoing a $550 million redevelopment. Related Companies is planning to redesign the plaza, public spaces and green areas and add outdoor dining venues, new stores and interactive art.

In November, Related Companies secured approval for a 21-story apartment building on the site of a former Macy’s building at CityPlace.


Cover story: What’s next in Miami’s luxury home market

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Coming off several back-to-back years of growth, the prevailing question about Miami’s real estate market today concerns the future. That growth can be seen not only in reports from the Miami Association of Realtors and local brokerage firms, but also with the naked eye. Vertical growth has been off the charts in Miami’s condo-centric market, but real estate professionals now are increasingly looking beyond the shoreline where so much of that development has been focused. That is creating a market more dynamic than ever, even within the niche corner of luxury real estate.

Redefining luxury

If all real estate is about location, luxury real estate takes this several steps further. High-end real estate clients want the community surrounding their home to be as attractive as the home itself, replete with dining, entertainment and shopping options in close proximity. The amenities in the building are an almost equally important selling point — a fitness center, spa, lounge and pool deck are considered the bare necessities in any high-end condo building. Other features once considered extravagant — say, an on-site, full-service spa treatment center, or a professional pet grooming service that’s on-call for residents — are becoming increasingly common in high-end listings. Luxury buyers expect the best in terms of building materials and finishes throughout, from floor to ceiling and at every level.

To Sasha Ezquerra, those little details separate the “just OK” properties from the cream of the crop.

“Buyers today are sophisticated, and they are interested in both the building’s amenities as well as the community surrounding the area,” she said. A sales specialist with The Agency Development Group, part of The Agency Collective, Ezquerra brings 25 years of experience to the table in her latest project: Merrick Manor, which upon its recent completion became the largest residential development in Coral Gables. The 10-story building includes 227 residences as well as 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, situated in a city that’s becoming increasingly attractive to buyers from around the Miami metro area.

“We wanted to deliver a project that wasn’t available anywhere else in Miami,” said Henry Torres, president and CEO of The Astor Companies, which developed Merrick Manor. “Older buildings in Coral Gables are very luxurious but they lack the amenities buyers are looking for today. They might have a swimming pool, but there’s nothing else to do.”

Increasingly, developers and real estate agents are marketing the higher-end projects in their portfolios to a more local demographic, distinguishing them from the gleaming high-rises of Brickell and elsewhere downtown where much attention has been focused in the recent past. Ezquerra and Torres said Merrick Manor is for buyers looking for a less-glamorous but still active and exciting lifestyle, and they often come from single-family residences in the suburbs in search of something more. Buyers in Merrick Manor, which was more than 65 percent sold as of April, span a range of demographics — from families with older children to retired couples — who often are looking to downsize without sacrificing the quality of life that luxury clients can afford. In many cases, Ezquerra said, they are already homeowners in Coral Gables itself, or are attracted to the city’s charm but until now have found few properties on the market.

“People who move to Coral Gables don’t want to move out of Coral Gables,” Ezquerra said. “It really feels like a small town where you can walk anywhere.”

Read more from our Luxury Issue:

Condos in Merrick Manor still aren’t sold sight-unseen, though. Owing to the sophistication of its typical buyer, Ezquerra said her sales prospects still expect the complete package.

“Buyers who are looking at new development are more discerning because this is not their first rodeo,” she said about the local market in general. “More condo units are coming fully furnished. A couple of years ago, buyers didn’t care about that very much. Now you see faster absorption of units that are move-in ready.”

Merrick Manor’s prices are something of a bargain compared to the rest of Miami’s luxury market. Out of the listings still available in April, a one-bedroom unit starts at around $375,000 while the four-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot options were priced at $2.6 million. Still, its quality and location make it attractive and arguably easier to sell in a market that currently favors rentals over condos, according to Torres.

“As a developer, it’s easier to sell luxury because with mid-priced condos, you will mostly get investors, not people who are serious about living there,” he explained. “Your average ‘middle-of-the-road’ condo ends up getting sucked up by investors and turned into rentals.”

Torres understands that there is a place for high-end condos marketed to investors or buyers who may have shorter-term horizons, like those who increasingly are flocking to South Florida from the Northeast.

“I see a lot of luxury being built along the beach, like Brickell and Sunny Isles,” Torres said. “It’s more for New Yorkers. I don’t think they are happy about the pricing there. People need to be more conscious of what they are calling ‘luxury.’”

Finding room to grow

Luxury home developers and brokers have seen stellar business growth in the last few years, although sales began to stall in the first quarter of 2019. According to a quarterly report from The Keyes Company, condo sales of at least $1 million were down 10.7 percent across the Miami metro area in Q1 2019, compared to the same period last year. Single-family sales in this same price range were down even more — by nearly 15 percent. On the bright side, prices for both property types grew on a year-over-year basis. The median condo sale above the $1 million threshold closed for $1.6 million, an 8.1 percent gain from the prior year, made all the more impressive in a general climate of slower price growth.

“The major gains in luxury condo prices across the region reflect the intense demand for that product from local, out-of-town and international buyers,” according to Kevin Leonard, vice president of luxury at the Keyes Company.

Looking ahead, though, that demand is increasingly focused on areas of South Florida that hadn’t seen as much attention from high-end buyers and developers. That is changing now that most of Miami’s prime purchase opportunities along the water — whether for developable land or a new luxury home — have dried up.

Development throughout Coral Gables may indeed be redefining luxury living in Miami, not to mention boosting boosting the small city’s status among the Greater Miami area. Coral Gables is in the midst of a full-fledged infrastructure revamp — the city recently completed a pedestrian-only square between downtown thoroughfares Ponce de Leon Blvd. and Galiano Street, nicknamed Giralda Plaza. Along with another in-progress project nearby, Plaza Coral Gables, the city’s downtown is expected to see dozens of new businesses open up shop or expand. These investments to transform Coral Gables into an even more walkable, livable community are only attracting more interest from residential developers.

“I always am sure to point out that we are bringing a condo to Coral Gables, not Miami,” said Rishi Kapoor, whose development firm Location Ventures launched sales on a new 13-story luxury condo property in the Gables, Villa Valencia, earlier this year. Kapoor stresses to buyers and business partners that while Villa Valencia and much of Location Ventures’ portfolio is in Coral Gables or Coconut Grove, not far from the most glamorous parts of the city that are generally associated with Miami, the Gables is a community all its own. That often resonates with buyers, Kapoor said, who are increasingly gravitating toward markets away from the shore and downtown.

“The Gables and Coconut Grove bring a different buyer than other dense condo environments of Miami,” Kapoor said. “It’s catering to people who want to simplify their life in a large-format condo environment. They don’t want a dense high-rise environment, but they don’t want to compromise on size.”

Like Merrick Manor, Kapoor said Villa Valencia is attracting buyers who are empty-nesters or plan to downsize. Although, in reality, the tower’s 39 units are hardly modest in size or scope: they range from 2,800 to 3,276 square feet for a three- or four-bed listing, all the way up to a 6,300 square-foot penthouse (not counting the included 4,600-square-foot private terrace and pool). Prices start at $1.65 million for the smallest listings and climb as high as $10.5 million for the penthouse.

“We offer large-format condo living, synonymous with the type of lifestyle you can get in New York,” Kapoor said, discussing Villa Valencia’s popularity with East Coast buyers who have been moving to South Florida in droves lately, in part to save on taxes. Foreign buyers, particularly from Latin America, make up another sizeable portion of prospects.

“They are buying the Coral Gables story,” Kapoor said. “The city has gone through an impressive rejuvenation. Fifteen years ago, the streets downtown would be empty at night. Today, in the evening it’s a whole new energy.”

The luxury experience

More buyers are finding opportunities in previously overlooked parts of Miami. But they also need to find an agent who understands the market and has the business acumen to handle the large sums of wealth that are at stake. Real estate agents who want to specialize in luxury have to do more than simply win high-priced listings, Ezquerra explained.

“I try to keep myself educated on the market, so that I know what’s a good value in Coral Gables versus Sunny Isles, for example,” she said. She believes those skills and insights are “something everyone needs to have” in order to succeed in luxury real estate.

“Overall it takes a lot of passion,” she said. “You need passion in this industry.”

She finds that energy within herself by shifting her perspective and always keeping her client’s best interests in mind.

“Sometimes I even have to say to my clients, ‘this isn’t the one to buy,'” Ezquerra said. “I make sure I approach my clients and each sale as if I were spending my own money. Most clients I’ve worked with stay in touch later and even become good friends, because I put their best interests first.”

Just as the details separate the average luxury home from the true gems, Ezquerra said it’s the personality an agent brings to the table that ultimately decides their success in this industry.

“Be determined, be passionate and always love what you do,” she said. “This is such a gratifying profession, but you need to have a goal in mind and stay consistent. That will set you apart.”


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