Welcome to Stephen Lee, renewing his license and already helping buyers and sellers in the South Florida real estate market!
Welcome to Brooke Parsons, very sharp new licensee ready to help buyers and sellers in Stuart and all of the Sunshine State!
Florida May Become First Southern State to Legalize Medical Marijuana
by Chris Kardish | September 8, 2014
Supporters say the measure would help combat the state's epidemic of painkiller abuse, but polls have fluctuated wildly, and opponents are seizing on a controversial video to question their true intentions.
If Florida voters authorize medical marijuana in November, they’ll not only make the state the first in the South to legalize the drug for therapeutic reasons. They’ll also make Florida, potentially the third largest market outside of California and New York, one of the only states in the country to enshrine medical marijuana in the state constitution. It would also become one of the only states giving doctors considerable discretion to recommend the drug outside of a specific set of diseases.
It’s on that last point that opponents of Florida’s Amendment 2 have focused the most attention, arguing the measure grants doctors too much leeway. And they’ve raised $3.2 million, mostly with cash from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, to put the measure down.
But supporters, who have raised even more money in large part with the resources of one sympathetic trial lawyer, appear to have public opinion on their side. Polls have fluctuated wildly, though. The most recent one, released Thursday, pegged support at 57 percent -- tied for the lowest yet -- but backers need to hit 60 percent to pass a constitutional amendment. A Quinnipiac University poll in July put support at 88 percent, six percent higher than another Quinnipiac poll from November 2013.
The lawyer, John Morgan, may have helped get the measure out of the gate with more than $3.5 million in financial support, but he's not doing the campaign many favors lately. A video surfaced last week showing an apparently drunk Morgan at a rally around the time of a medical marijuana debate with the sheriff of Florida's Polk County. Morgan tells an exuberant audience that he "might smoke a lot of grass" once he's out of the sheriff's domain.
Morgan never says he supports full legalization of marijuana, but opponents have pounced over the general tone, Morgan's explitive-laced plea for supporters to vote and the crowd's chants of "smoke weed!" as evidence that Amendment 2 has less to do with getting sick people medicine than expanding marijuana use overall. Amendment 2's proponents say Morgan then went on to talk about a family member who manages chronic pain with the help of marijuana instead of prescription painkillers, which isn't included in the segment of video opponents are promoting online, shown here.
That video could very well weigh on the Amendment 2 campaign, but on the strength of polling so far, proponents argue the public is on their side. They also make another argument that’s likely to resonate in a state considered the center of a nationwide prescription painkiller epidemic in recent years: medical marijuana use reduces addiction to far more harmful drugs. Between 1999 and 2010, states that legalized medical marijuana had 25 percent fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses, according to a study released in August in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which stressed the study proves correlation, not causation.
“I’ve been saying that for the last year and a half,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic fundraiser managing a campaign for medical marijuana called United for Care. “It’s a nice kind of affirmation that the study has come out, and to a certain extent confirms what I already believe.”
Pollara, like other advocates for medical marijuana, said he’s seen the damage of prescription opiates first hand, and marijuana is a much better alternative for chronic pain.
Marijuana’s potential for relieving chronic pain is one of many therapeutic benefits cited by proponents, but there’s disagreement over the benefits and influential quarters of the medical establishment remain skeptical. The American Medical Association, for instance, doesn’t endorse recreational use or state-based medical programs, but the group -- like others -- supports changing the drug’s status as a highly controlled substance and expediting research. Critics of U.S. drug policy have long wanted the Food and Drug Administration to relax its position on marijuana, saying it discourages research and the kind of formal clinical trials needed to better establish legitimacy.
The University of California at San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, however, has performed clinical trials since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and has found the drug provides relief from muscle stiffness and spasms among patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and from pain in patients suffering from serious disorders such as AIDS.
But while the U.S. has been more reluctant to formally study the medicinal benefits of marijuana, Israel has become a research powerhouse and established the drug as a treatment for conditions as varied as post-traumatic stress and Parkinson’s disease. Pollara argues the FDA’s reluctance shouldn’t hold back people who find relief in marijuana.
Florida was already caught up in a wave of recent state laws (many of them in the South) legalizing cannabis oil made from a part of the plant that doesn’t get users high but has gained a foothold in treating epilepsy. Advocates say other southern states will surely follow Florida's lead, because there's already visible support. "The Southern states have been slow to come around in terms of changing policy, despite majority support for medical marijuana, so passing an effective medical marijuana law in Florida would be a big step and hopefully help nearby states realize that it is time to enact compassionate legislation and that these programs can be regulated successfully," said Morgan Fox, the spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.
By legalizing medical marijuana that contains THC, the psychoactive ingredient, Florida would join 23 other states and the District of Columbia. Eleven of those states legalized medical marijuana in just the past four years, signaling growing acceptance among the American public, which now narrowly supports full recreational use as well.
All but a few, including California and Massachusetts, however, limit the number of diseases for which a doctor can recommend medicinal marijuana, such as cancer, AIDS, ALS and multiple sclerosis. The language Florida voters will see uses the words “debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician,” but in the full text of the amendment, which isn’t visible on the ballot, a debilitating condition is also defined as one “for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks.”
Opponents argued the ballot language is deceptive and will lead to de facto recreational legalization, but the state Supreme Court narrowly upheld the measure with the votes of three Democratic-appointed justices and one appointed by Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who’s running against the current Republican officeholder, Rick Scott, for another chance at the governor’s mansion this year.
Calvina Fay, executive director of the Florida-based Drug Free America Foundation, worries about trends such as increased marijuana-related hospitalization in the past decade and increased usage among teenagers, which is linked to lower IQ in adulthood (though two prominent, peer-reviewed journals have released studies undercutting the assertion that legalizing medical marijuana leads to increased use among teenagers).
(Colorado shows that Marijuana use among teenagers has actually gone down since legalization)
Fay also worries that medical marijuana is a back door to legalized recreational use or at least makes it far more likely in the future. She is concerned about the permanence of a constitutional amendment and thinks the polling on the issue overstates public support because it doesn’t get into the actual details of the ballot measure, which she thinks will turn off voters as they learn more. She takes the most recent poll as a sign of trouble, because anything less than support well over the 60 percent threshold is a bad sign.
“If it’s polling at 60 percent, I think the other side is in trouble,” she said.
To: Friends of Historic Preservation
From: Martin County Historic Preservation Board
Re: Historic Preservation Board Awards Dinner
The Historic Preservation Board cordially invites you to join us at the Historic Preservation Board Awards Dinner that will take place on Thursday October 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm (doors will open at 6:00 pm). Thanks to the generosity of the City of Stuart, our dinner will once again take place at the Flagler Center (old USO building), 201 SW Flagler Avenue, in historic downtown Stuart.
At the dinner, the Preservationists of the Year Award will be presented to Alice and Greg Luckhardt by last year's award recipient, Joe Crankshaw. We will also honor a student essay contest winner for the first time.
We hope that you will join fellow preservationists as we pay tribute to Alice and Greg, who have given so selflessly to our community. This husband and wife team has spent countless hours researching and writing about the history of Stuart and Martin County. We are certain that many of you have read their weekly "Historical Vignettes" in the Stuart News or know them from their work with the Stuart Heritage Museum, another local treasure.
Thanks to the kindness of the Lyric Theatre, the tickets for the Awards Dinner can be purchased for $25 on line at www.lyrictheatre.com or by calling 772-286-7827. You can also use the following link:
We hope to see all of you at the dinner, where we will share good food and celebrate good friends of historic preservation, who have done so much to preserve the history of our community.
Please share the attached invitation that was generously designed by Barbara Clowdus, Publisher of the Martin County Currents, with your friends and neighbors. Also, feel free to email Joette Lorion Rice at email@example.com or call 305-281-0429 with any questions that you may have.
For immediate release: Oct. 15, 2013
Contact: Nancy Johnson, Community Development, 772-463-3253
Public invited to participate in Neighborhood Advisory Committee meetings
Average price per square foot for Stuart FL was $109, an increase of 10.1% compared to the same period last year. The median sales price for homes in Stuart FL for Jul 13 to Oct 13 was $149,350 based on 346 home sales. Compared to the same period one year ago, the median home sales price increased 19.5%, or $24,350, and the number of home sales decreased 1.4%. There are currently 931 resale and new homes in Stuart on Trulia, including 17 open houses, as well as 763 homes in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process. The average listing price for homes for sale in Stuart FL was $553,963 for the week ending Oct 09, which represents a decrease of 7.6%, or $45,340, compared to the prior week.
Two housing indicators were released earlier this week, and while the numbers seemed divergent, they both really say the same thing—that the U.S. real estate recovery is chugging along, but the current pace is unsustainable.
On Tuesday, a report from S&P/Case-Shiller showed property values in 20 U.S. cities had increased 12.4% year-over-year in July. This marked the largest annual gain since February 2006, when the market was nearing the height of theU.S. housing bubble. (Source: “Home Prices Steadily Rise in July 2013 According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices,” Spice-Indices.com, September 24 2013.)
On top of that, July marked the fourth consecutive month that all 20 cities in the index recorded monthly gains. However, 15 of those cities experienced slower month-over-month gains, suggesting the rate of home price growth may have peaked.
That said, it’s pretty hard to argue we’re in a housing bubble. Since bottoming in March 2012, home prices have rebounded by 21%—but they’re still 22% below their July 2006 pre-GreatRecession peak.
Not so coincidentally, mortgage rates have been running in step with the U.S. real estate market and are up more than a full percentage point since May; today, a 30-year fixed mortgage rate averages around 4.5%. Erring on the side of caution, investors sent rates higher as they speculated about whether or not the Federal Reserve would begin to taper its $85.0-billion-per-month quantitative easing program.
Not only has this made borrowing more expensive, but it has also made home ownership less affordable. Those on the cusp have been rushing in from the sidelines to beat the banks’ higher mortgage rates, and in an excited market, there’s a temptation to overpay for a home just to lock in at a low rate.
On Wednesday, the Census Bureau announced that new home sales in August climbed 7.9% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 421,000 from 390,000 in July; that was less than the 425,000 forecast and also caps the two worst months for new home sales so far this year. During the first three months of the year, new home sales averaged 449,000, while over the last three months, sales have average 422,000. (Source: Chandra, S., “Sales of New U.S. Homes Rose in August Following July Plunge,” Bloomberg web site, September 25, 2013.)
Why? As the S&P/Case-Shiller report noted, rising interest rates are having a negative impact on new home sales. New U.S. real estate home sales activity in July declined 13.5% month-over-month, in large part because buyers cannot lock in on rates on homes under construction.
While the continuation of quantitative easing should keep interest rates low, ongoing growth in the U.S. real estate market, for both existing and new homes, is contingent upon the cost and availability of credit—along with improving consumer confidence and stronger job prospects, that is. You can’t have one without the other.
Despite the recent housing numbers, the U.S. real estate market feels like it’s not on solid footing and could, with any number of economic data reports, rise or fall quickly. This means investors, regardless of if they’re bullish or bearish on the U.S. real estate market, might want to manage their risk and diversify their holdings.
Those with a bearish view on the U.S. real estate market might want to consider an exchange-traded fund (ETF) like ProShares Short Real Estate (NYSE: REK [FREE Stock Trend Analysis]). Investors who think the U.S. real estate market has turned the corner should put the iShares U.S. Home Construction ETF (NYSE: ITB) on their radar.
Or, instead of guessing which way the U.S. real estate market is heading, you could look at those companies or ETFs that are already generating revenue. One example is Inland Real Estate Corp. (NYSE: IRC), which develops shopping centers and retail properties in the Midwest region of the U.S.
Palm Beach County property tax rates stay the same and the Sheriff's Office gets a big spending boost under a $4 billion county budget given final approval late Monday.
In addition to the $30 million budget bump for the Sheriff's Office, the county is increasing its spending on backlogged road repairs and giving employees a pay raise. The budget kicks in Oct. 1.
An improving economy and rising property tax revenues enabled the county for the second year in a row to avoid raising tax rates and to avoid more unpopular cutbacks of county services."We are in the middle of hurricane season and budget season and both so far are calm," Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams said.
The county's operating budget tax rate remains about $4.78 per $1,000 of taxable property value.
At that property tax rate, a home valued at $230,000 and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption pays about $861 in county property taxes — not including taxes for schools, libraries, cities and other services.
Even with the tax rate holding steady, many individual property tax bills will be going up because property values rose about 4.19 percent, boosting countywide taxable values to about $130.3 billion this year, according to the property appraiser's office.
These back-to-back years of holding steady on tax rates follow a three-year-period of increased tax rates along with spending cuts and eliminating more than 600 positions to avoid the threat of budget shortfalls.
The Sheriff's Office gets $30 million more for its $500 million-dollar budget, which is the county's largest operating expense.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw's increase goes for buying more vehicles and equipment as well as providing a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase for his 3,900 employees.
Bradshaw contends that his budget increase is necessary to pay for the public safety needs of a growing population. Yet county budget planners warn that in the years to come further Sheriff's Office spending increases would likely require cutting other county services or raising taxes.
Road repair funding has been cut in years past to help balance the budget, so the new spending proposal adds some of that money back to start chipping away at the maintenance backlog.
The $3.2 million included in the budget for road resurfacing is twice as much as initially proposed, but is still much less than the projected $10 million to $12 million yearly road improvement need, according to the engineering department.
The budget includes a 3 percent salary increase for employees of County Commission-controlled departments. It's the first salary bump since 2008 and costs taxpayers about $6 million.
Backlash from youth baseball league leaders convinced the County Commission Monday to scrap a proposed parks fee that would have been levied on travel sports teams.
The county had proposed charging $10-per-hour fee for sports fields used by travel teams, which are clubs and leagues intended to be more competitive and exclusive than the recreational leagues that are open to all players.
The travel team fees would have helped pay for staffing expenses to monitor fields and guard against altercations, field damage and other improper use.
But commissioners determined that minimal amount that could have been raised was not worth imposing what many team leaders called an unfair expense. "The $10 is too much," Commissioner Paulette Burdick said.
The county's new spending plan includes a Palm Tran bus fare increase. Starting Oct. 7, the cost of a one-way ride goes up to $2 from $1.50 and the price of standard monthly bus passes increases to $70 from $60.
Comments by Sherry Lee:I guess we are all supposed to feel good that we didn't get more increases, even though this commission did nothing but increase taxes just about every year prior to this one as far back as I can remember. I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that they need a 4 Billion dollar budget for a county where more than half of its population is covered by city government services. Billion with a B. One county in one state. Do you feel like a tax mule yet?
Sales of distressed homes increased sharply across South Florida in August, a result of more foreclosures working their way through the court system, a new report shows.
Four in 10 Broward County sales last month involved homes in some stage of repossession, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Foreclosure-related homes accounted for only 21 percent of Broward sales in August 2012. In Palm Beach County, 36 percent of August sales involved distressed homes, up from 20 percent a year earlier.
"This is expected, given that over the past 18 months in Florida we've seen foreclosure starts increase. That's now translating into actual sales," said Daren Blomquist, a RealtyTrac spokesman. "This is a necessary step that the market needs to go through to clear the distressed inventory out and get it in the hands of new homeowners."
The figures from RealtyTrac, an Irvine, Calif.-based listing firm, are based on county deeds and include single-family homes, condominiums and townhomes.
The firm defines a distressed home as one in foreclosure or already owned by a lender. Short sales, in which the owner unloads for less than the mortgage amount, are considered distressed properties.
Some South Florida market watchers feared an increase in foreclosure-related sales would hurt overall home values, but demand is strong enough to keep prices from falling, Blomquist and other analysts say.
Broward's median price in August for distressed homes was $112,150, up 24 percent from a year ago, RealtyTrac said. Palm Beach County's median for distressed homes rose 21 percent to $110,000.
Despite the price increases, those homes still sold for about a third less than properties not in the foreclosure process, according to RealtyTrac.
"As quickly as the homes are put onto the market, they're gobbled up," said David Dweck, founder of the Boca Real Estate Investment Club. "Banks have gotten smarter and raised their prices accordingly."
Individual investors and large investment firms have been buying foreclosed properties over the past year, usually paying cash. In July and August, nearly seven in 10 sales across Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties were all-cash deals, RealtyTrac said.
The investors add value through renovations, then turn around and sell the homes for a profit. Investment firms tend to rent the homes for a year or longer before selling.
The robust demand has helped the market rebound from the housing crash — but it also led to a shortage of homes that has kept many young families from buying, real estate agents say.
Thank you for using the official Florida Hardest-Hit Fund Principal Reduction (HHF-PR) Website!
Please be advised that only 25,000 completed and submitted applications will be accepted initially for eligibility determination. When you click “Start Now,” you must complete all the steps to have a completed application. After you complete “Step Four”, you will see the “Submit Application” button located at the bottom, click that button, and your application is considered complete.
Once we have reached 25,000 applications, the “Start Now” button will be disabled so that we can begin processing the completed applications. If additional funding is available for the HHF-PR program after this initial launch, we will re-open the application process.
This site contains all the information you will need to begin your application for the Florida HHF-PR program, with step-by-step instructions and prompts to help you. In addition, there are facts about the program, answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) and other information that may be helpful to you. The federal government has allocated funding to assist eligible Florida homeowners who owe at least 125% more on their home than its current market value, commonly referred to as the home being “underwater.” The Florida Hardest-Hit Fund Principal Reduction (HHF-PR) program will provide up to $50,000 to an eligible homeowner(s) to help reduce the principal balance of the first mortgage. The program is available in all 67 counties in the State. Eligibility requirements include, but are not limited to, the following:
Click here to download the HHF-PR “Frequently Asked Questions” document, which contains the complete list of Florida HHF-PR eligibility requirements and program benefit.
After reviewing this information, if you determine that your situation does not meet all of the eligibility criteria for participation in the HHF-PR program, you may qualify for Florida HHF Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program (UMAP) or Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Program (MLRP) assistance. To review program eligibility criteria and/or to submit an application, you will need to visit www.FLHardestHitHelp.org. However, this site will not accept NEW applications until Tuesday, October 1, beginning at 9:00 a.m.
IMPORTANT PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENTS!
Thousands of Florida homeowners who owe far more on mortgages than their houses are worth could get a break of up to $50,000 if they qualify under a new state program, housing officials said Friday.
The Florida Housing Finance Corp. said people who meet eligibility requirements will be able to apply online for money to reduce mortgage principal beginning Wednesday under the $350 million plan. The program is restricted to homeowners whose mortgages are 125 percent or more than the current market value of their house, which is considered to be severely underwater on a mortgage.
The program, formally known as the Florida Hardest Hit Principal Reduction Program, also envisions that most affected mortgages will be refinanced or recast, reducing monthly payments.
"For those who qualify, this new program can help to reduce their principal balance, which can result in a lower monthly payment and put more money in their pockets," said Steve Auger, Florida Housing's executive director.
The online application process will begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at www.principalreductionflhhf.org . The unpaid balance of the mortgage cannot exceed $350,000.
Initially, the program will be restricted to 25,000 applications on a first-come, first-served basis but could be expanded, Auger said. The money is just a portion of the $1 billion Florida has received under a federal program aimed at states where housing suffered the most during the economic recession.
At least 200,000 underwater homeowners in Florida could probably qualify for the program, said David Westcott, director of home ownership programs at Florida Housing. Out of the 25,000 initial applications, Westcott said he expects about 10,000 homeowners will actually qualify for the money.
"You have to be severely underwater," he said.
Among the other rules to qualify:
—Homeowners must be Florida residents and legal U.S. residents and must occupy the house as a primary residence.
—Total household income for everyone 18 and older living in the home cannot exceed 140 percent of the area's median income.
—Mortgage payments must be current, and a payment cannot have been 60 or more days late in the past 24 months.
—The mortgage had to originate prior to Jan. 1, 2010.
The money will be provided in what's called a forgivable loan. That means, depending on the type of loan, it will either be forgiven in 20 percent increments over a five-year period or forgiven in total at the end of five years.
If the house is sold before the five years are up, Westcott said the homeowner would be required to repay the remaining, unforgiven amount of the loan if there's enough money from the sale to do so.
The housing agency has come under some criticism from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and others who say it has been slow to get money to homeowners who need it and has been poorly managed. A federal audit was begun earlier this year at Nelson's request, although agency officials have said their management has been favorably reviewed by the U.S. Treasury Department and state regulators.
By Kimberly Miller - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Homeowner advocates celebrated last month when a key federal foreclosure prevention program was extended, but the time gain has turned borrowers into unwitting gamblers, forced to chance a loan modification at the risk of losing out on a short sale tax break.
The Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program is now open through 2015, meaning homeowners rushing to negotiate a deal by year’s end have more time. What hasn’t been extended is a law that allows homeowners who short sell their home to exclude the forgiven debt - usually tens of thousands of dollars - from their income.
That ends Jan. 1, 2014, and means if borrowers pursue a loan modification and fail, they could face a short sale of their home next year without the benefit of the tax break.
“It’s putting people in a crazy situation,” said attorney Paul Krasker, whose West Palm Beach law firm does foreclosure defense and helps homeowners with loan modifications. “Some people wanting to save their home are actually being forced to do a short sale so they won’t owe the IRS.”
Since 2007, homeowners whose banks have forgiven unpaid mortgage debt after a short sale, principal reduction or foreclosure have not had to count that money as income on their tax returns. Originally set to end in December, the Mortgage Debt Relief Act was extended in a last-minute vote on legislation that averted the worst of the fiscal cliff earlier this year.
With some short sales taking months to complete, Realtors say the decision on whether to put a home on the market needs to be made soon so it can close before the Jan. 1, 2014, tax relief cutoff.
Sherry Lee, broker/owner of Lee Property Sales in West Palm Beach, suggests getting a contract on a short sale by the end of September to meet the deadline. But she has one client who would prefer to keep his home with a loan modification instead of put it on the market as a short sale.
“I told him straight up that he has to do the loan mod right now and get an answer because the only other alternative at that point is short sale and it’s already June,” Lee said. “I can’t tell my clients not to roll the dice, but I have to walk a fine line as far as advice.”
The debt relief act has been particularly helpful to South Florida borrowers who saw their home values plummet 51 percent from the peak of the market in December 2006 to a low point in November 2011, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index. Values have rebounded in recent months and were 43 percent below the peak in March, according to the index.
Under normal circumstances, if a home sells for $150,000 less than what is owed on the mortgage, the borrower would be on the hook for up to $58,500 in taxes, depending on the tax bracket. The debt relief act waives that charge.
“Prices are up so people are closer to getting even and this will be less of an issue,” said Jason Altman, a Boynton Beach accountant who has helped people avoid paying taxes on canceled debt and suggests insolvency as an option to defer phantom income. “This is a problem, but also an opportunity. It’s not the end of the world.”
Not everyone can benefit from the debt relief act. It covers only forgiven debt on principal residences and amounts up to $2 million, or $1 million if married but filing separately.
Krasker said his employees were ecstatic when the Home Affordable Modification Program to reduce monthly loan payments was extended through December 2015 because they were getting nervous about completing clients’ files before the end of the year.
Since the program was announced in 2009, more than 105,000 Florida homeowners, including 46,300 in South Florida, have received permanent mortgage modifications through the program.
But then Krasker realized homeowners would have to make the difficult decision of whether to pursue a loan modification under the threat of missing the tax deadline.
“If they want to continue forward with the modification and take the risk, we tell them that that’s what it is at this point, a risk,” Krasker said. ”We hope the (tax break) will be extended, but as of today, it hasn’t.”
While federal loan modification plans have been extended through 2015, a law that waives taxes on forgiven debt expires Jan. 1, 2014. That means a homeowner who holds out for a loan modification, but is unsuccessful, risks having to short sale their home and owing tens of thousands of dollars in taxes on the forgiven debt.