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Florida Residents Complained About Champlain Towers Development Two Years Before Collapse

Two and a half years before the Champlain Towers South building collapsed in Florida, residents were complaining that the buildings were being developed too closely together and didn’t seem safe. 

“We are concerned that the construction next to Surfside is too close. Workers were digging too close to our property and we have concerns regarding the structure of our building. There’s construction equipment directly across from our building’s property wall,” resident Mara Chouela, who is also a board member of the condo association, wrote in a January 2019 email to a building official.

Rosendo Prieto was the official responsible for sorting through complaints made by the condo association at the time. 30 minutes after Chouela sent the initial email, Prieto responded that there was nothing that needed to be checked. He reasoned that “the offending development, an ultra-luxury tower known as Eighty Seven Park, was directly across the border separating the town of Surfside from the city of Miami Beach, which runs between the two buildings. 

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Now, after the Champlain Towers South collapse, Eighty Seven Park is facing even more scrutiny over the construction of these buildings. In fact, Champlain residents often complained that all the construction from the neighboring buildings continuously caused their units to shake.

“The construction of 87 Park did not cause or contribute to the collapse that took place in Surfside. But the 18-story tower would not have been allowed to be built across the border in Surfside, where buildings are subject to a 12-story height limit (although Champlain Towers itself received an exemption in the 1980s to add nine extra feet),” The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Maggie Ramsey is a Florida resident whose mother is among the unaccounted for Champlain residents, and she claims her mother had been concerned about the work being done next door for weeks now. 

“She did complain of a lot of tremors and things that were being done to the other building that she sometimes was concerned about what may be happening to her building, and if she was at risk.” 

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Peter Dyga, the president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said that “the likelihood of the Eighty Seven Park construction being a significant cause in the Surfside collapse is slim, but no lead or idea should be excluded.”

“There’s probably going to be multiple things in the end that have contributed in some way or another. Still, buildings are built next to buildings all the time, and it doesn’t mean that they come down.”

Records also show that Champlain South residents have sent a series of angry emails to Terra Group, the developers behind Eighty Seven Park, complaining about construction debris, noise, and lack of action. 

“I am shocked and disappointed to see the lack of consideration and respect that Terra has shown our residents. You have said you want to be a good neighbor… This is truly outrageous and quite unprecedented from what we hear from other associations in the area that have dealt with construction beside them,” Anette Goldstein, a condo board member, wrote to executives with the developer. 

Luxury Home

Home Construction Projects At An All Time Low Since Pandemic Began

The US is currently facing a historic shortage of homes for sale, which is why it’s surprising that homebuilders aren’t working as frequently as they once were towards the beginning of the pandemic. With the pandemic itself coming to a close, many Americans are continuing to look for work, and real estate prices and service fees have only increased for the same reason. 

According to reports from NBC, single-family housing is priced 13% lower when compared to this time last year. This marks the sharpest decline since last April, when the pandemic initially shut down the economy.  

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“I have to blame the difficulty in procuring lumber and other products, along with labor issues for the miss, in addition to likely cancellations due to skyrocketing costs for single family starts,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.

According to a recent survey performed by the National Association of Home Builders, “prices of new and existing homes are at record levels, and the increases are accelerating at the fastest clip in over 15 years. Nearly half of all builders say they are adding escalation clauses to their sale prices because of rising material costs.”

“Escalation clauses specify that if building materials increase, by a certain percentage for example, the customer would be responsible for paying the higher cost. Including such a clause allows all parties to be on notice that the contract costs could change if materials prices change due to supply constraints outside the builder’s control,” according to the NAHB.

In a monthly sentiment survey, they also noted that “builders said they were slowing production in order to deal with higher costs for lumber, steel, gypsum and copper, some of which have hit record highs this year. A broad mix of residential construction materials is up in aggregate 12.4% over the previous 12 months.”

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The NAHB claimed in their statement that lumber alone increased in price tremendously throughout the past year; specifically the group claimed the increase has added an additional $36,000 charge to every single-family home building cost. 

The housing sector, like most of the industry, is also dealing with a major shortage in labor. Last April saw a major decrease in construction employment due to the fact that construction projects were some of the first to be halted when the pandemic began, leaving thousands of laborers unemployed or indefinitely furloughed. 

“Contractors are experiencing unprecedented intensity and range of cost increases, supply-chain disruptions, and worker shortages that have kept firms from increasing their workforces. These challenges will make it difficult for contractors to rebound as the pandemic appears to wane,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist with Associated General Contractors of America, an industry trade group. 

“Builders are also reporting difficulty obtaining other inputs like appliances. These supply-chain constraints are holding back a housing market that should otherwise be picking up speed, given the strong demand for buying fueled by an improving job market and low mortgage rates,” said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Bikes on Bridge

Europe’s Longest Cycling Bridge Begins Construction In The Netherlands

Construction on what is projected to be Europe’s longest bridge for cyclists and pedestrians has begun in the Netherlands. The Blauwe Loper, or Blue Carpet Bridge, will be over 2600 feet long, basically half of a mile, and stretch over a lake, nature reserve, canal, and motorway. The purpose of the bridge is to connect a new town in the Netherlands to the closest city for easy access. 

The plan is to eventually extend the bridge to be over 3,000 feet in length but construction is being done by phases, the first of which is predicted to be completed by December of 2020. The bridge itself will cost approximately six million American dollars and will connect Winschoten, located in the Groningen province in the Netherlands, to Blauwestad, which as previously mentioned is a brand new village that is also currently being constructed on reclaimed land in the Netherlands. 

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The Blue Carpet Bridge is being constructed with three demographics in mind; cyclists, pedestrians, and oddly enough, bats. As previously stated, the bridge itself will stretch over a nature preserve and a lake, more specifically Oldambtmeer lake, both of which are safe habitats for the Netherlands extensive bat population. 

Not only will the bridge be painted a “bat-friendly” green, studies show that bats are attracted to green hues at night, but it also will be lined with LED lighting to assist the creatures in finding their way from the nature preserve to the lake, or vice versa. 

Reinder Lanting, one of the main project leaders for the project, told a regional publication the main goals for the bridge in the long term, stating: “We think we can stretch it to a kilometre by connecting it to the main street in Blauwestad. This bridge is not going to rot. That is because it is technically well designed. The wood is not pressed together but has a sort of venting system.”

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The wood that Lanting is referring to is being sourced from Gabon in Central Africa. Gabon in general is known for their okoumé, which can be converted into plywood, in fact the country supplies it to over 90% of the world. With this wood Lanting and his team expect that the bridge will last for at least 80 years before it needs any major upgrades/renovations. 

The Dutch cycling embassy, a government-funded agency, tweeted: “The province of Groningen has started construction on the €6.5m, 800-metre Blauwe Loper … When completed in late 2020, it will be the longest bicycle bridge in Europe.”

The Netherlands in general have been making major systematic changes to their industrial geography to accommodate cyclists more. In general the efforts are to benefit the environment and combat the devastating effects of climate change. 

Currently, the longest cycling bridge in Europe is located in Sölvesborg, southern Sweden. THat bridge is around 2,400 feet, about 200 feet smaller than what the Blauwe Loper is projected to be when fully constructed. The largest cycling bridge in the world, however, is the Xiamen Bicycle Skyway in China. The Skyway is about 4.7 miles long, and weaves throughout China’s buildings like an extended High Line.

Home Renovations

Home Renovations Actually Worth The Investment

When it comes to renovating the home, the list of things to do can easily grow into a novel of projects ranging from fixing the porch light, to completely gutting the kitchen. However, when we find ourselves with enough money saved to finally check some of these projects off of our lists, it can be hard to prioritize what renovations are worth putting the time, effort, and money into, which ones can take a back seat, and which aren’t even worth it at all. 

Once it comes time to make this decision, interior designer/business owner Colleen Quinn says to prioritize the projects that will make your property universally more appealing. That way, if/when you have to sell your home, the changes you made will be well-received by a wide variety of people. 

“It is important to make investments that will be the best use of your money. We don’t want to put in custom details that are only for your specific use. Think about things that will be valued by a range of people,” Quinn said.

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According to a study conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), when it comes to the money you’d make back on your renovation investment, it really depends on the project. The study found that full kitchen renovations typically give homeowners a 59% return on the money they put in, and a full master bedroom would typically bring in a 50% return. 

The study also showed that projects that were considered to be much smaller scale, when compared to full room remodels, actually brought the most money back on the homeowners original investment. For example, installing hardwood floors brought back an average of 106% of whatever was originally put into it. Replacing the heating and cooling systems brought back 85%, and a full insulation upgrade in the home recouped about 84%.

So, when it comes to actually choosing what projects would be the biggest bang for your buck, it really depends on the reasoning behind the renovation itself. If the upgrades you’re making are with the intent to sell, then point your focus in the direction of all the main living spaces. The study found that the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms are what potential buyers deem as the “most important spaces” when looking for a new home. Basically meaning that if the kitchen and bathrooms are updated, buyers are less likely to care if they would need to put their own money into other projects, such as the flooring or re-modelling the back deck. 

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Shane Steele is the Vice President of a California real estate investment company who also contributed to some of the reasoning behind the results of the study. She claimed that besides the main living spaces, the flow of the house is most important. The “flow” she’s discussing refers to the fixtures and finishes around the home that act as accents for the overall space. 

“Keep the fixtures and finishes somewhat neutral so they will be more appealing for multiple buyers. Add the flair with your decor that can be taken with you when you leave. While a neutral palate and a universal appeal should be the goal when renovating, retaining original details can help a home stand out. Where possible you should try to preserve the bones of the house. Any details like crown molding, arches, built-in shelves should stay, because there is demand for character,” she said. 

Renovating the home is truly a subjective experience based on personal desire and taste, however, it’s important to think about the future when adding all of your customization’s. You may not make all of your money back on your investment depending on the project and how well it’s executed, so make sure you’re working with a trusted and well-researched contractor. Ask other trusted individuals in your life, or in the business, about what projects will be most beneficial to both your life and your future, and get hammering!

Mexico

Mexican Community Being Built Using 3D Printer

A neighborhood in Mexico is being built for families who are currently living on $3 per day, thanks to a 3D printer. Two houses have already been created using an enormous 3D printer in a poverty stricken area of Mexico, making them the first houses in the new neighborhood. However, developers are saying the houses are not prototypes and that they are planning on replacing the current, rickety structures that residents had previously used to build their homes – such as wood or metal – within the next twelve months.

Tabasco in Mexico is a seismic zone, prone to flooding and earthquakes and therefore need structures that can stay upright during an earthquake, and dry during the torrential rains.The community is being built by New Story and their co-founder and CEO Brett Hagler, who told CNN:

“These families are the most vulnerable, and in the lowest income … and they’re living on about an average of $3 a day. They’re living in literally a pieced-together shack that during the rainy season, it will rain and it will flood their shack. Some of the women even said that the water will go up to their knees when it rains, sometimes for months.”

A non-profit whose aim is to help families in need of a home, New Story has already built over 2,700 dwellings in Mexico and South America since Hagler co-founded the company in 2014. However, this is the first project they have opted to use 3D printing for all the properties.

Partnering with ICON and ÉCHALE has enabled them to work on the ambitious project. The project is using 3D printing robotics that were developed by construction technology company ICON. Mexican non-profit ÉCHALE have been working to locate the families who will eventually live in the properties and therefore have taken their input to help the design of the building.

The printer is a staggering 33-foot and “prints” a concrete mix to build the walls, layer by layer. As the mix hardens while it’s drying it can take around 24 hours – over a couple of days – for two homes to be built. This is nearly twice as fast as a New Story home is built using normal techniques. New Story says that since the mix is stronger than concrete, the foundations are reinforced, helping the properties to stand up to any seismic activity.

Each 500-square-foot home will have a flat roof and curved walls, with a living room, kitchen, one bathroom and two bedrooms. However, the two homes already built are still empty as it would not be safe for residents to live in the construction area. It is unclear as yet how much each house will cost however New Story is keen to work with families, potentially charging them around 20-30 per cent of their income. Many residents in Tabasco just want the opportunity to own something in their own community.

Austin based company ICON took over three years to create a printer that would be able to sustain this type of project, and this printer – named Vulcan II – is perfect for the job. Although in this project the printer is concentrating on two 500-square-foot homes simultaneously, it has the capacity to build one 2,000 square foot house. It can also build walls that are 28 feet wide and nearly 9 feet tall.

In the last year alone the speed in which the printer works has become a lot faster. In March 2018 ICON announced they had built a three bedroom house in 48 hours. Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of ICON explained:

“It’s 10 times better than where we were a year ago. I am so proud. It is so rare that the most in need of our sisters and brothers globally get first access to advanced technologies and breakthroughs in materials science. We think part of what 3D printing allows us to do is to deliver a much higher-quality product to the housing market at a speed and price that’s typically not available for people in low-income housing. It is a house that anyone would be proud to live in.”

However getting the printer away from the lab and actually getting it into the construction site was a hard task thanks to some harsh weather conditions. Although the company used a standard shipping container to move the printer to site, border authorities asked many questions when they say it.

Ballard confirmed that the printer had arrived at the height of summer, at the beginning of the rainy season, therefore creating even more logistical issues for the company. With muddy roads, floods and high humidity Ballard says he realized how lucky we are in America.

Real Estate Meeting

Real Estate Industry In Need Of Affordable Housing Solutions

The real estate industry is like the stock market, one day you’re way up, and the next you’re crashing. The housing market always fluctuates with the economy and today is no different. Due to a slew of combined issues, the real estate industry is suffering to find and maintain affordable housing in the US for clients looking to live in metropolitan areas. Phoenix, Arizona is seeing some of the worst of it currently, according to Chamber Business News (CBN).  A combination of lack of labor, high demand for properties to be built fast, and rising development costs is taking a hit on the entire industry, (CBN).

“I refer to it as the perfect storm. It isn’t just building and labor costs, but building products have gone up, too, and, today, the most severe labor shortage is for lot development, the folks that put in the sewer, concrete curbs and gutters, dry utilities, everything underneath the house, and the infrastructure to get to and from the home site,”  said Jim Belfiore, President of the firm Belfiore Real Estate Consulting in Phoenix. 

Homeowners themselves are trying to take some of the heat off the companies they work with by providing additional costs, but even the real estate agents working with them know that what they’re paying additionally is way above what’s considered “normal”. The lack of labor is one of the biggest hurdles the industry is trying to get past, especially in Phoenix. According to CBN, construction costs overall have increased almost 40% over the past four years, give or take based on the specific residential market of course. Since a majority of the market’s clients can’t keep up with the rising costs, more labor workers are left without jobs. 

The labor shortage is affecting the whole country, but Arizona is especially feeling the negative effects. With an increase in anti-immigration laws and stricter policies regarding immigrant workers, many individuals have fled the state to avoid any threat of deportation. 

“The labor shortage has really affected the schedule that home builders can deliver on because of a lack of contractors. There are projects that are going out to bid and getting zero bidders responding with proposals. It’s not unusual once you find bidders who can’t meet their schedule,” said Ron Hilgart, managing principal of a Phoenix construction management firm, to CBN.

Arizona alone has seen one of the highest influxes in population throughout the country, but they’re definitely not alone in the struggle of maintaining the growing clientele. According to a survey done by Freddie Mac, two-thirds of renters in this country can’t currently afford to become a homeowner, this is a 59% increase compared to last years renter statistics. The biggest and simplest solution to this growing problem is acquiring more land to develop properties. The need for property space is one of the leading causes to the decline in everything else within the industry. Agents are attempting to fulfill their clients specific limitations while finding them a proper space to call their own. Clients are demanding large and extravagant additions to be made to their homes that just aren’t necessary, such as large porches, grand foyer entrances, and garage spaces. These additions increase property value, which is currently being viewed as a bad thing due to a lack of clients that can afford those spaces.

“At the end of the day, anywhere there is land to build on today that is appropriate for residential use, I think our municipal leaders and our builders need to come together and allocate some share of that remaining land towards affordable housing and we need to have different requirements” concludes Belfiore.