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Billions In Renters Aid Still Available For Struggling Americans 

Six months ago Congress allocated more than $45 billion to the renters’ crisis which was triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of that money is still available today, in fact, only about a fifth of it has been used so far. 

According to data from the US Department of Treasury, $10 billion of the funding reached households by the end of last month, meaning there’s still around $35 billion in aid unspent and ready to be used. 

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Around 12 million adults are currently behind on their rent payments, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. One analysis over the summer found that the average American renter owed about $3,700, and in some areas rental debts were topping $10,000 per household. 

“There’s certainly remaining need in most states and cities. However, efforts to disburse the money have been challenged by a lack of awareness and cumbersome applications. Still, renters should not give up on getting the help.” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Just applying for renters aid can help you stay in your home longer. In at least five states individuals who apply for assistance are entitled to some level of protection from being pushed out of their homes. 

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For renters who don’t know how to apply, The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a state-by-state list of more than 500 organizations that are currently giving out federal money. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has a new online tool to help renters easily apply for the aid. 

To be eligible for the aid at least one member of your household has to qualify for unemployment benefits or attest in writing that they’ve lost income or incurred significant expenses due to the pandemic. 

There also needs to be a demonstrated risk of homelessness, which may include a past-due rent or utility notice. 

Additionally, your income level for 2020 can’t exceed 80% of your area’s median income, although some state’s have prioritized applicants who fall at 50% or lower, as well as those who have been unemployed for more than 90 days. 

You could potentially receive up to 18 months of assistance. If you’ve already been approved for rental funds but continue to be behind, you can reapply. If you are at risk of being evicted you can find low-cost or free legal help with an eviction in your state at Lawhelp.org.

Magnify Glass of Real Estate Market

Global Wellness Real Estate Market Surging Throughout Pandemic 

Wellness real estate is defined as “commercial, institutional, and residential properties that incorporate wellness elements in their architecture and amenities,” according to the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

GWI explained that throughout the past few years the wellness real estate market has seen exponential growth, even with the pandemic. 

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“The pandemic fueled the shift in the real estate and construction industries toward wellness: from 2019-2020, wellness real estate continued to grow by over 22%, even as overall construction shrank,” the organization reported.

GWI held their annual Wellness Real Estate and Communities Symposium this week in New York where they discussed the market as it currently stands, and ways to continue to expand and improve it. 

“The wellness real estate market as a continuing opportunity, driven in part from lessons learned during COVID. Doctors, architects and wellness professionals have come together to introduce preventive medicine intentions into the way we design the built environment as a preventative medicine tool,” shared presenter and sponsor Paul Scialla, CEO of wellness technology firm Delos.

“The pandemic has driven the idea of ‘building for human health’ into the mainstream consumer consciousness, and the recent market growth far exceeded our predictions.”

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The US and China alone account for 60% of the overall total wellness real estate market. GWI estimates that there are more than 2300 wellness projects worldwide in various stages of development and completion; three years ago that number was around 740. 

GWI attributes the growth in the industry to many factors, including many brought on by the pandemic; “stress, loneliness, remote work and an increasing eco-consciousness in the public sphere.”

“The pandemic has definitely brought the wellness real estate concept more into focus. COVID forced us to see our homes and built environment in a radically new light. Wellness real estate is now quickly moving from elective to essential.”

According to GWI vice president of research and forecasting, Beth McGroarty, the pandemic drove trends in wellness real estate thanks to a multitude of factors, such as advanced technology, remote working procedures, and affordability depending on the area.

How The Real Estate Industry Is Working To Combat Climate Change

Real estate accounts for nearly 40% of the energy-related carbon emissions in the world. Investors are now focusing on cutting emissions to net zero by refurbishing old properties and avoiding new projects.

US Homebuyers Investing In Florida Real Estate 

The amount of homebuyers in Miami have tripled over the past couple of years. According to a new analysis by Redfin, in July the net inflow of Redfin users moving to Miami rose to 7,610 from 2,216 last year. 

Milagros Alvarez, a Miami real estate agent at Redfin, said that “the pandemic has brought even more out-of-towners to the area because so many people can now work wherever they want.”

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“Homebuyers are moving here from all over the map—Atlanta, Cincinnati, New York, Columbia, Mexico City, Pittsburgh and Philly, to name a few. The beaches, warm weather and low taxes are the major draws. Florida has also been much less shut down than other states during the pandemic, which some house hunters see as a positive,” said Alvarez. 

Alvarez also warned that the warm weather in Florida may seem like a main selling factor, but it also comes with its downsides. Miami is one of the most vulnerable cities when it comes to natural disasters or damages caused by weather-related events. 59% of Miami properties face some level of flood risk. 

Sea levels in Miami-Dade County are projected to rise by two feet by 2060, which would displace thousands of residents. The region also faces extreme heat risk, however, Alvarez explained that climate change hasn’t deterred Americans from flocking to the Sunshine state. 

“The homebuyers I talk to rarely mention climate change. Most of them aren’t concerned. A lot of people seem to have this idea that it won’t impact them in their lifetime, so it doesn’t need to be a consideration when buying a home.”

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Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, warned that “the recent UN climate report shows that places like Miami will see the impacts of climate change within the next thirty years. Miami homebuyers should think about how they can make their homes more resilient to climate change and how their finances would be impacted if their homes lost value,” he said.

Sacramento, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Austin, and Atlanta have also been experiencing exponential rises in real estate investments, according to Redfin. The report also claimed that US citizens were mainly moving away from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

“Big, expensive cities normally lose the most residents, and that trend accelerated during the pandemic as remote work gave people the flexibility to leave expensive job centers for relatively affordable places.”

“Yet, a handful of the metros that experienced the largest outflows in July saw fewer people leaving than a year earlier—likely because many of the pandemic restrictions that made those places unattractive places to live have now been lifted,” the report said.

Mattel Family Barbie Penthouse On The Market In Los Angeles For $10 Million

A 3,200-square-foot Century City residence formerly owned by Mattel founders Ruth and Eliot Handler has just been listed for $10 million. The property was initially acquired from the Handler’s in 2012 by developer and designer Nicole Sassaman for $3 million.

“Technically, I bought the home from the real Barbie, Barbara Handler Segal. Ruth and Elliot passed away. Her brother, Kenneth, was deceased as well. So everything was left to Barbara. But don’t call her ‘Barbie.’ If you call her ‘Barbie,’ she will correct you and say, ‘It’s Barbara.’ She is a lovely woman. But few people know that Ken and Barbie were the inspiration behind the iconic dolls,” Sassaman says of the penthouse.

Sassaman went on to explain how the original penthouse didn’t have a Mattel feel to it. “It felt like a 1960s time warp. The only thing in the home related to Barbie was the Barbie and Ken dolls in a glass case. I only wish that I had asked Barbara for them, but I didn’t have the heart. Basically we tore out all the electricity, the plumbing and the framing and the windows. We came down to nothing. The whole place was one room. We started all over again,” she said.

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Sassaman is no stranger to flipping famous properties and reselling them. She’s mainly known for buying and selling the Greta Garbo estate, which she claims helped her when it came to designing the Barbie Penthouse.

“One of my favorite properties that I flipped was a house that quite a few celebrities lived in, including Greta Garbo and Gloria Vanderbilt and Tab Hunter. The house got a lot of press, but when I sold it, the people largely bought it because Greta Garbo had lived there; it was called the Greta Garbo estate. And I thought, ‘Wow.’ If I ever buy a house or a property where someone famous has lived, I will pay respect to the iconic aspect and document everything from the beginning. So I took this approach with the Barbie penthouse. Also, I never got to redesign a penthouse, so this was such a fun opportunity to do something on a different scale,” she explains.

The house has an immaculate view of the Pacific Ocean and the Hollywood Sign.

“Every room you go into has something unexpected, whether it’s the library shelves that are actually a secret door or the little room with a loft. The penthouse has a lot of interesting things you don’t see every day.” The property has three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms. The office space has a queen-sized bed loft as well as a 350-square-foot balcony.

“I am always so touched by the relationship people have with Barbie. I also had Barbie’s when I was a little girl. I loved Barbie. But the most fun thing for me when I was a child was building and designing Barbie’s houses.”

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Sassaman explained why now was the right time to sell after all the work and love they put into the property:

“When I finished the penthouse in the early days, I was offered $10 million from quite a famous hotelier. It was a terrific offer. But I just wasn’t ready to sell at that time. If I don’t sell it, I get to continue to live here. And all my friends are dying that I’m selling. But I just thought it was a good time to let go and a great lesson to teach my 15-year-old daughter not to get too attached to things. Nothing lasts forever, and it is good to move on and try something new, not get stuck in a certain thing in one place. Also, it’s important to share this home. It’s a beautiful place. I have created so many amazing memories here. Even last night, all my friends were over. Everyone wants to celebrate here as long as we have it, so it seems like every night is a party. But I think it’s time to pass the torch and let someone else enjoy it,” she says.

Scott Segall is a real estate agent who’s responsible for the Malibu Barbie beach house listing in California who recently spoke about how unique the Penthouse property was in comparison.

“If you’re going to buy your daughter a Barbie Penthouse, and that Barbie Penthouse was a toy, it would look like this. It’s the live version of what Barbie would have had. There’s always been this idea that Barbie likes the finer things in life and we are delivering that.”

“This penthouse is a little more understated and low-key, so it’s not in your face. And I think a lot of people with high profiles love that. Beyond that, the history of having the Handlers who invented Ken and Barbie having lived there gives it some sort of cache. Nicole has completely reimagined the space. And I think it’s always fun when you have some kind of history associated with a remarkable property,” he adds.

Investing in Real Estate

Tips For Investing In Real Estate Right Now 

Now that the Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to slow down a little, many are beginning to take on new business endeavors. Real Estate investments have been on the rise within the past year, especially among first-time investors. So what should you know as you enter into your investments in 2021?

Many experts believe that first-timers should always find a mentor who they can trust to guide them in their initial investments.  Realty ONE’s CEO Kuba Jewgieniew, explained how now that more individuals are opting to stay home for work, looking at trends in the market has never been more important. 

“With fewer people returning to a physical office and many more people reevaluating their life choices, we’re seeing a resurgence in cities like Phoenix, Arizona, our headquarters’ home of Las Vegas, Nevada, and even once-less-popular markets like Boise, Idaho,” Jewgieniew explained. 

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“As more people move to these metros but also out to the suburbs to get a bigger space for less money, we’ll see even these areas become more popular, driving home prices higher.”

“An area with higher property values has the potential the yield a more lucrative real estate investment. So pay attention to on-the-rise hotspots—that can be a certain city or even a specific neighborhood—when deciding where to invest,” Jewgieniew explained.

Apartment buildings and boutique hotels have been predicted to receive a slew of investments in the coming fiscal year as well, which Jewgieniew thinks will lead to a larger presence of tech giants in our communities:

“I anticipate that retailers like Amazon will buy up these malls and convert them into distribution centers, creating jobs near the former malls. I believe that a lot of these apartments near the malls are going to get converted into condos to accommodate the workforce.”

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Jewgieniew explained that it’s important to build an organized business plan before making any official decisions as well.

“It’s not just about how much money you have and what income the building creates; you’ll need to factor external factors such as interest rates, vacancy rates, and occupancy rates into the equation too.”

Finally, Jewgieniew urged first-time investors especially to not get too excited by the thrill of investing in a new property, and take their time when it comes to reading all the fine lines. 

“A year ago, I would have said something different, but do not try to get in and get out quickly. Buy it, hold it long term, and focus on cash flow. Competition for these properties is intense right now, so you may have to pay a little more than you should to acquire one—and since construction materials are also extra expensive, it’ll be harder to turn a profit.”

Overall, just be smart with your money and make sure you’re making investments that will benefit you in the future. “If you’ve got a business plan in place and have a network of resources, like a knowledgeable real estate pro, then now could be a good time to invest in a flip property.”

International Buyers Looking At US Housing More Than One Year After Pandemic Began 

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US saw a major increase in domestic real estate transactions. International buyers took the opposite approach and avoided investing in any US properties while the pandemic continued due to the uncertainty of the world’s economy.

Sales of US homes to foreign buyers fell by about 31% from April 2020 to March 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

International buyers purchased around 107,000 properties during that time, which marks the lowest unit volume and lowest dollar volume since 2011, according to NAR. 

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“The big decline in foreign purchases of homes in the U.S. in the past year is no surprise, given the pandemic-induced lockdowns and international travel restrictions.”

“Yet, even with the absence of foreign buyers, the U.S. housing market strengthened solidly,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

China, Canada, India, Mexico, and the United Kingdom are typically the top five countries continuously investing in US property. The amount of money brought in this past year, however, was down by at least 50% for buyers from China, Canada, and Mexico. The UK was the only nation that actually saw an increase in investment this year. 

Normally, China takes the lead in terms of the most amount of US property purchased throughout a given year, however, those transactions decreased significantly during the Trump administration. Now, China buyers have been inquiring more and more. 

“There has been quite a positive impact on the demand from the Biden boost, as the U.S. is being perceived as much more predictable now, and visas are also much easier to be obtained.”

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Georg Chmiel, executive chairman of Juwai IQI, a home listing site in China claimed that “on the other side, and now that we are over a year dealing with the Covid pandemic, it has lessened the impact on the buying decisions because flights to the U.S. are possible.”

Home prices are now 15% higher than they were pre-pandemic in the US; which makes sense considering the economic impact the nation has been enduring. Chimel stated that these rising prices, however, create a new demand for international buyers who may be afraid that they’re missing out on prime investment opportunities.”

Additionally, homes in the US are much less expensive than homes in places like London or Hong Kong, where a lot of buyers inquire about US property. The number of virtual tours on almost all major real estate sites in the US have increased exponentially. 

“So if that’s an indication of the comfort, then certainly this has increased, because people are now used to do far more things online shopping, education, also working from home online, and that also had an impact on the property market,” said Chmiel.

“As travel restrictions loosen and foreign students return to U.S. colleges in the upcoming year, there is likely to be some growth in foreign buying of U.S. real estate. High home prices and the ongoing lack of inventory could, however, pose a challenge for buyers,” Yun said.

How To Avoid Cyber Criminals In Real Estate 

Now that we’re heading towards the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, the real estate industry has been able to thrive thanks to an influx in prospective buyers who are ready for a change of scenery. Real estate wire transfer scams and crimes also tend to rise when the market is doing well due to the amount of transactions occurring, so how can we avoid them? 

Wire fraud typically occurs in the real estate industry when a scammer poses as a trusted source, like a vendor, company, or family member. These individuals always request an immediate wire transfer of funds, and often make up some sort of emergency as a way to emotionally manipulate the victims out of the money. 

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According to the American Land Title Association, more than 11,600 individuals were victims of real estate wire transfer fraud in 2019. Experts claim that number has increased exponentially throughout the pandemic, and it likely will continue to get worse. 

These hackers aren’t your typical trolls who try to get you to click a link so they can access all your personal information. They follow the entire real estate process from start to finish, posing as fake real estate agents and figure heads to get their victims to feel safe in their transactions. 

These hackers are able to acquire the money once they deceitfully reroute the closing instructions for the wire transfer. At the end of the transfer, where a certified check would typically appear to make sure the transaction is legitimate, these hackers instead just complete the exchange and take the money. 

These sort of crimes have been on the rise in the past year due to the amount of real estate transactions that have now been occurring online. It’s becoming harder and harder for buyers to determine who’s a trusted agent and who could potentially scam them. 

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According to ABC News, some of the best things you can do as a prospective buyer, when it comes to determining the legitimacy of your transaction, is “read and double-check everything carefully. Always forward emails, never reply. Remember, a title company will never create urgency or urge you to move quickly.”

“Verbally verify everything through a phone number you recognize. Change your passwords regularly, never email financial information, and always report suspicious activity.”

Michael McKenna, the president and co-founder of Weichert McKenna & Vane, spoke to the media recently about what he tells his clients to look out for in order to protect themselves and their money: 

“You really want to focus on validating the wire instructions with a phone call and verifying the phone numbers and verifying the wiring information, the account numbers that you are sending and receiving monies to and from. That verification on the phone, understanding that you are talking to a voice that you’ve probably spoken to before and you trust in that voice, is very critical.”

Facebook Is Entering Into The World Of Real Estate 

Facebook is currently planning to develop a community near its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The property is set to have a supermarket, restaurants, shops, and a 193-room hotel. 

The company town will be known as Willow Village, and will contain over 1,700 apartments on site, including 320 more affordable units and 120 that will be set aside specifically for senior citizens. 

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Willow Village is being developed on a 59-acre site which currently stands as an industrial and research complex. Facebook is collaborating with Signature Development Group to create the space; the group is a Bay Area real estate developer known for creating spaces that combine commercial and residential spaces. 

The design for Willow Village is projected to be very community oriented and pedestrian friendly. It will have numerous bike trails, sidewalk space, and numerous public park spaces; including a quarter-mile elevated park meant to emulate the High Line in Manhattan, NYC.

The development will also contain a 1.25-million-square-foot office building that will include a massive glass-dome area known as the “collaboration area.” 

Facebook initially filed paperwork to redevelop the 59-acre site back in 2017, but were met with major resistance from residents in nearby neighborhoods who were worried about the traffic and housing prices that would be impacted. 

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In order to accommodate, Facebook created a blueprint that made Willow Village have 30% less office space to make room for 200 more apartments. It also agreed to prioritize construction of grocery stores and other retail options that any citizen can use, not just employees. 

“We’re deeply committed to being a good neighbor in Menlo Park. We listened to a wide range of feedback and the updated plan directly responds to community input,” said John Tenanes, Facebook’s VP of real estate.

Willow Village will not just be for Facebook employees. The City of Menlo Park is still currently reviewing Facebook’s proposal that would allow for prime residential access to the spaces in Willow Village, but it’s expected that the proposal will be approved in the coming weeks. 

The goal is to have as many Facebook employees as possible living in the village to allow for optimal business. The public aspect will also help the social media giant further grow because they now will have direct access to the individuals who use the platform every day. 

House Keys 2

How Much Has The US Housing Market Been Impacted By The Pandemic? 

Housing experts throughout the US are currently experiencing a “white hot” market thanks to a multitude of economic reasons. However, problems that existed in the industry before the pandemic are being just as exasperated due to the impact of the past year overall. 

“One of the most prominent housing issues in pre-pandemic America was supply shortages. That has carried over and exacerbated, but we already had evidence of supply shortages heading into the pandemic,” said Matthew Murphy, executive director of the Furman Center For Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. 

Murphy also explained that “today’s housing situation has its roots in the last boom-bust cycle. The context here to this current housing moment is that we were still recovering from the 2009 foreclosure crisis, when property values plummeted.” 

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According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), over the past two decades an underbuilding gap of between 5.5 million and 6.8 million housing units has existed since 2001. 

The National Association of Home Builders found that of “all the new single-family homes built last year across the U.S., none were priced below $100,000. A mere 1 percent fell in the range of $100,000 to $150,000. Home buyers in the bottom one-fourth of the market have been squeezed entirely out of the market for new construction,” the group said in an online post.

“In a pandemic, with people working from home and kids schooling from home, you need more space. We saw a real pickup in demand. People wanted a home with some green space and a community with lower population density.”

“The increase in demand has really been sparked by the record low level of mortgage rates. That’s a real opportunity for anyone who’s shopping for a mortgage or shopping to buy a home, and that’s really sparked the demand, especially among millennials or Gen Xers,” explained Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. 

Prospective buyers are also noticing a major decrease in available homes due to the fact that those who weren’t as economically stunted by the pandemic have been able to get out and acquire more real estate within the past few months of recovery. 

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“You’ve got this 20-plus percent year-over-year price growth, which you think would entice homeowners to sell. The bigger factor is just availability of supply to move into. … There’s nothing to go buy or downsize into,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer at Attom Data Solutions.

Zillow found a nearly 4% increase in housing availability on the market in May, which has been the first time that percentage has increased since July 2020. The NAR found that the average price of existing homes throughout the US have hit a record number of $350,000; up nearly 25% when compared to last year. 

“This is supply and demand on steroids.”

The other major issue is that builders, architects, and construction workers can’t keep up with the demand that the pandemic has created. Costs for certain raw materials like copper or lumber are projected to continuously increase within the next couple of months. That in addition to labor costs and the cost of land overall is causing a lot of buyers to be hesitant with their purchases. 

“There’s an affordability that comes with density, and in a lot of America, you can’t build that kind of housing. This just makes it harder for the market to supply this housing en masse,” Murphy explained. 

“If we see a substantial increase in the proportion of the workforce working remotely, then I think we’re going to continue to see some of this shift to single-family and this shift not just to suburban but to the outer edges of metro areas. When you sever that link between where you live and where you work, then that gives you a lot of flexibility on where you locate,”  Nothaft said.