24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

A Very Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

11 December 2009

What about Foreclosures and Short Sales?

Even though the subject has been nearly beaten to death, I receive enough questions about short sales and foreclosures that a short primer seems a good idea.

Both Foreclosure and Short Sale are neither for the faint of heart or for those with little patience and time. They can be an opportunity, but also a money pit of the first order.

In a Foreclosure, a property gets sold off in an auction-type format. Commonly this happened on the steps of a courthouse, in Florida it increasingly takes place online to level the playing field for non-professional home-buyers. The largest of the 12 Florida counties to conduct online foreclosure auctions, Miami-Dade County as an example opened their foreclosure website on December 8.

A Short Sale is a real estate sale before a property goes into foreclosure, fetching a price below the current mortgage value. Contracting partner and seller is the current owner of the property, though the lender has to agree to the contract and is the de-facto negotiation partner. Because the bank hopes to minimize it’s loss, it will look for the best and highest offer as long as possible and even try to bid up offers. A short sale is anything but short: a time-frame between three and six months from submitting an offer to closing is typical.

Short sale asking prices are teaser prices; selling prices are almost always substantially higher. Cash offers with no contingencies get the nod, or put differently: if the buyer doesn’t have bullet-proof financing lined up and/or asks for inspection contingencies, s/he is wasting time.

A variation is the pre-approved short sale, where the bank has agreed to sell the property if a specific price is reached. This is not the norm though. Experience shows that the pre-approval should always be obtained from the bank in writing, otherwise it can be considered worthless.

Foreclosure- and Short Sale-properties are usually in some state of disrepair and may be uninhabitable (vandalism, mold, roof damage, missing toilets, sinks, pipes, etc.) A buyer can not expect any price concessions and has to deal with visible and hidden problems on his/her own. Repair costs, which can easily eat up the savings in buying the property, can not be financed. Some examples I recently encountered:

Liens, second mortgages, unpaid taxes, utility bills, homeowners or condominium dues and open judgements can significantly add to what originally looked like an attractive price.

At the end of the day, a Foreclosure or Short Sale may not turn out to be significantly cheaper than buying a non-distressed property that comes without excessive headaches, but whose price probably has been driven down considerably by the large foreclosure and short sale inventory.

(Above is an edited excerpt of my guide "Buying And Selling Florida Real Estate", which is available as a PDF in English and German and can be requested here.)

04 December 2009

Property Values: What to expect for $250,000 to $350,000

In this new series of posts, I will explore how much modern home per Dollar you currently can expect in SE Florida. With asking prices as of yesterday ranging from $179,000 to $42,000,000, expectations from a modern home at $75 per square foot surely differ greatly from one for $2,100 per sf.

In the first installment today, I will look at modern homes listed between $250,000 and $350,000.

In this price bracket, over half of the listings offer three or more bedrooms, but the houses are certainly not huge. Square feet under air – assuming that you want to live in air-conditioned space or don’t count your car port as living space – range from 1,020 to 2,274, with one lonely outlier of (unverified) 3,542 sf. The average lies somewhere around 1,800 sf.

Half of the homes in this price range have a pool, 55% have a garage. What you do not find in this group is new construction: the majority was built between 1950 and 1970, the youngest house in this group is still 21 years old.

But the homes are often in good to very good upkeep. Updates are quite common, but not always in the spirit of modern architecture: Mexican or some funky tile on top of terrazzo, lead-glass front-doors, country cherry kitchens with stainless-steel appliances and granite counter-tops or bow/bay windows are quite typical.

So either a remodeling budget or willingness to live with a stylistic mismatch for a while are helpful. Occasionally I see homes in original condition, often even well-kept: those are much easier and more fun to update in period style than a house that needs to be de-renovated.

From the houses on my for-sale list (remember that there is no “modern”-specific search in the SE Florida MLS) between $250,000 and $350,000, I chose six examples typical for this range:

Fort Lauderdale: 2/1 with room to expand, ca. 1020 sf, pool, carport, short-sale listed at $249,000. Notice the original corral wall and clerestory windows.

Boca Raton: 3/2, 1896 sf, remodeled, keystone entry, fireplace, marble floors, cabana bath, pool. $298,000.

North Bay Village: 4/3, 2577 sf, remodeled, pool, $349,000. Note the kitchen renovation: corner window meets cherry cabinets.

Lake Worth: 2/2, 1162 sf, garage, completely renovated, $249,000. Noticeable: crown- and door-moldings in a modernist home.

Delray Beach: 2/2, 1740 sf, PGT windows, sunken living room, diamond-brite pool, large lot, carport, $349,000.

Fort Lauderdale: 2/2, 1102 sf, waterfront with ocean access, move-in condition, new kitchen (with Mexican tile), fireplace, room for pool, short sale listed at $269,000.

In summary: between $250,000 and $350,000, you certainly can find interesting mid-century modernist properties. It helps tremendously if you are not in a hurry or if you are geographically flexible, as the houses shown here are over 40 miles apart.

Interested in more examples, questions regarding any of these properties, or would you like a specialist for modern architecture – that would be me – help you find the right home? Then do let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

25 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo ©tckaiser 041222-040

This Thanksgiving, let's not focus on any perceived lack, but count our blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family,


20 November 2009

How would you like to be treated?


Recently, I had two interesting experiences with prospects, both of which touch upon the relationship between client and Realtor. Here is one:

A prospective buyer contacted me by email, and as I always do with such inquiries, we first spoke on the phone. After our conversation, I verified the search criteria and then sent a market overview with several matching properties (which were not that easy to locate).

I also explained my commitment to clients, including that I may spend 25, 30 or even more hours on a transaction, but of course will not get paid if no closing takes place.

So that I can dedicate my time to serious, loyal clients I try to separate them from non-serious ones early on. To do that, I send all buyers – including this one – a non-circumvent form (mind you, not a Buyers Broker agreement obligating to work with me exclusively).

This agreement states that a client will not circumvent me on any property that I have sent or shown: if a listing is found through me, the clients agrees to buy it through me.

This client's reaction:
Wow, this is a first... This email signals some unfriendly red flags for me, I need this to be a nice and happy transaction and don't like to start relationships with a dark cloud overhead. I can appreciate your distrust in people here, but I am not one. Thanks but no thanks, this is too much of a red flag.
Joseph Harvill, publisher of GSM, recently described a professional as someone standing "for ideals and principles and virtues in practice".

That sounds like an excellent definition to me.

And my prospect obviously expected a professional to work for her – to dedicate his time, knowledge and effort to find the right modernist house.

But how can it be that a "happy transaction" is one where the client gets away with zero commitment to paying a real estate professional if he performs, while at the same the Realtor is supposed to work hard, find the right property and still may end up empty-handed? Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture.

How would you in your profession like to be treated? How would you react if someone requests your services, while declaring – right from the beginning – the possible intent not to pay you?

13 November 2009

FW: Blog posts

Chipotle Pepper Flakes:

tie-in: utensil in the modern kitchen

Modern Architecture:

Pontiac Dealership LHP - ring up to get photo permission

Major part of any modern house:

intro: elements of modern architecture, such as intersecting planes, angular appearance, form following function

vital element to turn it from inspired architecture into breathing living habitat: an animal. Not stylish, no fluff, but (insert Schotten characteristics: reserved towards outsiders, lovable, charming, smart, confident, no bragging, angular, sturdy, stubborn, owns the master, not the other way around, just like a modern house)

Only one fits: the Scottish Terrier. Not a Westie (lovable dogs as they are). The perfect dog to fit into a modernist house.

Modern Naval Architecture (OT)

An interesting event happened at the Fort Lauderdale harbor this morning - unfortunately I missed it because I did not see the arrival times in the Miami Herald yesterday (the Sun-Sentinel didn't even bother to publish it): the world’s largest cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas, pulled into Port Everglades around 8 am today (photo: on sea trial in Europe, 28 Sep 2009, ©Royal Caribbean) 

It passed by the Point of Americas, a tall condo right at the harbour entrance, which you can see in these videos from CBS (unedited and without sound, probably to post them quicker.) The first few minutes are a bit odd - zooming back and fourth - but then they show the ship pulling in, filmed from a park to the the south. You can see how it completely obstructs the condos at the harbour entrance:

The ship's itinerary for now, according to Royal Caribbean :
Nov. 13-18: Ship will be inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Public Health Service to make sure it meets international safety and sanitary standards. The ship must pass the inspections to operate from a U.S. port.
Nov. 14: A towering special-purpose crane will install tropical plants in Central Park. This first-ever "park at sea" features 12,175 plants, 62 vines and 56 trees.
Nov. 19: A one-night cruise departs from Port Everglades with top Royal Caribbean executives, the media team from ABC's Good Morning America and other VIP passengers. Pop star Rihanna will perform a special concert that night from the AquaTheater stage.
Nov. 20: Good Morning America will broadcast live from Oasis from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., offering an exclusive first look at the ship.
Nov. 20 and 22: Two two-night cruises to nowhere will preview the ship for company officials, media, travel agents and invited guests.
Nov. 29: One-night preview cruise and fundraiser supporting the local chapters of the United Way and American Red Cross. Royal Caribbean donated more than 1,000 cabins to the organizations to sell to the public.
Nov. 30: One-night preview cruise and fundraiser supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Royal Caribbean donated 1,300 cabins to the organization to sell to the public. Highlights include the official christening and naming ceremony.
Dec. 1: First full-revenue voyage, a four-night trip to Labadee, Haiti.
Dec. 5: Inaugural departure on a regular seven-night itinerary, this one to the Eastern Caribbean, stopping at St. Thomas, St. Martin and Nassau, Bahamas.

So where is the real estate connection in this post? 

Easy: see the three tall condominiums on the north side of the harbour entrance in the videos? Especially the eastern-most, the Point of Americas, is a wonderful building. Its unique location, in my opinion the best condo location in Fort Lauderdale, offers an incredible vantage point from which you can view ships going out and coming in all day long. When I showed a SE corner condo in that building, I envisioned placing my desk overlooking the harbor entrance... and not getting any work done, ever. If you are interested, let me know.

Enjoy and happy Friday the 13th!

07 November 2009

President Obama approves Extension + Expansion of Homebuyer Credit

On Friday, President Barack Obama signed the bill that includes the extension and expansion of the homebuyer tax credit. The credit will thus not expire on November 30, 2009, but continue in its extended form until 30 April 2010, with the following stipulations:
  • $8,000 tax credit to first time homebuyers (Definition of a first-time homebuyer according to the IRS: you did not own a home in the past 3 years).
  • The tax credit will actually be 10 percent of the home purchase price, up to $8,000.
  • New: tax credit of up to $6,500 for existing homeowners looking to purchase a different primary residence. Conditions: primary residence “swap”, buyers must have owned their home for five consecutive of the previous eight years.
  • New: income limits raised to $125,000 for single filers and $225,000 for joint filers (read: if you don’t file a US tax return, you don’t qualify – my apologies to my Canadian, South-American and European friends)
  • Purchase agreements have to be signed by April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010.
  • Purchase price of home must not exceed $800,000.
I consider the measure a necessary evil. It will certainly help the housing market, which is far from being healthy yet, especially in those areas that bubbled and burst, like Southern Florida.

05 November 2009

Senate approves Homebuyers Credit Extension and Expansion

Last night, with a vote of 98-0, the United States Senate approved extending and expanding the homebuyer tax credit.


As previously mentioned:
  • $8,000 tax credit to first time homebuyers (Definition of a first-time homebuyer according to the IRS: you did not own a home in the past 3 years).
  • The tax credit will actually be 10 percent of the home purchase price, up to $8,000.
  • New: tax credit of up to $6,500 for existing homeowners looking to purchase a different primary residence. Conditions: primary residence “swap”, buyers must have owned their home for five consecutive of the previous eight years.
  • New: income limits raised to $125,000 for single filers and $225,000 for joint filers (read: if you don’t file a US tax return, you don’t qualify – my apologies to my Canadian, South-American and European friends)
  • Purchase agreements have to be signed by April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010.
  • Purchase price of home must not exceed $800,000.


The United States House of Representatives will have to approve the language later this week, as early as today. If there are no further modifications made by the House, President Obama could see this bill on his desk by Friday.

Please do contact me if I can help you in any way or if you have further questions.

02 November 2009

$8k Homebuyers Credit extension? Probable.

A major role in the improved US housing numbers - for resales, which are the major part of the housing market, as well as new construction - has been accredited to the $8,000 First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit. This credit was set to expire on Nov 30, 2009. Realtors supported the buying public strongly by lobbying hard for an extension of the credit, arguing that it helped stabilize the housing market, which in turn is a major economic factor.

Status: Last week, a major hurdle was taken when the Senate came to a - bipartisan! - agreement to extend the measure.

Content of the extension proposal: (1) to qualify, purchase agreements for first-time home-buyers have to be signed by April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010. Definition of a first-time homebuyer according to the IRS: you did not own a home in the past 3 years.
(2) The tax credit will be 10 percent of the home purchase price, up to $8,000.
(3) New: existing homeowners looking to purchase a different primary residence could be eligible for a tax credit of up to $6,500. Conditions: primary residence “swap”, buyers must have owned their home for five consecutive of the previous eight years, max. purchase price $800,000.
(4) New: qualifying income limits may be increased from $75,000 to $125,000 for singles, and from $150,000 to $225,000 for joint tax filers

Next step: The extension Bill must be reconciled between the House and Senate, and then voted on for final approval.

Next step for prospective homebuyers: Don’t snooze. Mortgage rates could rise, selection will fall. In all local market segments I observe, inventory is being gobbled up (nice segue to Thanksgiving?) from the low end of that segment. The longer you wait, the less selection you will have. And that includes not only condos and the “average” house, but also midcentury and contemporary modern homes.

03 October 2009

OT: The Wiesn (aka Oktoberfest)

(OT means Off Topic: Being from Bavaria, I can't resist the subject. Of course no relation to modern architecture or South Florida real estate... this is where the "Plus" in the blog-title "Modern Plus" comes into play.)

In Bavaria, the Munich Oktoberfest is referred to as "Die Wiesn" (the meadows), after a large meadow of sorts it takes place on, the Theresienwiese. Watching over all the cavorting is the statue of...? You guessed right, Princess Theresa, who married Crown-Prince Ludwig I here in 1810.

Confused? But wait, there's more!

It doesn't start in October, but runs through the last two weeks in September and the first week of October. Which happens to be one of the nicest times of the year in Bavaria; a Bavarian Indian Summer of sorts.

To limit the confusion somewhat, the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, sz for short, published two very helpful guides. One is in English – The Wiesn-Alphabet, from Anbandeln (flirting) to Zelt (tent) – the other one (even better in my opinion) is in German: an interactive map of the beer-tents, explaining the characteristics of each tent and what's going on there - once you make it in, that is.

Find the glossary here: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/,tt6m1/muenchen/215/311138/text/ and the interactive map here: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/app/muenchen/oktoberfest/wiesn2008/wiesnplan/


23 September 2009

The Need to De-Renovate

As I also mentioned on http://www.modernsouthflorida.com, a lot of local mid-century modern homes are messed up and in need of de-renovation. They suffer from what could also be called a cob-job: like kernels on a cob, everybody subtracts, changes or adds piece by piece, without concept or longterm vision.

Botched renovations with wrong colors, wrong materials, wrong shapes, wrong dimensions... the list for possibilities to go astray is long. And people invent new ones all the time.

A typical example is this midcentury-modernist 2/2 in Pompano Beach:

Do you see the problem I have with the front door?

Another good example is a listing in the Victoria Park section of Fort Lauderdale, a 2/1 design by John Crowell on a corner lot with room to expand. It has good details, including clerestory windows and a real coral wall, but did someone ever ruin the appearance of that house! It used to be pale yellow, not quite convincing but not totally offensive either, if you overlooked the front door. But at some point during the long and fruitless listing period with several Realtors over several years, someone decided that dark-brown would be a much better color to match that red front door with the fake lead-glass insert. And so they painted away. Now it looks like a sorry pile of... of... I don’t know.

It needs a buyer with a vision. Or someone with enough taste to buy it and hire someone with a vision, so it can be brought back to modernist life.

Any takers?

27 August 2009

Modern Architecture in North Carolina

My wife and I returned from a long weekend in North Carolina, and we are impressed.

There is an incredible trove of modern architecture in NC's Triangle region (see article below), which I was completely unaware about. Plus great BBQ, people so friendly it made my wife and I wonder why they are the way they are, nice vineyards (we bought RayLen again; expecially the 2006 Cab exceeded our expecations) and great roads for motorcycle riding. I suppose I'm just so easy to please.

Staying in Winston-Salem with close friends who are also relatives, we twice drove 1.5h over to Raleigh. One day we had the good fortune to speak with two extremely hospitable and friendly realtor colleagues, Anne Hughes and Roger Kenny of Re/Max Integrity in Cary, who gave us great insights into the Cary/Raleigh housing market.

Another day we attended a workshop on preservation easements, under the perspective how they could be used to preserve modern architecture. Afterwards we had lunch with the organiser of the event, George Smart, the founder of Triangle Modernist Houses. TMH is a non-profit organisation which aims to protect and promote modern homes in the Triangle region of North Carolina, an area formed by the cities Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (the mystical city "Raleigh-Durham" seems to be the airport's fault, which is called RDU or Raleigh-Durham). A nice piece in the NYT on the area: http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/travel/14hours.html

George Smart and TMH leave me amazed and speechless. These folks - George, the board, the advisory council and the volunteers at TMH - have their act together, big time. They research, they find, they photograph, they list, they run the website, they do house tours and now field trips. Incredible. In comparison, I feel rather lonely in SE Florida with my passion, sometimes wondering if there are any other like-minded modernist fools like me bumbling about.

So, bumbling fools, please speak up!

16 June 2009

Modern Architecture in Munich II

As I keep seeing interesting examples of modern architecture in the Munich/Starnberg area, I notice though how many fewer midcentury homes than in Florida I encounter. That may be odd, but is no indicator for the frequency of that style in Germany, as far as I know.

Some more examples:

(Please forgive the photo quality, some pix are taken with my cell phone, others with my PDA.)

25 May 2009

Modern architecture in Munich I

I am working from Munich for about two months. Every time I’m home I’m baffled and delighted how much modernist properties - old and new - I discover.

Spec houses are not common in Germany, and especially modernist architecture is practically always commissioned. From my observations, it seems modernist architects in Germany are stylistically more daring and experiment more in comparison to what I see in SE Florida. I’d be very curious to hear German and US architects’ opinion on this though.

Germans are sticklers for privacy, so I will not list owners or addresses with the examples I’m showing:

From top: Starnberg ca. 2006, front; Starnberg ca. 2006, back; Starnberg, ca. 2004; Starnberg, ca. 1960

(Please forgive the quality of the photos; they are mostly taken with my mobile which uses an extraordinary amount of jpg-compression.)

23 April 2009

Unclear Market Direction

I looked at a (non-modern) house in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea with clients of mine. Interesting project, but what a project. I wonder: are deepwater (= waterfront with no fixed bridges) home prices on their way up?

I run my own statistics every month, condos and townhomes in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade, as well as single family homes in these three counties. Yes, you certainly can atomise the market into nano-sectors. But I don’t have the time to do that. I created two subsets of two “model homes”, one on a dry lot and one on the water with no fixed bridges.

After the peak in Jan 2006, where $527 per sf under air were paid on average for my waterfront “model home”, prices tanked to a low of $355/sf or so under air. Now I see three months of increases, and a preliminary April search showed another uptick.

This would be in line with what I had previously mentioned in my client newsletter*: houses will recouperate before condos, and the best locations will improve before the others. Three-and-a-half months sure don’t make a trend, but I will keep an eye on that one.

(*Please let me know if you are interested in subscribing; I'll be happy to send it to you).

18 March 2009

The List

Stemming from my love for modern architecture, I have been “collecting” modernist properties for several years. Searched out, observed, accidentally found or through our Multiple Listing Service, every find ends up in a list of contemporary and mid-century modernist properties - mostly single family homes Southeast Florida, with a condo building, a supermarket or even a car dealership thrown in for good measure.

Our MLS (for Non-Americans: a shared database of properties for sale; only participating real estate real estate agents have access to it) is a bit tricky, because there is no filter “Modern”, so I devised my own. I have as many as five “modern” MLS searches running parallel, handpicking modernist properties from them every few days.

Over the course of the years, this list has grown to over 1,300 buildings in Southeast Florida, covering roughly an area between the Florida Keys and Stuart. It’s a bit of work to keep it updated, but an excellent education for me, a great tool, and of course invaluable help when it comes to finding modern properties for like-minded buyers.

If you know of a modern building - house, townhouse, apartments - would you let me know please? Even better: if you can send along with the address also a photo, even one quickly taken with your mobile phone is totally fine. - Thank you!