Category Archives: Real Estate

‘Extreme’ Rainfall on Thomas Fire Burn Areas Created Deadly Montecito Debris Flows

 

The disaster in Montecito was a rare event, statistically speaking – but it could happen again, geologists say

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A boulder field surrounds a Montecito home after the Jan. 9 storm that triggered deadly flooding and debris flows. (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

The surging river of mud and boulders that engulfed swaths of Montecito from the mountains to the sea last week, killing 20, was a rare disaster – so rare, geologists say, that it may happen only once in a few hundred to a thousand years at that location.

But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen again this winter, said Ed Keller, a professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara.

All of the communities below the scorched slopes of the Thomas Fire are at risk, he said.

“These areas are very vulnerable in the next two years to debris flows,” Keller said. “We could get another one right down Montecito Creek this year, if we get another big rainfall, depending on how much debris is left up in the basin. It’s not impossible.”

The catastrophic debris flow of Jan. 9 in Montecito is the deadliest disaster to hit the South Coast since a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Santa Barbara on the morning of June 29, 1925, leveling the downtown area and killing 13.

Debris flows launch massive quantities of rocks, boulders, trees and mud downhill. They are typically triggered after wildfires on steep mountainsides, when heavy rains wash away the soil.

“Big debris flows are relatively rare,” said Keller, who is applying for national funding to study the footprint and volume of the Jan. 9 event.

“They don’t occur after every fire in any one stream. The Thomas Fire was huge, and there are only a couple of places with really damaging debris flows. Montecito and San Ysidro creeks were primed for one.”

In catastrophic debris flows such as the one in Montecito, narrow canyons chock full of boulders start to flood and landslides may occur. Rocks and brush form temporary dams, then break through and roar downhill on thick slurries of mud. Car-sized boulders bob along like corks.

In Montecito, the wall of mud and debris was 15 feet high in some locations.

“You may get pulses of flows rushing out of canyons in the mountains,” said Larry Gurrola, a Ventura-based consulting geologist who is on Keller’s research team. “That material reaches the base of the foothills, chokes the streams, flows out over the banks and moves towards the ocean, dragging trees, brush, cars, utility poles and parts of homes along with it.”

Through the millennia, debris flows have shaped the terrain of the South Coast.

Almost all of Montecito and most of Santa Barbara is built on top of flows that occurred here over the past 125,000 years, Keller said: just look at the boulder field at Rocky Nook Park. That’s evidence of a catastrophic flow out of Rattlesnake Canyon in prehistoric times, he said.

During the past 50 years, the South Coast has seen a few destructive but not catastrophic debris flows.

Last February, during heavy rain in the burn area of the 2016 Sherpa Fire, a debris flow washed 20 cars and five cabins down El Capitan Creek and sent boulders into the surf. Emergency crews rescued two dozen campers from El Capitan Canyon resort. 

On Jan. 3 this year, county emergency preparedness officials showed the Board of Supervisors photos of damage from the debris flows that followed the Coyote and Romero fires of 1964 and 1971, respectively. Both years, San Ysidro, Olive Mill and Coast Village roads in Montecito were choked with mud.

This year, the stage was set for catastrophe after the Thomas Fire burned 440 square miles in December, largely in the backcountry of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, becoming the largest fire in California history.

It scorched the chaparral that anchors the soil to the bedrock and created a “hydrophobic” layer in the ground – a kind of crust that repels water like glass.

In an era of year-round fire seasons, the Thomas Fire had not been fully contained when the rainy season got underway in earnest.

“It was just kind of the perfect storm, when all the bad factors line up together,” said Jon Frye, Santa Barbara County engineering manager. “There was no time whatsoever between the fire and the winter.”

The trigger for the catastrophic debris flow in Montecito, geologists say, was several bursts of extreme rainfall, beginning at 3:34 a.m. One of these was a 200-year event – more than half an inch of rain falling in 5 minutes. That’s a quarter of the total amount of rain, 2.1 inches, that was recorded in Montecito during the nine-hour storm.

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) debris flow hazard map that was widely circulated before the Jan. 9 storm showed the high probability of debris flows originating in the mountains above Mountain Drive in Montecito on the heels of the Thomas Fire.

The slopes there are on a “hair trigger,” said Dennis Staley, a USGS research geologist who helped prepare the map. The harder the rainfall, the bigger the flow, he said.

“We knew that if it rained very hard, there could be very significant debris flows,” Staley said. “If you plug in the intensities that were received, our prediction aligns with what we saw.”

In any given year, there is only a half-percent chance that half an inch of rain will fall on Montecito in five minutes, said Jayme Laber, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

“It was a typical winter storm, but five-minute rainfall was extreme, something that you don’t see very often,” he said.

The 5-minute, half-inch downpour began at 3:38 a.m. near Casa Dorinda, at Olive Mill and Hot Spring roads, county records show.

Between 3:34 a.m. and 3:51 a.m., three additional bursts of extreme rainfall – 50-year events with a 2 percent chance of occurring in any given year – were recorded on gauges near Gibraltar Peak and in downtown Carpinteria.

These were the heaviest short-term, high-intensity rainfalls recorded during the entire storm from Redding to San Diego, Laber said.

“It was horrible that it was right on top of the Thomas Fire burn area,” he said.

The first reports of the debris flow came in to the National Weather Service shortly before 4 a.m.

Meanwhile, there was no major damage in Ventura County during the Jan. 9 storm. Ventura County took the brunt of the Thomas Fire, but was not pounded on Jan. 9 with the short-term, high-intensity deluge that overwhelmed Montecito, Laber said.

The historical record shows that previous debris flows on the South Coast closed Highway 101 and caused a lot of damage to property but did not kill anyone.

In 1964, a few months after the Coyote Fire burned 100 square miles above Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, records show, a debris flow destroyed 12 homes and six bridges on Mission Creek in Santa Barbara.

Eye-witness accounts told of “20-foot walls of water, mud, boulders, and trees moving down the channels at approximately 15 miles per hour.”

During heavy rains following the 1971 Romero Fire, which burned 20 square miles in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, Highway 101 was blocked for eight hours near Carpinteria. A wall of mud and water three feet high pushed across the freeway toward the ocean.

“Looking back, there is clear evidence that this type of thing happens in Santa Barbara with some regularity,” Staley, the USGS geologist, said.

Keller and Gurrola will be participating in a free panel discussion on wildfire and debris flows at the Santa Barbara Public Library Faulkner Gallery, 40 E. Anapamu St., in Santa Barbara at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25. 

By Melinda Burns | Newshawk

 

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Real Estate Community In Shock After Montecito Mudslides

Disaster strikes again in Southern California before it can recover from devastating wildfires

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The real estate community of Montecito, California, is in the heart of catastrophic mudslides burying Southern Santa Barbara County with an onslaught of flooding and debris — another crisis on the heels of the devastating Thomas Fire that scorched the area just weeks before.

“We had time to prepare with the fires,” said Realtor Cynthia (Cindy) York Shadian, head of Coldwell Banker’s Montecito and Santa Barbara operations. “We saw them coming. With landslides, you don’t have the luxury of even 15 minutes — it’s massive.”

Following heavy rainfall, the deadly mudslides began pouring into the area early Tuesday morning, so far claiming 15 lives, trapping around 300 people in their homes, and destroying 100 homes, according to the New York Times. “A number of homes were ripped from their foundations,” the LA Times reported, “with some pulled more than a half-mile by water and mud before they broke apart.”

Coast Village Road, where a number of Montecito real estate offices are based, was one of the hardest hit. The road has been closed off, though intrepid brokers were still making their way to check on the premises today.

Shadian’s office at 1290 Coast Village Road, across from the Montecito Inn, was at the “epicenter” of the mudslide but was miraculously saved from flooding thanks to being on slightly higher ground, Shadian said. “We are completely impacted,” she told Inman. “It’s scary, you put your toe in the mud and you don’t know how deep it is to get out of.”

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The Montecito Inn on Coast Village Road (Photo courtesy of Gary Goldberg)

Working from Coldwell Banker’s Santa Barbara office today, Shadian was keeping close tabs on her 128 agents in Montecito and Santa Barbara, who so far were all OK. But yesterday she had spoken to one of her Montecito agents whose own house flooded. He had saved several lives, she said, and was recovering from the trauma of enduring a living nightmare.

Another real estate pro with an office on Coast Village Road is Gary Goldberg, broker-owner of Coastal Properties, who spoke to Inman while he was en route to the office from a borrowed guest home. This was the second time he had evacuated in recent months, first from the fires, now the mudslides.

Goldberg spent Monday filling and putting down sandbags for clients. He helped one family — formerly buyer clients — who had just welcomed a new baby before the mudslides hit, along with one of his elderly clients.

On Tuesday, Goldberg was inundated with Facebook messages from concerned friends and colleagues.

“Being a local Realtor, clients call. My CPA called; you don’t talk to your CPA the first week of January!” Goldberg said. But his house and office emerged unscathed.

“My office is on the western half of Coast Village Road but the eastern half is lower lying and has tons of damage,” Goldberg said. He described the mudslide like “an avalanche of mud and water.”

Keller Williams’ top producer in Montecito, Louise McKaig, meanwhile, was staying put in her part of town and away from her office on Coast Village Road, fortunately located on the second floor.

“They [TV news outlets] keep showing the building we are in, but we are upstairs. Everything around us — over by the Montecito Inn — looks bad, there is mud in the lobby,” she said.

Some of McKaig’s clients had been affected by the mudslide. “Everything is at a standstill, people are just stunned,” she said. “You know people, you know they are missing — we see clients on TV — it’s sad … everybody has a connection here.”

Interactive Damage Map

 

By Lee Ann Canaday | Source: Active Rain

Seller Of Luxury Miami Condo Demands To Be Paid Exclusively In Bitcoin

And they said bitcoin would never work as a currency ツ

While that might be true for small transactions – for now – real-estate markets across the US are increasingly demonstrating that bitcoin is a viable medium of exchange. Case in point: the seller of a luxury Miami condo will only accept payment in bitcoin. The asking price – according to real-estate listings site Redfin -33 bitcoins, or about $550,000 at bitcoin’s present valuation.

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According to Redfin, this is the first time a seller is exclusively accepting payment in bitcoin. The seller’s identity wasn’t immediately clear.

But while this might be the first time that Redfin has noticed the phenomenon, home sellers have been asking to be paid in bitcoin since at least 2013, when an anonymous seller of a luxury condo in the Trump Soho of all places listed the price as 24,700 bitcoin, according to the Daily News. While this sale was the first that was documented in the media, it’s also notable that it occurred before the first bitcoin bubble burst.

Also over the summer, a realtor in Texas revealed that one of her clients had accepted payment for their home in bitcoin. The number of coins – and the identity of the seller and buyer – weren’t disclosed.

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And as we recently reported, more realtors in hot markets like New York City and Miami are demanding to be paid in cryptocurrency, sometimes exclusively.

This trend in broader crypto acceptance – contrary to mainstream media reports – is undoubtedly a factor behind the unprecedented price appreciation which has seen bitcoin soar from $1,000 to $19,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile, any buyer who has accepted bitcoin as payment and kept it, has so far managed to generate a staggering profit, given the digital currency’s aggressive appreciation. The real test will come after the digital currency inevitably tanks again.

Source: ZeroHedge

What’s Hot: Home Trends in the Pipeline for 2018

Every industry tracks innovations in its field, and housing is no different. As a real estate pro, here are the need-to-know products and services promising to transform homes and your clients’ lifestyles over the next year or so.

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The big-picture view on housing trends in 2018 center around integrating technology and creating healthy and connected living environments. That’s why building materials, systems, and products that speak to these concerns are expected to generate greater buzz in the coming year. And with more generations living under the same roof, home-related features that provide an extra pair of hands or calming—even spiritual—influence are also being enthusiastically embraced. Here’s a sampling of coming trends that are important to understand and share with clients.

The Rise of the Tech Guru

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Why now: Smart homes are getting smarter, with homeowners increasingly purchasing devices and apps that perform tasks such as opening blinds, operating sprinkler systems, and telling Alexa what food to order. But not all these helpers speak the same language, nor do they always work together harmoniously. “Even plugs and chargers aren’t necessarily universal for different appliances and phones,” says Lisa Cini, senior living designer and author of The Future is Here: Senior Living Reimagined (iUniverse, 2016). Also, with more devices competing for airtime, Wi-Fi systems may not be strong enough to operate throughout a home, which results in dead spots, she says. “What many homeowners need is a skilled tech provider who makes house calls, assesses what’s needed, and makes all the tech devices hum effortlessly at the same time.”

What you should do: More buyers want to see listings updated to take advantage of all technological possibilities from the moment they move in. Add a home technology source to your list of trusted experts. You might even be able to offer a free first visit as a closing gift.

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Smart Glass Adds Privacy, Energy Savings

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Why now: As more homes feature bigger and more numerous windows, homeowners will naturally look for ways to pare down the energy costs, lack of privacy, and harmful ultraviolet rays that can accompany them. Next year, glass company Kinestral will begin offering a residential option to their line of windows and skylights. Called Halio, the technology allows users to tint glazing electronically up to 99.9 percent opacity. The company claims this can eliminate the need for blinds, shades, and curtains. “You’ll be able to tell Alexa to tint your windows, which will also provide privacy,” says Craig Henricksen, vice president of product and marketing for Halio. He notes that previously, the commercial version only offered the choice between yellow, brown, or blue casts, but that they’ll now add in an appealing gray tint to the mix. Windows come in a variety of sizes, and contractors can install the cable and low voltage system required to change the tinting. Homeowners can control the tint by voice command through an app, manual operation with switch, or with preset controls. Henricksen says Halio can save homeowners up to 40 percent off their energy bill, and that while the initial cost is around five to six times greater than similar low-E glass, the fact that traditional window treatments won’t be needed means the investment gap narrows.

What you should do: This is an important option to keep in mind if buyers are unsure about big, long runs of windows in a listing. It may make sense to price out options for your particular listing to help home shoppers understand how much it might cost to retrofit the space with such technology.

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Spiritual Gardens That Lift the Soul

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Why now: Homeowners have long seen their gardens as a place for quiet reflection, so choosing plants and designs that have a physical tie to spirituality is a natural next move. The trend may have started with Bible gardens, which use any number of the more than 100 plants mentioned in the Christian text to populate a restful repose. “So many are good choices because they are hardy, scented, edible, and can withstand harsh climates and environments,” says F. Nigel Hepper, with the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, and author of Illustrative Encyclopedia of Biblical Plants (Inter-Varsity Press, 1992). But people of all faiths, or even those simply drawn to botanical history, can appreciate such spaces. “Around for generations, they feed the body and the soul,” says landscape designer Michael Glassman, who designed such a garden in the shape of a Jewish star as a meditative spot at one of Touro University’s campuses. He filled it with mint, pomegranate trees, sage, and other plants that are mentioned in ancient religious texts. Hepper says labeling and providing detailed context to plantings can transform a miscellaneous, obscure collection into an instructive experience.

What you should do: Find out if your local area has a peace garden that could provide examples of this trend. Homeowners might also find inspiration on the grounds of hospitals and assistance care facilities, which often create healing gardens for patients and family members.

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Kitchens That Do More Than Just Look Pretty

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Why now: An emphasis on eating fresh, healthy foods may mean more frequent trips to grocery stores and farmers markets, but it could also change the architecture of our kitchens. Portland, Ore.–based designer Robin Rigby Fisher says many of her higher-end clients want a refrigerator-only column to store their fresh foods, installing a freezer or freezer drawer in a separate pantry or auxiliary kitchen. The container-gardening industry is vying for counter space with compact growing kits that often feature self-watering capabilities and grow lights. Fisher is also getting more requests for steam ovens that cook and reheat foods without stripping them of key nutrients, though she notes that these ovens can cost $4,000 and have a steeper learning curve than conventional ones. Homeowners also want to be able to use their kitchen comfortably, which means having different or variable counter heights that work for each member of the family, ample light for safe prepping, easy-to-clean counter tops, and flooring that’s softer underfoot, such as cork.

What you should do: Be able to point out the beneficial elements of appliances and features in your listing, such as the antimicrobial nature of surfaces like quartzite and copper.

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Home Robots to the Rescue

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Why now: With lifestyles that seem busier by the day and many families inviting elders who require assistance to live with them, robots that can perform multiple services are gaining in popularity. IRobot’s Braava robots mop and vacuum floors, while Heykuri’s Kuri robot captures short videos of key life moments, including pets’ antics when owners are away. Some robots offer health benefits that mimic real pets, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, says Cini. She says Hasbro’s Joy for All line of furry robot dogs and cats can provide companionship for the elderly with dementia.

What you should do: Ask buyers about pain points in their current homes that might be mitigated by these new interactive technologies.

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Black Is the New Gray

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Why now: Palettes change all the time, and some feel the interest in black is a welcome contrast after years of off-whites, grays, and beiges. The hue is coming on strong in every category—appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, metal finishes, hardware, and soft goods, according to commercial interior designer Mary Cook of Mary Cook Associates. She appreciates black’s classic, neutral, sophisticated touch and notes it can be a universal mixer. “Black is a welcome accent in any palette,” she says. Marvin Windows and Doors launched its Designer Black line this year, incorporating a hip industrial vibe. Designer Kristie Barnett, owner of the Expert Psychological Stager training company in Nashville, loves how black mullions draw the eye out toward exterior views more efficiently than white windows can. Kohler has released its popular Numi line and Iron Works freestanding bath in black. Even MasterBrand cabinets are available in black stains and paints. For homeowners who prefer to step lightly into the trend, Chicago designer Jessica Lagrange suggests painting a door black.

What you should do: Suggest black accents as an option for sellers looking to update their homes to appear more modern.

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Air Locks Preserve Energy, Increase Security

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Why now: Incorporating two airtight doors has become a popular way for homeowners to cut energy costs. The double barrier helps keep outside air from entering the main portion of the house and provides a better envelope seal. “We rarely design a house nowadays without one,” says Orren Pickell, president of Orren Pickell Building Group in Northfield, Ill. It’s not just energy homeowners save, though; Pickell says it also supports the trend of more people shopping online. “It keeps packages safer than being left in full view” because delivery services can leave them inside the first door. Homeowners will need a minimum area of five feet squared in order to make this work. Costs vary by project size but it could run homeowners as much as $10,000 to add a small space beyond a front or back door. This usually costs less in new construction or as part of a larger remodeling project, Pickell says.

What you should do: If homeowners are thinking about making changes to their main entryway, be sure to alert them to this trend so they can decide if it makes sense to incorporate it. It may be expensive, but it’s not likely to go out of fashion anytime soon.

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Maximized Side Yards

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Why now: As a national trend toward smaller lot sizes combines with surging interest in maximizing outdoor space, one area that’s often neglected is the side yard. But designers are beginning to pay attention, transforming these afterthoughts into aesthetically pleasing, functional places that buffer a home from neighbors, says Glassman. He suggests growing plants such as star jasmine, climbing roses, and clematis vertically along the siding or a fence. He has created a pleasant pass-through to a backyard, with meandering walkways flanked by ornamental grasses or honeysuckle. Homeowners who have extra space here might consider adding a small recirculating water feature or a tiny sitting area.

What you should do: Pay special attention to side yards when evaluating a home that’s about to go up on the market. Sellers don’t need to spend much to make this space stand out, and any little thing is better than the feeling that the space has been “thrown away, since real estate is so valuable,” Glassman says.

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Battery Backup Systems Offer Resilience

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Why now: Any home owner who’s experienced a weather-related disaster, such as hurricanes, forest fires, and torrential downpours, understands the peace of mind that comes from having systems in place to help withstand Mother Nature’s worst punches. One example of this is a battery backup that integrates into a home’s electric system and operates during power outages, says architect Nathan Kipnis of Kipnis Architecture + Planning in Chicago. The backup batteries can store either electricity from the grid or renewable energy generated onsite by solar panels or other means. A key advantage is that the system doesn’t create the noise and pollution you get with an old-school generator, because it doesn’t use natural gas or diesel fuel. While they’re generally more expensive than traditional fossil fuel systems, prices do continue to drop.

What you should do: Understand the difference between a battery backup system and a typical generator, even if you’re not working in an area that sees frequent extreme weather events.

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Missing Middle Housing

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Why now: Architect Daniel Parolek, principal at Opticos Design in Berkeley, Calif., sees a solution emerging for the mismatch between demand and the housing that’s actually been delivered over the last 20 to 30 years. “Thirty percent of home buyers are single, and their numbers may swell to 75 to 85 percent by 2040, yet 90 percent of available housing is designed for families and located in single-family home neighborhoods,” he says. Parolek says builders must fill in this demand with smaller housing of 600 to 1,200 square feet, usually constructed in styles such as duplexes and cottages communities, and preferably in walkable areas. He cites Holmes Homes’ small townhouses at Daybreak in South Jordan, Utah, as an affordable transit-oriented development that follows missing middle principles.

What you should do: Know where existing missing middle housing may be hiding in your community, so you can help buyers of all ages seeking smaller homes. Also, look for opportunities to invest, either for yourself or your clients, in a type of housing that will likely see more demand than supply in the coming years. 

By Barbara Ballinger | RealtorMag

Realtors In Miami And Manhattan Are Embracing Bitcoin

Back in September, we reported on a major milestone in bitcoin’s evolution into a respectable medium of exchange for large purchases: A Dallas real estate agent had negotiated the first all-bitcoin purchase of a US home on record. Few details about the home or the identity of the buyers were released. However, given bitcoin’s blistering rise since then – the value of a single coin has more than doubled – it’s reasonable to assume that, whoever they are, they probably regret pulling the trigger on their dream home, seeing as, if they had just waited two more months, they could’ve bought two. Indeed, the unknown seller of the home reportedly earned $1.3 million from the bitcoin they accepted as payment in the transaction.

At the time, we predicted that it wouldn’t be long before settling real-estate transactions in bitcoin would be commonplace, something we imagine could help further inflate real-estate prices in trendy markets like San Francisco, while also potentially attracting real-estate speculators to also dabble in bitcoin.

As if according to some preordained plan, Cryptocoins News reported this weekend that real-estate agents in both Miami and New York City are warming to bitcoin, and some have even convinced their clients to accept payment in the digital currency.

Eric Fernandez, owner of Sol/Mar Real Estate, recently listed a $3.5 million penthouse condo at the Blue Diamond in Miami Beach, Fla. saying the owners would accept payment in bitcoin or Ethereum, according to the Miami New Times.

Fernandez believes it is only a matter of time before bitcoin acceptance for real estate purchases gains popularity.

Fernandez is not the only real estate agent who expects more homes to be bought with digital currency. Bitcoin is achieving cult status for international buyers. Some believe Miami will lead this trend.

Another Miami realtor, Stephan Burke, who listed a Coral Gables mansion for sale in August, said the seller would accept bitcoin. Burke pointed out that Miami is an ideal market for bitcoin since it offers investors from South America, Canada, Asia and Russia a way to quickly purchase property.

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Manhattan realtors are also jumping on the bitcoin bandwagon, according to Ben Shaoul, of Magnum Real Estate Group.

We were approached by a buyer who has been collecting bitcoin for many years and was interested in using it to buy property.

Since then there have been a further two to three customers who have approached the developer to see if they can purchase luxury condos with the cryptocurrency. Prices for these properties range in price from $700,000 to $1.5 million.

The United Kingdom has also recorded a few examples of sellers accepting payment in bitcoin for their homes, with at least one case of a seller accepting payment only in bitcoin.

Last month, a Notting Hill mansion in London was put up for sale with the asking price of $17 million, believed to be a first for the metropolitan city. In this case, though, the seller is only accepting bitcoin. In the last week it has been reported that a 49-year-old man has put his £80,000 house up for sale, with the option of accepting the digital currency.

Meawhile, a UK co-living company has announced that it will begin accepting down payments made in bitcoin, making it that much easier for traders hooked on effortless, outstanding returns to speculate in another bubble-prone market: UK housing.

Of course, bitcoin’s sometimes-extreme volatility presents risks. But the NYC realtors say they’re not worried.

“Would you stop investing in stock markets? No, you wouldn’t. Each person is going to have a risk assessed judgement on whether or not they want to invest in bitcoin,” one realtor said.

And now that traders can easily purchase futures contracts allowing them to profit off of declines in the bitcoin price, sellers can purchase protection to offset some of the risk.

Source: ZeroHedge

Bringing Forward Important Questions About The Fed’s Role In Our Economy Today

I hope this article brings forward important questions about the Federal Reserves role in the US as it attempts to begin a broader dialogue about the financial and economic impacts of allowing the Federal Reserve to direct America’s economy.  At the heart of this discussion is how the Federal Reserve always was, or perhaps morphed, into a state level predatory lender providing the means for a nation to eventually bankrupt itself.

Against the adamant wishes of the Constitution’s framers, in 1913 the Federal Reserve System was Congressionally created.  According to the Fed’s website, “it was created to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.”  Although parts of the Federal Reserve System share some characteristics with private-sector entities, the Federal Reserve was supposedly established to serve the public interest.

A quick overview; monetary policy is the Federal Reserve’s actions, as a central bank, to achieve three goals specified by Congress: maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the United States.  The Federal Reserve conducts the nation’s monetary policy by managing the level of short-term interest rates and influencing the availability and cost of credit in the economy.  Monetary policy directly affects interest rates; it indirectly affects stock prices, wealth, and currency exchange rates.  Through these channels, monetary policy influences spending, investment, production, employment, and inflation in the United States.

I suggest what truly happened in 1913 was that Congress willingly abdicated a portion of its responsibilities, and through the Federal Reserve, began a process that would undermine the functioning American democracy.  “How”, you ask?  The Fed, believing the free-market to be “imperfect” (aka; wrong) believed it (the Fed) should control and set interest rates, determine full employment, determine asset prices; not the “free market”.  And here’s what happened:

  • From 1913 to 1971, an increase of  $400 billion in federal debt cost $35 billion in additional annual interest payments.
  • From 1971 to 1981, an increase of $600 billion in federal debt cost $108 billion in additional annual interest payments.
  • From 1981 to 1997, an increase of $4.4 trillion cost $224 billion in additional annual interest payments.
  • From 1997 to 2017, an increase of $15.2 trillion cost “just” $132 billion in additional annual interest payments.

Stop and read through those bullet points again…and then one more time.  In case that hasn’t sunk in, check the chart below…

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What was the economic impact of the Federal Reserve encouraging all that debt?  The yellow line in the chart below shows the annual net impact of economic growth (in growing part, spurred by the spending of that new debt)…gauged by GDP (blue columns) minus the annual rise in federal government debt (red columns).  When viewing the chart, the problem should be fairly apparent.  GDP, subtracting the annual federal debt fueled spending, shows the US economy is collapsing except for counting the massive debt spending as “economic growth”.

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Same as above, but a close-up from 1981 to present.  Not pretty.

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Consider since 1981, the Federal Reserve set FFR % (Federal Funds rate %) is down 94% and the associated impacts on the 10yr Treasury (down 82%) and the 30yr Mortgage rate (down 77%).  Four decades of cheapening the cost of servicing debt has incentivized and promoted ever greater use of debt.

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Again, according to the Fed’s website, “it was created to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.”  However, the chart below shows the Federal Reserve policies’ impact on the 10yr Treasury, stocks (Wilshire 5000 representing all publicly traded US stocks), and housing to be anything but “safer” or “stable”.

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Previously, I have made it clear the asset appreciation the Fed is providing is helping a select few, at the expense of the many, HERE.

But a functioning democratic republic is premised on a simple agreement that We (the people) will freely choose our leaders who will (among other things) compromise on how taxation is to be levied, how much tax is to be collected, and how that taxation is to be spent.  The intervention of the Federal Reserve into that equation, controlling interest rates, outright purchasing assets, and plainly goosing asset prices has introduced a cancer into the nation which has now metastasized.

In time, Congress (& the electorate) would realize they no longer had to compromise between infinite wants and finite means.  The Federal Reserve’s nearly four decades of interest rate reductions and a decade of asset purchases motivated the election of candidates promising ever greater government absent the higher taxation to pay for it.  Surging asset prices created fast rising tax revenue.  Those espousing “fiscal conservatism” or living within our means (among R’s and/or D’s) were simply unelectable.

This Congressionally created mess has culminated in the accumulation of national debt beyond our means to ever repay.  As the chart below highlights, the Federal Reserve set interest rate (Fed. Funds Rate=blue line) peaked in 1981 and was continually reduced until it reached zero in 2009.  The impact of lower interest rates to promote ever greater national debt creation was stupendous, rising from under $1 trillion in 1981 to nearing $21 trillion presently.  However, thanks to the seemingly perpetually lower Federal Reserve provided rates, America’s interest rate continually declined inversely to America’s credit worthiness or ability to repay the debt.

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The impact of the declining rates meant America would not be burdened with significantly rising interest payments or the much feared bond “Armageddon” (chart below).  All the upside of spending now, with none of the downside of ever paying it back, or even simply paying more in interest.  Politicians were able to tell their constituencies they could have it all…and anyone suggesting otherwise was plainly not in contention.  Federal debt soared and soared but interest payable in dollars on that debt only gently nudged upward.

  • In 1971, the US paid $36 billion in interest on $400 billion in federal debt…a 9% APR.
  • In 1981, the US paid $142 billion on just under $1 trillion in debt…a 14% APR.
  • In 1997, the US paid $368 billion on $5.4 trillion in debt or 7% APR…and despite debt nearly doubling by 2007, annual interest payments in ’07 were $30 billion less than a decade earlier.
  • By 2017, the US will pay out about $500 billion on nearly $21 trillion in debt…just a 2% APR.

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The Federal Reserve began cutting its benchmark interest rates in 1981 from peak rates.  Few understood that the Fed would cut rates continually over the next three decades.  But by 2008, lower rates were not enough.  The Federal Reserve determined to conjure money into existence and purchase $4.5 trillion in mid and long duration assets.  Previous to this, the Fed has essentially held zero assets beyond short duration assets in it’s role to effect monetary policy.  The change to hold longer duration assets was a new and different self appointed mandate to maintain and increase asset prices.

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But why the declining interest rates and asset purchases in the first place?

The Federal Reserve interest rates have very simply primarily followed the population cycle and only secondarily the business cycle.  What the chart below highlights is annual 25-54yr/old population growth (blue columns) versus annual change in 25-54yr/old employees (black line), set against the Federal Funds Rate (yellow line).  The FFR has followed the core 25-54yr/old population growth…and the rising, then decelerating, now declining demand that that represented means lower or negative rates are likely just on the horizon (despite the Fed’s current messaging to the contrary).

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Below, a close-up of the above chart from 2000 to present.

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Running out of employees???  Each time the 25-54yr/old population segment has exceeded 80% employment, economic dislocation has been dead ahead.  We have just exceeded 78% but given the declining 25-54yr/old population versus rising employment…and the US is likely to again exceed 80% in 2018.

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Given the FFR follows population growth, consider that the even broader 20-65yr/old population will essentially see population growth grind to a halt over the next two decades.  This is no prediction or estimate, this population has already been born and the only variable is the level of immigration…which is falling fast due to declining illegal immigration meaning the lower Census estimate is more likely than the middle estimate.

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So where will America’s population growth take place?  The 65+yr/old population is set to surge.

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But population growth will be shifting to the most elderly of the elderly…the 75+yr/old population.  I outlined the problems with this previously HERE.

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Back to the Federal Reserve, consider the impact on debt creation prior and post the creation of the Federal Reserve:

  • 1790-1913: Debt to GDP Averaged 14%
  • 1913-2017: Debt to GDP Averaged 53%
    • 1913-1981: 46% Average
    • 1981-2000: 52% Average
    • 2000-2017: 79% Average

As the chart below highlights, since the creation of the Federal Reserve the growth of debt (relative to growth of economic activity) has gone to levels never dreamed of by the founding fathers.  In particular, the systemic surges in debt since 1981 are unlike anything ever seen prior in American history.  Although the peak of debt to GDP seen in WWII may have been higher (changes in GDP calculations mean current GDP levels are likely significantly overstating economic activity), the duration and reliance upon debt was entirely tied to the war.  Upon the end of the war, the economy did not rely on debt for further growth and total debt fell.

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Any suggestion that the current situation is like any America has seen previously is simply ludicrous.  Consider that during WWII, debt was used to fight a war and initiate a global rebuild via the Marshall Plan…but by 1948, total federal debt had already been paid down by $19 billion or a seven percent reduction…and total debt would not exceed the 1946 high water mark again until 1957.  During that ’46 to ’57 stretch, the economy would boom with zero federal debt growth.

  • 1941…Fed debt = $58 b (Debt to GDP = 44%)
  • 1946…Fed debt = $271 b (Debt to GDP = 119%)
    • 1948…Fed debt = $252 b <$19b> (Debt to GDP = 92%)
    • 1957…Fed debt = $272 b (Debt to GDP = 57%)

If the current crisis ended in 2011 (recession ended by 2010, by July of  2011 stock markets had recovered their losses), then the use of debt as a temporary stimulus should have ended?!?  Instead, debt and debt to GDP are still rising.

  • 2007…Federal debt = $8.9 T (Debt to GDP = 62%)
  • 2011…Federal debt = $13.5 T (Debt to GDP = 95%)
  • 2017…Federal Debt = $20.5 T (Debt to GDP = 105%)

July of 2011 was the great debt ceiling debate when America determined once and for all, that the federal debt was not actually debt.  America had no intention to ever repay it.  It was simply monetization and since the Federal Reserve was maintaining ZIRP, and all oil importers were forced to buy their oil using US dollars thanks to the Petrodollar agreement…what could go wrong?

But who would continue to buy US debt if the US was addicted to monetization in order to pay its bills?  Apparently, not foreigners.  If we look at foreign Treasury buying, some very notable changes are apparent beginning in July of 2011:

  1. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, S. Africa…represented in red in the chart below) ceased net accumulating US debt as of July 2011.
  2. Simultaneous to the BRICS cessation, the BLICS (Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Cayman Island, Switzerland…represented in black in the chart below) stepped in to maintain the bid.
  3. Since QE ended in late 2014, foreigners have followed the Federal Reserve’s example and nearly forgone buying US Treasury debt.

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China was first to opt out and began net selling US Treasuries as of August, 2011 (China in red, chart below).  China has continued to run record trade driven dollar surplus but has net recycled none of that into US debt since July, 2011.  China had averaged 50% of its trade surplus into Treasury debt from 2000 to July of 2011, but from August 2011 onward China stopped cold.

As China (and more generally the BRICS) ceased buying US Treasury debt, a strange collection of financier nations (the BLICS) suddenly became very interested in US Treasury debt.  From the debt ceiling debate to the end of QE, these nations were suddenly very excited to add $700 billion in near record low yielding US debt while China net sold.

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The chart below shows total debt issued during periods, from 1950 to present, and who accumulated the increase in outstanding Treasurys.

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The Federal Reserve plus foreigners represented nearly 2/3rds of all demand from ’08 through ’14.  However, since the end of QE, and that 2/3rds of demand gone…rates continue near generational lows???  Who is buying Treasury debt?  According to the US Treasury, since QE ended, it is record domestic demand that is maintaining the Treasury bid.  The same domestic public buying stocks at record highs and buying housing at record highs.

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Looking at who owns America’s debt 2007 through 2016, the chart below highlights the four groups that hold nearly 90% of the debt: 

  1. The combined Federal Reserve/Government Accounting Series
  2. Foreigners
  3. Domestic Mutual Funds
  4. And the massive rise in Treasury holdings by domestic “Other Investors” who are not domestic insurance companies, not local or state governments, not depository institutions, not pensions, not mutual funds, nor US Saving bonds.

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Treasury buying by foreigners and the Federal Reserve has collapsed since QE ended (chart below).  However, the odd surge of domestic “other investors”, Intra-Governmental GAS, and domestic mutual funds have nearly been the sole buyer preventing the US from suffering a very painful surge in interest payments on the record quantity of US Treasury debt.

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No, this is nothing like WWII or any previous “crisis”.  While America has appointed itself “global policeman” and militarily outspends the rest of the world combined, America is not at war.  Simply put, what we are looking at appears little different than the Madoff style Ponzi…but this time it is a state sponsored financial fraud magnitudes larger.

The Federal Reserve and its systematic declining interest rates to perpetuate unrealistically high rates of growth in the face of rapidly decelerating population growth have fouled the American political system, its democracy, and promoted the system that has now bankrupted the nation.  And it appears that the Federal Reserve is now directing a state level fraud and farce.  If it isn’t time to reconsider the Fed’s role and continued existence now, then when?

By Chris Hamilton | Econimica

Trump Is About To Crush Home Prices In Counties That Voted For Hillary: Here’s Why


As discussed last Friday, several notable surprises in the proposed GOP tax bill involved real estate, and would have an explicit – and adverse – impact on not only proprietors’ tax bills, but also on future real estate values if the republican tax bill is passed. And, as the following analysis by Barclays suggests, they may have a secondary purpose: to slam real estate values in counties that by and large voted for Hillary Clinton.

Going back to Friday, the biggest surprise was that mortgage interest would only be deductible on mortgage balances up to $500K for new home purchases, down from the current $1mn threshold. Existing mortgages would be grandfathered, such that borrowers with existing loans would still be allowed to deduct interest on the first $1mn of their mortgage balances. In addition, only the first $10K of local and state property taxes would be allowed to be deducted from income. Finally, married couples seeking a tax exemption on the first $500K of capital gains upon a sale of their primary residence will need to have lived in their home for five of the past eight years, versus two out of the past five years under current rules. This capital gains tax exemption would also be gradually phased out for households that have more than $500K of income a year.

As might be expected, the above provisions caused an uproar in the realtor and home building industries, as Barclays Dennis Lee points out. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) released a statement commenting that “the bill represents a tax increase on middle-class homeowners”, with the NAR President stating that “[t]he nation’s 1.3 million Realtors cannot support a bill that takes home ownership off the table for millions of middle-class families”. Meanwhile, the chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) stated that “[t]he House Republican tax reform plan abandons middle-class taxpayers in favor of high-income Americans and wealthy corporations”. Given the strong resistance from these two powerful housing groups, there may be changes made to these provisions in the final version of the bill.

What is more interesting, however, is a detailed analysis looking at who would be most affected by Trump’s real estate tax changes. Here, an interest pattern emerges, courtesy of Barclays.

According to CoreLogic, the median home price in the US is around $224K while the average property tax paid by homeowners in the country is around $3,300. This suggests that only a minority of homeowners are likely to be affected by the proposed mortgage interest and property tax deduction caps. Indeed, according to preliminary analysis by the NAHB, only about 7mn homes will be affected by the $500K mortgage interest deduction, and since these homeowners will receive the grandfathering benefit, they will not experience any immediate increase in taxes as a result of the mortgage interest deduction cap.

Meanwhile, approximately 3.7mn homeowners pay more than $10K in property taxes according to the NAHB. These homeowners will experience an immediate increase in taxes from the property tax deduction cap; however, to put this number in perspective, the US Census estimates that there are approximately 76mn owner-occupied homes in the country, indicating that fewer than 5% of households may experience a rise in taxes as a result of the property tax cap.

Who Is Most Impacted?

As expected, the homeowners who will be most negatively affected by the proposed caps primarily reside along the coasts, particularly in California. Using estimated median home prices provided by the NAR, Barclays found that of the 20 counties in the country with the highest median home prices, eight were located in California (Figure 3). Perhaps not surprisingly, a majority of voters in all 20 counties voted for Clinton in last year’s presidential election. In fact, Clinton won the vote in the top 45 counties in the country with the highest median home prices. Suddenly the method behind Trump’s madness becomes readily apparent…

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And while we now know who will be largely impacted, there is a broader implication: not only will these pro-Clinton counties pay more in taxes, it is there that real estate values will tumbles the most. Hers’ Barclays:

We can also use the above median home prices to estimate the potential increase in taxes from the deduction caps in the first 12 months for would-be homeowners looking to purchase a home in these counties. Using the simplifying assumption that all borrowers purchase their homes at the median home price in each county and take out an 80% LTV, 30y mortgage at a 4% rate, we can come up with estimates for the monthly P&I payment for each of these areas (Figure 4). We can also estimate the average property tax burden in these counties using average state-level property tax rates.

As Dennis Lee calculates, “assuming that all of these homeowners are taxed at a marginal rate of 39.6%, we find that the increase in tax burden during the first 12 months of homeownership driven solely by the mortgage interest and property tax deduction caps varies from $0 for the county with the 20th highest median home price (San Miguel County, Colorado) to approximately $7,200 for the highest-priced county (San Francisco County, California).” Barclays’ conclusion: these counties – all of which are largely pro-Clinton – would need a 0-11% decline in their median home prices to keep the after-tax monthly mortgage and property tax payments the same for would-be buyers.

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And that’s how Trump is about to punish the “bi-coastals” for voting against him: by sending their real estate values tumbling as much as 11%, while serving them with a higher tax bill to boot.

Source: ZeroHedge

PS:

The MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) sent a letter to the House Committee on Ways and Means regarding its recently released tax reform proposal. Given the tax proposal, the MBA reports (using its analysis of 2016 HMDA data) that only 7% of first lien home purchase mortgage balances originated in the US in 2016 exceeded $500,000. ($500,000 is the proposed maximum balance on which mortgage interest would be deductible in the House Republican proposal.) The Senate’s version, on the other hand, is expected to keep the $1 million mortgage cap unchanged.