Rent Relief is Here!

Have you been struggling to pay your landlord the rent they are due? Behind on utilities? The Emergency Rental Assistance program is now open for applications in Utah!  This covers renters expenses from March 13th, 2020 to December of this year if you qualify, and here are the requirements:

-Combined household income at or below 80% of area median income;

-Someone in the household has qualified for unemployment, or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19;

-Household is experiencing housing instability (for example, received a past due utility or rent or eviction notice, or living in unsafe or unhealthy living conditions);

-Applicant resides in the household and is on the lease.

You can speed up the process and be ‘prioritized’ if you have been unemployed for at least 90 days or are living at or below the 50% area median income. The US Census Bureau reports the median household income in 2019 is $60,676 and lower in other counties in the state.

To apply for assistance, you’ll go to www.rentrelief.utah.gov. This site works for BOTH tenants AND landlords who apply on behalf of their tenants late on rent. You’ll fill out an application and take photos of documents they require to load onto the site, like your 1040 or W-2 form. The process will be quicker if you can work directly with your landlord to get their W-9, a ledger showing the outstanding rent and late fees you’re being charged, your income verification like a 2020 tax form and recent pay stubs, any unemployment insurance history, any past due utility bills and an eviction notice if that’s relevant.

I want to mention here that if you’re experiencing housing stress, you may also be in need of food for yourself or your family. The Utah Food Bank is helping to fight hunger statewide (last year they distributed 52.9 million pounds of food or 44.1 million meals to Utahns facing hunger). They report that 1 in 5 kids here are unsure where their next meal will come from. They are always looking for donations of money, food and volunteer time to assist their 203 partners across the state. Last year they got much of their food donated from programs like Grocery Rescue (16 million pounds from 270 grocery stores), National Commercial Donations from Feeding America, USDA commodities, local growers, and food drives. The website www.utahfoodbank.org/get-help will assist you in finding a food pantry or mobile food pantry near you.

Finally, if you are lost in the muck of life, overwhelmed and out of answers, we have a great resource in just dialing 211 for help. They are there 24/7 for you to chat, text, email or call for fantastic resources in housing, food, mental heath assistance, medical referrals, Coronavirus information, distance learning and tutoring, transportation, human services STATEWIDE. And thanks to United Way, it’s a free service to contact them anytime.

 

BUYER HELL

If you’re in the market to buy a home or condo right now, you know you’re up against a wave of fellow buyers competing for a pathetic amount of available inventory. Someone sent me a meme the other day that said there were more REALTORS® than listings, but trust me, there have always been more REALTORS® than MLS listings. If you’re about to buy or have been making offers, here’s what’s in our contracts written in your favor:

All Utah Assn. Of REALTOR® Real Estate Purchase Contracts have language to protect the buyer to get OUT of the contract if: a) the buyer doesn’t like the seller’s property disclosures and/or has the property inspected and doesn’t like what they find; b) the property doesn’t appraise for the agreed purchase price and c) the buyer doesn’t get final loan approval. In this market, to win contracts, I’m seeing buyers give up one, two, or all three of these rights to secure a property! If you’re never purchased a home, it’s scary NOT to get a professional inspection to determine if the wiring is safe, the roof doesn’t leak, there’s no or low radon gas, or if the property has high mold or allergen readings, hidden moisture in walls, a broken main sewer line or poor water quality. Yet some buyers are willing to risk buying a money pit to win the multiple offer battle.

Appraisers right now are living in hell because homes are selling fast and there are very few comparable sales to support increasing high sales prices. I know of a home near the U of U that just sold for $300K over asking and an agent of mine sold one in Harvard/Yale for $115 over ask price. I work more with sellers than buyers and try to suggest list prices that are fair and will garner the seller multiple offers. If the property is listed too high the seller won’t get to chose from as many offers, and multiples are what drive the final sales price up. Some buyers are taking out the ‘subject to appraisal’ clause in their offers and making up the difference between an appraisal that may come in low and the final sales price. Yet, buyers that don’t have that cash in hand drive up prices more hoping the seller will like a high offer. Example: seller asks $450,000 and there are 10 offers. Seller picks the highest offers at $500,000 and the appraisal only comes in at $460,000. Buyer must come up with $40,000 to make up the difference, when they had originally planned on putting only 5% down on the home.  And worst of all, buyer may not eventually qualify for a loan at the higher sales price and the sale will fail.

Offers I see rolling into my office or that I’m writing may also temp the seller with ‘non-refundable earnest money’ from the buyer at signing of the offer and/or buyer offering to pay seller’s closing costs at settlement! Whoa! Will this ever stop? Not soon, in my opinion!

Too Much News!

A lot of folks are going to be happy that $1400 is going to appear in their bank accounts from Ol’ Uncle Sam in a minute. That is if your adjusted gross income is below $75,000 or if you’re married, under $150,000 to get $2800. The payments are based on your 2019 or 2020 income depending on when you filed your 2020 tax return. Good news is that IF you OWE taxes, they won’t be taken out of the stimulus check if you qualify for that $1400 windfall. The stimulus package that Biden just signed also extended unemployment benefits for those who qualify until Sept. 6th, 2021 to the tune of $300 a week from the Feds which will be added on top of any Utah state unemployment benefits. The best thing about this new relief package is that people who got benefits in 2020 will not be taxes on that income under $10,200. Believe it or not, unemployment benefits are generally taxing during non-pandemic years.

Locally, the Utah State Legislature just ended it’s 45 day session and tried to make a dent in our housing crisis within our state borders. First, there’s going to be a designated housing/homelessness ‘Tzar’ with HB347, which will fund the one person standing on the top of the mountain to oversee homeless and low income projects and programs. They will oversee a new ‘Office of Homeless Services within the Department of Workforce Services’ and sit on the newly formed Utah Homelessness Council with state officials, members of the legislature, mayors, members of the public, service providers and religious leaders. There is also a huge amount of state funds going to preserving what little affordable housing units we have here. Simply stated, when an apartment building gets old and ratty, the owner(s) might sell to a flipper and the property torn down and replaced with higher priced housing. This bill will help rehab older buildings to keep them for affordable housing units.  Another related bill (finally!) that pass is SB164 which required the State to conduct an inventory of surplus property owned by the state, throughout the state, to see if any of it can be used/converted to affordable housing. That one is a bid ‘DUH!’ I’ve been waiting to see for years!

The other bill I supported and even wrote in to support was HB82. We’re down almost 50,000 affordable housing units in this State and one of the answers to this crisis is allowing people to build ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) on their property. Basically, standardizing the myriad of city to city/county to county rules to allow for more of these to exist. Parents want to modify the ‘shack in the back’ to let Grandma live there or the kids while they are going to college. It’s hell for property owners in many cases to get these simple dwellings approved and hopefully this bill will make it easier to do so in the future to help make a dent in affordable housing options in Utah.

Containing It

I’ll admit right off that I’m not an expert when it comes to shipping products around the world. Stuff I need gets magically stocked on store shelves or in a website on the internet. I do have friends and clients in the shipping business but frankly, talking about ‘containers’ doesn’t float my retail boat. Yet, we’re getting plenty of news these days about Utah’s desire to establish an ‘inland port’ west of the new prison, which is west of the new airport.

What does an inland port do? It is a stop for containers to be loaded and unloaded, items shipped off again after being repackaged into lots to thousands of destinations. In effect it makes Utah a global trade port that supposedly is very cost effective and allows for customs to operate here to open and inspect the containers before the inventory moves elsewhere. Proponents here, like Derek Miller, the president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah and co-chair of the Inland Port Committee sees Salt Lake as a hub for international business-especially because we are one of the fastest growing economies in the United States. To my pea brain, this all seems silly to come here since we have ports along the coast to do those very things.

Ah, but talking to my friends who own small businesses trying to get goods these days lends a different light on the subject. Apparently, container ship congestion at ALL North American ports is crazy right now. If you visit the Marine Traffic website (marinetraffic.com) you can see the massive shipping traffic in real time anywhere in the world. Look to our West Coasts ports like San Diego, L.A./Long Beach and Oakland and you can view the congestion there yourself. When I checked in, I saw at least 30 ships sitting and waiting to unload in the L.A./Long Beach harbor. According to the website Expeditiors.com this situation is being driven by the “unprecedented surge in demand” and “vessels are experiencing  severe delays for berth windows once they arrive at the terminal for discharge.” The lack of laborers, warehouses, delivery trucks and rail cars is stressing out the system, not to mention effects of Covid closures in California over the past year. The Journal of Commerce writes that they see no relief in sight especially for LA-LB congestion but predicts that there will be “Double-digit trans-Pacific volume growth projected through the first half of the year and at ports around the world.”

Locally, I don’t know how our proposed Inland Port can help if you can’t get the damned containers off ships. While we sit at home during Covidtime we’re browsing the web and ordering too much stuff-explaining some delays in packages. My friends in retail can’t stock their shelves like they used to, and worse, my friends in the building trades are seeing massive shortage deliveries in tile, carpet, lumber, steel products and more. Even the cost of old containers to use for tiny homes has gone up-if you can find one.

UTA ART

Since I was born in New York, I’m a native New Yorker! Although I’ve lived in Utah most of my life, I still love traveling back to the Big Apple to see friends and family, the latest show on Broadway or a museum and of course track down a dirty water dog or a chewy bagel dog. I’ll hope in a Yellow Cab to travel but I’m also a fan of the subway system. The subway experience is always a visual overload, from the characters riding along with me to the public art along the tracks and inside the cars.

When I was a Board member for UTA I asked why we didn’t have public art on our buses, trains and TRAX and my fellow Board members just looked back at me like deer in my headlights. The staff got it, and a few years after my term UTA has announced a friendly competition to get students from K-12 to make art to beautify our public transportation. UTA’s first My BeUTAHful Community Student Art Competition is now under way and UTA is asking kids to submit visual artwork based on the theme “Meet Your Neighbor”.  Participants will have the opportunity to self-express through public art that will be visible throughout the entire public transportation system along the Wasatch Front and it will give riders and the communities they serve to opportunity to see the rich talent we have in our tri-city area.

If you have a child or sibling who might be in the age range and interested in having their art work seen in this ‘moving museum’, the deadline is March 16th. Entries are encouraged to highlight the beauty and diversity of Utah’s communities and people. Pieces will be judged in four age categories: kindergarten-second grade, third to sixth grade, seventh to ninth grade and tenth through twelfth grade. The winning artwork will be displayed on UTA buses and trains for a year starting this April. Winners get at $50 gift card and the overall ‘Best of Show’ winner will get a $100 gift card, as well as the opportunity for that artist’s friends, family and the community to see their creation displayed prominently where public transportation is happening. All participants will also be entered to win a drawing for a one-day UTA family pass, although I personally think ALL participants should get a one day pass just for entering! Seriously, this is not just fun for aspiring young artists it’s a way for us to appreciate the diverse talents we have in our community. UTA will accept 2-D artwork made with paint, pencils, colored pencils, markers, digital programs, pastel’s and ink. Each entry has to have the theme of “Meet Your Neighbor” creatively displayed in the piece but doesn’t have to include any rendering of public transportation on it. For entry info: www.rideutah.com/art or drop submissions off at UTA, c/o Megan Waters: 669 W. 200 So. SLC

Monumental!

National monuments in Utah include the obvious: Timpanogas Cave, Bear’s Ears, the Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Dinosaur, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef, etc. State monuments also include This Is the Place, the Seagull Monument at Temple Square, The Eagle Gate Monument on State Street and South Temple, Joseph Smiths birth place and many others.  I would think most people in our state have visited or have heard of our precious national monuments but very few would be pressed to know where some of these State monuments are located.

Brigham Young is buried just east of Temple Square at 140 East First Avenue. Surely, you’ve driven by it a million times if you live in or near the Avenues. At the site is a small garden with four plaques dedicated to the Mormon Pioneers (two of which are dedicated to well-known Mormon hymns).  The Seagull Monument is inside Temple Square and is dedicated to ‘the miracle of the gulls’ when supposedly Western Gulls descended out of nowhere to eat the invasion of Mormon Crickets that were annihilating the crops of the early pioneers in the year 1848. A block east are the metal arches above the intersection of State Street and South Temple. These were erected in 1859 and commemorates the original entrance to Brigham Young’s property at the mouth of City Creek Canyon. You’ve driven under this if you head up to the state capitol building.  It was originally topped by a wooden eagle (on display at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum) but was replaced with a 4,000-pound bronze bird with a 20’ wingspan.

Why do I mention monuments? One potential site has been in the news lately because a local developer wanted to build a high-end celebrity rehab center right above it, making access to the public difficult or not at all. I tell of our legendary beautiful Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon. Legend has it that an indigenous girl named Norita fell in love with a rival tribe boy named Grey Eagle. The classic Romeo and Juliet-like story went simply that elders from both tribes found out about the forbidden love and told her that they had killed her lover, and so she leapt over the falls to join him in the spirit world. Mother Nature felt badly for the girl and turned her hair into a bridal veil of falling water. It’s a drop dead gorgeous site because it’s a year-round stream of water that flows 607 feet down from springs above Cascade Mountain there in the canyon. It’s a natural wonder and I don’t believe this kind of thing should ever be owned privately.

Luckily Utah County Commissioners placed the county-owned falls in a protected conservation easement last year. This pissed off the potential developer who then filed a lawsuit. Luckily Richard Losee, the developer, has now backed off of the lawsuit since Utah County has asked state legislators to designate this a state monument this year which will protect this natural landmark for future generations.

https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/212

Homebuyer Help

You’d have to live on the dark side of the moon if you haven’t heard of Ivory Homes. The developer has been building homes in this state for 30+ consecutive years, with 20,000+ homes built and sold, 70+ communities established, 100+ different home designs and 45+ model homes to choose from. The CEO, Clark Ivory has been obsessed with trying to figure out how to get affordable housing into the mix of options for Utah’s homebuyers. He’s certainly not alone because politicians, bankers, business leaders, developers big and small statewide are trying to figure out this damnable housing problem.

As we know, this state is undergoing unpreceded growth with more people moving here than leaving, and all needing a place to live that they can afford. Sadly, Ivory and his minions have come head to head with local communities in trying to increase density where traditional zoning laws make it nearly impossible to building nothing more than single family homes on large lots. We aren’t building any more land, and the future is grim for homebuyers if we don’t start revamping how many dwellings can go on one lot. Ivory is attempting to bring more housing options into our future, with plans for homes with ADU’s (accessory dwelling units), and homes on smaller lots in some subdivisions where allowed.

Ivory Homes is offering “Workforce Housing” for owner occupied homes (not rentals) to first time homebuyers, first responders, teachers, veterans and military, nurses, construction workers, police officers and public employees. Rules to qualify for Ivory’s special affordable housing are simple: use their preferred lender and you can’t use your own REALTOR because they don’t offer any commission to your agent. You of course can pay for your own representation.

The Salt Lake Board of REALTORS is currently offering a limited number of $5000 grants to single parents who are first time homebuyers and the deadline for applications is April 23rd. Applicants can contact gavin@slrealtors.com for more information. Other assistance can be found through the Utah Housing Corp. which offers mortgage loans around the state to qualified first time homebuyers

Safe Cities

Are you afraid to go out of your nest because you might get the RONA?  A recent Gallup Poll found that almost 50% of all Americans are worried about getting the damnable virus. I personally believe there are four types of folks right now: ones who have not left their humble abodes since March of 2020, those who only go out to the grocer and doctor appointments and those who go out to shop, eat but don’t travel, and those who act like nothing is going on and do whatever they want, where they want, when they want to.

WalletHub just compared more than 180 cities across 42 key indicators of safety. Their data set ranged from the number of COVID-19 cases in the past seven days per 100,000 residents, assaults per capita on individuals, to the unemployment rate and road quality. The top safest cities found were: Columbia, MD, South Burlington, VT, Plano, TX, Nashua, NH and Lewiston, ME. Salt Lake City came in 76th on their survey of 180 cities. The other interesting results found that Salt Lake City had the highest percentage of households with emergency savings at hand over all other cities.

Other findings: Fewest traffic fatalities per capita: Bismarck, ND, New York, NY, Boston, MA, Yonkers, NY and San Francisco, CA; Most traffic fatalities per capital was Little Rock, AR. Cities with most law-enforcement employees per capita are Washington, DC (more so with all the troops still stationed there), New York, NY and Chicago, IL.   Fewest law-enforcement employees per capita: Raleigh, NC, Fontana, CA and Fremont, CA. Fewest hate crimes per capita: Baltimore, MD, with most hate crimes reported in Newark, NJ.   The highest unemployment rates were in New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA and Chicago, IL with the lowest rates in Lincoln, NE, Bismarck, ND and Boise, ID.  And finally, the survey found that the cities with the lowest natural-disaster risks were Dover, DE, Brownsville, TX and Corpus Christi, TX with the highest risk cities to have a natural disaster were San Jose, CA, Huntington Beach, CA and Garden Grove, CA.  Those disasters could be earthquakes, floods, hail, hurricanes, or tornados.

After suffering through a scary earthquake in 2020 and even scarier 100MPH winds on Labor Day Weekend I think we would have been higher on the scary scale of findings! After the wind storm my wife and I had no power. I borrowed a generator from a friend which was stolen the same day. I found one to buy and that helped for the week we were out of electricity. I was able to loan the genny I bought after power was restored to the neighbors across the street who didn’t get service for three more days. That whole experience prompted us to invest in a permanent household generator that is supplied with natural gas, but if an earthquake damages the gas line-then propane. It kicks on regularly so when needed it’s ready to go. And good old Murphy will rule: now that we have it, we won’t need it!

Let Us Pray!

New year, new president, and vice president. I cannot imagine stepping into such leadership in such times as these that are so challenging for all of us. Sure, there’s a horrible pandemic and we need to cure it or get it under control, but there’s a HUGE economic problem facing us because of the effects of the virus. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed in the past year from coast to coast and it’s expected that numbers will be grim this year for people filing bankruptcy.

Let’s step back to January 2009, when Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. The country had almost collapsed under the bank fraud recession that had boiled up the previous year and he had to basically rescue us from going bankrupt as a country. Working both sides of the aisle he got the biggest economic stimulus package passed and signed (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) this country had ever seen a month after he took office. By the time he left office eight years later the U.S. economy had gained 11.6 million jobs and home prices rose 20% (but the home ownership rate hit the lowest point in half a century).

So many people lost their homes during the aftermath of the Great Recession and those of us full time REALTORS became experts in short sales. In real estate a short sale is when a homeowner who’s behind in payments and facing foreclosure sells their home for less than the amount they owe on their mortgage, with the bank’s permission.  It was a total nightmare for us professionals as well as homeowners in financial distress because there was no guarantee you’d ever be able to speak to someone at the bank holding the note on the home. And when you did track a representative down, they’d be gone a week later. It became almost a science for us to get a homeowner through the process before the sheriff came knocking at their door demanding they leave because the bank had taken back the home in the formal foreclosure process. REALTORS specializing in short sales were worth their weight in gold!

There was a bad after effect once a homeowner completed a successful short sale of their property. Simply, they would have a noticeably big stain on their credit rating for a long time, which would make it impossible to buy a home again.  Time passed and several years later we saw lenders changing credit requirements and rules to bring in new customers for home mortgage loans.  A bad economy and people’s bad credit records were why home ownership hit such a low rate during Obama’s tenure in the White House. According to chicagofed.org there were approximately 3.8 million foreclosures from 2007-2010 in this country. Biden and Harris are facing Covid-caused economic chaos as they sit in their newly sanitized offices and have plans to help us all see our way to national prosperity again. My prayers are with them.

The One For You?

If you haven’t seen the thread on social media, go now and look for ‘The One Bel Air’. You will find photos and info on the most expensive home for sale in California-a 105,000 sq. ft. property that someone will be able to call home in the future. This is all new construction that’s been going on for about eight years and has been kept secret until now. Trust me, it’s been the talk of the town of high end REALTORS, investors, and developers in the L.A. area.

Picture this estate floating above the city of Los Angeles atop of its own hill, surrounded on three sides by a moat and 400-foot long jogging tract. Going through the main entry inside you pass an area filled with water, a bridge and a large sculpture mounted on the floor that rotates under a custom glass Murano chandelier. It would be hard to give you a tour because where would you look? There’s 42 bathrooms, 21 bedrooms and a master suite that’s 5,500 sq. ft. The amenities include a 30-seat movie theater, a four-lane bowling alley, 30-car garage with two display turntables and five swimming pools. Of course, there’s a full service spa with a hair and beauty salon that surely the bitchy Housewives of Salt Lake City would fight over to utilize before they attended a gala in the intentional philanthropy wing that can hold 200 guests.

It took around 600 workers to build this mansion of all mansions, and it will not be topped in size by any other future project in Los Angeles thanks to newly approved city ordinances for permits for the size of homes. The asking price is $340 million and that includes the art and designer furniture in the home.

Back in Utah, the highest price for home sold in 2020 was at the Colony at White Pine in Park City for $19,250,000. The two story new construction only has 13,510 sq. ft., 6 bedrooms, 9 baths and a 5 car garage. The mountain contemporary style design of this home fit in well for the area and is located on a cul-de-sac. The views from the 16 foot walls of glass looked out across a small lake and the wooded property sits on over 3 acres of prime Utah forest. The architects made sure that every room looked out onto the mountain range from every room of the house. California may have ocean views, but this Utah home offers ski-in/ski-out access to the Canyons ski area. Amenities inside the home included a ‘Bento Room’ that served as a take on a traditional bunkroom with six bento-style beds and a large communal-style bath. The upper level of the home has a massive gaming room.

Currently the highest price home in Utah is in Springville. The owners are $48,000,000 for 17,493 sq. ft, 7 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, 4 family rooms all on @3400 acres of Left Fork in Hobble Creek Canyon on land that varies in elevation from 5,700 feet to over 9,100 feet. Hmmmm…mountain or ocean view?