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House panel votes to kill Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

Tallahassee- Tourism industry officials from Pensacola to the Keys warned a House committee Wednesday that a bill to kill state funding for tourism marketing and other economic development programs would harm businesses and cost jobs.

The bill passed anyway on a 10-5 vote, but not before tourism promoters, who packed the room with more than 150 speakers, voiced their displeasure. Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing group that received $76 million in funding this year, would be eliminated under the bill.

In addition to Visit Florida, the bill wipes out Enterprise Florida, the agency that entices companies to add jobs in the state, and a slew of other economic incentive programs, including those targeting professional sports teams, the entertainment industry and a training program for workers.

Tourism industry supporters stressed that small businesses, not heavyweights such as Disney World and Universal Studios, would lose out if Visit Florida goes away.

Flagler County commissioner Amy Lukasik said Visit Florida stepped in after Hurricane Matthew, producing online video ads showing the area was up on its feet and open to tourism.

“The effort has shown dividends to our small business owners,” Lukasik said. “In just one month, our collections rose 16 percent over the previous year’s. This would have never happened without the support of Visit Florida.”

But other groups supporting the bill, including the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, also made the trip to the Capitol. The free market advocacy group has sent mailers to lawmakers in the past chiding them for supporting economic incentive programs that “pick winners and losers.”

Orlando AFP member Lewis Salvati said he works in the service industry near Orlando International Airport and “understands the economic impacts” of the bill. But, he added, “our representatives are here to represent all of the Florida constituents, they are here to provide economic literacy.”

Bill sponsor Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said he wants to remove specialized subsidies for favored industries such as tourism and focus on cutting taxes for all businesses.

“At the most basic level, economic incentives are fundamentally unfair to the millions, the vast majority of Floridians who work hard, try to run a business and will never see one dollar of economic incentives,” Renner said. “We want Florida to be a permanent incentive. The problem with economic incentives is they’re selective.”

Tourism officials weren’t the only ones taking notice of the vote. Gov. Rick Scott, who has consistently named funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida among his top goals each year, tweeted his frustration.

“Politicians in [the Florida House] turned their back on jobs today by supporting job killing legislation,” Scott posted on Twitter.

Scott blasted House leaders, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, on Tuesday for “lecturing” him on the free market and business growth. Sensing Corcoran is lining up a run for governor in 2018, Scott accused him of putting his political future ahead of the state’s economy.

In addition to Scott’s opposition, Senate leaders are skeptical of the House approach and would prefer to tweak the programs to provide more oversight rather than scrap them altogether.

Corcoran has been leading the push to apply more scrutiny to Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, which received $18 million in funding from the state this year. He sued to unveil a secret $1 million contract between Visit Florida and rapper Pitbull to promote the state, prompting Visit Florida’s CEO Will Seccombe to resign in January under pressure from Scott.

“Right now, because of the issues and challenges that have taken place, the burden is on Visit Florida to justify their existence,” Renner said.

Corcoran thinks economic incentives are akin to “corporate welfare” that distorts the free market, but also points to disappointing results from Enterprise Florida’s programs. Some incentive programs, like one targeting high-wage jobs, get a positive return for taxpayers, but others, like those aimed at professional sports teams and that give cash to secure quick deals, don’t bring in as much revenue as they spend, he said.

Scott, though, is ramping up the pressure on lawmakers, including fellow Republicans. He’s released polls paid for by his political committee touting public support for his approach and claimed House members opposed to him “don’t care about jobs.”

Yet the rift within the GOP has some lawmakers looking for alternative solutions.

Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, whose district in Osceola County contains a lot of tourism industry workers, voted in favor of the bill. He said he did so to “continue the conversation” and increase accountability for Visit Florida. But he also suggested using local government tourism tax revenues to pay for Visit Florida, avoiding a budget showdown between Corcoran and Scott.

“Any time you take a vote that’s going to affect the top industry in your district, it’s a tough vote,” LaRosa said.

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The Residential Condominium Association and Workers Compensation.

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

We hear it all the time, “We don’t have any employees so we don’t need workers’ compensation insurance”.  Nothing could be further from the truth because residential condominium associations can and have been held responsible for medical expenses and lost wages when uninsured contractors are injured while working on an association property.

An association board of directors (BOD) has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the association from uninsured contractors.  The BOD should always make sure a contractor carries general liability and workers’ compensation insurance policies before allowing the contractor to do any work on the association property.   General liability should have no less than a $1,000,000 per occurrence limit and workers’ compensation should be at required statutory limits.  The BOD protects the association by securing an evidence/certificate of insurance from the contractor showing all the required coverages are in place prior to allowing the contractor to do any work at all.

Some things that can put your association at risk are as follow:

  • Many associations like to hire contractors that own a unit within the association. Because the contractor is a friend, many times the BOD assumes the contractor has all the required coverages so they never ask for a certificate of insurance.  These contractors can be very small with no employees so they don’t carry work comp and, in some cases, no insurance at all.  If the contractor or any of his sub-contractors were to get hurt on the job, the association could be considered to be in an employer/employee relationship making the association liable for workers’ compensation benefits.
  • Most contractors are honest and they carry insurance throughout the time they are contracted with an association. Workers’ compensation insurance is a major expense for these contractors.  The problem is with contractors that present your BOD with a certificate of insurance to secure a job then cancel or non-renew the coverage to save money.  This does happen and the insurance carrier has no obligation to notify your association when it does.  This can create a huge liability to the association if the contractor or a sub-contractor is injured on the job.  The fact is associations have no control of a contractors business decisions.
  • An association property manager hires an unlicensed, uninsured contractor and an employee of the contractor is injured while working on the association property. It is possible that a court would rule that the association manager and the condominium association are jointly liable for workers’ compensation benefits.

These are just some scenarios that can occur and cause a tremendous financial loss to your association.  The liability responsibility would most likely be determined by a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) or a court.  No one can say what the final decision a WCAB or court will be but both can be very liberal when determining what constitutes an employee/employer relationship.  With all of the disastrous financial exposure to associations, the question is “why would any association take a chance when the risk can easily and inexpensively be eliminated?”

Condominium associations can simply carry a “minimum premium” or “if any” workers’ compensation policy.  These policies normally cost less than $1,000 a year but the protection they provide is enormous.  “Minimum premium“/“if any” workers’ compensation policies are subject to annual audits and premiums can well exceed the minimum quoted premium if the association hires uninsured contractors during the policy period.  For this reason, it is imperative that the BOD secures an evidence/certificate of insurance prior to letting the contractor begin working.

We strongly recommend that all residential condominium associations carry Workers’ Compensation coverage even if they don’t have any employees.  It’s a small price to pay for the security and peace of mind it provides.

 

Bruce Q. White Jr is the CEO at Whitehaven Insurance Services.  Bruce and his commercial team have specialized in writing insurance for residential condominium associations on the Alabama and NW Florida gulf coasts since 1994.  The Whitehaven commercial team welcomes questions about the workers’ compensation issue or any other insurance issue that may be of concern to residential condominium associations.  They can be contacted at www.whitehaveninsurance.com or by calling (251) 967-3323.

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VISIT FLORIDA Makes Good Business, Common Sense

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

At a time of year when every Floridian should be especially thankful for the arrival of tourists across the state, some of our lawmakers in Tallahassee seem to have taken on the role of the Grinch who stole Christmas.

The escalating attacks against VISIT FLORIDA … a proven marketing effort that has driven millions of additional visitors to our great State … defy common sense. And if not common sense, then certainly good business sense.

Those who say that tourism numbers would be the same in the absence of the efforts of VISIT FLORIDA are misguided. My intention here is not to school them on some of the most basic, foundational elements of business and marketing, but simply to point out to them (and the citizens who hold them ultimately accountable) that investing in tourism is a sound and important practice.

A failure to optimize tourism is a failure to drive vital revenue into the state. Strip away the incremental tax revenue generated by VISIT FLORIDA (tax revenue FAR in excess of the cost of the marketing efforts), and you are faced with one of two things: increasing taxes on Floridians, or reducing government services. What would you have? I know what I think is best, and I suspect most Floridians would agree: pull out all the stops to drive tourism, so that the tax burden on Floridians can be reduced.

Yet despite the obvious, some of our lawmakers seem to have adopted a campaign to stop VISIT FLORIDA dead in its tracks.

Despite abundant evidence of the return on investment that taxpayers have received from VISIT FLORIDA, they would, for reasons that seem more emotional than rational, strip it of funding in whole or in part, and be willing to risk declines in tax revenue driven by tourism.

Think about it: OF COURSE, the marketing of our state as a premier tourist destination increases tourism. And so, to suggest that in the absence of marketing, there would not be a reduction in tourism, is simply foolishness. Try that approach in business. Stop the promotion and marketing of your business, and only one thing happens. Business goes down.

If our legislators need a lesson in basic business, I beg them to not learn at the expense of hardworking, taxpaying Floridians.

There are elements of the VISIT FLORIDA campaign that are worth discussing in an open forum. Some people are not happy, for a variety of reasons, with a handful of the marketing tactics that have been employed (though frankly, the opposition to these ideas seem to be on emotional grounds, as opposed to an intellectually honest discussion of the business merits of those tactics). Those discussions should be carried out. But to call for a reduction in funding for VISIT FLORIDA (or worse yet, its complete dismantling), is nothing short of irresponsible.

I would respectfully ask the members of the Legislature to step back and take a sound and reasoned approach when putting forward their concerns. Their current tact is taking Florida in the wrong direction.

Don Fox is chief executive officer of Firehouse of America, LLC, in which he leads the strategic growth of Firehouse Subs, one of America’s leading fast casual restaurant brands. Under his leadership, the brand has grown to more than 1,030 restaurants in 44 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, and is recognized as one of the best franchises in the country. Fox is a restaurant industry veteran with 42 years of experience and incoming 2017 Chairman of the Board for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association

Posted in Florida Association, Florida Banking, Florida Buying/Selling, Florida Calendar, Florida Insurance, Florida Interiors, Florida Legal, Florida Maintenance, Florida Renting, News | Leave a comment

7 Things Vacation Property Owners Should Do Right Now To Keep Guests Happy

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When travelers book a hotel room, whether for a business trip or a vacation, they have certain expectations. Crisp white linens, flat-screen TVs, modern bath fixtures, comfortable mattresses, for example.

Today’s travelers expect that same hotel quality of amenities and furnishings to extend to vacation rental properties. After all, when guests check in to a vacation rental property, they expect the accommodations to be as nice or even nicer than those in their own home.

Household appliances or other furnishings that are dated, worn or not in top working order could negatively impact a guest’s stay and keep them from rebooking the rental in the future.

Based on Meyer Vacation Rentals’ guest feedback, here are seven of the most commonly recurring recommendations for vacation rental improvements.

  1. Replace worn or professionally clean soiled living room furniture. The typical replacement or reupholstering schedule for sofas, love seats and chairs is between three and five years.

 

  1. Replace or paint rusted appliances. Refrigerators should be replaced every seven years, or sooner if rusted. In some cases, appliances can be painted, but, depending on the age of the appliance, it could make more financial sense to replace them.

 

  1. Replace tube TVs with their less bulky and more modern-looking flat-screen cousins. Also, for obvious reasons, remove any VHS players and VHS tapes from your property. SMART TVs are also a great addition.

 

  1. Touch up paint on walls, doors, baseboards and trim. A full-scaled paint job should be performed every two to three years, while a touch-up should be done twice a year.

 

  1. Professionally clean carpeting and tile. However, keep in mind that carpeting should be replaced every three to five years and should be soil and fade resistant.

 

  1. Upgrade rusty or broken patio furniture. Longevity is based on quality and type of furniture.

 

  1. Replace sagging or squeaky mattresses. Mattresses that are worn and uncomfortable are a big complaint with guests. Maybe it’s not something guests see right away, but spending their vacation on a worn out mattresses will prevent guests from rebooking a property. In general, mattresses should be replaced every three to five years.

 

To assist vacation property owners in scheduling and budgeting replacements, below is an industry standard replacement schedule. The schedule will vary based on the quality of furnishings and rental frequency:

 

Paint

2-3 years

Bi-annual touch-up

 

Vinyl Flooring

5-7 years, maximum

 

Carpeting

3-5 years, maximum

Padding should be 6 lb. density

Soil and fade resistant

Berber not recommended

Some warranties void for commercial use

 

Blinds

Replace as needed

Recommend better grade header rail mechanisms for durability

Do not recommend vertical blinds

 

Draperies

5-7 years

Lined backing recommended

Grommet drapes are more renter friendly than pin-style drapes (wands get lost and broken)

Clean as needed

 

Appliances

AC Unit: 8 years

Dishwasher: 7 years

Garbage disposal: 7 years

Microwave: 7 years

Electric Range: 9 years

Refrigerator: 9 years or based on rust

Washer: 7 years

Dryer: 7 years

Water Heater: 8 years

 

Small Appliances

Replace as needed

Blenders will need replacement more often than other small appliances. Meyer Vacation Rental’s 24/7 Service Protection Plan covers these small appliances replacement annually for their owners.

 

Cookware

2-4 years

Stainless steel required

Higher quality will extend life

 

Kitchen Inventory

Replace annually as needed

 

Dining Chairs

Replace upholstery as needed but clean regularly

 

Sofas/Love Seats

3-5 years

 

Chairs

3-5 years

Replace upholstery as needed

 

Sleeper Sofas

2-5 years

Commercial frame and mechanism recommended for durability

5-inch inner spring mattress recommended for comfort and longevity

 

Bedspreads

1-2 years

 

Patio Furniture

Longevity based on quality and type

 

Alison Foote is director of owner services for Meyer Vacation Rentals, based in Gulf Shores, Ala., and offering beach vacation condos and houses for rent in Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, Ala., and Perdido Key, Fla. More info: www.MeyerRE.com, 866-201-0110 or [email protected]

 

 

Posted in Alabama Renting, Florida Renting, News | 1 Comment

Tips for Winterizing Your Condo

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

Taking the below steps can to protect your condo from theft, water damage, and heating or electrical system malfunctions while you are away for the winter!

❄ When you are unplugging your refrigerator, leave the doors open and remove the water filter to prevent mildew.
Be sure your freezer is completely defrosted to prevent water leaking onto the floor. Remove all perishable food items and anything else that may spoil while you are away. Food items left over the winter may attract rodents and insects.

❄ Keep the air circulating.
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. This will prevent frozen water pipes. Air movement and good ventilation are also excellent at removing moisture, which will prevent mold and mildew.

 Consider turning off your water at the main valve.
Toilets, sinks, washing machines, icemakers and dishwashers are served with a water supply line which is responsible for the most water leaks. Drain toilets of water and keep faucets open to prevent pressure buildup.

❄ Keep your thermostat set at 55-60 degrees and keep the air flowing all winter. 
You may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst. Reduce your risk for fire hazard by having a maintence professional check the furnace portion of your HVAC to make sure it is functioning properly.

❄ Unplug all appliances to prevent fire hazards.
Although this may be a little inconvenient, you could be saving your entire electrical system in the event that severe weather occurs while you’re away for the winter. Switch off water heater at the circuit breaker.

❄ Perform routine cleaning before you leave.
Cleaning your condo thoroughly before leaving for the winter helps to discourage rodents and insects among many other advantages.

 Use a timer for a lamp in the kitchen or living room.
This gives the illusion that someone is occupying your condo and could deter theft. You can also ask a nearby neighbor or friend to keep an eye on your property.

❄ Close fireplace damper to prevent animals and rain from entering.

You can never be too prepared when it comes to preventing the unexpected damages winter chill may bring. 

For more information, visit www.allstarcondoinsurance.com or contact Camille Buster at [email protected]

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BP Oil Spill Claims Update

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

On April 20th, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 people and causing unprecedented catastrophic damage to the entire gulf region.  This oil spill, the largest in petroleum industry history, ejected 210 million gallons of oil into the gulf.  The economic damages were also without historical equal.  From Texas to the Florida Panhandle, no areas were spared from its impact.  The spill had devastating impacts to many industries including fishing, oil exploration and oyster harvesting to name a few.  The 3-year impact to tourism alone is estimated at $23 billion

Most vacation condominium owners on or near the Gulf experienced drops in revenue of 10-50%, and some even more depending on the proximity to the spill.  And while many have filed claims in the four years since the explosion, many have not. The filing deadline is not yet known, as court action must first take place to determine the actual date.  However, once the settlement agreement is approved, claimants will have only 6 months to file a claim.

As it often takes time to locate all the documents necessary to file a claim, as well as complete the claim documents, themselves, it would behoove any condo owner who has not yet filed a claim to consider doing so sooner rather than later.

Who is still eligible to file a claim?

With respect to real estate owners on or near the gulf, anyone owning a residence, vacation home, investment property or business (eg, hotel, motel, shopping mall, etc.) should consult an expert to evaluate their individual situation.

Since virtually anyone located in the gulf region (whether located directly on the beach or not) was impacted by the oil spill, experience has shown that greater than 95% of property owners have a valid claim.  Even condo owners who don’t rent out their property and use it as a vacation home (or primary residence) likely still have a claim.

Further, anyone who sold a property in the gulf region in 2010 after the oil spill occurred, likely also has a claim.

Since the process moved away from the original Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) to the current Deepwater Horizon Claims Center (DWH), the standard for showing a loss has become more advantageous on the side of the claimant.  Many people who filed claims in 2010 or 2011 and were denied, have filed subsequent claims and received compensation. But how the claim is filed is critical, so it’s important to work with an expert who is experienced with the filing process and understands the documentation required to calculate each claimant’s loss.

In closing, don’t let the complicated process or the time that has lapsed since the oil spill discourage you from filing.  The Trust Fund established to compensation claimants still has billions of dollars remaining and claims are being settled everyday.

Ryan Lykens, CPA, CTP is a real estate investor and Director of Finance for a Fortune 100 company who founded OilSpill Recoveries, LLC in 2010 to assist individuals and companies with the filing of claims related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He is originally from Panama City Beach, Fla. and currently owns two condominiums in the area—both of which, he feels, received fair settlements following his claim.  Lykens may be reached at (502) 523-7873 or [email protected]

 

Posted in Alabama Association, Alabama Banking, Alabama Buying/Selling, Alabama Calendar, Alabama Insurance, Alabama Interiors, Alabama Legal, Alabama Maintenance, Alabama Renting, Florida Association, Florida Banking, Florida Buying/Selling, Florida Calendar, Florida Insurance, Florida Interiors, Florida Legal, Florida Maintenance, Florida Renting | Leave a comment

Use Your IRA To Purchase Real Estate

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Like many Americans, you may have an IRA or 401(k) rollover account to make your retirement years more comfortable.  Many consumers have grown tired of the daily financial roller coaster ride and the general risk of the current market.  Wild market swings have increased and tend to happen because of a combination of controversial legislative agendas and the fact that major financial institutions now use high speed computers to create the majority of transactions. The buying and selling strategy is generally based on price spreads, not long-term market value.  This puts brokers and everyday IRA holders at a timing and knowledge disadvantage.  This, in turn, leaves IRA holders feeling like their efforts are “too little too late” as they now find that their accounts are finally back to where they were 10 years ago.

Many IRA holders are asking, “Why can’t I take advantage of today’s real estate market and use my IRA to purchase real estate?

The answer is – you can!

In 1974, Congress passed a set of federal laws and regulations called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).  This act allowed IRA holders to invest their IRA accounts in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other approved investments.  Importantly, these approved investments included real estate.

If you want to invest some or all of your IRA in real estate, you must first be aware that Real Estate IRAs are an IRS approved investment alternative.  Then, you must understand how Real Estate IRAs can provide you return and risk management possibilities.

Once your decision is made, you will rollover some or all of your IRA account to a real estate friendly custodian.  Since most IRA custodians are equity investment firms, they promote, sell and make commissions on these types of products.  The new real estate friendly custodian will provide educational materials, the necessary paperwork, and guidance through the administrative process.

Today, there are more Real Estate IRA custodians, but deciding which custodian is right for you will require some research.

When you consider using your IRA to purchase real estate there are three major steps.

First, determine the property you want to purchase.   There is an old saying about the 3 most important things when buying property.  They are “location, location, location”.  You should also consider how the property will be used, how long the holding period is, and how this will affect your short and long-term objectives. These are critical to the enjoyment of your purchase and the financial results that will occur when you sell your property.

Second, decide how to structure the Real Estate IRA transaction.  When someone structures their IRA to purchase real estate there are two different ways in which the IRA can be used. In Method #1, the real estate is titled so that the IRA owns the property.  Because the IRA holds title, certain guidelines and rules apply as to how the property can be purchased and how the property can be used and not used.  This approach is used when the IRA holder wants to invest for investment purposes only.

With Method #2, the property is titled individually and is owned outright. When the individual holds title, different guidelines and rules apply as to how the property is purchased and how the property can be used during the purchasing period.  This approach is used when the IRA holder wants to invest for personal use.  The pros and cons of each method should be carefully studied and understood before you make any changes to your IRA.

Third, decide which custodian is best for you.  Your custodian/advisor must be able to help you decide which purchasing approach is best for you and help structure your transaction so that you will use the proper documents and correctly purchase the property.  In addition, your advisor/custodian should provide ongoing service and compliance reviews to keep you informed of any tax law changes.

Real Estate IRAs are similar to 1031 Tax Deferred Exchanges; both have been around since the 1970’s and real estate investors must carefully learn about these financial transactions before either can be used.   Knowing that Real Estate IRAs are an option can help real estate investors / IRA holders take advantage of today’s buyer’s market, provide risk management opportunities and create something they did not previously know was possible.

Editors Note: This article is for informational use only.  Readers are advised to discuss this information with their legal and/or tax advisor in order to gain more knowledge on this topic.

Alan N. Potts is a Chartered Financial Consultant.  He can be reached at 1.800.525.1893 or [email protected].  For his free Question and Answer Guide, please go to his website: www.pottsfinancial.com.

Posted in Alabama Buying/Selling, Florida Buying/Selling | Leave a comment

What RESTORE means to the Gulf Coast…

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

RESTORE has officially passed independently through both the House (373-52) and the Senate (74-19).  Once BP and the other parties responsible for releasing more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico settle the lawsuits, we will see between $5 and $21 billion dollars returned to the Gulf for real and significant restoration.  We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Senators Shelby and Sessions, Senators Landrieu (LA) and Nelson (FL).  Though not on the Conference Committee, Congressman Jo Bonner carried the weight for Alabama on the House side.

This is an exciting day for the Gulf Coast. RESTORE (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast) Act will bring 80% of the Clean Water Act penalties back to the Gulf Coast for Restoration. Without this legislation from Congress, the penalties would have gone into the Federal Treasury. We are excited to have those fines back to the Gulf Coast, where they are so critically needed for restoration.  Projects like 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama, major restoration of the D’Olive Bay watershed, Three Mile Creek and Fowl River, road restoration projects like the Mobile Bay Causeway, stormwater restoration projects in both Mobile and Baldwin Counties, beach renourishment and fisheries enhancements are all real possibilities now.

The bill did not give us everything we asked, but RESTORE will fairly divide the fines BP will pay across the impacted states.  Additionally, it keeps the funding focused on environmental restoration, and that has been an incredibly important part of this battle for Mobile Baykeeper and our coalition partners.  The Transportation bill could have included some very bad provisions such as limiting our protection against toxic coal ash that were dropped.  It also lost some very crucial protections, such as comprehensive environmental studies on major road projects and significant funding from other sources for environmental protection – Land and Water Conservation Fund.  What we know is that every member of Congress had favorite pieces they wanted in or out, but the compromise we now see will enable shovels in the ground for meaningful restoration.

Thank you to each of you for making phone calls, writing letters, calling friends in other states to make them write and call.  We are only ever as strong as our members are engaged, so please get and stay involved!

Tomorrow, we will focus on which projects are funded and ensuring a process that will enable public participation, but for now, we MUST CELEBRATE!!

Posted in Alabama Legal, Florida Legal, News | Leave a comment

10 Catastrophe Claim Tips for Hurricane Season

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

If your property is damaged by a hurricane, tornado, hailstorm or similar disaster, here is what you should do to assure quick handling of your insurance claim:

1. Assess the damage to the best of your ability and be prepared to give an accurate description of the amount and type of damage. Make sure you state whether the premises were rendered inhabitable as a result of the damages. This will allow your company to send out an adjuster with the appropriate level of experience, based on the level of damage.

2. Notify your insurance agent as soon as possible. The insurance contract requires notification as soon as possible after a loss. Be sure to leave a telephone number where you can be contacted and a complete address of the location so the company can get an adjuster to the scene quickly. Be sure to stay in touch with your adjuster and respond to calls promptly. Catastrophes can generate hundreds of claims, so communication and cooperation is vital for a quick resolution to your claim.

3. If debris (such as a fallen tree or downed power line) prevents access to the covered property, or if such debris could increase your damage, tell your agent when you report the loss.

4. Make whatever temporary repairs are necessary to prevent further damage, theft, or vandalism.
Repairs of this kind could include boarding up broken windows and covering holes in the roof with temporary materials. Making temporary repairs is required by the insurance company, and is good advice regardless (your insurance will usually cover the reasonable cost of temporary repairs). DO NOT make permanent repairs to your damaged property unless the adjuster has reviewed your claim and given you permission to restore your property.

5. Photograph damaged areas prior to making temporary repairs if possible. Doing so will
strengthen your claim and help with the presentation of your loss.

6. If you can, get one or two detailed estimates for permanent repairs from a reliable contractor, and give these estimates to the adjuster. Beware of “fly-by-night” operators who often follow a storm into town. Check with the Better Business Bureau before doing business with any vendor you don’t know. Keep in mind that public adjusters are illegal in some states.

7. Refrain from signing any contract for restoration or repairs prior to discussing it with your company adjuster. Your adjuster can play a key role in helping you avoid price gouging after a catastrophe, but he/she won’t be able to negotiate a reasonable price for services if you’ve already signed a contract.

8. Prepare an inventory of all damaged or destroyed property for the adjuster. Be sure to keep a copy for your records, and be sure NOT to discard ANY items before the adjuster is given a reasonable amount of time to inspect them.

9. Collect canceled checks, invoices, receipts or other documents that will help the adjuster place a proper value on damaged or destroyed property. Keep ALL receipts and invoices for EVERY expense you incur after the loss, including items such as tarps, boards, cleaning supplies, etc.

10. It is always a good idea to read through your policy and review coverage and exclusions prior to a claim so you will know what to expect. Have a list of your property prior to a loss: You could have a lot of seemingly insignificant items and supplies, but those items add up quickly!

Warning:
Unlicensed or unscrupulous persons may pose as adjusters or, being an adjuster, may pose a threat to consumers. Public adjusters, in particular, may pose a problem since they don’t work for any company or company-adjusting firm. Unlicensed public adjusters have not demonstrated their competency to adjust claims nor have they posted the required surety bond. You are encouraged to report any such activity to local authorities. Please caution any clients that, if they contract with a public adjuster, they are authorizing the claim check to be made payable to both themselves or a mortgagee and the adjuster. (In Florida, residents can report unlicensed public adjusters by calling 1- 800-22-STORM. Under Florida law, it is a felony to act or hold oneself out as a public adjuster without being licensed and appointed. §626.8738, F.S.)

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3 Ways To Own Real Estate In Your IRA

Posted on by Condo Owner Magazine

Are you tired of treading water in the stock market? Looking to “opt out” of market volatility as much as possible? Many smart investors are looking for insulation by upping their allocation to asset classes that have little or no correlation to the equity market.

One old standby that continues to capture attention is real estate.  Besides a low/no correlation to stocks, real estate is a classic inflation hedge and a great income play. But buyer beware: Each of the three approaches to owning real estate in your IRA comes with “strings attached.”

Self-directed ownership. In case you haven’t seen the commercials or read the ads in airline magazines, it’s possible to own real estate inside of your self-directed IRA.

  • PRO=Direct, pure investment into real estate that you can see and touch for yourself.
  • CON=It’s difficult to diversify geographically and by sector (mix of apartments, retail, medical buildings, etc.) and it’s illiquid until you can find a buyer.
  • STRING ATTACHED=There are enough IRS regulations (on what you CAN’T do with your IRA owned real estate) that it will make your head spin. For example, you cannot physically maintain the property or use it personally. If you do, the tax deferral of your IRA is blown and you’ll owe a HUGE tax bill.

Public ownership. Owning REIT stocks or REIT funds can provide broad diversification among many geographic regions and sectors.

  • PRO=Public REITs can be purchased easily on the open market and are liquid.
  • CON= Public REITs are not considered a pure real estate play since you only own equity in a company, not tangible real estate, thus the inflation protection prowess is relatively tame.
  • STRING ATTACHED=The liquidity feature of public REITs is also its Achilles heel since they are traded on the equity markets, causing them to retain a much higher level of correlation to market swings.

Private ownership. Opportunistic private REITs can provide the benefits of direct ownership and diversification.

  • PRO=Opportunistic private REITs are a pure play on real estate that offer virtually no market correlation, tangible ownership, strong dividend income, and inflation protection. It’s even possible to obtain granularity by selecting a REIT that is geographically specific (like NYC or Texas) or sector specific (healthcare facilities or grocery-anchored).
  • CON=Lack of transparency. It’s difficult for investors to decipher what’s a good private REIT and what isn’t. Always look for high occupancy rates (85 percent at a minimum), low leverage (ideally 50 percent or below), dividend stability, and a stated exit strategy (look for a 3-6 year hold). The Blue Vault Report is a great, unbiased resource for evaluation.
  • STRING ATTACHED=Since private REITs are in the acquisition stage (buying) of real estate and they not traded on the open market, they are generally illiquid. Never allocate more than 35 percent of your total capital to this type of REIT. The ideal allocation would be 15-25 percent.

By adding just the right dash of real estate in your IRA, you may be well on your way to better protecting your hard-earned savings from the next 2008 and future inflation.

Robert Russell is CEO & CIO of the Ohio-based Russell & Company, a private wealth management firm specializing in helping affluent individuals ages 45 and up create and preserve their wealth. He co-hosts a radio show, authors The Rob Report blog, and is a frequent contributor to FOX Business and CNBC.

Securities offered through Kalos Capital, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC. Investment Advisory Services offered through Kalos Management, Inc., 3780 Mansell Rd. Suite 150, Alpharetta, GA 30022, (678) 356-1100.  Russell & Company is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Kalos Capital, Inc. or Kalos Management, Inc.

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