There’s good news and bad when it comes to Chinese interest in U.S. real estate investing.
By Michael Turnbell
August 28, 2015, 3:09 PM
Like pieces of a giant linear puzzle, new tracks are slowly falling into place for a new passenger train service to Orlando.
All Aboard Florida will soon hit a milestone, whenfreight trains begin using a new bypass track in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The shift will allow freight trains to keep rolling while work proceeds on the station. Similar work is planned around the new station in West Palm Beach in September.
The track shift in Fort Lauderdale was supposed to take place Monday but was postponed due to Tropical Storm Erika. A new date hasn’t been announced.
Construction on both stations, meanwhile, has been under way for months, with the foundations taking shape and piles being driven into the ground along the tracks. Supports for platforms and the modernistic passenger lounges are also rising.
In downtown Miami, more than 1,600 piles have been driven more than 100 feet for the base of a massive elevated station on an 11-acre site near the old Miami Arena.
But construction really won’t take off in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach until freight trains are shifted out of the path of the stations. V-shaped trusses and columns that will be a signature feature at both stations will be cast on site, then erected this fall.
In Fort Lauderdale, the existing two tracks will be rebuilt “bowed” out to make room for a 35-foot-wide, 800-foot long platform where passengers will board trains.
All Aboard Florida is a private passenger rail service that will run from Miami to Orlando via the tracks that parallel to U.S. 1 and Dixie Highway. Service is set to begin in early 2017 from Miami to West Palm Beach and the rest of the line by the end of 2017.
Other signs of progress:
To date, 18 railroad crossings have been completed. In most cases, the work required construction of a second track through the crossing and reconstruction of the existing track and the approaches to the crossing. About 170 remain to be rebuilt.
A “practice” freight train will test the new bypass track in downtown Fort Lauderdale before regular freight trains begin using it daily. The test had been scheduled for Sunday, but has been postponed due to Tropical Storm Erika.
Work on the Northeast 26thStreet crossing in Wilton Manors, which was set to begin Sunday, and on the Johnson Street crossing in Hollywood, which was set to begin Tuesday, has been postponed due to Erika. As of Friday, no new crossing closures in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties have been announced.
“We’re trying to piggyback where we can so we only have to close the crossings once for an extended period of time,” said Adrian Share, All Aboard Florida’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure.
Workers will come back at a later date to finish improvements at each crossing so trains do not have to sound their horns except in case of emergencies. In most cases, that work will involve the installation of new lights and gates.
But Share said that work will only take hours, not days, and won’t require lengthy closures of the crossings. The work also will be completed before All Aboard Florida begins service.
For maps showing the traffic detours, visit AllAboardFlorida.com, click on the “Construction” icon and then “Grade Crossing.”
Because construction work will be ramping up in coming months, motorists can receive alerts about future road work by going to “Email Sign Up,” also on the “Grade Crossing” page.
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South Florida’s housing market ranks as the most stable in the Sunshine State, according to a report Wednesday from mortgage company Freddie Mac.
The metro area of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties scored 82.4 in June on Freddie’s Multi-Indicator Market Index, up 14 percent from a year ago.
The index measures local and state housing markets by tracking home loan applications, affordability, mortgage loan delinquencies and employment. A score of at least 80 is considered favorable or stable. A perfect score is 100.
South Florida’s market hit 80 in May for the first time since August 2008. The three-county region is the only one of eight metros in Florida above 80, though Cape Coral is at 79.9.
“Those markets hardest hit by the Great Recession, including many in Florida, are rebounding, but they still need to improve to get delinquencies back in line with their benchmark historic averages,” Len Kiefer, Freddie’s deputy chief economist, said in a statement. “The key driver of all this recovery has been solid job growth.”
Fresno, Calif., was the nation’s highest-rated market in June with a score of 96.8, according to Freddie Mac. Austin, Texas, was second at 94.9.
Meanwhile, a separate report from RealtyTrac Inc. underscores the improving local housing market.
The Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure listing firm said cash accounted for 48 percent of all home and condo sales in July in the tri-county region, down from 53 percent a year ago. At the same time, sales involving Federal Housing Administration mortgages — those used by first-time buyers and young families — are on the rise, RealtyTrac said.
“Even though cash buyers are pulling back on purchases, sales numbers are holding strong, and that’s a very good sign that the traditional buyer is coming back to the market,” said Daren Blomquist, a vice president of RealtyTrac.
Jay Parker, CEO of the Douglas Elliman Florida brokerage, said the tri-county area has transformed from a boom-or-bust market to a stable destination.
“More and more people are looking at South Florida as a home as opposed to an investment,” he said.
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This was supposed to be the year that homebuyers regained leverage in the housing market. So far it isn’t playing out that way.
Sales and prices rose across Broward and Palm Beach counties in July, local Realtor boards said Thursday. A dearth of homes for sale continues to favor sellers, as properties go under contract in days or weeks, often at or above asking price.
Broward’s median price for existing single-family homes last month was $312,000, up 10 percent from a year ago, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors said Thursday. The July figure was the highest since 2008.
Closed sales were strong but fell short of the blistering sales pace from June, the busiest month since at least 1993. There were 1,683 transactions in July, an 11 percent increase from a year earlier.
In Palm Beach County, the median price rose 3 percent to $289,250, according the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches. Sales jumped 20 percent, to 1,810 from 1,515 a year earlier. As in Broward, Palm Beach County sales fell compared with June.
“The underlying fundamentals are good, and that’s helping the market,” said Selma Hepp, chief economist for Trulia.com, a real estate website. “What’s not helping the market is the lack of inventory.”
Broward had 6,233 single-family listings at the end of July, down slightly from a year ago. In Palm Beach County, there were 6,761 listings, off 7 percent.
Both counties had less than a five-month supply of homes for sale, meaning it would take that long to sell all of the homes if no more were listed. A six-month supply is considered ideal.
More homeowners were expected to test the market in 2015, giving buyers a better selection and ultimately a boost in negotiations. For the most part, though, buyers remain frustrated.
Some owners are holding off putting their homes on the market because they’re afraid they won’t be able to buy another place fast enough, Hepp said. The tight market is pushing prices higher, prompting concerns about affordability.
But John Tuccillo, chief economist for Florida Realtors, said in a statement that “we’re not in any great danger of a runaway market because mortgages are still difficult to get for most households.”
Agents say homes not priced appropriately will sit on the market. In some neighborhoods, though, buyers think they have little choice but to pay the higher asking prices — only to discover that the homes don’t appraise for as much.
“It’s a seller’s market,” said Wendy Newman-Scheppke, an agent in Broward and Palm Beach counties. “Sellers are asking for what they need versus what the value is.”
Carrie Hazen, an agent who also sells in both counties, said some buyers haven’t yet accepted the fact that housing is hot and sellers are in control. They don’t want to pay what the market bears or they’re holding out for a better deal.
“You’re not going to get a 2,500-square-foot house for $250,000 in the perfect neighborhood,” Hazen said. “People have to tweak their wish lists.”
The existing condominium market also is thriving, with sales up in Broward and Palm Beach from July 2014.
During the housing bust, median condo prices plunged below $100,000, but those bargains are long gone. The median price in Broward rose 7 percent in July to $137,000, while Palm Beach County saw a 13 percent increase to $145,000.
The median price means half of the properties sold for more and half for less. A higher median doesn’t necessarily reflect rising values across the county.
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