Holiday wishes for you….

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The holidays make us thankful, and we have so much to be grateful for even in this incredibly difficult year!

We are enormously thankful for the smart, selfless and dedicated workers who put their own lives and health at risk again and again to fight this pandemic that plagues us, the doctors and nurses who have manned the hospitals and other facilities that have cared for the sick.

We are thankful for others who have been at risk during this scary year, first responders, food industry employees, retail employees and others who met the public and kept us as safe as possible and kept our economy running to the extent possible.

We are thankful for the scientists who have worked tirelessly to give us guidelines for protecting ourselves and others. We are unquestionably thankful for the brilliant scientists, doctors and their support systems who worked at record speed to develop vaccines that give us much needed light at the end of the tunnel.

We are thankful for teachers who have worked courageously and at their own peril to educate our children.

And I am personally thankful for you! I am thankful for the hard, dedicated and creative work performed this year by the talented group of individuals who handle real estate closings in South Carolina and elsewhere. You have handled record levels of work this year in masks, in your parking lots, behind Plexiglas, from your home computers. You have established methods to deliver documents and funds without contact. You have sanitized between closings. You have given away pens to avoid sharing germs. You have allowed staff to work remotely. You have implemented new technology. In short, you have done great, creative work this year, and you deserve these holiday wishes.

HOPE: I wish for each of you the hope that 2021 will be a much better year; that the pandemic will be controlled; and that we will be able to celebrate with family and friends everything we were unable to celebrate in 2020. I wish for the hope of good health for you and your loved ones.

PEACE: Sometimes the most difficult times seem to give us peace. When we are able to admit that we don’t have control of our daily situations, we can somehow relax and find peace. This pandemic has definitely taken away a certain amount of control! For those of us who believe in a higher power, we can give our higher power control and find peace that passes understanding. I wish that kind of peace for you.

JOY: Although 2020 has provided us with plenty of reasons to be less than joyful, I wish for you and your family the kind of joy little children find during the holidays.

LOVE: I wish for you and your family members the kind of love that only the holidays can bring.

I’m typing this in front of the Christmas tree on the cold and rainy Sunday before Christmas. My dog is at my feet and my husband is nearby watching the Falcons vs. the Bucs. We are sad that we won’t have our usual loud, crazy and fun holiday celebrations, but we are thankful! And I am thankful for you!

Will Bay Point Island in Beaufort County be developed?

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Bay Point Island – Image courtesy of The Post and Courier

An interesting development vs. environment saga has been transpiring in Beaufort County for the last few years. In 2016, the town council of Hilton Head voted to accept an application for the annexation of Bay Point Island, a vulnerable barrier island at the mouth of Port Royal sound. But two storms and the knowledge of the historical and ecological significance of the island caused the council to back away, and the island has remained largely untouched.

The island currently has no infrastructure and is only accessible by boat or air.

The island is a refuge for thousands of shorebirds and seabirds and the home of other wildlife, including threatened sea turtles. It also protects fragile marshland and water rich in fish and other marine life. Beaufort County has designated Bay Point a “T1 Natural Preserve”, the county’s most restrictive rural zoning designation.

The county development code states this designation is “intended to preserve areas that contain sensitive habitats, open space and limited agricultural uses. This Zone typically does not contain buildings; however, single-family dwellings, small civic buildings or interpretive centers may be located within this zone.”

A Bangkok, Thailand resort developer seeks to build and operate on Bay Point Island fifty beach bungalows, four spa and wellness centers, several restaurants and areas for listening to music and watching movies.

The developers submitted a special use application for “ecotourism”, but Beaufort County’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied this application on September 24. That denial is being appealed. 

An interesting new development is the entry of The Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association into the dispute. The South Carolina Environmental Law Project issued a press release on November 27 announcing the Association has filed a motion to intervene in the appeal.

According to the press release, the Association seeks to intervene because the livelihoods of its members will be impacted by the development. For generations, the Association’s members have relied on the marshes, beaches and waters surrounding Bay Point to harvest fish and shellfish which support their businesses and their families.

Opponents of the development include Governor Henry McMaster. Environmentalists argue that the damage from the resort would extend beyond the island to the nearby marshes which would be threatened with increased chemical, storm water and septic runoff.  

Ecotourism permits in Beaufort County have been granted for oyster farms, flower farms and kayak operators. This resort development would be a huge leap from those environmentally friendly uses, according to the development’s opponents.

Huge Nexton project takes top Home Builders award

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Picture courtesy of Charleston Post and Courier

The Charleston Post and Courier is reporting that the 5,000-acre residential spread between Interstate 26 and U.S. Highway 176 in Berkeley County near Summerville received the Pinnacle Award from the Home Builder Association of South Carolina.

The size of this project, which supports the Boeing plant and related businesses, is staggering. The Post and Courier reports that it will one day have as many residents as Georgetown and Moncks Corner combined. It will also house as many residents as the current populations of Clemson, West Columbia or North Myrtle Beach (between 16,000 and 20,000).  Currently, according to the newspaper, the number of residences is 1,200. At full build-out, the project will encompass 7,000 homes.

The award is for the best master-planned community in the state. It recognizes homebuilders who have achieved the highest standards in customer satisfaction, quality craftsmanship and innovative problem solving.

Just take the trip from Columbia to Charleston to see this huge project. The future of the housing industry in our state is bright!

Heirs’ property symposium set for Wednesday

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South Carolina dirt lawyers: please take a look at this article from Charleston’s Post and Courier dated November 14. The article provides a free registration link for a symposium, entitled “All Land is not Created Equal; Unleashing Family and Community Wealth through Land Ownership.”

The symposium will take place this Wednesday 1-7 p.m. and is offered by the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.

The article indicates the Center has helped families clear more than 200 titles and provides services in Allendale, Bamberg, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Marion, Orangeburg, Sumter and Williamsburg Counties.

If you or your clients have an interest in heirs’ property, this may be an excellent seminar for you.

Are you up for some haunted entertainment?

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…or do you think 2020 has been frightening enough?

“It’s got great curb appeal!”

This article entitled “Would You Buy a Haunted House?” by Amanda Farrell at PropLogix caught my eye this morning. A real estate lawyer might face a challenge or two closing a haunted house!

And it’s Halloween week! Let’s entertain ourselves.

If you and your kids are up for some in-person creepy places, try Sweet Dreams Scare House in Easley, Madworld Haunted Attraction in Piedmont, Dark Castle Haunted Attraction in Elgin, Nightmare Haunted House in Myrtle Beach or Ripley’s Haunted Adventure in Myrtle Beach.

If your family prefers to check-out real haunted sites in South Carolina, check out this article.  Even the names of “Greenville Tuberculosis Hospital” and “South Carolina Lunatic Asylum” are menacing!

I grew up in the Low Country (otherwise known as “God’s Country), and the story of Alice Flagg, a ghost in Murrells Inlet, is considered fact.

The story, according to this article, is that in 1849, a wealthy doctor named Allard Flagg moved into The Hermitage and invited his beautiful sister, Alice, to live with him. (They’re always beautiful.) Alice, of course, falls hopelessly in love with an unsuitable man, who is sent away by her brother.

Alice continued to see her suitor secretly. When her brother discovered the assignations continued, he sent sweet Alice off to a boarding school in Charleston. She contracted malaria, and just before she died, her brother brought her home. After her death, he found an engagement ring on a ribbon around her neck and furiously threw it into the marsh. Beautiful Alice has spent the last 150+ years clutching her chest while walking around All Saints Cemetery. 

I bet that story would scare your kids, especially if you tell it after dark in the cemetery!

If you’re like me, though, 2020 has been scary enough. “Casper, The Friendly Ghost” is pretty much the most my family can handle this year. I wish you and your family more treats than tricks this weekend. Stay safe and Happy Halloween!

Boeing to move all Dreamliner production to North Charleston

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This is the time of the year when many of us are feverously working on budgets. My own crystal ball is particularly murky this year as COVID-19 has created more uncertainty than usual about the future of the real estate market in South Carolina.

Our state received excellent economic news on October 1, however, when Boeing issued a press release announcing the company will consolidate the production of its widebody jet in North Charleston.  Our gain is Washington State’s loss.  This move seeks to improve efficiencies during the market downturn caused by the pandemic to position the company for recovery and long-term growth.

The change won’t happen immediately. The press release indicated Boeing will continue to manufacture its 787-8 and 787-9 jets in Everette, Washington until it reaches its previously announced rate cut to six jets per month, which will probably occur sometime in mid-2021.

The release said that a company study confirmed the feasibility and efficiency gains created by consolidation will enable the company to accelerate improvements and target investments to better support customers. The North Charleston plant has lower production costs because labor is less expensive in South Carolina, and it’s a non-union plant.

Anyone who has driven from Columbia to Charleston has witnessed the extensive growth in the North Charleston area of not only Boeing, but the industries and housing developments that support Boeing. This is excellent news for us at a time when we need it!

Lawyers: Help Get the Vote Out

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South Carolina licensed lawyers have been nudged by our Supreme Court to provide assistance with our greatest responsibility as citizens: voting!  See the attached Order of the Court granting CLE credit to lawyers who work the polls on November 3. 

There are, of course, guidelines. You must work the entire day, for example, and you can’t get paid. Pay attention to the details if you seek the credit.

What a great way for lawyers to demonstrate we are leaders in our communities! And in this problematic political environment, the more clear-headed, logical, calm lawyers who can be present, the better!

In other election news, the United States Supreme Court held on Monday that South Carolina mail-in ballots must be witnessed. Help get that word out to your family, friends and clients.

Thank you to all lawyers who stand and lead!

How does the rest of 2020 look in South Carolina housing?

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We have had an incredible year in real estate in South Carolina!

Mortgage rates are at historic lows resulting in a refinance boom. Home sales have also been strong. We have seen a steady stream of migrations to our beautiful state from less desirable locations. We have seen folks tire of being stuck inside their homes by COVID looking for larger and more modern residences. And the low interest rates have assisted in those moves, too.

And commercial real estate has remained strong for us. We’ve seen the due diligence periods of some commercial projects slowed by COVID uncertainty, but these transactions appear to be closing, even if later than expected.

Real estate closing attorneys and their staff members have worked at a frenzied pace this year! They have tried to keep up with the whirlwind of activity while sanitizing between closings, performing closings on porches, in tents and in parking lots. They’ve worn masks and given away the used pens. It has taken a great deal of innovation to run a closing law firm in this environment, and they have succeeded!

It’s almost October, and we haven’t yet seen a slowdown. I point you to this article, however, written by Warren L. Wise for Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper. The article points to a slip in the numbers of real estate sales in August as compared to August of 2019. Sales seem to have been slowed by inventory. We are still experiencing a desire for new and improved housing, but the houses aren’t available. It’s a true seller’s market.

I doubt these numbers will result in a huge slow-down between now and the end of the year. Perhaps we will see something akin to the seasonal slowdowns we have historically seen toward year-end. And if things go well, spring will give us the typical increase we are accustomed to in housing sales. Hang on for the ride!

What’s up with this crazy housing market during a pandemic?

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I’ve been scratching my head since late February or early March about why the housing market has been doing so well during this crazy coronavirus year. For the first time since I’ve been running our South Carolina operation, I was asked to re-do (reduce) my 2020 budget earlier this year. As it turns out, the original budget my crystal ball predicted last October is closer to reality than the reduced budget from April. In fact, we’re having a record year.

How can we be having a record year in the real estate industry when jobs are being lost and small businesses are closing? Our real estate closing offices are running at full pace, vacations are few and far between, lawyers are trying to hire closing staff members to alleviate the pressure and are finding that task next to impossible. Most lawyers and paralegals are attempting to hang on for the ride, knowing a slow-down will likely occur at some point.

One major factor attributing to the frenzy in the market, of course, would be the record low mortgage rates we’ve experienced this year. Another factor may be the legislative efforts to prop up paychecks and the economy until we have a solution for COVID. Additionally, I keep hearing tales from South Carolina law firms that clients are sick of the houses from which they’ve been working at home and either want to renovate or relocate. I get that! Finally, we hear our friends from the north want to relocate to our sunshiny, beautiful state. I get that, too!

Now, autumn is near, a time where the speed of our business typically slows. But we’re not yet seeing a slowdown. I don’t want to jinx us. That slowdown may yet hit us in 2020. But I read an interesting article from Forbes dated September 11, entitled “The Fall Real Estate Market is Abnormally Hot as Mortgage Rates Break Records.” That article is linked here for your reading pleasure.

This article quotes a Zillow economist who said demand in housing continues to be fueled by low mortgage rates. Who would have predicted the thirty-year mortgage rate would be under 3% and the fifteen-year rate would be under 2.5%? Additionally, home prices continue to increase as inventory shrinks. It’s clearly a seller’s market!

Read this article, real estate friends, to see whether you think it holds true for our fair state. If so, let’s all buckle up for the ride!

CDC announces COVID eviction moratorium through the end of 2020

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On Tuesday, September 1, the CDC announced a temporary eviction moratorium through December 31, 2020. The order applies to all rental units nationwide and goes into effect immediately. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the order applies to around 40 million renters.

The CDC announced the action was needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus and to avoid having renters wind up in shelters or other crowded living conditions. This order goes further than the eviction ban under the CARES Act which covered around 12.3 million renters in apartment complexes of single-family homes financed with federally backed mortgages.

The Order, entitled, “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19, does not suspend mortgage foreclosures. To take advantage of the suspension, the tenant must sign a declaration form alleging:

  1. The individual has used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing;
  2. The individual either (i) expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), (ii) was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or (iii) received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act;
  3. The individual is unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  4. The individual is using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses; and
  5. Eviction would likely render the individual homeless— or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting— because the individual has no other available housing options.

The order specifically does not excuse rent, it just delays eviction. There is a substantial body of depression -era caselaw that holds this type of governmental action is permissible because it does not impair the contract, it only delays the remedy, and it is not a taking because the rent is still due. Lawsuits are likely to follow regardless of this old caselaw.

Many would argue that a temporary ban on eviction for non-payment burdens landlords with the cost of rental delay. Many landlords are individuals or small businesses that cannot spread the losses and cannot pay maintenance costs, mortgages and property taxes without the benefit of rental income.