Brightline buys high-speed rail project linking Las Vegas to L.A.

Brightline buys high-speed rail project linking Las Vegas to L.A.

“XpressWest” – a high-speed rail project that will connect Las Vegas to Southern California, with plans to link directly to Los Angeles

The 270-mile drive from Downtown Los Angeles to Las Vegas – one of the most traveled routes in the country – normally takes more than four hours to complete. Now an East Coast rail company plans to cut that in half.

Florida-based firm Brightline announced this week that it will acquire “XpressWest” – a high-speed rail project that will connect Las Vegas to Southern California, with plans to link directly to Los Angeles.

Construction is expected to begin next year, and Brightline is planning to begin service in 2022. When complete, the rail line will be the second privately funded intercity passenger rail system in the country.

Southern California has been working to create regional and interstate high-speed rail options for years. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has proposed creating a Hyperloop that would connect riders from Los Angeles and San Francisco in under an hour.

Brightline, part of parent company Fortress Investment Group, will take over the development and operation of the L.A.-to-Vegas project. When it’s complete, the firm expects to make the trip under two hours for passengers, without having to drive or wait through security at the airport.

The first station planned for Southern California will be in Victorville. The rail is planned along the Interstate-15 corridor and trains will be able to travel over 150 mph to arrive in Las Vegas in about 80 minutes. The federally approved system will be interoperable with the California High Speed Rail system, with a planned station in Palmdale, and future service into Burbank and Los Angeles’ Union Station.

Brightline will also extend its rail to existing Metrolink commuter systems with service to Orange, Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. It is expected to divert an estimated 25 percent of the existing 50 million annual trips off of the freeway between the two regions.

“Brightline is changing transportation in our country by connecting heavily trafficked corridors that are too long to drive and too short to fly,” Wes Edens, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Fortress Investment Group, said in a statement.

An average round trip ticket on Brightline’s rail is expected to cost $89. On board the trains, staff will offer riders hotel check-in services, and dinner and show reservations.

The firm is also in the process of acquiring 38 acres of land adjacent to the Las Vegas strip to construct a station and mixed-use development.

The rail project marks a major expansion for Brightline, as it will be the firm’s first corridor outside of Florida. The company operates rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The company is currently expanding to Orlando and plans to expand into Tampa. Earlier this month, The Real Deal reported that Brightline officials have started working with city managers in four additional cities – Fort Pierce, Sebastian, Stuart and Vero Beach – to identify more possible station locations.

Trump’s latest tariffs on China target steel, metal products

Trump’s latest tariffs on China target steel, metal products

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)

Steel and other metal products are among the goods included in President Trump’s latest round of tariffs against Chinese imports, and come months after a similar tax on imported metals.

The trade war between the U.S. and China intensified Tuesday, as the Chinese government announced $60 billion in tariffs on American goods in response, according to Bloomberg.

On Monday, the president announced he would impose a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods. The import tax will take effect Sept. 24, and is expected to jump to 25 percent on Jan. 1. Steel is usually priced in anticipation of future supply, which means prices could increase before the January hike.

The Chinese government’s retaliatory measures include a 5 percent tax on 1,600 products, such as computers and textiles; along with a 10 percent tax on 3,500 products including meat, liquid natural gas and wine.

The U.S. already imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel goods from nearly all foreign countries earlier this year. The U.S. only imports around 3 percent of its steel from China, but those larger tariffs have had a noticeable effect on overall U.S. steel imports. In June, imports dropped by 10.2 percent, according to Forbes.

Domestic steel prices were at a seven-year high as of July, good news for the steel producers, but more troubling for buyers. Besides builders, who rely on the material for construction, manufacturers of heavy equipment need steel to build their products. Those higher costs will trickle down.

Canada is the United States’ largest steel trading partner, and has been hit particularly hard by the 25 percent tariffs on the alloy.

The two countries are in talks to resolve the tariffs, possibly with an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which includes Mexico. [Bloomberg] — Dennis Lynch

Bell Partners pays $92M for Pembroke Pines apartments

Bell Partners pays $92M for Pembroke Pines apartments

Sheridan Village apartment complex in Pembroke Pines and Bell Partners’ CEO Jon D. Bell

Multifamily investment firm Bell Partners just picked up the Sheridan Village apartment complex in Pembroke Pines for $91.8 million, property records show.

The deal for the 300-unit rental community at 16700 Sheridan Street breaks down to $306,000 per apartment. Records show AVR Realty Company is the seller.

AVR bought the complex in 2014 for $78 million. It was completed in 2014 by Boca Raton-based developer Altman Companies, and includes one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Records show AVR also transferred $45.6 million in Fannie Mae financing from Wells Fargo Bank to Greensboro, North Carolina-based Bell Partners. In addition, Bell Partners secured $10.2 million in financing from Wells Fargo, bringing its total debt to about $55.8 million.

The previous sale in 2015 is not reflected in property records because Altman transferred management of the complex from itself to AVR, instead of filing a deed.

Sheridan Village features private balconies and granite counters. Amenities include a swimming pool, fitness center and game room with billiards tables.

Broward’s multifamily market is strong as demand outpaces supply. There were 1,343 more units absorbed than delivered in Broward, according to a second quarter report by Cushman & Wakefield. Vacancies in the county decreased to 5.3 percent from 6.5 percent, year-to-date.

Nearby, Art Falcone’s $350 million redevelopment of the former Plantation Fashion Mall is underway at 321 North University Drive. Once complete the project will feature 700 luxury rental apartments and 200,000 square feet of retail.

Last year, AVR sold a 700-unit rental complex called Montage at City Center in Pembroke Pines for $158.5 million to an affiliate of Harbor Group International.

Port 32 acquires Tampa marina for $21.5M

Port 32 acquires Tampa marina for $21.5M

Port 32 Palm Beach Gardens (Credit:

Marina owner, operator and developer Port 32 bought a full-service marina with the only dry dock boat storage in Tampa for $21.5 million.

Charleston, South Carolina-based Port 32 bought and plans to renovate Tampa Harbour Marina, a 12.1-acre property with 40 wet boat slips and 600 dry storage slips.

Tampa Harbour Marina property also includes retail and office space and a restaurant.

Port 32 will rename the property Port 32 Tampa.  The company operates marinas under the Port 32 brand in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach Gardens and the Tierra Verde Marina Resort in St. Petersburg.

The Tampa marina is near Old Tampa Bay and the 52-acre, mixed-use Westshore Marina District development, designed a collection of restaurants, retail stores and residential units.

The property was listed for sale in June by the Tampa- and Atlanta-based Leisure Property Advisors team at brokerage firm Colliers International.

Andrew Cantor, Matt Putnam, and Dan Grovatt lead the team, which focuses on the sale of marinas, resorts and leisure properties nationwide.

“This sale shows the health of the marina market in Florida, and the demand for waterfront commercial property,” Putnam said in a prepared statement. “This transaction happened fairly quickly from the time we put it on the market.” – Mike Seemuth

Ocean Drive Magazine celebrates “Hurricane Season” at Racket

Ocean Drive Magazine celebrates “Hurricane Season” at Racket

Ocean Drive magazine celebrated the September issue’s “Hurricane Season”, an in-book editorial featuring former Miami Hurricanes champions DJ Williams, Antrel Rolle, Brett Romberg, and Jon Vil…

Coral Gables firm set to buy vacant labs, offices from Port St. Lucie for $14.5M

Coral Gables firm set to buy vacant labs, offices from Port St. Lucie for $14.5M

The former home of the defunct Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida

A Coral Gables-based firm moved a step closer to purchasing a vacant laboratory and office building from the city of Port St. Lucie for $14.5 million, or $135 per square foot.

The city’s mayor dislikes the deal, but he was the sole dissenter when the city council voted 4-1 to approve the sale to Coral Gables-based  RER Ventures, a distressed real estate investment firm.

The city council’s vote triggered a 90-day due diligence period, after which the deal could close within 30 days.

An independent appraisal valued the 107,000-square-foot building at $14.5 million, the price RER Ventures offered to pay.

Port St. Lucie would lose $49.5 million on the sale because the city guaranteed a $64 million loan to finance construction of the 107,000-square-foot building, which has nine laboratories.

The city seized the property last year after its previous occupant, the Vaccine & Gene Therapy Institute of Florida (VGTI), shut down in 2015 after about two years in business.

Port St. Lucie has been repaying the $64 million loan since VGTI closed.

Mayor Greg Oravec objected to the $14.5 million appraised value of the former VGTI building because, with creditworthy tenants, the property would be worth more. []  Mike Seemuth


Accessory of the Week: Jil Sander's Tangle Bag

Accessory of the Week: Jil Sander's Tangle Bag

Get tangled in Jil Sander’s new tote bag.

The Tangle Bag, Jil Sander (price varies pending size).
Jil Sander’s new tangle bag, made with pamellato and patent leather, is a fun t…

National Cheat Sheet: Home loan demand hits 4-year low, Freddie Mac CEO retiring … & more

National Cheat Sheet: Home loan demand hits 4-year low, Freddie Mac CEO retiring … & more

Clockwise from top left: Freddie Mac starts search for new CEO as current one plans to retire, home loan originations hit a four-year-low in the second quarter, JPMorgan Chase initiative will let cities compete for $500M in funding, and House Republicans introduce legislation to make tax cuts for individuals permanent.

Home loan originations hit a 4-year-low in the second quarter, report says
Interest rates are rising, and the demand for home loans has hit a four-year low, according to a new report. Between April and June of this year, mortgage originators completed 1.5 million loans — the lowest level of loans completed since the first quarter of 2014, and a 27 percent drop from the same period of time last year, an Attom Data Solutions report showed. The report indicated that foreclosures and delinquencies are on the rise in major U.S. cities, while down payments are skyrocketing, creating difficulty for people looking to buy their first homes. [TRD]

Freddie Mac starts search for new CEO as Layton plans to retire
Donald Layton, who’s been the CEO of Freddie Mac since 2012, is stepping down, according to the Commercial Observer. Layton plans to retire in the second half of 2019, and the agency will either replace him with David Brickman — who was promoted to president at the agency and is the only internal candidate it’s considering — or an outsider. “Don has played an indispensable role in transforming Freddie Mac and moving the housing finance system in a better direction,” chairman Christopher Lynch said. [TRD]

JPMorgan Chase initiative will let cities compete for $500M in funding
A new JPMorgan Chase initiative called “AdvancingCities” aims to bolster economic growth across the country via public-private partnerships, the Wall Street Journal reported. Up to 30 cities will compete to receive part of $500 million in funding that will come from loans and philanthropic investments. The initiative aims to address “employment barriers, financial insecurity and neighborhood disinvestment,” according to the outlet. Cities interested in the funding will be able to submit to the request for proposals until the end of November and winners will be announced in the spring. [TRD]

House Republicans introduce legislation to make tax cuts for individuals permanent
The tax overhaul passed last year included lower tax rates for individuals, a change that is set to expire at the end of 2025. House Republicans, however, want to make those tax cuts permanent, Bloomberg reported. “It’s time to change the culture in Washington where we only do tax reform once a generation,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said in a statement to the outlet.“This legislation is our commitment to the American worker to ensure our tax code remains the most competitive in the world.” But the legislation also includes an extension of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions — an inclusion that several Republican lawmakers in states that have been hit by the cap say they won’t support. [TRD]


Berkshire Hathaway snaps up Century 21 Commonwealth in Boston
Century 21 Commonwealth, which has 22 offices in Boston, has been snapped up by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Inman reported. The deal includes Commonwealth’s 500-plus brokers, and will see the firm eliminate its “Century 21” branding. “We considered different real estate networks as part of our research and decided Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices offered what we need to help our brokerage expand and reach new levels of production and service,” Commonwealth founding partner George Patsio said in a statement provided to the outlet. “After meeting the entire support team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, we are even more confident in our decision and excited to get started.” Patsio said Commonwealth’s new relationship with HomeServices will allow the company to double its sales volume. [TRD]

New York City brokers aren’t happy about Google Maps renaming neighborhoods
Brokers in New York City aren’t happy about Google rebranding neighborhoods, they told TRD. Last month, The New York Times reported that new names have been popping up on Google Maps — something Google attributed to a combination of user submissions, third-party data and public sources and satellites. In Manhattan, for example, a prestigious neighborhood called Sutton Place is split into “Sutton Place North and “Sutton Place South” on Google Maps. “It’s not helpful in any way, and the truth is it’s not a big neighborhood to start with,” Stribling & Associates’ Pamela D’Arc said. “To now turn it into two different locations is ludicrous.” [TRD]

Zillow Group’s homebuying program Zillow Offers is expanding to Atlanta
Atlanta is the newest market for Zillow Group’s homebuying program, known as Zillow Offers. As part of the expansion, the listings giant will be able to buy homes directly from Atlanta homeowners and resell them after preparing them for showings. The program is already up and running in Phoenix and Las Vegas, and is heading to Denver next. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers are teaming up with Zillow for the Atlanta launch. Zillow Offers hasn’t had a warm welcome in every city, however. During pilot programs in Las Vegas and Orlando last year, thousands of agents asked the National Association of Realtors to shut the service down. [TRD]

Miami luxury brokerage principals battling against one another in court
A luxury brokerage in Miami could be torn apart by its founding principals’ court battle against one another. International Sales Group’s Craig Studnicky and Philip Spiegelman are accusing each other of mismanaging funds, among other claims. Some of the claims are personal, with Studnicky claiming ISG’s third founding partner distanced himself from the brokerage because of Spiegelman’s “overbearing narcissism and obnoxious personality,” while maintaining his “substance abuse problems and antisocial behavior” have made him unproductive. Studnicky told TRD the two are “hopeful we can resolve our differences amicably in a short period of time,” while Spiegelman didn’t respond to requests for comment. [TRD]

Former Obama adviser and strategist David Axelrod lists his Chicago Gold Coast condo
Political strategist David Axelrod and his wife are parting ways with their 42nd-floor condo in Water Tower Place in Chicago. The former senior advisor to Obama currently leads the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. He and his wife put the 3,320-square-foot, three-bedroom unit on the market for $3.25 million, the Chicago Tribune reported. If it goes for asking price, they’ll turn a profit on the condo, which they purchased for $1.7 million in 2012. During their stay in the condo, the couple had hired Nate Berkus and Marvin Herman Associates to gut-renovate the unit, the outlet reported. [TRD]

U Football 2001 Legends Huddle Up to Discuss Their Hometown Pride

U Football 2001 Legends Huddle Up to Discuss Their Hometown Pride

They are local celebrities and successful businessmen, designers and restaurateurs. But above all, they are the hometown heroes of the U football.
The founders of Out The Huddle at the WeWork…

Should Realtors’ ethics violations be available to the public?

Should Realtors’ ethics violations be available to the public?

In an era when you can find almost anything you want to know online about real estate — the estimated market value of a house, the rankings of neighborhood schools, crime rates, walkability and much more — there’s one important subject that’s difficult for consumers to check out: Ethics infractions by local Realtors, including agents you might want to hire to list your house or help you buy.

You can see tons of agent reviews and ratings on sites like HomeLight and Zillow, but you really have to dig to find out that a particular agent has allegedly:

–Failed to disclose a fuel leak from a nearby facility that endangered the drinking water of houses, including the one the agent sold to unsuspecting clients.

–Misled buyers about the cause of a strange odor in a house listed by the agent, terming it nothing more than “sea air,” when in fact the sickening smells came from a buried septic tank and an oil tank on the property. The house ultimately had to be removed from the site.

–Concealed the fact that the agent representing the seller and the agent representing the buyer shared a massive conflict of interest: They were married to one another.

–Disclosed confidential information about the seller’s dire health condition. “You can offer whatever you want,” the agent representing the seller allegedly told the buyers. “She’ll take it.”

These are actual instances of violations of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a detailed set of rules which the 1.35 million members are required to follow. Realty agents who are not members are under no such restrictions. The total number of ethics complaints and cases in a given year tends to be small. NAR does not track complaint statistics, but Jill Landsman, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, said that so far in 2018, there have only been 96 ethics-related cases filed with her association, out of a total 12,881 members.

Earlier this year, the NAR’s board of directors adopted a policy change allowing local associations of Realtors to publish the names of members who have two ethics violations within a three-year period, along with details of the infractions. The policy, which is voluntary for local associations, won’t take effect nationally until next January. The head of the committee that recommended the policy to the board said in a statement quoted in Realtor magazine that, “This is what people have been wanting for so long. Right now, we don’t know who the violators are because it’s not published.”

But there’s something missing in this effort at greater transparency. The list of violators will only be permitted in publications that are accessible to local members of the participating associations. Home buyers and sellers will not be able to check whether the agents they’re considering hiring are on the infractions list or not.

So why not let us consumers know about violations? Some Realtors have mixed feelings on the matter. Anthony Lamacchia, broker-owner of Lamacchia Realty Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts, told me, “I’m of two minds” on disclosing to the general public. At first reading, he said, the policy “sounds pretty well stacked in the Realtor’s favor.” On the other hand, Lamacchia said, most ethics cases involve “agent-to-agent” conflicts “that don’t affect the consumer,” such as complaints filed by one agent about the business practices of a competitor.

Dana Hollish Hill, a Realtor in Washington D.C. and an instructor on ethics, says she would not object to wider dissemination of ethics violations “as long as all the information is presented in context.” It should show degrees of severity — if someone got slapped on the wrist for a minor mistake, it should be clearly distinguished from more serious violations that have the potential to affect clients.

Elizabeth Weintraub, a Realtor in Sacramento, California, says “ethics violations are either serious or they’re a joke, and that’s the problem with the ethics complaint program. You don’t know which. The public viewing of dirty laundry is never gonna happen.”

Absent disclosure of ethics infractions by local Realtor associations, where can you go for information? One possibility is your state real estate commission, which may allow you to search for violations if you look up the agent’s realty license number. Or you can search for reviews — or take note of the lack thereof — on