It may be true that all real estate is local. But it is also true that real estate has become a global business.

Yet the way that real estate is measured continues to be based on local practices. This is about to change with the work being done by the International Property Measurement Standards (IPMS) Coalition. The coalition – of which IREM recently became a member – is an international group of professional and not-for-profit organizations working collaboratively to develop and help implement a single global property measurement standard.

The IPMS coalition came together out of a globally recognized need for, and with the goal of creating, a shared international standard for property measurement. Currently, the way real property assets are measured can differ dramatically from one asset class to another and from country to country. This makes it extremely challenging for global investors and occupiers to accurately compare space. Indeed, a property’s floor area measurement can deviate by as much as 24 percent, depending on the method used, according to research findings by the international commercial real estate services and investment management firm JLL. As declared by the trustees of the IPMS coalition, “Our profession and marketplaces deserve better.”

In advancing IREM as a member of this coalition, IREM President Joseph Greenblatt, CPM, asserted that, “Real estate today is playing out on the world stage, underscoring the growing need for internationally uniform industry standards and practices. With members in 39 countries and on six continents, IREM enthusiastically supports the efforts of the IPMSC to establish globally consistent and recognized property measurement standards, confident that they will lead to greater marketplace transparency, stronger investor and public confidence, and increased market stability.”

The IPMS coalition was organized in May 2013, and already is nearing completion of its initial standards for measurement of offices. Work has already begun on IPMS for residential properties; this will be followed by industrial, retail, and other sectors.

IREM is one of 44 organizations that comprise the IPMS coalition, all of which have committed to promoting the implementation of property measurement standards and encouraging world markets to accept and adopt the IMPS as the primary method of property measurement.

 

Source: NREI

In a 90,000-square-foot warehouse not far from Chicago’s Midway Airport, the future of urban farming has taken root. Welcome to the world of vertical farming.

Long shelves thick with fresh herbs and salad greens sit beneath hundreds of fluorescent grow lights. There are planters of basil, watercress and kale stacked in neat rows reaching the ceiling, afloat in a nutrient-rich stream of water fed by large blue tanks filled with tilapia. It’s an eerily beautiful scene, interrupted only by the occasional worker driving an aerial lift through the aisles, stopping to pluck handfuls of greens ready to be packaged and distributed throughout the city.

As the demand for fresh, locally grown food has increased among urban consumers, businesses like FarmedHere, which runs the Chicago warehouse, have stepped in to compete with conventional farms. Using advanced hydroponic and aquaponic methods, they’re growing fruits and vegetables year-round in facilities that are often in the same neighborhood as the restaurants and retailers they supply. Proponents like to call it ultra-local farming. “We can grow 200 percent more food per square foot than traditional agriculture, and without the use of chemical fertilizers,” said Mark Thomann, chief executive officer of FarmedHere.

The Association for Vertical Farming, an industry trade group, says vertical farms use 98 percent less water and 70 percent less fertilizer on average than outdoor farms. Weather fluctuations aren’t a factor, and neither is soil management. They can harvest crops as often as 20 times a year, and with their stack-it-high layout, occupy a fraction of the land traditional agriculture requires. So efficient is vertical farming that many believe it could move beyond a niche market and become a solution for food insecurity in the United States, which affects nearly 15 percent of households, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some believe it could even be the future of agriculture altogether, with climate change negatively affecting rural farmland while the global population continues to swell. By 2050, the World Health Organization estimates, there will be 9 billion people on Earth, with 70 percent of them residing in urban areas.

But before vertical farming can conquer the world, it has to prove it can scale up and be as environmentally sound as its backers claim. Of the many questions surrounding these ventures, the most important one may be whether it is a good business model to begin with. Thomann certainly believes so. In the two years FarmedHere has been in business, it has expanded distribution to dozens of supermarkets throughout Chicago, including all of the city’s Whole Foods locations. The company packages its own herbs and salad greens, which are certified organic, and can deliver to stores within 24 hours of the product being harvested.

FarmedHere’s foray into urban agriculture has been so successful, it’s planning to build vertical farms in other cities. “From an economic standpoint, I think we’re well down the pathway to showing that vertical farming can not only be a reality, but that it can be profitable,” Thomann said. From an environmental standpoint, FarmedHere has tremendous upside. In addition to growing food close to stores and without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the company conserves water — the most intensively used resource in conventional farming — through a closed-loop aquaponic system. The waste produced by the tilapia provides nutrients for the greens to absorb as they clean the water, which then flows back into the tanks.

Vertical farming also makes efficient use of urban spaces, occupying previously neglected warehouses, underutilized rooftops and other vacant areas. In New York, Gotham Greens grows everything from butterhead lettuce to bok choy in rooftop greenhouses, including a 20,000 square foot one atop a Whole Foods in Brooklyn. Green Spirit Farms in New Buffalo, Michigan, meanwhile, operates out of a former plastics molding factory. “Buildings like this are available throughout the United States,” said Milan Kluko, president of Green Spirit Farms. “Usually, they just need a power wash and a paint to get up and running again.”

Worldwide, vertical farm models range from rotating plant towers in Singapore to portable aquaponic crates in Germany. A former semiconductor factory in Japan is now a large-scale lettuce farm, growing 10,000 heads per day. In London, a company called Growing Underground went viral earlier this year after it revealed plans to build a hydroponic farm 100 feet under the city, in an abandoned World War II bomb shelter. “We wanted to build a vertical farm, but the financials of building in central London didn’t stack up,” said Steven Dring, co-founder of Growing Underground, which raised $1.4 million in seed funding and will open for business next year.

Originally conceived as skyscrapers filled with produce farms and livestock — an idea that quickly proved prohibitively expensive — vertical farming has come to encompass all sorts of green-tech operations in places as varied as parking garages, shopping malls and office buildings. There’s even a small aeroponic farm in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

But for all the novelty of indoor farming, there are hurdles that even the most eager start-ups struggle to clear. For starters, there’s the large upfront cost, typically in the millions of dollars, required to outfit a growing space. Recouping all that capital in the low-margin food industry can be a daunting task, and a reason many investors shy away. “A controlled environment like that requires a lot of technology that your typical outdoor field doesn’t have,” said J. Michael Gould, director of Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, which studies urban agriculture. “You get benefits from that technology, but right now the cost-benefit ratio is not particularly favorable.”

There’s also, for all vertical farming’s efficiencies, one very inefficient component: keeping all those lights on when the growing is done indoors. Without sunlight, plants require intense lighting for 16 to 18 hours a day, said Blake Davis, a vertical farming expert and professor at Illinois Institute of Technology. That adds up to sky-high energy bills. Improvements to indoor farming technology, including cheaper, more efficient lights, as well as monitoring equipment that measures and adjusts growing conditions, have brought down costs in the past few years, and further innovations are on the horizon.

A recent report from sustainable energy consulting firm Clean Edge noted companies like Philips are developing red- and blue-spectrum LED lights specifically for growing plants while others are testing sensors that detect optimal lighting levels for various crops. “Energy for lighting is one of vertical farming’s greatest expenses, making it a financial challenge if not carefully and properly designed,” the report stated. Gould, for one, thinks innovation will eventually bring down costs enough to make large-scale expansion a reality. There’s even room to make the plants themselves better, he said. “Every plant that’s grown indoors was originally developed and selected to grow outdoors,” Gould explained. “What needs to happen is the breeding programs need to begin to breed plants for indoor environments.”

Even with improvements, though, many vertical farms still draw energy from the grid, making them less of a green alternative than their ultra-local image suggests. There are also limits to the types of food that can be grown indoors. Staple crops like corn and wheat, for instance, are optimized for outdoor agriculture.      “Urban agriculture will never be able to replace rural agriculture, though I think there are opportunities for them to work together,” said Danielle Nieremberg, president of Food Tank, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainable agriculture issues.

At Green Spirit Farms, Kluko, an engineer by trade, is constantly tinkering with lighting and other parts of his farming system. He currently uses grow lights that last 100,000 hours and are, he claims, as efficient as anything on the market. Still, he finds that in some cases technical innovations don’t match natural remedies. To control pests, he recently released 27,000 ladybugs inside the Michigan warehouse.        “You really have to know what works best in these environments and use your resources wisely,” Kluko said.

Other operations are similarly trying to lessen their impact through natural as well as high-tech solutions. The Plant, a business incubator in a former meatpacking plant in Chicago, houses several start-up businesses, including a brewery, a kombucha maker, a bakery and three vertical farms. To cut down on waste, tenants utilize byproducts produced by other tenants. The kombucha maker produces CO2 that’s used in the vertical farms while leftover barley from the brewery feeds the fish used in one of the farm’s aquaponic growing systems.

The Plant is also in the process of installing an anaerobic digester, which will provide renewable energy for the entire operation by turning organic waste into methane gas. The price tag: $2 million, offset by a $1.5 million grant from the state of Illinois.  “It’s basically like a big stomach,” said Davis, who is a board member with The Plant.

Finding renewable sources of energy is critical for vertical farms, Gould said. With climate change already causing extreme weather such as droughts, severe storms and flooding, “the last thing we want to do is pump more carbon dioxide into the air,” he said. A recent study in the journal Environmental Research Letters noted staple crops such as corn and wheat are seeing decreased yields as a result of climate change, with yield losses expected to as much as double from current levels by the year 2080.

But to survive and expand as a business, vertical farms may have to look beyond food sales alone to generate revenue. Davis said The Plant offers weekly tours along with classes like a “Do It Yourself Aquaponics Workshop.” Other companies offer consulting services or sell growing kits to hobbyist farmers. FarmedHere has received local producer grants from the USDA and from Whole Foods while Bright Farms, a New York vertical farming company, signs long-term contracts with supermarkets before it builds a facility.

Ben Greene said he thinks he has just the formula for adding value. Growing up on a small organic farm in North Carolina, he experienced the joys, as well as the frustrations, of food farming. After serving as a combat engineer in Iraq for several years, he returned to his home state and is currently raising money for a hybrid business that will combine farm and supermarket under one roof. The Farmery will grow fruits and vegetables in a second-story hydroponic farm, then cart them downstairs to be sold in the grocery store.

Greene said produce grown on-site will comprise 15 percent of The Farmery’s retail sales while locally sourced products, including meat, beer and grocery items, will make up the rest. There will be a café on the first floor, he said, as well as a growing wall filled with herbs. If a customer wants to add a sprig of mint to her tea, she can pluck it right off the wall.       “It’s designed to have the high margins of a restaurant with the high foot traffic of a grocery store and the unique experience of being able to see where your food is grown,” Greene said.

And even though construction has not yet begun — that is expected to happen in December, near Raleigh-Durham — he envisions The Farmery as a successful model for cities across the country. Aside from food sales, he said the space will rely on savings coming from reduced inventory loss. In researching his business model, Greene said he discovered that as much as a third of fresh inventory is spoiled or damaged on the way from the farm to the grocery store. “That’s where we see a big opportunity, is bringing that number down to next to nothing,” he said.

Less food waste, fresher product, year-round availability — these are some of the advantages vertical farming offers. And while the industry has numerous kinks to work out, many experts believe it will adapt out of necessity.

At the extension center in Dallas, Gould and his team are studying ways to tailor low-cost, high-volume vertical farms to inner-city neighborhoods. All of the growth and technology currently resides in the niche markets — the FarmedHeres and Green Spirit Farms that supply to retailers serving mostly affluent customers. But he hopes eventually to see models scale up and become economically feasible for consumers of all income levels. “We’re going to have 7 billion people living in cities in the next few decades, and there isn’t enough countryside to grow all the food we’re going to need to keep people fed,” Gould said. “Agriculture today is pretty much a two dimensional operation. We need to figure out how to do it in the third dimension.”

 

Source: International Business Times

Primary commercial property insurance is a buyers’ market with rate decreases of up to 20% for many U.S. accounts that renewed at midyear, with the exception being those with high catastrophe exposures.

Limited catastrophe losses and an influx of insurance capacity exerted considerable pressure on prices, brokers and market experts say. “The market is very insurance buyer-friendly right now,” said Duncan Ellis, U.S property practice leader at Marsh USA Inc. “Purchasers of property insurance are finding a very favorable environment toward pricing, toward capacity and toward interest in their risks.”

Premium decreases should be “on an average basis, probably high single digits to low double-digit percentage decreases,” Mr. Ellis said. Some accounts could see rates fall up to 20% “based upon good solid competition in the marketplace.”

“For 2014, we are definitely in a rate decrease environment,” said David Finnis, Atlanta-based national property practice leader at Willis North America Inc. Willis clients saw property rates fall 7.5% to 12% through June 30, he said.

However, catastrophe-exposed accounts will find a somewhat “less friendly” market than those without catastrophe exposure, Mr. Finnis said. “As one would expect, premiums are still higher in high-catastrophe areas like Florida and California vs. noncatastrophe areas like the Midwest,” he said.

Stewart Ellenberg, risk manager for the city of Boulder, Colorado said the city was fortunate to renew with a “slight” rate increase despite a large property insurance claim related to the September 2013 flood in the region. Likewise, Union County, North Carolina renewed its commercial property coverage for a 2% price increase, but deductibles for flooding and earthquake each doubled to $50,000, said Tiffany Allen, the county’s risk manager.

Looking ahead, about the only thing that could turn the market would be a major hurricane or other disaster. “If there are no catastrophe events, we predict that you’re going to be looking at double-digit decreases for the remainder of the year,” said Al Tobin, New York-based managing principal of Aon Risk Solutions’ property practice. “Double-digit decreases will continue,” approaching 20% for some accounts, he said.

“There’s just so much capacity in the property market right now, between incumbent insurers wanting to increase their lines or new underwriters trying to get on to the accounts,” Mr. Finnis said.

Mr. Tobin said, “What’s driving the market as much as anything is increased appetite among the top 10 catastrophe property carriers.”

“The absence of major losses … would be the No. 1 market driver, because that’s starting to attract capital,” Mr. Ellis said. “When looking at the results for 2013 combined with what we have seen in 2014 thus far, property is looking like a solid bet right now and is thus why we are seeing a lot of money or capital flowing into the property space.”

Analysts Agreed

“If you take a step back, it’s how financial markets work,” said Cliff Gallant, an analyst at Nomura Securities International Inc. in San Francisco. “There’s been an area where profits have been pretty good in recent years relatively speaking and so capital is flowing there in different forms.”

“I think where there’s underwriting success, that attracts capital to those lines,” said James Auden, managing director at Fitch Ratings Inc. in Chicago. “So if you have large underwriting gains in a segment, existing players put more capital into those lines.”

Alternative capital flowing into the reinsurance space may reduce reinsurance pricing for primary insurers, but it has not significantly affected primary insurance prices. “Reinsurance is just one ingredient in the makeup of (primary insurance) costs,” Mr. Tobin said.

Also, there is no broad lingering effect from Superstorm Sandy on property pricing this year, Mr. Tobin said. “Insurance companies are more acutely aware of deductibles and limits, but price has not been affected,” he said.

“There is no Sandy hangover on pricing,” Mr. Finnis said. “The only lingering result is that individual insurers are no longer providing $100 million in limits in the areas that were affected.” Those policy limits now vary by account but usually range from $25 million to $50 million.

What’s more, the uncertainty of congressional renewal of the federal terrorism insurance backstop thus far has not caused property pricing movement. The backstop will expire at the end of the year unless Congress renews it. Renewal legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate.

“There has not been any effect on (property) pricing and there is not likely to be because there is more supply,” Mr. Tobin said of the federal terrorism program.

 

Souce: Business Insurance

In an Internet of Things (IoT) world, smart buildings with web-enabled technologies for managing heat, lighting, ventilation, elevators and other systems pose a more immediate security risk for enterprises than consumer technologies.

The increasing focus on making buildings more energy efficient, secure and responsive to changing conditions is resulting in a plethora of web-enabled technologies. Building management systems are not only more tightly integrated with each other, they are also integrated with systems outside the building, like the smart grid. The threat that such systems pose is two-fold, analysts said. Many of the web-enabled intelligent devices embedded in modern buildings have little security built into them, making them vulnerable to attacks that could disrupt building operations and pose safety risks. Web-connected, weakly protected building management systems also could provide a new way for malicious attackers to break into enterprise business systems that are on the same network.

The massive data theft at Target for instance, started with someone finding a way into the company’s network using the access credentials of a company that remotely maintained the retailer’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. In Target’s case, the breach appears to have happened because the company did not properly segment its data network.  Such issues could become more common as buildings and management systems become increasingly intelligent and interconnected, said Hugh Boyes, cybersecurity lead at the U.K.’s Institution of Engineering and Technology.

“It creates some interesting challenges for enterprise IT,” Boyes said. “They need to know there are some increasingly complex networks being put into their buildings that are running outside their control. “As one example, Boyes pointed to the growing use of IP-enabled closed-circuit security cameras at many buildings. In some cases, the cameras might be used instead of a motion sensor to detect whether someone is in a room, and whether to keep the lights or heat turned on. In such a situation, the camera, the lighting and the heating systems would all need to be integrated. Each of the systems could also have web connectivity linking them with an external third party for maintenance and support purposes. “You quickly get into a situation where a network that was just inside the building goes to locations outside the building,” Boyes said.

It’s not only heating, lighting and security systems that are integrated in this manner. An elevator manufacturer might stick smart sensors on all the elevators in a building to detect and spot a failure before it happens. Or, a building manager might have technology in place to monitor and conserve water use in a facility. Many of these technologies will have a path out of the building and over an IP network to a third-party supplier or service provider, Boyes said. Often the data from these systems are captured not only for real-time decision support but also for longer-term data analytics.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that many of the communications protocols for building automation and control networks, such as BACnet and LonTalk, are open and transparent, said Jim Sinopoli, managing principal at Smart Buildings LLC. Device manufacturers have adopted these protocols for product compatibility and interoperability purposes, Sinopoli said. However, the openness and transparency also increase the vulnerability of building automation networks. “None of these systems are isolated any longer,” Sinopoli said. A security breach in one system could have a cascading effect on multiple building automation systems and networks, he said.

The threat is not only about someone penetrating a building system to cause serious disruptions. There is also a potential impact on IT, such as a loss of communications due to a building system outage or unauthorized access to enterprise data because of poor segmentation between the building automation network and the IT network. “The penetration of IT into building systems is an issue that is front and center,” at a growing number of companies, Sinopoli said.

As buildings have become smarter, vendors of consumer devices have begun entering the space, said Rolf von Roessing, president of German security consulting company Forta AG and a member of ISACA’s Professional Influence and Advocacy Committee. ISACA is a trade group focused on IT governance issues, with 128,000 members. “Building automation, including critical functionality, is now readily available through web shops and hardware or electronics stores. While professional solutions usually feature in-built security and protection against hacking, consumer offerings are less well protected,” von Roessing said.

In terms of preparation, IT practitioners should extend their information security and cybersecurity management processes to cover buildings and building management systems, he said. “In many cases, these will be controlled through a Windows-based or compatible interface, using standard PC equipment and network connectivity via standard IP,” von Roessing said. “Where remote control is a known or desired feature, security practitioners should look long and hard at mobile devices, the remote control apps and underlying processes. If and where critical building functionality can be controlled and manipulated from an unprotected mobile device, there is a significant risk of breaches,” he said.

For a growing number of companies, the issue is already upon them, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at SANS. In a SANS survey on the security of the Internet of Things, smart buildings and industrial control systems were the second most frequently cited near-term concern behind consumer devices, Pescatore said. Often, IT has little idea of the sheer scope of the issue, Pescatore said, He gave the example of one university’s chief information security officer at a recent SANS conference who ran a security scan of a new building on the campus. “In a single six-story building, he found nearly 1,500 sensors,” in elevators, doors, camera systems, lighting and heating systems and elsewhere, Pescatore said.

Traditionally, building management systems have not been considered IT systems. They are not selected by the CIO and have long been considered operational technology under the purview of building and facilities management teams. That attitude will have to change. Building management and IT organizations will need to work together to identify and mitigate potential risks, said Robert Stroud, the incoming international president of ISACA. But any response will need to be based on a thorough understanding of the risks, Stroud said. Companies will likely have to pay more attention to practices like network segmentation, strong authentication and network monitoring. Vendor management processes will need special attention, Stroud noted.

Many of the devices integrated in smart buildings have little security built into them and come from vendors that are unfamiliar to most IT organizations. Suppliers in the building automation world don’t have the same kind of processes in place that IT vendors do for responding to vulnerabilities in their products. Few have any notification process to let customers know about security threats to their products. IT organizations will need to work with building management teams to update vendor lists, build a register of contacts and know who to reach out to in case a response needs to be escalated, Stroud said.

 

Source: CiteWorld

Miami-Dade County has started a series of water and sewer rate hikes to pay for $12.6 billion in proposed improvements to its water and wastewater systems, including a $3 billion project to drastically reduce the amount of treated sewage the county discharges into the Atlantic Ocean by 2025.

The county’s Water and Sewer Department raised rates 8% for the fiscal year that started last October. Annual increases of 6%, 5%, and 5% are planned for the next three fiscal years, department Deputy Director Douglas Yoder told Miami Today.

And there should be more increases in the future – wiping out Miami-Dade’s longtime reputation for low water and sewer rates to raise money to fix an underfunded system that has been rife with unlawful discharges from weak and leaky pipes and system overflows, described by critics as an environmental nightmare. “Rates will continue to be impacted as we get into the actual construction, which is where you spend money quicker,” Mr. Yoder said.

Miami-Dade’s water and sewer rates have been among the nation’s lowest for many years, according to the department. Even with the 8% increase that’s already in effect, a customer using 6,750 gallons a month pays a monthly average of $45.39 – up $3.36 from the previous average. That’s still the lowest among the nine major municipal systems in Florida, the department said.

Under federal and state pressure for years to improve its wastewater system, a centerpiece of the department’s capital improvements plan for the next 15 to 20 years is the $3 billion “ocean outfall” project. The outfall project, Mr. Yoder said, is in response to a state law approved in 2008 that will ban Florida municipalities from flushing treated sewage into the ocean and will require them to reuse 60% of their wastewater by 2025. The law was eased last year, allowing municipalities to discharge up to 5% of their annual treated sewage flow into the ocean, but only due to “peak flow events” such as storms. It also gave municipalities more ways to meet the 60% reuse threshold.

Most of the cost of Miami-Dade’s outfall project – about $2 billion – will involve building a fourth wastewater treatment plant inland, somewhere near the west end of the county. It will also involve improvements to the county’s existing plants closer to the coast, including adding another layer of filtration and other cleansing steps, Mr. Yoder said. He said he expects construction for the outfall improvements to start in three to five years. Currently, he said, the county typically discharges 180 million gallons a day of treated sewage into the ocean – and sometimes 250 million gallons a day or more during peak flows – through two outfall pipes.

One pipe goes out from the Central District Wastewater Treatment Plant on Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay near downtown Miami and empties about three miles offshore, and the other pipe goes out from the North District Wastewater Treatment Plant and empties about two miles offshore, Mr. Yoder said. The central district plant was built in the 1950s and its outfall pipe was extended to its current length in the 1970s. The north district plant at Northeast 156th Street was built in the late 1970s, he said.

Before being discharged into the ocean, he said, the sewage entering the plants goes through a “biological treatment system” that removes about 90% of solids. The sewage also is disinfected with chlorine. The outfall pipes discharge into water about 190 feet deep offshore, where the outflow is swept up in the swift northern Gulf Stream current. “It’s a high volume of water that’s continuously moving,” he said. “It’s like the equivalent of eight Lake Eries going by the coast every day.”

There’s also the South District Wastewater Treatment Plant south of Cutler Bay, but treated sewage from that plant is not discharged offshore. Instead, he added, it’s discharged about 3,000 feet underground into “the boulder zone” amid the Florida saltwater aquifer. That doesn’t have affect drinking water, according to Mr. Yoder, because any saltwater from the aquifer that’s used for public consumption requires a high enough level of treatment anyway that other contaminants also are removed.

Meanwhile, the outfall plan calls for greatly increasing the amount of treated sewage that is reclaimed for reuse. A lot of the reuse, he said, will come from an agreement to send treated sewage to Florida Power & Light Co.’s enlarged and renovated Turkey Point nuclear plant for cooling its reactors.

 

Source: Miami Today

 

A scam in which cons call people asking to collect “debt” for the electric bill has moved Miami-Dade police and Florida Power & Light to issue a warning to the public.

Police say there’s been an increase in the scam calls. Similar cases were reported in 2012, said police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta. “They’ll call you, they’ll identify themselves as FPL employees and try to collect outstanding debt,” Zabaleta said.

The fraudulent callers claim that the victim’s electrical service will be discontinued unless they purchase a prepaid card for amounts ranging from $150 to $500. The scammers then ask for the account and PINs from those cards.

But it’s not only homeowners falling prey to the swindlers. “Lately they’ve been targeting businesses,” Zabaleta said.

Police are reviewing evidence and talking to witnesses, Zabaleta said, but their main focus is to get the word out about the scam. “We want the community to know. Don’t provide any information,” Zabaleta said.

Utility scammers also are hitting Key West customers. Three Key West businesses have reported being targeted by a telephone scam and one, Blossom’s Grocery, is out $1,300.

Keys Energy Services, the Key West-based electric company, is warning customers of a so-called phone spoofing scam. Spokesman Julio Torrado said customers have received phone calls that show up on caller ID as coming from the power company’s main phone number.

“Customers then hear an automated voice alert … to an electrical emergency within their home and the need for a crew to be dispatched,” the utility said. The automated system attempts to capture personal information that can jeopardize the identity of the resident.

Torrado said the Blossom’s incident happened Feb. 15. Faced with what it believed to be a power cutoff threat, store management paid $1,300, although Torrado said he didn’t know with what or to whom.

Miami Subs and Blackfin, a Duval Street restaurant, were also targeted. Miami Subs employee Sean Wright reported the attempted con to Key West Police Officer Thad Calvert on Feb. 11.

Wright said a caller identifying himself as a Keys Energy employee asked for $3,000 to avoid a service interruption and wanted payment by way of six $500 gift cards. Still on the phone with the apparent scammer, Wright called Keys Energy and was alerted to the issue.

If customers are unsure of the authenticity of a call and need to verify its legitimacy, they should hang up and call Keys Energy at 295-1000.

Keys Energy provides service to around 29,000 customers south of the Seven Mile Bridge. It’s overseen by a five-member elected board created in 1965 by the state Legislature.

FPL also urges customers to call the police if they get a suspicious call. Customer can also call the number at the bottom of their FPL bill and report the call to either the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (800-435-7352) or the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (stopfraud.gov).

“FPL will never call and ask for credit card info or take prepaid cards as payment. Also, FPL will never ask for any personal information from you unless you initiate the contact,” said FPL spokeswoman Heather Kirkendall.

Customers wary of whether a call or visit is legitimate, should call the utility for verification.

For further information and safety tips visit www.FPL.com/protect.

 

Source: Miami Herald

 

The reduction and elimination of the tax on commercial leases continues to gain considerable support.

The Florida CCIM Chapter and active CCIMs , which represents more than 1,200 commercial real estate industry professionals, join the efforts of a number of industry groups and large associations including the 127,000 member Florida Realtors, the Miami Association of Realtors (more than 31,000 members), NAIOP, ICSC, and SIOR in support of the Governor’s 2014-2015 “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,” which highlighted his commitment to eliminating $500 million in taxes and fees for the upcoming legislative session.

“The Florida CCIM Chapter is happy with Governor Scott’s initiative, as its members represent the leading commercial real estate brokers, lenders, developers and numerous other commercial real estate practitioners.  This proposed sales tax reduction will help to drive more companies to establish or expand their operations in Florida and promote community development and jobs,” commented Florida CCIM Chapter President Peter J. Barnett, CCIM.

Florida is the only state that imposes a state-wide sales tax on commercial leases.

A state tax of six percent (6%) is imposed on the total rent charged under the lease, however the Department of Revenue (DOR) has taken the position that any payment required to be paid as a condition of occupancy under a commercial lease is taxable as rent. This means that in addition to the base rent being taxed, “passed through expenses” including building insurance, common area maintenance, and ad valorem real estate taxes themselves are taxed (double taxed). In addition, individual counties and taxing authorities may impose additional taxes, such as Miami-Dade County, which charges one percent (1%) additional, for a total of seven percent (7%).

Florida Statute §212.031 addresses sales tax on leases and Florida’s DOR interprets the provisions in Fla Administrative Code Rule 12A-1.070.

It is argued that this additional tax places Florida at a competitive disadvantage when attracting new businesses to the state. Opponents contend that the tax forces landlords to charge more for rent than comparable facilities just across state lines. In addition, it increases their record keeping burdens as they become tax collectors for the state.

Governor Rick Scott announced on January 28th that his budget proposes reduction of the tax on commercial leases by one-half of a percentage point for a savings of approximately $104-million the first year. According to all research, the impact of this reduction would be $500-million gain in terms of jobs and economic activity.

Additionally, two bills filed for the 2014 Florida legislative session push for more and would begin a complete phase out of the tax.  SB 176 by Sen. Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange), Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman, and HB 11 by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Bradenton) would lower the rate from 6 percent to 5 percent.

“With the support of the governor, these efforts are gaining considerable traction. Compelling cases have been made that the increased economic activity more than offsets the decreased collections,” said John Dohm, CCIM, SIOR, CFP. 

Dohm, a licensed real estate broker for more than 25 years, tirelessly analyses important issues affecting the commercial industry.

John currently serves on the board of the CCIM Miami District, is past president of the CCIM Broward Chapter and served for several years on the board of the Florida CCIM Chapter.

Dohm also served as President of the Realtors Commercial Alliance of MIAMI in 2012 and is one of fewer than 700 individuals in the world to hold both the CCIM and SIOR (Society of Industrial and Office Realtors) designations and the only one to have also been awarded the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) certification in addition to all major securities licenses.

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A CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) is a recognized expert in the commercial and investment real estate industry. The CCIM lapel pin is earned after successfully completing a designation process that ensures CCIMs are proficient not only in theory, but also in practice. This elite corps of CCIMs includes brokers, leasing professionals, investment counselors, asset managers, appraisers, corporate real estate executives, property managers, developers, institutional investors, commercial lenders, attorneys, bankers, and other allied professionals. The mission of the Florida CCIM Chapter is to provide the highest quality of marketing and networking opportunities, services, and education that will enhance our members’ ability to conduct business successfully. For more information, please visit http://flccim.com/ or contact Florida CCIM Chapter President Peter J. Barnett, CCIM at 813.351.2791.

Condos may get all the publicity, but industrial space in Miami is hot again, with developers competing for land and tenants.

More than 4 million square feet of space is in the development pipeline. And land prices are reaching record level, attracting as much as $1 million per acre. The investment industry now considers Miami a tier 1 city, which is attracting more institutional investors, Steve Medwin, managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle South Florida told WPC News. “REITs, the life insurance companies, private equity firms, all have raised tremendous amount of capital for real estate… they want to have a location here,” Mr. Medwin said.

Several catalysts are driving the market, including the Panama Canal expansion, which will bring Panamax-class container ships to Miami’s port in 2015, as well as the growth of the economy in Latin America.   Developers delivered almost 300,000 square feet of warehouse and distribution space in Miami during the third quarter. An additional 733,737 square feet is currently under construction, according to CBRE. Another 3.9 million square feet of space is in the development pipeline.

The largest delivery during the third quarter was Building 1 in South Florida Logistics Center, adding 171,545 square feet to the area known as Airport/Doral. The South Florida Logistics Center will eventually add 1.6 million square feet of industrial space across 200 acres next to Miami International Airport.

net-absorption-cbre-research-q3-2013The popularity for land in Doral has pushed up prices for competing investors.  “Prices went from a $1 million an acre [before the recession], down to about $400,000 an acre in the bottom of 2009 in Doral, and are now back to about $750,000 an acre — if you can find it,” Mr. Medwin said.   The year-to-date net absorption of 794,356 square feet at the end of the third quarter already surpassed the total absorption for 2012. Starboard Cruise Services signed the largest lease — 220,000 square feet at the future Flagler Station Building 34, according to CBRE.

The vacancy rate for Miami’s industrial market is down to 4.9 percent, dropping 40 basis points from the previous quarter, and down 120 points from last year. Average asking rates were up to $7.81 per square foot during the third quarter, which is $0.43 per square foot higher than last year, CBRE reports.

The recent development has led to a glut of product in certain areas, which is helping to keep down prices, Mr. Medwin says. “We are seeing is a lot of speculative construction by these big institutions who were able to buy land in the last couple of years and they are all delivering around the same time,” Mr. Medwin said. “There are a number of choices so rental rates are staying low there, they’re not shooting through the roof.”

under-construction-and-completions-cbre-research-q3-2013The demand for Miami’s industrial product should continue to increase, analysts say. “Several sizable investments sales, both institutional and private, are expected to close during Q4 2013, resulting in a boost in sales volume,” CBRE said in the report.

Although land is predominately scarce, the city still offers potential for developers and investors, analysts say.   “It’s a supply constrained market, so there’s not a lot of land around,” Mr. Medwin said. “But there’s enough to build another 10 million to 20 million square feet, which is 5 to 10 percent of the base we already have in Miami, over the next 3 to 5 or 10 years.”

 

Source: World Property Channel