Slowdown in home prices? No reason to panic

August 14, 2013

rising-prices-300x225NEW YORK – Aug. 14, 2013 – Though home prices have risen nearly 12 percent from a year ago, a slowdown is expected soon. But many analysts say it’s no cause for concern.

“Prices are still going to rise – just not as at brisk a pace as we’ve seen over the past year,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “This should calm down those pundits who have fretted over a new crop of housing bubbles.”

According to a report by Goldman Sachs economists, home prices will likely moderate because they have returned to “fair value” and are no longer being viewed as “undervalued,” as they were for the past two years. Also, a rise in mortgage rates may cause some buyers to re-evaluate their options.

For the first time this year, buyer traffic dropped below agents’ expectations, and “the next few months will be crucial to determining whether this is just a pause or something more,” the Goldman Sachs report notes.

The report also notes that investors will likely slow their purchases as the number of foreclosures starts to dry up. What’s more, the inventory of homes for sale is starting to loosen as more sellers look to put their homes on the market. Those sellers, in turn, will then be looking to purchase another home, so prices will still likely continue to rise until new-home construction catches up.

“With the improving underlying housing demand driven by household formation and economic recovery, we think housing activity will remain on an upward trajectory, despite occasional ups and downs along the way,” says the Goldman report.

Source: “Why Home-Price Growth Will Slow,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 12, 2013)

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Forget ‘improving’ or ‘rebound’ – Fla. is ‘on fire’

March 8, 2013

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – March 8, 2013 – Lesley Deutch, senior vice president at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, said the “Florida market is on fire” in her latest update on the state’s housing market.

Deutch says she traveled the state recently and visited more than 20 communities. While recovery reports differ between Florida cities and urban areas, she reports five major trends:

1. Land prices. While the price of land continues to rise quickly statewide, Orlando feels the most pressure. Deutch says she saw some submarkets where “land and finished lot prices have now surpassed peak levels.” In Orlando, she sees developers buying raw land “just to gain a position and market share.”

2. Home prices. Some communities, such as Orlando and Naples, are seeing 1- to 2-percent new-home price increases monthly, Deutch says. The hallmarks of a seller’s market have also returned, such as lotteries. She expects a 2013 price increase of at least 10 percent in many Florida markets.

3. 55-plus market. Deutch reports a 20- to 25-percent jump in potential buyers interested in active adult living, according to builders in Southwest Florida. She also notes a boost in customer traffic in second- and third-tier markets.

4. Foreign buyers. It’s more than Miami, Deutch says. While in Orlando, she visited a sales office that had three active buyers: One from Brazil, one from Germany and one from China.

5. Foreclosures. While the state has a notoriously long foreclosure process, Deutch says banks are slowly releasing foreclosures. But investors continue to buy new foreclosures shortly after they hit the market.

© 2013 Florida Realtors®

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Chris, that is NOT a sinkhole!

March 8, 2013

Today I had to explain to a new seller of mine that you cannot toss a case or two of wine into a sinkhole and call it a wine seller.

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Bank of America mortgage exec talks about Fla. housing market

March 5, 2013

BRADENTON, Fla. – March 5, 2013 – As first time buyers begin coming back into the real estate market, we take a look at what is going on in the mortgage industry since last year’s $25 billion settlement with the country’s five largest mortgage lenders.

Under the settlement, mortgage lenders agreed to make unprecedented changes in how they service mortgage loans and handle foreclosures. With the backing of a federal court order and the oversight of an independent monitor, the agreement created dozens of new consumer protections, making the servicing process substantially more transparent.

The protections range from requiring a single point of contact for borrowers, establishing case review and paperwork processing requirements and deadlines, and restricting practices such as “dual tracking” in which banks pursue a loan modification while simultaneously pursuing a foreclosure.

The $25 billion settlement was with the country’s five largest mortgage lenders including Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally/GMAC. The settlement raised hopes for a real estate recovery. It’s especially urgent in Florida, the state that leads the nation in foreclosures yet which also posted strong across-the-board improvements in 2012.

If you have or want a home loan or refi from Bank of America in Florida, the person ultimately responsible is 54-year-old Tampa-based senior vice president Sandy Robertson. The Bradenton Herald’s Stephen Frater caught up with Robertson on Friday for an exclusive interview with the banking giant’s go-to-guy for mortgages in the Sunshine State, “the nation’s most troubled real estate market.”

Q: What is Bank of America’s portion of the housing debt market?

A: The bank is the fourth largest bank in the country and has the largest share of the market in Florida.

Q: Currently in Florida, 11 percent of the housing stock is distressed by some definitions, and 40 percent of the market is underwater. Some underwater owners take a calculated decision to walk away and take the credit hit. Does that concern you?

A: Much of the distressed housing stock is due to a backlog in the foreclosure process. The bank is working more on proactive short sales and CACs are located in Tampa Bay to help people make the transition easier. People should contact their lender and talk with them when they are underwater. I have a more bullish outlook on the topic. The bank has been able to do more proactive short sales and I’m excited to see the appreciation in home prices. The numbers are trending in a new direction.

Q: Recent “bank-owned” data shows that 45 percent of homeowners believe owning is more affordable than renting. What is the buy-versus-rent calculus in the Florida market following the great recession?

A: The rise in rents relative to home prices may encourage buyers to enter the housing market. Interest rates are also at historic lows, and affordability is high due to lower home prices and low interest rates. Rental prices are dramatically increasing in the Florida market which is another reason why purchasing a home is a more affordable option in many cases.

Q: Please describe Bank of America’s program for low-to-moderate income buyers.

A: The bank offers quarterly programs and seminars in the market, which educates buyers on the home-buying process. The goal is to provide a realistic view of a buyer’s true budget versus what they think they can afford. A buyer should focus on paying themselves first and save for a down payment. Customer Assistance Centers (CAC) are also available in the market to help find resolutions.

Q: With the recession and many people taking hits to their credit score, what is the “new” normal?

A: The standard has not changed much except what we are seeing now is more documentation being needed in terms of income earnings and bank statements. The loan process has changed over the last few years – it takes longer now. Borrowers must be prepared to fully document income and expenses.

Q: Fifty-percent of deals in the Miami market were cash-only in 2012. Is this a new trend? Will it continue?

A: This is not necessarily an increase or something new. We’ve been seeing this in the market over the past two years. In 2012, there was a range of 30-70 percent of cash buyers in any market depending on where in the state they were located.

Q: How is the prominence of cash buyers affecting first-time homebuyers?

A: We believe over time we will see less cash buyers as inventory continues to shrink and new development emerges. The best thing for a potential home buyer to do is to work with a lender upfront. It is important to note that more construction will go into the first-time homebuyer market going forward.

Q: What can a potential buyer with a credit score of 600 and a regular job expect? Can this person buy a home?

A: The best thing for someone in this situation to do would be to come in and talk with a lender. We may have some work to do, but they should come in and have a talk with us.

Q: President Obama touched on difficulties people are having with refinancing and mortgage availability during his State of the Union address. How will this be fixed?

A: The relation of loan to value is the biggest issue right now, along with unemployment. The unemployment rate is even higher in Florida. Job growth will be critical in fixing the current state of housing and refinancing options. The state of Florida had a rate of about 50% of the market being underwater homeowners; this has now dropped to approximately 38%. Through the HARP Program (a federal program for homeowners not behind on mortgage payments but unable to get traditional refinancing because the value of the home has declined, they may be eligible to refinance through the U.S. HUD Home Affordable Refinance Program with a new, more affordable, more stable mortgage.) Bank of America has been able to provide help to many underwater homeowners with HARP.

Q: What are some of the bank’s Web-based tools used to educate homeowners or would-be buyers?

A; I would refer your readers to our online Home Loan Guide. It is a comprehensive tool for potential home buyers and current homeowners on mortgages, refinancing, and home equity. It is located at,

Much of the information used in our local market seminars is also included in this guide.

Copyright © 2013 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.), Stephen Frater. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Many improving their bad credit as economy improves

March 4, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – March 4, 2013 – Melvin Montesino endured the full brunt of the Great Recession: A lost job, then foreclosure and even bankruptcy.

Since then Montesino has been on the rebound, working two jobs while improving his damaged credit. “It wasn’t easy. Some banks even turned me down for a prepaid credit card,” he said.

But his efforts have paid off. Despite the foreclosure and bankruptcy, he will close on a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Coral Springs later this month. “It’s pretty spacious,” he said.

The South Florida housing market is filled with thousands of others trying to start over after the recession left them with severe dings to their credit. Many are making good progress. In fact, South Florida is second only to the Los Angeles metro area in the number of people who have improved their once sub-prime credit scores in the year that ended Sept. 30, according to Equifax, the national credit reporting agency.

Some 40,000 people in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties raised their credit scores to 620 or above in a year, removing them from the Subprime/Risky category that meant they had to pay the highest interest rates – if they could get credit, Equifax found. That netted a 3.6 percent decline in the number of South Floridians with bad credit, a substantial improvement.

“People are getting back on their feet and improving their credit,” said Howard Dvorkin who founded the Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services. More people are optimistic about starting over – calls for help in improving low credit scores are up about 25 percent from just a year ago, he said.

In January, consumers in the three counties had an average credit score of 645, just three points below the national average, the consumer website reported.

Many South Florida lenders are trying to help out. Deerfield Beach senior mortgage specialist Adam Cohn said his company, The Mortgage Firm, provides free counseling to help people improve their credit scores so they can better qualify for a home loan.

Cohn, who helped Montesino get a loan for his Coral Springs house, said some South Floridians just need a little nudge, such as encouraging them to pay off credit cards with balances less than $500 to boost their credit score.

One woman took his advice and recently raised her score 30 points to 650. That got her a conventional loan for a home in Davie, Cohn said, a loan she otherwise would not have been eligible for.

Cohn said he also was able to help a man qualify for a loan on a Boynton Beach house after improving his credit score despite filing for bankruptcy five years ago.

“He’ll be closing in the next couple of weeks,” Cohn said.

Some who were forced into bankruptcy or a short sale of their home because of extenuating circumstances beyond their control – and not because of overspending – can qualify for a mortgage in as little time as 24 months, said secondary lender Freddie Mac spokesman Brad German. Those who are foreclosed on have to wait longer – at least three years – to get a Freddie Mac loan, German said.

In Parkland, contractor Ken Viviano sees his recent truck loan from Miramar-based Tropical Financial Credit Union as the start toward rebuilding his damaged credit and eventually buying a new home. He now is trying to short sale his Parkland home that he can’t afford.

“Life was good for many years. Then someone flipped the switch,” Viviano said. Large construction companies could not even pay his company for assignments already finished, Viviano said. “That wiped out my savings and caused me to go into bankruptcy,” he said.

But now the economy is better, he said. Viviano said he and his workers are concentrating on individual homeowners’ kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects.

He is grateful Tropical Financial gave him a chance.

Credit union staffers are aware of the financial trauma that South Florida went through and are willing to take a risk on members who are working again and have the money to pay on debts, said Tropical Financial’s chief lending officer, Helen McGiffin. “We’ll look at their alternate payments, such as utility bills, to see if they have been paying.”

To get a mortgage on the Coral Springs house, Montesino said he was able to improve his credit score to above 700. His break: A bank agreed to give him a prepaid credit card. He said he paid that and other bills faithfully and in the last two years was able to get other credit.

“It was pretty rough in 2008,” said Montesino who has since gone on to work in air conditioning and as a courier. “But you keep working hard.”

Credit score levels

A credit score reflects your creditworthiness to lenders. Increase your score by paying bills on time; using no more than 30 percent of your available credit; obtaining your credit report and disputing errors. Here’s what the scores mean:

720-850 (Excellent) – Earns the best financing terms.
700-719 (Very Good) – Favorable financing.
620-699 (Average) – Qualifies for most loans at higher interest rates
500-619 (Subprime/Risky) – Highest interest rates, credit uncertain.

Copyright © 2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Donna Gehrke-White. Distributed by MCT Information Services. Staff writer Richard Burnett contributed to this report.

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Short sale approvals pre-default are on the rise

March 1, 2013

MIAMI – March 1, 2013 – Banks are increasingly willing to approve short sales before borrowers go into foreclosure, a bright spot for struggling homeowners hoping to escape an underwater mortgage with the least damage to their finances.

About 27 percent of home sales in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade counties last year were short sales where the lender had not filed foreclosure papers against the homeowner, according to a distressed property report released today by the Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac.

It’s a turnaround from a time when borrowers had to default on their mortgages before persuading their bank to do a short sale, which is where the lender agrees to accept less for the home than what is owed on the mortgage. In South Florida, the average difference between the unpaid mortgage balance and non-foreclosure short sale price last year was $116,505, the RealtyTrac report said.

South Florida Realtor Joanne Epstein said the paradigm shift by banks is a reaction to federal rules that went into effect Nov. 1 allowing homeowners to qualify for a short sale even if they are current on payments. Banks also earn credits to satisfy their obligations under the $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement by approving short sales.

“Some people are so scared to not pay their mortgage because they don’t have bad credit and don’t want bad credit,” said Epstein, who works for the Keyes Company/Ragbir Team. “But they can’t afford to pay anymore and are just throwing out good money.”

The federal rule changes only affect loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Under the November changes, borrowers who are current on their mortgage but suffer a hardship such as a death, divorce, or a job change requiring them to move more than 50 miles from their home can be qualified for a short sale by their loan servicers without additional approval from Fannie or Freddie.

The RealtyTrac report notes that the number of South Florida short sales conducted in 2012 before a foreclosure was filed increased 30 percent from the previous year.

Statewide, 33 percent of all home sales last year were short sales completed before a foreclosure was filed. The average difference between the unpaid principal balance and non-foreclosure short sale price was $94,950.

Housing experts say short sales benefit homeowners and lenders. A homeowner suffers a lighter ding to his or her credit than if a foreclosure was completed. Lenders save the cost of a lengthy court proceeding.

An increase in short sales may also lead to a quicker housing recovery, said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist. South Florida short sales had a higher average sale price last year – $133,816 – than bank-owned homes, which went for an average of $129,320.

“Allowing these homes to change hands more quickly will put them with new homeowners who have loans they can afford, which means they are more likely to maintain the property,” Blomquist said. “They’ll be more motivated to be responsible homeowners.”

Kevin Kent, a broker-associate with Platinum Properties in Palm Beach County, questions RealtyTrac’s numbers. He said the percentage of non-foreclosure short sales seems high and that many lenders remain stalwart about having homeowners go into default before considering a short sale.

“Until someone misses payments, the lenders aren’t paying a lot of attention,” Kent said.

But banks are more amenable in general to doing short sales because “they get hurt a lot less,” Kent said.

Copyright © 2013 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Kimberly Miller. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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4 big short sales hang-ups

February 21, 2013

NEW YORK – Feb. 21, 2013 – Short sales are increasing this year, and these transactions can take up to three times longer than a traditional transaction. A lot can go wrong in that timeframe.

These are the most common delays, according to a recent article by George “Gee” Dunsten, a real estate broker and president of Gee Dunsten Seminars.

Title issues: Be sure to do a title exam at the beginning in order to identify all individuals on the deed and mortgages – and determine all lien holders.

Lack of communication with the lender: Lost documents and misunderstandings commonly cause delays. Make it a habit to follow up with the mortgage servicer twice a week to avoid avoidable problems.

Delaying the start: Some short sales don’t begin until a contract to purchase has been initiated, but this can add up to two extra months to the process. The lender won’t even look at a buyer contract until a seller candidate for a short sale is approved and the market value has been determined, Dunsten says.

Incomplete packages: Make sure you carefully submit all documents completely and accurately. Submitting incomplete packages is another common culprit of delays. All homeowner financial information needs to be kept current and forwarded to the servicer every 30 days, says Dunsten.

Source: “Avoiding the Dirty Dozen Barriers to Short Sale Success,” RISMedia (Feb. 20, 2013)

© Copyright 2013 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

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WANTED: New Mayan Calendar

December 21, 2012

Does anyone know where I can get a new Mayan calendar? Mine expired last night.

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Sunken fire pit

October 6, 2012

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The Islands of Copperfield Bay, Musha Cay – Exumas, Bahamas

October 6, 2012

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