A few weeks ago we wrote about attending a recent bank foreclosure and short sale conference.  We told you that banks and the US Treasury department have learned that home retention and loan modifications are not working, and that 2010 will be a year of “The Transaction” either by short sale or foreclosure.  More banks are actually pursuing both simultaneously. 

We’ve been illustrating graphs showing the percent of distressed sale activity in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Lehigh Acres for months now, and this week we decided to update Short Sale activity.  While analyzing MLS data this week we noticed foreclosure sales have dropped in January and February to about 579 per month, down from approximately 700 or so the previous 5 months.  This can be attributed to a backlog of foreclosures in process and a moratorium in place early in 2009. 

Closed Short Sales in SW Florida

We also noticed a stabilization and recent up tick in short sales, reversing a decline in December 2009.  Will these trends continue?  Let’s start with the foreclosures.  We believe foreclosure sales will increase in 2010 as the backlog comes to the market. In fact, we’ve received a large volume of foreclosure listings we’re working to bring to market.  It typically takes time to secure the property, assess the condition, the value, workup a Broker Price Opinion, compare that against the bank’s new appraisal, and meet with the investor to develop a marketing strategy on each property.  All of this is done through the use of a bank asset manager, either an employee of the bank or 3rd part asset manager.  Either way, asset managers specialize in disposing of REO (Real Estate Owned) bank foreclosures. 

Once the value and strategy is determined, the property goes from a pre-listing to an actual listing complete with instructions.  The agent then lists the property in MLS and solicits offers.  Many times the property elicits multiple offers, and the agent presents all offers that match the bank’s criteria.  For instance, we are not allowed to present any offers where we have not personally verified cash funds to close on all cash deals, nor are we allowed to present any subject to financing offers without pre-qualification from that bank’s in-house loan officers.  Banks do not want to take properties off the market simply because a buyer presents a pre-qualification letter from an unknown or out of town bank or mortgage broker.  Speaking from experience, banks and agents have had bad experience with pre-qualification letters.  They are easy to get, and are rarely worth the paper they’re written on, so it is quite natural the bank wants their own people to look at the qualifications of the buyer if they are getting a mortgage.  The borrower doesn’t have to use that bank, but the bank will not look at the offer unless they are offered their pre-qualification letter with the offer. 

So we know 2010 will offer more foreclosure properties that have been initiated in 2009.  What about short sales?  Banks are not offering loan modifications as much as they have proven that they do not work long term.  Politicians still promote the idea as it sounds politically correct, but it further exacerbates the problem.  We are seeing large banks making a push to go online.  Bank of America for example now negotiates their short sales online through a system called Equator.  We have been using Equator to handle Bank of America foreclosures for years.  We hear that banks such as Wells Fargo and perhaps others are in the process of adding their short sales to Equator.

This online venue will allow greater efficiency and allow more people to touch the file, reducing the time it takes to approve a short sale.  The short sale is still a complex transaction and homeowners should not attempt it alone.  In fact, your bank will refer you to use an agent who is familiar with the process.  Short sales are not for every agent and should only be tackled by agents who are committed to learning and operating in a very rigid and complex process.  Buyer agents regularly interview listing agents to make sure the listing agent knows what they’re doing, because if they don’t, the process will fail. 

Look for 2010 to see rising foreclosure sales throughout the year, and perhaps rising short sale numbers as well.  The banks are committing resources to it. We’ll keep reporting the numbers we track, so check back often.

Printed in the News Press, News Press Online, and Ellis Team Blog.

This is the time of year agents are busy selling properties.  If you look at the last two years, historically you will see that sales begin to build each month heading into summer.  The last two years are fairly typical as to how our local market works.  April and May closed sales are results of deals put together in March.  There is typically about a one month lag from contract to closing.  Some closings occur in the same month, and some take longer, especially short sales. 

We think everyone who possibly can buy is attempting to right now for several reasons.  Interest rates are headed higher.  The Treasury Department’s phase-out of buying mortgage backed securities on FNMA and Freddie Mac expires this month.  The last time this happened rates shot up about ¾% in a week or so, so we’re keeping our eye on rates in April and what if anything the government does when they shoot back up. 

We also have the Home Buyer tax credit in place for sales through April 30.  Buyers have a few months after that to actually close these sales, but essentially it allows first time home buyers a credit of up to $8,000 and repeat home buyers a credit up to $6,500.  This is real money, and buyers are acting to receive this money. 

Single Family Home Sales by Month Lee County Florida
Single Family Home Sales by Month Lee County Florida

Additionally, inventory in certain price ranges is drying up, and prices are low.  Buyers from near and far and reaching to scoop up these bargains.  Because these homes are so far below replacement cost, these prices won’t last once the economy improves and builders start building again.  Many of these homes are 40-50% below cost, so there’s a built-in profit for buyers willing to buy now and hold until market improves. 

We know why the market is Hot, but let’s go behind the scenes and explain some things that are affecting the market many people might not know about.   The first major obstacle is appraisals.  Appraisals have been coming up short up to 30% of the time as appraisers not familiar with the neighborhoods are using comparables that are not the best for the subject property.  They are not taking the time to discern if the two neighborhoods are similar, or if the comparables condition is similar.  We’ve seen appraisers use comparables from other neighborhoods that just don’t measure up while ignoring a good comp 2 doors down that closed last week.  We’ve also seen appraisers only use the foreclosures, but they don’t tell the whole picture.  The foreclosures can need lots of work and be in poor condition, and if the appraiser wants to use them as a comp, they need to research its actual condition when property sold. 

The next big issue is we often have multiple offers on each property, and buyers are bidding against each other.  Cash is king, and buyers wishing to finance have a hard time competing with cash buyers.  The seller doesn’t have to worry whether the buyer will get financing when a cash buyer is involved, nor worry about a bad appraisal.  Many of these properties are selling well over asking price, and many buyers are frustrated no matter what they do they can’t land a property.

We also have out of town buyers who believe they can bargain down these homes, and wonder why they lose home after home when the sellers accept someone else’s offer.  Many buyers have said they don’t pay full sticker price, and yet they’re downright frustrated when the seller accepts another buyer’s offer.  Agents I speak with say they are educating buyers right upfront about our market, but buyers often times have to try for themselves.  A buyer can find out the hard way and miss out on their first 6 choices or take their agent’s advice and have a chance at getting choices 1-3.  Even if you offer $10,000 over asking price all cash, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the home, but at least your chances are better.  It pays to study each submarket and determine how each home fits in that puzzle. 

Lastly, title can be an issue.  If you’re buying a foreclosed home, it’s not uncommon for a title issue to creep up and extend the closing out.  Banks don’t always complete the full title process until a contract is secured, and that’s when it could be discovered some outstanding liens, or homeowner associations trying to collect more than the law allows to issue an estoppel letter.  We’ve even experienced a home that needed to be re-foreclosed as it wasn’t done properly the first time. 

If our market wasn’t so challenging, we’d see even higher sales reported.  This market is more complex than ever, but at least it keeps people on their toes and moving.  That’s often little solace to those caught up in a deal when things are going wrong, but I guess it beats having a dead market.  There’s nothing dead about the SW Florida real estate market.

Recently we attended a class with the Five Star Institute which is the premiere resource for educating bank asset managers and real estate agents on effectively handling bank foreclosure transactions.  The class we attended was the REO/Short Sale Summit which focused on bank foreclosures and the short sale process.  The Five Star Institute brought in asset managers for us to talk to, appraisers, banks, and 3rd party asset management companies so we could gain a thorough understanding on how to best deal with foreclosures and short sales, and insight into the back-end servicing agreements that control what the banks can and cannot do on behalf of the investor when approving a short sale or placing a foreclosure.

Short Sales and Bank Foreclosures in Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres
Short Sales and Bank Foreclosures in Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres

 

We learned that the Treasury Dept has agreed that mortgage modifications are not working, and most loan modifications and workouts still end in default.  It was further agreed that 2009 was a year of home retention intended to keep people in their properties, and 2010 will be a year banks collect money, either through a short sale or a foreclosure and re-sale. 

Nationwide it is estimated there is 33 months of foreclosed inventory that has not been released.  Dave Liniger, founder of RE/MAX International told a group of banks a few weeks ago to release the inventory as holding it back is only harming the markets.  In the most distressed markets like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and SW Florida, there is actually a shortage of properties and holding back inventory only prolongs the recovery time of the market. 

A lawyer who handles nationwide short sales and REO properties addressed the audience and said that in many markets such as Florida, it takes over 1 year to get them through the foreclosure process, and 2010 will see many begin this process if short sales don’t succeed.  All agreed that politicians’ running for office like to tell voters they’ll keep them in their homes, but this is actually harming the system instead of helping.  Most blamed president Obama’s initiatives as short sided and designed to score points with voters, but largely ineffective contributing to the problem.  The entire panel feared that politicians running for office this year may further try to prolong the inevitable in hopes of scoring points with voters, but that would further exacerbate the problems today. 

In the last few months we’ve been able to help sellers sell through the short sale process, and from what we’ve heard we may see more of that in 2010 as banks pursue a simultaneous sale; short sale and foreclosure process.  Banks are stepping up their efforts by hiring more people, and moving their platforms online so agents, appraisers, banks, investors, attorneys, etc. can all work on the file together and streamline the process. 

We expect to see more short sales in 2010, and more foreclosures in 2011, depending on how successful the 2010 short sales are.  Agents increasingly are becoming better trained, either from getting their CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) designation or their Five Star designation to handle foreclosures for the banks.  The process has become very complicated.  Even an agent that never wants to list a short sale or do all the required work an REO agent does to sell a property would benefit by taking these courses as it educates agents on what is truly involved in the sale, and it will help them represent their buyers better by helping their buyers structure their offer better so the bank is more likely to accept.  Of course, sellers should select someone strong in this arena, as success with the bank is determined by the seller meeting certain criteria, and the agent properly presenting that criterion. 

Only about 25% of all short sales actually sell, and yet this number can be increased substantially with education.  We are all for the industry getting better educated and increasing this closing ratio, which will help more sellers, help more buyers, and relieve frustrations by all.  The short sale process isn’t for everyone, but for those willing to be patient and properly work the system, the rewards are there.  And we’re for the banks improving their processes to make communication better.  We would actually be for loan modifications and home retention if they actually worked, but unless the banks and government will consider loan reductions instead of short term rate and term modification, we think this is a waste of time and is further harming everyone involved.

We’ve been compiling our annual State of the Market Report which will be released soon and this year more than any other some interesting trends are developing.  Full time agents tend to get caught up in the deals they’re working on and could miss some of the major trends developing in the overall market.  It is always so interesting to analyze the overall Lee County real estate market, and then dissect down to the smaller sub-markets and see what story the data conveys. 

This past week I asked several full time agents who work with a lot of buyers if they could tell me what they’re seeing on a day to day basis.  I then compared what they said with the data we’re compiling to see what they story is. 

A few themes developed from their stories.  The first theme is many buyers have heard Florida is on sale, so they come down here with unrealistic expectations about what they can buy.  Agents are receiving unrealistic requests for things like gulf front homes or condominiums 1 block from the beach with a garage, built in the 2000’s for $100,000 or less, or waterfront gulf access homes, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, built in the 2000’s for $150,000 or less.  The stories go on and on.

 

Year End Prices 1993-2009
Year End Prices 1993-2009

Many buyers want to look at bank foreclosures, but they don’t want to do any work if it needs repair.  They expect all homes should sell at the bank foreclosure prices regardless of whether they need work or not.  Many buyers feel the foreclosures set the prices in the neighborhood even though they may be missing a kitchen and needs tens of thousands in work.  Buyers are quite often dissatisfied with the condition of the distressed properties, but they don’t want to look at a regular home that is all fixed up because it is not a perceived bargain. 

You could take two identical homes next door to each other, one being a foreclosure and needing $15,000 in repairs and another being a normal sale and in excellent condition.  The bank foreclosure might be priced $15,000 below the normal home, but when the buyer sees it they’re turned off.  They’re also turned off by the price of the normal home because they feel it should be priced $15,000 lower.  Many times there is a reason a foreclosure is less money.  It takes money to fix them up, not to mention time and effort.  Not everybody wants to do that. 

Another theme is buyers have no idea homes are selling as quickly as they are.  Many buyers are looking around and because there is some inventory believe they have time.  Many are not motivated to pull the trigger because they believe that home, or one just like it will be on the market in 6 months or next year.  Buyers do not believe these homes are receiving multiple offers and being scooped up by investors who can actually cash flow them at these low prices. 

The emotional buyers are seeing fault with the homes and are afraid to buy.  The studious investor is beating the regular buyers to the punch because they know these homes will be selling for more in the future, and they can actually rent them out and make more return on their money than other investment vehicles.  These homes make financial sense to investors on both ends of the spectrum. 

The regular buyer is operating out of fear and lack of knowledge about the local market.  After they miss out on several properties to higher bidders it becomes apparent to them this market is much more active than they actually thought. 

The SW Florida real estate market is on sale, but it’s the old herd mentality buyers follow.  Buyers tend to be most motivated when everyone else is buying, usually at the height of the market.  It’s true in the stock market, and real estate market.  Back in 2004 and 2005 people couldn’t buy fast enough, sometimes buying groups of homes.  Would you say buying a home back in 2005 was a better investment than buying one in 2010?  And yet the motivations were higher back in 2005 because people weren’t afraid, when they should have been.  2010 is a far greater opportunity, and the people who study the market realize it. 

Later this week we hope to release our State of the Market Report at www.Topagent.com  so you can analyze what properties are selling the best right now, analyze where the inventory is, and what prices are doing on a monthly basis.  Being informed will help you make a better buying or selling decision.  It makes no sense to miss out on opportunities because of lack of local market knowledge just as it makes little sense to overpay, or list at the wrong price either.  If you list too high your property won’t sell, and if you list too low you’ll be giving equity away to someone else who is more informed than you.

We have all questioned what happened to the stimulus funds only to find that there are monies available from the package in Lee County here and now.  The word needs to get out. It is imperative that those who qualify and have a desire to own a home apply for the assistance. Getting people in homes as a result of this funding will inadvertently benefit the market in all price ranges and all sectors.  We will cover that aspect later.

There are currently two programs with funds available: 

HOME DOWN PAYMENT ASSISTANCE   Qualified persons or families can receive up to 20% (not to exceed $20,000) of the purchase price for a single family home.  The single family home must be located in unincorporated Lee County and could be a condo or PUD (Planned Unit Development) or even a double wide mobile home 1976 or newer provided the land is owned underneath the mobile home. The home cannot be a duplex, have an attached or detached mother in law quarters or have a swimming pool.   If all of the funds are not utilized as either down payment or closing costs the balance of the funds will pay down the principal balance.  The funds cannot pay debts or collections, home inspection fees or home repairs. 

The homebuyers household income must meet HUD guidelines. The income for all members of the household will be considered.  Non occupying coborrowers will be considered on a case by case basis.  The home must be affordable for the occupants so the income of the non occupying coborrower will not change the mortgage amount  or sales price.  The coborrower may enhance the credit worthiness.  All assets (including interest income)  will be considered when calculating annual income such as checking/savings accounts, IRA’s, CD’s, cash value of life insurance, etc.. 

Income Limits-HUD Guidelines for Down Payment Assistance
Income Limits-HUD Guidelines for Down Payment Assistance

HUD guidelines 

A ten year second mortgage will be placed on the property.  No interest will be charged and there are no monthly payments.  At the end of the ten years and if the property has been occupied and homesteaded each year a satisfaction of mortgage will be given and the second mortgage will not have to be repaid.  However if the property is sold or leased during the ten year term or not owner occupied or homesteaded, then the prorated balance of the second mortgage will be due and payable.   The second mortgage is self amortizing and will reduce 10% per year.  Does anybody check?  We are told this criteria will be verified. 

The property must pass Lee County’s minimum housing quality standards inspection.  The inspection will be performed by the Department of Human Services inspector.  The house must not exceed HUD guidelines for the number of persons allowed per bedroom.  The property must be existing and have had a certificate of occupancy for at least one year.  It cannot be occupied by tenants that are not purchasing the home. 

There are other rules and regulations all of which make sense and are easy to work with.  Funds are available on a first come first ready basis.  It would make sense to this writer that you get yourself in position to receive the assistance if at all possible. 

The lender applies for the assistance from Lee County on the borrowers behalf.  The lender completes the lender referral form and several required documents including a fully accepted purchase contract.  There is a $50 charge which can be paid by cashier’s check or money order from the purchaser.  Make this non refundable application fee payable to Lee County BoCC. 

NEIGHBORHOOD STABILIZATION PROGRAM 

Lee County is now in the business of buying and rehabilitating foreclosed homes in targeted areas and then selling them to buyers at prices less than what was paid for them.  This is all possible due to the $18 million infusion of stimulus funds.  First of all, the county purchases properties below the appraised value.  Professional contractors go to work on them making the properties very good buys in price and condition.  The county will not raise the price of the homes as the economy improves.  These homes will stay affordable. Some of the target areas include Lehigh Acres, San Carlos Park, East Ft Myers, North Ft Myers, South ft Myers, Pine Manor and Page Park.  Go to nsp.leegov.com to view maps of the target areas. 

The incredible part is that the county will provide a silent second to the home buyer which means that the county may have purchased a home for $60,000 and then spend $$$ fixing it up and sell it for $30,000.  The buyer is paying on the $30,000 mortgage.  If the buyer stays in the home 15 years the silent second is forgiven.  If the buyer decided to sell, rent or refinance before the 15 years have passed the buyer may be obligated to repay the subsidy partially or in full. 

This program is not for investors or second home buyers and only for the buyer’s primary homesteaded residence.  The NSP program is not restricted to first time home buyers but the buyer cannot currently own a home and must be a resident of the United States.  Buyers accepted into the program must complete an 8 hour homebuyer education class. 

Take a look at the income guidelines for a pleasant surprise. 

Down Payment assistance From the County
Down Payment assistance From the County

The NSP program looks at the income of the buyer from a low, moderate or middle range. The low income buyer can get up to 50% of the sales price as a silent second subsidy.  The moderate income buyer will qualify up to 40% of the price of the home and the middle income buyer at 30%.

Lately our office has been inundated with calls from investors throughout the country looking to snap up foreclosure listings at bargain basement prices.  It’s true, we do have some bargain prices, and foreclosures tend to be a good deal.  

Most of these investors want to only talk to the “Listing Agent” because they believe they’ll get the inside track on these deals.  There are some investor gurus out there selling tapes on how to buy these foreclosures, and as a foreclosure listing agent for many of the banks I can tell you that the advice given won’t help you much, so save your money on these tapes.

Foreclosure List Price/Sales Price Ratio 

Average Sale Price of Foreclosures in SW Florida
Average Sale Price of Foreclosures in SW Florida

If you’re looking to purchase a bank foreclosure, here are a few tips: 

  1. If the property is a bargain, offer full price or better.  Most of the foreclosures sell at or above full price.  From personal experience our listings do, so we decided to pull up the entire MLS sales for 2009.  Of the 8,080 single family home sales, the average List Price/Sale Price Ration was 99.02%, and if you look at median prices it was actually 101.8%.  So the stats do match what we’ve experienced.
  2. Be prepared to offer proof of funds with your cash offer, or a pre-approved letter from a major bank.  Many of the banks require a pre-approval letter from the bank handling the foreclosure so they know they’re taking the property off the market for a good buyer.
  3. Place more money in escrow.  Believe it or not, banks do look at how much you place in escrow with your offer.
  4. Make sure it is not contingent on the sale of another property.  Banks are not taking contingent offers.
  5. Work with an agent familiar with the process.  In most cases listing agents take the information from your offer and input key bits of data online.  The bank never sees your offer on the paper it is written until they accept one of the offers.  Do not make the listing agent hunt you down for crucial information.  Most properties have multiple offers, and the listing agent will just move on to the next offer filled out completely and correctly.
  6. Use an experienced agent who knows how to properly write a contract.  If anything does not make sense, the bank will reject that offer and go with another offer they have confidence in, even if it is lower in price.
  7. Asset managers get graded on how close the final offer is to list price, and if they make the scheduled closing time.  Asset managers get very nervous with offers that aren’t written well, as that’s a key sign the selling agent is poorly trained or new.  If the agent is inexperienced, the confidence level of that closing taking place on time, or at all is compromised.
  8. When a bargain comes on the market, don’t waste time.  It may be too late by the time you find out about it, so be ready.  If you know the market, and know what you’re looking for, be prepared to act.  This is no time for “Buyers Remorse” as the market will spit you up and eat you alive.
  9. Do your homework.  Do not buy at the courthouse steps unless you are an expert in inspecting and title.  When buying from a bank, do your inspections, read the bank contract closely, and know the market ahead of time.  You’ll have little time to act, so be prepared ahead of time.

 These tips, along with professional advice from an agent experienced in buying foreclosed property will serve you well, and give you the best chance of getting that bargain you’ve dreamed of.  Good luck, and happy house hunting.

Watch The Future of Real Estate Video Show as we explain this and more.

We’re excited to bring you The Future of Real Estate Radio Show now on video.  We just aired our first show which will be simulcast today on 3 radio stations along with the video.  The advantage to video is we will be able to show graphs and charts as we discuss the market.  We did have our first glitch, so the first chart we talked about on the show didn’t actually make it into the show, however we were able to recapture that portion and place it on YouTube.

Brett Ellis-Future of Real Estate SW Florida
Brett Ellis-Future of Real Estate SW Florida

To view the entire show go to  Topagent.com  To view the 1st segment with the graphs go to our YouTube broadcast.  The first segment illustrated graphs of the distressed property market in SW Florida and how that affect the overall market.  We look forward to bringing you future broadcasts each week, and improving on the quality.  Sorry for the first glitch, but we are real estate agents afterall venturing out into the brave new world of video, and we’ll only get better.

This week we’ll focus on freshly updated numbers for the distressed segment of the Lee County real estate market.  It’s important to study this segment of the market as it has been responsible for a large chunk of sales, and has influenced pricing in the market. 

As you can see from the chart, distressed sales in Fort Myers have fallen precipitously in the last 3 months, down from almost 73% in July to 58% in September.  Short sales in Fort Myers have increased about 20% and foreclosures have dropped 35% while overall sales have remained relatively constant.  This tells us that banks are working to sell properties as short sales in Fort Myers as opposed to acquiring the property through foreclosure and selling later on at much lower prices. 

Distressed Proeprties in SW Florida July-Sep 2009
Distressed Proeprties in SW Florida July-Sep 2009

Cape Coral on the other hand has seen about a 15% drop in overall home sales since July.  Distressed sales have remained relatively even, hovering around 70% all 3 months.  Foreclosure sales have dipped almost 26% since July while short sales have increased 9%.  This tells us that the demand in Cape Coral is directly tied to the bargain, meaning as the distressed inventory has fallen in the Cape, so have overall home sales.  Statistically, buyers in the Cape are all about the bargain, and as home prices have increased in the Cape, home buyers have moved to Fort Myers and potentially Lehigh Acres for the bargains. 

Lehigh Acres has seen a slight fall in distressed sales, down from almost 87% in July to 82% in September.  Lehigh Acres is still far and away the distressed capital of Lee County.  Overall home sales in Lehigh Acres have fallen almost 13% from July to September.  Foreclosure sales in Lehigh Acres are down 18%, while short sales in Lehigh are down 17%.  This is why home sales are down overall about 13% as Lehigh Acres, along with Cape Coral are both proving to be price sensitive markets led by first time home buyers and investors. 

Fort Myers seems to be much more stable at this point in time.  We are seeing a trend towards more expensive properties coming to the market via foreclosure, so it will be interesting to see where these properties are located and how it affects demand and pricing in each of the three major markets in Lee County. 

Congress has extended the first-time home buyer tax credit to purchases made through April and closed by July, and added a provision for existing home owners who have owned their home for at least 5 years.  Unfortunately, in this sagging market it doesn’t give them much time to sell their home and close on a new one to take advantage of this provision, so only a select few may be able to purchase a new home before selling the older home. 

We think Congress could have done a much better job writing this bill.  They did add to income eligibility limits, but again the bill limits who can take advantage by July.  This may further fuel the bargain end of the market assuming the president signs this bill, which has not been done at the time this article was written.

We’re concerned that this bill won’t fuel a total real estate recovery and will continue to spur demand at the lower end of the market.  To pull this economy out of the doldrums, a broad based real estate recovery would have served a better purpose, but I guess we’ll take whatever help we can right now.

We’ll also monitor the trend of banks accepting more short sales.  To date banks have been ill equipped to deal with the magnitude of requests.  Recently Bank of America adopted a policy to use its online foreclosure system of working with approved real estate agents called Reotrans and opened it up to short sales.  This will allow approved agents to more efficiently move Bank of America short sales through the system. 

Sellers wishing to sell their home via a short sale should seek out experienced short sale agents who are also familiar with Reotrans.  Because they are adding more than just bank REO’s (Real Estate Owned) they are changing the name from Reotrans to Equator.  This may revolutionize the way banks handle the massive short sale process and speed up many of these sales.  It will also help that they are using agents familiar with the Distressed Sale process. 

If you’re a seller considering selling as a short sale, it’s almost impossible to go it alone.  We recommend hiring a seasoned professional familiar with the intricacies of a short sale.  You might seek out a CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert).  If you’re a current Bank of America customer, you might also seek out an agent who uses and is approved on Equator.  This could be a trend that other banks go to as it will ease the communication stream and handling of the data among various agents, negotiators, and investors.  This online system could do for short sales what it has done for bank foreclosures, which was to make an online system whereby many authorized people could all work on a file simultaneously and get things done instead of pushing paper from one desk to the next. 

Stay tuned, as the market is always in flux, and we’ll report interesting changes and how they may affect the market.

Last year we told you 3rd quarter sales were very strong, which led up to an almost record 4th qtr in 2008.  Official numbers are in, and 3rd qtr sales in 2009 blew past last years big numbers and surpassed 2005 record numbers by a mile.  To put this in perspective, last years sales numbers were up 72% over 2007 numbers.  This year’s numbers were up 109% over last year.  2005 was the biggest sales number year we had ever seen, and 2009 was up 35% over 2005.

All you read or hear about is how bad the market is, and there is some truth to what you hear.  Rarely though do you hear the whole story, and sales numbers tell a compelling story.

Our market has gone through a predictable healing process.  It’s a process nobody looked forward to, but sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can go back up.  Simply put we had too much inventory and phantom demand.  The demand we thought we had was investors flipping to other investors like musical chairs, until one day the music ran out.  We had high employment because builders were building at warp speed, and we needed mortgage brokers, closing agents, not to mention appliances, carpet, etc.

Then one day when it became apparent the demand was phantom, building stopped as speculators stopped buying from one another.  That led to a severe market correction that was inevitable, which further led to job losses throughout SW Florida.  These further job losses created a downward spiral, which increased foreclosures from not only investors who walked from deals, but regular people who lost their jobs.

The only solution unfortunately was to begin a healing process of selling these homes, which of course was going to be at a price much lower than the high’s of 2005.  The prevailing questions were always, how low would prices have to go, and how long would it take.  And the answers are related.  The higher the prices, the longer the process would take.  Because SW Florida led the state in price drops, it also led in the healing process.  Our prices dropped faster than any other area as evidenced by pricing reports on our website at www.topagent.com under housing statistics.  Thus we have set record sales levels even surpassing the 2005 levels.

Single Family Home Sales By Qtr Lee County Florida Real Estate Market
Single Family Home Sales By Qtr Lee County Florida Real Estate Market

Many people think that because we’re setting record sales levels, prices should rise, and they are partially correct.  However, we’re not done yet with the healing process.  Prices coming down from unsustainable levels was only the beginning of the process.  Prices won’t rise dramatically until we bring back employment to the area.  Oh, we’ll see some rising prices as snow-birds flock to the area this season not wanting to miss out on a great deal.  This won’t lead to massive price increases though because we still lack a driving economic force, which are jobs.  And jobs is not just a SW Florida problem, it’s a nationwide problem.

We’ll also see some price increases as less entry level foreclosures enter the market and we swing more to mid and upper tier foreclosure price points.  Again, these are just statistical numbers.  Median prices may rise, but prices in certain neighborhoods can actually fall due to more foreclosures and distressed sales at higher price points.

The good news is SW Florida has cleansed itself pretty well comparatively speaking.  It’s kind of like a company with lots of inventory in a down economic cycle.  The company can place the inventory on sale and blow out the old inventory, and when the economy rebounds that company is well positioned to capitalize as they are not saddled with high inventory coming out of a recession.

Our market has done a good job of discounting and selling the inventory.  What’s out of our hands is the national economy.  We have sunshine and good weather, but we’ve always had that as an advantage.  We either need the national economy to improve, or we need to steal some jobs from another city and have them relocate to SW Florida.  This may sound bad, but it’s done all the time.  GM just relocated some plants from one state over to IN.  Indiana’s gain was another state’s loss.

So let’s pray the economy gets better soon as it’s good for our real estate market and good for jobs.  And if our local leaders have a few tricks up their sleeves to lure businesses to our area it would be great.  I think our area has suffered and we deserve some good news.  If a company is looking to relocate, it might as well choose SW Florida vs. some other state.  It would be good for their employees to move to a nice place like SW Florida where we have a good work force, decent schools, great weather, and wonderful things to do year round.  If you’ve ever been cooped up for months during a miserable winter, you know the advantages of living here.

So let’s hope our Economic Development Council will be announcing some exciting news soon.  We could all use some good news.  Until then, let the healing continue.

It’s been a few months since we’ve reported numbers for the Current Market Index, so here is the update.  The Fort Myers-Cape Coral area index now stands at 4.02, up slightly from 3.86 in September and 3.81 in August.  The lower the index numbers the better the market for sellers.

This is a result of slightly rising inventory numbers, but very much in line with inventory numbers back in August.  We’ve seen continuous dips in inventory for quite a few months leading up to October, and this is the first month we’ve seen a slight increase.  Pending sales are down ever so slightly as well, however nothing that is statistically significant.

Current Market Index SW Florida Real Estate
Current Market Index SW Florida Real Estate

Existing sales are holding up nicely and still showing healthy gains over last year.  Buyer interest from around the country is strong.  In fact, our team has so many buyer leads coming in that we need to hire 4 more buyer agents to keep up with the activity.  We think season this year is going to be very strong.  Temperatures up north have been unseasonably cold this fall and it’s looking like they could have a long and cold winter.  Traditionally this is always good for the Florida market as snow-birds look for a tropical escape and potential property purchase.

The snow-birds we’ve talked to are already motivated to purchase.  They witnessed first hand that some properties are up about 20% in price over last year as the pickings are getting slim in certain segments.  They realize this season may be the last season to pickup many of these bargain basement priced properties.

We’re seeing waterfront properties in the Cape for example bouncing off their bottom last year for entry level direct access properties.  We’ve also seen a bottom in Cape Coral for entry level homes, especially pool homes.  This has fueled an increase in sales in the Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres market. Fort Myers home sales in September increased by 6 sales. Cape Coral lost 35 sales versus the previous month.  Lehigh Acres gained 7 sales versus September.

As sales potentially shift from the Cape over to Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres, we could see a bottoming in prices there as well.  You’ve heard the term that water seeks it’s own level.  As prices get too high in a given area, buyers shift their focus to other more affordable areas.  Many have preferred to live in Cape Coral over Lehigh Acres, but in the run-up back in the early 2000’s, prices in the Cape got so far ahead of Lehigh Acres that buyers shifted to Lehigh for the value, and thus a boom began in Lehigh.  As foreclosures hit hard, many buyers scooped back into the Cape for the bargains and preferred the Cape over Lehigh all else being equal.  Because we’ve sold many of the Cape foreclosures, the bargains are not there like they used to be, so we’re seeing this shift to wherever the bargains are.

We’re still in a bargain market for the time being, but that could change.  Northerners are starting to fear that the bargains are drying up and they don’t want to miss out, so this season could get very exciting.  It’ll be interesting to watch where the money goes, and what happens when the foreclosure well starts to run dry.  How will that affect the overall market?

Speaking of foreclosures, it appears banks are cranking up the process on a whole new batch of foreclosures.  Some have speculated that banks purposely waited until the end of 4th qtr which ended Sept 30 to file these new lawsuits so their books would look better.  Wall Street has a history of doing this for earnings and results.  A friend of mine has even speculated banks are keeping losses off their books this year to pad their earnings so they can collect bigger bonuses.  There may be some truth to that.

Last year we saw a spike in Lis Pendens filings for precisely the same theory.  We’ll have to watch the November and December filings to get a feeling if this is another Wall St accounting trick of holding back what they can, and thus the October spike, or if this is a long-term trend.  If this is a long-term trend, then it will stall increase in prices.  If this is merely a short-term blip like last year, we could see fewer bargains and more actions from northerners fearful for missing out on one of the best buying opportunities in awhile.

Just like back in 2005, you cannot calculate the absolute top of the market until it’s in your rear view mirror.  Timing the bottom of the market is much the same way, and in fact we’ve seen a bottom already in certain segments.  The entire market doesn’t always move in unison.

Our advice to buyers is simple.  Regardless of whether this is the absolute bottom, we’ve already seen the bottom, or we have a little bit more to go, prices are bargains right now.  You may not want to miss this general time period, because one day soon we may look in the rear view mirror and kick ourselves for missing the buying opportunity of a lifetime.  All the bank’s misery and misfortune can now become your gain.  Somebody is going to capitalize on this misfortune.  Why not you?