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?

A few weeks ago we stated here that we believe there will be more mid to upper priced foreclosures coming to the market in the next year, as more Alt-A mortgages are foreclosed on as scheduled interest rate resets take effect. We’ve seen most of the sub prime loans already come and go from the market. So the next wave should be the Alt-A and the economy driven foreclosures as regular people who have lost their jobs due to the falling economy begin to stop paying.

We based this upon a graph in our State of the Market Report published last January. You can view this graph in greater detail and in color on our Blog at http://ellis.realty-buzz.com or visit our Fan Page on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Ellisteam As you can see by the chart, Option Arms are scheduled to reset at their highest point about August of 2010.

Reset Schedule of Mortgages by Type
Reset Schedule of Mortgages by Type

A feature of the Pay Option Arm is that borrowers are allowed to pick a payment, meaning they can pay any one of several payment options.  These loans began with low teaser rates, and one of the ways they allowed borrowers to minimize their payment was by allowing the buyer an option to make a payment less than the “Interest Only” portion of what the loan would have been.  These types of loans are called “Negative Amortization” because each month the borrower is losing equity.

Pay Option Arms were used primarily by borrowers who wanted to maximize their purchasing power by leveraging as much as the banks would lend with the absolute minimum payments.  These buyers didn’t worry that they were getting further behind each month as they figured the home would appreciate faster than the negative equity would accrue due to the loan.  Most of these borrowers planned to “flip” the property and make a fortune, then repeat the cycle all over again.

In this cycle of irrational exuberance, few thought about when the musical chairs would run out.  It seemed like that crazy market would last forever, until one day when the music died.  You could see the train wreck that would one day ensue.

Simultaneously, the value of the property is in free-fall and the loan amount is increasing by the month.  You’ve heard the terms “Upside Down” and “Getting Hit at Both Ends”.  This pretty much sums up what happened to Option Arm borrowers in heavily concentrated investment areas like many new subdivisions here in SW Florida.

Have you ever wondered why certain established neighborhoods held their value fairly well through the downturn, while newer communities seemed to take it on the chin?  The answer is investors and speculators flocked to newer construction, as this is where the perceived pre-construction deals were back in 2003-2005.  The problem is we had too many speculators.  Investors can be quite healthy for a market, but a speculator just drives up prices for the sole purpose of Flipping to another buyer.  The only useful purpose this would serve is providing the capital to speed up construction to provide much needed supply due to high levels of demand.  The problem is, we had phantom demand.  Our market sped up the supply side without real end users.  There’s something not quite right when the end user is another speculator buying to flip same property for a 3rd or 4th time to another speculator.  Eventually the music dies and the musical chairs run out, except this is real life and not fun and games.

The rest of us have been picking up the pieces from this sad game, and we’ve all paid a price.  Construction jobs have left, values have plunged, banks have failed, taxpayers have paid for a bailout, and just about everyone that played the game is sorry.

Many of these Option Arm’s have already defaulted as the speculators learned early on they couldn’t flip the property for a profit, so they quit making payments.  We do believe there are some regular buyers who also used the Option Arms to purchase more home, and some have been hanging on for as long as they can because they can’t afford to sell their home.  Once these payments reset, we could see another round of foreclosures hit the market.  These buyers tended to buy the mid and upper tier homes.  This is one reason we predict you’ll see more higher priced homes coming out of the foreclosure pipeline.

We’ve seen the foreclosure pipeline growing in the past few months, and due to processing delays, we expect several foreclosures to start hitting the market this month.  Filings are down, so the foreclosures coming out now were backlogged from back in December and January.  The resets in 2010 and 2011 will also take awhile to work their way through the system, so bottom line is we’ll see a certain amount of foreclosures for the next several years.  The sooner we clean them up and ship them out the sooner we’ll be on our way to a normal market, so I say bring them on without delays, so we can all get back to listening to the music.  Leave your chairs at home.

You’ve heard the expression Tis the Season, and in real estate season can mean many different things depending on where you live, and what type of product you’re referring to.  Let’s talk about the Seasonality of the SW Florida Real Estate Market. For many years in SW Florida condo sales were highly dependent on seasonal sales, and in many tour developments that is still true.  However, even with condos there are differences.  Some condos are located at the beach; some can be rented weekly Vs monthly, and so on.  There are only a few golden rules in real estate; Location, Location, Location, and Price.  If you over price a home in this market, chances are good it will not sell, and we all know location makes a difference, although some would argue it’s still a function of Price.  The better the location, the better the price, but that’s the old chicken and egg theory we’ll stay away from today.

Today we thought we’d illustrate some seasonal trends in single family home sales throughout the years. For many years we’ve told people single family home sales traditionally peak in the summer months, perhaps because kids are out of school and that’s when the relocations tend to take place, and perhaps that many of our buyers over the years were move-up buyers and they had more time to look after the Season their business just had.  For years we didn’t have large companies employing hundreds or thousands of people, so many of our buyers worked for or owned small business, and they were busier in Season than out of season.

 

Seasonality of the SW Florida Real Estate Market
Monthly Sales Graph since 2005 Showing Seasonality of SW Florida Real Estate Market

We have attracted a few large employers, although a few more would be welcomed by all here I think.  Our market has been in turmoil since 2005, so we weren’t sure the charts would show the traditional rule of thumb that home sales tend to peak March through end of summer.  Upon further study of the home sales graph, it does seem to hold true even in this time of change that home sales peak in the March through Summer time frame, and as we enter the fall one might expect home sales could decline.

This year may or may not be like recent past years as we have a first time home buyer tax credit in play that expires November 30, artificially low interest rates as the government has been buying treasuries at least through October, and artificially low property values due to the distressed nature of the market.  Put all this together and you’ve got a Perfect Storm for record sales, and we’ve seen that for the past year.

So what could speed this train up or slow it down going forward?  In a few weeks interest rates could head up if the government doesn’t decide to keep them lower.  If so, rates could shoot up over 6% almost overnight like it did a few months ago last time their decision was about to expire.  Additionally, the first time home buyer tax credit could go away, thus taking some motivation out of new buyers in the market.  How the public reacts to the overall economy, health plans, stimulus money, bailouts, etc. could also affect public confidence about the direction the country is headed, and affect purchasing decisions.  All these could slow the train down.

The train could also gain momentum if the government enacted a tax credit for all buyers, not just first-time home buyers.  Nationwide we’ve been lacking the move-up buyer, and that’s certainly true here as well.  A tax credit for everyone would spur a recovery in the overall market, and may decrease pressure on banks.  As tax payers we either spend it here or spend it there, however if we help save the banks and spur home sales we also help the economy and increase jobs at the same time.  It would also help if the government keeps interest rates low by buying treasuries allowing the market more time to heal itself.

A reform of the newly enacted (May 1) appraisal rules would also help the market, as new rules intended to help have actually hurt, and have not increased quality of many appraisals.  We would argue the new government program has increased costs, increased inefficiencies, and spurred out of town appraisers who don’t know the market’s intricacies, but what would you expect when you put the US government in charge of local property valuation rules?

Some banks are getting better at evaluating and approving short sales when they make sense and some have gotten worse.  How banks make decisions today will affect future foreclosure inventory.  We believe foreclosures coming to the market may increase in the next year, which will help sales because inventory has been shrinking, and this will bring more affordable housing to the market to replace dwindling inventory.  We don’t see rapid price increases on the horizon until we see job growth, and even though we have artificially low sales prices, we are seeing sales because they are bargains.  I’m not sure we’d see anywhere near the sales volume if these bargains went up significantly in price overnight, and this is why I don’t think prices will jump dramatically when inventory contracts until the overall economy heals with the housing market.  And this is why we are in favor of a home buyer tax credit for all, so we can heal both simultaneously.

SW Florida real estate sales in Fort Myers and Cape Coral Florida set new records again in May with single family home sales in Cape Coral and Fort Myers totalling 1,417 sales, eclipsing the May 2005 sales record of 1,309.  See SW Florida Real Estate Homes Closed 2005-2009 chart illustrating home sales by month since 2005.  Median sales prices for single family homes in Cape Coral and Fort Myers was up 3.51% from April median home prices, up to $88,500.  For a complete look at median single family home sale prices in Fort Myers Cape Coral since 2005, see the SW Florida Real Estate Sales Prices 2005-2009 graph.

Prices are still falling in the mid to upper levels of the SW Florida real estate market, while prices seemed to have stabilized in the entry level market.  First time home buyers are buying as fast as they can as they compete with investors for the best bargains.  Short sales are picking up as banks cut through the red tape of approving short sales, although time frames are still long.  Canadians are buying properties in SW Florida due to the favorable exchange rate, and the fact that Florida is on sale.

Fort Myers Cape Coral Real Estate Sales Soared

Condo sales for May in Cape Coral and Fort Myers were up 41% Vs. the State of Florida which was up 21%.  Median sales prices for condos in SW Florida were down 35% year over year, as opposed to the statewide average of down 38%.  See the Florida Sales Report May 2009 Existing Condos graph.

It looks like the 2nd Qtr is shaping up to be another record setting quarter for home sales.  The 1st Qtr home sales in Lee County Florida sure was.  We won’t know for another month when June sales are officially released.

Shortly we’ll be releasing the latest Current Market Index for Fort Myers and Cape Coral for June which should explain where our market is headed.

The Ellis Team at RE/MAX Realty Group in Fort Myers has long supported baseball in Lee County, and this year baseball has paid back.  Jason Ellis, Brett’s son played for the Junior Twins in South Fort Myers and the Junior Twins took home the County Championship this past week, which is a tremendous achievement.

South Fort Myers Little League County Champions Jason Ellis and Brett Ellis
Jason Ellis and Brett Ellis

South Fort Myers Little League County Champions

Paul Hobby managed the team and did an excellent job as he is a great role model with the kids.  The coaches all put in extra duty this year to get the kids ready for a winning season, and the kids worked hard too.  Brett Ellis and Matt Scott coached the team along with Paul.

Manager Paul Hobby, Coaches Brett Ellis and Matt Scott, and the Twins
Manager Paul Hobby, Coaches Brett Ellis and Matt Scott, and the Twins

South Fort Myers Junior Twins: The team won the Lee County Championship over the South Fort Myers Red Sox 13-3 on Friday. Of the 23 Junior Little League teams in Lee County, the South Fort Myers Little League had all four of its squads in the county semifinals. The Twins captured a 9-8 semifinal victory over the SFM Cardinals. The SFM Red Sox outfought the SFM Mariners for a 4-2 victory in the semifinals. Zach Belcher was the winning pitcher for the SFM Twins in the championship game, pitching five innings.

2009 South Fort Myers Junior Twins Championship Team Photo
2009 South Fort Myers Junior Twins Championship Team Photo

Read News Press coverage of Title Game.

This week’s SW Florida real estate video update presented by The Ellis Team at RE/MAX Realty Group focuses on SE Fort Myers Florida.  SE Fort Myers consists of zip codes 33912, 33913, 33966, and 33967 and covers Gateway, Fort Myers South around the Daniel’s Parkway Corridor over to US 41 down tthrough San Carlos Park.

SE Fort Myers Florida Real Estate Video Update

View this week’s SE Fort Myers Florida Real Estate Video Update  Average prices were down about 22% in SE Fort Myers, however sales were up significantly.

Follow The Ellis Team on Twitter, so you can keep up to date on Fort Myers and Cape Coral real estate news and information, including information on the entire Southwest Florida real estate market.  Our latest post on Twitter includes our Cape Coral real estate video update.  Check our our Ellis team SW Florida Top Agents page on Twitter.