We like to include charts to illustrate latest trends in the SW Florida real estate market.  For years we’ve tracked numbers and reported the upside and the downward trends in the market.  For the past year or more all market trends have been to the upside.  Preliminary numbers gathered by the Ellis Team indicate single family home listing inventory in Lee County went up for the first time since January 2011.  Granted, back in January single family home inventory was 34.54% higher than it is today, but this past month is the first time we’ve seen inventory rise in months.

SW Florida Single Family Home Sales
SW Florida Single Family Home Sales

Listing inventory only rose 43 units which accounts for about .5%, so it’s not an alarming trend, just a slight change in direction we’ll keep our eye on.  Due to space constraints we didn’t include that chart; however we’d like to draw your attention to the SW Florida Sales Chart and the Pending Sales Chart.  Both these charts support findings in the inventory levels.

Sales in SW Florida have been falling since March which isn’t out of the ordinary the past several years.  What’s interesting is that September 2011 sales are slightly behind 2010 levels, but not by much.  Again, it’s the direction of the change, not the actual numbers we’re looking at.

Pending home sales Fort Myers Cape Coral Lee County Floirda
SW Florida Pending Home Sales

Pending sales have also fallen since March.  This confirms that pending sales are an accurate indicator of future closings.  While it makes perfect sense, sometimes in life what appears to make sense doesn’t always match reality, but in this case it does match. For months inventory levels have gone down and many have speculated that’s the cause of decreased sales.  We think there is a lot of truth in that.

Listing inventory just went up this past month, so does that mean sales will go up?  When official numbers are released next week we don’t think so.  We think they’ll mirror what we’ve been reporting and will be down slightly from the previous month.  So if inventory has been a legitimate reason sales have fallen, why wouldn’t the increase signify increasing sales going forward?

The answer is it could, but there are other factors.  We must look at the mix of inventory as well as other factors.  The mix refers to traditional sales versus foreclosed homes and short sales.  Not all short sales close, and their timing is anything but predictable.  Foreclosure inventory looks to rise some in the 4th qtr of this year and more in the 1st qtr of next year.  If this bears out, sales will almost assuredly be influenced by the exact number hitting the market as there is a large appetite for foreclosed bargains.

Other wild cards influencing the market are the availability of credit. Banks are requiring buyers to jump through more hoops and regulations than ever. The new Dodd Frank Act is making it more difficult to close even approved loans.  Regulations have become burdensome and making it impossible to meet certain deadlines.  We always say time is of the essence in our contracts, but that’s not the case as Congress has changed so many regulations for the worse.

There are waiting periods for HUD closings statements to be approved, so if there is any little change, all prorations of fees may need to be re-approved. If a buyer selects a different rate or program, the bank must re-disclose everything and a new waiting period begins.  This makes it difficult to meet certain deadlines in short sales, and many times that property is foreclosed instead of a successful sale because Congress saw fit to add additional layers and slow everything down.

Congress always has good intentions, but they don’t use their head.  Loans take hours to underwrite now and certain loans banks don’t even want to mess with because of the new regulations.  This hurts certain segments of the market.  I hear almost everyday complaints from loan officers on how tough their industry is.  Of course, lending affects our industry, and real estate affects the economy.  Sometimes I wish Washington DC would listen to people in business and get out of the way.  We’d all be better off if they regulated less and let business do business.  That’s the way to create tax revenues.

While we can’t control Washington, we can keep our eye on Main Street.  Main Street is ok in SW Florida, and we’ll continue to monitor.  One month doesn’t make a trend.  We’re simply reporting a slight change in direction, and we’ll watch the trends going forward to see what sticks.  If we can help you with your real estate needs, don’t hesitate to call 239-489-4042 or visit our website www.Topagent.com

 

Official sales numbers haven’t been released yet, so we study inside the numbers to see what the market is doing.  Our analysis shows single family home sales in December shot up 32% over November, and condo sales shot up over 54%.  We’ve been reporting the past few months pending sales have been building which could lead to a surge in closings.  December began that surge.

Single Family Home and Condo Sales in SW Florida
SW Florida Home and Condo Sales

Foreclosure closings in Fort Myers proper almost doubled from 65 to 123.  Short sales climbed from 49 to 68.  57.19% of the Ft Myers single family home market was distressed, up 10% from the previous month.  This tells us banks allowed more short sales to close, and we were finally able to close some of the foreclosure sales that were tied up.

Cape Coral experienced a 35.81% rise in home sales.  All facets of the market rose, foreclosures, short sales, and regular sales.

County wide foreclosure sales were up 55.19%, while short sales were only up 13.33%  So of the 32% increase in overall sales, a large part was due to an increase in foreclosure sales.  Like it or not, foreclosure sales are not only leading the market, they’re almost dictating it.  Distressed sales county wide last month accounted for 59.90 of all single family home sales, and foreclosures accounted for 41%.

So here’s the breakdown.  Traditional sales 40.1% Foreclosure sales 41.3% Short sales 18.6%.  Distressed sales are driving this market, and probably will for some time until employment rises in the area.  Many national news outlets are running with stories that Florida and our area will see further declines.  This is a case where the authors really don’t understand the market.

We’re not ones to fluff up the market.  In fact, we predicted declines in prices, and most would say we’ve been pretty spot on in our price and volume predictions.  While nobody can be perfect about something that hasn’t happened yet (The Future) we believe SW Florida was the first in crisis and our crisis may last longer because it was more widespread, but we’re in the later innings of the foreclosure crisis.

Most of our investors have already folded their cards and ran.  Today we’re left with more foreclosures, but they’re due to people losing jobs and income versus legacy investment choices.  Oh sure, there are some investors still losing their properties, but the debt issues (Resetting Adjustable Rate Mortgages) set to reset later this year isn’t much of a factor here as those investors are already gone.  This will be an issue up North more than here.

I hear people say today’s foreclosures are a result of bad loan decisions.  Again many of the early defaults were, but today’s defaults are more from average people losing one or more incomes.  These loans were a good decision at the time, but things change when unemployment exceeds 14%.

We look for solid sales volume going into season as visitors realize our prices are bargains and they’re trying their best to scoop them up.  A few are going for blood and are realizing they’re not in competition with the bank, but other buyers and they’re losing out in multi-offer situations.

Buyers in this market are wise to listen to local experts rather than national experts who haven’t studied our market and what factors are influencing it right now.  If I had a dime for every buyer who said they should low-ball because our market is going lower I’d probably have more money in my pocket than I do now.  Those same buyers would have a nice home at a nice price and wouldn’t be on the outside looking in wondering how they’re going to buy their little piece of SW Florida paradise.

Sellers are the last to realize a market has topped and buyers are last to realize a market has bottomed.  While all segments of the market may not have bottomed, many have, and the wise buyer will reset their expectations and go get their piece of paradise before someone steals their gem right out from under them.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out our  SW Florida Real Estate December 2010 Video Update

We just pulled up sales numbers for Lee County for July 2010 and we see a trend continuing that began about 4 months ago in many areas. Except for Cape Coral, the percentage of sales that are distressed is rising throughout the county.  Cape Coral has remained relatively steady at about 62% of all single family home sales the last few months, but even that is up from 54.57% in April.

Single Family Distressed Home Sales in SW Florida
SW Florida Distressed Home Sales

Lehigh Acres is leading the county by far with approximately 3 out of every 4 sales being in distress.  This number has risen from 71.31% back in April.  Lee County numbers have risen about 10% in the last 4 months, which is an interesting sign.  Is this troubling? 

Foreclosure sales are going down, as are short sales, but regular sales are falling even faster, which leads to a higher distressed sale percentage.  To that extent, this is troubling. 

Some would argue that more short sales going through is a good thing, and it would be if this were true, but short sales have been going down in recent months.  Banks have not been easier to work with on short sales overall, while in some select instances they have been. 

Foreclosure sales have fallen as a backlog has been slow to enter the market.  We’ve been told there are still many homes in backlog, while some dispute that fact. We’re also noticing new foreclosure proceedings starting on failed short sales and people who’ve managed to hold off this long but no longer can due to employment and the economy. 

Heading into the fall elections, it’s safe to say things are not better with the economy, and the housing market is not finished cleansing itself.  The good news is we have a market, and the market is absorbing new bank foreclosure listings, but nothing is being done to help the economy and prevent them in the first place. 

Mortgage modifications have largely been a failure, and government efforts have been a joke.  Back loading a mortgage modification with extra principal and interest to the back end of the loan doesn’t help the homeowner when given a 6 month reprieve on payments.  At the end of 6 months, they still cannot afford the loan, and now the payment is higher than it was before when they couldn’t afford it. 

If a bank is willing to short sale to a new buyer, maybe they should consider a principal reduction to an existing owner who is in Real trouble.  I know banks are afraid to do this as every homeowner would ask for the same thing regardless of need, and this is a valid concern.  It is, however, probably one of the few tactics that would work.  

The other is to provide meaningful employment, and it’s clear that the stimulus plan hasn’t worked.  The government has failed at both ends of the spectrum.  All mortgage solutions have been voluntary on the banks part, and the banks haven’t always behaved nicely when dealing with distressed sales.  It’s time for a plan with teeth to compel the banks to cooperate, and a plan to get the economy moving again. 

Housing plays a big part in the economy; approximately 32% of GDP, so it makes sense to kick start the economy on Main Street.  Wall Street will respond once Main Street is stabilized.  November is only 3 months away, and I have a feeling the voters are going to vote with their pocket books this year, or perhaps with their pink slip.

Lee County single family home sales sold at a record pace for the 1st quarter of 2009, eclipsing the 1st Qtr of 2005.  This follows the 4th Qtr of 2008 which was the second highest quarter on record, taking a backseat to you guessed it, 2005.

Lee County Single Family Home Sales by Quarter
Lee County Single Family Home Sales by Quarter

For Larger Version, click here.

The bubble burst of years past has actually helped make homes affordable again, and combining that with a $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit in effect until Dec 1, 2009 and low interest rates, and median prices as low as 1997 prices, you’ve got a perfect storm again for dramatically increased home sales.  We believe 2nd Qtr home sales in Lee County will again be very strong, however home sales could slow later in 2009, but not for the reasons you might imagine.

Yes, interest rates have been climbing almost as fast as the price of oil, and both can negatively impact home sales.  The real reason home sales may decline in the 2nd half of 2009 may be that inventory is drying up.  In the coming weeks we’ll present some inventory graphs that will illustrate exactly what is happening with inventory. You would think that as inventory declines, prices would go up, and that is typical in a real estate cycle.  I think this cycle could be different.  For years, buyers have been conditioned that prices are going down and to wait for the bargains.  Buyers are just now getting the word that the bargains are disappearing and many are fighting with other home buyers to get the few bargains available.  Some buyers however, haven’t gotten the memo, and are still making offers at or below asking price, and they wonder why they’re missing out on house after house.  They’re not properly educated on what is actually happening in real time.

Jobs are not growing yet in SW Florida.  Right now we have investors coming in and scooping up the bargains and competing with home buyers because sales prices are so far below replacement cost builders can’t afford to build.  These prices are an anomaly and will not stay at these low prices forever.  This all leads me back to why I believe home sales could stagnate in the 2nd half if lenders don’t keep the foreclosure pipeline streaming.

There are two schools of thought on where prices are headed.  First is the old Supply Vs. Demand theory, that as inventory levels drop and buyers feverishly buy, prices automatically will go up.  In fact, we are seeing evidence of this occurring in certain segments, particularly waterfront and entry level Cape Coral homes.  Prices have bounced off the bottom and have been on their way up since last year.

The other school, and this theory is just my own and not economically tested, is that prices are so far below replacement cost, buyers have become conditioned to buy so long as it’s a bargain.  What happens when the bargains are gone and prices begin rising?  Will buyers buy in fear of prices tomorrow being higher than prices today?  Something tells me sellers will be staring down the buyers with a “gotcha” type mentality because sellers have taken it on the chin for so long.  Buyers may look at the sellers and say “You don’t have me, I’ll just sit back and do nothing now that it’s no longer a Deal.”  And hence the stare down begins, and the question becomes, who blinks and how long does it take?  We saw some evidence of this after Hurricane Andrew on the East coast.  Transactions slowed as buyers faced with diminished inventory couldn’t accept right away the new pricing the market brought to bear, and the stare down game began.

We do have some foreclosures backlogged in the system, and we’re going to need them to be released.  They all have to sell anyway, and the longer they sit vacant the more the properties deteriorate from lack of maintenance, storms, water damage, vandalism, etc. Nothing good can happen with a vacant foreclosed home in a neighborhood, so the process of foreclosure and getting a new end user in actually helps the healing process of the market, and until we complete this process our market will not be healed.

Ultimately the wild cards are how many foreclosures will come to the market, and when will employment in SW Florida rise.  Pricing will most likely follow both events, and to some extent interest rates.  Interest rate increases cut into the buying power of buyers, and many first time home buyers are tight.  The other factor will probably be public perception of the overall economy and how people feel about their job and their overall financial situation.  The market’s ability to assess and discern what is truly happening in the real estate market, without all the fluff, will go a long way to determining when prices will start rising again and how quickly.

So the SW Florida real estate market is currently setting sales records.  In the coming weeks we’ll do our best to break down by segment exactly what is happening in our market and what it could mean going forward.

Home sales in the SW Florida real estate market set an all-time record in April 2009 with 1,468 single family home sales, eclipsing the mark set in March of 1,464.  Sales are literally off the charts as affordability is in the market.  In fact, median home sale prices in the Fort Myers Cape Coral area fell by 3.39% last month down to $85,500, down from $88,500 in March.  For a comparison of monthly home sales in SW Florida from 2005-2009 see the latest Fort Myers Cape Coral home sales chart.

Median prices in SW Florida are down 57% from last year, down from $200,300 to $85,500  Median single family home sale prices have fallen every month this year except for February when they went up 2.74%  See our SW Florida Real Estate Month Over Month Prices chart.  To illustrate just where median home sales prices are today Vs. where they have been every year since 2005, visit our SW Florida Real Estate Sale Prices 2005-2009 chart.

Condo sales in the Fort Myers and Cape Coral area were up 7% over last year, and probably would have been much higher if FNMA hadn’t changed financing rules making it increasingly difficult to finance most condominium associations throughout SW Florida.  It used to be we worried about whether or not the buyer was qualified for a mortgage, and this past year we learned it was much more difficult to get a condo association approved than it is to get the buyer approved.  Banks have over-reacted and will cause further problems in the condo market going forward, which may actually increase delinquencies as existing owners will not be able to refinance or sell to anyone other than a cash buyer. 

Condo median prices in Cape Coral and Fort Myers fell 33% from $195,500 last year to $131,800 this year.

Statewide single family home sales were up 18% and median home sale prices were down 31%, and condo sales were up 21% and median condo prices were down 40%.  As you can see, Fort Myers and Cape Coral are leading the state, as our home sales are up 81% over last year compared to the statewide average of 18%.  SW Florida condo median prices were down 33% compared to the state average of 40%

The Fort Myers News Press interviewed Brett Ellis of the Ellis Team at RE/MAX Realty Group in Fort Myers about Lee County’s all-time sales record.

Late last week we released two additional charts containing the SW Florida real estate sales numbers, as well as the entire state of Florida.  The Fort Myers Single Family Homes chart shows the Fort Myers and Cape Coral home sales up 80% over last year, as well as single family home sales for the entire state of Florida. The Fort Myers Cape Coral Condo Sales chart shows the Fort Myers and Cape Coral July 2008 sales as compared to July of 2007, as well as the entire state of Florida.

Each month the Florida Association of Realtors releases official sales numbers for Fort Myers real estate, Cape Coral real estate, and several other metropolitan areas.

The Ellis Team SW Florida real estate Current Market Index leveled off in July to a 7.51 mark, up slightly from the 7.23 numbers in June.  The lower the index the better it is for sellers, and the higher the index the better it is for buyers.  We witnessed 5 straight months of decline before this leveling off.

 

SW Florida Current Market Index July 2008 Ellis Team RE/MAX

Single family listings in Lee County Florida rose slightly from 15,634 to 15,668, while pending sales dipped slightly from 1,697 to 1,574.  Both factors contributed to the slight uptick in the CMI index.  This could be somewhat seasonal.  We’ve also noticed a surge in investors swooping in to buy distressed bank foreclosures in recent weeks, which could be a positive sign.  Investors tend to be less emotional and more analytical about the numbers, and their comfort level with today’s prices speaks volumes.  It is important to note that these pending sales have been translating into significant increases in closing volume of 2007 levels.  Home sales in Lee County were up 43% in June over last year’s numbers, following up on a big increase in May as well.  Prices are down and volume is up.

The CMI index in Fort Myers actually improved, while Cape Coral softened just a bit.  Listing inventory of single family homes declined in Fort Myers from 2,528 to 2,489, while inventory in Cape Coral rose from 5,092 to 5,104.  Pending sales dipped slightly in the Cape while they held steady in Fort Myers