Because we are writing this article this week before official numbers are released, we decided to go inside the numbers and focus on listing inventory and sales data.  According to preliminary numbers researched by the Ellis Team, listing inventory rose again for the 3rd consecutive month.

Single Family Home Listing Inventory in SW Florida
SW Florida December 2011 Listing Inventory

Lehigh Acres has been holding fairly steady while Cape Coral is seeing the largest gains in inventory.  Fort Myers is inching higher ever so slightly.

What’s interesting is the distressed sales market.  We track a variety of graphs.  One graph not shown here because it’s a little tangled and hard to read in newspaper format shows large drops in distressed sales in Lehigh Acres, Fort Myers, and Lee County overall.  Cape Coral has held steady at 50.45% of all single family sales being distressed.  Lee County stands at 48% distressed rate in November.

SW Florida Distressed Sales Chart December 2011
Foreclosures Vs Short Sales December 2011

We have included a Foreclosures Vs Short Sales graph that is a bit easier to read.  It fairly well shows the history of the foreclosure and short sale market in SW Florida.  As you can see, the height of foreclosure sales was in June 2009, while the height of the short sale market was March 2011.

 

Banks revved up their short sale departments to handle an increased load.  It can be said that potentially each of these successful short sales may have saved a corresponding amount of foreclosures, so it was in the banks and the markets best interests to sell these homes as short sales rather than as foreclosures.

Going into 2012 we’re going to continue to watch the listing inventory and the mix of inventory.  Traditional sales are on the rise as a percentage of all sales, although many homeowners are not selling at today’s bargain basement prices.

Speaking of bargain prices, many buyers are calling wanting to buy homes for investment and expecting 2009 prices.  It seems like sellers are always the last to recognize when prices are dropping and buyers are the last to recognize when prices are rising.  Why is that?  Could it be selective hearing or denial?

We can definitively say that investment homes in Cape Coral and Lehigh acres bottomed in 2009 and have risen since.  Buyers today can no longer pick up a home for $35,000 in Lehigh unless it has major problems.  $70,000 is more common place for the low end now, so essentially prices in the low end have doubled.

Sales are flat in December versus November; however we are expecting sales to pickup in season again.  We’ve had no trouble selling homes.  The biggest challenges we’ve faced are closing these homes.  Lately we’ve been encountering title issues, mortgage re-disclosure issues due to any delays, and buyers not waiting patiently for the short sale approval.  We’re getting short sales approved within 60 days in many cases, but buyers are impatient.  Going forward the industry will have to do a better job educating buyers as to what the realistic expectations are for approval and closing time frames on short sales.

We’ll also watch foreclosure inventory as we are expecting a few more in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2012.

We’ll keep our eye on the SW Florida real estate market for you, and whether you’re a buyer or seller, we hope Santa is better to you this year than he was last year.  The market is looking up, and we hope your holiday spirits are too.

 

It’s been 8 weeks since we last reported on short sales, and we’re happy to report short sale activity is up as we’d hoped it would be.  Short sales make much more sense to all involved over a foreclosure as it helps preserve the sellers credit better, minimizes losses to the lender, and keeps the neighborhood in better condition. 

I recently heard a funny quote “Why do they call it a short sale if it takes so long?”  While I can’t remember who said it, it’s funny because it’s so sad.  Hopefully with new initiatives in place we’ll see quicker turn-around times for short sales.  As a CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) we thought we’d share a few tips to help agents navigate this short sale process and make your deals quicker and smoother. 

SW Florida Real Estate Foreclosures Vs. Short Sales Graph
Foreclosures Vs. Short Sales in SW Florida Real Estate

There is a clause in the Short Sale Addendum to Purchase and Sale Contract entitled #5; Multiple Offers which reads “Unless otherwise agreed by Buyer and Seller in writing, Seller may continue to market the Property for sale and accept other offers and submit those accepted offers to the lender.”  We are not attorneys and we are not giving legal advice.  This clause seems suspect though and we encourage listing and selling agents to amend or supersede this clause. 

A purchase and sale contract is between one buyer and one seller, and once accepted you can request the lender to take less than what is owed via a short sale.  In a normal transaction a seller wouldn’t enter into multiple contracts with multiple buyers, so why would you muddy the waters and try that on a short sale?  Selling the property to multiple people just seems unethical and one buyer may have legal remedies against a seller for employing such a tactic.  

Quite often we see sellers accepting any offer that comes down the road, but the lender certainly would not agree to the short sale because it is so far below market value. The lender wants to minimize their loss, and only agree to short sales if it makes sense.  Sellers would be far better off negotiating or waiting for a reasonable offer than to accept any old offer.  

When you submit multiple contracts to a lender they mistakenly think it must be a hot property and hold out for more, and many times each new offer starts the process all over again, further delaying approvals.  And keep in mind when you submit more than one contract, the seller may be legally liable to more than one buyer. 

You don’t submit offers to the lender, only accepted contracts.  A seller should really only enter into one accepted contract.  A lender cannot do anything without an accepted contract between buyer and seller as the lender is not a party to the transaction and can’t sell to anybody.  This could change if they foreclose, but until then they are just the lender. 

If you’re a buyer the last thing you want is the seller sending in other accepted contracts.  It would be far better to move on and go buy another home and not waste any time waiting or investing in inspections, etc.  As a seller, it should also be the last thing you want as well as it can hold-up or kill your sale.  From a practical standpoint we don’t even know why this clause is in the addendum, or why agents or sellers would employ this tactic. 

The other advice we would give is to have the sellers completely fill out a financial questionnaire upfront before taking the listing.  There is no sense wasting buyers and sellers time if the seller isn’t going to qualify for hardship with their lender.  You’ll need all this information with the accepted contract anyway, so it’s best to do it upfront and save everybody time.  Not only will this speed up your short sale, but it will also help you skip doing deals that should never be attempted in the first place.  Buyers are skittish enough on short sales anyway, so why attempt one if it has no shot at success?  We’ll bring you more tips on short sales in upcoming articles.  By educating the market on what works and what doesn’t, everybody wins.  Good luck buying and selling.  We’re all in this market together, for better or worse, and it pays to work together for success.

We’ve been talking quite a bit the past several weeks about HAFA (Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives) program and other programs designed to make selling a short sale easier.  Going forward, these programs should provide some much needed relief for many sellers, and open up the market for more buyers.

We’ve noticed a trend this past year developing in the Lee County SW Florida real estate market.  As we’ve reported, sales numbers hit record levels in 2009, and prices look like they may have stabilized.  We’ve noticed that total distressed sales are down significantly since last May.  Our definition of a distressed sale in either a bank foreclosure where the banks sells the property on the open market after they’ve foreclosed, or a short sale by a seller hoping to avoid foreclosure and protect their credit.

Short Sales and Foreclosure Sales in SW Florida
Distressed Sales in SW Florida

Fort Myers is showing the most strength with only 47.83% of sales being distressed in March 2010.  Compare that to Cape Coral at 62.0% and Lehigh Acres at 74.19% Lehigh Acres is down from the whopping 88.5% set last June, even though they have leveled off about 75% the past 4 months.

Cape Coral has also declined, down from 78% last May to 62% now.  This chart explains why prices have stabilized in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, and why Lehigh Acres is a little shakier at the moment.

Inventory levels are down in all three segments, and sales are up significantly over February in Fort Myers and Cape Coral, and up moderately in Lehigh Acres.  Officially sales numbers have not been released at the time this article was written, and we believe going forward we’ll see some median price increases in Lee County, and especially in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

We’re studying preliminary numbers, and we’re seeing an approximate 28% jump in sales over February numbers for single family homes.  There was an increase in distressed sales, but the majority of the increase was regular non-distressed sales, and this is encouraging going forward in 2010.

We’ll be keeping our eye on the market after the home buyer tax credits expire on sales after April 30, and on interest rates which are creeping higher.  Nationally consumer confidence is rising, and eventually that should trickle into job growth.  SW Florida has been hit hard with high unemployment, and we really want to study these numbers as ultimately employment will be the engine that fuels SW Florida real estate prices in the future.

Always consult a CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert).

This past week we sat in on a meeting with the founder of RE/MAX, Laurie Magiano with the US Department of Treasury, Matt Vernon who heads the Bank of America Foreclosure and short sale department, and the president of Equator, the online transaction management platform for 7 of the 10 largest banks for foreclosures and short sales. The topic was HAFA, the government’s new initiative which stands for Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program. 

Fort Myers Cape Coral Florida REO foreclosures short sales graph
SW Florida Foreclosure Versus Short Sale Graph

The government’s new plan is voluntary for lenders, and it does not include Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned or guaranteed mortgages as they are working on their own solutions to assisting and speeding up the process.  The government’s new plan allows for homeowners to receive $3,000 for moving expenses if the seller agrees to a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure.  A short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure is better on the sellers credit than a full blown foreclosure and will allow the seller to purchase a home much sooner than a foreclosure. 

The plan also stipulates that the seller will not receive a deficiency judgment, so the seller won’t be bogged down with debt payments in the future resulting from the sale of the property.  This is big as it’s been a stumbling block for many sellers in accepting a short sale.  The seller’s housing expense ratio should exceed 31% or lender will believe seller can afford payment, and lenders will be particularly mindful of strategic defaults where seller has money saved but chooses to walk away anyway, especially on the higher loans. 

The new regulations, if the lenders agree, stipulates that the 2nd mortgage holder will receive 6 cents on the dollar, which is far more than a foreclosure where they won’t receive anything, and much more than the 2-3 cents banks sell debt for on open market.  The 2nd lien holders have held up many short sales, and now that the government has set guidelines, it should make it easier having a roadmap to negotiations. 

The new guidelines also call for lenders to make decisions within 10 business days as to the viability of doing a short sale, and banks such as Bank of America are committing resources so that agents will now receive communications within 2 days, so the days of asking questions and not hearing anything for weeks or months may be over.  Bank of America has put systems in place whereby an agent can contact a negotiator’s supervisor if the agent has not heard a response within 2 days, and the Treasury department has given us an e-mail address to escalate all inquiries no matter who the lender is so they can step in and help. 

Everyone in the room agreed that short sale transactions could one day outnumber foreclosures, and that would be a good thing as sellers credit is better preserved, and lenders generally lose less money on a short sale versus a bank foreclosure, and 2nd lien holders get paid something.  The property tends to remain maintained and require less fix up than an abandoned or vandalized property, which further upholds values in the neighborhood. 

There is one other advantage few people think about to a quick process.  Many short sales are priced too low and will never sell, but they subliminally drive values down in the market as some view the unsalable short sales as the new market value when in fact they’re artificial and won’t be approved.  By speeding up the process, or issuing pre-approved pricing, this should help alleviate this phenomenon and improve the market almost immediately. 

Stay tuned as these are lofty ideals, and we’ll report back on how well they actually work.  Of course, this will depend on how many of the lenders and investors participate in the voluntary program.  See our Future of Real Estate Show discussing new HAFA program on short sales.

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.

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. This leads to additional costs on repairing damages. Roping in services like water damage restoration service austin tx could ease the burden. But the hassle is still too much. 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.

Fort Myers Cape Coral Real Estate Current Market Index
Fort Myers Cape Coral Real Estate Current Market Index

 

The December 2008 Ellis Team SW Florida Real Estate Current Market Index again showed improvement from last month’s index.  The Current Market Index now stands at 6.65, down from 6.89 in November.  The lower the number the better the market is for sellers.  Transactions in the Fort Myers and Cape Coral real estate markets were up again significantly over last year as our index predicted it would be.  Single family home sales in Fort Myers and Cape Coral were up 78% over last year’s numbers in October.

Single family inventory is down 12.42% from last year’s numbers.  In December 2007 we had over 16,000 single family homes for sale in Lee County and now that number is down to slightly over 14,000.  With sales up around 80% over last year’s numbers and inventory declining, many would say that 2008 has been a year of recovery for the SW Florida real estate market, but we cannot do so until prices stabilize.  Median prices have continued to head lower all year and this is why Fort Myers and Cape Coral has bucked the state and national trends, because value and affordability are back in the market.

In fact, prices are so far below replacement costs that first time home buyers and investors alike are scooping these properties up as fast as they come on the market.  While more foreclosures are scheduled to hit the market in 2009, many are condominiums and vacant land.  We are doing a study right now along with the SW Florida Real Estate Investment Association to determine how many Lis Pen dens filings are actual home foreclosures.  Keep in mind, a property may have multiple Lis Pen dens filings which may skew the numbers, so we may not see as many foreclosures in 2009 as some are quoting.

Local mortgage companies are reporting fixed rates in the 4.5% range today with 1 point.  Loan amounts are also on the rise, which could signal an up tick in future home buying in higher price ranges.  We don’t look for drastic upward changes to median home prices, however we do like to look at mortgage applications to get a reading on potential future purchasing activity.

We see regular negative articles and news stories about the real estate market, but the numbers tell another side of the story.  Sellers do not like today’s prices, and nobody knows where tomorrow’s prices will be for sure, however we can report there is a market at the right price and this market has been posting large gains all year.  We think many buyers and investors have figured out there are tremendous buying opportunities available now and they’re not listening to the Downers in the market.

If you really want to know how a market is doing, follow the money.  Buyers are back in this market because the prices are Right.  It’s a lot like the BCS polls.  Don’t follow what the polls say; follow the Vegas odds, because that’s where the money is.  It’s amazing how much better the money does in picking games than the experts do.  The numbers always tell a story.  The real wisdom is deciding not which expert to listen to, but which numbers you should follow.  In the SW Florida real estate market you can look at falling median prices, or increased sales.  Both tell a story, and we’ll leave it to the market to decide what the numbers mean.  We just thought we’d present another side you may not be seeing in the media or hearing from other experts and let you decide.

NBC-2 did a report Monday night about how out of state buyers are snatching up bargains in SW Florida.  Buyers have been coming in from all over looking for bargains, some of them foreclosures, in the Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Lehigh Acres area.

The Ellis Team lists a lot of bank owned foreclosures and we are seeing buyers snatch up these properties in hours.  Many of these properties receive multiple offers in just a few days, so it’s important for buyers to know the rules the lender is requiring and to follow them.

Buyers quite often ignore the rules and are disappointed when their offer is not accepted.  Working with an agent who knows the requirements of the offer will increase your chances of acquiring the property, although it cannot guarantee it when multiple offers are invloved.

We will be adding shortly a way to search for foreclosures on our website.  To search the entire SW Florida real estate MLS, including Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, and Cape Coral, visit www.Leecountyonline.com

 

re MLS

 

NBC Today Show Interviews Ellis Team in Fort Myers

 

NBC Today Show Interviews Ellis Team in Fort Myers

The Ellis Team was featured on the NBC Today Show regarding the presidential election.  Florida has been identified as a battleground state, and the housing market will play a vital role in how people select the next president.  The Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Lehigh Acres area have been identified as the epicenter of what happened in Florida, and NBC wanted to come here and report on what is happening today.

Click here to watch the viddeo.  The good news is that home sales were up 80% over July 2007 numbers and up 41% over August 2007 numbers, so even though prices are lower, buyers are back in the market scooping up properties because they are affordable.

Foreclosures have been highest in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres where speculators built many homes in hopes of flipping to other investors or end users, but the speculators overbuilt for the current demand.  Fort Myers has been hit with some foreclosures, but nothing like the Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres area.  For detailed statistics on the SW Florida housing market, visit our housing statistics page.