Tuesday, February 27, 2007
'First, the good news from housing consultant MetroStudy:
• New-home starts in Palm Beach County hit a four-year low in the last three months of 2006. They dropped 62 percent just from the fourth quarter of 2005.
• Total inventory - including model homes, finished vacant homes and homes under construction - fell to a four-year low in the last three months of 2006.
• Housing supply declined 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 compared with the same period in 2005.
Decline, decline, decline, decline. This is the good news?'
Hey, it beats the alternative. Though a 4% decline from record levels is not likely to cause a sea change in the housing market.
'Yes, in these topsy-turvy times - when it's quite possible to be "upside down" on your house (to owe more than it's worth) or to lower your asking price by $1 million and still not get an offer - declining housing starts, construction and inventory are all good news; signs that the distressed new-home markets in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are trying to recover.
Any recovery, however, could well be postponed into the second half of the year. Most analysts don't even agree on whether the market has hit bottom.'
I don't know exactly why, but it appears the builders are much more bearish on the market than the realtors. Granted, the realtors aren't required to tell the truth because the NAR (National Ass. of Realtors) isn't a publically traded company. If it was, a few things known as the SEC and Sarb-Ox would cause the NAR to provide forecasts more closely aligned with that of the builders (i.e.; truthful).
'Just last Thursday, luxury-home builder Toll Brothers Inc. said its first-quarter profit dropped 67 percent due to hefty write-downs and other costs, and Chief Executive Robert Toll said "there are (still) too many soft markets."
The inventory of existing homes, which was up 71 percent Palm Beach County alone in December, may grow as "re-listers" - people who couldn't sell in 2006 - are likely to try again in the spring. And analysts expect a further uptick in the region's new-foreclosure filings as high-risk borrowers continue to default on loans and lenders tighten credit standards.'
More foreclosures = More distressed inventory
More distressed inventory = Lower Prices
And to continue our boolean logical progression,
Lower Prices = More Sales
More Sales = Lower Inventory
But we're still at the very beginning of this clearance process. The article continues with a description as to how this situation was created.
'Many of those borrowers were investors who artificially pumped up demand - and prices.
"Builders ramped up production to meet surging demand during the housing boom," said Michael Larson, a real estate analyst with Weiss Research in Jupiter. "But it turns out a big chunk of that demand surge wasn't 'real' demand.
"It was investor demand - people buying up one, two, three or more homes at a time to flip, rather than people just looking for a place to live."
That artificial demand is gone now, Larson and others say. Investors have pulled out of the market, causing new-home sales to plummet.
In Palm Beach County, new-home sales dropped 36 percent in just one year - comparing the fourth quarter of 2006 to the same period in 2005 - according to MetroStudy in West Palm Beach.
Further proof the local housing boom has gone bust: Palm Beach County buyers closed on only 976 new homes in the fourth quarter of 2006 - down drastically from its boom-time peak of 3,123 closings in the third quarter of 2003, MetroStudy said.'
The situation is not pretty, and much more bad medicine is in store.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Alan Westfall was betting he could break even on a six-bedroom home he invested in right before the local market went south last year.'
Of the first 10 properties on the auction block, Westfall said his two properties drew the highest bids - $215,000 for a 3,000-square-foot home in the golf course community of Heritage Isles; another $215,000 for 56 acres in Riverview.
"That doesn't make us feel any better," he said. Not when the mortgage on the Heritage Isles place is $150,000 more than that. Not when he was looking for $2.5 million on the parcel in Riverview.
Westfall, like many other hopeful sellers at the mass auction, didn't accept the offers. Each invested $2,500 per property toward advertising costs.'
"It was weird and wonderful," he said of the event, where 46 properties went on the auction block.
At first, Bailey was disappointed - both with the crowd, which he said numbered less than 300, and with the bids.
The auction ended at 2:30 p.m., a couple of hours before the scheduled 5 p.m. close of bidding.
Then something strange happened, Bailey said. People started cutting deals.
"It's like they were trying to learn how to bid first. I think they reverted back to conventional real estate buying," he said.
Bailey, of Bailey's Real Estate and Estate Auctions, said he doesn't have a tally on Saturday's transactions. Several properties sold. The largest, a 453-acre tract in Levy County, sold for $5,000 per acre in an online bid - $4,000 more than the reserve, or minimum required by the seller.
Other contracts were hammered out after the auction. "We're in real negotiations now with 15 to 20 others," he said.'
Friday, February 23, 2007
Thursday, February 22, 2007
'TAMPA - Just as the real estate market was starting its downturn in the fall of 2005, Alan Westfall slipped into the investment game.
He paid $365,700 for a six-bedroom home in Heritage Isles, a golf course community in north Tampa. He mortgaged the property at 100 percent, painted, installed wood flooring and quickly relisted the home for $425,500.
After more than year of price reductions and unsuccessful attempts to sell or rent the house, Westfall is getting anxious. So he has decided to try his luck with an auction.
"The weight lifted off my shoulders would be tremendous if this home sells," Westfall said. "I just didn't expect the market to take a downward turn so quickly."'
And some details about the auction itself.
'Westfall is among 50 Florida property owners choosing to gamble big this Saturday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa and sell their homes in the All In Mega Auction. There are single-family homes, condos and vacant land for sale. It's planned for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be broadcast online.'
As the real estate market cools further, a record 34,000 homes are listed for sale in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Frustrated sellers are increasingly turning for help to the auction block - once the domain of distressed or institutional sellers - and experts predict many more will follow this year. However, when the gavels fall, some may be shocked to discover what potential buyers are willing to pay. '
How much is this going to cost, and how many have reserves preset?
'Combining the properties into one auction and charging a $2,500 entry fee for each one allows for mass marketing, Bailey said. There have been TV and radio advertisements and billboards to get the word out. "It normally takes $5,000 to market a single home," he said.
Still, Bailey said, he hasn't received the number of entries he had hoped for. "I think a lot of people are waiting to see what happens with this auction. You are taking a risk, but it's your best shot."
Some sellers worry they might not get a good price, so none in Bailey's auction have opted to sell their property "absolutely" to the highest bidder, Bailey said.'
Okay. But with every house set with a reserve sales price, I'll be very curious to see how many homes actually sell. Personally, I've witnessed several houses here (in N. Tampa) go up for "auction" (with plenty of signs advertising the fact) last year, and guess what? They're still sitting empty, because the reserve price was the same as the listing price. If they truly want to close, sellers need to get real.
'While the popularity of auctions increases among private home owners, many sellers may be in for a hefty reality check.
Marty Higgenbotham of Higgenbotham Auctioneers International in Lakeland said sellers are still having a tough time in today's market.
"Sellers aren't willing to accept today's property value," he said, noting that he has seen six real estate booms and busts in his 48-year career. "They'll get over it."
Three weeks ago, Higgenbotham auctioned 115 Cape Coral and Fort Myers properties. Seven hundred buyers showed up, and nearly every property had a contract by the end of the auction. There was $24 million in contracts, Higgenbotham said, but sellers accepted just 15 bids.'
I rest my case. So, my question is: are auctions like this a marketing gimmick or (as foreclosures mount and spec-u-vestors bail out) a sign of more to come?
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The basic concept: all homeowners would no longer pay taxes on their primary residence, and all other properties (rental, commercial, investment, vacation) would still have property taxes, but have an annual cap on increases. The difference would be made up by increasing the sales tax to 9%.
From today's St. Pete Times.
'TALLAHASSEE - House Republicans are developing a proposal to eliminate property taxes for all homesteads while increasing the sales tax by a few pennies to make up the difference.
The plan, which has quietly gained favor among House leaders in recent days but lacks detail and has yet to be announced, also calls for capping property taxes on businesses, second homes and other nonhomestead property.
The cap would likely be tied to population growth and inflation.
"Everyone's pretty excited about it," Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said after emerging from a property tax summit in the House on Monday afternoon.'
Like we've said, it's been a bear of an issue, because I can personally attest to how f-ed up the current system is. The house that I'm currently living in (a starter home built in 1994) is paying $5500 a year in taxes, while a neighbor across the street is paying only $2200 a year. This is just plain wrong - in so many ways. They have to do something.
'Property taxes promise to be the most challenging issue in the Legislature's upcoming session, in part because of the inequities in the current system, which favors long-term homeowners over new residents while pushing more of the burden on nonhomestead property.'
Right - so here we go!
'An increasing number of lawmakers feel the best remedy is to simply get rid of property taxes homestead owners pay to schools, cities, counties and special taxing districts. The idea is contained in House Speaker Marco Rubio's book 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future.'
On the surface, it sounds like a very intriguing idea, but there are numerous drawbacks. Starting with the fact that a consumption tax is regressive, whereby the poorer you are, the higher % of your income goes to the government. So, out goes the reasoning for the SOH tax system that protects the old ladies on fixed incomes.
That aside, there are other concerns.
'But an increased sales tax could hurt businesses in North Florida, where shoppers could go to Georgia or another state. Also, sales taxes hurt the poor more than other income groups. Vacationers, too, would pay more to visit Florida.'
Can you imagine being an appliance seller or car dealer anywhere within 200 miles of the border? Those businesses would get killed with a 9% sales tax. Also, do we dare tinker with tourism, our #1 business?
Still, I like the idea - thinking way outside the box is a good thing, especially in times of crisis. Don't know if the voters will go for it or not. What do you think?
Monday, February 19, 2007
'NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The slump in home prices was both deeper and more widespread than ever in the fourth quarter, according to a trade group report Thursday.
Prices slumped 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the fourth quarter a year earlier, according to the report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That's the biggest year-over-year drop on record and follows a 1.0 percent year-over-year decline in the third quarter.
The most recent median prices are down even more: 3.4 percent since hitting record highs in the second quarter. Almost three-quarters of the markets, reported on by the group, saw declines in median prices over the past six months, with eight reporting double-digit declines.'
And what about those aforementioned bloated markets?
'Vacation markets, where investor-buyers had driven up prices during the building boom of 2005, were particularly hard-hit.
The Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Fla., market saw the biggest year-over-year decline in the fourth quarter, with prices plunging 18 percent.
When looking at the change between the fourth quarter and the second-quarter peak, the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla., market saw the biggest drop, with median prices plunging 19.5 percent.'
Really, is anyone surprised? Unfortunately for those in the larger metro areas of our state (Orlando, Tampa, Miami-Palm Beach), the realtors have been dramatically UNDER-reporting the median sales prices for the past 2 years. Now that prices in these markets have started to fall dramatically, it won't make the news because the previous year comparison numbers have been cooked (to a crisp!).
In the smaller Florida markets however, the realtors haven't been able to disguise the sales prices so easily, and that's where we've seen the biggest news reports of declines.
Back to the article. Despite all the bad news, the used-car salesmen from NAR (National Ass. of Realtors) keep on shovelling the bull$hit.
'Examination of data within the quarter shows home prices stabilizing toward the end," said a statement from David Lereah, the NAR's chief economist. "When we get the figures for this spring, I expect to see a discernible improvement in both sales and prices.'
Remember, this is the same guy (I always get a chuckle when I see others refer to him as "David Lie-area") has been predicting a "soft landing" and a "quick turnaround" since 2005. During this time period, sales have continued to drop, inventory has climbed to new records every quarter, and foreclosures have skyrocketed. I just want to know - how does he do it, lying to the public, over and over and over again? But wait, there's more - this time from the president of NAR.
'NAR President Pat Vredevoogd Combs, a Grand Rapids, Mich., realtor, admitted the group doesn't expect to see a big gain in 2007 statistics.
"Right now, buyers are responding to seller pricing and incentives, and there's a bit of a pent-up demand as a result of buyer hesitation during the second half of 2006," she said in the group's statement. "We're not looking for big changes, but a gradual rise in sales and home prices is projected - that will be good for the overall housing market and related industries."'
Where does she come up with these figures? Again, inventories are at an all-time high, 2.1 million homes are sitting empty, and every major historical indicator says home prices (especially in Florida) must drop at least 30% before getting back in line with median incomes.
The facts: prices are NOT going to rise in 2007, sales are going to continue to drop, and the overall housing market is going to be in bad shape until prices get back to historical trend lines. At this point, the only real question is how long before the price correction goes into full swing.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
'NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Just as the struggling real estate market seems to be stabilizing, a fresh problem is brewing far from real estate offices or home construction sites: a jump in defaults by higher-risk borrowers.
News of rising default rates by buyers with less than stellar credit could put a crimp in financing for home purchases - and prices. That's because the rapid growth of new types of mortgages was one of the key factors behind the boom that sent home buying, and prices, to record highs for five straight years through 2005.'
What? Do they mean to say that the skyrocketing prices of the past several years wasn't organic? You mean it was (gasp!) an artificial situation, created by loose underwriting, crooked appraisers, and realtor hype? And WHAT stabilization of the market are they speaking of? The last I checked, there is record inventory and record defaults and a sharp decline in nearly every major market (in Florida, that would be EVERY market).
Monday, February 12, 2007
In other words, in exchange for lowering rates now, if another catastrophic year like 2004 or 2005 happens again, the state will pay the majority of the insurance claims.
Does the state currently have the money to pay these claims? No, they do not. From the Tampa Tribune, some "downside risk" associated with the reform package.
'Insurance reform legislation that passed last week shows what's possible when lawmakers seek "ideas that help Floridians," Gov. Charlie Crist said in a weekly newsletter sent to supporters.
"Help for the people of Florida is on the way! Help is on the way in the form of lower homeowners insurance rates for every Floridian," Crist wrote Friday.'
So far, so good! But....(and it's a big 'BUT'....)
'And it might work, too, unless the state gets hit by a strong hurricane in the next few years.
"We are screwed if that occurs," said Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City, one of the plan's architects.
A few worst-case scenarios are tempering some of the enthusiasm over what Crist and others bill as a bipartisan triumph:
• What if Florida gets hit by a costly storm before it can build up a bigger, new public catastrophe fund, designed to lower premiums by relieving insurers of some risk?
• What if new rules against "cherry picking," the practice of offering the most profitable types of insurance but not property insurance, send automobile insurers packing from Florida?
• What if a bulked-up Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the public insurer of last resort that's now empowered to offer other types of insurance, steals customers from private businesses?'
Aye, so there's the rub. And Charlie is worried about another one-time event.
'Crist even added his own scenario, which he plans to address at a Cabinet meeting this morning:
What if private insurers try to rush through rate hikes now, while the reform plan is being implemented?
Crist has an answer for that one: offer an emergency ruling to prohibit policy cancellations and require rate changes to incorporate the new legislation.'
So, back to the first point: in this blind pursuit of lowering insurance rates, what kind of risk is Florida taking on?
'Insurance industry officials accept the reforms as a political reality but caution they put state finances on precarious ground.
The eight storms that hit Florida in 2004-05 created $36 billion in insurance claims. Insurers warn this could be a drop in the bucket if the right storm hits the wrong part of Florida.
They insist that Citizens' premiums are irresponsibly low and won't be able to cover all of its claims in a future storm. That could lead to another taxpayer-financed bailout such as the one approved in 2006 and more assessments on all insurance policies.'
So what happens if we get wacked by another storm (or series of storms) and the state is on the hook for a bill that it can't pay?
' Floridians would also be hit with huge assessments on their property, auto and other insurance policies to cover any damages charged to the newly expanded public catastrophe fund.
Private insurers are responsible for the first $6 billion of payouts in a storm under the new reforms. The state's catastrophe fund covers the next $16 billion. If additional claims remain, as in an especially powerful hurricane, a second tier of the public catastrophe fund covers the next $20 billion in losses.
The state would have to issue bonds to finance all of that.'
Oh, and by the way, how much money does the state currently have socked away for catastrophic coverage?
'The catastrophic fund now has less than $2 billion.'
So, the next time a hurricane hits, get ready to pay for all those beach houses, waterfront mansions, and 2nd, 3rd and 4th homes of wealthy people. It's all now being subsidized by you.
Friday, February 09, 2007
His latest struggle: Unloading a ranch in Ocala, Fla., with three bedrooms, two baths and a two-car garage.
He thought it would be a quick buy, rehab and sell transaction. Instead, it's been buy, rehab...and sit. For 10 months.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
' ORLANDO — The real estate market hasn't hit bottom yet, three of the nation's top housing economists told the world's largest building trade show Wednesday.
Always one of the International Builders Show's highlights, the annual economic forecast has featured the same trio of top housing analysts for the past few years: David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders; and David Berson and Frank Nothaft, chief economists for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, respectively.
But this year's highly anticipated message was a sobering one: Home prices will continue to slide for the rest of 2007, Berson said. Still, he said the biggest price drops probably are over.
Nothaft predicted that the housing market will hit bottom the first half of this year, with a gradual improvement in the second half that will continue through 2008.'
I don't agree with the last statement - first it's still too far off for such a prediction. 2nd, in addition to the record # of homes for sale right now, 2.1 million of them are empty. Third, the REIC is experiencing record layoffs and job freezes - that's an entire segment of the economy that is shrivelling up faster by the day. Fourth, a trillion $ in mortgages are being reset this year, with record foreclosures expected. Add these facts, and it becomes intuitively obvious that a quick turn-around is not happening this year.
'"We're not at the trough yet for single-family home sales," Nothaft said, noting that home prices will have to fall further to burn through the current high levels of housing inventory. "We are still a few years away from obtaining the robust activity of 2005."
A few years? Maybe if you define "a few years" = "5-10 years".
That's not what the more than 100,000 home builders, Realtors and other industry representatives attending the four-day show at the Orange County Convention Center wanted to hear. But most acknowledge that today's near-record level of homes follows a five-year run-up in home prices, fueled by low mortgage rates and investor dollars.
Nowhere was that more true than in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. The median price of an existing single-family home in Palm Beach County soared to a peak of $421,500 in November 2005, plunged to $365,600 in October 2006 and ended the year at $368,200, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.'
And then this little gem about South Florida,
'But even as the housing market continues its slide this year, Palm Beach County and the rest of South Florida will fare better than other parts of the country, Berson said.
"You have a very large contingent of foreign investors from Europe and Latin America, and their goals are different," Berson said after his presentation on the economic panel.
"They invested as a way to hedge where they keep their money," Berson said. "If there's price weakness, they may not pull out as fast as domestic investors who are looking only for a good return."'
In other words, these foreign investors won't sell cheap, and that'll prop up the prices? Errrrrrrr.....!
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
One of the first is whether you are considering purchasing a home. Okay, fair enough.
But then they follow that question with this atrocity:
How would you rate the overall condition of the housing market in the area where you are hoping to purchase a home in next six months? Would you rate it as (please select the rating that best describes the housing market in this area):
- Very hot (there are very few homes for sale in my price range; house prices are rising very rapidly)
- Somewhat hot (there is a limited selection of homes in my price range; house prices seem to be rising faster than usual)
- Stable (there is an adequate supply of homes in my price range, and house prices have been flat or moving up slowly)
- Cool (there are a lot of homes for sale in my price range, and house prices have been slowly edging down)
- Very cool (there is an abundance of homes for sale in my price range, and house prices have been dropping)
- Not sure; I haven't been tracking the housing market that closely
This is horrid marketing at it's deepest and lamest. Notice how the choices all mutually exclude the fact that prices are too high, and that they are dropping just about everywhere. How about adding the following choices, you lying dill-holes?
- Crappy (there are a lot of homes for sale that WERE in my price range 3 years ago)
- Sucks to be a Seller (there is an abundance of homes that are expected to enter foreclosure in the next 3 years)
- Laughable (I am enjoying renting while watching the REIC implode)
- But My Neighbor Made a Killing (I can't sell my current Mc$hitbox for what my neighbor did in 2005, and I refuse to budge on price)
- What Was I Thinking? (I bought into the hype over the past 3 years that "real estate always goes UP!", and now I'm stuck with upside-down investment property that I can't unload)
- Comfortably Numb (there are more houses for sale than I've ever seen in my long life, and I expect to find a bargain as prices drop 30+% over the next couple years)
- Not Sure (I am about to make one of the biggest financial decisions of my life, so I'm going to hand this job over to some "professionals" who aren't required to even possess a college degree and whose ethics lie somewhere between used-car salesmen and starving hyenas)
Editor's note: It's good to be back - I'm in a "great" mood today, as you can probably tell.