Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marketing on a Dime

Posted for www.miamiforrussian.com

Marketing on a Dime
Covering all the bases with grassroots marketing can generate a “buzz” for next to nothing and jump-start a business.

When Nuvia Sutton wants to drum up business, she slips on a pair of comfortable shoes and walks her farm area, distributing fliers door to door. “I enjoy placing fliers because people can’t help but see them, and they know I was there,” says the sales associate with AAA Realty Group. Inc., in Pembroke Pines.

Pounding the pavement has proved worthwhile for Sutton. At just a few cents apiece, her 8.5 by 11-inch fliers create name recognition. And during her firsy year using fliers, she sold three houses in her flier-coverage area.

“A day in the life of a [sales associate] requires commitment, but there are only so many hours in the day,” says Sutton, who is also a single mom. She’s persuaded, however, that this will be the year she devotes to full-time sales. But with a “nada budget,” as she puts it, she’ll need to find additional low-cost ways in which to market herself.

Bring in the Expert
For tips on reviving her business without breaking the bank, Sutton spoke with Dan Gooder Richard, an authority on real estate marketing and lead management. “I’m going to call this my pennywise marketing plan,” he says. “When it generates an income, you can allocate 10 percent of that toward taking yourself to the next level. For now, though, much of what I’m going to suggest is free.” Here’s his advice.

1. Target Your Efforts
First, Richard recommends that Sutton continue what she’s doing. “It’s interesting how successful you’ve been going door to door,” he says. “I suggest that you keep going back to the same area, but I want you to focus on special doors—not every house.”

He proposes that she target for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) homes, expired listings and pre-foreclosures.

“Start by going to the newspaper, and driving around and looking for FSBO signs,” he says. “You could also subscribe to an online service called FSBOLeader.com. For a fee, they’ll do the research and send you a list of FSBOs in Broward County.”

Expired listings can easily be found by “keeping an eye on the MLS like a hawk,” adds Richard. And Sutton will be able to identify pre-foreclosure homes by looking up notices of default at the local courthouse. “I believe those are kept in the tax assessment office, but it varies,” says Richard, adding that homeowners who’ve fallen behind on mortgage payments are always given written notice before the foreclosure process starts. “You also can find services [in the Yellow Pages or online] that will go to the courthouse and do the research, and send you the list for a fee.” Title companies are also worth an inquiry, he says.

2. Add Calls to Action
Sutton’s fliers offer more than predictable “Just-Listed” or “Just-Sold” notices. “On one side, I put information about me and on the other side I might include market updates,” she says. “When they had an adopt-a-tree program in Miami-Dade, I put out fliers about where it was taking place.” People are grateful for the information, she says. One time she included a write-up about hurricane shutters that she found on the Florida Realtors® News e-mail service and she “got calls like there was no tomorrow.”

Richard says Sutton is on the right track with her fliers but that she should include some calls to action. “Alternate two ‘Call me’ offers of just a few words,” he says. “Appeal to sellers with something like ‘Call me to find out what your home is really worth.’ (And for emphasis, be sure to underline, italicize or boldface the word really.) You could tell prospective buyers to ‘Call me to find out how much home you can buy in today’s market’ and then list your name, company, phone number and e-mail address.”

Sutton has been using the slogan “Provides Positive Results” but Richard recommends that she make it less formal by changing Provides to We Provide. “Every transaction is a team effort,” he says. “It’s going to be you plus the office or perhaps an attorney or inspector or surveyor, so ‘We Provide Positive Results’ works better.”

3. Follow Up on Free Leads
Signing up for floor time at her office’s “duty desk” would give Sutton an opportunity to meet walk-ins and answer the phone, says Richard. “This takes me to my next thought, which is ‘How to generate leads without paying for them.’ One way to do this is to sit open houses, not only for yourself but also for other sales associates in the office.” Sutton has already offered to do that for a few sales associates. “It’s obviously a free way to generate buyer leads but, more importantly, seller leads,” says Richard.

Sutton has also volunteered to hold open houses for FSBOs in her farm area. “I tell them to go out and enjoy their weekend with their family, and if a buyer comes in, I’ll get a commission,” she says.

One way for Sutton to get free buyer leads, Richard says, is to ask the listings-only sales associates in her office for them. “I call those [sales associates] my top guns,” says Sutton. She does get buyer leads from them occasionally, especially if the prospect speaks only Spanish (Sutton is bilingual). “Ramp that up,” says Richard, “and try to triple the number of top guns with whom you’re working. Be sure to show them what you’ve done with those referrals.”

She can also offer to promote their listings. “You might not actually advertise those top guns’ listings in the normal ‘paid’ advertising sense of the word, but you could include a property description and thumbnail photographs on your fliers,” Richard says.

4. Reactivate Old Files
Next, Richard recommends that Sutton pore over her office’s closed files from the past three to seven years to identify buyers who are no longer represented by a sales associate. He calls this his “orphan plan” because no one can lay claim to these buyers. “Reactivate those files and start knocking on those doors,” says Richard, adding that Sutton should ask the original listing agent for permission if he or she is still with the company.

5. Go After Trust Properties
“When a property owner dies, it may be without a will or there may be two executors who can’t agree (e.g., one wants to sell and one doesn’t),” says Richard. “The courts appoint a professional fiduciary as a mediator. This is a very small targeted niche market, but in a nutshell, the sellers are often out of state and the best solution is often to sell the property and divvy up the cash.”

Richard recommends that Sutton look up professional fiduciaries and probate attorneys in the phone book and/or online and start calling them. “There are probably a lot of probate attorneys in South Florida because of the substantial [senior] market,” he says. “They don’t charge a referral fee. They just want to get an inherited property sold. You could become a specialist in selling inherited property in your market, and it won’t cost you a penny.”

6. Sign Up for Free Web Pages
Sutton doesn’t have a Web site, but Richard says there are some online freebies that she can take advantage of. A Web page is one option. She already has one with her local Board as well as Florida Realtors Florida Living Network (http://fl.living.net). Richard suggests that she check out these three other sites that host free Web page profiles for real estate professionals: www.House-Hunting.com, www.HomesandLand.com and www.HarmonHomes.com. “It’s possible that you must advertise with those sites [to get a Web page],” says Richard. “If your office is already an advertiser, you can probably talk your way in.

“A Web page is just a page and not a Web site, but you still need to include a description of your experience, a photo of yourself and information about your specialty and your designations,” adds Richard. “And try to include your calls to action and your ‘We Provide Positive Results’ slogan on all your Web pages.”

7. Reserve a Branded Domain
Finally, Richard recommends that Sutton go ahead and buy a domain name for her future Web site. He already did some of the legwork for her, by researching names that she could possibly build as a brand. “My personal favorite is CooperCityTopAgent.com, but BrowardTopAgent.com and BrowardCountyTopAgent.com are also available. Those are huge, and for less than $20 each, it’s money well spent.”

This column, designed to provide advice from industry experts to real estate professionals who need help with technology, business or marketing issues, won the Bronze Award in the Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.

• Limited budget; looking for low-cost marketing ideas.

• Target specific clients and customers; follow up on free leads; sign up for free Web pages; buy a domain.

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Online Domain Registrars
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Meet the Expert
Dan Gooder Richard is author of “Real Estate Rainmaker: Guide to Online Marketing,” published by John Wiley & Sons. Richard is also founder and president of the Gooder Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based publisher of marketing materials for real estate professionals and lenders. Visit his Web site at www.GooderGroup.com.

Banks, GSEs spend more money to spruce up REOs

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Banks, GSEs spend more money to spruce up REOs
WASHINGTON – Dec. 15, 2011 – Foreclosed homes continue to hamper nearby property values. In some cities, foreclosures were found to decrease nearby property values up to $17,000, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

More programs are being aimed at rehabbing foreclosed homes so the harm to property values won’t be as great.

According to the GAO report, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac doled out $953 million last year to maintain and fix up vacant homes.

“We are committed to stabilizing communities and helping the housing market recover,” a Fannie Mae spokesperson told HousingWire. “Our goal is to sell REO properties at a competitive market rate, and maintaining our properties is an important part of achieving that goal.”

Since 2008, investors and nonprofits received $6 billion in grant money from HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program to maintain and fix up vacant homes. In Detroit, the city spent $20 million last year demolishing vacant homes or rehabbing ones that could still be saved after neglect.

Wells Fargo & Co. said recently it would donate $5.53 million to 52 nonprofit groups through its Leading the Way Home Program Priority Markets Initiative so that the groups can purchase and redevelop foreclosed and abandoned homes.

“These grants will help stabilize and rebuild local communities,” said Kimberly Jackson, executive director of Wells Fargo’s Housing Foundation. “We want to do what we can to make resources available to support efforts led by nonprofits to revitalize neighborhoods in cities that have felt the effects of financial difficulties and a challenging economy.”

Source: “GSEs Spend Nearly $1 Billion on Property Preservation,” HousingWire (Dec. 9, 2011) and Wells Fargo

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Scheduled home auctions hit 9-month high in Nov.

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Scheduled home auctions hit 9-month high in Nov.
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Dec. 15, 2011 – Fewer U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process or were taken back by banks in November, reflecting a seasonal pullback in foreclosure activity by lenders and mortgage servicers.

But for some homeowners already behind on their mortgage payments, the end-of-year slowdown isn’t likely to provide much of a reprieve.

The number of homes in foreclosure and scheduled to be auctioned hit a nine-month high last month, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

The surge came about because of a spike three months earlier in homes entering the foreclosure process for the first time. And unless those borrowers find a way to get current on their mortgage payments, many of those homes will likely be sold at auction or end up being taken back by the lender.

“Despite a seasonal slowdown similar to what we’ve seen each of the past four years, November’s numbers suggest a new set of incoming foreclosure waves,” said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.

All told, foreclosure auctions were scheduled on 96,540 U.S. homes last month, RealtyTrac said. That’s up 13 percent from October, but still down 17 percent from November last year.

Some states posted far higher monthly increases in scheduled home auctions last month. In California, they were up 63 percent, while in Washington they climbed 56 percent.

Those homes could end up back on the market as foreclosures or short sales, when a homeowner sells their property for less than what they owe on their mortgage. And that means more pressure on home values, because foreclosures and short sales typically sell for a lot less than other homes.

U.S. foreclosure activity slowed sharply starting in October of last year, after problems surfaced with the way many lenders were handling foreclosures. Specifically, signing off on home foreclosures without first verifying documents – a practice referred to as “robo-signing.”

Many of the nation’s largest banks reacted by temporarily ceasing all foreclosures, re-filing previously filed foreclosure cases and revisiting pending cases to prevent errors.

The pace of foreclosure activity continued to slow much of this year as major lenders worked toward a possible settlement of government probes into the industry’s mortgage-lending practices.

Those settlement talks, led by a group of state attorneys general, have suffered some setbacks in recent months after officials in California and Massachusetts broke with the rest of the states. There also has been disagreement among the states’ prosecutors over what terms to offer the banks.

Still, there have been signals that foreclosure activity will be increasing in coming months.

Banks stepped up action in August against homeowners whose mortgage had gone unpaid. The number of homes receiving an initial notice of default that month jumped 33 percent from July. Default notices also rose between September and October.

That helped set the stage for the sharp increase in scheduled foreclosure auctions last month and will likely contribute to an anticipated bump in home repossessions early next year, Saccacio said.

Home repossessions hit their lowest level since March 2008 last month, according to RealtyTrac. In all, banks took back 56,124 homes last month, down 17 percent from October and from November a year ago.

Banks are now on track to repossess some 810,000 homes this year, down from more than 1 million last year, according to RealtyTrac. The firm had originally anticipated lenders would repossess some 1.2 million homes this year.

High unemployment, a sluggish housing market and falling home values remain a major factor in homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments. Many borrowers also have simply stopped paying their mortgage because they are underwater – a term for owing more on a mortgage than the home is worth.

At the end of September, 10.7 million, or 22.1 percent of all U.S. homes with a mortgage, were underwater, according to CoreLogic. And an additional 2.4 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their homes, the firm said.

In all, 224,394 U.S. properties received a foreclosure-related notice last month, down 3 percent from October and down 14 percent from November last year, RealtyTrac said. That amounts to one in every 579 households.

Initial default notices declined 8 percent from October and were down 9 percent from November last year.

At the state level, Nevada had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate last month with one in every 175 households receiving a foreclosure notice – more than three times the national average.

California, which alone accounted for 28 percent of all U.S. homes receiving a foreclosure notice last month, had the second-highest foreclosure rate. Arizona was third.

Rounding out the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rate in November are Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina.
AP Logo Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press, Alex Veiga, AP real estate writer.

SEC charges ex-Fannie, Freddie CEOs with fraud

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SEC charges ex-Fannie, Freddie CEOs with fraud
WASHINGTON (AP) – Dec. 16, 2011 – The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought civil fraud charges against six former top executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying they misled the government and taxpayers about risky subprime mortgages the mortgage giants held during the housing bust.

Those charged include the agencies’ two former CEOs, Fannie’s Daniel Mudd and Freddie’s Richard Syron. They are the highest-profile individuals to be charged in connection with the 2008 financial crisis.

Mudd and Syron led the mortgage giants when the housing bubble burst in late 2006 and 2007. The four other top executives also worked for the companies during that time.

The case was filed in federal court in New York City. Lawyers for Mudd and Syron couldn’t be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Fannie told investors in 2007 that it had roughly $4.8 billion worth of subprime loans on its books. The SEC says that Fannie actually had about $43 billion worth of products targeted to borrowers with weak credit.

Freddie said about 11 percent of its single-family loans were subprime in 2007. The SEC says it was closer to about 18 percent.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was,” said Robert Khuzami, SEC’s enforcement director. “These material misstatements occurred during a time of acute investor interest in financial institutions’ exposure to subprime loans, and misled the market about the amount of risk.”

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans. The Bush administration seized control of the mortgage giants in September 2008.

So far, the companies have cost taxpayers almost $150 billion – the largest bailout of the financial crisis. They could cost up to $259 billion, according to its government regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Administration.
AP LogoCopyright © 2011 The Associated Press, Derek Kravitz, AP business writer.

Top 10 cities targeted by foreign investors

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Top 10 cities targeted by foreign investors
ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 19, 2011 – From Chinese investors flocking to California to Canadian snowbirds heading to Arizona, international homebuyers are offering a growing niche for more real estate professionals.

But which places are international investors targeting in their home search? Point2Homes.com evaluated where buyers from overseas are looking online to gauge possible current and future home-purchasing patterns.

Canadian investors have a growing appetite for U.S. real estate, Point2 finds. Canadian investors made up 91.89 percent of the overall international traffic to Arizona listings, 75.90 percent to Hawaii, 73.92 percent to Michigan, 70.55 percent to Nevada, and 65.05 percent to California.

Las Vegas had the highest overall international traffic online among U.S. cities, with Canadians serving as the leading source of traffic there at 70.47 percent, followed by 5.28 percent of the traffic coming from U.K. residents and 2.19 percent from France.

The top 10 cities for international traffic online by international buyers in the third quarter are:

1. Las Vegas, Nev.
2. Orlando, Fla.
3. Kissimmee, Fla.

4. Detroit, Mich.
5. Pompano-Beach, Fla.
6. Miami, Fla.

7. Mesa, Ariz.
8. Davenport, Fla.
9. Phoenix, Ariz.
10. Indio, Calif.

Overall, Florida emerged as the top state attracting international traffic online for the third-quarter, according to Point2.

Source: Point2

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Freddie Mac issues 2012 outlook

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Freddie Mac issues 2012 outlook
MCLEAN, Va. – Dec. 19, 2011 – Freddie Mac released its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for December providing five projections for the coming year.

“While the headwinds remain strong going into 2012, there are indications the economy and the housing market are gaining ground, albeit slowly,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist. “Sustained and increased job growth beyond the average monthly payroll gains of 130,000 so far this year (ending in November) are essential. In housing, look for the rental market to lead the way and for some improvement in the single-family space in parts of the country.

Outlook highlights for 2012

• Economic growth will likely strengthen to about 2.5 percent in 2012.

• The U.S. unemployment rate will decline but likely remain above 8 percent.

• Mortgage rates will likely remain very low, at least through mid-2012.

• Housing activity will be better in 2012, but not robust.

• Expect less single-family originations but more multifamily lending in 2012.

Freddie Mac offers background information on its website, “Peering into 2012.” Freddie Mac compiles data on major economic and housing and mortgage market indicators and offers forecasts based on those indicators.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Neighborhood blogs offer new way to reach buyers

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Neighborhood blogs offer new way to reach buyers
NEW YORK – Dec. 20, 2011 – More real estate professionals and developers are finding that in reaching today’s homebuyers, it’s not important to just sell the qualities of a home but also the neighborhood. As such, more real estate professionals are setting up special neighborhood blogs geared to highlighting the benefits of the surrounding area.

For example, Lori Ordover marketed a condo building in New York by setting up a neighborhood blog that highlighted the nearby attractions to the condo, including profiles of local businesses, guides to the neighborhood, and a panel discussion on the financial district’s future.

Such “meet-the-neighbors” blogs can help acquaint buyers with an area, an article in The New York Times notes.

The neighborhood blogs may highlight nearby businesses and reveal distances to schools, shopping, and parks as well as respond to questions from prospective buyers – which is what a blog for The Azure condo unit in New York city does.

Some blogs may also solidify the connection between a familiar neighborhood and the home. The Carriage House is located in a popular neighborhood in New York, so marketers are using the blog to highlight the building’s connection to the area. The blog is featured on the Warburg Realty website, which markets the building, and also serves as cross-promotion for local businesses.

Source: “Why Building Blogs Are District Boosters,” The New York Times (Dec. 15, 2011)

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

4 tips for improving your business in 2012

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4 tips for improving your business in 2012
SAN DIEGO – Dec. 20, 2011 – Become a specialist and target a niche market in your real estate business in 2012, suggests Alan Shafran, with Prudential California Realty in San Diego and president of ShowingSuite.com. In a recent article at RISMedia, Shafran offers some of the following tips for success in the new year:

1. What’s working and what isn’t? First evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current marketing plan. Second, identify your talents and skills. Third, consider new strategies that match your skillset.

“If you want to try something new – for example, the mailing of postcards to reach a new farm – make sure you have enough resources to cover the cost of the project for a period of at least six months,” Shafran suggests. “If you don’t have the budget, don’t start the project. Implementing a new marketing strategy without giving it enough time to succeed will only dilute the effectiveness of your other marketing programs, because it will sap you of your time, effort and energy.”

2. Hone your sales skills. Jot down a list of the areas where you feel you need improvement. Vow to become more educated and try role-playing exercises to allow you to speak with more confidence and knowledge.

3. Re-evaluate your branding and the demographics you’re targeting. “To be successful, it’s important to constantly evaluate what types of homes people are looking for in your area, and what they are willing to pay,” Shafran says. “After you figure out what type of clients you want to target, take the time to adjust your marketing strategy to their preferences.”

4. Update your profile and marketing materials. “Chances are, if your pictures and business cards make you look like you are 25 years younger than you actually are, then it’s time for an update,” Shafran says. “Shocking the customer is typically not a good idea.” Also, make sure your resume and website reflect today’s customer, given the financial environment.

Source: “10 Simple Steps for Making 2012 a Success,” RISMedia (Dec. 18, 2011)

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Websites: Your Internet Marketing Machine

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Your Internet Marketing Machine

Turn your site into a supercharged marketing tool.

Mitch Ribak credits his souped-up website marketing with increasing his business by 700 percent since opening four years ago. Ribak, a broker with Tropical Realty of Suntree in Melbourne, previously worked in Internet marketing, so he handles his own online marketing, which includes search engine optimization (SEO), lead capture and lead conversion. He even co-created a program [100MPHMarketing.com] to help him track his marketing efforts.

While Ribak’s monthly expenditure of $6,000 for online marketing may seem high, consider this: It has netted him $28,000 in sales in just one month. “I spend the majority of my money on pay-per-click fees to a program that brings active buyers to my site,” he says.
Here’s how to boost your online presence.
Grow Your Network
It’s vital that you find an SEO program to drive buyers to your site. Good search engine placement makes a pay-per-click strategy [where you pay a fee for people who click through to your site] very worthwhile. Ribak says HomeGain’s BuyerLink [homegain.com/buyerlink], is a “great source because they do all the work. If you search for ‘Melbourne real estate,’ you’ll end up on our site [because it’s so high in the search engine rankings].” Ribak’s company hosts two websites: MitchRealty.com and melbournehomesearch.com.

Track Your Leads
Use a lead-capture format, such as asking people to register or sign up for a benefit, to obtain contact information. Then, store this information in a customer relations management [CRM] program. This is an “easy-to-use database that allows you to keep updated on consumers’ actions on the website.” Two sources are Top Producer and Microsoft Outlook. For Ribak’s two offices, the CRM is tracking 21,000 leads.

Develop a Lead-Conversion Strategy
This program should allow you to e-mail new listings, follow up on phone calls and develop a drip e-mail campaign.

Ribak says the software he developed “automatically assigns leads, reports to administration if the lead wasn’t worked, sends an initial list of properties to the lead, places the lead into an automatic listings-update program and sends comparable listings to the customer.”

With the right tools in place, you can keep track of Internet leads and ensure your website stays at the top of any search.

Rich Niche

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Rich Niche
Tap into the Luxury Market

Know what luxury buyers want and give it to them.

When Dennis Brando entered real estate in 2004, he brought 25 years of marketing and merchandising experience with him. The senior-level positions he had held with companies such as JCPenney and Target taught him how to zero in on customers’ wants and needs.

“According to the Harrison Group poll for American Express, just 5 percent of the population controls $32 trillion in assets. I wanted to go where the money was, so I chose the luxury market,” says Brando, a sales associate with John R. Wood, Inc. in Naples.

Here’s his strategy:

Study Your Customer
“In the luxury market, there are certain websites and magazines that people read,” says Brando. He studies publications like Departures for Platinum American Express customers and Veranda, The Wall Street Journal and Homes of the Hamptons to learn about his target prospects’ buying habits.

“The first year I [advertised] in Homes of the Hamptons, more than $12 million in business came to us from [that area],” he says.

Reach Their Inner Circle
When Brando reads about a celebrity or sports star coming to the area, he contacts that person’s manager first. “There’s a website, WhoRepresents.com, that [tells you a celebrity’s] publicity and business managers’ names.” The site bills itself as the “entertainment industry’s insider database,” and costs $12.99 a month for an individual subscription or $100 a month for a corporate account. “It works. My success with sports people has been amazing,” says Brando, who credits the site with helping him gain four sports star customers last year alone.

Get Your Name Out
Brando spends about 18 percent of his net income on marketing, which includes print ads, his website (dennisbrando.com), direct mail and a personal brochure.

“As an ex-retailer, I know that when business is off, you must advertise more,” he says. “Some of the best advertising is free, like letters to the editor. I was recently quoted in SmartMoney magazine in reference to the Southwest Florida real estate market. That interview got me business and exposure in additional [media].”

Give VIP Service
Brando will arrange for just about anything for prospects from car transport to contractors for a remodeling project.

His “Let me treat you like a star!” tagline also helps him stand out. He recalls the time when a well-known celebrity called from a local hotel and proclaimed, “I’m a star!” and then mentioned that she was looking for a property for her mother.

The utmost discretion is needed when dealing with people at this level, Brando says. “Any slip of personal information, including names of people you’ve worked with, could cost you a relationship,” he says, “but once you break in and do an excellent job, you’re in.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fla. building codes updated for ADA, more

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Fla. building codes updated for ADA, more
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nov. 15, 2011 – The International Code Council and the Florida Building Commission, housed within the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), have announced “significant changes” to the Florida Building Codes.

Now available, the new “2010 Florida Building Codes – Building, Test Protocols for High Velocity Hurricane Zone, Residential, Plumbing, Mechanical, Energy Conservation, Fuel Gas and Existing Building” – is based on the 2009 International Codes, and includes a number of updates from both the International Code Council and the Florida Building Commission.

The 2010 Florida Accessibility Code is available online in a viewable PDF format at www.floridabuilding.org, and the complete codes will be available early next year.

One of the most visible changes to the 2010 codes is the integration of the 2010 Federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements within the 2010 Florida Accessibility Code.

The Florida Building Commission also centralized all energy provisions, including the energy provisions formerly located in Chapter 13 of the Building Code and Chapter 11 of the Residential Code, thus creating the 2010 Florida Energy Conservation Code to promote ease of use and application.

The new code also includes revisions to wind- and flood-design provisions found in Chapter 16 of the Building Code. In accordance with the new American Society of Civil Engineers ASCE 7-2010, the standard creates a new wind map for the state.

The updated Florida State Building Codes are mandatory for all new construction or rehabilitation projects with a permit application date of March 15, 2012, or later. More information is available on the International Code Council’s website at www.iccsafe.org/2010FL or the Florida Building Commission’s website at www.floridabuilding.org.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Q&A: Mortgage-refinancing program undergoes changes

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Q&A: Mortgage-refinancing program undergoes changes
CHICAGO – Nov. 16, 2011 – The federal government on Tuesday announced the nitty-gritty details of its revamped refinancing program to help homeowners who are current on their loans but can’t take advantage of low interest rates because they owe more on their homes than they are worth.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency acknowledged that the 894,000 mortgages refinanced under the Home Affordable Refinance Program had not lived up to the Obama administration’s expectations.

The reworked effort certainly will attract the attention of homeowners in hard-hit housing markets. But not every consumer with an upside-down mortgage will qualify, and it remains to be seen how many mortgage lenders will participate.

QUESTION: Who may be eligible?

ANSWER: The program is only eligible to borrowers whose loans are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and who have 20 percent or less equity in their homes. To check if either Fannie or Freddie backs a mortgage, go to http://www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage or http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup. The only loans eligible are those that were backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before May 31, 2009.

Q: When can applications be submitted, and when does the program end?

A: The program begins Dec. 1 but some participating lenders may not be ready to take applications that soon. The program ends Dec. 31, 2013.

Q: Can borrowers apply at any lender?

A: Yes. Participation is voluntary for lenders, but one key component of the reworked program is designed to make lenders more comfortable with writing a new loan on an underwater property. Going forward, a HARP lender is not considered responsible if a loan it refinances goes bad because of mistakes in the original purchase loan. The change was considered critical to attracting lenders to the program and fostering competition among lenders for business. However, lenders still have underwriting guidelines to follow.

Q: What if I missed one mortgage payment?

A: The agencies don’t want to see any delinquencies in the most recent six months, but a borrower can be 30 days late on one payment in months seven to 12 of the past year.

Q: What kind of extra fees are tacked onto the loans?

A: For loans that amortize in 20 years or less, all fees related to the riskiness of the loan have been eliminated. For loans that amortize in more than 20 years, fees are capped at 0.75 percent of the loan amount.

Q: What are the maximum loan-to-value ratios?

A: For 30-year, fixed-rate loans, there is no maximum LTV ratio. For fixed-rate loans of more than 30 years and less than 40 years, the maximum LTV is 105 percent.

The maximum also is 105 percent for adjustable-rate loans with an initial fixed period of 5 years or more and terms up to 40 years.

Q: Can a borrower refinance from a 30-year to a shorter-term loan, even if it means increasing the monthly payments?

A: Yes. In fact, the government is encouraging that because interest rates are usually lower on shorter-term loans and it allows the borrower to increase equity in their homes at a faster rate.

But to qualify for a shorter-term loan under the program, the borrower has to meet additional criteria, like having a credit score of at least 620 and must have a debt-to-income ratio of no more than 45 percent.

Q: Can lenders solicit my business?

A: Yes. If lenders advertise the program to potentially eligible borrowers with loan-to-value ratios of 80 percent or more, they have to advertise it for both Fannie and Freddie-backed loans.

Copyright © 2011 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Try something different with second-home marketing

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Try something different with second-home marketing
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Nov. 16, 2011 – If you happen to bump into Daniel Webster Johnson, you’ll probably remember him.

The Breckenridge, Colo.-based real estate broker likes to walk around in public places with skis on his back, just for fun. He rides his bike through the snow – something he refers to on Facebook as his “epic winter biking adventure” – and he almost always wears a bright red shirt.

“Do you notice that I’m a little bit different?” he asked Saturday during the Resort and Second Home Forum at the Realtors® Conference & Expo in Anaheim. “I want people to think I’m eccentric.”

It’s all part of his plan to market himself without spending a dime. “People just walk up to me and talk to me,” said Johnston, who sells second homes that average $700,000.

Johnston was part of a panel that also included former National Association of Realtors President Richard Mendenhall of RE/MAX Boone Realty in Columbia, Mo. Mendenhall urged Realtors to expand their definition of the second-home market. For example, considering tapping into college towns, where many of the students’ parents purchase a duplex or other property for their child to live for four years. “It doesn’t have to be Harvard or Yale, it just has to be a place where students are going to school,” he said.

Mendenhall also spoke about the opportunity in appealing to hunters – a group that includes close to 21 million people in the United States. Everyone markets homes to golfers, which number around 27 million, but hunters are barely touched.

“Hunters are a big deal, and there’s a lot of money there,” he said.

Homes near wetlands could be sold as waterfowl property; research duck flyways and see if one is near your market. If you’re close to a flyway but there are no wetlands, consider building a berm that can be flooded to attract ducks and stage the outdoor area with duck decoys. Mendenhall said he’s seen that strategy dramatically boost the value of property.

“It’s a whole different way to look at second homes,” Mendenhall said.

Source: Kelly Quigley, REALTOR® Magazine

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

6 low-cost marketing ideas to get noticed

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6 low-cost marketing ideas to get noticed
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nov. 16, 2011 – You don’t need to break the bank to expand your marketing efforts and build connections, marketing expert Julie Ryan, with Strategic Thinking in Australia, told a crowd at the Marketing Without Money session during the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) 2011 Realtors® Conference & Expo in Anaheim, Calif. “If you have a tight budget, you tend to be more focused on making sure every single dollar works harder,” Ryan said.

Regardless of how large or small your budget is, make your marketing message stick by focusing on three core areas: Impact (offering a message of value to clients), frequency (making contact a minimum of at least three times in three weeks to get people to remember you), and building relationships to form lasting connections.

Ryan suggested some of the following low-cost marketing ideas at the session:

1. Offer congratulations: Scan the local newspaper in search of good-news stories, such as people in the community earning an award or a job promotion, and then send a note congratulating them on the feat. That pat-on-the-back recognition makes you memorable and helps you build connections with people in your market, Ryan said.

2. Provide a special touch: To give your message more impact, print out an invitation to an open house for your listing and roll it up and tie it with a ribbon. Then, place it in door hangers on neighbors’ doors, mail the rolled-up invitation in a cylinder or even hand-deliver it.

3. Show time: Create videos showing off your listings and post them on sites like YouTube to expand your reach. Also, consider creating videos of your community that explain what it’s like to live and work there, or that answer common real estate questions, Ryan suggested.

4. Try location-based social media: Sites like Foursquare aren’t just for checking-in to local areas, but you can use them to leave tips and relevant, helpful information at every single location your customers are likely to frequent – such as local restaurants or where to find the best views in the city.

5. Be a valuable resource: Once you’ve identified something your customers are interested in, set up a Google Alert to monitor that topic so you’ll get a notification when something matching those keyword terms surfaces on the Internet. You can then pass the message along through an e-mail or quick phone call to let your client know about something they may not know about yet. It’ll help you build stronger connections with consumers, Ryan said.

6. Reach out to the community: Instead of just writing a donation check to schools or charitable groups, try offering up an award that you can present or hosting a special event with community involvement. For example, present a book award at a middle or elementary school to a student for a job well done, or hire the local elementary school band to play at your upcoming auction or as part of a special event at your office.

Source: Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Monday, November 14, 2011

NAR buyer and seller survey reflects tight credit conditions

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NAR buyer and seller survey reflects tight credit conditions
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nov. 14, 2011 – Recent homebuyers live well within their means, with notably higher incomes and modestly higher downpayments compared to buyers last year. The change results from a restrictive mortgage credit environment, according to a survey released at the National Association of Realtors® 2011 Realtors® Conference & Expo.

The 2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers is the latest in a long-running series of large national NAR surveys evaluating demographics, preferences, marketing and experiences of recent homebuyers and sellers.

NAR 2011 President Ron Phipps said financing obstacles were more challenging for entry-level homebuyers. “First-time homebuyers fell to a 37 percent market share in the past year from a record high 50 percent in the 2010 study,” he said. “Although last year’s findings were boosted by the homebuyer tax credit, long-term survey averages show that four out of 10 buyers are typically first-time buyers. This segment is critical to a housing recovery because they help existing homeowners sell and make a trade.”

Seventy-eight percent of recent homebuyers said their home is a good investment, and 45 percent believe it’s better than stocks. According to survey results, most buyers believe in the long-term value of homeownership.

The study shows the median age of first-time buyers was 31, and the median income was $62,400, up from $59,900 in the 2010 study. The typical first-time buyer purchased a 1,570 square-foot home costing $155,000; the estimated median monthly mortgage principal and interest payment was $794. The typical repeat buyer was 53 years old and earned $96,600, notably higher than the $87,000 median reported in the 2010 profile. Repeat buyers purchased a median 2,100 square foot home costing $219,500, with an estimated median payment of $1,006.

Paul Bishop, NAR vice president of research, clarified the impact of unnecessarily restrictive mortgage credit. “The bar has been raised to qualify for a loan. Buying your first home has never been particularly easy, but with record-high housing affordability conditions and a pent-up demand, we normally would expect a stronger performance,” he said. “This underscores how important it is to open the credit spigot for creditworthy buyers – banks simply need to get back into the business of lending. Higher home sales would help create jobs through related economic activity.”

The median downpayment for all homebuyers was 11 percent, ranging from 5 percent for first-time buyers to 15 percent for repeat buyers. “The downpayment size for both repeat buyers and first-time buyers was a full percentage point higher than in the 2010 study, another indication of tighter lending requirements,” Bishop said.

“To illustrate, the median price paid by repeat buyers in the survey was 2.1 percent higher than in the 2010 study, but their income was 11.0 percent greater, despite lower interest rates. First-time buyers paid 1.9 percent more, but their income was 4.2 percent higher,” Bishop added.

Although overall home prices have trended lower, other NAR survey data show the median price paid by owner-occupants is notably higher than paid by investors, who are under-represented in this study and largely use cash to purchase heavily discounted distressed homes.

First-time buyers who financed their purchase used a variety of resources for the downpayment: 79 percent tapped into savings, 26 percent received a gift from a friend or relative, typically from their parents, and 7 percent received a loan from a relative or friend. Nine percent sold stocks or bonds and 8 percent tapped into a 401(k) fund. Ninety-four percent of entry-level buyers chose a fixed-rate mortgage.

Fifty-four percent of first-time buyers financed with a low-downpayment FHA mortgage, and 6 percent used the VA loan program that requires no downpayment.

Sixty-four percent of all buyers are married couples, 18 percent are single women, 10 percent single men, 7 percent unmarried couples and 1 percent other. Last year 58 percent were married couples, 20 percent single women, 12 percent single men, 8 percent unmarried couples and 1 percent other. “The growth in married couples suggests buyers with dual incomes are better positioned to qualify for a mortgage in this tight credit environment,” Bishop said.

Buyers searched a median of 12 weeks and visited 12 homes, both unchanged from 2010. Nine percent of recent buyers also own one or more investment properties, and 4 percent own at least one vacation home.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents purchased a detached single-family home, 9 percent a condo, 8 percent a townhouse or rowhouse, and 6 percent some other kind of housing. The typical home had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Fifty-one percent of all homes purchased were in a suburb or subdivision, 18 percent were in an urban area, 18 percent in a small town, 11 percent in a rural area and 3 percent in a resort or recreation area. The median distance from the previous residence was 12 miles, the same as in the 2010 study.

More than half of buyers considered purchasing a foreclosure but didn’t buy one for a variety of reasons: 29 percent couldn’t find the right house; 15 percent each reported poor condition and a difficult process.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents used real estate agents and brokers; this was the most common method to purchase a home. Other methods include directly from a builder, 7 percent; and directly from the previous owner, 4 percent. A buyer’s agent represented 60 percent of buyers working with real estate professionals.

As demonstrated in previous studies, buyers used a wide variety of resources in searching for a home: 88 percent used the Internet, 87 percent used real estate agents, 55 percent yard signs, 45 percent attended open houses and 30 percent review print or newspaper ads. While buyers also used other resources, they generally started their search process online and then contacted an agent.

When buyers were asked where they first learned about the home they purchased, 40 percent said the Internet; 35 percent from a real estate agent; 11 percent a yard sign or open house; 6 percent from a friend, neighbor or relative; 5 percent home builders; 2 percent a print or newspaper ad; 2 percent directly from the seller; and less than 1 percent from a home book or magazine.

Ninety-one percent of homebuyers who used the Internet to search for a home purchased through a real estate agent, as did 70 percent of non-Internet homebuyers, who were more likely to purchase directly from a builder or from an owner they already knew through a private transaction.

Local metropolitan multiple listing service websites were the most popular Internet resource, used by 56 percent of buyers; followed by real estate agent websites, 46 percent; Realtor.com, 45 percent; real estate company sites, 40 percent; other websites with real estate listings, 38 percent; and for-sale-by-owner sites, 14 percent; other categories were notably smaller.

The biggest factors influencing neighborhood choice were quality of the neighborhood, cited by 67 percent of buyers; convenience to jobs, 49 percent; overall affordability of homes, 45 percent; and convenience to family and friends, 39 percent. Other factors with relatively high responses include neighborhood design, 32 percent; convenience to shopping, 28 percent; quality of the school district, 27 percent; convenience to schools, 22 percent; and convenience to entertainment or leisure activities, 21 percent.

Commuting costs continue to factor strongly in decisions regarding location, with 73 percent of buyers saying transportation costs were important.

The biggest reason people buy a home is the simple desire to own a home of their own, cited by 27 percent of respondents, including 60 percent of first-time buyers. The next biggest primary reasons for buying were desire for a larger home or a job-related move, each cited by 10 percent of respondents; a change in family situation or the affordability of homes, 8 percent each; and desire to be closer to family, friends or relatives, 7 percent.

The typical home seller was 53 years old and their income was $101,500. Sellers moved a median distance of 20 miles and their home was on the market for 9 weeks, up from 8 weeks in the 2010 profile. Forty-six percent moved to a larger home, 31 percent bought a comparably sized home and 23 percent downsized.

While sellers had been in their previous home for a median of nine years, up from eight years in the 2010 study, first-time buyers plan to stay for 10 years and repeat buyers plan to hold their property for 15 years.

The typical seller who purchased a home nine years ago realized a median equity gain of $26,000, a 16 percent increase, while sellers who were in their homes for 11 to 15 years saw a median gain of $57,900, or 39 percent. “Over time, the survey findings consistently show that the longer you own, the larger your return,” Bishop said.

Homebuyers thought the most important services agents provide are helping find the right house, and negotiating price and sales terms.

Like sellers, buyers most commonly choose an agent based on a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative, with trustworthiness and reputation being the most important factors; 89 percent are likely to use the same agent again or recommend to others.

Of sellers working with real estate agents, the study found that 80 percent used a full-service brokerage, in which agents provide a range of services that include managing most of the process of selling a home from listing to closing. Ten percent of sellers chose limited services, which may include discount brokerage, and 10 percent used minimal service, such as simply listing a property on a multiple listing service.

Realtors provide all of these types of services, as do non-member agents and brokers, with comparable findings for each year since questions about brokerage services were added in 2006.

For-sale-by-owner transactions accounted for 10 percent of sales, above the record-low 9 percent in the 2010 study, but well below the record high of 20 percent set in 1987. The share of homes sold without professional representation has trended lower since last reaching a cyclical peak of 18 percent in 1997.

Many FSBO properties are not sold on the open market. Factoring out private sales between parties who knew each other in advance, the actual number of homes sold on the open market without professional assistance was 6 percent.

The median transaction price for sellers who used an agent was $215,000, well above the $150,000 median for a home sold directly by an owner, but there were differences in the findings. The median income of unassisted sellers was $82,500, in contrast with $101,500 for agent-assisted sellers. Unassisted sellers were much more likely to be selling a smaller home, and they were more likely to be in an urban or central city area.

The most difficult tasks reported by unrepresented sellers are attracting potential buyers, getting the right price, and understanding and completing paperwork.

NAR mailed an eight-page questionnaire in July and August of 2011 to a national sample of 81,099 homebuyers and sellers who purchased their homes between July 2010 and June 2011, according to county records. It generated 5,708 usable responses; the adjusted response rate was 7.3 percent. All information is characteristic of the 12-month period ending in June 2011 with the exception of income data, which are for 2010. Because of rounding and omissions for space, percentage distributions for some findings may not add up to 100 percent.

The 2011 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers can be ordered by calling 800-874-6500, or online at www.realtor.org/prodser.nsf/Research. The study costs $19.95 for NAR members and $149.95 for non-members.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Florida’s 2012 NAR President outlines agenda

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Florida’s 2012 NAR President outlines agenda

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nov. 14, 2011 – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) will not waiver in its commitment to ensure access to homeownership, affordable housing and commercial investment, says Maurice “Moe” Veissi, 2012 NAR president and, almost 10 years ago, 2002 president of Florida Realtors. Veissi shared his perspective and insights into some key issues facing the real estate industry next year during the 2011 Realtors® Conference & Expo today.

“It’s a difficult time in many ways for real estate; some would go as far to say that homeownership itself is under attack,” said Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami. “With that said, challenging times often present opportunities, and I believe NAR and our Realtor members are ready and able to meet and overcome the obstacles ahead.”

As Realtors gathered in Anaheim, Congress debated whether to reinstate higher conforming loan limits, and change NAR has been promoting.

“We’re working on behalf of homebuyers and sellers across the country who have been affected by the reduced loan limits,” said Veissi. “Some have tried to portray higher loan limits as benefiting the wealthy, but the fact is that most affected markets are not high-cost areas. More than 100 counties throughout the Midwest and more than 200 counties in the South have seen loan limits decline by more than $64,000.”

As the Nov. 23 deadline for Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or “Super Committee,” approaches, Realtors also stand ready to defend and support the mortgage interest deduction as an important tax benefit of homeownership and an incentive for home sales.

“This is another issue that affects hard-working, middle-class Americans,” said Veissi. “Sixty-five percent of families who claim the MID earn less than $100,000 per year.”

Veissi is confident that Realtors will engage and meet the challenges facing the real estate industry during his year as NAR president.

“I believe Realtors are at the heart of the deal – so much so that I’ve made it my theme for the year,” said Veissi. “Homebuyers, sellers and real estate investors rely on Realtors as a primary source for real estate information and guidance. And in today’s climate, Realtors can also be relied upon to fight for, and defend, consumers’ rights and opportunities to buy, sell and own real estate.”

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Homeowners’ monthly mortgage down about 40%

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Homeowners’ monthly mortgage down about 40%
WASHINGTON – Nov. 14, 2011 – Improving housing affordability mixed with low mortgage rates means that homeowners are paying a lot less for their monthly mortgage payment than they did just a few years ago. In fact, they’re paying nearly 40 percent less on their monthly mortgage payment than homeowners paid in 2006.

According to Fiserv, the monthly mortgage payment for a median-priced single-family home today is $700 – a drop of close to 40 percent from 2006, when it was $1,140.

“Housing affordability has improved dramatically because of declines in both prices and mortgage interest rates,” David Stiff, chief economist at Fiserv, said in a statement. “Nationally, purchase mortgage payments now account for only 13 percent of monthly median family income, the lowest percentage on record (since 1971), and compared to 23 percent in the first quarter of 2006.”

Source: “Monthly Mortgage Payment Almost 40% Cheaper Than 2006,” HousingWire (Nov. 9, 2011) and Fiserv

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Android users: Beware of QR codes

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Android users: Beware of QR codes
SEATTLE – Nov. 8, 2011 – A growing attack to smartphones, particularly Google’s Android, is coming from QR codes. Smartphones can scan these bar codes and connect instantly with a website or other location to instantly connect with information. QR codes have been catching on in marketing, and are widely adopted by real estate professionals.

But watch before you scan, says one malware security researcher.

QR codes have become a main target for viruses and hackers who use them to steal personal data from a phone, malware researcher Sergey Golovanov with Kaspersky Lab in Moscow told Forbes.com.

“QR malware codes are mainly spreading through Android,” Golovanov says. “We haven’t found any QR malware for the iPhones yet. Everyone is looking for the Android users. We don’t know why. But one of the reasons is probably because iPhone has a closed operating system, and Android has an open operating system, so it’s easier to create software for them.”

When you unknowingly scan a malware QR code with your smartphone, you’ll be redirected to a malicious web address that may end with “.APK” or “.JAR” file extensions. However, Golovanov says there’s no way to be certain when your device has been affected by one of these malware QR codes.

Source: “Is the iPhone Safer Than Google’s Android?” Forbes (Nov. 3, 2011)

© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Builder mag: 8 healthiest housing markets

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Builder mag: 8 healthiest housing markets
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nov. 8, 2011 – The construction industry thinks two Fla. metropolitan areas – Jacksonville and South Florida – are poised for a rebound, according to an analysis by Builder Magazine.

To find the cities with the greatest potential for growth, Builder Magazine as Hanley Wood Market Intelligence to consider local factors, such as major universities, military bases, and the strength of businesses in the private sector. The study also considered Economy.com’s housing projections, expected price appreciation, and estimated employment and income growth.

Under those criteria, two Florida cities made the top eight nationwide. Jacksonville came in at No. 4, and South Florida (Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach) ranked No. 5.

In Jacksonville, surveyors expect the number of building permits to almost double between 2011 and 2012, rising from 2,284 to a forecast of 4,363. The number of jobs will grow, the financial businesses will grow, and a military base will continue to call Jacksonville home. The builders believe housing prices will rise 5 percent in 2012.

In South Florida, surveyors believe building permits will skyrocket 178 percent: from 2,708 in 2011 to 7,522 in 2012. Unemployment will, according to forecasts, stop declining and rise 2.7 percent next year. Builders say the rosy picture is driven in large part by two big projects that will add over 10,000 jobs: the CitiCentre and Resorts World Miami.

The complete list of cities in the top eight include:

1. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington Minn.-Wis.
2. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
4. Jacksonville, Fla.
5. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla.

6. Charlottesville, Va.
7. Colorado Springs, Colo.
8. Oklahoma City, Okla.

Source: “Healthiest Housing Markets: Mid-2011 Update,” Builder Magazine, Boyce Thompson

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

International tide lifts South Florida real estate market

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International tide lifts South Florida real estate market
MIAMI – Nov. 8, 2011 – South Florida is already the nation’s epicenter for residential real estate sales to foreign buyers, and experts said Monday that they expect those international sales to be even stronger in 2012.

“You have a unique opportunity for the next few years,” Moe Veissi, the president-elect of the National Association of Realtors®, told more than 200 people gathered for the 17th Miami International Real Estate Conference at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. “You are at the juxtaposition of the best global real estate market we’ve ever seen in this country.”

In 2007 and 2008, California led the nation in international sales, but Florida pulled ahead in 2009 and has been at the front of the pack ever since, accounting for nearly one-third of international transactions in 2011. Global buyers now account for $82 billion of residential purchases in the United States.

Of the international deals in Florida, 30 percent took place in the Miami-Miami Beach-Fort Lauderdale market, according to an international study by the National Association of Realtors. Distant runner-up was the Orlando-Kissimmee market with 14 percent of international sales in the state.

The Greater Miami area has transformed from a market with one of the largest inventory gluts in the nation to one where buyers, especially international buyers, are steadily chipping away at the backlog of unsold homes. The residential inventory for Miami-Dade fell from 25,769 last August to 15,405 this year, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.

“The absorption rate, especially in condos, has gone bananas,” said Veissi, who heads a South Miami real estate company. He served as president of Florida Realtors, the state Realtor organization, in 2002.

International buyers, especially from South America, see “real value” in South Florida real estate, he said. Veissi expects international transactions will be even stronger in 2012. “This is an excellent time to be an investor or buyer in Southeast Florida,” he said.

But the good news on the international front is tempered with home values that are still declining in some South Florida communities and a steady stream of foreclosed properties that continue to come on the market.

Still, “this will be a record-breaking year for the number of sales in the Miami market,” said Teresa King Kinney, chief executive of the Miami Association of Realtors.

To attract global business, Deborah Boza-Valledor, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer of the Miami Association of Realtors, suggested targeting international buyers through blogs or websites that provide buyers with real information about the market. “They can get listings from anywhere,” she said.

A new survey of the association’s members released Monday shows that Venezuela is still the leading international market with 15 percent of sales (compared to 28 percent last year), but Brazil is closing the gap, accounting for 12 percent of sales compared to 9 percent last year. Argentina, Canada and Colombia round out the top five markets.

One of the reasons local real estate agents are so enamored of international buyers is they are largely cash buyers. Eighty-five percent of Brazilians who bought property in Florida paid cash, 91 percent of Canadians, 90 percent of Western Europeans, and 88 percent of Venezuelans, according to the latest international report by the National Association of Realtors.

Foreign buyers also purchase higher-priced real estate. In August, the median sales price for a single-family home in the Miami-Dade market was $180,900, down 1 percent, while the median condo sales price was $118,800, up 13 percent, according to the Miami Association of Realtors. But the median sales price for a home purchased by an international buyer was $222,500.

Condos continue to be foreign buyers’ residence of choice with condominium sales accounting for more than 70 percent of purchases.

Eighty-three percent of the association’s members worked with at least one international client in the past 12 months, and 26 percent said international clients accounted for more than half of their business, according to the survey.

“That’s huge. There’s no other market in the United States that can boast these kinds of numbers,” said King Kinney. But she added, “No matter how much we have, we can always do more.”

The new survey also indicates that buyers from markets that weren’t a blip on the screen a few years ago are prospecting for South Florida properties. The survey reveals, for example, that buyers from India and China now each account for about 1 percent of international sales in the local market.

Copyright © 2011 The Miami Herald

Condo sales threatened by loss of FHA backing for loans

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Condo sales threatened by loss of FHA backing for loans
ORLANDO, Fla. – Nov. 8, 2011 – Orlando’s condominium market, one of the hardest-hit in the country, faces further challenges because of federal policy changes that now limit mortgage financing for buyers seeking to purchase available units.

Of 68 condo complexes in the Orlando area, 44 have already lost a big part of their financial lifeblood: the mortgage-backing power of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which generates loans with some of the lowest downpayments in the industry.

Another 12 complexes in Orlando are scheduled to lose their FHA approvals in the next six months.

In the past, most condominiums received open-ended approvals for FHA-backed mortgages, but the government changed that policy in 2009 and started limiting approvals to two-year terms. With those initial two-year approvals expiring this year, homeowner associations are now at a loss for how to get their condo complexes back on the federal mortgage-guarantee list.

“You’ve taken away a really viable purchasing tool at a time when the economy would really benefit from those buyers,” said Fort Lauderdale lawyer Sandra Krumbein, who specializes in condominium law.

“Homeowner associations now have to get approvals [every two years], and that’s what’s causing the hoopla,” she said. “The associations and their managers have no idea what to do to get approved.”

Nationally, 25,000 condominium projects lost their FHA approvals from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the first nine months of this year, and fewer than 10 percent of those have been reapproved or recertified. A condominium must have the approval before buyers can purchase its units with FHA mortgages.

Orlando real estate agent Maria Garcia said she has represented buyers interested in purchasing condominiums who have had to look elsewhere because so few of the complexes locally are approved. And those that have approvals, such as the Vue at Lake Eola tower in downtown Orlando and condominiums in Baldwin Park, often have price tags and association fees that are too rich for first-time buyers, she said.

Faced with a limited pool of cash buyers, she added, most condominium complexes will see their prices slip further as a result.

“It’s not a good outlook for condominiums,” Garcia said. “The financing is pretty much the biggest issue. That’s hindering the market – the ability to get financing – and the property will continue to depreciate.”

A general lack of mortgage financing for condominiums has already taken a toll on prices. House prices have dropped, too, but not nearly as much as condo prices. In Orlando, the median condo price has fallen 64 percent since 2006, from $166,100 to $60,500 as of September. House prices, meanwhile, have fallen 52 percent during that time, from $262,900 to $125,200, according to Florida Realtors.

And while condo prices nationally dropped 18 percent from 2008 to 2010, they fell 57 percent in the Orlando area.

A HUD spokesman said the reason so few condominiums have found their way back onto the FHA mortgage-approval list is that some association boards may not, for whatever reason, want the federal green light for such mortgages. Also, some condo projects may be plagued with problems that prevent re-approval, such as having too many investor-owners or too few financial reserves.

Orlando mortgage broker Rob Nunziata, who sits on the boards of several condo and homeowner associations, said such boards are so busy dealing with day-to-day upkeep and financial issues that their members generally aren’t focused on the importance of getting back on HUD’s mortgage-approval list.

“Over the last couple of years, it’s been very important – especially with the first-time buyer who does not have the 20 [percent] to 30 percent downpayment needed to get the Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan,” said Nunziata, president of FBC Mortgage Inc. “It is extremely valuable and helpful if a condo is FHA-approved.”

HUD issues the FHA stamp of approval for condominium complexes. In the past, the federal agency periodically recertified particular condominium projects, and it also had the power to pull a complex’s FHA approval if it was having serious problems. But now condo complexes automatically lose their federal mortgage backing after two years, and their associations have to apply to get back on the federal list and attest that the development is free of any potential problems.

Even though the federal government does not charge condo associations to apply to get back on the FHA-financing list, association members may put themselves at risk of prison time and fines if they assert that a condo community has no problems involving legal issues, construction flaws or other disputes, some industry experts say.

As a result, associations are basically forced to hire lawyers or groups with FHA-approval experience, those experts say, and that expertise costs money.

Copyright © 2011 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Mary Shanklin. Distributed by MCT Information Services

1.8M Brazil visitors expected through 2013

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1.8M Brazil visitors expected through 2013
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Nov. 8, 2011 – Brazil has one of the world’s healthy economies, and many residents enjoy visiting – and buying a home – in Florida. Florida Realtors representatives returned recently from a trade mission to the country – part of a larger trade mission led by Florida Governor Rick Scott – and John Sebree, Florida Realtors vice president of public policy, reports keen interest Florida in real estate.

“Florida Realtors received an incredible amount of press coverage during our visit, and reporters focused on the attractiveness and affordability of Florida real estate,” says Sebree. “Brazilians already visit Florida in great numbers. The recent announcement by the U.S. State Department to increase the number of visas issued confirms existing demand and even predicts a significant increase in visitors. While visiting Brazil, we told them that Florida Realtors’ members can help them find the right property.”

According to the State Department, Brazil had 820,000 visa applications in fiscal year 2011 – a 44 percent increase over 2010. Ed Ramotowski, a senior official at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, says he expects 1.8 million Brazilians to request a visitor visa by the end of 2013. To keep up with demand, the U.S. says it will double the number of agents issuing visas in Brazil.

Sebree says the Oct. 24-28 Florida Realtors Trade Mission showcased the state as an attractive destination, and the resulting media coverage should only boost demand.

“We met with reporters in Brazil, which ended up generating at least eight stories so far about the appeal of Florida real estate,” says Sebree.

Florida Realtors also hosted a booth at FIESP (Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo) to promote Florida real estate, and met with two Brazil real estate associations to discuss how Realtors can build stronger relationships with Brazil’s real estate professionals.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Realtors® ready to ‘seize the day’ for America’s homeowners

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Realtors® ready to ‘seize the day’ for America’s homeowners
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nov. 11, 2011 – During the opening session today at this week’s meetings, National Association of Realtors® (NAR) President Ron Phipps outlined obstacles and opportunities facing the real estate industry as the 2011 Realtors Conference & Expo opened in Anaheim, Calif.

“For the first time in generations, the American dream of homeownership is being threatened,” said Phipps. “We need to keep housing first on the nation’s public policy agenda, because housing and homeownership issues affect all Americans.”

As Realtors convene in California this week, conforming loan limits is one top-of-mind issue. On Oct. 1, Congress allowed those limits to revert from 125 percent of the local area median home price to 115 percent of the local median home price. As a result, homebuyers and sellers in 669 counties across 42 states and the District of Columbia have been affected. The lower limits mean that fewer people have access to mortgage loans, and the loans that are available will be more expensive.

“Mortgage availability remains a real concern since the private market has yet to return,” said Phipps. “While the housing market is still in recovery, we firmly believe that lower loan limits will only further restrict liquidity in mortgage markets.”

NAR has urged Congress to reinstate the higher loan limits temporarily, and more than 200 members of Congress currently support efforts to reinstate these limits.

Session attendees also heard about the results of last month’s New Solutions for America’s Housing Crisis forum. As a result of this forum, NAR endorsed a five-point housing solutions plan to help re-energize housing markets and spur the economic recovery.

“Realtors and the families we work with, day in and day out, know that homeownership matters,” says Phipps. “And now, with our combined and continued efforts, we’re going to make sure that policymakers understand that, too.”

This year’s Realtors Conference & Expo is expected to draw about 18,000 Realtors and guests. More than 400 exhibitors are expected to participate in the Expo, which showcases the latest real estate products and innovations across various fields, including technology, data communications and financial programs and services.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Suit targets mortgage registry firm

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Suit targets mortgage registry firm
DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. – Nov. 11, 2011 – A Florida court official is taking on the nationwide mortgage registry company created to save banks money when buying and selling homes.

Duval County Clerk of Court Jim Fuller is seeking class-action status in a lawsuit filed Oct. 31 against Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, or MERS, which he said operates an “unlawful scheme.”

The Virginia-based company was created by the banking industry as a way to streamline and track the transfer and sale of mortgages – a critical element in real estate’s heyday when loans traded hands at a frenetic pace.

But Fuller said MERS sidesteps public recording land rules and bypasses fees to the detriment of the public and the state’s 67 clerks of court.

When a lender originates a mortgage it can go into MERS, which becomes the “mortgagee.” This allows the company to internally track the transfer, sale or securitization of the loan instead of each move being recorded in the public record.

“The MERS system avoids the recordation requirement, and the accompanying fees, and in doing so deprives the Florida Clerks of Court fees to which they are entitled and the public of its ability to identify the true mortgagee of mortgaged property,” the lawsuit says. “The effort to disconnect the debt from the collateral to save on recording costs is at the heart of the unlawful scheme that is MERS.”

Palm Beach County Clerk of Court Sharon Bock said she didn’t know about the lawsuit until Wednesday and is reserving judgment.

The Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers felt similarly, saying its executive committee is ready to “review the issue and take action” if and when Fuller’s suit progresses.

MERS has been the target of ire nationwide as problems with identifying the true owners of mortgages became clearer in the wake of last fall’s “robo-signing” scandal.

The company has faced several challenges to its business practices, including a lawsuit filed last month by the Delaware attorney general’s office that claims MERS makes it difficult for borrowers to identify their mortgage holder, which hurts their ability to fight foreclosures.

Janis Smith, a spokesman for MERS, said Fuller’s allegations are without merit and that the company will move to dismiss the complaint because it “fails to state any plausible legal or factual claims.”

“Any suggestion that MERS acting as the mortgagee on the public records somehow ‘allows the owner of a loan to remain anonymous’ is completely wrong,” Smith said.

Copyright © 2011 The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, Fla., Kimberly Miller. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Fla. TaxWatch issues hurricane cost study

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Fla. TaxWatch issues hurricane cost study
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nov. 11, 2011 – Most Florida politicians, Citizens Insurance policyholders and state residents understand that property insurance is expensive, and that the state’s insurer of last resort does not generate enough income to pay damages in the event of a major hurricane that hits a highly populated area.

A recent study released by Florida TaxWatch, though not officially backed by its board of trustees, attempts to clarify that cost.

In the event of a major hurricane – one slated to occur once every hundred years – TaxWatch says that “$18 billion dollars would have to be borrowed in the open market (if possible) to pay the claims, … (and) nearly all of Florida’s policyholders would be assessed for decades to repay the debt.”

TaxWatch says that Citizen’s policyholders would take a major hit following a big storm: The average homeowner assessment would be $9,400, with $1,200 due the first year and the rest paid off over 30 years. Businesses and condo associations would also pay. If current premiums run $150,000 to Citizens and $50,000 in other premiums, a post-hurricane assessment could be nearly $600,000, with $80,000 of that due in the first year.

While study authors say their primary goal was to explain the problem simply, it concludes with seven recommendations for fixing the problem:

1. Educate taxpayers and policyholders. “We must learn that, at the root, we do not have an insurance problem; we have a hurricane problem,” the study says.

2. Return Citizens to an insurer of last resort.

3. Fund and/or shrink the CAT Fund. Florida’s CAT Fund is a backup insurer for insurers. However, it doesn’t make enough money. TaxWatch first advices a tax increase to boost the CAT Fund; if that’s unworkable, it recommends shrinking the fund.

4. Make Florida more insurer-friendly. TaxWatch suggests that the state stop regulating rates and allow them to “float to their natural, market-driven level as quickly as is politically possible.”

5. Require private insurers to be adequately capitalized. This step minimizes the risk of company failure following a major storm.

6. Strengthen building codes – and enforce them.

7. National reinsurance backstop? TaxWatch likes the idea of a national disaster insurance policy, but notes that “Florida has more catastrophe exposure than all of the other (eastern) coastal states … combined. If we can get the rest of the states to pick up our tab, I am all for it. But in this economy, that appears doubtful.”

The full report can be downloaded on the Florida TaxWatch website.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®

U.S. foreclosure activity hit 7-month high in Oct.

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U.S. foreclosure activity hit 7-month high in Oct.
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Nov. 11, 2011 – More U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process in October than in the previous month, with Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana registering among the largest monthly increases, new data show.

Some 77,733 properties received an initial default notice last month, up 10 percent from September, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

The number of homes scheduled to be auctioned or repossessed by lenders also posted monthly increases.

All told, notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions – warnings that can eventually lead to a home being lost to foreclosure – hit a seven-month high in October.

The numbers are further evidence foreclosure activity is picking up.

The activity slowed a year ago after problems surfaced with the way many lenders were handling foreclosure documentation, namely shoddy mortgage paperwork comprising several shortcuts known collectively as robo-signing. Many of the nation’s largest banks reacted by temporarily ceasing all foreclosures, re-filing previously filed foreclosure cases and revisiting pending cases to prevent errors.

But banks appear to be moving past those problems now and starting to tackle a swelling backlog of homes with mortgages that have gone unpaid – something that lenders are seeing more of as the economy struggles and unemployment remains high.

The rate that homeowners were 60 or more days late on their mortgage payment rose in the June-to-September period for the first time since the last three months of 2009, according to TransUnion.

The credit reporting agency said 5.88 percent of homeowners missed two or more payments, an early sign of possible foreclosure. That was up from 5.82 percent in the second quarter of 2011.

The number of U.S. homeowners underwater on their mortgage, or who owe more than their homes are worth, represents another potential source of trouble for lenders.

As of June 30, some 22.5 percent of all U.S. homes had a mortgage that was underwater, according to CoreLogic. That’s 10.9 million properties. Another 2.4 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their home, the firm said.

Industry experts say a housing market turnaround isn’t likely to occur as long as there remains a glut of potential foreclosures hovering over the market, so October’s increase in foreclosure activity means a potentially faster revival for housing.

“We all know that there is an underlying amount of properties that need to go into foreclosure and the sooner we clear that the sooner we can get housing to a normal level,” said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.

In some states, the number of homeowners put on notice by banks for missing payments far exceeded the national average for October.

Florida posted a 28 percent jump in October from September in homes receiving an initial default notice. Pennsylvania saw a 50 percent increase and Indiana registered a 61 percent gain, according to RealtyTrac.

In some cases, though, government intervention is slowing lenders down.

Take Nevada, where a law went into effect Oct. 1 requiring that foreclosure documents must be filed in the county where a property is located and a lender must provide a notarized affidavit detailing their legal right to proceed.

Saccacio said the law helped cause a 75 percent drop in initial default notices in Nevada last month versus September, bringing defaults to the lowest level since June 2006 at the peak of the housing boom.

“It’s like a rain delay,” Saccacio said. “We’ll eventually see foreclosure processing go up.”

Despite registering a 34 percent drop in foreclosure activity overall, Nevada still registered the highest foreclosure rate in the nation for October, with one in every 180 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice, RealtyTrac said.

In all, 230,678 U.S. homes received a foreclosure-related warning last month, up 7 percent from September, but down nearly 31 percent from October 2010.

Foreclosure auctions rose 8 percent from September, but climbed by more than 35 percent in several states, including Florida, Minnesota and Illinois.

Lenders took back 67,624 properties in October, up 4 percent from the previous month, but down 27 percent from a year earlier.

Bank repossessions increased by a far larger margin in several states. In Oregon they climbed 45 percent, while in New Jersey they posted a 48 percent jump. Indiana registered a 73 percent increase.
AP LogoCopyright © 2011 The Associated Press, Alex Veiga, AP real estate writer.