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, 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 or the Florida Building Commission’s website at

© 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 or 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;, 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 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

“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’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.

Rate on 30-year mortgage below 4% for second time

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Rate on 30-year mortgage below 4% for second time
Mortgage Rate Trend Index
One in three (36%) of experts polled by this week expect mortgage rates to drop even further over the short term, with almost half (43%) predicting no change. Only 21% think rates will go up.
WASHINGTON – Nov. 11, 2011 – The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell below 4 percent for just the second time in history.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on the 30-year fixed loan fell to 3.99 percent, down from 4 percent last week. Five weeks ago, it dropped to a record low of 3.94 percent, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell last week to 3.30 percent from 3.31 percent. Five weeks ago, it too hit a record low of 3.26 percent.

Mortgage rates track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which fell this week as investors shifted money into safer Treasurys amid fears Europe’s debt crisis could worsen.

Low mortgage rates have done little to boost home sales. Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks this year. Yet home sales are on pace to be the lowest in 14 years.

Refinancing activity jumped more than 12 percent last week from the previous week, to the highest level in a month, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. But refinancing is down 13.5 percent from a year ago and the four-week moving average for purchase and refinancing mortgage applications is down slightly, suggesting the low rates are failing to entice many Americans.

High unemployment and declining wages have made it harder for many people to qualify for loans. Many Americans don’t want to sink money into a home that could lose value over the next three to four years. And most homeowners who can afford to refinance already have.

The low rates have caused a modest boom in refinancing, but that benefit might be wearing off. Most people who can afford to refinance have already locked in rates below 5 percent.

Just five years ago they were closer to 6.5 percent. Ten years ago, they were above 8 percent.

The average rates don’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for the 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged at 0.7. The average fee on the 15-year fixed loan rose from 0.7 to 0.8.

The average rate on the five-year adjustable loan rose to 2.98 percent from 2.96 percent, which had been a record low. The average rate on the one-year adjustable loan increased to 2.95 percent from 2.88 percent. It fell last month to 2.81 percent, the lowest on records dating to 1984.

The average fees on the five-year and one-year adjustable loans were both unchanged at 0.6.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country Monday through Wednesday of each week.
AP LogoCopyright © 2011 The Associated Press, Derek Kravitz, AP economics writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nevada foreclosure filings drop after new law

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Nevada foreclosure filings drop after new law
LAS VEGAS – Nov. 10, 2011 – Foreclosure filings in Nevada’s hard-hit housing market have slowed sharply after the state enacted a law that toughened the foreclosure process.

The numbers speak for themselves: A little more than 600 default notices, the first step in processing foreclosures, were filed against homeowners through Oct. 25 in two of Nevada’s most populated counties compared to 5,360 the month prior – an 88 percent decrease, according to

A new law, which took effect Oct. 1, cracks down on “robo-signing” while also making it a felony for making false representations regarding the real estate title.

Nevada has consistently had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country since the housing bubble. But some real estate agents say the new law may prevent clearing the glut of foreclosed homes and will stall the market there. For example, they say that in markets such as Las Vegas, foreclosures actually have been among the fastest-selling properties and accounted for half of all home sales during the third quarter.

“It leaves this shadow,” Sean O’Toole, president of ForeclosureRadar, told The Wall Street Journal. “If you’re a buyer, and you don’t know when or how that market’s going to clear, it’s not going to leave you a lot of confidence in investing in that area.”

But advocates to the new law say that in order to truly repair the housing market, “we need to make sure foreclosures are done properly,” Tisha Black Chernine, a Las Vegas real estate lawyer who helped draft the Nevada bill, told The Wall Street Journal. “People taking title pursuant to a bad foreclosure run the risk of having no title at all.”

Source: “Nevada Foreclosure Filings Dry Up After ‘Robo-Signing’ Law,” The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 7, 2011)

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

Condo conversions pitched as savior by some, intrusion by others

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Condo conversions pitched as savior by some, intrusion by others
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Nov. 10, 2011 – Lowly apartments, transformed into condominiums across South Florida during housing’s heyday, are now turning back into rentals. Unit owners are split on whether the move is a blessing or a bust.

In many cases, these complexes went condo for no other reason than to satisfy the incredible demand for homes in the middle part of the past decade.

The buildings – in less desirable, suburban locations – have been hit hard by foreclosures and price declines, while developers have struggled to find new buyers.

A change in Florida law made it easier for majority owners of these troubled complexes to dissolve the condo associations, giving the properties a better financial future as rentals.

Proponents insist it’s a perfect opportunity for “underwater” borrowers to shed burdensome mortgages, while others describe it as an unfair power play by developers to force people from their homes.

Unit owners can hand over their condos for a share of the new apartment complex or they can accept current market value for their units. Either way, owners who owe more than their condos are worth have to settle up with their lenders – most likely by getting the banks to forgive the difference, as in a short sale.

“Most people see this as a way out because it should not have been a condo in the first place,” said Jennifer Drake, a lawyer for Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, a firm that represents condominium associations across Florida.

In the past three years, 36 condos have reverted back to apartments in Florida’s Palm Beach and Broward counties, according to CondoVultures, a consulting firm. Many other buildings are operating as de facto rentals.

Those who bought at the height of the housing boom won’t break even in a sale for 10 years or more, said Jonathan Kingsley, a unit owner at a Hollywood condo that’s operating unofficially as a rental.

“You might as well get out now at whatever loss you can,” he said.

But some don’t see the move to apartments as a good thing.

“I think it’s greatly unfair if you bought with long-term plans because you’re being chased out of your investment without any say, basically,” said Julio Robaina, a former state lawmaker who drafted legislation for condo dwellers.

Negotiating with lenders is a hassle for borrowers under any circumstances, and their credit scores likely will suffer. Besides, some people are content with their underwater mortgages, said Gary Singer, a real estate attorney in Sunrise, Fla.

Condo owners can make deals to stay on as renters, said Grant Stern, president of Morningside Mortgage Corp., a Miami-Dade County company that handles condo terminations for developers. Still, those who choose to move could face higher monthly costs elsewhere.

“I don’t want to live in a rental community; that’s why I bought a condo,” said William Bush, 77, a longtime board president in Weston, Fla. “I think people would be dead-set against it.”

A condo-to-apartment conversion can be stopped if 10 percent of a building’s unit owners object, according to state law.

In Orlando, residents in one complex are fighting the switch. In many buildings across the state, condos are owned by investors who don’t live there. The few existing unit owners who remain usually don’t object to the change once they understand the process, Stern said.

Sunset Lake Villas in Margate, Fla., is typical of the trend back to apartments.

The nondescript complex consisting of five single-story buildings was converted to condos in 2007. Prices escalated to near $200,000, even though Sunset Lake lacked upscale amenities and is about seven miles from the ocean.

The developer sold 11 units, all of which eventually fell into foreclosure, Stern said.

Squatters soon started living in the vacant condos, and the complex fell into disrepair. It changed hands, and the new owner began renovations and hired Stern to return it to an apartment complex.

It is fully leased, with tenants paying about $1,000 a month for the two-bedroom units. The transaction, which started last year, should be complete this week, he said.

“This is the time to cut the best deal you can,” Stern said of unit owners. “Once all these distressed properties are cleared, banks aren’t going to want to negotiate these things.”

Copyright © 2011 the Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Paul Owers. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

Fla. assistance for unemployed homeowners

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Fla. assistance for unemployed homeowners
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nov. 10, 2011 – Florida continues to operate a federally funded program to help at-risk homeowners facing foreclosure following unemployment. However, a handful of Florida companies may claim they represent the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) when they do not.
The FHFC website specifically lists seven companies NOT associated with the program: Mader Law Group, Attorneys Legal Network, The Law Center, NOVA Debt, National Loan Restructuring and LMPrep LLC Hardship Center.
In February 2010, the U.S. Treasury created the “Housing Finance Agency (HFA) Innovation Fund for the Hardest-Hit Housing Markets”. It allocated funds to 18 states and the District of Columbia to assist in foreclosure prevention efforts. A total of $7.6 billion has been allotted for this fund; Florida’s total amount is more than $1 billion.
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation administers the state’s HHF fund under the following programs:
Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program (UMAP). UMAP provides up to six months of mortgage payments (with a cap of $12,000) paid directly to a mortgage lender to assist unemployed/underemployed borrowers with their first mortgage until they can resume full payments on their own.
• Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Payment (MLRP) Program. MLRP can be used to make a delinquent mortgage current (up to $6,000) for a homeowner who has returned to work or recovered from underemployment/underemployment.
For additional information on the HHF program and to apply, visit
© 2011 Florida Realtors®

Coalition to fight for affordable home funds

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Coalition to fight for affordable home funds
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nov. 10, 2011 – Florida Realtors is one of 24 groups that want doc stamp money used solely for affordable housing – not added to the state’s general fund. The Sadowski Coalition debuted its advocacy website this week:

The Sadowski Trust Fund was created in 1991. It included a new doc stamp tax with the funds earmarked for affordable housing in Florida. The new doc stamp tax became effective in 1992, with 70 percent of the funds directed to help resolve local housing problems in each of the state’s 67 counties. The remaining 30 percent went to Florida Housing Finance Corporation programs, such as SHIP.

According to the Sadowski Coalition, fully funding the Sadowski Trust Fund would do more than help low-income Floridians – it would also kick-start the state’s real estate rebound.

“Our priority this year is funding,” says Sadowski coalition facilitator Jaime Ross. “We hope this online resource will aid our membership organizations, supporters of affordable housing throughout the state and elected officials to understand that using housing trust fund dollars for housing creates approximately 9,000 jobs, $900 million in economic benefit and lessens future state budget deficits.”

About 82 percent of doc stamp money collected over the past three years – $706.2 million – was rolled into Florida’s general budget. With tax revenue still historically low in the state, lawmakers will be pressured to do the same in the 2012 session of the legislature.

The Coalition says misperception is a key problem. With housing values down across Florida, many legislators think affordable housing stock is less of a problem – that many families can now afford a home without help. However, unemployment is over 10 percent, and families with incomes at $30,000 or lower still need help.

© 2011 Florida Realtors®