Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 ways to say thank you at work

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dec. 6, 2012 – The fast pace of the residential real estate industry makes it easy to take Realtors and the support staff for granted, and to overlook how they contribute to the growth and success of the overall business. For that reason, it’s important year-round, but especially over the holidays, for realty firm heads to say “Thank you” to staff and agents.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the No. 1 reason people leave their job is a lack of appreciation. For business owners, the cost of that turnover can be extremely high.

“Think about what it cost you (your time, marketing, admin support, training, etc.) to attract the last experienced agent who joined your company,” an article in RISMedia says. The article then lists 10 ways to say thank you beyond the always-welcome cash bonus.

One of the easiest ways to say thank you is to give a handwritten, personalized thank-you note to each staff member and agent. In each, highlight the one thing they bring to the company that you appreciate most.

Another idea: Send a companywide e-mail reflecting on the positive events of the past year, with a note on they ways staff and agents contributed to the company’s success.

Some bosses buy flowers or a seasonal plant for the people who answer the phones and work the realty offices’ front desk. This makes the office look nicer, too.

Other suggestions range from having a potluck meal at the office or ordering food if the budget allows; closing the office early the day before the holidays; and recognizing top-performing Realtors and employees with awards.

Finally, the article suggests that thanking staff should last all year. “Make being thankful a part of your company’s culture moving forward and find ways to regularly appreciate the good work that your team is doing.”

Source: RISMedia (12/02/12)

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Real estate field attracts younger agents

MIAMI – Dec. 6, 2012 – Realty agents entering the business in South Florida are on the younger side, based on an annual survey of students by one of the region’s larger real estate schools. According to Larson Education Services, about 15 percent of its graduates this year fell between the ages of 18 and 24 – nearly double the 8 percent in 2010.

Southwest Florida is a bustling real estate hub, with more than 9,300 active agents and brokers in Lee County, 6,200 in Collier and 2,800 in Charlotte; but a growing number of them are in their 20’s and 30’s.

Many young people are attracted to the open-ended nature of property sales, with no boss to report to but themselves; and their familiarity with social media and Internet savvy gives them a bit of an edge in the field.

“They’re on top of the tech stuff,” says broker/associate Steve Koffman of Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral. Koffman says about a quarter of the 18 agents on his team are under the age of 33.

Source: Fort Myers News-Press (FL) (11/15/12) Hogan, Dick

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Old vs. new? Homebuyers reveal preferences

NEW YORK – Dec. 6, 2012 – What do home shopper prefer about new homes versus older homes? A study commissioned by BHI Inc. examined consumer preferences in new homes versus existing homes among 984 prospective buyers who plan to purchase a home within the next 12 months.

The survey found that consumers generally prefer existing homes over new homes, but many will still consider a new home offered by a builder. Seventy-five percent of the buyers say they’re considering an existing home compared to 20 percent who want a new home. Five percent say they have no preference whether the home is old or new, according to the survey.

For home shoppers who prefer existing homes, their preferences tend to be driven by the mature landscaping, larger lot sizes and sense of community that they say existing homes tend to offer. Some said established neighborhoods tend to have a “warmer inviting feel,” “better construction,” and “better privacy – homes are not on top of each other and cookie cutter.”

Homebuyers who prefer new homes tend to cite energy efficiency, the ability to customize the home to their needs, and lower maintenance costs as top drivers. Also, they say that new homes tend to offer more living space, but that may come at the expense of smaller yard and lot sizes.

Source: “Don’t Let Buyers Shop New Homes Without You,” Inman News (Nov. 14, 2012)

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nine Ways to Power Network at Your Next Event

by KellerINK Team

Scott Ginsberg, The Nametag Guy, courtesy of
For many, networking is just another part of business trips. But for us, if you’re taking time away from your family and the office, you should be committed to getting the most out of every industry event you attend. And who better to learn networking dedication from than Scott Ginsberg—better known as “the nametag guy.” As the author of The Nametag Principle, Scott is so focused on meeting the right people that he’s worn a “Hello, my name is” nametag for over 12 years—he even got it tattooed on his chest.
“It breaks the ice,” he says. See, Scott’s strategy to make networking simple is to be approachable. Wearing a nametag automatically “portrays self-confidence in your identity,” he says. “It gives people a reason to say hello.”
So, what are some other tips to help jumpstart your stand-apart appeal at the next industry round up? We’ve compiled nine tricks of the trade that are sure to make your next meet-and-greet more productive and less daunting.
Nine Tips to Successful Networking
1. Have a plan. Take time before any event to figure out what you’re looking to accomplish. What do you want to learn? Which speakers do you want to hear? And what is the one networking goal you want to achieve at this conference? If you create a plan beforehand, you can concentrate on education and meeting your goal when you’re there.
2. Leave your business cards at home. When someone asks for your business card, apologize for being out and get theirs. Write a memorable note on the back with Sharpie. Instead of hoping they will follow-up with you, take ownership of the next contact.
3. Envision your introductions. Saddling up to strangers isn’t easy for everyone. So, visualize your conversations before they happen. Have a few easy questions in mind like, “What’s been your favorite seminar this session?” It doesn’t have to be clever or complicated. Sparking conversation—even with a simple “hello my name is”—can lead to idea exchange, insider info and future business relationships.
4. Arrive early. You may be a straggler by nature, but it’s best to be early to events if you’re looking to network. Groups haven’t formed yet, 15 minutes prior to show time. Plus, arriving before the rush will give you an opportunity to survey the room and strategically choose your seat to reach networking goals.
5. Change up your location. And, speaking of personal locale, make it a point to sit someplace new every day. Relocation will give you a greater chance to network and collaborate with a wide variety of attendees.
6. Put away the technology. When you look like you’re hard at work on your laptop, iPad or phone others won’t want to interrupt. Read that online gossip column when you get back to your hotel.
7. Don’t forget your notebook. What better way to solidify a new connection than to trade notes? You can’t be in two places at once, so take good notes and offer them to an attendee that missed that topic. Not only will you be a memorable contact, but you’ll also have a built-in reason for that follow-up call.
8. Follow up. This one is a no brainer, but we’ll say it anyway. Set a reminder to reach out to the new contacts you’ve made via email, phone or personal note post event. Remind them of the great conversation you had or offer up those notes you promised. Timely follow-up is a key tool for creating lasting contacts.
9. Be inviting. And finally, we’ll leave you with one simple success strategy from Scott: Behave as if you’re ready to meet people. And always remember to wear a nametag.
What other tricks of the trade do you use for networking at conferences?

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Do you feel lucky?

NEW YORK – Nov. 13, 2012 – When setting an asking price, some real estate agents and home sellers use numbers believed to bring good luck.

In predominantly Asian neighborhoods, for instance, listing prices often feature the number eight and avoid the bad luck number four. Trulia says 20 percent of listings in these neighborhoods end with an eight, with this particular superstition strongest in communities where Asians represent over half of residents.

Seven is the lucky number in Nevada, where it is 37 percent more common for listings to feature a seven before the zeros in the price; the number of triple-seven listings are three-fold higher in the state than elsewhere across the country.

Listings with 316, representing a New Testament verse, are 27 percent more common in the Bible Belt; while the number 13 is 15 percent less common nationwide than the numbers 12 and 14.

When it comes to buyers, Cornell University marketing professor Manoj Thomas says lower numbers on the left make them feel they are getting a good deal. Because people tend to round down, 54 percent of homes under $1 million have prices that end in nine, according to Trulia.

Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist, says five is the most popular digit in the high-end market, as it is viewed as “the midpoint on the 1 to 10 scale.”

Source: Wall Street Journal (11/09/12) P. M1; Tanaka, Sanette

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Realtors association CEO discusses South Florida market


Leading the largest local Realtors association in the nation, Teresa King Kinney has some insights into Miami’s residential real estate market.

Teresa King Kinney, CEO of Miami Association of Realtors.
Teresa King Kinney, CEO of Miami Association of Realtors.
Title: CEO of Miami Association of Realtors
Years in post: 19
Family: Married, with one son
Hometown: St. Joseph, Mo.

As CEO of the Miami Association of Realtors, Teresa King Kinney has a keen vantage point on South Florida’s real estate market.
She oversees the largest local group of real estate agents in the country, more than 26,000. Her association provides an array of services and resources for members to help them hone their professional and selling skills, including some 1,600 seminars a year, large and small.
But perhaps the group’s most significant event of the year in terms of impact is the Miami International Real Estate Congress, which started Sunday and continues through Wednesday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The group, which focuses heavily on building international awareness of Miami real estate, is hosting agents from across the globe.
Immediately after the event, the National Association of Realtors is gathering in Orlando Friday to Nov. 12th.
Business Monday sat down in an interview with King Kinney, who later responded by email to questions about her association and the local market.
Q. The Miami Association of Realtors is hosting the Miami International Real Estate Congress, which started Sunday and runs through Wednesday. What trends are you seeing in international interest in Miami properties? What has your group done to build relationships with brokers in other countries to build Miami’s image?
International buyers continue to play a pivotal role in the local market, fueling a recovery unlike any other in the U.S. The Miami Association of Realtors has more than 100 partner associations worldwide. These relationships and the association’s international outreach programs continue to boost our market and result in Miami’s all-time sales record in 2011 and subsequent significant price appreciation.
International demand for Miami properties continues to grow. While Florida’s market share of international buying activity in the U.S. declined over the last year, Miami’s grew by more than 10 percent. Nearly one-third of all international transactions in Florida take place in Miami.Q. Where is most of the foreign buyer interest in South Florida real estate coming from these days? Are you seeing growing interest from some nations and less from others?
While Miami is undoubtedly attracting demand from buyers and investors worldwide, it remains a hotspot for Latin American buyers. In Miami, 70 percent of international sales are to Latin American buyers, followed by Western Europeans, who account for 18 percent of local international sales. Miami also attracts buyers from North America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Latin Americans, not even including top markets of Brazil and Venezuela, prefer Miami over any other market in Florida by a significant margin of 65.8 percent. No other market even comes close.
Not surprisingly, Venezuelan buyers also greatly favor Miami, with 67.4 percent of Venezuelans choosing Miami followed by Fort Lauderdale with 16.3 percent, for a total of 83.7 percent.
Miami is also the top choice for Brazilian buyers, who are nine percent of international buyers in Florida. Nearly 50 percent of Brazilian buyers choose Miami, followed by Fort Lauderdale at 18.6 percent, for a total of 68.6 percent.Q. What obstacles or bumps in the road do you see to the continued recovery of the Miami residential market? In other words, what are some of the key challenges? Are you concerned about access to mortgages? How about the possibility of another cycle of overbuilding of condominiums?
Unnecessarily restrictive underwriting standards continue to prevent many qualified buyers from obtaining mortgages. While standards were not strict enough during the subprime mortgage crisis, now the pendulum has swung too far. Eliminating or reducing excessive restrictions would further boost our market and provide much needed mortgage financing to our residents.
Miami’s position as a global city, combined with its strategic location, its role in international banking and as an international corporate hub, and its multicultural affinity will continue to attract both U.S. and international buyers and investors long into the future.
Demand for housing is evident. We have a strong rental market, nearly 100 percent residential occupancy rates in downtown Miami, and a growing population. Also the dynamics of our market are very different from those of the last boom in terms of the capital being used to fund new projects. Many new projects are being funded by much heavier deposits from purchasers. Miami’s ability to absorb high levels of inventory is unparalleled. New construction which is within our increased acceptable ranges will have no problem.Q. Do you think that banks will be able to sell off their distressed residential holdings without disrupting the broader market? That is, do you expect the shadow inventory to be absorbed without major upheaval to the recovery in South Florida housing?
We don’t expect shadow inventory to significantly impact our market in the future, because it will be absorbed as soon as it hits the market as buyers, investors and the market are waiting for and need more inventory — as we have seen, and was confirmed by the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
Also, research by Florida Realtors indicates that concern over shadow inventory in Florida is probably highly overrated, because shadow inventory is easing while sufficient demand absorbs supply.
Distressed sales have declined 12 percent in Miami-Dade County compared to year-ago levels, and there continues to be great demand for distressed properties. Further, in many cases one same property generated more than one lis pendens [notice of foreclosure], erroneously indicating much higher shadow inventory than the reality.
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Read more here:

Market Trends - Broward County, Florida, October 2012

Broward County - Southeast Florida MLS Board
This information is a combination of all residential properties.
Number of homes for Sale vs. Sold vs. Pended
Days on Market & Sold/List Price Ratio
All reports presented are based on data supplied by the Mid-Florida Regional MLS, Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches, Realtor Association of Miami-Dade County, Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale, Northwestern Dade Association of Realtor, Realtor Association of The Palm Beaches, Jupiter, Tequesta, Hobe Sound Association of Realtors, St. Lucie Association of Realtors, RMLS (direct members), Realtor Boards of Southwest Florida, Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and The Beach, Suncoast MLS of PRO Biz, Inc. or their MLSs. Neither the Associations nor their MLSs guarantee or are in anyway responsible for its accuracy. Data maintained by the Associations or their MLS may not reflect all real estate activities in the market. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

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Market Trends - Miami Dade County October 2012

Dade County - Southeast Florida MLS Board
This information is a combination of all residential properties.
Number of homes for Sale vs. Sold vs. Pended
Days on Market & Sold/List Price Ratio
All reports presented are based on data supplied by the Mid-Florida Regional MLS, Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches, Realtor Association of Miami-Dade County, Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale, Northwestern Dade Association of Realtor, Realtor Association of The Palm Beaches, Jupiter, Tequesta, Hobe Sound Association of Realtors, St. Lucie Association of Realtors, RMLS (direct members), Realtor Boards of Southwest Florida, Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and The Beach, Suncoast MLS of PRO Biz, Inc. or their MLSs. Neither the Associations nor their MLSs guarantee or are in anyway responsible for its accuracy. Data maintained by the Associations or their MLS may not reflect all real estate activities in the market. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Builder confidence in 55+ market skyrockets

WASHINGTON – Nov. 8, 2012 – Builder confidence in the 55+ housing market for single-family homes showed significant improvement in the third quarter of 2012 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) latest 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. The index more than tripled year over year from a level of 12 to 36, which is the highest third-quarter reading since the first index in 2008.

“Many builders and developers in the 55+ housing segment are reporting an increase in demand from consumers,” says NAHB 50+ Housing Council Chairman W. Don Whyte. “We’re seeing improvement in certain parts of the country where people are moving off the fence and either purchasing a home or renting an apartment designed to more specifically suit their lifestyle.”

There are separate 55+ HMIs for three segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes, multifamily condominiums and rental apartments. Each index measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair or poor (high, average or low for traffic). An index number below 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as poor than good.

Although all components of the 55+ single-family HMI remain below 50, they at least doubled from a year ago: present sales climbed 25 points to 36, expected sales for the next six months increased 27 points to 42 and traffic of prospective buyers rose 20 points to 33.

The 55+ multifamily condo HMI had a significant increase of 13 points to 23, which is the highest third-quarter reading since the inception of the index in 2008; however, condos remain the weakest segment of the 55+ housing market. All 55+ multifamily HMI components increased considerably compared to a year ago as present sales rose 13 points to 22, expected sales for the next six months jumped 19 points to 29 and traffic of prospective buyers climbed 11 points to 22.

Meanwhile, the 55+ multifamily rental indices, which already recovered substantially last year, showed continued but more modest increases in the third quarter: present production climbed six points to 31, expected future production increased nine points to 35 and current demand for existing units and expected future demand improved two points to 42 and 44, respectively.

“Like other segments of the housing industry, the market for 55+ housing is continuing on a steady upward path, driven by improving conditions in additional markets around some parts of the country,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

Crowe says he expects the positive trend to continue, but “the speed of the recovery is being constrained by factors such as tight mortgage credit, making it difficult for potential 55+ customers to sell their current homes, and shortages of inputs to construction such as buildable lots that are beginning to emerge in some market areas.”

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Faster short sale guidelines start today

WASHINGTON – Nov. 1, 2012 – Starting today, Nov. 1, 2012, new short sale guidelines spearheaded by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) go into effect. The new rules impact all mortgages under the federally controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

One part of the change allows a handful of the nation’s larger mortgage servicers to approve a short sale without needing Fannie or Freddie to sign off on it. Servicers include in the agreement are:

• CMG Mortgage Insurance Company
• Essent Guaranty Inc.
• Genworth Mortgage Insurance Corporation
• Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation
• PMI Mortgage Insurance Company
• Radian Guaranty, Inc., Republic Mortgage Insurance Company

“We applaud the nation's mortgage insurers for committing to work with us and our servicers to help more borrowers obtain short sales and other foreclosure alternatives,” says Tracy Mooney, senior vice president, servicing and REO at Freddie Mac. “By paving the way for more borrowers to avoid foreclosure, today’s announcement will support the housing recovery and help reduce taxpayer losses.”

In addition to quicker short sale approval, other changes become effective today. They including new guidelines for homeowners hit by a financial hardship, moved by the military or held back by a home’s second mortgage:

• Borrowers facing an approved hardship don’t have to be delinquent.

• Service members with Permanent Change of Station orders have greater flexibility, including the elimination of back-end debt-to-income ratios or a cash contribution promissory note.

• Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won’t pursue deficiency judgments in certain cases under new rules. Servicers will evaluate borrowers as part of the short sale approval process.

• FHFA gave servicers more consistent guidelines to process and execute short sales, and consolidate existing short sales programs into a single uniform program.

• Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer up to $6,000 to second lien holders to expedite a short sale.

For more information, visit the
National Association of Realtors® website.

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

5 photo apps let you edit on the run

NEW YORK – Nov. 6, 2012 – Photo apps these days are all about picture taking, editing, filtering, animating, printing – and, all important in the eyes of many, sharing them with your social networks.

Many of the apps, including Adobe Photoshop Express, Cinemagram, Pic Stitch and Postal Pix are geared for honing your images and giving them keeper status after a vacation or sojourn around town. But they can be used back at the hotel or during a restaurant reprieve, too.

The very popular Instagram, on the other hand, is very much oriented to use in the picture-taking moment. But you can use it to gaze at your friends’ and other users’ handiwork anytime, on the train or during a break in the workday.

Here are five top photo apps, all of which can be downloaded for free:

Adobe Photoshop Express (iPhone, Android)
A slim version of the photo-editing classic Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Express is an easy and efficient editing tool. Just take a photo or select one from your camera, Photo Stream or free account, adjust the brightness or exposure, play with the saturation or tint, colorize the image and tack on a border.

It’s annoying to get pitched an Adobe Effects Pack ($2.99) and Adobe Border Pack ($1.99), though you can use the app without them. And sliding a finger across a smartphone or tablet to precisely edit an image can be awkward.

Share the images on, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Tumblr or by e-mail.

Cinemagram (iPhone)
Cinemagram is fun. But it may be considered a mere novelty app as it lets you take a video and turn it into a hybrid – a video within a photo. You take a video of your daughter prancing in front of Mount Rushmore, for instance, keep her in motion in the video portion of the Cinemagram and retain the image of the four presidents and the Black Hills as a stationary background photo.

You can touch it all up with filters called Paris or Kingston, render it black and white, or give your Cinemagram a vintage appearance before sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Cinemagram, where you can view other people’s works. You can geo-tag the Cinemagram to identify its location.

Instagram (iPhone and Android)
Instagram is more than a photo app. It’s a social network, too. You can view a friend’s pic of his mutt clad in a red sweater or gaze at New York City taxis submerged in water after Superstorm Sandy hit town.

The app is very intuitive. You take photos or access existing ones from your devices. Plentiful filters and effects turn ordinary photos into professional-looking images.

Instagram is all about sharing, and you can easily upload photos to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and your Instagram photo map, which plots where your images were taken.

It’s a wonderful discovery tool, and with 80 million users sharing, there are photographic riches to gawk at.

Pic Stitch (iPhone)
Pic Stich also could be considered a novelty. But you can use it to create attractive photo collages by grouping multiple images into a framed photo and share them on social networks.

There are 32 photo layouts to choose from, and framed photo collections are easy to create. You can double-tap a frame to select, tap an image to edit it, and shake your iPhone or iPad to wipe out what you’ve done and start over. Editing tools run the gamut, although they aren’t particularly sophisticated.

As with Adobe Photoshop Express, Pic Stitch pitches add-ons: Borders Add-on and Nostalgia Effects are 99 cents each. You can send framed collections to Walgreens for printing, although image sizes are limited.

Postal Pix (iPhone)
Postal Pix is all about making prints of your pictures, and that makes it seem a tad old school.

But if you want to hold a glossy image in your hand, Postal Pix is fairly easy to use. You select images, pick their sizes and add features such as “1-millimeter-thick high-grade aluminum with a glossy, scratch-resistant surface.” Three 5x7 prints with no extras cost $2.67 and take two to seven business days to arrive, Postal Pix says.

There’s no Facebook or Twitter registration feature, and it’s clunky to type your name and address on an iPhone to get started. You can’t upload images from photo-sharing sites without transferring them to your Photo Stream or iPhone.

© Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Dennis Schaal, special for USA TODAY.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Important: Your Real Estate Taxes are now payable in November with 4% Discount

Paying Your Real Estate Taxes

Real Estate Taxes are collected on an annual basis by the Tax Collector's Office. The tax year runs from January through December.
Tax notices are mailed on or before November 1 of each year, with the following discounts offered:
  • 4% if paid in November
  • 3% if paid in December
  • 2% if paid in January
  • 1% if paid in February
  • Gross tax if paid in March, no discount applies
Real Estate Taxes become delinquent on April 1 of the following year in which they were assessed. As of April 1, a 3% penalty is added to the gross tax amount due. Discounts do not apply to delinquent payments. Delinquent taxes for past years must be paid by cashier's check or money order. Personal checks will not be accepted.
If a taxpayer does not receive a tax notice in November, it is the taxpayer's responsibility to contact the tax collector's office to request a duplicate bill.
Pursuant to Florida Statute 197.122, all property owners are held to know that taxes are due and payable annually. They are charged with the duty of ascertaining the amount of current and delinquent taxes due.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kids of boomers smarter about housing

NEW YORK – Oct. 31, 2012 – Members of Generation Y believe the recent housing slump has made them more knowledgeable about homeownership than their parents were at their age, based on 1,001 responses to a Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate poll.

Nearly 70 percent of the 18- to 35-year-olds say they’re savvier about owning than Baby Boomers were at the same age. And most of them – about 75 percent – still recognize the value of homeownership and consider it an indicator of success.

Buying a first home isn’t easy, however. Despite affordable home prices and favorable borrowing costs, 69 percent of survey respondents said they would wait to make a purchase until they can afford a home and it doesn’t disrupt their lifestyles. Some 40 percent said they would work a second job to save for a home, while 23 percent would move back in with their parents to prepare financially for ownership.

“They’re not going to end up getting into a situation that they’ve seen … where they can’t keep the house because they cannot afford it any longer,” says Matt Rand of Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, a New Jersey-New York-based brokerage of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. Members of Gen Y “are living at home with their parents, but this [survey] suggests they’re being strategic in living at home – not because they’re slacking.”

Source: MarketWatch (10/22/12) Hoak, Amy

© Copyright 2012 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688

Buffett’s firm buys Prudential real estate network

OMAHA, Neb. – Oct. 31, 2012 – Warren Buffett’s company said Tuesday that it is buying the Prudential and Real Living real estate franchise and launching a new brokerage brand for those agents.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s real estate unit is acquiring the network from Brookfield Asset Management. Berkshire’s HomeServices of America and Brookfield will launch Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices next year and begin switching agents to the new firm.

Buffett said he’s happy to lend Berkshire’s name and financial strength to the new company, which will be based in Irvine, Calif., and be led by a team of executives from Prudential Real Estate.

“I am confident that these partners will deliver value to the residential real estate industry, and I am pleased to have Berkshire Hathaway be a part of the new brand,” Buffett said in a statement.

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Berkshire’s HomeServices of America will be the majority owner. HomeServices already owns local brokerages with 16,000 real estate agents in 21 states.

HomeServices, which is part of Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy unit, played the lead role in the deal with Buffett offering final approval on the use of the Berkshire Hathaway name, MidAmerican spokeswoman Ann Thelen said.

HomeServices Chairman and CEO Ron Peltier said the deal gives the company a national franchise network with more than 53,000 agents to complement its local brokerages. Peltier said in an interview that he wanted to acquire a national franchise because building one would be too costly and take several years.

The Prudential and Real Living brands will be eliminated over the next couple of years.

“The strategy going forward is to migrate the franchises over to one super brand: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices,” Peltier said. That will help the company build one main brand online under the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices banner.

Peltier said the independent local brokers that HomeServices already owns won’t be forced to switch affiliation to the new franchise network, but they will begin noting they are owned by Berkshire Hathaway. For example CBS Home Real Estate in Omaha will keep its name, but add that it’s a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate.

Peltier said that will help ensure that both the independent brokers it owns and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices locations will show up in Internet searches.

Berkshire owns roughly 80 subsidiaries, including railroad, clothing, furniture and jewelry firms, but its insurance and utility businesses typically account for more than half of the company’s net income. The Omaha, Neb., company also has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co., IBM and Wells Fargo & Co.

Brookfield, based in Toronto, manages more than $150 billion worth of utility, infrastructure and real estate assets.
AP Logo Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press, Josh Funk, AP business writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Insurers: Losses from Sandy won’t hit Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Oct. 31, 2012 – Insurance experts said Tuesday that home and business owners in Florida should not be affected by insured losses suffered when super storm Sandy ripped through much of the Atlantic seaboard and the Northeast.

Sam Miller of the Florida Insurance Council said the Florida market is dominated by state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., local insurers who operate only in Florida, and a smaller number of Florida-only subsidiaries under a few national carriers.

“The price of homeowner’s coverage in Florida in the private market is predominantly driven by scientific estimates of the costs of exposure,” said Miller, FIC executive vice president. “Hurricane Sandy will not have a direct impact on these estimates.”

Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute (III) said Sandy’s effect on reinsurance markets should be minimal since much of the damage is from water, and that is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Rates charged for insurance in Florida are exclusively based on past and expected losses that occur within our state,” said III’s McChristian.

Both said Sandy shouldn’t have a dramatic effect on the cost of reinsurance either.

“Reinsurers enter Hurricane Sandy with historically high levels of capital, and access to increasing sources of additional private sector capital,” Miller said. “Reinsurers, rating agencies and analysts expect vigorous, comprehensive competitive conditions to prevail in 2013, even considering potentially significant regional losses from Hurricane Sandy.”

However, Florida business and homeowners have experienced sharp increases in recent years on property policies although the state has not seen a hurricane since Wilma in October 2005.

All increases on property insurance premiums must be approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), which is recent years has consistently given its OK to hikes – often times by double digit amounts.

OIR spokesman Jack McDermott said it would likely be January at the earliest before regulators would see how insurers respond to losses from Sandy in future rate requests.

“We may begin seeing some impacts of the storm at that time,” McDermott said.
AP Logo Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press, Brent Kallestad.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How will Sandy affect economy?

NEW YORK – Oct. 30, 2012 – Hurricane Sandy shut down Wall Street and disrupted business activity throughout the populous Northeast but it’s not expected to have a significant impact on the nation’s economic growth.

Economic losses from the storm will likely exceed the $12 billion to $16 billion in damage from Hurricane Irene, which battered the Northeast in August 2011, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics,

Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, estimates Sandy will result in $35 billion to $45 billion in total losses. Eqecat, which does catastrophic risk models, projects $10 billion to $20 billion in total economic damages, about half insured.

But property damage will be repaired, and lost economic output will largely be offset by other increased activity as residents rushed into stores to prepare for the hurricane.

“Assuming the storm creates havoc for no more than a few days, there should be little impact on fourth-quarter” gross domestic product, Zandi says. He hasn’t revised his forecast for annualized growth of 1.9 percent this quarter.

The storm forced the New York Stock Exchange to extend Monday’s closing to Tuesday – the first unplanned shutdown since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Port of New York and New Jersey, whose terminals make up the third-busiest container port in the country, also was temporarily shuttered and evacuated. And a Phillips 66 refinery in Linden, N.J. and a Hess refinery in Port Reading, N.J., closed.

The potential damage to homes from Hurricane Sandy-driven storm surges is likely to be greater than it was last year for Hurricane Irene, says Tom Jeffrey, senior hazard scientist for real estate market watcher CoreLogic. All told, nearly 284,000 residential properties valued at almost $88 billion are at risk for potential storm surge damage among the coastal Mid-Atlantic states, CoreLogic estimates.

Many people are not insured against such losses. But many homes in flood-prone areas are required to have flood insurance to get a loan.

The hurricane also means lost wages, production and sales for businesses throughout the region, which makes up about 15 percent of the nation’s economy. Business lost by department stores could be made up in coming weeks but lost restaurant sales will not be recovered, says Diane Swonk, chief economist of Mesirow Financial. At the same time, grocery stores and home-improvement outlets are realizing net gains as customers stock up on water, generators, flashlights and batteries.

Retailers did see an uptick in online sales during Hurricane Irene in August 2011, says Vicki Cantrell, executive director of, the National Retail Federation’s online division. Any increase, however, was likely more than offset by the decline in in-store sales during that storm, she says.

Swonk says homeowners forced to repair damage will likely make further renovations that they’ve put off, boosting economic growth.

The storm is “unleashing pent-up demand,” she says. “It’s the most perverse stimulus to the economy.”

© Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Paul Davidson, Jayne O’Donnell and Julie Schmit
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Friday, October 26, 2012

U.S. rate on 30-year mortgage rises to 3.41%

Mortgage Rate Trend Index
Most mortgage experts (53%) surveyed this week by expect little change in rates over the short term, while the rest split fairly evenly: 27% expect a decrease while 20% foresee an increase.
WASHINGTON – Oct. 26, 2012 – Average U.S. mortgage rates rose only slightly this week and continued to hover near record lows, a trend that has helped boost home sales and refinancing.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage edged up to 3.41 percent, from 3.37 last week. Three weeks ago, the rate touched 3.36 percent. That’s the lowest level on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage, often used for refinancing, rose to 2.72 percent. That’s up from last week’s record low of 2.66 percent.

The rate on the 30-year loan has remained below 4 percent all year, helping drive a modest housing recovery. And rates have fallen even further since the Federal Reserve started buying mortgage bonds in September to try to encourage more borrowing and spending.

Home sales have increased from last year, and prices are rising more consistently in most areas. Builders are more confident and starting more homes. Lower rates have also persuaded more people to refinance. That typically leads to lower monthly mortgage payments and more spending.

This week brought more positive news on the housing front. U.S. sales of new homes jumped last month to the highest level in more than two years, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. And slightly more Americans signed contracts last month to buy homes, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday.

Still, the housing market has a long way to a full recovery. And many people are unable to take advantage of the low rates, either because they can’t qualify for stricter lending rules or they lack the money to meet larger down payment requirements.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week.

The average doesn’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 30-year loans was 0.7 point, unchanged from last week. The fee for 15-year loans also held steady at 0.6 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage slipped to 2.59 percent from 2.60 percent. The fee for one-year adjustable rate loans remained at 0.4 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage was unchanged at 2.75 percent. The fee also was unchanged, at 0.6 point.
AP LogoCopyright © 2012 The Associated Press, Marcy Gordon, AP business writer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

US new home sales reach 2-year high

HIGHER SALES: U.S. sales of new homes jumped last month to the highest level in more than two years, the latest evidence of a sustained housing recovery that could boost the sluggish economy.
SUSTAINED GAINS: New home sales rose 5.7 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 389,000. That's the highest since April 2010, when a federal homebuyer tax credit inflated sales. Sales have risen 27.1 percent in the past year.
MORE NEEDED: There are other signs the housing market is recovering, such as rising home prices. But new home sales are still below the 700,000 annual pace that is consistent with a healthy market.

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Fla. ranks 27th in state, local taxes paid

WASHINGTON – Oct. 24, 2012 – New Yorkers faced the highest state and local tax burden in the country (12.8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes) in fiscal year 2010, while residents of Alaska can celebrate the lowest (7 percent), according to a new study by the Tax Foundation. Between those two extremes – both consistent over several years – a number of states in the middle of the pack have seen significant fluctuations.

Florida falls close to average. In the Sunshine State, residents paid 9.3 percent of their income in state and local taxes during fiscal 2012, according to the Tax Foundation study.

The nation as a whole paid 9.9 percent, the most recent year for which data is available. That percentage is consistent with the total from 2009 but down significantly from 10.3 percent in 1977 – the first year the Tax Foundation did estimates.

After New York, the states with the next highest state and local burden are New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Wisconsin. Following Alaska up the list of states with the smallest burden are South Dakota, Tennessee, Louisiana and Wyoming.

The Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking report estimates the average total tax burden for residents of each state. It includes in-state taxes and also taxes paid to other states, such as those paid by residents who work in other states or cross borders to shop. The Tax Foundation says it studies taxes from the taxpayer’s perspective and counts all taxes paid, which differs from many studies that measure tax income recorded by state tax collectors.

“Some states are able to shift significant portions of their tax burdens to nonresidents, with Alaska being the most aggressive,” says Tax Foundation economist Elizabeth Malm. “The Last Frontier is able to export over 75 percent of its tax collections to residents of other states, by virtue of taxes on oil extraction. Major tourist destinations like Nevada and Florida are able to lower residents’ burden by taxing tourists, who are often nonresidents. Nationwide, over a quarter of all state and local taxes are collected from nonresidents.”

The complete tax study is posted on the
Tax Foundation website.

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Investment firms eye single-family rentals

NEW YORK – Oct. 23, 2012 – As homeownership rates continue to fall, a new type of single-family homebuyer has emerged: large corporate investors.

With house values still depressed in many areas, investment funds and real estate trusts have been scooping up thousands of foreclosures across the U.S. in hopes of managing houses the same way large real estate funds hold apartment complexes and office buildings.

That trend has accelerated recently as Fannie Mae announced its first two bulk sales of foreclosed homes to investment companies, selling 94 Chicago properties and 699 in Florida to firms that have pledged to rent them for at least three years.

The federal mortgage-finance giant expects to sell nearly 2,000 units, the majority of them single-family homes, as part of a pilot program to stabilize cities hit hard by the housing crisis and to lighten its portfolio of foreclosed houses, which in June numbered about 109,000.

“We’re in unprecedented times,” said Don Cogsville, chief executive of The Cogsville Group, an investment company that bought the Chicago houses.

Until now, his firm has focused on distressed commercial properties and multi-family housing complexes.

“We view (single-family housing) as a real continuation of our strategy,” Cogsville said, adding that his company wants to buy more homes to gain economies of scale needed to manage scattered properties. “It is different, but it’s doable.”

Cogsville offered $11.8 million on the Chicago homes, putting $2 million down and agreeing to pay the rest over time by splitting rental income with Fannie Mae.

What remains to be seen is how the new ownership will affect neighborhoods, and how long investment firms will stick around if prices rebound.

“No one really has a crystal ball as to how this is all going to play out,” Cogsville said. “Time will tell the commitment institutions make to these local markets. But right now, institutional capital coming in is really going to help stabilize these communities.”

The bulk sales have drawn some critics. The California Association of Realtors has said Fannie Mae’s program takes ownership out of local hands and fails to publicly disclose the exact locations and sale prices of the properties bought by investors.

Some also worry a glut of rentals will hurt neighborhoods.

“We need home buyers in the properties,” said Sharon Bowler, chairwoman of the California Association of Realtors’ distressed property task force. “When you put this amount of rentals in one community, your housing values are going to drop.”

But studies show clusters of empty homes can invite crime and hurt home values.

“There’s growing evidence that vacant, abandoned foreclosed properties are not good for communities,” said Ingrid Gould Ellen, co-director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, who has studied how foreclosures affect neighborhoods. “It’s surely a lot better to have a renter in a property than have a property that’s vacant.”

In 2011, homeownership dropped to 64.6 percent, the lowest in the past seven years, according to Census Bureau data. Single-family homes have steadily become a larger share of the rental market, rising from 30.8 percent in 2005 to 34.1 percent of all rental properties in 2011.

About two-thirds of the nation’s metro regions saw the number of single-family rentals grow by at least 10 percent in the past seven years. Roughly half – including Phoenix, San Diego, Indianapolis, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Orlando – saw the number of owner-occupied homes shrink in the same period.

Institutional investors are poised to become a bigger force in the housing market in the months to come.

In September, the newly formed Silver Bay Realty Trust Corp. became the first entity to seek an IPO for its single-family-home real estate trust. It hopes to raise $287.5 million. Two Harbors Investment Corp., which spent $150 million this year to enter the single-family market, contributed its portfolio of homes to the new venture. It partnered with another investment firm to create a pool of 2,250 houses in five states by the end of August, according to a regulatory filing.

That level of spending isn’t unusual, or even that large. In June, Colony Capital officials told USA TODAY they planned to invest $1.5 billion in the single-family rental market in the upcoming year.

Colony owns about 3,000 houses, and expects to own and manage 15,000 to 20,000 houses by the end of 2013, the company said.

“It may sound like a lot, but if you put it in perspective here, we have a million foreclosures a year,” said Mark Willis, the Furman Center’s resident research fellow. He’s heard other firms talking about similar scales of operation: “Ten thousand is a number they all like.”

Other companies also have plans for expansion. In Phoenix, American Residential Properties President Laurie Hawkes said her company, with more than 1,500 houses in five states, hopes to take its real estate investment trust (REIT) public next year.

Many say the job would be impossible without sophisticated database systems and a careful eye on which properties they scoop up. Picking the right market – one with deteriorated home values but a rosy economic outlook – also matters. Hawkes said that made Phoenix, for instance, a better market for institutional homeownership than some Rust Belt cities.

Compared with renters in complexes, single-family renters tend to be older, have children and have higher incomes.

“We appeal to families,” Hawkes said. “Many of them are former homeowners. They are people who still want to have houses to live in.”

Left to be seen is how many firms stay in the single-family rental business. If sales prices increase, it could cut off discount buying, and make it more tempting for companies to sell their stock of homes. Eventually, many rentals could return to owner occupancy.

Census data show the largest percentage drop-off in homeownership is among those under 35. That indicates people are putting off buying, not abandoning it altogether, Ellen said.

“We think of single-family homes as owner occupied,” she said. “But those homes transition in and out. I don’t think these properties are now permanently rental properties. There’s nothing about becoming a rental that means they can’t transition back.”

Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Meghan Hoyer

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Who’s moving in? Adult kids, aging parents

WASHINGTON – Oct. 22, 2012 – Almost a third of homeowners expect their grown children or aging parents to eventually move in with them, according to a survey by one of the nation’s largest homebuilders.

About one in seven say they already have a “boomerang kid” – an adult child who moves back home – or elderly parent living under their roof.

The survey out today of more than 1,000 homeowners by PulteGroup, builder of everything from starter homes to upscale residences and Del Webb adult communities, shows that the rise in multi-generational households may continue.

“It’s an enormous change,” says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders. “I remember when I was in college, no one wanted to be near their parents.”

A Pew Research report earlier this year showed that the share of Americans living in multi-generational households is at its highest since the 1950s. Young adults ages 25 to 34 are most likely to return to the nest. Almost 22 percent of young adults were living at home in 2010, up from 16 percent in 2000 and rising the most since the recession that began in 2007 and technically ended in 2009.

Average family size has gone up more than 3 percent since 2000, largely a result of tough economic times. The rise in immigrants from countries accustomed to several generations living together also pushed the number.

These demographic shifts are altering the needs of homebuyers and prompting homebuilders to create new floor plans. We’re looking at housing now for usable space,” says Deborah Wahl Meyer, PulteGroup’s chief marketing officer. “How do we make it practical?”

Pulte’s online survey shows that finances often drive these household arrangements. It also found many households where parents moved back in to strengthen family bonds.

Pulte is testing different features to appeal to the “new” American family of Mom, Dad, adult child and older parent and sometimes grandchildren.

Out: showy and dramatic living rooms and fancy dining rooms that are rarely used, Meyer says.

In: More than one master suite to accommodate adult relatives – often one upstairs and one downstairs. And an open family-office space off the kitchen where the kids do homework or parents pay bills online.

Connie Kirby and husband Evon, a retired New York City detective, bought a Pulte home in Mesa, Ariz., a year ago. They live with their three children (ages 16, 14, 11), his father and a nephew, 21, in a six-bedroom, 4,400-square-foot home.

“It was easier and more economical to move in together,” says Connie, 44, a travel agent.

“Our neighbor has three generations in their house.” She expects her kids to stay when they’re adults or leave and come back.

© Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY

Construction in 4 Fla. cities up 9.6%

CHICAGO – Oct. 22, 2012 – For major-metro regions in Florida – Jacksonville, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Tallahassee, and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater – had an increase in actively bid construction projects, according to the third-quarter BidClerk Construction Index (BCI). This increase covered both private and public construction projects that grew year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter.

Overall, Florida actively bid construction activity increase of 9.6 percent compared to one year earlier. Private construction rose 19 percent, while public construction rose 4.3 percent.

In a quarter-over-quarter analysis for all construction projects, the major-metro regions in Florida saw an increase of 12.3 percent. Third-quarter public projects saw an increase of 20.8 percent compared to the second quarter of 2012, while private projects increased 1.4 percent.

In a year-over-year analysis for the Miami region, actively bid public and private construction projects rose 10.8 percent compared to one year ago. Private projects increased 22.4 percent and public projects increased 4.4 percent.

Quarter-over-quarter, combined private and public construction projects in Miami increased 12.3 percent. Private projects rose 2.8 percent and public projects rose 19.3 percent.

In a year-over-year analysis for the Orlando region, actively bid public and private construction projects dropped 4.4 percent compared to one year ago. Private projects decreased 3.1 percent and public projects decreased 5.6 percent.

Quarter-over-quarter, combined private and public construction projects in Orlando decreased 3.3 percent. Private projects decreased 4.5 percent and public projects dropped 2.2 percent.

Tampa-St. Pete
In a year-over-year analysis for the Tampa-St. Pete region, actively bid public and private construction projects rose 24.5 percent compared to one year ago. Private projects increased 23.7 percent and public projects increased 24.9 percent.

Quarter-over-quarter, combined private and public construction projects in Tampa-St. Pete increased 16.9 percent. Private projects decreased 9.1 percent and public projects rose 37.8 percent.

Nationally, actively bid combined public and private construction projects increased 3 percent in the third quarter of 2012, compared to the same quarter a year ago. Third quarter 2012 public construction increased modestly, rising just 0.2 percent, while third quarter 2012 private construction rose 12.3 percent, year-over-year.

BidClerk, a provider of construction project data and marketing tools for building product manufacturers, contractors and distributors, releases the BidClerk Construction Index quarterly.

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

Neighbors wait, worry as banks take longer to sell foreclosed homes

ORLANDO, Fla. – Oct. 22, 2012 – A neighborhood’s chances of recovering quickly from the hung-over U.S. housing market depend not only on how many foreclosed homes it has but also, it seems, on which banks own the properties.

Bank of America, for instance, takes almost two months longer on average to sell a foreclosed property than EverBank Financial does, according to new, nationwide data from the research company RealtyTrac Inc. And BofA, the lending giant that inherited many of its troubled mortgages when it bought Countrywide Financial in 2008, has been taking longer this year to sell its foreclosure properties than it took last year.

A lot of things can happen when long-abandoned houses sit on the market for additional months. By slowly releasing their foreclosed properties, for instance, some lenders have benefited from rising home prices this year; in the core Orlando market, prices are up 16 percent since the start of 2012.

But those long-held properties also rack up more unpaid association fees, overdue property taxes, repair costs, neighborhood complaints and even code-enforcement fines as the months wear on.

At Cranes Roost Villas in Altamonte Springs, the first thing residents and visitors see as they enter the gated community is a leaky corner unit draped in blue tarp so long that the plastic sheeting has started to disintegrate.

“Bank of America put a bright-blue tarp on top of roof rather than repair it,” said longtime resident Richard Campanaro. “Half of it has blown off. It would make a wonderful haunted house if you wanted to do something for Halloween. It’s terrible – I wouldn’t even want to enter the property.”

Last year, it took Bank of America an average of 5.3 months to sell a foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. So far this year, it has averaged 6.7 months. Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo & Co., Ocwen Financial and Citigroup have also fallen further behind in selling their foreclosed properties. Through September, all of them were taking at least 20 percent longer than they took in 2011, based on RealtyTrac’s nationwide data.

Smaller banks appear to be more nimble when dealing with foreclosures, perhaps because they aren’t faced with nearly the same volume of properties, said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac vice president. And mortgage servicers with portfolios of higher-end properties are better able to sell those homes than are companies saddled with less-desirable houses.

But the longer a bank-owned house sits idle during the foreclosure process, the deeper it falls into disrepair.

“Banks are not typically too willing to repair these homes, particularly if there are property flippers ready, willing and able to buy the more scratch-and-dent variety of homes and fix them up,” Blomquist said. According to RealtyTrac, the number of flippers is up 25 percent nationally and 34 percent in the Orlando area compared with a year ago.

Two nonprofit housing organizations recently filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, accusing Bank of America of failing to maintain foreclosed houses in 10 cities’ minority communities, including Orlando’s. The groups included photos of houses with unlocked doors, mold, interior walls spray-painted with graffiti, and piles of trash heaped outside.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based lending giant denied any wrongdoing and said it stands behind its property-maintenance-and-marketing practices. “Bank of America is committed to stabilizing and revitalizing communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn, foreclosures and property abandonment,” spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens said.

Orlando Code Enforcement Officer Mike Rhodes said he sees repeated problems in low-income areas and elsewhere with houses owned by various lenders. A review of code violations within the city found that Wells Fargo had the greatest number of code infractions among the nation’s top five lenders.

A year ago, for instance, Orlando cited Wells Fargo for failing to secure a swimming pool at a foreclosed house in downtown Orlando. At the same house last month, Orlando cited Wells Fargo for overgrown landscaping and debris in the backyard. And just two weeks ago, Wells Fargo got a notice for broken front windows and black water in the pool.

Repeated safety violations at the same bank-owned houses have become such a recurrent theme for local governments that some of them, such as the city of Tampa, have considered establishing foreclosure registries, which require lenders pay $125 to register a property within 10 days of filing a foreclosure notice.

In registering a property, banks have to provide contact information for a property manager in case the house falls into disrepair and the local government – or the neighborhood’s community association – wants some action taken.

Rhodes said there has been some discussion about creating a registry in Orlando, but getting the properties “signed up” does not ensure the houses will be maintained. He said his staff already knows whom to call at most of the mortgage companies with foreclosures in the city, so he questions whether such a registration is necessary.

“You call a company in Texas that manages the assets of Wells Fargo, and they contact someone here,” Rhodes said. Calls, though, don’t always resolve the problems.

“We’ve got a situation in Parramore, the property is owned by Wells Fargo,” Rhodes said. “There are squatters, drugs being dealt and you name it.”

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo said the company inspects foreclosures monthly, registers foreclosures as required, maintains abandoned houses and secures them.

“We occasionally receive code violations or concerns regarding the condition and maintenance of homes in our servicing portfolio that are not foreclosed,” the bank said in a written statement. “If the property in our servicing portfolio is delinquent and vacant, but has not yet gone to foreclosure sale, we will maintain and secure it.”

The time JP Morgan Chase takes to sell its foreclosed properties has held steady from last year to this year. Lisa Shepherd, vice president of Chase’s REO and Preservation unit, said the company has not changed its sales strategies in the past year but has been able to move more properties as it winnows its inventory.

“When there is less distress inventory in the market, we find there are more interested buyers,” Shepherd said. She added that Chase works with local real-estate agents and makes necessary repairs, taking into consideration the neighborhood overall.

Prospects for banks generally to work through their foreclosure inventory in Florida do not look promising. RealtyTrac projects that foreclosure filings in the state will continue to increase for the next six to 12 months, and that will likely increase the average time to sell for many of these lenders during the next year.

“However, because buyers and investors finally appear to be flocking to the market, pulled by low prices and interest rates, I don’t expect the influx in bank-owned inventory to cause a major dip in average prices,” said Blomquist, the RealtyTrac vice president.

Back in Altamonte Springs, Campanaro said it’s sad that he has grown accustomed to the shredded blue tarp that creates an eyesore at the entrance to his neighborhood.

What’s even sadder, he said, is what that does to the property values for residents trying to rebuild some equity in their homes.

Copyright © 2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Mary Shanklin, Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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