Governor Crist Considers Halt on Home Foreclosures

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Gov. Charlie Crist said Monday he is considering ordering a moratorium on home foreclosures, "especially during the holidays."
In an informal gathering with reporters, Crist was asked what he thought of copying California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures.
"You have my office bugged or something? We've been talking about that for several days - even longer, actually. I think it would be a good thing to be able to do," he replied. "I want to be able to work with the banking industry and do it in a way that is not harmful to them, because we want them to continue to succeed, to continue to lend money, but we want to stop the foreclosures - especially during the holidays."
Asked whether he has legal authority to impose a moratorium, Crist said, "Well, I don't know. We'll see. Stay tuned."
Faced with a projected $2 billion-plus revenue shortage, Crist said he will consult House and Senate leaders about having a special legislative session on budget-cutting - and that he is skeptically open to some tax ideas. The Republican governor and GOP leadership of the Legislature have been adamantly opposed to any form of tax increases, preferring to use reserves and cut spending, but last Friday's long-anticipated revenue report has weakened that resolve.
The governor remained noncommittal on both holding a special session and putting tax increases on the table, if there is one. But he did not seem rigidly opposed to either idea, although he still prefers budget cuts and use of reserves first.
"I'm not sure. I'm trying to get the temperature of both the Senate and the House," Crist said. "I don't think it would be a bad idea, but it would be a bad idea to come here without a real agreement on what we would do when we got here." Courtesy Fort Myers News Press.

Median price falls below $150,000, Sales Up

Home prices continued to fall and sales continued to rise in Lee County in the third quarter, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Florida Association of Realtors.
A separate report by the National Association of Realtors said U.S. prices declined nationally 9 percent to $200,500 in the same period. Sales fell in all but four states: Nevada, California, Arizona and Virginia.
The median price of an existing Lee County single-family home sold with the help of a Realtor was $147,800, down 39 percent from $243,800 in the third quarter of 2007.
Sales increased 73 percent from 1,273 to 2,198 in the same period.
At the peak of the real estate boom in the county, the median single-family home sold for $322,300, more than twice what it is now.
For condominiums, the same trend was in effect: The number of sales rose 38 percent from 359 to 495 while the median price fell 17 percent from $232,800 to $193,900.
The trend of higher sales volume continued in October, said Steve Koffman, a real estate broker with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral.
For example, off-water homes in Cape Coral sold for a median price of $105,000, down 5 percent from September, he said.
Meanwhile, the number of off-water Cape homes sold was 337 in October, the highest monthly rate since 2004 except for September's 349.
Some investors are buying up homes to rent them but many buyers are "people who can afford a house at $85,000 who couldn't before," Koffman said.
People with good credit usually have no trouble getting financing but risk-sensitive bankers are turning down those with credit problems, he said. "If you've got questionable credit, you're not going to get a loan, you're just not."
Homes being put on the market at fire sale prices by lenders that took them back in foreclosure are behind the falling prices, which in turn attract more buyers, Koffman said.
The national association's report said that prices fell in 20 out of 152 metropolitan areas it tracks. Sales fell almost 8 percent.
Foreclosures and other distressed sales made up about 40 percent of transactions in the quarter nationally.
Top lawmakers threw their support Tuesday behind a proposal to use $24 billion in government money to help struggling borrowers, as reports showed U.S. home prices sinking in four out of five cities and home builders reported their worst-ever business outlook.
The national association's monthly market index, begun in January 1985, said that barometer tumbled five points to nine in November, reflecting growing worries about the U.S. financial crisis, rising unemployment and weakening consumer confidence.
Index readings higher than 50 indicate positive sentiment about the market. But the index has drifted below 50 since May 2006 and below 20 since April.
With a clear and present threat to the U.S. economy, Democrats stepped up pressure on the Bush administration to direct taxpayer money to help more troubled borrowers. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said "it is essential" to use some of the money in the government's $700 billion financial rescue program to stem the tide of foreclosures. Courtesy Associated Press, News-Press.

Foreclosures continue to flood Lee County

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Foreclosures continued to flood Lee County's real estate market at a record rate in October as new construction remained sparse.
There were 2,665 foreclosure filings in October, up about 8 percent from the previous high of 2,467 in July, according to numbers compiled by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association and Lee County.
At the same time, only about 86 permits for single-family homes were issued in Lee - including a record low of 30 permits for unincorporated Lee County. Those numbers do not include Fort Myers Beach numbers, which weren't available Monday.
A year ago, the total was 119, and in September, 68 permits were issued.
The foreclosure filings may be gaining momentum as banks work to clear failed loans off the books amid federal bailout efforts, said Jeff Tumbarello, a
mortgage broker and president of the investors association.
"It's going to end at some point," Tumbarello said. "They can't foreclose on every home in Lee County."
The faster foreclosures work through the system, the better for Lee County's real estate market, said Patti Pietroniro, Realtor with Cypress Realty in Fort Myers. For now, those foreclosed homes are dominating the unsold inventory, she said.
"We are seeing the foreclosures starting to be soaked up and eventually we will begin to see home values start to go up again," Pietroniro said. "We won't see a full recovery until we get those foreclosures cleared out."
But North Fort Myers resident Regina Touchstone, 43, said working to resolve foreclosures quickly tightens the vice on struggling homeowners.
Touchstone and her husband, Shayne, were served with a foreclosure notice last week.
"The bank would rather work out a short sale with someone who has nothing invested in a house than work with a family that has their whole life invested in it," Touchstone said.
The family started falling behind on their payments in May, when work dried up at their pool company. They tried to restructure their loan, but the mortgage company rejected that effort, Regina Touchstone said.
"Our home has been on the market for six months and the last letter they sent told us to put our home on the market," she said. "It's like they aren't even listening to us."
At the end of September, there was a 3.5-month supply of finished vacant housing inventory in Lee and Collier counties at the current move-in pace. A normal months-of-supply level of finished vacant units in a healthy market is between 1.5 and 2.5 months, said Bradley F. Hunter, who leads Metrostudy's market research operations in Southwest Florida.
Metrostudy, a market research company, released their quarterly analysis Monday.
In the quarter, the number of housing units under construction increased from 654 to 753 units after seven consecutive quarters of decline.
Bob Knight, partner in Cape Coral-based Paul Homes and president of the Lee Building Industry Association, said buyer interest is picking up.
"We are starting to hear from some customers who already own lots and want to build on their own lot or who are looking to buy land and build," Knight said. "They realize this is probably the bottom, and it is going to bounce around the bottom for a while, but that is where the opportunity is."
Unincorporated Lee County's record low of 30 single-family home permits was matched by 30 permits in Fort Myers. There were 15 in Cape Coral, eight in Bonita Springs and three on Sanibel.
In unincorporated Lee, the value was up 69 percent from September's $8.8 million, due primarily to a home valued at $3.8 million and another valued at $1.6 million, according to Lee County's Community Development office.
There were 52 multifamily units permitted in unincorporated Lee during October, compared to six the previous month and 30 in October 2007.
One project, Majestic Palms south of Fort Myers, accounted for 40 units.
Permits were issued for 10 new commercial buildings valued at $3.8 million in unincorporated Lee County, compared to $3.2 million the previous month.