Home prices, sales rise in Lee County

Prices and sales were sharply higher in November for home sales in Lee County.

The median price of a single-family home sold with the assistance of a Realtor jumped 3.8 percent from $91,600 in October to $95,100 in November while the number of sales increased 8.3 percent from 1,413 to 1,530, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Florida Association of Realtors.

Compared with a year ago, the number of houses was more than double the 656 sold in November 2008. The median price, however, was down 13 percent from November 2008’s $109,900.

In a separate report also issued Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors said U.S. home resales surged last month to the highest level in nearly three years, reflecting an extraordinary level of federal support that has pulled the housing market back from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Locally, the news was welcome in a housing market that maxed out in December 2005 with a median price of $322,300 and then suffered a long slide until this fall.

“Knock on some wood here, there’s life in this market,” said Steve Koffman, a real estate broker with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral. “You notice the increase in price when you show houses (to clients) for $110,000 last month and you go out again this month and they’re dirtier and not in as good a location.”

Much of the downward pressure on prices has been from the foreclosed homes pouring back onto the market as lenders take them back and resell them, but that won’t last forever, Tumbarello said — with 64 percent of the sales this year so far sold without a mortgage, “It’s going to be kind of hard for this to continue when that many are cash.”

Still, selling a home in the county isn’t easy these days.

“We’ve had very little action at all, actually,” said Jeff Deatty, who with his brother Steve is trying to sell their father’s two-bedroom Sunset Towers waterfront condo with a boat slip in Cape Coral for $154,900.

They’re marketing it on the craigslist Web site because their father has a reverse mortgage on the property and “the selling prices of condos in that project are very, very close to what he owes. There’s no room for a real estate agent’s commission.”

Nationally, a credit for first-time buyers was driving a stronger market.

Buyers were racing to complete their sales before the original expiration date of the tax credit that was scheduled to expire Nov. 30. Last month, Congress decided to extend and expand the credit to ensure the housing market could sustain its recovery.

About 2 million homebuyers have taken advantage of the credit so far, with first-time buyers making up about half of all transactions last month, driving sales up 44 percent above last year’s levels, a record jump, according to the National Association of Realtors.

November’s sales rose 7.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million, from a downward revised pace of 6.09 million in October, the group said. It was the highest level since February 2007. Sales had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 6.25 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Sales are now up 46 percent from the bottom in January, but down 10 percent from the peak more than four years ago. The inventory of unsold homes on the market fell about 1 percent to 3.5 million. That’s a healthy 6.5 month supply at the current sales pace, the lowest level in three years.

The median sales price was $172,600, down 4.3 percent from a year earlier, and up 0.2 percent from October.

— The Associated Press/ Fort Myers News Press contributed to this report

Foreclosures trending down

The foreclosure rate in Lee County in November slowed to levels last seen more than two years ago as the real estate boom's glut of heavily financed, inexpensive homes finally burns itself out.

But commercial properties and more expensive homes could fuel a new wave of foreclosures - perhaps not as many but at much higher values per property.

The number of foreclosures filed in Lee County fell in November to 1,404 from 1,628 in October, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.

It was the lowest number since 1,220 were filed in September 2007. A year ago, 1,681 foreclosures were filed for November, the report states.

Jeff Tumbarello, director of the association, noted that 64 percent of homes bought now in the county are strictly cash deals, so eventually "the foreclosure trend has to end."

For the most part, national lenders are the ones foreclosing now, he said. "The local community banks are all out and the regionals have largely disappeared."

That doesn't mean the coast is clear, however.

More commercial properties are showing up in foreclosure now and more expensive homes are still falling in value even as the less expensive ones stabilize in price, Tumbarello said. "Homes above $400,000 are taking a horrific beating."

That has caused concern that, with unemployment at high levels, more people will walk away from the more expensive homes as they fall in price, or simply run out of money to keep paying their mortgage.

"We have to wait and see if this is really a petering out of the foreclosures or just the eye of the storm," said Brad Hunter, who directs Metrostudy's market research operations in Southwest Florida.

Builders are not out of the ballgame completely now, although they're having trouble competing with cheap foreclosed houses being put back on the market by lenders, he said.

But a completely new house comes with a warranty and without the risks of issues such as Chinese drywall, Hunter said.

Tim Rose, president of Arthur Rutenberg Homes in Lee County, said he expects the recovery for builders to be slow but inevitable as the inventory of existing homes is bought up.

Already, he said, "You find very few new homes in inventory that are terrific deals" and some people are learning the hard way that a foreclosed house can come with expensive problems. Charlie Green, clerk of court in Lee County, said the dropping rate of foreclosures is welcome, but that it likely won't be over soon. "I think we're going to see 1,200 to 1,600 a month for a while." The court system still has a backlog of 21,000, down from the peak of about 23,000 about a year ago. So-called "rocket dockets" of mass foreclosure hearings by judges have helped grind away at that number, he said.

Green said he's optimistic for the long run.

"We'll see an in-migration of people who will use up this inventory," he predicts. "I think it's people who can afford to move here. In 2005 they couldn't. Now they can."

Lee County home price declines lead U.S.

Lee County led the nation in the rate of falling home prices
during the third quarter.
Is it time to buy right now? You make the decision.The median price in
Fort Myers plunged 40 percent to $98,000 compared to the same quarter a
year ago, when the median price was $163,300, the National Association of
Realtors said Tuesday. That beat other hard-hit areas such as No. 2 Las
Vegas, which saw its median price tumble almost 35 percent to $138,500
Local real estate experts were not surprised at the county's continuing
rank at or near the top of residential price declines. They also predicted
an end is in sight for this trend, as prices in some market segments have
begun to level off."I really think we are, statistically, probably
about done with the price drops," said Realtor Brett Ellis, of Re/Max
Realty Group in Fort Myers.
He cited several reasons for this opinion:
- The backlog of homes at the market's bottom end is shrinking, while
those in the $100,000 to $200,000 range are increasing.
- Banks are increasingly opting to short-sell homes rather than
foreclose. Foreclosures tend to lose more value due to vandalism or lack
of upkeep.
- Prospective buyers from the North, "deep down, they really know
that this is the last year to get those bargain prices so they're really
motivated to get something now."
Ellis said snowbirds are starting to exert "buying pressure ahead
of season.
"Prices in many market segments seem to be stabilizing, said Steve
Koffman of Century 21 Sunbelt Realty in Cape Coral."I don't think
you're going to see prices fall without there being demand to absorb
them," he said. "That kind of balance is a good thing."
Prices in the sub-$400,000 market have been virtually flat since
February, based on statistics from the local Multiple Listing Service,
said Jeff Tumbarello, director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate
Investment Association. The association compiles monthly statistics on
foreclosures.Tumbarello, who's a Realtor for Steelbridge Realty in Fort
Myers, said 64 percent of Lee County sales this year were cash
transactions, according to the MLS records. Article courtesy of the Fort
Myers News Press.

Short-sale sellers get stuck in Cape Coral

Cora Mooney-Graves believed she had her Cape Coral house sold with a willing buyer and approval of the bank for a short sale.But the buyer and the backup buyer had both put offers in for several other houses and bailed out before Mooney-Graves’ lenders gave approval to sell her house for $200,000.
Now, she may have to start over on the time-consuming short-sale process, in which a bank forgives part of its mortgage so a homeowner can set a realistic price at which to sell a house.
It’s a problem some Realtors say is becoming common in the frenzied Cape Coral housing market, where buyers put in multiple offers to assure they get at least one house before someone beats them to it.
"If a deal falls apart on a short sale,” said Fiona Finn of The Finn Team Realty, the seller’s agent has little time to get another buyer in place before the bank’s deadline for a sale passes. Then the whole process has to start over again.
The problem isn’t as pronounced outside the Cape, Finn said. “I haven’t seen it that much in Fort Myers.”
Paula Hellenbrand of Encore Realty, who’s also president of the Cape Coral Association of Realtors, said the practice is growing common but seller’s agents also are sometimes doing the same thing. “They can cancel just as easily as the buyer.”Sellers have tactics available to them to thwart indiscriminate offers, she said: They have the option not to take multiple offers or to require a prospective buyer to put down a deposit — although that’s rare in this market.
The right way to do it is one offer, signed by the seller, and anybody else is a backup offer,” with the backups knowing they won’t get the deal unless the first offer falls apart, said Hellenbrand, who represents about the same number of buyers as sellers.
Buyers who want to lock in a sale might be better advised to bid aggressively, said Patti Pietroniro with McWilliams Buckley & Associates in Fort Myers.“I’m telling my buyers, if you really like the house, right now you need to go higher than the asking price,” Pietroniro said.

Lee County foreclosures up 1 percent

There were 1,628 foreclosure actions filed in Lee circuit court in October, up 1 percent from September’s 1,610 but down 40 percent from the all-time high of 2,665 in October 2008, according to statistics released today by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.
The number of foreclosures in Lee County started to increase three years ago after the residential real estate boom ended in late 2005 and prices started to decline. Since October 2008, the number filed monthly has generally been declining.
According to the association’s report, 1,403 certificates of title were conveyed by the Lee clerk of court in October — that occurs when a property is sold on the courthouse steps to satisfy the mortgage after a final order is issued in a foreclosure lawsuit. Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press

Upscale foreclosures rise in Lee County

That expensive house you covet might not be quite so expensive in a few months.
Experts say more high-end foreclosures are being filed, more houses are under construction and fewer people are moving in — all adding up to pull down prices in Lee County.
“The cream is coming,” predicted Jeff Tumbarello, director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association, which compiles monthly statistics on foreclosures.
In October, there were 1,628 foreclosures filed, down 40 percent from October 2008’s all-time high of 2,665.
But the foreclosures in recent months, though fewer in overall numbers, are showing signs that the middle class is starting to lose its houses. Tumbarello said, for example, a third of the houses that went into foreclosures over the past six months were pool homes.
That’s because the houses going into foreclosure now are increasingly in the higher range, said Brett Ellis, a real estate agent with Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers.
Less expensive homes are already at a rough balance of supply and demand, he said, but what constitutes a high-end house depends on the area: more than $100,000 in Lehigh Acres but closer to $200,000 in Fort Myers.
Kerry Collier, a real estate investor and broker, said she and two business partners bought a house in Estero that had been foreclosed on and will close on it this week for close to their $285,000 asking price.
But she said she expects houses even a little more expensive — about $300,000 or more in Estero — will be coming down in price soon.
“If you look at the MLS (multiple listing service), there’s a lot out there,” said Collier, the owner of Collier & Associates Real Estate and HomesByOwner.com.
Even as a wave of foreclosures approaches the market, new construction is actually increasing in Lee County, said Brad Hunter, who directs Metrostudy's market research operations in Southwest Florida.
In the third quarter, starts for detached single-family homes in subdivisions rose to 194 from 91 starts in the previous quarter, according to a Metrostudy report that came out last week. At the same time, vacant inventory rose from 703 houses to 728.
Builders have made reducing their inventories a priority over the past year, Hunter said, but “now it’s at a point where when a builder sells a house, they have to build a house just to have enough houses to sell.”
But those houses being built now will face a lot of competition from the foreclosures coming back onto the market, Hunter said. Up to now it’s been mainly subprime mortgages for inexpensive houses, but now prime loans are starting to show up.
“There’s still another wave of foreclosures coming and that will bring another round of price declines.” Hunter said. “Those homes will be a greater competitive threat to the homebuilders than the first wave.” Courtesy of Fort Myers News Press

Lee County Florida Home Prices Fall

The median price of a single-family-home resale in September in Lee County
was $89,700 in Lee County — 37 percent off $141,400 a year earlier, according
to statistics released today by the Florida Association of Realtors.
Meanwhile, the number of homes sold increased 77 percent in the same period
from 746 to 1,321.
In Charlotte County, the median price fell 19 percent from $136,900 to
$110,600 while the number of homes sold increased 56 percent from 153 to 238.
Statewide, the median price fell 19 percent from $174,900 to $142,000 while
the number of homes sold increased 34 percent from 10,778 to 14,419.
In a separate report also issued today, the National Association of Realtors
said U.S. home sales rose 9.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of
5.57 million in September, from a downwardly revised pace of 5.1 million in
Sales had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 5.35 million, according
to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.
The median sales price was $174,900, down 8.5 percent from a year earlier,
and slightly lower than August’s median of $177,300.
“There’s a mini-boom going on in the housing market,” said Thomas Popik,
who conducts a monthly survey of real estate agents for Campbell Communications,
a research firm.
The inventory of unsold homes on the market fell about 7 percent to 3.63
million. That’s a 7.8-month supply at the current sales pace, and the lowest
level since March 2007. Nationwide sales are up nearly 24 percent from their
bottom in January, but are still down 23 percent from four years ago. Article
courtesy of the Fort Myers NewsPress

Lee County Real Estate Rental Business in a Shambles

Between falling rent rates, the rising cost of insurance and
unscrupulous tenants, Bob Wilson is having trouble breaking even on the
modest houses he rents out for a living.
“I’ve been in this business for 35 years and I’ve never seen
anything like this,” he said. “I’m paying more for taxes and
insurance alone than for what I used to pay for principal, interest, taxes
and insurance.”
Wilson is not alone. Statistics released today by Novato, Calif.-based
RealFacts shows that the average rent for big apartment complexes in the
third quarter dropped 7 percent from a year earlier in Cape Coral-Fort
Myers — second only to 8.8 percent in Naples-Marco Island.
Meanwhile, occupancy in Cape Coral-Fort Myers also rose sharply: up 8.5
percent to 90.2 percent, the second biggest jump in the state after Ocala.
While it’s good news for those who are looking for an inexpensive
place to live, the falling rents are wreaking havoc on the rental industry
“This is pretty much the trend all over the country although it does
seem that particular market, Lee County in general, has had a more
dramatic hit in terms of rent erosion,” RealFacts CEO Sarah Bridge said.
“It was $950 in 2007 and now, two years later, $826. It has definitely
sustained a steady decline of rent in this market and it’s pretty much
happened every quarter.”
The company tracks rents for apartment complexes of 100 units or more.
Dave Roberts, owner of Dave Roberts Realty in Fort Myers and of the
FREE Apartment Finder Service, said the reason for the low rent prices is
plain to see:

“You’ve got more people buying investment properties: short sales and
Those investors typically rent the houses out but they’re often in
for a rude surprise, he said. “The problem is you’ve got these
landlords who are new to the business. They say, ‘We’re going to rent
this for $925 a month, and first and last’” month’s rent required up
front, he said.
“Well, God bless you, we’ll try, but it’s not likely,” he said.
The market may eventually make rental rates pick up, but this area is
particularly prone to a sustained renter’s market, Bridge said, noting
that besides the flood of foreclosures there’s little chance for the
economy to rebound because the home-building industry dominated the area
so strongly before the market crashed in early 2006.
That rebound will be awhile in coming, Roberts said, in part because
this area actually lost population last year and is likely to do so again
this year.
He expects rents to get a short-term lift from the tourist/part-time
resident season just starting, but that the downward trend will still be
in place by the second quarter of 2010.
Wilson said the prognosis is gloomy for small landlords like him.
Renters sometimes agree to rent only to “renegotiate” after a
month, knowing that a landlord will have to spend up to $1,000 in court
costs and attorney’s fees, he said.
Even after spending the money, Wilson said, “It takes forever to get
rid of them.”
Now, he said, it looks like the rental industry will be in bad shape
for the foreseeable future and he’s looking for steadier work.
“I’m looking to get a job dealing poker” at the Naples-Fort Myers
Greyhound Track, he said.
Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press

Defaults help Lee County home sales soar past record

Driven by foreclosures, sales of single-family homes in Lee County this year have already blasted past the record set at the height of the buying frenzy in 2005.
And sales of all residential properties in the county this year will set a record once the September figures are released next week.
Through August, the last month for which data is available, 11,178 homes were sold with the assistance of Realtors, according to statistics from the Realtors Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach.
That’s well past the 9,842 for all of 2005, the previous high-water mark.
At the present pace, it would take about five months to run through the roughly 11,000 single-family homes listed for sale, according to association statistics.
If anything, the numbers understate the current pace of sales, said Jeff Tumbarello of Steelbridge Realty
Partners, noting that more than 300 foreclosed houses a month are being sold at county auctions on the courthouse steps.
Suzanne Sherer of Re/Max Realty Team, who is president of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach, said the houses are selling so fast because “the prices are in line with incomes in the area.”
There are even bidding wars for some houses that are up for sale, and buyers should be aware they might have to offer more than the listing price, she said.
“Any buyer in today’s market, if they see a house and it’s $20,000 less than everything else, other buyers do, too,” Sherer said.
Driving the supply of inexpensive houses is a record number of foreclosures, with lenders still filing more than 1,600 a month, although the pace has slowed in recent months.
Still, some of the most desirable types of houses have stabilized and even increased in price.
“At this time last year you could buy a sailboat-access house that needs some work for $150,000 or $200,000 in Cape Coral,” Tumbarello said. “Now they’re $250,000.”
Kenny and Kate Champagne bought a foreclosed southwest Cape Coral home in August for $261,000, according to the Lee County Property Appraiser site.
The three-bedroom, 21⁄2-bath home has a caged pool and a boat dock with a lift.
“It’s got all the things we looked for, and then some,” said Kenny Champagne, 52, a customer service representative for Southwest Airlines who went home-shopping with Century 21 Sunbelt Realty.
Dwight Bessette, 68, moved from Princeton, N.J., to Fort Myers in June.
The retired salesman visited a few areas of Florida in February, settling on Lee County.
He paid $138,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath home at Colonial Country Club. The home sold for $224,600 in September 2005, according to the Lee County Property Appraiser site.
“I got such a good deal on what I really wanted in Fort Myers,” Bessette said. “It was the clear choice for me, given what I was looking for and what I wanted to spend.”
— Staff writers Fort Myers News Press Laura Ruane and Don Manley contributed to this report.

Foreclosures Down in Lee County

There were 1,610 mortgage foreclosure lawsuits filed in Lee County in September, down slightly from August’s 1,692 and sharply off the near-record 2,462 from September 2008, according to statistics released today by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association.

Foreclosures spiked sharply higher after the residential real estate boom in Southwest Florida ended in early 2006. For the past several months, foreclosures have been on the decline

Lee existing home sales almost double year-over-year

There were 1,252 existing single-family homes sold in August in Lee County with the help of a Realtor, almost twice the 684 from a year earlier, according to statistics released today by the Florida Association of Realtors.

The median price of a house sold was $89,300, off 39 percent from the $146,900 a year earlier.

In Charlotte County, the number of homes sold rose 31 percent from 176 to 230 and the median price fell 25 percent from $138,100 to $103,300 in the same period, according to the association.

In a separate report also issued today, the National Association of Realtors reported that home resales nationally dipped unexpectedly last month after a four-month streak of gains, providing evidence that the housing market recovery remains fragile.

Sales dropped 2.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.1 million in August, from a pace of 5.24 million in July, according to the national association’s report.Sales, which were still up 3.4 percent from a year earlier, had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 5.35 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

“We suspect it is just a temporary blip in the improving trend rather than a sign of renewed weakness,” wrote Paul Dales, U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

First-time buyers purchased almost one in three homes last month. New homeowners will get an $8,000 tax credit if they complete the transaction by Nov. 30, which the credit expires.

— The Associated Press/News Press contributed to this report

SWFL Still a Nationwide Leader in Foreclosures

LEE COUNTY: According to Realty-Trac, a real estate tracking firm, the Fort Myers-Cape Coral metro area ranks second nationwide in the rate of foreclosures.
According to the firm, one of every 14 homes in Lee County received at least one foreclosure filing in the first half of 2009.
Lee County followed Las Vegas, Nevada which had the highest rate of foreclosure with one in every 13 homes facing foreclosure.
Lane Houk, head of the Lee County Foreclosure Taskforce, estimates Southwest Florida's foreclosure crisis will get worse before it gets better.
"I think you're looking at 12 to 24 months away for real sustainable recovery," he said.
Houk says double digit job loss, adjustable rate mortgages and homeowners tapped out of their savings will be the reason for a new wave of foreclosures.
"I sit with people in this office in tears, people who have said 'I peeled away my 401K, my retirement, our savings, we've asked family.' At some point, you just reach you're breaking point," said Houk.
The Lee County Clerk of Courts has a backlog of 24,000 foreclosure cases.
The daily average of foreclosure filings is down to about 80 new cases a day - a 25-percent drop since last year. Courtesy of the News Press.

Foreclosures, single-family home permits both up in July

Foreclosures were up in July even as builders pulled more permits for single-family homes, according to statistics released today.There were 1,877 foreclosures filed in July, compared to 1,756 in June, according to the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.

Meanwhile, builders in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and unincorporated Lee County reported that more permits were pulled for single-family homes in July than the previous month, according to reports today by those municipalities.In the county, 33 permits were pulled compared to 24 in June and 49 in July 2008.Cape Coral had 24 permits, compared to 20 in June and 22 in July 2008.Fort Myers had 42 permits, compared to 25 in June and 19 in July 2008.The county also reported that in July:• Permits were issued for eight multi-family units, compared to two the previous month and 24 in July 2008.

Commercial permitting was valued at more than $2.1 million for five permits, compared to nearly $130,000 in June and more than $2.6 million in July 2008.The numbers were a far cry from the fevered pace at the height of the residential construction boom in 2005 when more than 1,000 permits a month were routinely reported countywide. Article courtesy of Fort Myers News Press.

Cape home sales breaking records

CAPE CORAL: Cape Coral home sales reached record highs in both May and June. And in the lowest price ranges, experts say it has now shifted from a buyer's market to one that favors sellers.
Prospective home buyers Frank and Ellie Strain are looking for a deal.
"Obviously, we'd like to get as much as we could for as little as possible," said Frank Strain.
And the Strains are not alone. Even in the typically slow summer season, Cape Coral homes are selling fast and furiously.
"Record numbers for as far back as I've been keeping track of statistics," said Paula Hellenbrand, Realtor and President of the Cape Coral Association of Realtors.
June sales topped out at 644 homes and May numbers were about the same. And if you were to look back to height of the boom in 2005 - sales even then weren't nearly as high.
"We were in the 300, 400, maybe 500. So, over 600 homes is a fantastic number of sales," said Hellenbrand.
But with so many homes selling, that means there are far fewer homes on the market - especially homes priced at $250,000 or lower.
"Everything under $250,000 is in a seller's market," said Hellenbrand.
About half the so-called "sellers" right now are banks. But Hellenbrand says the more homes sell - the more that will change.
"Now that the market is changing, it's going to be safe again for the regular sellers to come out and put their homes on the market," Hellenbrand said.
She says that means it's time for prospective buyers like the Strains to make a move.
"We need to get something as soon as possible, because the prices are going up," said Strain.
With a shrinking selection, the Strains know they need to act quickly to snag something good in their now highly competitive price range.

Bargain Basement Real Estate Prices

Homebuyers find happiness in Lee County

(Buyers and Sellers of Real Estate)

Southwest Florida's bargain-basement home prices have enabled Luis and Natasha Almodovar to realize the dream of home ownership.
In March, the young couple purchased a 3-year-old house in Cape Coral, with 1,875 square feet "under air," for the asking price of $75,000.
"We saw it, we liked it and an hour later, we put in a bid so we could be first in line," Luis Almodovar said.
Their purchase contributed to what has become a trend over the past 19 months in Lee County: sales prices coming close to or matching list prices for single-family homes.
Since December 2007, the median monthly sales price has been within a minimum of 91 percent of the median monthly list price. In fact, that ratio has often been much higher, hitting 98.24 percent in March and 101.13 percent in April.
The trend is being driven by the explosion of "distressed properties" - foreclosures and short-sales - on the market and the fact more sellers are pricing their homes to market levels, according to Realtors. They said those homes and their bargain-basement pricing have attracted a bevy of buyers, including many investors who are able to pay in cash.
But those rock-bottom prices have also resulted in appraisers lowering home values in their reports to lenders who are considering loans for prospective buyers. The result is more difficulty in securing home loans at a time when credit standards have tightened.
Realtors said it's become common to have multiple bids - sometimes 20 or more - for homes, especially in the price range of $100,000 or less.
Almodovar, 30, said he and his wife had been outbid during their two-month search, so they acted as soon as they found the house in northeast Cape Coral. They submitted their bid on a Friday and it was accepted on Monday by the bank.
"These houses are flying off the shelves," he said. "They used to be ridiculously high and now they're ridiculously low. You can't go wrong now."
Distressed homes comprised about 75 percent of sales last year for the Re/Max Realty Team in Fort Myers, a ratio that's jumped to 95 percent in 2009, said Darius Cochran, an agent at the office.
Bidding wars have become common, said Suzanne Sherer, an agent for Re/Max Realty Team in Cape Coral and president of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach.
Bids have begun to exceed the asking price of late as the flood of bank-owned properties that hit the market in late 2008 has been absorbed, said Susan Collins, a broker-associate for Rossman Realty in Cape Coral. The result, she said, is a shortage of available properties, especially in the lower price ranges.
Mary Huber, a Realtor for Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral, agreed. She said she's seeing 20 to 30 bids, in some cases, for foreclosed homes built in 2004 or later, that are in move-in condition and have list prices for between $50,000 and $70,000.
But for anyone trying to finance the purchase of such a home, it's vital that their agent "run the numbers" to see whether the appraised value matches the asking price, she added.
The widening gap between list prices and appraised values has been occurring for six to eight months said Marc Gizzi, of Anthony Gizzi Appraisers in Fort Myers.
One reason for this gap may be appraisers who aren't being thorough when investigating sales prices for comparable homes in the market.
"It's 'Find me three very recent sales' and the three recent sales might be three liquidation sales that hit the market, and they're right around the corner," he said. "Liquidation pricing might not be market value. Typically liquidation is priced under market value."
Courtesy Fort Myers News Press

Bank sales help set record in Lee County

Lee County is facing a looming shortage of a precious financial resource these days: houses taken in foreclosure and dumped back on the market by lenders.
Houses sold by banks and other "distress sales" accounted for 74 percent of the record 1,468 Realtor-assisted sales made in April in the county, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Florida Association of Realtors.
But the rich vein of foreclosures caused by the crash of home values and the recession is about to run out, said Brett Ellis of Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers. Fewer than 1,000 foreclosure houses remain among the 12,500 homes listed for sale.
"I can't see us continuing to reach these records unless we get a steady diet of foreclosures hitting the market," he said. "Sales will start slowing if only because we won't have the inventory."
Most of the bank-owned houses hitting the market are inexpensive homes built at the height of the housing frenzy that ended in late 2005, said Jeff Tumbarello, director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association. Speculators abandoned thousands of those houses as bad investments, and now about 24,000 foreclosures are working their way through the county court system.
But a steady drop in prices during the past three years has spurred a frenzy of interest in those houses as they come back onto the market. The median price was $322,300 at its peak in December 2005 but in April was only $85,500, according to the association's statistics.
Will the boom in sales that rejuvenated the real estate industry this year continue?
Steve Koffman, a real estate broker with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral, said he thinks the foreclosures will keep on coming, providing a steady supply of houses for the second-home buyers and investors who make up the majority of today's market.
"I think it's a temporary bottleneck" that caused the relatively low number of foreclosure homes now for sale, Koffman said, noting that a few months ago giant lenders "Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had a self-imposed moratorium that caused there to be a gap in the pipeline."
But, Koffman said, foreclosures from now on are likely to be more from the "second wave" of more expensive houses whose owners lost their jobs and couldn't pay their mortgage or, in some cases, simply walked away because home values had fallen.
Nationally, the spike in homebuying was more modest as sales of distressed low-end properties have even sparked bidding wars in places such as Lee County as well as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami.
But the market for high-end properties is at a virtual standstill, mainly because it remains difficult to get a mortgage for expensive homes.
"We're looking at a dual market right now," said Sherry Chris, chief executive of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that home sales rose 2.9 percent to an annual rate of 4.68 million in April from a downwardly revised pace of 4.55 million in March. Sales were 4.6 percent below April last year, without adjusting for seasonal factors.
Compared with January - the lowest point in the housing recession - April sales were up nearly 4 percent. But compared with the peak in September 2005, sales are still down 35 percent.
And they have not kept pace with foreclosures, which continue to pile up at an alarming pace. Those properties helped drag down the median sales price to $170,200.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Real estate hitting new highs, new lows

LEE COUNTY: The Fort Myers-Cape Coral area now leads the state in home sales. But property values are expected to plunge to their steepest year-to-year declines yet.
Tuesday, we say one home that sold for 50-percent less than it sold for a few years ago. And because of rock-bottom prices like that, home sales are red hot.
If you thought the door to making money in real estate was sealed shut, Matt Sinclair, of Sinclair Custom Contracting, will open it for you.
He says he is a general contractor by trade, but was turned into flipper by the market.
"Anyone who can afford to jump in and buy should be jumping into this," he said.
Over the past seven months, Sinclair has bought and sold about a dozen homes.
His latest purchase was a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in northeast Cape Coral. In 2004, it house sold for $163,900. Two weeks ago, it sold for $64,000.
Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson predicts an average year-to-year drop of at least 30-percent, with parts of Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres taking the biggest hits.
The northern part of Cape Coral is one of the areas dealing with the most dramatic drop in property values.
"I've seen homes - three-bedroom, two-bath with a pool, never lived in, for $40,000. We've never seen anything like that," said Wilkinson. Article courtesy NBC-2.com

Foreclosures up 31-percent in Ft. Myers-Cape

LEE COUNTY: A new report from Realty-Trac shows the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area is ranked second in the country for foreclosures in April.
One in 57 homes in Fort Myers-Cape Coral received a foreclosure filing last month.
For the month of April 2009 there were default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions reported on 342,038 properties nationwide.
In Nevada, the top state for foreclosure activity in April, one in every 68 housing units received a foreclosure filing, which was an 18-percent decrease from March 2009.
In Florida, there was a 37-percent increase in foreclosure activity from March. One in every 135 housing units received a foreclosure filing in April statewide.
Foreclosure activity was up 75 percent from April 2008 statewide.
Locally, foreclosure activity increased 31-percent from March. Courtesy of NBC-2.com

The median price of an existing home sold in Lee County plummeted in March to $88,500

The median price of an existing home sold in Lee County plummeted in March to $88,500 — the lowest since it was $78,500 in December 1998.According to statistics released Thursday by the Florida Association of Realtors, the March median was down 58 percent from $212,500 a year earlierMeanwhile, the number of sales in March soared to 1,464 — almost triple the 501 recorded a year earlier.

Transactions include only those in which a Realtor was involved. For condominiums, the median was $126,200, down 36 percent, and the number of sales was 358, up 53 percent.Brett Ellis of ReMax Realty Group said the falling median was in part a result of homes flooding onto the market as banks take back houses in foreclosure and re-sell them.“I’m not sure the overall prices are still trending down but I think there are larger amounts of foreclosures,” many in the lower price range, he said — the result is a lower median price: half the houses sold are more expensive and half less expensive.

The trend could turn around later this year as banks take back more of the more expensive homes, Ellis said. “I see signs in some segments that may already be occurring.”

Home prices plateau

Prices for Lee County homes in February continued at well below what they were a year ago, but the number sold was sharply higher, according to a report issued Monday by the Florida Association of Realtors.
There were 875 single-family homes sold in February, 97 percent more than a year earlier and up 15 percent from January.
The median price of a single-family home sold with the assistance of a Realtor in February was $97,500, 54 percent less than the $211,600 it was a year earlier. But February's price was 3 percent more than January's $94,900, which was the lowest it has been since it was $90,000 in February 1999, the report states.
In a separate report also released Monday by the National Association of Realtors, sales of existing homes rose from January to February in an unexpected boost for the slumping U.S. housing market as buyers took advantage of deep discounts on foreclosures.
The report said that sales of existing homes grew 5.1 percent to an annual rate of 4.72 million last month, from 4.49 million units in January. It was the largest sales jump since July 2003.
In Lee County, the lower prices prevailing now have stimulated a wave of buying by both investors and people looking to buy a place to live, said Brett Ellis of Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers.
"You're seeing snowbirds visiting Florida and saying, 'This is the best opportunity in years,'" Ellis said, and there are also "the sophisticated investors who realize an opportunity. These are serious people who are saying this is probably oversold, let's start buying."
The investors, Ellis said "are really concentrating on that $40,000 to $60,000 market" for homes while people buying for themselves typically go for somewhat more expensive dwellings.
Josh Bevington, an agent with John McWilliams and Tom Buckley & Associates in Lee County, said he sold 33 homes last month and the most in demand are lower-end houses. That means a lot of sales in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres.
Condominiums are a tougher sale than single-family homes because many condo developments are suffering from high rates of foreclosures. As a result, their fees have increased, making them less desirable, he said.
Hans Tomson, who has been trying to sell his Fiddlesticks home in south Fort Myers for two years, said he has noticed that more people are looking lately.
"So far, so good -except we haven't been able to sell it yet," Tomson said. "People don't seem to have money."
Originally, he had it priced at $2,650,000, but has reduced the price to $2.1 million.
Tomson doesn't expect to go lower. "We've come down almost 20 percent. I told my wife, 'We don't have to sell. We'd like to sell, but we won't lower the price any more.'"
Nationally, the median sales price plunged to $165,400, down 15.5 percent from $195,800 a year earlier. That was the second-largest drop on record.
February's median sales price was up slightly from January, which recorded the lowest median price since September 2002. Prices are down about 28 percent from their peak in July 2006.
In contrast with the housing boom, when buyers took out ever-riskier loans and maxed out their home equity lines, "homebuyers are not over stretching" said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' chief economist. "They want to stay within their budget."
By summertime, sales are expected to get a boost from a $8,000 tax credit for new home buyers included in the economic stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama last month.
The number of unsold homes on the market last month rose 5.2 percent to 3.8 million, a typical increase for the winter months. At February's sales pace, it would take 9.7 months to rid the market of all of those properties, unchanged from a month earlier.
The bursting of the U.S. housing bubble has caused foreclosures to swamp the market - especially in particularly distressed states such as Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona. Article courtesy of Fort Myers News Press.

Foreclosed homes dominate Lee County market

Foreclosures continued at a near-record pace in February — and as banks
take houses back and resell them, they’re dominating Lee County’s real
estate market as never before.
That means terrific deals for buyers but more depressed prices for home sellers.
Meanwhile, the number of permits to build houses in the county stayed near
record lows in February as developers found themselves unable to compete with
the fire-sale prices being offered by lenders putting foreclosed homes back on
the market.
There were 2,109 foreclosure actions filed in the Lee County courts in February,
up 7 percent from January’s 1,963 and up 19 percent from 1,774 in February
However, February’s number was 21 percent off the all-time high of 2,665 in
October, according to the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.

In January, the latest month available, of 827 total sales listed with the
Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach, foreclosure resales
accounted for 542 and short sales for 107.That left only 181 sales — 22 percent — that were not distressed sales involving a bank.
In Lehigh Acres, the area hardest hit by foreclosures, only 8 percent were
non-distressed sales.
Those lucky enough to be buyers in this market say they’re getting phenomenal
deals as banks get rid of the houses as fast as they can, experts say.

Bob Pearce, 48, rented a house in Cape Coral on Oct. 15 but got a foreclosure
notice Oct. 23 — unbeknownst to him, the owner had leased the house to him
even though it was about to be taken back by the lender.
"So I started freaking out" at the prospect that he and his two children
would be without a place to live, he said. But less than two months later he had closed on a three-bedroom, two-bath house in the Cape for $40,500 with a mortgage of about $400 — less than he’d been
paying in rent.

John McWilliams of John McWilliams and Tom Buckley & Associates, who
represented Pearce in that sale, said most of the deals he handles these days
are for people buying bank-owned properties. Even short sales — in which the
bank agrees to forgive part of the seller’s debt so the transaction can go
through — pale by comparison.
"Half the Realtors will not even show a short sale" to a client because it
can be four or five months before the bank OKs the deal, he said. "That
eliminates a lot of buyers. Realtors throw their hands up in the air."
Since most non-distressed sellers either don’t want to sell or can’t because
their mortgages are too high, that leaves bank-owned houses as the major source
of sales, McWilliams said.

David Hall, president of First Community Bank of Southwest Florida, said he
checks out bank-owned sales as thoroughly as any others. "We verify the market
value whether it’s Bank of America or XYZ Co. or Mary Jane Jones."
But, he said, as a rule the bank-owned properties are priced correctly.
"Generally banks are trying to sell properties — they’re not in the
business to hold long term."The aggressive pricing by banks is a good thing, he said. "We have to work our way through these foreclosures and get them sold."

There are about 14,000 houses listed for sale in the county and 30,000
foreclosures working their way through the courts.
Meanwhile, there are few signs as yet that the flood of foreclosures is abating,
said Jeff Tumbarello, director of the real estate investment association that
puts out the statistics. "We’re in a negative feedback loop" in which foreclosures go back on the market to be sold at low prices that cause other property owners to let their own properties go, he said.

Foreclosures in Lehigh are still accelerating, Tumbarello said, although
foreclosures in Cape Coral have been falling slightly — probably because
"Cape Coral crashed first, so it should dry up first." Courtesy of the Fort
Myers News Press.

View Southwest Florida Real Estate

Lee County existing home prices drop 59 percent

The median price of an existing single-family home in Lee County fell to $94,900 in January — a 59 percent drop from a year ago and the lowest since it was $90,000 in February 1999 — according to statistics released Wednesday by the Florida Association of Realtors.In a separate report released Wednesday by the National Association of Realtors, fresh evidence emerged of a weakening housing market with U.S. sales of existing homes falling unexpectedly last month to the lowest level in nearly 12 years.
Lee County had 758 sales, an increase of 124 percent from the 338 recorded a year earlier, said the Florida release, which measures sales assisted by a Realtor.Driving both trends is a flood of homes that have been foreclosed on by lenders and put back on the market to be resold, said Brett Ellis, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Realty Group in Fort Myers.As banks sell for rock-bottom prices, buyers have stepped up, Ellis said.“I’m seeing Northern buyers buying second homes, first-home buyers coming off the fence, and long-term investors, not flippers.”The median price — half the prices lower and half higher — has fallen so sharply in part because lower-priced homes have been disproportionately foreclosed on, Ellis said. But he added don’t expect that to continue forever.“The next wave of foreclosures is the higher priced, waterfront homes,” Ellis said.Compared to December 2008, both sales and prices were down sharply in January.The number of sales was off 29 percent from December’s 1,064, and the median price was down 11 percent from December’s $106,900.But the numbers aren’t evenly distributed across the county.Cape Coral accounts for about half of the sales and Lehigh Acres another 17 percent, Ellis said.John McWilliams of John McWilliams and Tom Buckley & Associates, which has an office in Lehigh Acres, said about 85 percent of the sales there are from bank foreclosure properties.“A normal seller obviously cannot compete,” he said. “A builder can’t compete to build.”Among Lehigh residents trying to sell their house are Robert and Nancy Auer, who have had their two-bedroom, two-bath house for sale for two years. but with no success. They’re asking $234,900.“It’s one of those things we don’t have to sell,” Robert Auer said. “We’re waiting until things get better.”Until then, the Auers will keep the house up for sale, and they currently have it listed on forsalebyowner.com.The price won’t come down. “That’s what we owe on it,” Robert Auer said.Jeff Tumbarello, director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association, which tracks local foreclosures, said that with foreclosures forcing prices ever lower, “We’re in a negative feedback loop — we’re at the point that foreclosures are now begetting foreclosures.”Thirty-seven percent of foreclosures in the county are owner-occupied, and with about 2,000 filed each month, there’s no sign yet that the pace is slowing down, he said.Even though the number of sales fell from December to January, Ellis said he’s optimistic that today’s low prices will spur more sales. “I’m seeing some big numbers coming for February and March.”Nationally, sales of existing homes fell 5.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.49 million last month, from 4.74 million units in December. It was the weakest showing since July 1997 and well below the slight rise in sales that economists expected.The median sales price nationally plunged to $170,300, from $199,800 a year earlier. That was the lowest price since March 2003 and the second-largest drop on record.And home prices are expected to keep falling this year. That has whittled away Americans’ single-biggest asset and figured prominently in consumers’ decisions to cut back spending, which has sorely hurt the economy.

Home Values set for big drop

Lee County property values appear headed for a record drop of 20 percent on average - including up to 40 percent in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres - after falling 12 percent last year.
"We're still in the process of evaluating that, so I can't say exactly what's going to happen," Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said. "But I can tell you, I think values will be a minimum in the 20s down."
There are two main reasons: a record number of houses in foreclosure or headed to foreclosure being sold at discounted rates and the plummeting revenue of new construction.
There were 74 discount sales in 2007. In 2008, there were more than that a month. Wilkinson has yet to get a final number because his office is still counting them. There were none in 2006.
As for new construction, that generated $4.3 billion in 2007, he said. Then last year that dropped to $770 million.
Wilkinson's office is not required to release estimates on values until June 1, after studying market activity from the previous year, and then final values on July 1. But as the economy worsens the topic continues to come up.
Lee property values rose as recently as 2007, by 6 percent. And in 2006, values soared 40 percent - 88 percent in Lehigh Acres and 43.3 percent in Cape Coral, where investors were selling properties they had just purchased and inflating values.
But by 2007, values started dropping in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres.
In the Cape, the drop was 3.1 percent, and last year the Cape had the biggest loss of value in the county, at 26 percent. Lehigh values dropped 8 percent in 2007 and 17 percent last year.
"It was outrageous a couple of years ago when the
values went so high," said Bonnie Timberlake, executive director of the non-profit Cape Coral Housing Development Corp.
Her agency has been so busy not only handling affordable housing planning, but tending to foreclosure prevention she had to change the greeting on the office voicemail, asking callers to be patient as she and staff try to respond.
They could be getting busier.
"It's still a little early to make a prognosis, but it wouldn't surprise me" if values dropped 40 percent in Cape Coral and Lehigh, Wilkinson said.
When properties drop in value like that, governments lose millions of dollars in tax revenue. Lee is facing a $160 million shortfall next year.
And the situation is really tough for people who bought homes at the peak of the boom, in 2005 and 2006, like Cape resident Jeff Ziomek, 45, a professor at Edison State College.
"It's disappointing. You put so much hard work and energy into purchasing a home, to have the American dream," said Ziomek, whose house is worth less than half what he bought it for in 2006. "But what can you do?
Michael Reitmann, executive vice president of the Lee Building Industry Association, said the huge price increases in the Cape and Lehigh, followed by the sudden decreases, are affecting the rest of the county.
"We've been actually anticipating the decrease in value," said Reitmann, who believes the drop countywide could average 25 percent. "It's the reality we're dealing with."
Last week, Lee laid off 19 people from its building department. They are employees who make their money off building permit fees. Only nine permits were pulled last month.
The only way to get through this housing slump is to get rid of the inventory - 24,000 active condo and home listings and another 20,000 to 30,000 in the foreclosure pipeline, according to Denny Grimes and Company.
Reitmann believes the county is moving in that direction.
"I can see it getting better already," he said. Courtesy Fort Myers News-Press
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Home sales rise dramatically

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Buyers from across the nation and around the world snapped up bargain-priced homes in Lee County in December, pushing sales up 146 percent from a year ago.
Realtors assisted in the selling of 1,064 homes in Lee in December - up from 432 in December 2007 - according to the Florida Association of Realtors. Last month, 600 existing homes were sold.
The median sales price fell 50 percent to $106,900, from $215,200 in December 2007. The median price was essentially flat from November, up about $800.
For the year, 8,217 existing homes sold in Lee, up 43 percent from the 5,753 in 2007. The median price was $158,200, down 38 percent from $254,700 in 2007.
"For the past six months, it seems like every month has been better than the last," said Valerie Busic, a Realtor with Busic, Chesser & Associates.
Busic said her real estate team has helped buyers from across the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Finland.
"Right now, prices are at their lowest and people are taking advantage of that," Busic said.
Buyer Mike Dascoli, 23, of East Amherst, N.Y., recently worked with Busic to buy a foreclosed home in northeast Cape Coral as an investment property. Dascoli paid $83,000 for a home that sold for $240,600 a little more than three years ago.
"I've got it rented out and it's doing well," Dascoli said. "I will probably turn a little cash flow on it and when the market turns around, even if it is five years from now, I should be in good shape."
Busic said foreclosed homes continue to dominate the market and that's why prices are staying low.
Realtor Sheldon Beck with Amerivest Realty in Fort Myers said the brisk pace in December is notable because the month is typically a little slow due to the holidays.
"This year, there was no pause. I was working with people right through the Christmas holidays," Beck said.
Buyers come mostly from the Midwest, Northeast and Europe, Beck said.
Gary Bottari, a Realtor with Re/Max Downtown, said the sales numbers could be higher, but second-home and investment buyers are still struggling to get credit from banks.
"If you are an owner-occupied buyer, you have a good shot of getting financing at a good rate," he said. "If you are a second-home or investment buyer, it is challenging."
Bottari helped second-home buyer Nick Capaccio of Chicago find a condo at Tarpon Point.
"Anything and everything is in that market right now," Capaccio said.
Condominium sales in December increased 46 percent to 212, up from 145 in December 2007. The median condo price also fell to $147,000, down 24 percent since December 2007.
For the year, 2,011 existing condos sold in Lee, up 19 percent from the 1,684 in 2007. The median price was $192,900, down 18 percent from $234,700 in 2007.
Collier County numbers are included in a statewide report.
Statewide, existing home sales continued to rise in December as prices fell. Realtors helped sell 11,053 homes in December, a 27 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.
Nationally, sales of existing homes rose 6.5 percent to an annual rate of 4.74 million in December, from a downwardly revised pace of 4.45 million in November, the National Association of Realtors said Monday.
The nationwide median sales price plunged to $175,400, down 15.3 percent from $207,000 a year ago. That was the lowest price since May 2003 and the biggest year-over-year drop on records going back to 1968. With sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties making up about 45 percent of sales, many economists expect prices to keep falling through 2009.
-The Associated Press and the Fort Myers News Press contributed to this report.

Fort Myers, Cape Coral top Foreclosures

Area reported highest default rate in the U.S. in 2008
The Fort Myers-Cape Coral area again had the nation's highest foreclosure rate in 2008, according to statistics released Wednesday.
RealtyTrac, a national online marketplace for foreclosure properties, reported that 12 percent of the area's households received foreclosure notices including default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.
This area has so many foreclosures because "a lot of the subprime mortgages were done in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres" in recent years, and many of those have gone into foreclosure, said Michael Timmerman, a Naples-based senior associate with Fishkind & Associates, an Orlando-based economic consulting firm.
Now, he said, "We're moving into the Alt A mortgages, which had five-year readjustments" in interest rates. "People are refinancing and not able to get a new mortgage."
But home sales rose in recent months as prices fell sharply from a record high of $322,300 in December 2005 for a single-family home sold with help of a Realtor.
In November, the latest month available, that price was $106,100, less than a third of that high.
In large part that's because of a big surge in the sale of low-end homes in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres, said Steve Koffman, a real estate broker with Century 21 Sunbelt in the Cape.
He noted that in December 385 off-water homes in the Cape were sold compared to 111 in December 2007.
The Lee County courts are trying to push through a backlog of about 30,000 foreclosures and "the added supply is definitely going to hurt us" when it is back on the market, Koffman said.
Meanwhile, however, buyers are snapping up the houses faster than they can be put on the market, and 70 percent of sales are houses that have been taken back in foreclosure. Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press.

Lee County housing news still grim

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New home construction rebounded slightly in December from record lows in November, but home foreclosure filings also bounced higher to 2,304.
The flood of, on average, more than 2,100 foreclosure filings a month has saturated the real estate market with existing homes at fire-sale prices.
Builders in unincorporated Lee County pulled 28 permits for single-family houses in December, up from 14 in November but down from 35 a year ago.
In December 2006, the county issued 292 new single-family house permits.
In 2008, 482 permits were issued for single-family homes collectively valued at more than $180.5 million in unincorporated Lee County.
In contrast, 17,833 single-family permits were issued in unincorporated Lee, Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs in 2005.
Cape Coral's total of seven single-family permits in December 2008 tied a record low in September.
Fort Myers reported 14 single-family home permits and Sanibel had one, while Fort Myers Beach had none. Totals from Bonita Springs were not available.
December is typically a slow month for permits due to the holidays, said Mary Gibbs, director of community development for Lee County.
"Usually the first of the year is a little busier, so we hope that construction will be picking up a little bit," Gibbs said.
Bob Knight, vice president/partner in Cape Coral-based Paul Homes and past president of the Lee Building Industry Association, said northern residents are showing renewed interest in building in Southwest Florida.
"The confidence level isn't quite there yet, but they are starting to understand that lot prices are very good and construction prices are very good," Knight said.
People also are realizing that the low fuel prices that have translated to lower prices on building supplies won't last forever, Knight said.
"They know it isn't going to end in four weeks, but it probably isn't going to last another year, either," he said.
Despite the number of foreclosure bargains, Knight said a number of buyers are looking for new homes that meet their needs without remodeling.
The 2,304 foreclosure filings in December were up from 1,775 in November, but down from the record of 2,665 in October, according to data compiled by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association.
"I think you are seeing banks cleaning up their balance sheets for the end of the year," association president Jeff Tumbarello said. On Dec. 31 alone, 169 foreclosures were filed, he said.
The end-of-the-year effort may have obscured what the trend may be for foreclosures, he said.
"In January, we will find out what the situation really is," Tumbarello said.
For the year, about 26,000 foreclosures were filed.
For permits, the 2008 annual total of 482 single-family permits in unincorporated Lee County compares to 2,243 permits issued in 2007.
Also in 2008, permits were issued for 230 duplex and apartment units - including four in December - compared to 1,386 in 2007.
Commercial permitting was valued at $862,024 in December and more than $81.8 million for all of 2008. In 2007, commercial permitting was valued at $491.4 million, due mostly to $318.6 million in permits issued in June 2007 - the deadline to avoid higher road impact fees.
During 2008, Lee County issued a total of 13,669 building permits of all kinds, which were valued at more than $593.4 million. In 2007, there were 22,374 valued at $1.9 billion. Courtesy Fort Myers News-Press.