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.