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.

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