Views mixed in 2010 about seasonal home sales slump

Sue and Jim Fain of Ocean City, Md., vacationed in Lee County for the first time this winter season. This month the Ocean City, Md., couple will close on a 27-story-high condo overlooking the rier at St. Tropez downtown.


"It's something reasonable, and something we like on the river," Jim Fain, 63, said about the short sale originally listed at $299,000. The couple plans to live in the apartment six months a year.

Homebuying season is under way around the country. Here in Lee County, spring and summer traditionally means a slight slowdown, local agents said.

Yet price-reduced real estate like the high-rise condo the Fains are buying, combined with low interest rates and tax incentives, could keep sales hopping, agents said.

"In the market right now we are going to find people buying year-round, to take advantage of these historically low prices," said Valarie Tillman, a real estate broker for 11 years with an office on McGregor Boulevard. "I always stay busy in the summer."

In Northern states, homes are easier to market with green grass and flowers, versus brown patches or snow-covered driveways.

In Fort Myers spring means winter vacationers who may have considered buying homes head north.

After months perusing properties, looking for the perfect buy, some vacationers leave without a home. Others, Tillman said, will pull the trigger in the summer.

"I do have a lot of people who come back in the summer and buy," she said.

May is traditionally a big month for buying, said agent Gregg Fous of Market America Realty & Investments Inc. in Fort Myers.

"The buyers make their decision before they go home for the season," said Fous, whose agency sold the Fains their new home.

Many are waiting to see what May brings. There were 1,451 existing single-family homes sold in Lee in May 2009, up double from 2008. The numbers stayed steady through last summer due to foreclosures and the first-time homebuyer tax credit.

Fous expects a decline this summer, but not substantial.

"We are very optimistic about the rest of this year, interest rates are still very low and people are worried interest rates will be going up," Fous said.

Families moving to a single-family home still prefer to move in the summer while school is out, a trend long seen around the country.

Tillman said fewer locales are moving within the county.

"You have to sell your house in order to get in the new one you want, and you have to take a loss, and they don't want to do that," Tillman said.

In Bonita Springs, Alan Cods deals exclusively with second-home buyers.

"I don't know what the summer is going to bring. July and August is when the Germans come in, but the Germans aren't doing well right now," Cods said.

He said that as banks clear out their foreclosure inventory, the area could see another wave as banks begin to foreclose on the properties they have been slow to take over.

Until then, he's not optimistic about the summer season for second-home buyers in his area.

"Last year we just shut down for July and August and went to Connecticut," Cods said. "I don't think it is going to be much better this year."

Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press

Speedy short sales sought

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Selling your house if you owe more than it's worth just got a lot easier if a plan launched by the Obama administration works out.

The new rules could also help reduce the glut of unsold houses that's accumulated since the housing market collapsed in late 2005.

That's what some Southwest Florida real estate professionals were saying Monday as they sorted through the details of the new regulations.

Reforms could speed up a lot of transactions in Lee County, one of the nation's hardest hit economies in the aftermath of the housing market collapse that happened at the end of 2005. About 20 percent of home sales in the county have been short - 214 out of 1,113 in February, the latest month available.

Successful short sales also prevent foreclosures, since many underwater homeowners go that route if they can't sell. There are about 23,000 foreclosure lawsuits backlogged in the county's court system.

The administration will give $3,000 for moving expenses to homeowners who complete such a sale or agree to turn over the deed of the property to the lender. It's designed for homeowners who are in financial trouble but don't qualify for the administration's $75 billion mortgage modification program.

However, there are plenty of restrictions. To qualify, the home needs to be a borrower's primary residence. Homeowners either have to be behind on their mortgages or on the verge of becoming delinquent.

Owners will still lose their homes, but a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure doesn't hurt a borrower's credit score for as much time as a foreclosure.

For lenders, a home usually fetches more money in a short sale than a foreclosure. And the bank avoids expensive legal bills, cleanup fees and maintenance costs that follow a foreclosure.

Will the new plan actually result in faster, less frustrating short sales?

There's a lot there to make it easier for all concerned, said Kevin Jursinski, a Fort Myers-based attorney who handles short sales as well as foreclosures - the less friendly alternative to a short sale. Article courtesy of Fort Myers News Press.