Fort Myers Area - Lee County- Home Sales Level Off.




Lee County's residential real estate market stayed flat in November as paperwork issues with foreclosed houses caused caution by buyers and banks alike.
Prices and the number of sales for existing single-family homes were almost unchanged from October, according to statistics released Wednesday by Florida Realtors.


A separate report released Wednesday by the National Association of Realtors showed that more people bought existing homes in November, the third increase in four months after the worst summer season in more than a decade.

In Lee County, the median price for homes sold with the help of a Realtor was $89,800 in November, down only $200 from October's $90,000. There were 1,022 single-family sales, a mere six more than in October.

Compared to a year earlier, both prices and the number of sales were down: 33 percent off the 1,530 sales in November 2009 and 6 percent off the $95,100 median price.

Steve Koffman, a real estate broker with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral, said the low numbers in November weren't surprising.

"We came off at a pretty slow summer and it lagged into the fall," he said. "Obviously the numbers were not great."

That was due in part to concerns by buyers that there could be problems with having clear title to houses bought from lenders that had taken them back in foreclosure, Koffman said.

"That's going to linger for another month or two" but is slowly dissipating, he said. "The last couple weeks we've seen a definite increase."

Banks are still pulling some houses off the market at least temporarily because of issues related to how the foreclosures were handled, Koffman said, but the homes will all be sold eventually.

"They'll come on the market, we'll sell them, the banks will take their lumps and we'll move on," he said.

Nationally, buyers bought homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.68 million, the National Association of Realtors report said. Even with the rise, this year is shaping up to be the worst for home sales since 1997.

The median price of a home sold in November was $170,600.

The housing market is still struggling to recover from a boom-bust cycle that helped trigger a severe economic recession. Home prices have tumbled in most markets and many potential buyers worry that prices could fall further.

Sales were up in all regions of the country in November led by an 11.7 percent rise in the West. Sales were up 6.4 percent in the Midwest, 2.9 percent in the South and 2.7 percent in the Northeast.

The November increase was driven by a 6.7 percent rise in sales of single-family homes which pushed activity in this area to an annual rate of 4.15 million units. Sales of condominiums dropped 1.9 percent to a rate of 530,000 units.

The sales gain pushed the inventory of unsold homes down to 3.71 million units at the end of November, representing a 9.5 months supply at the November sales pace. That is still above the six to seven months supply that is typical for a healthy housing market. Courtesy Fort Myers News Press.
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Cape Coral-Fort Myers economy second worst in the country

The Cape Coral-Fort Myers economy was second worst in the country, according to a survey released Wednesday - but there are some tentative signs that things might be turning around.
According to the Washington-based private, nonprofit Brookings Institution, among the top 100 metro areas, Cape Coral Fort Myers:


- Was dead last in change in gross metropolitan product from the peak in the third quarter of 2006: down 15.5 percent.

- Had the highest percentage of homes taken back in foreclosure by lenders: 21.02 per 1,000 mortgageable properties.

- Fared worse overall than any metro area except Boise, Idaho (Augusta, Ga., was best).

This area's bad rating was due in part to a stark 8 percent increase in unemployment in the past four years, but Barbara Hartman, spokeswoman for Southwest Florida Works in Fort Myers, said there's been a slow, fitful recovery in recent months.

Unemployment peaked at a record 14.2 percent in January, she said, but it's slowly decreased since then. October, the last month available, had a 12.9 percent rate.

The jobs lost here were a result of the home-building crash that followed the implosion of prices in 2006, Hartman said. "The bottom fell out. That affected every other industry."

But now the jobs picture isn't all bleak, she said. "The main industry sector keeping us afloat is health/education, mainly medical. Anything medically related like registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists."

There have also been signs recently that the leisure and hospitality industry has been starting to come back, too, she added, and small businesses are hiring more.

Dr. Michael Collins, a Fort Myers-based eye surgeon who's moving into a larger building this month to keep up with an increase in business, said his field is staying strong because "People still have eye problems, still have health problems. Without your health, what do you have?"

As for the big numbers of bank-owned foreclosure properties, there are two ways to look at that, said Jeff Tumbarello, a real estate agent with Steelbridge Realty and director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association.

Because of the resulting low home prices, he noted, this is one of the most affordable places in the country to buy a house. "You can buy a house in either Cape Coral or Lehigh Acres if you make $30,000.

Bank-owned homes make up about 40 percent of sales nowadays, with short sales at 15 percent and conventional sales 45 percent, Tumbarello said.

Ironically, he said, the area was seen as having a healthy economy when the boom was inflating prices to an unsustainable level and now "Everybody is hammering a sustainable market." Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press.
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Fort Myers-Oasis Condo sales a sign

Tropical music blared from speakers as people in ball caps and button-downs clutched coffee and studied numbers on pages in their auction packets.


Lamar Fisher, of Pompano Beach-based Fisher Auction Co., took the stage and explained the rules for the day: Hold the auction card high to bid, be prepared to put $10,000 down on a win and remember that transactions for Oasis condominiums are cash-only.


He told attendees that high bidders would get first choice on units at the downtown Fort Myers high-rise development, which prior to the auction was occupied by a sole resident.

"To be the high bidder, get into the bidding game," Fisher said.

The day before the auction, unit 2601 at Oasis sold for $300,000 and 1101 went for $242,000, so those condos would no longer be up for bid, Fisher told the crowd.

After explaining protocol, the auctioneer broke into about a minute-long sample auction round, skimming over syllables at a rip-roaring pace. The music - this time a pumping Fergie song - returned during a brief break, a final chance to ask questions to auction workers roaming the aisles. The song's opening lyrics advised people with no money to go home.

It turned out to be a little too literal.

When the room fell silent again, the bidding began at warp speed. A woman on the right side of the room threw her hands in the air and cheered when she won the first condo for $260,000. "Unbelievable!" a man in a suit called out to the crowd as he approached the woman with paperwork and fellow workers whisked her away.

After the first 40 units sold absolute, officials cut the auction short. Winning bids that fell to the mid $100,000s were presumably too low for the developer.

Though some bidders left with unprecedented deals, others attended the Harborside Event Center auction as a way to gauge the market.

"I'm just here seeing what goes on," said Colin Hall, 78, who lives in Toronto, Canada, part-time, spends the winters in North Port and is planning to purchase investment property in Southwest Florida. "I'm getting an idea of where the prices are compared to the spring when I was down here."
Kevin Mulhearn, a broker with Amerivest Realty in Fort Myers, strolled through the parking lot as the event was under way. He said he stopped by to learn more about auctions and to see how the highly publicized event would play out.
Whether it's a packed ballroom with hundreds of people bidding on luxury units or a handful of potential buyers gathered at a home, real estate auctions in today's market are highly unpredictable.


In March, auctioneer Daniel DeCaro, of Naples-based DeCaro Auctions, which specializes in luxury properties, sold WCI Communities founder Al Hoffman's Gulf Harbour mansion to an AC/DC bassist for $5.12 million, just before its scheduled auction.

From 2002 to 2006, nearly all of DeCaro's properties sold before they hit the auction block. Today, the pre-auction sale is a little less common, he said.

"There appear to be a lot of buyers but the buyers are no longer willing to allow the sellers to dictate price," DeCaro said. "They allow competition or competitive bidding to dictate price."

DeCaro said he expects auctions - which sold approximately $17.1 billion in residential real estate in 2008, according to the latest statistics from the National Association of Realtors - to become even more prevalent in the future. With a 39.2 percent increase from 2003 to 2008, residential real estate is the fastest growing auction sector.

"As we see this market evolve, more and more people are turning to using auctions in conjunction with their real estate firms," DeCaro said. "Rather than a thousand listings, it's one of one because it's the only one at auction. It allows the seller to monopolize the market for a period of time."

Bruce Scott, of Bruce Scott Auctions & Real Estate in North Fort Myers, sold six homes at auction this year, all to end users who were present. For every 25 or 30 homes he considers for auction, maybe one or two will be a good candidate, Scott said.

"I've probably turned more auctions down in the last year, year and a half, than in the 30 years I've been doing this," said the Lee County native.

Scott doesn't make a commission unless he closes a transaction at auction and some people have so little equity and are so underwater that selling a home at auction for the price it would take to cover the mortgage is practically hopeless, he said. Article courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press.
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Fort Myers Area foreclosures down sharply in November

Lenders filed 343 mortgage foreclosures in November in Lee County courts — less than a quarter of the 1.404 recorded a year earlier, according to statistics released today by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association.