The median price of a home in the Fort Myers area leaped 20% in November a year ago. Existing home sales fell 13 % during the same period.

A main reason for both results is there are fewer foreclosures and other distressed sales coming on the market, and fewer fire sales, say real estate experts in Southwest Florida.
“Inventory is declining as we’re chewing up these short sales and foreclosures,” said Steve Koffman, a broker associate with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral. “The driving force for our buyers was the fact that it was bargain pricing. Everything under 100,000 is basically getting fought over, and as you get to the higher price level, a little of the steam is being let off the market.”
Median home prices rose to $106,300 in November compared with $88,500 a year ago, according to figures released Wednesday by Florida Realtors. And that followed a strong October: The median sales price was $102,100, a 15 percent rise over $89,100 in October 2010. There are no similar numbers available for Collier County.
The number of sales dropped in November to 868 versus 1,003 in November 2010.
But Brett Ellis, a partner with The Ellis Team at Remax Realty Group in Fort Myers, said that decline is nothing to be alarmed about and agreed with Koffman about the drop-off.
“It’s because we don’t have those bargain-basement prices, and with those going away that means less transactions,” he said. “I’d rather see a healthy market and more balanced market with prices and transactions.”
Ellis said there are fewer distressed sales, but also less of what he calls priced-right inventory.
Many homeowners who want to sell their homes are either pricing them too high or simply holding on, waiting for better times.
“A lot of people are upside down, and they don’t want to sell short, and they just don’t like today’s prices,” Ellis said. Short sales are when the lender allows the home to be sold for less than what’s owed on the property.
“I think we’re in for a pretty good season, because the buyers are here a little earlier this year,” said Ellis at Remax. “The question is do we have enough to sell and enough priced-right to sell.”
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Lee County Florida Prices Up Again

Lee County (Fort Myers Area) home prices  have been down so long, it looks like “up” to us now where housing prices are concerned.

Local housing numbers were the opposite of the state as a whole, and the long, painful housing slide here is to blame.

In October, the median price of an existing single-family home was up 15 percent from a year earlier, rising from $89,100 to $102,100, according to statistics released Monday by Florida Realtors. The number of sales fell 6 percent from 1,002 to 938.

Florida as a whole, however, saw a 4 percent fall in prices from $136,600 to $131,200 while the number of sales soared 13 percent from 12,145 to 13,7355.

Of 19 metropolitan areas in the state, Tallahassee was the only other place to see sales fall.

“Prices had dropped so far over there (Southwest Florida),” said Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach-based real estate consultant who tracks home markets on both coasts of Florida. “Prices overshot and then overcorrected, rising more than the other markets in Florida. It’s not surprising to see it come up some. You might say it was tremendously undervalued.”

Meanwhile, in a separate report also released Monday by the National Association of Realtors, home sales rose 1.4 percent nationally last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million.

That's below the 6 million that economists say is consistent with a healthy housing market and slightly ahead of last year's sales — the worst in 13 years.

In most of Florida, distressed real estate sales are rising even as they’ve fallen steadily in Lee. There were 440 in October compared to 1,156 in October 2010, according to the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.

On the demand side, “What it feels like is that everybody locally who can afford a house has bought one,” said Steve Koffman, a broker associate with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral.

But, he said, “We’ve still got a lot of investors in the market” because they can buy a house for $80,000, rent it out for $850 a month and “hold it until it’s worth more.”

Brett Ellis, head of The Ellis Team with Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers, said it’s hard to read the numbers and predict what’s going to happen next.

“I can’t decide if it’s ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ or ‘trick or treat,’ ” he said, noting that the inventory of unsold single-family homes in the county has increased slightly recently and is now about 7,600.

One problem is that tough federal regulations make it hard for people to finance a home purchase, although investors are still going strong, Ellis said.

There won’t be a shortage of foreclosed homes coming back on the market next year, he said. “I’ve got too many banks telling me there’s more coming.”

The statewide results of Florida Realtors include the Naples Area Board of Realtors, but the board doesn’t allow those figures to be made public.

In a separate report, the board said it showed 507 sales in October 2011 compared to 471 a year earlier. Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press.
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Mortgage Relief?

Courtesy of the Fort Myers News-Press
Southwest Florida foreclosure experts say a program rolled out Monday by President Barack Obama offers a ray of hope to people still paying on mortgages worth more than their homes.

But they were also wary of the new plan because earlier federal efforts to help homeowners fizzled out.

Obama outlined the new initiative in a speech in Las Vegas, the metro area in the nation hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.

“I’m here to say that we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” the president declared outside a family home in Las Vegas, the epicenter of foreclosures and joblessness. “Where they won’t act, I will.”

The new rules remove the requirement in existing federal programs that the mortgage could be no more than 125 percent of the home’s value.

Wilda Acosta-Mesa of Lehigh Acres said she’d love to take advantage of the program so she can stay in the house she bought in 2008 for $95,500.

“I owe more than my house is worth, and would be interested in refinancing,” Acosta-Mesa said, but she hasn’t been able to get her lender to cooperate.

“This is something they should have done a few years ago,” said Gary Tice, president and CEO of Naples-based First National Bank of the Gulf Coast. “I think it’s a great help to the economy. It’s an outstanding maneuver.”
But the issue is how many will be helped, others said.

“I honestly think a very small percentage of the people are going to make use of it,” said Jeff Tumbarello, director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.

“On the bigger scale it probably doesn’t mean much,” he said, although some families likely will benefit.

Tumbarello noted that in Lee County the damage has already been done: 74,000 foreclosures since the boom ended in 2006.

Eddie Felton, executive director of the private, nonprofit Home Ownership Resource Center, said the new initiative is “an excellent program”— but only if it’s actually implemented. “They have to make sure that the banks are going to participate.”

Earlier mortgage assistance programs failed because some banks refused to participate, he said.

Still, Felton said, anything the new program can offer will be welcome. “We are in desperate need for any kind of assistance. The foreclosure situation is not getting any better.”

Tom Ray, president and CEO of Naples-based Encore National Bank, said, “I’m glad we have a program out for people making their payments” but that “I don’t know what the economic effects are. I’m not sure that helps create jobs.”

He also questioned who’d buy the mortgage-backed bonds created by the new program, “even if it is guaranteed by the government.”

Although the notes may be guaranteed, Ray said, companies servicing the mortgages might be concerned about the added costs of dealing with a mortgage gone bad if the program doesn’t work out for a homeowner in the long run

Fort Myers area homes prices fall. Sales up.

Article courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press.
The median price of existing homes sold in Lee County in August fell 3.5 percent to $103,200 from July while the number of homes sold rose 2 percent to 1,122, according to statistics released today by Florida Realtors.

Statewide, the median price increased less than 1 percent to $137,500 and the number of sales increased 4.4 percent to 16,206.

The Naples Area Board of Realtors submits its numbers to Florida Realtors but doesn’t allow them to be published, although the Collier County total is included in the statewide statistics.

Florida Realtors figures include only houses sold with the assistance of a Realtor.

In a separate report also released today, the National Association of Realtors reported that the number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes rose in August. But sales were driven by an increase in foreclosures, a sign that home prices could fall further next year and slow a housing recovery.

Home sales rose 7.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.03 million homes, according to the association. That's below the 6 million that economists say is consistent with a healthy housing market.

Last month's pace was slightly ahead of the 4.91 million sold in 2010, the worst sales level in 13 years.

Homes at risk of foreclosure made up 31 percent of sales. That's up from 29 percent in July. Many are being bought by investors.

At the same time, activity among first-time buyers, who are critical to reviving the housing market, didn't budge. First-time buyers made up only 32 percent of sales, matching the July level. They normally make up 50 percent of home sales in healthy markets.

The median sales price dropped roughly to $168,300 in August from July. A key reason was the rise in foreclosures and short sales — when a lender accepts less than what is owed on the mortgage. Those homes sell at an average discount of 20 percent. Search Greater Fort Myers Real Estate

Fort Myers area Foreclosures steady. Permits rise

Fort Myers area foreclosures steady.
Single-family-home permits pulled by builders in Lee County increased slightly to 100 in August — but developers said it’s still tough to sell houses these days.

Lee County and the city of Cape Coral on Thursday both reported increased numbers of permits pulled by builders in August for single-family homes.

In the county, contractors pulled 37 permits compared to 29 in July and 17 in August 2010, according to a release by the county Department of Community Development.
Cape Coral reported 28, up from 17 in August and 18 in July.

Fort Myers reported 22 permits, down from 34 in July but up from 20 in August 2010.
Meanwhile, the number of foreclosures rose to 505 from 438 in July, but that’s down sharply from August 2010’s 834, according to a report released Thursday by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association.

August’s number is in the range that foreclosures have been in for the past few months, said association director Jeff Tumbarello.

“I really think we’re at a point where this is the new normal,” he said, noting that before the boom that ended in 2005 and the subsequent crash, the county averaged 200 to 300 foreclosures a month.

Although permits were slightly higher, there still aren’t enough to sustain a healthy residential construction industry, said David Kraizgrun, general manager of Fort Myers-based Pinnacle Development, which is developing the Cascades at River Hall community off State Road 80 east of Fort Myers.
Pinnacle has sold only seven homes since buying the project from Bank of America in April 2010 after original builder Levitt & Sons went bankrupt.

But he doesn’t intend to sacrifice quality or price for short-run sales, Kraizgrun said.
As more people move into the county, the glut of homes inevitably will dry up and prices will pop back up, he said.

At that point, the county likely would return to a normal 200 to 300 home permits a month, Kraizgrun said.

“I think the future’s bright,” he said. “I think we just need to get the confidence back.” Courtesy of Fort Myers News Press.

Fort Myers Area Home and Condo Prices Rise

Sales for existing homes and condominiums in Lee County dipped year-over-year in June, but median sales prices for both have seen a boost.

According to a report released today by Florida Realtors, the median sales price for a home sold with the help of a Realtor was $117,100 up 21 percent from the $96,600 it was set at for the same month a year ago. It’s also up month over month. In May the median homes sales price was $114,900.

The median sales price for condos also peaked at $149,100 in June up 13 percent from $131,400 –– the median sales price for the same month a year ago.

Nationwide, fewer people bought previously occupied homes in June, putting this year on pace to be the worst for sales since the housing bust.

Home sales fell 0.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said today.

That’s far below the 6 million homes per year that economists say represents a healthy housing market.

June’s decrease was the third straight monthly decline in sales. Through the first six months of this year, the sales pace is behind last year’s 4.91 million homes sold — the weakest sales in 13 years. Sales have fallen in four of the past five years.

The Realtors’ group said a record number of people who signed contracts canceled deals last month. And first-time buyers fell to a smaller share of the market.

–– The Associated Press contributed to this report -Search Fort Myers Real Estate

Drop in Fort Myers Area Real Estate Prices less than expected

The news that property value in unincorporated Lee County, Bonita Springs and Cape Coral dropped less than expected is a small gleam of light in an otherwise bleak landscape, officials said Friday.

The total taxable value of Lee County property fell almost 3.5 percent to $53.6 billion, according to final numbers released Friday by Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson.
The estimate 30 days earlier was a bigger drop of 5.3 percent, to $52.5 billion in value.
The almost 2 percent improvement over estimates means an additional $1 million in revenue to the county.

The cities of Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Sanibel and the Town of Fort Myers Beach all saw improvements.

“That’s certainly encouraging news,” said Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, in terms of the county, school board, municipalities and fire districts’ abilities to meet the core level of services for the community.

“It still doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s going to be some deep budget cuts,” Judah said, referring to the $17.5 million reduction in operational expenses proposed for the 2011-12 county budget.
“We’re continuing to evaluate where additional cuts can be made, but in terms of the revenue side, it’s not as dramatic a hit as we had anticipated with the (estimated) over 5 percent reduction in tax base,” Judah said.

Commission Chairman Frank Mann was surprised that the drop in value was almost 2 percent less than estimated.

“Normally the difference between his tentative and final roll are barely 1 percent in my recollection in previous years,” Mann said, referring to Wilkinson’s estimates. “This is a fairly dramatic difference.”

Even though the county will have about $1 million more in revenue, it still has a $40 million deficit, Mann said.

“All this means to me is that the revenue picture is still very bleak, but not quite as bleak as we thought a month ago,” Mann said.

The picture is still far better than the past two years, when property in the county dropped 14 percent and 22.7 percent in value, respectively.  Courtesy of Fort Myers News-Press

Greater Fort Myers Area Real Estate Prices Remain Stable

Shadow Foreclosures are not taken into account in this article.

Buyers of vacation and retirement homes continued buying briskly in the greater Fort Myers area as May’s median price for an existing home stayed well above the rock-bottom levels of last year.

According to a report released today by Florida Realtors, the median price of a single-family home sold with the help of a Realtor was $114,900 in May, up 19 percent from $96,900 in May 2010.

But May’s price was down 3 percent from $118,900 in April.

There were 1,338 single-family sales in May, down 8 percent from May 2010’s 1,460 and down 12 percent from April’s 1,520.

In a separate report released today by the National Association of Realtors, home sales nationally sank 3.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.81 million homes. That’s far below the roughly 6 million annual sales rate typical in healthy housing markets

Nationally, one sign of the housing industry’s struggles is that fewer first-time buyers are entering the market. The number of first-timers ticked down to 35 percent of sales last month. In healthy times, they drive about half of sales.

That’s also true in Lee County, said Fiona Finn, a real estate agent with Sandals Realty SWFL in south Fort Myers.

But, she said, “I’m also seeing a lot of second homebuyers. The ones coming down in the summer months seem to be the ones looking for the greatest deal.”

A lot of buyers are locking in today’s low prices as
they look down the road to retirement, she said: buying a lot to build on later or buying a house they can rent out to defray costs until they can come here permanently.

Denny Grimes of Denny Grimes & Co. at Royal Shell in Fort Myers said there are would-be first-time homebuyers, but only a trickle of them can meet today’s tough requirements to get a mortgage.

That limits the first-timers to “the ones who are squeaky clean and financeable,” a rarity because many have credit issues already with cars and boats.

Suzanne Sherer of Remax Realty Team said there isn’t much left in the way of low-end homes that typically are purchased by first-time buyers.

“Just six months ago we had a lot of entry-level condominiums for $30,000 to $40,000,” she said. “It’s just disappearing.”

Nationally, since the housing boom went bust in 2006, sales have fallen in four of the past five years.

Analysts say they expect sales to level off at about 5 million a year.

That’s not much better than the 4.91 million homes sold last year, the worst showing in 13 years.
Article courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press
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Foreclosures in Lee County Florida Decline

Foreclosures in Lee County in May continued the slow decline that started two years ago after the housing collapse sparked a huge runup, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association.

There were 345 filed in county courts in May compared to 375 in April and 847 in May 2010.

Foreclosures spiked sharply after Southwest Florida's housing bubble burst at the end of 2005. The all-time high month for foreclosures was October 2008 with 2,665.

Meanwhile, the number of properties with titles transferred after public courthouse auctions was 774 in May - more than twice the number of foreclosures filed.

That was a sharp increase in titles transferred from April, with only 535. Article courtesy of Fort Myers News Press.
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Pros dismiss Fort Myers area home price surge

The existing-home median price in the greater Fort Myers area surged to a two-year high of $118,900 - up 17 percent from $101,900 in March, according to statistics released Thursday by Florida Realtors.

But real estate authorities said the sharp increase likely was caused mostly by the changing market for bank-owned foreclosure homes, not an actual 17 percent increase in value.

April's median was the highest since October 2008, when it was $139,000.

The median reached an all-time high of $322,300 in December 2005 at the height of the real estate boom. The price fell sharply after that and has been bumping along in the $100,000 range for more than two years.

Meanwhile, in a separate report also issued Thursday, sales of previously occupied homes fell 0.8 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million units, the National Association of Realtors said. That's far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represent a healthy market.

In Lee County, "the real reason it's going up so much is that the low end, the foreclosure market, that spigot has been cut off. The low end is not coming on the market and buyers have to substitute higher-priced properties," said Denny Grimes, president of Denny Grimes & Co. at Royal Shell in Fort Myers.

Brett Ellis, head of The Ellis Team with Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers, noted that only 45 percent of sales now are distressed properties - those taken back by lenders in foreclosure or short sales in which the bank gives up part of its debt so the house can be sold at market value.

Until recently, Ellis said, nondistressed sales had been in the minority as foreclosures flooded back onto the market.

But now competition by investors has soaked up most of the inexpensive homes, Ellis said.

"Anything under $100,000 is hard to come by," he said.

Michael Polly, Royal Shell's vice president of real estate operations in Fort Myers, said foreclosures have slowed down starting in November because of concerns about improper paperwork by attorneys. Courtesy of Fort Myers News Press
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Advantage in sprucing up home decor for sellers

Some local staging companies are reporting a spike in business this year. It's likely the result of a growing optimism in the market, said Ann Waters, owner of Naples Home Staging.

"Now that things are moving, people are starting to see - especially in the vacant homes - that it might be worth putting rental furniture in for three months. They have a hope of selling it," Waters said. "I had people before who said, 'I don't want to put anything in it. It's not going to sell anyway.'"

Waters - who has been furnishing, decorating and coaching sellers on how to make their homes more visually appealing for the past five years - said she saw more clients from January through March of this year than she did the second half of 2010.

Closing the deal

For some sellers, staging seems to work - and quickly.

"Sometimes we can't even finish staging a house before it's sold and these properties have been on the market for years," said Hanna Wynn Roppo, owner of Artful Staging Solutions in Naples, who estimated her business has increased by about 50 percent in the past year.

Unit O-1 in the Indies West condominiums, located at 2258 Gulf Shore Blvd. N. in Naples, hit the market last July. Wynn Roppo brought furniture and accessories into the home Feb. 11, and buyers submitted an offer two days later. It sold for $678,000 in March, according to property records.

"I think it made a big difference," seller Polly Higgins of Naples said of the staging.

Waters also has helped agents and sellers with speedy sales, including staging a vacant residence, at 154 Fourth Ave. N. in Naples, in January.

The home featured an odd floor plan with long, narrow lanai areas that had been converted to indoor rooms, said Mary Naylor, an agent with John R. Wood Realtors in Naples.

"People had a very difficult time envisioning how they would use the spaces," Naylor said. "The comments were negative in terms of the layout. After we had it (staging) done, it was like a miracle. We didn't hear it anymore." Article Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Pre

WCI establishes real estate app

When Canadians Martin and Sheila Kleiman want to see progress on the home they’re building at Pelican Preserve, they’ll just tap a button on their free iPad.

The couple will know when construction workers pour slabs of concrete, and they’ll view photos when the frames go up at their two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot Fort Myers home — all from their summer residence in Ottawa.

The Kleimans are using the newly launched MyWCi application to stay up-to-date on the construction process and to learn about happenings at Pelican Preserve. The app is loaded on free iPads WCI Communities is giving to those who purchase a new home in four developments in which it’s building residences.

Many real estate firms are launching applications and new technologies, but WCI may be among the first builders to introduce its own application and give away tablet computers.

Buyers at Pelican Preserve received the iPads as part of a pilot program in February. Now, clients building homes at Tiburon in Naples, Manchester Square in Naples and Venetian Golf & River Club in Venice also are receiving the iPads as gifts.

Homes in the communities range from the low $200,000s to $300,000s, save for Tiburon, where prices begin at about $700,000.

The Bonita Springs-based builder is working with the Apple store at Coconut Point in Estero to get more recently released iPad 2s to fulfill its backlog. When supply catches up to demand, the company estimates it will have given away between 60 and 80 of the portable devices, said Connie Boyd, vice president of communication and public relations for WCI. Retail price for iPad 2s begins at about $500.00. Courtesy of News Press. Search Fort Myers Real Estate.

Fort Myers Real Estate Resales Increase

Home resales increased 6.2 percent in the Fort Myers area market in March.

Members of the Realtors Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach Inc. reported 1,556 single-family home sales last month. That was up more than 31 percent from the resales made in February 2011.

The median price — the price at which half the homes sell for more and half for less — increased slightly to $92,816 in March, up from $92,000 in February and $90,000 a year ago.

Pending home sales, or new contracts, also jumped last month. There were 3,660 contracts written in March, up from 2,603 in the same month a year ago.

Combined, foreclosure and short sales — sales made for less than the bank is owed to avoid foreclosure — continue to comprise the bulk of the market. But traditional sales saw a gain last month and made up more than 45 percent of the total market.

The statistics reflect home sales made with the help of a Realtor through the Realtor association’s multiple listing service, or MLS. Search Fort Myers Real Estate

Home sales strong in Cape Coral Florida

Homes are selling in Cape Coral.

Inventory for single-family homes is down more than 4,300 homes compared to four years ago, said Paula Hellenbrand, past president of the Cape Coral Association of Realtors.

In fact, there aren’t enough homes to keep up with interested buyers.

“We have made a major impact on the market,” said Hellenbrand, who also is the broker/owner of Encore! Realty Services. “It’s all about supply and demand. There is a higher demand and lower supply ... The market is fantastic, it’s the best it’s been in five years.”

Steve Koffman, a broker and Realtor with Century 21 Sunbelt, believes the lower inventory is partly due to banks having pulled 22 percent of foreclosed homes off the market in the fall to go back through the process and ensure all procedures were followed correctly.

He said the question is whether those homes will be placed back on the market all at once, or if they’ll trickle in a few at a time. Either way, business in the Cape has been good, he said.

Koffman’s Century 21 team was ranked third in the country and first in Florida last year for sales within the company. Over the past few weeks, his agents have sold three million-dollar homes. Normally, only one sells each month in all of Cape Coral, he said.

“There are definitely a lot of people looking for homes right now,” Koffman said. “... Price is driving everything ... Foreclosures are selling twice as fast as regular home sales.”

About 60 percent of homes that have been selling recently are foreclosures and short sales, Koffman said.

But that doesn’t mean other homes aren’t selling, too. Hellenbrand said it’s definitely a seller’s market on the lower end of the price spectrum and that well-priced listings are selling quickly.

The market of homes priced under $150,000 is strongest right now. And the market moving up toward $250,000 also is strong, but not as strong, she said. Homes priced in the $250,000 to $500,000 range have about five to six months of inventory, Hellenbrand said, while homes from $500,000 to $1 million have more inventory that there is demand. Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press. Search Fort Myers Real Estate

Real Estate Sales Fall

The National Association of Realtors said sales of previously occupied homes fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million. That’s down 9.6 percent from 5.4 million in January. The pace is far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represents a healthy market.

The weak sales and rise in foreclosures pushed home prices down to their lowest national level in nearly 9 years.

Statewide, Florida’s median price was down 2 percent from $124,500 to 121,900 and the number of sales was up 13 percent from 12,164 to 13,701, according to the Florida Realtors report.
Search Fort Myers Real Estate

Foreclosure Courts Stuck

The collapse of a prominent South Florida mortgage foreclosure law firm under investigation by the state is tying up about 7,400 mortgage foreclosure cases in Southwest Florida and court officials don't know what to do.

David J. Stern of Plantation sent a letter of withdrawal Friday to the state's 20 chief judges and included a packet of the case numbers, plaintiffs and defendants in the thousands of cases on which his firm was most recent attorney of record.

That number is 4,455 in Lee, 1,686 in Collier and around 1,260 in the rest of the circuit - Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Because of financial constraints, he told the judges he is no longer handling foreclosure matters in Florida as of March 31.

The number totals about 100,000 statewide.

"It's just unprecedented - just like this whole avalanche of cases," said the 20th Judicial Circuit's chief judge, G. Keith Cary. "We've got a problem on our hands."

In the letter, Stern wrote the banks he represented - including Citi, GMAC, Bank of America and other large institutions - fired him last fall and took many of the files in November. He wrote the banks should have hired new attorneys and filed paperwork to let him off the cases so a judge could approve the transfer of power.

"For reasons unbeknownst to us, of those aforementioned stipulations, new counsel has failed to file them with the court," he wrote. "In other cases, our former clients have simply failed to obtain new counsel altogether.

"If our former clients do not cause new counsel to appear to represent them by March 31, 2011, your honor should treat the pending cases on the enclosed list as you deem appropriate."

Cary said he's never encountered a case like this in which a firm abandons thousands of cases. He said the proper protocol, according to Florida's rules of civil procedure, requires an attorney to file a motion to withdraw from a case, get a hearing date and get a judge's approval.

"It doesn't comply with the rules of civil procedure," Cary said. "So, I'm not sure how we're going to react to it. This isn't how you withdraw from cases. You can't just walk."

(Page 2 of 2)

But Stern's attorney, Jeffrey Tew of Miami, said Stern is powerless to do anything because the banks fired him. The banks left after news of Florida's attorney general starting an investigation into the firm.

"These clients simply haven't had their new lawyers file in the cases," Tew said. "David's in a dilemma. He's been fired, he doesn't represent these banks."

Tew said Stern wrote the letter to keep the court system updated on the situation because he is no longer authorized to make decisions for the banks.

"We're talking about the most sophisticated institutions in the country," Tew said. "They know what to do."

April Charney, a Jacksonville area legal aid attorney who's an expert on foreclosure issues, agreed the ball is in the banks' court.

"It seems they're hiding under David Stern's skirt," she said. "If they fire their attorney ... they've got to be on the ball and have a lawyer in place. Or they can't do anything. It's not a David Stern problem. It's a bank problem."

Stern's problems started last year when former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum began a civil investigation into Stern and three other firms characterized by some as foreclosure mills. The state alleges his firm created and filed fraudulent legal documents in foreclosure cases.

On Monday, a U.S. Security and Exchange Commission filing by DJSP Enterprises Inc., of which the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A. is primary customer, repeated the language used in the letter to judges, stating it will cease handling foreclosure cases in Florida on March 31.

Representatives from Ally Financial and Citi said they stopped using Stern months ago but wouldn't address whether they have hired new attorneys. Spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said because of the pending investigation, she couldn't comment. Courtesy Fort Myers News Press.  Search Fort Myers Real Estate

Florida homes bill a Joke

Really now, why not just follow the law.  Throw the bankers and attorneys who forged documents and committed fraud in jail?

A proposal by state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo to put some Florida home foreclosures on the fast track drew both praise and condemnation Friday from authorities in the emotionally charged issue.

Passidomo, R-Naples, in her first term, proposed in a bill introduced Thursday that a speeded-up procedure be allowed in cases in which the borrower had abandoned the property, agreed in writing to the procedure or surrendered the property.

Reaction from both proponents and opponents was fast and furious.

Speeding things up would quickly dump even more homes on the market at a time when prices are already depressed, said April Charney, a Jacksonville-area legal aid attorney who’s an expert on foreclosure issues.

“You’re just going to open the spigot,” Charney said. “Flooding an already saturated market doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Besides, she said, the bill is so vague in many of its provisions that it doesn’t protect the rights of homeowners facing foreclosure.

For example, determining whether a home has been “abandoned” isn’t an easy call to make, she said.

“You break your hip and go in the hospital for three weeks and nursing home another three weeks. Have you ‘abandoned’ your home?” Charney asked.

The law allows abandonment of a home to be declared if the lender files “an affidavit from an individual having personal knowledge of the contents thereof, under penalty of perjury.”

Passidomo’s legislation drew praise for its potential to relieve the logjam of foreclosure cases now in the courts.

“I think it offers a choice,” said Lee County Clerk of Court Charlie Green. “It helps.”

Lee County’s court system was one of the hardest hit by the wave of foreclosures in 2007 after the housing boom here collapsed and many property owners became unwilling or unable to keep up their payments.

The number of cases backlogged in the county courts peaked at about 29,000 three years ago. That number is down to about 11,000 now because of the “rocket docket” here that expedites foreclosure cases. Courtesy of Fort Myers News Press
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Fort Myers Foreclosures Auctioned off

FORT MYERS Foreclosures: Nearly 50 foreclosed homes in Southwest Florida are off the market after rolled into Harborside Convention Center in Fort Myers Sunday.

More than 100 homebuyers attended the auction, looking for a first-time home or to invest.

Foreclosed properties were available in Punta Gorda, Fort Myers and Naples.

Starting bids ranged anywhere from $9,000 to just less than $250,000.

"We found our dream house basically," said homebuyer Kelli Fontana-Vogel Gesang.

Gesang is no stranger to foreclosed home auctions.

"It was this time last year we didn't get the home we were interested in," she said.

It was apparently for the better as she and her husband outbid all others for their ideal home in Naples on Sunday.

"That element that you might not get it - it's easy to be outbid. Never know who you're up against," she said.

Virginia McGee, a realtor with Palm Reality, used the event as an investment opportunity.

"This is the third time we're here and the third property we've bought," said McGee, who flips homes for a profit.

With an average of 400 homes a month going through foreclosure in Lee County, McGee says it's a good time to buy as prices are still low.

According to, some homes valued at more than $100,000 in years past sold for less than half.

For buyers, that price can't be passed up.

"I'm just estatic," said Gesang. "Just never give up and go for your dreams because they may come true." Courtesy of ABC-7.

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Sale prices move up, inventory goes down

Bleak reports continue to surface about the condition of housing markets across the nation.

In Collier County, one in every 717 homeowners filed for foreclosure, a decrease of 37.99 percent compared to December 2010 and a decrease of 72.6 percent from January 2010.

Lee County dropped to 19th in the state for foreclosure filings. One home of every 428 borrowers were foreclosed, a decrease of 35.4 percent from December 2010 and a decrease of 71.74 percent when compared to January 2010. For the fourth consecutive month, RealtyTrac is reporting a decrease in Florida foreclosure activity.

Single-family housing permits increased in 2010 by 23 percent, but new home construction remains extremely flat. This is good news for existing inventory. As visitors from the north continue to experience extreme winter weather conditions, we may experience a greater increase in home sales throughout the rest of tourist season.

Shadows ahead?

Many are expressing fear over perceived shadow inventory, as real estate prognosticators are envisioning another wave of ominous foreclosures that may not be realized for several years. Seriously delinquent homeowners may add to this list, but the Lee County clerk of court reports that we've hit bottom, according to an article in the Lehigh Acres Citizen. Year over year, 12,000 foreclosures have been cleared and the expectation is that they will keep moving off bank books.

Economic indicators, as we've discussed previously, are still on the rise.

The Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University reported increased GDP growth as a result of personal consumption expenditures, exports and nonresidential investment.

Steadily decreasing unemployment rates in the area - despite record high percentages - indicate job growth that is projected to continue throughout 2014.

Consumer confidence for the nation moved down slightly from 74.5 to 74.2, but Florida consumer confidence increased to 77 in January from 70 in December.

RERI reports that the biggest increases were in perceptions of economic conditions in the short and long term, which has to do with sustained gains in the stock market over the past two months, according to Florida CCI survey director Christ McCarthy.

Seasonal activity is robust, given the extreme weather situations in the North. While it's far too early to confirm, indications are moving in the positive direction.

Despite continued negative trends nationally and statewide, Southwest Florida may be rebounding, which supports my "first in, first out" theory. In the midst of Florida's beautiful weather, the perfect storm is brewing in Southwest Florida's housing market.

It's a welcome change in forecast.  Search Fort Myers Real Estate

More states launch help for struggling owners

A $7.6 billion federal effort to help unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosure will soon be running in all 18 states sharing the funds.

The Hardest Hit Fund, announced by President Obama a year ago and expanded to more states since then, largely targets lower-income jobless or underemployed homeowners.

Those eligible receive forgivable loans for mortgage payments, or they may tap other programs, such as one to help them get current on mortgage payments. Generally, the loans are forgiven after five years if borrowers stay in the homes and keep current on payments.

Next month, all of the states plus the District of Columbia are expected to have launched partial, full or pilot programs, says Treasury Department spokeswoman Andrea Risotto.

California, the No. 1 recipient with almost $2 billion, is expected to announce today that its full program is running after a partial start in January. Florida, No. 2 with $1.1 billion, hopes to launch in March.

Michigan, the first to start in July, had approved 700 borrowers for help as of Dec. 31. That will grow to 19,200 this year and pass 49,000 by July 2013, the state's plan says.

More states begin

Oregon took 15,000 homeowner applications over six weeks in December and January for one part of its program. The full program launches this spring, says spokeswoman Lisa Joyce.

The government targeted areas hit hard by unemployment or fallen home prices. States' programs have different rules and benefits.

Nevada, which expects to launch its program this month, will offer up to $500 a month for up to six months to the unemployed to make mortgage payments. Indiana, planning a pilot next month, will give up to $1,000 a month for up to 18 months, based on where borrowers live. In Ohio, the maximum is $15,000 per owner.

In Florida, the most a homeowner will get is $35,000. Lee County's foreclosure rate fell from second in the country to 52nd in January, according to RealtyTrac.

In some states, such as California and Nevada, homeowners may get their loan principal reduced if companies that own or manage loans agree to match state dollars. California has $790 million earmarked for principal reduction, but only one national loan servicer has agreed to participate in that program. More are expected soon, says program director Di Richardson.

Some programs, including California's, were delayed to get loan servicing companies on board and to create systems for states and companies to share data, Richardson says. California aims to help 100,000 homeowners.

The programs will only dent the housing crisis. In Nevada, more than 400,000 households owe more on their mortgages than they're worth, according to the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies. Nevada's program aims to help 22,000 homeowners. Institute director Nasser Daneshvary fears that many may get money, not find jobs and still lose homes. "I don't think it'll be very helpful," he says.

More information can be found by going to and typing "Hardest Hit Fund" in the search box. Courtesy Fort Myers News Press. Search Fort Myers Real Estate and Foreclosures for sale.

Loan modifications burn many homeowners

Lenders cancel trials; borrowers surprised

Many people who sought help under a federal program created to keep them from losing their homes are instead saddled with huge, unexpected bills.

Thousands now face a stark choice: Go deeper into debt, or foreclosure.

Lenders routinely approved short-term “trial” loan modifications that reduced payments for desperate borrowers under the umbrella of the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program. But lenders continued to count the mortgages as delinquent or in default.

Now instead of granting permanent modifications, lenders often are reinstating the original loan terms and demanding big back payments.
Through November nationwide, lenders canceled 729,109 trial modifications. Carl Christensen, a Minneapolis real estate attorney, said he is getting 15 telephone calls a week from shocked borrowers.

Shocking demand

Patti, 51, and Scott Weddle, 57, of Harris, Minn., were ecstatic when JPMorgan Chase offered in November 2009 to cut their monthly mortgage payments by about 20 percent under a trial modification. Patti was out of work with a neck and back injury, and the Weddles were having difficulty making ends meet.

Nearly a year later, the Weddles were told their application for a permanent modification was denied and they would have to pay $24,228 to bring their mortgage current and avoid foreclosure.

The Weddles insist the demand came as a shock, because they had made all their payments on time under the trial modification. “We did everything that was asked of us, and it only pushed us deeper in the hole,” Patti Weddle said.

JPMorgan Chase and other lenders argue that the risks are clearly disclosed to borrowers when they sign up for temporary loan modifications. Even so, many homeowners are caught by surprise.

A growing number of critics contend the loan modification program, known within the industry as HAMP, may be doing more harm than good. Many homeowners are draining their savings and incurring new loans to make the temporary payments only to end up in foreclosure anyway when they can’t afford the large, lump-sum payments demanded at the end of the process.

“The banks put out their hand and say, ‘We’re going to help you,’ and then stab people right in the back,” Christensen said. Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Press.
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Fort Myers Area homes sell and prices rise

Home prices and sales were buffeted by a chaotic real estate market in 2010, but ended the year with a nice bump up, according to information released Thursday by Florida Realtors
Meanwhile, in a separate survey released Thursday by the National Association of Realtors, the number of people who bought previously owned homes last year fell to the lowest level in 13 years. But home sales in December jumped to the fastest pace in seven months.

In Lee County, the median sales price was $92,500 in December, up 3 percent from November's $89,800. There were 1,322 houses sold, up 29 percent from 1,022 in November. Sales include only those assisted by a Realtor.

For the entire year of 2010, prices were up 4 percent to $93,700 from 2009's $90,400. Sales fell 6 percent from 16,260 to 15,207.

Statewide, the median dropped 5 percent to $133,100 from $139,800 and the number of sales was up 4 percent from 14,923 to 15,550.

Data for Collier County is not made public by the real estate boards there. It is included in Florida Realtors' statewide statistics, but not broken out separately.

Real estate broker Denny Grimes, president of Denny Grimes & Co. at Royal Shell in Fort Myers, said 2010 was a year in which events overtook the market repeatedly.

"The first quarter was very strong," he said. "Only God knows what the rest of the year could have been without the oil spill and the robo signing."

The oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico started in April and caused buyers to waver as the oil continued to flow, but fortunately didn't happen in time to dampen the positive effects of a tax credit for first-time homebuyers, Grimes said.

A wave of reports that major banks and law firms had made serious mistakes in processing mortgage foreclosures - including "robo signing," in which law firm officials reportedly signed thousands of documents without reading them - was another blow to the market, Grimes said.

The bottom line, Grimes said, was that the gap widened between what sellers wanted and what buyers were willing to pay. Courtesy Fort Myers News Press.

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Banks drop foreclosures in Southwest Florida

Hundreds of Foreclosure lawsuits dismissed

Banks in recent weeks have been dropping hundreds of their Southwest Florida foreclosure lawsuits instead of facing defendants at trial, according to local attorneys and court records.

Opinions varied sharply on whether that means banks are just taking a breather before refiling with stronger evidence - or giving up for good on hopelessly flawed cases.

Some foreclosures at large law firms were never actually read by the attorneys who filed them here and elsewhere, and some of the mortgages that ended up in mortgage-backed securities sold to investors were never legally transferred by the banks, defense attorneys have alleged.

"We think they're going to come back and refile," Lee County Clerk of Court Charlie Green said.

That's an expensive proposition, he said, noting foreclosure suits carry a hefty filing fee: about $1,900 for a $250,000 house, for example.

What happens is lawyers for the banks are asking judges to dismiss their cases, which is "very much out of the ordinary," Green said. "You don't see cases dismissed without prejudice that often."

Foreclosures were rare in Southwest Florida until the housing market crashed at the end of 2005, bringing on waves of mortgage defaults by investors and homeowners.

Green said he hasn't calculated exactly how many foreclosures are being dismissed.

But eight voluntary dismissals were filed Tuesday alone by seven different banks including Bank of America, one of the largest filers of foreclosures in this area. Bank of America did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

At one court hearing alone, attorney Kevin Jursinski said, one of his associates watched as "50 in a row" were withdrawn.

"Can they re-litigate?" Fort Myers-based attorney Carmen Dellutri asked. "I don't think so."

Most of the mortgages in dispute were sold to Wall Street and sold in bundles to investors as mortgage-backed securities, he said. But so many mistakes were made in the process it's unlikely the banks can win those cases.
Some mortgages still held by the bank that made the loan might be defensible but those are in the minority, Dellutri said.

He said he's seeing cases withdrawn in large numbers in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, and he heard from an attorney in Jacksonville the situation is the same there.

April Charney, a Jacksonville-area legal aid attorney who's an expert on foreclosure issues, said for the most part banks have no way to prosecute their cases because the mortgages in mortgage-backed securities were never actually legally transferred to the trusts.

She said much of the recent wave of voluntary dismissals may be a result of a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling Jan. 7 upholding a judge's decision two foreclosures were invalid because the banks didn't prove they owned the mortgages, which he said were improperly transferred into two mortgage-backed trusts.

Now, she said, many mortgages simply aren't fixable. "You can't go back and securitize. You run a red light, you can't go back and unrun it." Courtesy of Dick Hogan, Fort Myers News Press

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Home Prices Continue to Fall

Add caption
 U.S. home prices fell 5.1 percent in November from a year earlier and are expected to go lower as the housing market struggles to find its recovery, according to a recent report.

Real estate analytics firm CoreLogic said that single-family home prices declined for the fourth consecutive month in a row and at a faster pace. They dropped 3.4 percent in October year-over-year.

November declines occurred in 44 states, up from 18 in June when federal tax credits for home buyers were still pumping up sales. Sales and prices fell after the credits expired.

The credits "created the illusion that the market was stronger than it's been," says Patrick Newport, economist at IHS Global Insight. His firm predicts national home prices will fall 5 percent to 7 percent more this year before potentially rebounding later in the year.

Rather than draw many new buyers into the market, the credits "just pulled sales forward," says Sam Khater, CoreLogic senior economist. The higher rate of decline in prices in November from October underscores the big challenges the market faces with recovery, he says.

The state of the housing market isn't good news for the overall economy, which is showing improvement. But lower home prices are also not surprising given the expiration of the tax credits, says economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics.

The economy avoided a double-dip recession, but, "Housing is double dipping," Zandi says. Zandi expects home prices to continue to decline, about 5 percent, until at least midyear. By the time prices hit bottom, the housing crash will have lasted five years and driven prices 35 percent off their 2006 peak, he says.

CoreLogic reports November prices did rise in six states: Indiana, Vermont, New York, Wyoming, North Dakota and Maine. Maine led the nation with an 8.6 percent jump, followed by North Dakota at 4.4 percent.

In general, states seeing rising prices didn't experience the real estate boom to the extent that other states did, and so they aren't feeling the bust as much, says IHS Global Insight analyst James Diffley.

Market researcher Zillow, which doesn't include foreclosure sales in its data, says November marked the 53rd consecutive month of declining home values. Zillow's data show national home prices down 5.1 percent in November from November 2009, resetting to levels last seen in October 2003.

Zillow expects sustained declines until late 2011. Even then, "The bottom will be very long and rocky," says Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries.

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Lee County Foreclosures Up

Lenders filed 409 foreclosure lawsuits in Lee County in December, according to statistics released today by the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investors Association.

In a separate report also released today, the county Department of Community Development said builders pulled 19 permits for single-family homes in December in the unincorporated part of the county — bringing the year’s total to 384, a 16 percent increase from 2009’s 331.

During the housing boom that ended in late 2005, hundreds of permits a month were pulled. The number dropped sharply starting in 2006.

December’s 409 foreclosures was an increase from November’s 343 but still far below the peak of 2,665 reached in October 2008 after the housing crash caused homeowners and investors to lose properties, according to the association’s report.

The number of filings dropped sharply last year after some large banks discovered problems with how the paperwork had been handled on previously filed foreclosures.

The county’s report said the total number of permits issued in 2010 was 30,481, up 25 percent from 2009’s 24,374. Search Fort Myers Real Estate