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.
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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."

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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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