Friday, January 21, 2011


Florida home sales rise for the month/year
By Jeff Harrington, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, January 21, 2011

Realtors in Tampa Bay finally closed on a December to remember, as sales of existing homes surged 17 percent from a year ago and rose an unexpected 34 percent in just one month.
There was even a slight reprieve from the drumbeat of falling prices, with the median sales price inching up 1 percent to $126,100 between November and December.
John Rurkowski, a broker with the Clearwater office of Charles Rutenberg Realty, said the burst of activity is continuing into January, with more home browsers turning into home buyers.
"Our closings for January are already at 100 percent of what we did last January, and we still have 10 days left in the month," he said. "Agents are sometimes getting multiple offers on properties again, which is fantastic."
St. Petersburg Realtor Frank Malowany, who specializes in the luxury market, thinks more long-term holdouts who have seen everything on the market the past two years are finally wading in.
Sales of high-end homes in local beach communities were dead for a long time. In recent weeks, he's seeing more contracts signed.
"There were a lot of people in the market waiting for someone to make the first move," he said. "It's like a domino effect."
The sales trend extends far beyond the bay area.
Statewide, 15,550 single-family homes changed hands in December, up 31 percent from November, while the median sales price increased less than 1 percent to $133,100. Nationwide, sales of existing homes jumped 12 percent between November and December, reaching the strongest sales pace since May.
"The pattern over the past six months is clearly showing a recovery," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors. "The December pace is near the volume we're expecting for 2011, so the market is getting much closer to an adequate, sustainable recovery."
Yun predicted recovery will likely continue as job growth gains momentum and rising rents encourage more renters to buy homes while they're still affordable and interest rates are still relatively low.
One positive sign was that national housing inventory continued to fall, from a 9.5-month supply in November to an 8.1-month supply at year-end. A healthy inventory supply would be closer to six months.
Patricia "Pat" Fitzgerald, president of the Florida Realtors, said it was encouraging to close the year on a high note. She credited the $8,000 home buyer tax credit with fueling home and condo sales in the first half of the year, while low mortgage rates and "favorable affordability conditions" enticed buyers at year end.
Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo, noted another possible reason for the December jump: Banks may have been trying to clear troubled properties off their books before the end of the year. "It is quite possible this reflects foreclosed properties and short sales," he said
It was encouraging that prices didn't fall further as thousands of foreclosures depress the market.
But Vitner kept long-term expectations in check, with distressed sales accounting for 36 percent of all transactions, up from 33 percent in November. He doesn't anticipate a sustained recovery "until we move past this mountain of foreclosures."
Compared to a year ago, the change in home sales throughout Florida was far less dramatic. Sales were up 4 percent, while prices were down 5 percent. Tampa Bay's median home price was down 8 percent compared to a year ago.
Despite the December jump, the country still wound up with the weakest year for home sales in 13 years, with overall sales slumping 5 percent to 4.91 million units. The median price for a home sold in December was $168,800, down 1 percent from a year ago.
Florida's year in review was mixed. Spurred in part by the midyear tax breaks that temporarily propped up sales, a total of 170,848 homes changed hands throughout the year, up 5 percent from 2009. But the median sales price for the year fell 4 percent to $136,500.
Looking ahead, a big concern is that home prices will fall further in 2011 as banks continue to foreclose on a glut of delinquent homeowners. Many economists believe it will take years for sales to rise to a normal level of about 6 million units annually.
Times wires contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at

Shaking off the doldrums
The gloom that has enveloped the Tampa Bay housing market gives way to upbeat numbers.
34 percent
Increase in bay area home sales from November to December
17 percent
Increase in sales from December 2009 compared to December 2010
Existing bay area homes sold in December

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

'Tis The Season

Here's my latest column on Benzinga.

President Obama says he's going to make solving the economic crisis his number one priority the next two years. Apparently, he's checked off the other items on his agenda and he can turn his attention to the biggest and most baffling one remaining – but I think we can be safe in assuming that most people would trade his legislative victories for lower unemployment and a recovery in housing.

After the low point following the November elections, the idea of the President doing any shellacking of his own appeared remote. He didn't stay down for long, though, judging by the succession of year-end deals that have gone his way. The highlights of the first two years in office would be an impressive list if perception wasn't so heavily based on the pocketbooks of the American people. Reform in healthcare, finance, the end of don't ask don't tell and the extension of the Bush tax cuts all involved major focus and political skills to put in place, but they haven't yet resulted in more real dollars in the wallets of the average person.

Creating jobs and economic growth will require more than even President Obama's prodigious and highly touted people skills. Did he think that he could pursue the other agenda items because they were more easily disposed of and the recession would just wait? Maybe he's gathering a head of steam that will push new growth-driving policies and initiatives. Or maybe the momentum will be sapped by new battles with the incoming Congress and we have to wait for another mad scramble two years from now.

Everyone likes a comeback and besides, the New Year is a time for optimism and even a little giddiness. So let's go with it—lord knows the doom and gloom will start up again soon. The stock market and bond yields continue to climb as more positive economic indicators are released. Retail sales are expected to be stronger than anticipated for the 4th quarter. And regardless of the debate about who benefits from the extension of the Bush tax cuts, the new bill lowered the payroll tax to provide a direct stimulus for 2011.

The President needs some fresh, effective ideas to save the millions of homeowners from going into foreclosure—bailing out the banks and asking them nicely to modify loans (or even paying them per mitigation) hasn't worked. Especially with his new and surprising bi-partisan salesmanship, he still has the ability fuel a recovery in housing that will cement his legacy.

Most people want to stay in their homes and, even if foreclosed upon, there's a number of ways they could stay and limit the consequences on themselves, the housing market and the banking system. Instead of living rent-free while their foreclosure case is dealt with (which takes several years to be adjudicated), the lenders could offer to receive the home in exchange for a multi-year lease with reduced and affordable payments. At the end of the lease agreement, it could be extended or converted back to a mortgage either to the original borrower or someone else. Banks can also be incentivized to rent out the homes they already own, perhaps with tax credits so they don't just continue to dump them on the market.

People staying in their homes would stabilize housing prices and stem the flood of millions more homes on the market steadily over the next few years. Instead of staggering under the weight of more foreclosures and short sales, home sales would start to improve as inventory would finally start to shrink. As soon as buyers began to see that the bottom had definitely been reached on home prices, the pent-up demand would be released and so would a return to normal sales levels -- if not even higher due to the number of buyers that have been waiting out this terrible market.

The sidelines are teeming with first-time home buyers, second-timers who've out-grown their space and most importantly, the unprecedented numbers of baby-boomers looking to retire and move down south and out west. These millions have been holding back not just because of economic uncertainty but because they simply don't want to buy and see prices continue to drop — even a little. It's a natural psychology, especially in such a large purchase.

Spending so much political capital on issues not perceived as addressing the economy cost the President dearly in November. And his re-election will likely be a referendum on the same issue that carried the day for him when he first won office. Perhaps our economy would be in a lot better shape if he hadn't engaged in lofty distractions, but maybe this was his plan all along so that we would have to believe in the power of his priorities once things start looking brighter. It is, after all, the season for believing.

Ken Schiff is vice-president of far/bar Lending in Clearwater, Florida. He can be reached at

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Except for all the food, every day should be like Thanksgiving. It's not easy to appreciate everything in our lives while we're busy living & working throughout the year, so it's nice to have a day dedicated to just that. Remember everything we have to be thankful for!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Over 80% of Mortgage Resource Partner's mortgages these days are done with no closing costs. That doesn't mean the costs are added on. This applies to purchases or refinancing. Kenneth Harney, a leading housing industry writer, explains how this is done in this week's column. We have been doing this for years and will continue to as long as rates stay low enough. The banks don't want to offer these loans so please tell everyone you know--it is not too good to be true!