Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's bargain time for homebuyers

In many parts of the country, sellers have finally gotten the message: They can't be so stubborn about their asking prices. For buyers, now's when to find deals.
By Michael Giusti,

Two years of stormy real estate markets appear to have created an ideal climate for bargain-minded house hunters who know where to look.

Real estate experts say a switch in the psychology of the housing market has helped buyers to see the silver lining around the market's storm clouds and usher in the fine shopping weather.

"We are now in a solid buyer's market," says David Lereah, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). "It has been a seller's market for many years, but now we are seeing people across the country making deals and bringing prices down."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Your lender doesn't want your house

Most lenders will do almost anything to avoid foreclosure -- if you talk to the right people as soon as you can. Here's why and what you can do to save your home.

If you're in danger of falling behind on your mortgage, or if you're already late, you may be skeptical about your lender's willingness to help.
And if you take the advice we personal-finance types typically offer -- call the lender as soon as possible and ask for help -- you could find yourself stymied by the lender's bureaucracy or even told to come back when you are really behind in your payments.
Home-loan expert Jack Guttentag has heard from several borrowers who were blown off by their lenders in this way.
"(The homeowners) got a response of, 'Don't bother us. Come back when you're two months behind,' " said Guttentag, who runs the Mortgage Professor site.

Other borrowers can't even find someone to talk to them.

"It can be intimidating," said Rick Harper, the head of housing counseling for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco. "They may be trying to reach a company in a different time zone (with limited phone hours), or they may wind up in the collections side of the process . . . where all they hear is 'pay up, pay up.' "

It's no wonder many people become convinced their lenders are more interested in taking back their homes than in helping borrowers to keep them.

So I'm here to tell you, with the help of experts who know the mortgage-lending business, that your skepticism is almost certainly unfounded.

Getting a home loan just got harder

As some lenders collapse under the weight of bad mortgages, others are getting pickier. Now you have to have a real down payment -- and actually be able to afford the house.

By Marilyn Lewis
With the news full of stories about the collapse of lenders that sell mortgages to people with less-than-perfect credit, the survivors are clamping down, leaving first-time homebuyers to wonder, "Will I still be able to buy a house?" People with loans nearing the end of low-interest introductory periods are asking themselves, "Can I qualify for a refinance I can afford?"

The short answer, of course, is that it depends.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New 2-year state budget estimate down by nearly $1 billion

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – March 13, 2007 – Florida’s shaky financial outlook took a turn for the worse Monday when state economists knocked nearly $1 billion out of their two-year revenue estimate for the current annual budget and the next one, which takes effect July 1.

The present budget year will be Florida’s first with a decline in general revenue from the previous year since 1974-75, said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The declines since the last revenue estimate in November are due mainly to a cooling off of Florida’s recently booming housing market, Baker said.

“We were so high last year that it’s just not sustainable,” she said. “So it doesn’t reflect economic weakness. It reflects the fact that when you have those extraordinary peaks, you can’t keep going at that speed.”

Official: Loan problem is manageable

WASHINGTON – March 13, 2007 – The government is monitoring the distress in the subprime mortgage industry and believes the current situation is manageable, a Treasury Department official said Monday.

The comments by Robert Steel, the Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, came as concern mounted on Wall Street and elsewhere that a blowup of companies that make higher-risk home loans to consumers with poor credit or low incomes could spill over into other industries.

“We monitor the markets all the time, and are hopefully pretty aware of market conditions,” Steel told reporters in response to a question. “It seems to us that the situation is a manageable one, that we’re watching.”

Federal bank regulators, concerned about a spike in delinquencies and defaults on subprime home mortgages, earlier this month called on lenders to exercise caution in making the loans and to strictly evaluate borrowers’ ability to repay them. The regulators said the guidelines, if formally adopted by the agencies and followed by lending institutions, could result in fewer borrowers qualifying for subprime loans.

Allstate seeks 14% rollback: Request falls short of state estimates

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – March 13, 2007 – Allstate Floridian Insurance Co., the state’s third-largest home insurer, wants to cut its property insurance rates by an average of 14 percent statewide. But Allstate Floridian’s proposed premium cuts are far less than the estimated reduction of 24 percent Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said recently that the state’s property insurers should be able to shave rates.

Allstate Floridian will have to justify why the decrease it plans – and the proposed 13 percent decrease by its subsidiary, Allstate Floridian Indemnity Co. – is lower than the state’s estimate. Company spokesman Adam Shores said Monday the figures are based on Allstate Floridian’s risk exposure, and “given the state of the overall [insurance] market, we feel that this is the appropriate rate which will help us move forward.”

County estimates of Allstate Floridian’s rate decrease weren’t available Monday. With its rate request filed, Allstate Floridian – the state’s third-largest insurance company – is now free to proceed with plans to drop 106,000 home and condo customers and offer them coverage with a new insurer, Ormond Beach-based Royal Palm Insurance Co.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Home builders survive in tough market by catering to 55+ with new communities

By Paul Owers South Florida Sun-Sentinel Posted March 5 2007

Americans in the "G.I. Generation" were easy to please. Growing up during the Great Depression, they bought homes in the 1940s and '50s replete with one-car garages, Formica countertops and vinyl floors.

Baby Boomers? They're much pickier.

Armed with unprecedented wealth, Boomers demand 10-foot ceilings, high-end appliances, a clubhouse concierge and live theater performances from Joan Rivers. Companies that know how to deliver that lifestyle are enjoying brisk sales, even as the housing downturn lingers.

"Builders who offer that are doing very well," said Tim McCarthy, founder of Traditions of America, a Philadelphia-based builder of communities for home buyers 55 and older. "Others are falling behind, and they're not able to compete."

Legislative panel OKs sweeping tax cuts as Democrats protest potential impact

TALLAHASSEE– Only a day after lawmakers hailed a new era of cooperation at the state Capitol, Democrats complained bitterly Wednesday that Republicans were ramming through the Florida House a property tax-cut plan that critics say will lead to decreased police protection and closings of parks, libraries and programs for seniors.

On a party-line vote, Republicans on the House Government Efficiency and Accountability Council approved a $5.8-billion overhaul of the property tax system that would force Florida's counties, cities and special taxing districts to roll back rates to what they were on Jan. 1, 2001. The proposal would allow only modest adjustments for population growth and inflation, and according to House analysts, would yield an average statewide tax cut of 19 percent.

One in four snowbirds find a roost in Florida

By Kathleen Kernicky South Florida Sun-Sentinel Posted March 4 2007

It started with vacations. Vacations stretched into winters. Ruth and Ted Goolst of Boca Raton were snowbirds while Ted ran his optometry practice in Newton, Mass. When Ted, 77, retired four years ago, the couple moved full-time into their condo at Whisper Walk.

"It got to be a bit of a hassle going back and forth. And it was getting too expensive to hold down two homes. It was there or here. We figured our lives would be easier here," says Ruth, 73.

According to a recent University of Florida study, almost one in four people 55 and older who moved full-time to the Sunshine State between 2000 and 2003 started out as a snowbird. In addition, 30 percent of current snowbirds said it was "likely or very likely" they would move here year-round at some point.

Friday, March 02, 2007

'No' to the Bedroom Just Like Fenway

Dan Marino's home in Weston, Fla., has all of the extras befitting a Hall of Fame quarterback -- a 15,000-square-foot main house, two guest houses, a waterfall Jacuzzi spa, a volleyball court and a putting green. What it lacks is a buyer: After more than a year on the market, a $1.4 million price cut to $14.5 million and a change in listing agents, the former Miami Dolphin's home still hasn't sold.

From Miami to San Francisco, the real-estate market is glutted with the splashy homes of professional athletes. Experts say there are simply more of them out there than there were a decade ago, as salaries and signing bonuses have soared and even some first-year players are living large in gigantic, decked-out homes. At the same time, trades and free-agency deals have continued apace, meaning more properties are being put up for sale every year. And the offers aren't rolling in.

Over-the-top, customized amenities such as 8-foot doorways, wrought-iron gates emblazoned with uniform numbers, and basketball courts with stadium seating aren't hitting home with prospective buyers. Many of these properties are sitting on the market for a year or more, and if they finally do sell, it's often at substantially discounted prices.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What's 'beautiful' worth? About $12,500

The right phrasing in real estate listings can speed a sale and even boost the final price, a Canadian study says. And here's a tip: If you must sell, don't put "must sell" in your ad.

In real estate listings, what's the difference between describing your home as "beautiful" versus "move-in condition"? About $12,500 on a $250,000 home.
Professor Paul Anglin, a real estate economist in Guelph, Ontario, says that homes described as "beautiful" in real estate listings sell for 5% more while "move-in condition" has no effect on sale price.
Anglin and his colleagues from the University of Windsor and researchers from Canada Mortgage and Housing examined about 20,000 real estate listings and sales data in Windsor and Essex counties, Ontario, from between 1997 and early 2000. Among other things, they studied how listings' phrasing affected sale prices and the length of time it took for the listings to close.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Home buying: Buy now? Or wait for a price drop?

A reader wonders whether rising mortgage rates would wipe out any benefits from prices falling further.

(Money Magazine) -- Question: My wife and I want to buy. Should we wait to see if prices fall, or take advantage of today's low mortgage rates? - Heath Hewett, Columbia, S.C.

Answer: If you're asking whether a significant price drop would lower your monthly payments more than a big increase in mortgage rates would raise them, it's easy: You should probably root for the price decline.

For example, the monthly payment on a $300,000, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at today's rates is $1,847. Rates would have to rise to 8.1 percent - nearly two full percentage points - before a $250,000 loan would cost that much.

But it sounds as if you're really asking whether prices in your area are likely to decline enough to justify holding off on a purchase. When it comes to that, frankly, your guess is as good as ours.

While there's no lack of experts making predictions about where home prices are headed in the next year, no one knows for sure.

West Palm Beach to sell land to the highest online bidder

If you're in the market for prime development land, then check out the two parcels the city of West Palm Beach is selling. To do so, you don't even have to leave your office; you can learn everything you need to know about the land -- and bid on it -- via an interactive online auction the city is holding starting today.

The auction is being conducted by Sperry Van Ness/Fisher Auction Co. Inc., a Pompano Beach-based auction house. And it's being held exclusively online, through Friday . All necessary information for potential bidders can be found at

"Auctions are a beneficial way to sell a property," said Louis B. Fisher III, principal owner of Fisher Auction. "They transform surplus holdings into cash or earnings assets."