More Property Owners Expected to Appeal Tax Bills

30 08 2009

The number of growing property owners in Northeast Florida fighting to lower their tax bills is expected to grow this year.

More property owners in Jacksonville are expected to file petitions challenging their property assessments and homestead and tax exemption classifications with the county’s Value Adjustment Board (VAB).

The increase in petitions is largely due to the economic downturn, rises in proposed city and county property tax rates, and a change in state law that requires the property appraiser’s office to prove their assessments are accurate.

Until this year, the property appraiser’s assessment was presumed correct during any challenge. The property owner was required to prove the assessment was wrong.

Under the adjustment board’s rules, special magistrates are hired to settle disputes between property owners and the county property appraiser’s office. The clerk’s office is responsible for processing petitions and scheduling hearings with special magistrates.

The property appraiser’s office mailed the 2009 Notices of Proposed Property Taxes, also called the “Truth in Millage” (T.R.I.M.) Notices to all county property owners on Monday, August 17.

How to Challenge

Duval County: Duval County Property owners have until Sept. 11 to challenge their property assessments and exemption classifications. Petitions can be filed with the county’s Value Adjustment Board online, or in person at City Hall, 117 W. Duval Street, Suite 430, Jacksonville, FL. Petitions can also be filed online at

For more information call the Duval County property appraiser at (904) 630-2011.

St. Johns County: Petitions must be filed with the Clerk of the Court’s Office by September 11, 2009 at one of the following locations:

MAIN OFFICE: Minutes & Records; 4010 Lewis Speedway (Administration building adjacent to County Courthouse), St. Augustine, FL 32084; (904) 819-3644

PONTE VEDRA BEACH OFFICE: 5430 Palm Valley Road, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, 32082 (904) 285-5945

JULINGTON CREEK OFFICE: 725 Flora Branch Boulevard, Saint Johns, FL, 32259 (904) 230-0107

HASTINGS OFFICE*: 6195 South Main Street, Hastings, FL, 32145 (904) 692-1123 *Wednesdays only.


Clay County: Petitions must be filed with the Clerk of the Court’s Office by September 11, 2009 at one of the following locations:

MAIN OFFICE: Post Office Box 38, Green Cove Springs, Florida 32043-0038 Telephones: (904) 284/269-6305 Fax: (904) 284-2923

ORANGE PARK BRANCH OFFICE: 1518 Park Ave Orange Park, Florida 32073 Telephones: (352) 473-3711 (904) 529-5332 Fax: (904) 529-5340


Greece , Japan, Germany, Swizerland ban Google’s Street View

27 08 2009

The Swiss joined a growing chorus of nations by demanding that Google Inc. stop its “street view” service in Switzerland.

Google has been taking photographs in Switzerland and started offering the service a week ago, according to news reports. Though it used software to blur out faces and license plates, some could still be distinguished, and the Swiss government has asked Google to stop the street view feature.

Greece, Japan and Germany have all made similar protests recently because of concerns about privacy.

Google uses a vehicle with multiple cameras above its roof to take the photos while driving. Pictures have captured people in embarrassing moments or have even revealed the inside of homes — this was the sticking point for the Japanese government, which insisted Google retake the pictures from a lower height so as not to peek over fences and walls.

Comments: Does anyone like Google’s Street View? As a real estate professional, I find this feature to be very useful. However, I agree with the complaints that captured pictures sometimes reveal too much information. Privacy laws have to be observed as well.

U.S. is 15 Years Behind South Korea in Internet Speed

27 08 2009

A surprising report on Internet speed in the U.S. finds the country isn’t likely to catch world leader South Korea for 15 years or longer. At current growth rates, the U.S. will only reach South Korea’s speed today in 15 years.

The report, by the Communications Workers of America, details Internet download and upload speeds all over the U.S. and some of its affiliated territories. In the last year, the average upload speed in the U.S. “barely changed,” the report noted, and download speed only grew a little, from 4.2 megabits per second in 2008 to 5.1 megabits per second in 2009.

In South Korea, average download speed is four times faster — 20.4 megabits per second. The U.S. also lags Japan (15.8 mbps), Sweden (12.8 mbps), the Netherlands (11 mbps) and 24 other countries.

At average U.S. speed, it takes about 35 minutes to download 100 family vacation photos, and four hours to upload them.

The report said U.S. speeds aren’t sufficient for the needs of in-home medical monitoring, distance learning programs or to run a modern business from home.

“People in Japan can upload a high-definition video in 12 minutes, compared to a grueling 2.5 hours” at the average U.S. speed, the report said.

The report found Florida’s average download speed was 5.8 megabits per second, ahead of the U.S., but significantly behind the aforementioned countries. The state’s upload speed was 1.1 mbps.

The report calls for more investment in the nation’s Internet infrastructure. It also suggests shifting the outdated universal service payments that support voice telephone service over to pay for better and cheaper high-speed Internet service for everyone.

I can’t help but agree with the report. We need faster Internet speed and better Internet infrastructure in this country.

U.S. Housing Prices Inch Upward

27 08 2009

Housing prices in the U.S. increased in the second quarter, the first quarterly increase in three years and an indication the market is rebounding.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose nearly 3 percent from the first quarter to 133, and June’s index was up 1.4 percent from May.

The monthly index of 20 major cities increased to 142, the second straight month it climbed. The index, which does not include Jacksonville, registered gains in all 20 markets except Las Vegas and Detroit. The two Florida markets tracked, Miami and Tampa, registered gains of less than 1 percent.

The gains have come just in the last few months. The Florida Association of Realtors reported last week that median sales prices of existing single-family homes in July were down 40 percent in Miami and 29 percent in Tampa compared to July of 2008.

Source: Jacksonville Business Journal

New Home Sales Up 9.6%

27 08 2009

There’s more promising news from the housing front.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that sales of new homes rose 9.6 percent in July, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 433,000. That’s above the revised June rate of 395,000, but 13.4 percent below July 2008’s rate of 500,000.

The median sales price of a new home sold in July was $210,100, while the average sales price was $269,200.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new homes for sale at the end of last month was 271,000, representing a 7.5-month supply at the current sales rate. In the South, the seasonally adjusted estimate of new homes for sale at the end of last month was 222,000.

Home sales in the South rose 16.2 percent in July over June. Only the Northeast fared better, with home sales up 32.4 percent in the same month-over-month period.

Source: The U.S. Department of Commerce

Jacksonville on Short List for World Cup Matches

24 08 2009

Jacksonville made a short list of cities to potentially host a FIFA World Cup soccer tournament game in either 2018 or 2022. FIFA’s criteria for the World Cup requires a host nation to provide 12 to 18 stadiums capable of seating at least 40,000 spectators each. Each venue typically hosts four to six matches during two or three weeks. The event attracts a global television audience of about 26 billion. Click for audio.

Florida’s Existing Home and Condo Sales Up in July 2009

22 08 2009

Florida’s existing home sales rose in July – the 11th month in a row that sales activity increased in the year-to-year comparison, according to the latest housing data released by the Florida Association of Realtors (FAR). Statewide existing home sales in July also rose over the previous month’s sales level.

Existing home sales rose 37 percent last month with a total of 15,882 homes sold statewide compared to 11,595 homes sold in July 2008, according to FAR. Statewide existing home sales in July increased 0.2 percent over June’s statewide activity. Florida Realtors also reported a 48 percent rise in statewide sales of existing condos in July.

Eighteen of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported increased existing home sales in July; the same number of MSAs also showed gains in condo sales. A majority of the state’s MSAs have reported increased sales for more than a year (13 consecutive months).

To gain insight into current trends in Florida’s real estate industry, the University of Florida’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies conducts a quarterly survey of industry executives, market research economists, real estate scholars and other experts. According to the recent second quarter 2009 survey, investor confidence in the outlook for business and availability of money are reasons for cautious optimism.

“I think we’re on the road to recovery and even though most markets report they’ve seen the bottom, it’s going to be a long climb,” said Timothy Becker, the center’s director. He noted that the investment outlook for single-family development increased to its highest level since the survey began, with more respondents than ever believing it is a good time to buy.

Florida’s median sales price for existing homes last month was $147,600; a year ago, it was $193,800 for a 24 percent decrease. According to housing industry analysts with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

The national median sales price for existing single-family homes in June 2009 was $181,600, down 15 percent from a year earlier, according to NAR. In Massachusetts, the statewide median resales price was $306,000 in June; in California, it was $274,740; in Maryland, it was $274,008; and in New York, it was $189,900.

Several positive market factors are influencing the housing sector, notes NAR’s latest industry outlook. “Historically low mortgage interest rates, affordable home prices and a large selection are encouraging buyers who’ve been on the sidelines,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Activity has been consistently much stronger for lower priced homes. We expect a gradual uptrend in sales to continue due to tax credit incentives and historically high affordability conditions.”

In Florida’s year-to-year comparison for condos, 5,035 units sold statewide compared to 3,396 units in July 2008 for a 48 percent increase. The statewide existing condo median sales price last month was $108,300; in July 2008 it was $168,700 for a 36 percent decrease. The national median existing condo price was $183,300 in June 2009, according to NAR.

Interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.22 percent last month, down significantly from the average rate of 6.43 percent in July 2008, according to Freddie Mac. FAR’s sales figures reflect closings, which typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

Among the state’s smaller markets, the Pensacola MSA reported a total of 371 homes sold in July compared to 321 homes a year earlier for a 16 percent increase. The market’s existing home median sales price last month remained level compared to a year ago at $157,800. A total of 48 condos sold in the MSA in July, up 23 percent over the 39 units sold in July 2008. The existing condo median price in July was $250,000; a year earlier, it was $325,000 for a 23 percent decrease.

Source: Florida Association of Realtors

Reverse Mortgage Loan for Purchase Program

22 08 2009

There is a new program designed to help seniors use a reverse mortgage to help buy a home, provided they can come up with a large down payment. In fact, it’s a significant down payment (twice the amount of a normal down payment.) It is the same underlying product that has been around for 21 years but it allows people to use it for purchase finance as opposed to a refinancing tool.

Before the Home Equity Conversion for Purchase program rolled out in January, seniors 62 years and older could only use reverse mortgage loans to draw out tax-free payments from the equity held in an existing home while continuing to live in it. Many lenders are now starting to offer these new loans in addition to traditional reverse mortgage products. But as with traditional reverse mortgages, there are costs involved that can add thousands of dollars to the loan amount, which grows over time and has to be repaid after the last borrower leaves or sells the property or dies and the home is passed on to heirs.

Program participants are required to make a downpayment typically ranging from 30 to 40 percent. The reverse mortgage loan amount is used to pay off the balance of the new home’s purchase price.

People who have a traditional reverse mortgage on an existing home cannot refinance it into a reverse mortgage for purchase to buy a new home. Instead, the reverse mortgage on the existing home would have to be paid off before applying for the reverse mortgage for purchase.

The reverse mortgage for purchase program requires that the new home be the primary home, which means living it in for at least six months of the year. The home can be located anywhere in the United States.

Borrowers never have to make a mortgage payment as long as they live in the primary home. Unlike with traditional reverse mortgages that require seniors to be homeowners, renters are not excluded from the new program. And if you already own a home, there is no requirement to sell it. In fact, you could rent it out.

Before taking out a reverse mortgage for purchase loan, borrowers are required to receive counseling from a nonprofit agency approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It’s a new way to use a reverse mortgage. It’s catching on pretty fast,” said Tricia Smith of San Mateo-based HIP Housing, a HUD-approved loan counseling agency in San Mateo.

While it may be the right move for some people, borrowers need to be aware of closing costs, fees and Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance premiums that can add thousands of dollars to the cost of the loan. Typically, those extras are financed in the loan amount.

The loan amount available to borrowers is tied to a percentage of the current reverse mortgage $625,500 lending limit or appraised value of the purchased home, whichever is lower. The older the borrower, the higher the percentage. The $625,500 lending limit amount expires at the end of 2009 unless Congress acts to extend it.

The down payment money that borrowers have to come up with has to be from savings, retirement income or proceeds from the sale of an existing home. If the existing home is sold to provide the down payment for the new home, there are fewer closing costs involved than if the transactions were done separately.

Once the title on the home changes hands, the loan amount, along with accrued interest, mortgage insurance premiums and other fees, has to be repaid to the lender.

“It’s not free money. It’s a rising debt loan,” said Smith.

That said, the product can be used to help retirees downsize to a smaller home or help renters become homeowners, she said. “They won’t have to make a (mortgage) payment for the rest of their life,” Smith said.

Source: Contra Costa Times

US Existing Home Sales Seen at 10-Month High in July

22 08 2009

Another exciting news in the media today. Reuter just posted another article. See below:

U.S. sales of existing homes likely rose to their highest level in 10 months in July, according to a Reuters poll, as buyers rushed to take advantage of a tax credit for first-time homeowners.

The survey of 61 economists predicted sales of previously owned homes climbed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5 million in July, the briskest pace since 5.1 million units were sold in September, from 4.89 million units in June.

That would also mark the fourth straight monthly gain in home resales.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration has made up to $8,000 available to qualifying taxpayers who buy homes this year. The program, credited for the signs of a turn around in the three-year housing slump is scheduled to end in November.

Adding to the picture of a steadily improving resale housing market were still relatively low mortgage rates, an improving economic outlook, and the fifth straight monthly rise in pending home sales, analysts said.

The following is a selection of comments from economists.:


Forecast: 4.99 million units

“Affordability looks good, though it’s off record highs because of firming mortgage rates and sagging incomes. Cheap, foreclosed properties still account for roughly one-third of sales, but overall demand is starting to revive.”


Forecast: 4.95 million units

“This would be the fourth consecutive rise and, if realized, sales would be roughly back in line with the level that prevailed from the fall of 2007 to October 2008. Gains in affordability over the last year, more foreclosure sales, and an improving economy could then lift sales further later in the year.”


Forecast: 4.99 million units

“Existing home sales will probably continue to firm in coming months as the economy begins to rebound, more foreclosures come on to the market, and prospective buyers take advantage of increased affordability. One possible concern is an apparent increase in the share of contracts falling through and not being counted as home resales. The increase in the share of scuttled contacts is apparently being caused by new rules that produce more conservative valuations, and have prevented some potential home buyers from obtaining financing.”

Source: Reuter

New Credit Rating Guidelines Punish Homeowners with Loan Modification

22 08 2009

It’s hard enough to modify terms of a home mortgage, despite the federal government’s efforts to ease those procedures for individuals desperate to hold onto their houses. Unfortunately, the “Big Three” credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – have issued new guidelines that allow lenders to report new mortgage loan modifications as “partial payment status,” a designation that could lower an individual’s credit score by more than 50 points.

A loan modification doesn’t reduce the principal, but makes it easier for homeowners to repay what’s owed by reducing the interest rate and stretching the length of the original loan. Credit agencies are paid to assess credit risks, and that includes people who can’t pay their mortgages. But these are extraordinary times. Penalizing a homeowner for successfully re-negotiating a loan could have the unwanted consequence of inducing more foreclosures.

First American CoreLogic, a real estate analysis firm, says more than 15 million mortgage holders, or 32.2 percent, are “upside down” on their mortgages, meaning they’re paying more than their houses are worth. In Florida, the negative-equity picture is worse at 49 percent, and the figures are even higher in South Florida, hovering around 51.5 percent in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area.

Now, thanks to the credit-rating agencies and an indifferent government bureaucracy of financial regulators, there will be homeowners who will unnecessarily become credit risks. While a loan modification provides a better outcome than a short sale, foreclosure or bankruptcy, punishing homeowners who work with their lenders is counterproductive.

Source: The Sun Sentinel

Florida’s Population Drops

21 08 2009

The recession and housing market bust are likely causes for the first decline in Florida’s population since 1946, University of Florida researchers said.

The university’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research estimated the state’s population slipped by 58,294 people, to 18,748,925 on April 1 from 18,807,219 in April 2008.

The last official, final census count – in 2000 – was 15,982,824.

“You can look at the one-year change if you want, but given the housing boom and bust, it’s possible that our bigger estimate included some speculative housing numbers,” said Scott Cody, a research demographer at the bureau. “You also may have had a lot of temporary residents still in 2008 – construction workers who were here and renting – and they were able to move.”

Cody said Florida’s natural attraction to retirees and as a vacation destination will probably continue to fuel growth after the economy improves.

Source: University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research

Easy to Find Work in Jacksonville

19 08 2009

It’s easier to find a job in Jacksonville than any other city in the U.S. except for Washington, D.C., according to jobs search engine

The largest 50 cities in the U.S. were ranked by comparing the number of unemployed to the number of job postings.

Personally, I think it’s great news for the city. went on to say that Jacksonville had three job postings per unemployed person. D.C. had six job postings for every one unemployed person in June. Baltimore is No. 3, where there is one posting per unemployed person.

Among the cities where it’s hardest to find open jobs were Los Angeles and Riverside, Calif., Miami and Detroit, where there are 18 unemployed people for every one job posting.

Home Builder Confidence Up in August

19 08 2009

A confidence index among home builders inched up in August to its highest level in a year.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index reached 18 this month, which was its highest since June 2008, said a news release.

“Home builder expectations have been buoyed by the success of the first-time home buyer tax credit and its anticipated boost to buying activity leading up to the Nov. 30 expiration date,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla.

“The question is what happens after that – whether there will be enough momentum to keep us moving toward a recovery, particularly in light of significant headwinds such as the severe credit crunch for housing production loans and inappropriate appraisal practices that are scuttling a quarter of all new-home sales.”

Sales expectations for the next six months saw the biggest gain in the index, followed by traffic of prospective buyers – four-point and three-point increases, respectively. Current sales conditions in the index remained unchanged.

All regions of the country saw a gain in the confidence index except for the South, which had a one-point decline.

Source: National Association of Home Builders

Shareholders OK Pulte-Centex Merger

19 08 2009

Shareholders of both Pulte Homes Inc. and Centex Corp. approved the merger of the two companies on 8/18/09 for a total value of $3.1 billion.

Under terms of the merger agreement, Pulte Homes will acquire all outstanding shares of common stock of Centex in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at $1.3 billiion, plus a net debt of $1.8 billion.

Centex shareholders receive 0.975 shares of Pulte Homes stock in exchange for each Centex share they own. Based on the exchange rate, Pulte shareholders own about 68 percent of the combined company and Centex shareholders own about 32 percent.

The combined company will continue to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “PHM.”

It will operate more than 900 communities across 29 states and the District of Columbia under the brands Pulte Homes, Centex and Del Webb.

Effective with the completion of the merger, Timothy Eller, previously Centex’s chairman and CEO, joins the company’s board of directors as vice chairman and will serve as a consultant to the company for two years.

Pulte and Centex currently build throughout Florida, but Centex pulled out of the North Florida market in 2008. Pulte is selling homes in eight communities in Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra, the majority of those in Bartram Park.

Source: Jacksonville Business Journal

BB&T Acquired Colonial BancGroup

18 08 2009

BB&T took control of Colonial BancGroup Inc., Alabama’s third-largest state-chartered bank, after it was seized by regulators.

Colonial’s demise was the largest bank failure in Alabama history. It is the sixth-largest bank to fail in the United States and the largest of 74 U.S. banks to fail this year.

At 5 p.m. on August 14th, the State of Alabama Banking Department officially appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver of the bank, which signed a loss-sharing agreement with BB&T.

Colonial’s $20 billion in deposits have been transferred to Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T.

BB&T Corp. has launched a $750 million public offering of its common stock.

The bank will use the proceeds for general corporate purposes.

The underwriters will have a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 15 percent in shares to cover overallotments.

Source: Jacksonville Business Journal

2Q Existing Home & Condo Sales Up in Most States

13 08 2009

Existing-home sales in the second quarter showed healthy gains from the first quarter in the vast majority of states, and price declines have increased affordability in most metro areas, according to the latest survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Total state existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, rose 3.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.76 million units in the second quarter from 4.58 million units in the first quarter, but remain 2.9 percent below the 4.90 million-unit pace in the second quarter of 2008.

Thirty-nine states experienced sales increases from the first quarter, and nine states were higher than a year ago; the District of Columbia showed both quarterly and annual rises.

Jacksonville Homes

Existing single family and condominium sales continued to rebound in Jacksonville during the second quarter, climbing 7 percent and 12 percent, respectively, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

In the Jacksonville area 347 homes sold in the second quarter compared with 311 homes sold during the same period last year, and 3,054 condos sold compared with 2,862 sold in the second quarter 2008.

Median home prices were down 16 percent in Jacksonville, from $191,700 to $160,300. Condo prices were down from $159,700 to $124,900.

Statewide home sales were up 23 percent to 43,125 and the median price was down 29 percent to $143,600. Statewide condo sales were up 29 percent to 14,742 and the median sales price was down 38 percent to $111,100.

Sixteen of Florida’s 20 metropolitan statistical areas reported increased sales during the second quarter and 12 reported gains in condo sales. The Fort Myers-Cape Coral area had the biggest gain in home sales, jumping 95 percent to 4,590, while Orlando had the biggest gain in condos, spiking 202 percent to 1,395.

Florida Market

Sales of existing single-family homes in Florida rose 23 percent in second quarter 2009 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the latest housing statistics from the Florida Association of Realtors (FAR). A total of 43,125 existing homes sold statewide in 2Q 2009; during the same period the year before, a total of 35,008 existing homes sold. It marks the fourth consecutive quarter that Florida has seen higher existing year-to-year home sales, according to FAR.

Sales of existing condominiums statewide in the second quarter rose 29 percent compared to the same time the previous year. This marks the third consecutive quarter for increased statewide sales in both the existing home and condo markets compared to year-ago levels.

Statewide sales activity in 2Q 2009 also increased over 1Q 2009’s sales figure in both the existing home and existing condo markets, FAR records show. For 2Q 2009, statewide sales of existing homes rose 37.2 percent over the 1Q 2009 figure; existing condo sales statewide in 2Q 2009 increased 45.3 percent over the 1Q 2009 level.

“In spite of the challenges with the economy, most people – 83 percent – still believe that buying a home is a good financial decision, according to a recent survey from the National Association of Realtors (NAR),” says 2009 FAR President Cynthia Shelton, CCIM, CRE, a broker and director of investment sales with Colliers Arnold in Orlando. (CCIM stands for Certified Commercial Investment Member and CRE is the Counselor of Real Estate designation). “Many homebuyers are realizing that this is the time to buy – with a good selection of housing inventory, affordable pricing and low mortgage rates.

“In fact, three-fourths of those responding to the 2009 National Housing Pulse Survey said they think now is a good time to purchase a home, a number that has increased steadily the past two years,” she says. “However, providing solid financing options for homebuyers is key to returning stability to the housing market, and buyers also need programs that help with downpayment and closing costs. That’s why the federal $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit and other programs enabling eligible buyers to access that tax credit for downpayment or closing costs are so important – programs like the Florida Homebuyer Opportunity Program.”

Sixteen of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported increased sales of existing homes in the second quarter compared to the same three-month period a year earlier, while 12 MSAs showed gains in condo sales.

The statewide existing-home median sales price was $143,600 in the second quarter; a year earlier, it was $203,200 for a decrease of 29 percent. The 2Q 2009 statewide existing-home median sales price was 1.8 percent higher than 1Q’s statewide existing-home median sales price of $141,000. According to industry analysts with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes. The median is a typical market price where half the homes sold for more, half for less.

In the year-to-year quarterly comparison for condo sales, 14,742 units sold statewide for the quarter compared to 11,459 in 2Q 2008 for a 29 percent increase. The statewide existing-condo median sales price was $111,100 for the three-month period; in 2Q 2008, it was $179,800 for a decrease of 38 percent. The 2Q 2009 statewide existing-condo median sales price was almost 1 percent higher 1Q’s statewide existing-condo median sales price of $110,100.

Continuing low mortgage rates remain another favorable influence on the housing sector. According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate for a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.03 percent in 2Q 2009; one year earlier, it averaged 6.09 percent.

Source: Florida Association of Realtors

Taylor Morrison Offers Home Assurance Program

12 08 2009

Taylor Morrison Inc. is offering to refund a homebuyer’s down payment if their home decreases in value in five years. It’s part of a free new program the homebuilder has launched called Taylor Morrison Total Assurance.

Under the terms of the program homebuyers who purchase a Taylor Morrison home through Taylor Morrison Home Funding and live in it for five consecutive years are eligible to receive a down payment refund of up to 10 percent of the original purchase price if their home is valued at less than they paid for it when they sell it.

Buyers are also required to maintain their home in accordance with home warranty and home owner association guidelines and not use it as an investment property. Homes sold through foreclosure or short sale do not qualify for the refund.

Taylor Morrison offers four new home communities in Northeast Florida starting from the $90,000s. They include Lakeside in Jacksonville; St. Johns Forest in St. Johns County; Austin Park at Nocatee in Ponte Vedra and Kindlewood in Middleburg.

Source: Jacksonville Business Journal

Investment Visas: Road to Greencard and Citizenship

11 08 2009

As wealthy foreign nationals increasingly flock to Florida to buy distressed real estate, some are seeking an added return on their investment: a green card.

Local immigration attorneys say a growing number of Latin American and European clients are applying for investor visas, which in some cases lay down a fast track to residency and eventually citizenship. Others offer a chance to live and work in the country indefinitely.

As the region’s real estate market continues to buckle under unsold properties, widespread foreclosures and failed condo projects, new interest in investor visas is helping whet the already hearty appetite of foreign nationals being drawn to the market by steep bargains.

The visa opportunity isn’t for someone buying a single condo: a significant investment is required.

“Clients are coming to us primarily because of the economic opportunity they see in the market,” said Randall Sidlosca, an immigration lawyer with Fowler, White & Burnett’s Miami office. “It’s mind-boggling to see the amount of interest. … It’s rather good news. It could mean the market will turn around faster than in other parts of the state.”

The purpose of these visas, which have been around for more than two decades, is to offer immigrants the opportunity to come and create jobs, rather than those who come as a result of family relationships and may do little to stimulate the economy, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes immigration controls.

Developers and entrepreneurs are catching on to the program. They are hoping the attraction of U.S. residency will help generate new sources of badly needed capital at a time when access to credit has all but dried up. They have new reason to hope.

Eduardo Namnum, a Mexican national, got a green card about eight months ago after investing about $1 million in a restaurant in Bonita Springs. Since then, Namnum said he had purchased a condominium as well as an acre of land in Sunny Isles Beach he plans to develop in the next year as office condos.

“A lot of my friends [from Mexico City] are buying real estate here because there are very, very good deals,” Namnum said.


With them, he is also exploring the possibility of partnering to develop the office condo project.

“It looks very interesting to them, especially if they can get the visa and residency,” Namnum said.

In March, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services included Miami-Dade and Monroe counties in a pilot program that gives temporary residency to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in a new or established business that creates – directly or indirectly – at least 10 full-time jobs.

Until the two counties were approved for the pilot program, a $1 million investment was typically required to be eligible for the EB-5 investor visa, which required investors to employ 10 workers directly. The lower investment threshold could be a significant incentive for more people to apply, attorneys say.

About 10,000 EB-5 investor visas are available annually, of them about 3,000 for the pilot program. Last year, fewer than 1,000 were issued under the relatively obscure EB-5 visa program. A move is under way in Congress to make the pilot program permanent in the aftermath of growing interest brought about by the recession.

David Hart, a Miami immigration lawyer, helped win the designation for Miami-Dade and Monroe with his partner Eric Gould and has established the South Florida Investment Regional Center to connect foreign investors with local companies.

The first project: helping Miami developer Arva Jain finish the $12 million build-out of 45,000 square feet of commercial space attached to the Marina Blue condominium at 888 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami. The mixed-use project includes plans for a restaurant, a spa, hotel, office and retail space.

“A lot of these projects can’t get financing from banks,” Hart said, “This is a pretty interesting way of financing a project that can’t get a temporary loan or a loan based on the asset itself.”

Hart said $500,000 investment packages were being prepared for 24 potential clients. Marketing – through foreign immigration agents in Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Taiwan, China, Russia – begins at the end of the month.

Investors remain silent or limited partners in the project, with no day-to-day responsibilities. A temporary green card allows them to live and work anywhere in the country, including a spouse and children under 21 for two years. At the end of that period, they can get permanent green cards; and, after five years from the initial approval, apply for U.S. citizenship.

The visa can be renewed indefinitely.

The investors’ route to residency is one of the fastest available. It can take up to four or five years for applicants who are sponsored by a U.S. company and 12 to 15 years for applicants sponsored by a family member, depending on the relative’s relationship to the sponsor and their country of origin.

Competitive edge

Because many people prefer to live where they invest, South Florida could have a competitive edge over other regional investment centers, Hart said. There are more than 65 around the country, up from 23 a year ago, according to USCIS.

In Orlando, investors who sink $1 million into the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa get three two-bed, two-bath condos with their fast track to U.S. residency. So, far there have been no takers for the program that launched in January.

While no comprehensive statistics exist, recent research from analyst Craig Werley of Focus Real Estate Advisors in Coral Gables, suggests at least 12 percent of the new condos in the greater downtown Miami area are now owed by foreigners. The preliminary research is based on closings in 10 buildings representing more 1,200 unit sales.

Maralyn Leaf, a Miami business immigration lawyer, said foreign investors should be welcome. “They are bringing money from abroad for our financial institutions,” Leaf said.

Other options also exist for foreign investors interested in making the U.S. their home. An E-2 Treaty Investor Visa, for instance, is good for up to five years and requires only a “substantial” investment in a business activity that contributes to the economy, providing more flexibility in terms of eligibility. The applicant, however, has to actively manage the investment, which usually means setting up a company.

Buying a single-family home and renting it out does not suffice.

Only investors whose countries have trade and commerce treaties with the U.S. are eligible for the visa, which excludes Brazil and Venezuela and others.

For foreign investors interested in the region, the stars could not have aligned at a more opportune time to apply for residency, said Alfredo Vizcarrondo, president of AV Group, a Doral-based real estate services firm that facilitates Latin American investment in South Florida.

Political and economic uncertainty in many countries is pushing the well-heeled to look for secure places to stash their money abroad. Meantime, South Florida properties – foreclosures, short sales and other distressed situations – are going for fire-sale prices.

Said Vizcarrondo: “They are trying to put their money into something that means security.”

Source: The Miami Herald

U.S. Economic Outlook Forecast: August 2009

9 08 2009

The National Association of REALTORS has released the U.S. Economic Outlook for the month of August ’09. This monthly summary forecast table includes actual and predicted movement in GDP, consumer prices, home sales, home prices, housing starts, mortgage rates and more. See:

• GDP 2009 Q3: + 0.8%
• GDP 2009 Q4: +1.3%
• GDP 2010 Q1: +2.5%
• Unemployment rate by the end of 2009: 10.4%
• Average 30-year fixed mortgage rate by the end of 2009: 5.4%

Did you know nearly one-quarter of first-time buyers are single females who purchased their first home on a median income of $47,400?

To access NAR official forcast, click here.

Source: National Association of REALTORS

Countrywide to Begin Making Settlement Payments in 2010

8 08 2009

Countrywide Financial, now owned by Bank of America, will soon begin making cash payments of at least $3,000 to each of its Florida customers who have experienced a foreclosure or fallen behind on mortgage payments within four months of getting their loan.

The cash payments are part of a $1 billion settlement the company reached last year with the Florida attorney general to avoid prosecution for allegedly hoodwinking customers into taking out subprime mortgages and other risky, high-cost loans. Ten other states also reached agreements with the company for a combined $8.4 billion in mortgage relief, which also includes loan modifications.

In all, about 5,700 Florida borrowers are entitled to about $17 million under a Foreclosure Relief Program established as part of the settlement. Countrywide will pay another $4 million to the attorney general’s office. Last month, the office announced it would use the money to fund a foreclosure defense grant program through the Florida Bar Foundation. Letters notifying borrowers eligible for the payments began going out last month.

In the letters, Countrywide told borrowers that in agreeing to accept the settlement payment, they were also agreeing to give up any legal claims against the company and its affiliates, including joining any class-action lawsuits. To receive a payment, borrowers have to sign and return the claim form and release by Oct. 22.

Each eligible borrower will get at least $3,000, and possibly more, depending on how many people mail in the claim and release forms.

Checks will start being mailed in early 2010, the company said.

If someone thinks they maybe be eligible for a payment, but did not receive a letter, the attorney general said they should call the office’s fraud hot line at (866) 966-7226. They can also try Countrywide’s settlement administrator at (866) 411-6987, or, for the hearing impaired, (866) 494-8397. They can also visit

%d bloggers like this: