Florida Existing Home, Condo Sales Rise in January 2010

28 02 2010

Florida’s existing home sales rose in January, marking 17 months that sales activity has increased in the year-to-year comparison, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

Existing home sales increased 24 percent last month with a total of 10,465 homes sold statewide compared to 8,444 homes sold in January 2009, according to Florida Realtors. January’s statewide sales of existing condos rose 81 percent compared to the previous year’s sales figure.

Sixteen of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported increased existing home sales in January; all MSAs had higher condo sales. A majority of the state’s MSAs have reported increased sales for 19 consecutive months.

“Now is the time for anyone thinking of buying a home in Florida to make that decision,” said 2010 Florida Realtors President Wendell Davis, a broker and regional vice president with Watson Realty Corp. in Jacksonville. “Markets across the state are seeing increased sales, yet conditions remain very favorable with still-low mortgage rates, a range of housing inventory and attractive prices. As an added incentive, buyers need to accelerate their plans because a purchase contract must be in place by the end of April to take advantage of the extended and expanded federal tax credit. To find out more, consult a Realtor about options, qualification criteria and opportunities in your local housing market.”

Florida’s median sales price for existing homes last month was $130,900; a year ago, it was $139,400 for a 6 percent decrease. Analysts with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) note that 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 December 2009 was $177,500, up 1.4 percent from a year earlier, according to NAR. In California, the statewide median resales price was $306,820 in December; in Massachusetts, it was $305,000; in Maryland, it was $244,820; and in New York, it was $222,000.

According to NAR’s latest outlook, homebuyers are taking advantage of the federal tax credit. “With inventory levels trending down over the past 18 months, we expect broadly balanced housing market conditions in much of the country by late spring with more areas showing higher prices,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

In Florida’s year-to-year comparison for condos, 4,631 units sold statewide last month compared to 2,554 units in January 2009 for an increase of 81 percent. The statewide existing condo median sales price last month was $97,300; in January 2009 it was $113,300 for a 14 percent decrease. The national median existing condo price was $183,700 in December 2009, according to NAR.

Interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.03 percent last month, slightly lower than the average rate of 5.05 percent in January 2009, according to Freddie Mac. Florida Realtors’ sales figures reflect closings, which typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

Among the state’s smaller markets, the Fort Walton Beach MSA reported a total of 143 homes sold in January compared to 118 homes a year earlier for a 21 percent increase. The market’s existing home median sales price last month was $201,400; a year ago it was $188,300 for an increase of 7 percent. A total of 70 condos sold in the MSA in January compared to 25 units sold the same month a year earlier for an increase of 180 percent. The existing condo median price last month was $270,800; a year earlier, it was $268,800 for a gain of 1 percent.

Source: Florida Realtors

First-Time Homebuyer Credit for Service Members of the Military and Certain Other Federal Employees

25 02 2010

Did you know that qualified service members who are ordered on a period of official extended duty, the tax credit dates are extended for one more year? For these homebuyers, the tax credit applies to sales with a binding sales contract in place on or before April 30, 2011 and closed by June 30, 2011.

Special Rules for Members of the Military, the Foreign Service and the Intelligence Community

Congress has acknowledged the unique circumstances affecting members of the military, the foreign service and the intelligence community by making the following exceptions that apply to both the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers and the $6,500 tax credit for repeat home buyers.
Exemption From Tax Credit Recapture Rules

* Typically, homes that are sold or that cease to be used as a principal residence within three years of the initial purchase are subject to recapture of the tax credit.
* However, qualified service members who sell or move from a tax credit home within three years of the initial purchase due to official extended duty are exempt from the recapture rule.

Extension of Tax Credit Deadlines

* The home buyer tax credit is available for qualified purchases with a binding sales contract in place on or before April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010.
* However, for qualified service members who are ordered on a period of official extended duty, these dates are extended for one year. For these home buyers, the tax credit applies to sales with a binding sales contract in place on or before April 30, 2011 and closed by June 30, 2011.


* “Qualified service member” means a member of the uniformed services of the US Military, a member of the Foreign Service of the US or an employee of the intelligence community.
* “Official extended duty” means any period of extended duty outside of the United Stated for at least 90 days during the period beginning after December 31, 2008 and ending before May 1, 2010.

Source: IRS http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=215594,00.html

Home Purchase Loan Demand at Lowest Since 1997

24 02 2010

U.S. mortgage applications fell for a third straight week, with demand for home purchase loans sinking to the lowest level in 13 years as inclement weather weighed, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.

A continued drop in demand for purchase loans, a tentative early indicator of home sales, would not bode well for the hard-hit U.S. housing market, which remains highly vulnerable to setbacks and heavily reliant on government intervention.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported an 8.5 percent decline in its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended February 19.

The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smoothes the volatile weekly figures, was up 1.6 percent.

The MBA’s seasonally adjusted purchase index fell 7.3 percent, the lowest level since May 1997.

“As many East Coast markets were digging out from the blizzard last week, purchase applications fell, another indication that housing demand remains relatively weak,” Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics, said in a statement.

“With home prices continuing to drift amid an abundant inventory of homes on the market, potential homebuyers do not see any urgency to lock in purchases,” he said.

The MBA’s seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications decreased 8.9 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 68.1 percent of total applications from 69.3 percent the previous week. The shares of adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARM, increased to 4.7 percent from 4.4 percent the previous week.

A rise in rates may have played a role. Interest rates on mortgages typically play less of a role in home purchase loan demand than in refinancing activity.

The MBA said borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 5.03 percent, up 0.09 percentage point from the previous week.

That is above the all-time low of 4.61 percent set in the week ended March 27, 2009, but below the year-ago level of 5.07 percent. The survey has been conducted weekly since 1990.

“Demand is waning due to rising mortgage rates and the fear that rates will move higher after March 31,” said Alan Rosenbaum, president of Guardhill Financial, a New York-based mortgage banker and brokerage company.

Mortgage rates are expected to rise when the Federal Reserve stops buying mortgage-related securities at the end of March.

The MBA said fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 4.35 percent, up from 4.33 percent the previous week. Rates on one-year ARMs increased to 6.80 percent from 6.67 percent.

The lowest mortgage rates in decades and high affordability helped the hard-hit U.S. housing market find some footing in 2009 after a three-year slump.

More key insight into the state of the housing market will emerge on Wednesday when the U.S. Commerce Department releases January new U.S. single-family home sales data.

Source: Reuters and Fidelity Investment

Fed Raises Interest Rate Charged to Banks In First Move Since 2008

20 02 2010

The Federal Reserve, taking its first step to return lending to normal after more than two years of extraordinary actions to prop up the economy, on Thursday raised its discount rate — the interest rate it charges on emergency loans to banks — by one-quarter percentage point.

The increase, to 0.75 percent from 0.50 percent, takes effect on Friday.

Officials said the move was not meant to be a broad tightening of credit. Rather, they said, it was intended to discourage emergency borrowing when other financing is available to banks.
The discount rate had been at 0.50 percent since December 2008.

Source: New York Times

Housing Construction up 2.8% in January

18 02 2010

Housing construction posted a better-than-expected increase in January, which pushed activity to the highest level in six months. The solid gain raised hopes that the construction industry is beginning to mount a sustained rebound from its worst slump in decades.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments rose 2.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 591,000 units. That was better than the 580,000 annual pace that economists were forecasting.

Applications for building permits, considered a good barometer of future activity, fell 4.9 percent to a rate of 621,000, but that was after two months of large increases.

In another sign of strength, Wednesday’s report revised activity upwards in December to show builders were starting construction at an annual pace of 575,000 units during that month, much stronger than the 557,000 originally reported. Even with the upward revision, activity fell a slight 0.7 percent in December, a dip that was blamed on severe weather in many parts of the country that depressed construction activity.

Economists are hoping that housing is beginning to recover and a rebound in this area will help support the economy as it struggles to mount a sustained recovery from the deepest recession since the 1930s.

The strength last month was led by a 10 percent jump in activity in the Northeast and an 8.9 percent increase in the West. Construction was up a smaller 1 percent in the South and 3.2 percent in the Midwest.

The strength in January pushed construction activity up by 21.1 percent from the pace in January 2009. Last month’s building rate was the fastest pace since July.

Construction of single-family homes rose by 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 484,000 units while construction of multi-family units increased 9.2 percent to an annual rate of 107,000 units.

The National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday that its housing market index rose by two points to 17 in February after having fallen for two consecutive months.

That increase in sentiment was likely influenced by a number of favorable developments including a report earlier this month that the nation’s unemployment rate fell in January to 9.7 percent – still high, but lower than the 10 percent of the previous month.

In other favorable developments, mortgage rates are hovering around 5 percent, pushed down by a Federal Reserve program to buy mortgage-backed securities. And builders say they are also seeing a boost in the demand for homes coming from a government stimulus program. That program provides tax credits of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers and up to $6,500 for current homeowners who decide to move.

Bob Jones, chairman of the home builders, said builders were “slightly more optimistic that the housing recovery is finally beginning to take root.”

Source: The Associated Press

Median Home Prices Show Signs of Stability

18 02 2010

Home prices rose in more than 40 percent of U.S. cities in the fourth quarter of last year, as massive federal spending helped the housing market show signs of stability.

The National Association of Realtors said that the median sales price for previously occupied homes rose in 67 out of 151 metropolitan areas in the October-December quarter versus a year ago. That’s a sharp improvement from the third quarter, when prices rose in only 20 percent of cities.

The national median price was $172,900, or 4.1 percent below the fourth quarter last year. That was the smallest year-over-year price decline in more than two years.

Home sales surged in the quarter, outpacing the third quarter and the previous year’s figures. A federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers that was originally due to expire Nov. 30 but was extended through April provided much of the fuel. Sales for the quarter hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6 million, up 27 percent from a year earlier.

The big question hanging over the housing market this year is whether the tentative recovery will stumble after the government pulls back support. The Federal Reserve’s $1.25 trillion program to push down mortgage rates is scheduled to expire at the end of March. A month later, the newly extended tax credit for first-time homebuyers runs out.

Economists are also concerned about a huge backlog of homeowners facing foreclosure. If those homes go up for sale at deeply discounted prices, median prices could turn downward again. Indeed, prices in some severely depressed areas are still falling.

The largest price decline by percentage in the fourth quarter was in Ocala, Fla., where the median sale price plunged 23.4 percent to $93,000. Foreclosure-plagued Las Vegas saw its median price tumble 23.3 percent to $139,400 versus a year ago.

The largest price gain was in Saginaw, Mich., where prices rose more than 50 percent to a median of $67,400. Cleveland followed with an increase of 25 percent to $110,000.

Source: Associated Press

Countrywide Settlement Pays $16.9 Million to Florida Homeowners

18 02 2010

More than 2,700 people will receive checks from a 2008 settlement Florida negotiated with Countrywide Financial Corporation. As part of the settlement, Countrywide is offering foreclosure relief payments to eligible borrowers who returned valid and timely claim forms and releases under a program administered by the Countrywide settlement administrator.

More than $16.9 million will be distributed this week, and each check will be written for just over $6,000.

In July 2008, Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a lawsuit against Countrywide, one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies, for allegedly engaging in deceptive and unfair trade practices. The lawsuit claimed Countrywide put borrowers into mortgages they couldn’t afford or loans with rates and penalties that were misleading. That lawsuit was resolved in October 2008, and the settlement agreement included a foreclosure relief payment program for Florida homeowners with qualifying Countrywide mortgages.

Eligible homeowners should consider the following:

• Important information: The checks must be cashed on or before May 13, 2010.

• A payment under this settlement may be taxable, and recipients should consult a tax advisor if they have any questions concerning possible tax liabilities.

• Recipients with any questions should contact the settlement administrator, Rust Consulting, toll free at (866) 411‐6987, or http://www.countrywidesettlementinfo.com.

The settlement also includes $4 million to fund a foreclosure defense assistance program. The money will be provided to organizations over the course of two years, and the first funds were distributed in late 2009. The organizations that receive the grants agree to provide free legal assistance to eligible homeowners who face foreclosure but cannot afford an attorney to review their case.

“These resources, both the checks to homeowners and the grants to fund pro bono foreclosure defense assistance, are substantial assets to Floridians,” says Heather Rodriguez of Holland & Knight law firm and president of the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, one of the organizations that received grant funding and has an attorney dedicated to foreclosure defense assistance. “Orange and Osceola counties are both high in foreclosures, and homeowners are struggling.”

Countrywide Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo was also named in the Countrywide lawsuit and the civil case against him is still pending in Broward County Circuit Court. McCollum has also called on Bank of America, the company that acquired Countrywide after the lawsuit was filed, to be more responsive to consumers trying to modify loans and save their home from foreclosure.

Source: Florida Realtors

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