Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for July, 2011

July home index leaves little to smile about


Every month, real estate people, financing professionals, homebuilders and many others wait with great anticipation for release of the monthly Case-Schiller home price index from Standard & Poor. 

 The index keeps track, on a month-by-month basis, of home prices across the country.

standard & PoorThe most recent index report was released this week. And while everyone was hoping for a healthy uptick in home sales, what they got instead was more of the same.

Home prices in May (measured in 20 major cities) were down 4.5 percent from the same month a year ago. When compared to the previous month of this year, April, home prices were virtually unchanged.

 So what we have is a market that continues to sort of limp along at the same slow pace. No big drops to indicate additional troubles in the area of home prices; but no indications of additional market recovery, either.

Taken market-by-market, prices were up a bit in nine cities, and down a bit in 11 others. Unfortunately for those of us in this part of the country, homes prices were down 1.5 percent in Tampa Bay.

Why aren’t we seeing more recovery after such a long period of market weakness? Here’s a few possible reasons:

  • The battle in Washington over raising the debt ceiling, and the inability of lawmakers to come up with some sort of strategy or plan – any plan – doesn’t do anything to inspire confidence.
  • Because so many problems result from lax lending standards, the current lending standards are much tighter than before, and that keeps some buyers (even qualified buyers) out of the market.
  • High unemployment rates (9.2 percent nationally) means thousands of people don’t have the incomes necessary for home purchases.
  • The bad economy prevents the formation of new households. People forming new households are people in need of new housing.

 I posted a story a few days ago about the increase in cancelled real estate sales contracts. There are a number of reasons for cancelled contracts (tighter credit standards, tougher appraisals, general nervousness in the market), but whatever the reason, fewer executed contracts obviously means fewer sales.

Were you hoping for a little more optimism in this month’s Case-Schiller home price index? Okay, here are a couple of bright spots: 

  • The inventory of homes for sale was 164,000 units, a little more than a six-month supply. That’s the lowest that home inventories have been in a long time. Once we fight through all this stagnant inventory of homes for sale, we’ll see a re-ignition of the new-home construction business, and that will mean new jobs and some good stimulation for the economy.
  • The median home sales price for the month of June was up 7.2% for new single-family homes. That could be an indication that homes in the higher price ranges are starting to sell.

If you are a glass-half-full kind of person, the new monthly index figures are a little encouraging. If you are more of a glass-half-empty sort, then the index just means more of the same.

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The Hacienda Hotel, once the jewel of New Port Richey, now slowly decays

The 1920s was a decade not unlike the last 10 years here in Florida; the economy was overheated, people (some people, anyway) had plenty of money, and the real estate market was going crazy. Investors were looking for new ways to make money. With all the people who were flooding into the state on vacation, the hotel business seemed like a pretty sure thing.

The Hacienda Hotel, once the jewel of downtown New Port Richey, Fla., now sits empty and forgotten

The Hacienda Hotel, once the jewel of downtown New Port Richey, Fla., now sits empty and forgotten

Hotels popped up all over the state, and some of them are still standing. One of those is the Hacienda Hotel in New Port Richey.

It seems a bit hard to believe now, but some people thought that Pasco County would be a likely spot for a sort of East Coast version of Hollywood. Some actors and movie producers of the day thought the west coast of Florida would be a natural movie-making site, and a number of silent movies were actually shot on location in the area.

Some of those Hollywood types joined with wealthy Pasco County people and hatched an idea for a swanky, Spanish–style, 100-room hotel in downtown New Port Richey, just a stone’s throw from the Pithlachascotee river.

Here is what the St. Petersburg TIMES said about the project in 1925:

The Hacienda's courtyard. That once-beautiful fountain has been seriously vandalized.

The Hacienda's courtyard. That once-beautiful fountain has been seriously vandalized.

“Plans have been set on foot at an enthusiastic meeting of New Port Richeyites for the construction of a 100-room fire-proof hotel. Within a few minutes after the meeting was called to order nearly the entire capital required was subscribed.

“The site selected is a tract overlooking the beautiful Pithlachascotee river, north of the Gulf high school building, and in the exact center of population. The site has the further advantage of being located within a short distance of the proposed station of the West Coast railway, now an assured fact.”

The article said the hotel would be of either Moorish or Spanish-style construction, and would cost about $150,000, pretty big bucks for the day.

A mural on the side of a downtown New Port Richey building depicts a 1920s party in the Hacienda's ballroom

A mural on the side of a downtown New Port Richey building depicts a 1920s party in the Hacienda's ballroom

James E. Meighan, one of the Hollywood types, donated the land. The final design called for a $250,000 building housing 50 rooms and including a steam-heating plant, an open-air dining room, and beams in the dining room and lobby. Ground was broken on Aug. 11, 1926, and the Hacienda’s first guests were welcomed 184 days later.

More than 800 people attended the grand opening on Feb. 5, 1927.

Some pretty famous folk visited or stayed at the Hacienda in those early years – Ring Lardner, Mrs. Arthur Hammerstein, attorney Clarence Darrow, and actress Gloria Swanson among them.

The hotel did reasonably well, and it managed to survive the Depression, which came along not too long after the Hacienda opened its doors. It changed hands a number of times over the years. By the time the 1950s came around, the hotel was being sold fairly regularly, and management changes were frequent. 

The Hacienda, from an old postcard

The Hacienda, from an old postcard

In 1985, the Hacienda was acquired by Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Inc., and the facility became what would be known today as a group home or assisted living center. Later, it became a home for elderly people with mental disabilities.

The city of New Port Richey acquired the property in 2003. It has been vacant since 2006.

The old hotel looks pretty sad today. It would make a great boutique hotel, but restoration costs would probably be very high. If you know of any plans to resurrect the old Hacienda, please let me know.

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Will the federal government become the biggest landlord in Pinellas County?

Q: Who is the biggest single family home landlord in the nation?

A: According to the Wall Street Journal, it could soon be the federal government.

forrentWord has it that the Obama administration is thinking about developing a plan that would allow foreclosed single family homes to be rented out, thereby taking some of those foreclosed properties off the market and generating some income.

At the end of April, HUD owned about 69,000 homes; at the end of March, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned another 218,000 properties.

There’s nothing definite on this idea at this point. But Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress last week that the idea “is worth looking at.” He and others say that renting out the foreclosed homes could help cover the cost of holding the properties until markets stabilize; it might even provide some profits for HUD, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

One downside is that those agencies would have to become giant rental agencies, a business that they don’t understand very well. A better solution might be to sell the foreclosed properties en masse to private investors who would agree to rent them out, and who would agree to contract with property management companies, who would handle the day-to-day management and tenant issues.

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Why the increase in home sales contract cancellations?

Why do home purchase contracts get cancelled?

You spend weeks or even months searching for just the right home. After a lengthy search, and after kissing a lot of frogs, you find your prince of a home and make an offer. You and the seller finally agree on a price and terms; at last you have a contract!

But instead of everything moving forward smoothly, something happens, and you end up with a cancelled contract.

After all your careful work, how can that be?

real estate contract pictureCancelled real estate contracts are one of the side affects of this very difficult real estate market, and they can happen for a multiude of reasons. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported this month that real estate sales slipped during the month of June for the third straight month, and one of the reasons was an increase in the number of cancelled sales contracts.

What’s the reason?

No one really knows for sure, but the NAR points out that tighter credit standards might be one reason. If a loan application is unexepectedly rejected because of credit issues, you can say goodbye to your sales agreement. Likewise, tighter appraisals might be a contributing factor; if a home doesn’t appraise for the agree-upon selling price, that can mean another sales contract that ends up going nowhere.

However, economic uncertainty and the federal budget debacle may be causing hesitation among some consumers or lenders.”

Other possible reasons, according to the NAR: general uncertainty about the nation’s economy, and about the federal budget. That uncertainty may affect home buyers and sellerds as well as mortgage lenders.

Lower limits on loan amounts are scheduled to go into affect on October 1. That is several months off, but some lenders may be applying those lower limits already, anticipating that same current sales may not close before the end of September. That could be having an impact, too.

If you are planning on buying a home in the near future, you may want to call me soon so we can discuss ways of making sure your sales contract stays together until the closing.

I’m always available for a chat at 727-643-7100, or via e-mail at [email protected]

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Adjustable rate mortgages on the rise again in Palm Harbor

One of the casualties of the real estate market “collapse” was the adjustable rate mortgage. ARMs were hugely popular just a few years ago, when home prices were at their highest and borrowing cheap money was easy. But many home buyers went back to the sensible old 30-year fixed-rate home mortgage when more conservative financing seemed like the right way to go.

mortgage loan app picBut not everyone shied away from ARMs. Even though the total number of adjustable rate mortgages was way down in the first quarter of 2011, the total market share of ARMs actually rose to its highest point since 2008. Inside Mortgage Finance, a mortgage trade publication, reports that ARMs actually accounted for 12 percent of all home mortgages in that first quarter of 2011.

Why is that?

Mortgage rates are really low, and the rates for ARMs are REALLY low, and some buyers simply have a hard time resisting that fact. ARMs are especially attractive when mortgage money is expensive, but people really like those rock-bottom rates no matter what the prevailing rates are.

Adjustable rate mortgages are usually written for one, five or seven years, and their rates can go either up or down at the end of the mortgage term. It’s hard to imagine that the rates on new ARMs will be going anywhere but up, current rates being as low as they are.

But for some home buyers, that fact is not all that important. Some people buy homes knowing that they will be turning around and selling their new properties in just a few years – well within in the term of the ARM. In a case like that, there really isn’t much of a down side, or risk of an escalating mortgage rate.

Also, some people don’t like debt and have serious plans to pay off their mortgages in just a few years. If you are one of those people, once again the risk of getting caught with an escalating ARM isn’t very high.

The danger lies in getting an adjustable rate mortgage simply because of the more attractive rate, with no thought given to how you will cover your mortgage payment if the rate goes up in a few years. If you plan to stay in your home for a long time, an ARM may not be a very good strategy for you.

What’s the best mortgage strategy for you? Why don’t you give me a call and we’ll discuss your own special needs and strategies – 727-643-7100.

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