June 6th, 2007 9:01 PM by Ron Mastrodonato
Tighter lending standards affect April existing-home sales, says NAR
Florida’s median sales price for existing single-family homes in April was $237,800; a year ago, it was $245,900 for a 3 percent decrease. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less. In April 2002, the statewide median sales price for single-family homes was $133,700, for an increase of 77.9 percent over the five-year-period, according to FAR records.In March 2007, the national median sales price for existing single-family homes was $215,300, down 0.9 percent from the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). In California, the statewide median resales price was $580,090 in March; in Massachusetts, it was $344,000; in Maryland, it was $302,750; and in New York, it was $248,000.Housing industry analysts anticipate that a decline in subprime mortgage loans, coupled with stricter lending standards, could impact housing activity in the coming months. According to NAR Senior Economist Lawrence Yun, one benefit for the market is the disappearance of speculative behavior, which contributed to abnormal price growth. “Homebuyers today are purchasing for the long-term, generally with a realistic expectation of modest gains over time,” Yun said in NAR’s latest market outlook. “It’s good that we’re getting beyond the tendency of some buyers to view housing as a temporary asset to accumulate short-term wealth, which is not to be expected in a normal market.” NAR predicts that existing home sales will increase gradually in the second half of 2007, with prices recovering a bit later.Sales of existing condominiums in Florida also decreased last month, with a total of 4,321 condos sold statewide compared to 5,344 in April 2006 for a 19 percent decline, according to FAR. The statewide median sales price for condos last month was $215,500, up 3 percent from April 2006’s condo median price of $210,000. NAR reported the national median existing condo price was $228,200 in March 2007.Last month, interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.18 percent, according to Freddie Mac, a significant drop from the average rate of 6.51 percent in April 2006. FAR’s sales figures reflect closings, which typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written. Among the state’s larger markets, the Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) reported 796 existing homes sold last month compared to 685 homes sold a year ago for a 16 percent increase. The market's median sales price for homes was $294,800; it was $302,100 in April 2006 for a 2 percent decrease. A total of 333 existing condos changed hands in the MSA last month, up 11 percent from the 299 condos sold the previous year. The existing condo median sales price in April was $241,300; a year ago, it was $259,000 for a 7 percent decrease.People in the Sarasota area are getting the message that now is a great time to buy a home, says Joe Hembree, president of the Sarasota Association of Realtors and broker-owner of Hembree & Associates Inc. He points to the association’s promotional campaign “Time2Buy” as a positive medium for spreading the word to consumers. “Low interest rates, a great inventory of homes available and stabilizing prices are positive influences on our market,” he says. “The Sarasota area offers so many benefits for residents: beautiful beaches, a friendly community and great social atmosphere, world-class arts and entertainment. It’s a wonderful place to live and play.”Among the state’s smaller markets, the Gainesville MSA reported a total of 225 homes sold in April compared to 258 homes a year ago for a 13 percent decrease. The existing home median sales price was $214,200; a year ago, it was $204,200 for a 5 percent increase. A total of 74 existing condos sold in the MSA last month compared to 90 condos the previous April for a decrease of 18 percent. The market’s existing condo median price was $160,000; a year ago, it was $154,000 for a 4 percent increase.Sherry Patrick, president of the Gainesville Alachua County Association of Realtors and broker-associate with Coldwell Banker MM Parrish, says that the area’s stable economy provides a solid foundation for the housing market. “Having the University of Florida is a big plus for our economy,” she says. “The Gainesville area has a strong labor force and employment outlook, as well as a college-town atmosphere, educational opportunities and cultural activities to attract residents.”© FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS
Citizens’ group pushes for tax-cut voteMIAMI, Fla. – May 25, 2007 – Members of a South Florida citizens' group with some influential backing have a message for state lawmakers: Lower property taxes soon or we'll do it ourselves.Citizens for Property Tax Reform announced Thursday it is prepared to raise and spend more than $2 million to put a tax-cut amendment before voters on the 2008 primary ballot. The group has established a campaign headquarters.Supporting the cause: the powerful Latin Builders Association.The challenge is daunting: They must gather and verify more than 611,000 signatures for a yet-to-be written proposal that lowers property taxes enough to win the approval of 60 percent of voters.The group's call for action comes at a time when the House and Senate, unable to solve the inequities of the current property tax system, are scheduled to meet next month in a special session in Tallahassee solely to work on property tax reform.House Speaker Marco Rubio, who raised expectations in the Legislature earlier this year when he proposed eliminating property taxes altogether, met with the group last week and supports its efforts. He said it "adds to the pressure" to find a solution.At a Thursday morning press conference in Little Havana, the citizens' group outlined the proposal. It calls for seniors to pay 30 percent of their assessed tax bill, homesteaded-property owners to pay 40 percent and commercial and investment property owners to pay 50 percent.Bernie Navarro, the group's chairman, knows there's much work to be done before the measure appears on any ballot, but he says there's no shortage of outrage among property owners over the property tax issue.MOMENTUM"I've gotten calls from people in Jacksonville, people in St. Petersburg," he said. "We've got a lot of momentum. We could really get somewhere."Citizens for Property Tax Reform was founded earlier this year when Navarro, a west Miami-Dade mortgage executive, and two friends traveled to Tallahassee to observe Florida lawmakers tackling property taxes.The group is heavily backed by the Latin Builders Association and Miami-based supporters of Rubio, embracing the lawmaker's original plan to swap a hike in sales tax with eliminating all taxes on homesteaded properties.The measure was rejected by Gov. Crist and the Senate.MIAMI IS 'HOTBED'Rubio now predicts that if legislators don't resolve their differences, more groups will sprout up around the state. "Miami is one of the hotbeds of property tax because it's a particularly egregious problem here," he said.Next month, lawmakers are set to debate several proposals to lower property taxes.Rubio supports creating a super-sized exemption on homesteaded property, which would be based on each home's market value.All primary homeowners would pay a base rate of 20 percent on the market value of the home, up to $300,000. Owners of more expensive homes would pay 30 percent on the portion between $301,000 and $1 million and 70 percent on the portion beyond $1 million.Democrats have countered with a plan that gives homesteaded property owners their existing $25,000 exemption plus a write-off that's equivalent to half the median value of a home in their county.Rubio said Thursday he is looking at another option that would take pieces of the Democrats' plan but expand it to give heftier tax breaks to owners of higher-priced homes.Under Rubio's new option:-- Homeowners would get a super-exemption of 75 percent of the median value of a home in their county unless they are over age 65, in which case their tax exemption would be 90 percent.-- Homes whose market value is between median value in the county and twice the median value would get an exemption worth 50 percent the median value;-- Homes worth more than twice the median value would get a 25 percent exemption on their taxes.FAIRNESSRubio said he sought the option because he is concerned about the impact a flat percentage would have on small cities and counties and because a fixed number in the constitution would require constant change.He said he will not back off the notion that all homeowners, regardless of the value of their homes, deserve a substantial tax break."The purpose of our tax system is not to redistribute wealth," he said."We're not doing this to start class warfare. Someone with a $12 million home can be paying unfair taxes as much as someone with a $200,000 home."© Copyright 2007, The Miami Herald, Kathleen Mcgrory and Mary Ellen Klas. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.