Foreclosures still hurt real estate market
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING Foreclosures have controlled the real estate market for the past five years, and that didn't change in 2012.
Published: January 4, 2013
Published: January 4, 2013
Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine reported 896 repossessed houses in 2012. Although that number has declined since a 2009 high of 1,508, it's also 33 percent higher than last year.
RE/MAX Realty Plus agent Steve Fruit keeps statistics on houses that are sold. "I'd say 40 to 45 percent were either short sales."
That may mean the real estate market has yet to hit bottom.
"It's still bottoming out, but it's been going down (more slowly) than it was," he said.
Another factor: "There are a lot of investors out there buying," Fruit said. "Somebody is sensing we are near the bottom."
Real estate in Highlands County is cyclical, he said. "We see the majority of closings between January and May."
That's when about 17,000 seasonal residents come down – mostly from Canada, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Most rent, but some will decide to buy houses for dual or permanent residency in Highlands County.
Sales are 10 percent better than last year, but Fruit thinks the retiree market has slowed down, perhaps because they aren't confident they can sell their residences up north, or because their investment portfolios are sagging, or because of they lack confidence in the economy.
The real estate market still has an 18-month inventory, about the same as last year, Fruit said. That number goes down until late spring, and begins to rise throughout the summer and fall.
It's the same story in the Highlands County Property Appraiser's office.
"The foreclosures in 2012 are continuing to impact the market values and the process we use to analyze the sales data for assessment purposes," said Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre. "We are utilizing larger market areas due to the lower volume of sales overall and the high number of foreclosures."
Will foreclosures continue to mount in 2013?
Germaine said about 1,970 foreclosures have been filed by banks and mortgage companies, up 500 from last year. When they are adjudicated, those houses will go on the market. But he's been expecting that to happen for two years.
"I just don't think the banks are pushing it," Germaine said. "I don't think they're in any rush. Some will be paid off, some will be worked out, some will be refinanced. But 95 percent of the time, if it goes to a foreclosure sale, the bank takes it back, because they're owed more money than it's worth."
"I don't have any factual way to forecast the 2013 foreclosure expectations," McIntyre said. "However, the line is becoming increasing blurred between foreclosures due to the poor economy and loss of jobs, and those that are due to the housing market crash which triggered a loss of value."
The effect of foreclosures, from McIntyre's point of view, is to lower the amount of taxes collected for Highlands County, the three municipalities, the school board and other governments.
Homestead exemptions and agriculture classifications can be filed though March 1, so McIntyre's office is still working on the 2013 tax roll.
"Which will determined by the 2012 market sales data," McIntyre said. "The foreclosures in 2012 indicate a weaker market and, based on preliminary analysis of the 2012 sales, it appears the values will be slightly down again.
"However," McIntyre added, "it is much too early to give any forecast on the overall impact to the tax roll at this time. The tax roll will be complete in July. We will have more accurate estimates regarding changes in value in May or June."
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