Back to the 'reality retrospective'
For at least three weeks, while still basking in the glow of the holiday season, I’ve given you a break from what I’ll call the real estate "reality retrospective." But it’s Jan. 27 in a brand new decade, it’s time to shake off the glitter, stick your head out from under the covers and get back into the real world.
Unfortunately, this year’s real world doesn’t look much better than last year’s did when it relates to the foreclosure rate. Florida has the third highest mortgage delinquency rate in the nation, with an estimated 456,000 pending foreclosure cases statewide. As reported by the Bradenton Herald last month, 2009 was a record year for foreclosures in Manatee County topping out over 6,000 compared to 5,592 for 2008.
The high unemployment rate, 12.9 percent in Manatee County and 11.5 percent in Florida, is expected to continue having a negative effect on the rate of foreclosures. Consequently, 2010 will continue to have an elevated rate of foreclosure filings at least for the first half of the year. Hopefully, some of the federal and state government efforts to alleviate the crises will start to slow the tide of new foreclosure filings.
One of those efforts is a Florida Supreme Court ruling that went into effect at the end of December, establishing a statewide managed mediation program to speed up processing the glut of foreclosures clogging the state’s courts. Some circuit courts in the state have already started the practice of mediation, requiring a nonprofit organization to conduct the mediation at a cost to the plaintiff.
The managed mediation program requires an explanation of the court- required mediation program to be explained to the homeowner along with a foreclosure summons. Mediation fees of up to $750 are paid by the plaintiff, and between 60 and 120 days later a mediation session between the borrower and the lender is scheduled. If the mediation is successful, the case is settled, if not, the case proceeds to court litigation.
The mediation involves a lender reviewing a homeowner’s finances to determine whether the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio can qualify for a loan modification. Mediators are not necessarily advocates for homeowners, and managed mediation is not a guarantee that will keep distressed borrowers in their homes. Even so, mediation is starting to work and unclogging the court dockets.
The Supreme Court ruling is only applicable to homesteaded homeowners. Second home and investment properties about to go into foreclosure will not be required by the Florida courts to undergo managed mediation.
Another thing to worry about in 2010 is the possibility of higher interest rates. As of this writing, the Federal Reserve is neither denying nor confirming the possibility of increasing interest rates in an effort to ward off inflation. If mortgage money becomes more expensive, it will give buyers less buying power, pushing values lower. Going hand and hand with high rates are more stringent lending standards, further reducing the pool of potential buyers.
Well, that’s the real estate reality retrospective for the first month of 2010, and the reality is that foreclosures aren’t going away yet. But there is another reality too, the very real fact that people who are in a position to buy are looking down the barrel of one of the strongest buyers’ markets, maybe ever. I guess there still is some glitter out there.