January 16, 2008

Nowhere Near A Turning Point In California

The Ventura County Star reports from California. “Real estate figures released Tuesday show that Ventura County sales plummeted in 2007 to the worst level since the market took off in 2002. Sales of new and existing homes and condominiums totaled 8,861 last year, less than half of the 18,563 deals closed in 2002, according to DataQuick. The December median sales price fell 11 percent year over year to $525,250 — retreating to the high from four years ago.”

“Buyers are still out there, hunting for good deals, typically foreclosures and bank-owned properties, said Kay Wilson-Bolton, broker based in Santa Paula. Bank losses are staggering, with some lenders ‘kissing goodbye’ to sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars on a transaction, she said.”

“‘Agents are encouraging people to put any amount on the house if it’s a short pay,’ Wilson-Bolton said. In Oxnard, which is ‘hurting the most,’ 45 percent of total properties for sale are either bank-owned or short pay, she said.”

“But it’s not all grim, said Bill Watkins, executive director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast project. ‘There’s a flip side,’ he said. ‘Housing is becoming more affordable for people.’”

The Union Tribune. “Many would-be buyers are waiting for prices to drop further, said Ed Smith Jr.,VP of governmental affairs and industry relations for the California Association of Mortgage Brokers.”

“‘They think they can buy houses cheaper,’ Smith said. ‘Think about it: The house you can buy today for $400,000, two years ago people were standing in line to buy it for $600,000.’”

“About 22 percent of the homes sold last month in Southern California were financed with jumbo loans, a decline of nearly 40 percent from mid-2007, DataQuick reported.”

“Encinitas-based real estate broker Marc Zimmerman agrees that the credit crunch is harming sales. ‘The median price is lower because there are not as many loans available for upper-end home buyers who can’t document their income,’ he said.”

The North County Times. “December foreclosure sales in San Diego County quadrupled year over year, and statewide, sales of new homes in November dropped 55 percent from the previous year, according to three reports released Tuesday.”

“Housing is just beginning to feel the hit from when banks first tightened lending standards in August, said Sean O’Toole, founder of ForeclosureRadar. Foreclosed property valued at about $5 billion sold at auctions statewide in December. So far, about $3.5 billion has moved in January, O’Toole said.”

“‘It’s never been this high. We already surpassed all records by the third quarter of last year,’ O’Toole said. ‘And we’ve really been on a tear in the beginning of January.’”

The Press Enterprise. “Shoppers went to malls but stayed away from open houses and model homes last month in what analysts are calling the worst December in 19 years for Southern California’s housing market. In December, sales numbers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are down about 50 percent from where they were a year ago, DataQuick reported.”

“DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage said the only homes that are moving are coming from sellers who feel they’re forced to offer deals.”

“‘December was an extremely weak month no matter how you look at it,’ LePage said. ‘What we’re looking at is sales that are coming from the most motivated sellers, either people who are in foreclosure or new-home builders who are adjusting to today’s reality.’”

“The median sales price in Riverside County last month was $355,000, slightly lower than November’s $356,500 but 17.8 percent below a year earlier and the steepest year-to-year price decline among Southern California’s six counties.”

“San Bernardino County saw a $15,000 decline in the median sales price last month. Prices are now 14.9 percent lower than a year ago.”

“‘We’re trying to get rid of inventory,’ said Borre Winckel, executive director of the Riverside chapter of the Building Industry Association. ‘We’re just searching for that bottom, and we need a very large searchlight for that. We’re just not seeing it.’”

“The record highs were $432,000 in Riverside County and $380,000 in San Bernardino County, both set about a year ago. Five years ago, the median home in the Inland area sold for about $200,000.”

The Daily Bulletin. “According to DataQuick, only 13,240 new and resale homes and condominiums were sold in Southern California last month, the worst December on record by a wide margin. Nearly 24 percent fewer homes sold last month than in December 1990, the previous worst.”

“Upland real estate agent Michael McCasland thinks the housing market still has further to fall. ‘There really isn’t a lot of buyer confidence right now,’ he said. ‘I think we’ll eventually see prices fall back to where they were in 2003.’”

“In a report also out Tuesday that showed new home sales are down 55 percent from a year ago, Hanley Wood Market Intelligence said the market was nowhere near a turning point.”

“‘With sales declines continuing and inventories building, thanks in part to the ongoing problems in the credit markets and poor consumer confidence, we are not likely to see signs of recovery any time soon,’ said HWMI’s Jonathan Dienhart.”

“The median price of a home in Southern California has dropped from $490,000 to $425,000 in the last year, with every one of the six counties in the region down by more than 10 percent.”

The Press Telegram. “Empty lots and signs imprinted with images of lofty condominium projects are hidden in the cracks and crevices among many of downtown Long Beach’s rising and newly risen developments. The ‘build it and they will come’ vision that civic leaders and downtown proponents promoted for so long is incomplete, and if forecasts for the residential real estate market hold out, some of those lots may stay empty for several years.”

“At least two high-rise condominium projects have seemingly fallen by the wayside, and several more may morph into other developments that do not include residential, city officials and developers say.”

“‘Right now, getting residential financing is a little difficult,’ said Craig Beck, the city’s planning director. ‘So, we’re seeing different things. Hotel financing is strong. I think it’s just a cycle.’”

“What would have been the city’s biggest project, the Molasky Pacific development, was proposed in early 2006. At more than 1,100 residential units, the plans included towers of 45 and 55 stories that would have risen to become the city’s two tallest buildings.”

“But two weeks ago, developers asked to cancel their request for an environmental impact report, according to planners. ‘In my opinion right now that project is not moving forward,’ Beck said.”

“Even condo projects that were ahead of the real estate slowdown have felt the pinch. Such is the case with developers of West Ocean, a pair of sleek new towers at 400 Ocean Blvd. ‘We’ve had some cancellations,’ said Joanne Rowland, senior VP of marketing for Intracorp, the developer of West Ocean. ‘The market’s tough.’”

“Tower 1 is complete, with 67 of the 132 units occupied. Tower 2, at 114 units, is due to be complete in March or April. Still, developers say units that are priced right are selling. And Intracorp is not lowering the original prices on the units, which are priced from $500,000.”

The Berkeley Daily Planet. “Troubled Oakland homeowners packed the floor and gallery of the Oakland City Council chambers Saturday morning to gather information from city, state, and national officials and private home counseling organizations on how to keep their dwellings from going into foreclosure.”

“Folding chairs had to be brought into the council chambers to accommodate the crowd, and it was standing-room only along the back walls.”

“One woman asked advice on how she could hold off the pending foreclosure sale of her longtime home. The sale was scheduled for Tuesday, giving the woman only one more business day to act.”

“After several suggestions came from (the) moderator and audience members, one woman chimed in, ‘Whatever you do, don’t waste your time contacting HUD. They’ll leave you for dead, they’re so slow. Your house will be gone before they come out to help.’”

Inside Bay Area. “Foreclosure auction sales more than doubled in San Mateo County in December compared with the same period last year, a new real estate report revealed Tuesday.”

“The local areas hardest hit by foreclosures are Daly City, South San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Pacifica and San Mateo, real estate agents said.”

“You’re looking at the most homes sold by auction in any month ever in California in January,’ said spokeswoman Ginny Cain McMurtrie. McMurtrie added that many homes that go to auction don’t sell, because the banks that took them back don’t lower the price enough.”

“‘The banks are having to make deep discounts, and take deep losses to sell,’ McMurtrie said.”

“For example, a bank could be faced with taking back a house bought two years ago for $500,000 that’s now worth $410,000, she said.”

“‘The banks I’ve worked with are becoming more aware of their own vulnerability, said Joe Rodden, broker in Redwood City. ‘They’re trying to sell the house before they take it back.’”

Taking A Realistic View Of The Continuing Correction

Some housing bubble news from Wall Street and Washington. Bloomberg, “Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest bank on the U.S. West Coast, said fourth-quarter profit declined as borrowers fell behind on $1.56 billion of loans. Net charge-offs, the cost of bad loans that won’t be fully repaid, jumped to $1.2 billion from $892 million in the third quarter. The bank said the provision for future loan losses almost tripled to $2.6 billion.”

“‘Given the weakness in housing and the overall state of the U.S. economy, it is likely that net charge-offs will be higher in 2008,’ said Mike Loughlin, chief credit officer.”

“Wells Fargo is the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender after Countrywide Financial Corp.”

From MarketWatch. “J.P. Morgan Chase said Wednesday its fourth-quarter profit fell 34%, driven down by a $1.3 billion write-down of subprime assets and deteriorating performance in its home equity business, and a big drop in investment-banking activity.”

“‘Our lower quarterly results were affected by the investment bank’s markdowns in subprime-related positions and weaker trading. In addition, our consumer home equity and subprime loan portfolios performed worse than we expected,’ CEO Jamie Dimon said.”

The Journal Sentinel. “Development loans that turned sour in the struggling housing market, Marshall & Ilsley Corp. said. M&I said it wrote off $192 million in bad loans, many of them tied to the real estate construction industry in the bank’s Florida and Arizona markets. The Milwaukee-based bank also added $235 million to its reserves in the quarter to cover potentially bad debt.”

“Ambac Financial Group Inc. ousted its CEO, slashed the dividend 67 percent and will raise more than $1 billion to preserve its AAA credit rating after announcing the biggest-ever writedowns by a bond insurer.”

“Ambac will report a loss after reducing the value of securities it guarantees by $3.5 billion, according to a statement today.”

“Ratings companies are threatening to lower the credit rankings of Ambac and its largest competitor MBIA after their guarantees of bonds linked to subprime mortgages began plunging in value.”

“Bondholders in structured investment vehicles, caught in the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, suffered a 47 percent drop in the value of their investments, according to Moody’s Investors Service.”

“Mortgage debt made up 23 percent of SIV assets, with most having no direct subprime link, Moody’s said in July.”

“In some cases, ‘dramatically low’ prices have been quoted, Moody’s said, citing one SIV that received bids averaging 7 percent of face value for a collateralized debt obligation with the highest Aaa credit ratings.”

The Associated Press. “Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s said Tuesday it is increasing its loss assumptions for subprime mortgages originated in 2006 and packaged in bonds sold to investors.”

“When reviewing ratings, S&P will now assume a 19 percent loss rate on 2006-vintage subprime loans, compared with a 14 percent loss assumption previously. Cumulative losses from 2006-vintage subprime bonds have more than doubled since July 2007.”

“Once S&P is finished adjusting its ratings assumptions, it will review all outstanding mortgage-backed debt. Bonds and debt originated in 2005, 2006 and 2007 are likely to be affected the most because they are more sensitive to the current weakening in the market, S&P said in a statement.”

From CNN Money. “The number of adjustable-rate mortgages issued by lenders declined in 2007 as loan delinquencies and economic problems took their toll on interest rate discounts, according to Freddie Mac’s annual ARM survey.”

“As of October 2007, the government-sponsored loan buyer said, ARMs made up 17 percent of loan applications, their lowest level since June 2003.”

“Over the past year, delinquency rates on ARMs surpassed those of fixed rate mortgages, according to Freddie’s chief economist Frank Nothaft. Rates hit 3.1 percent in September, as opposed to the 0.8 percent delinquency rate of prime fixed-rate loans.”

The Boston Globe. “The Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley asked a state court yesterday to block Fremont Investment & Loan from commencing foreclosure actions against 500 borrowers in Massachusetts.”

“Attorneys from her office told a Suffolk Superior Court judge the state wants to review each mortgage that is subject to foreclosure and try to stop proceedings on any loans they believe were made fraudulently.”

“An attorney for Fremont, James Carroll, challenged the state’s request. ‘We cannot hand over that decision-making power to the attorney general,’ he said. ‘That would be unprecedented.’”

“Fremont mortgages were ‘a recipe for disaster,’ and Fremont was aware its mortgages contained ‘multiple layers of risk’ to borrowers, said Jean Healey, assistant attorney general.”

“In the request for an injunction, state lawyers argued the loans were ’structurally unfair’ and Fremont made them without regard to borrowers’ ability to pay.”

The Gatehouse News Service. “In response to the housing crisis, U.S. Rep. Phil Hare has called for a moratorium on home foreclosures. Hare said the government cannot bail everyone out, but it has to start by imposing a moratorium on foreclosures, he suggested maybe for 90 or 120 days.”

“‘If we don’t, we’re looking at a hit to the economy that will absolutely make sure we are in recession,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t do anyone any good at all to repo homes.’”

“While Hare did not let consumers off the hook entirely, he puts much of the blame for the problems on real estate agents who artificially increased home prices and steered people to loans they knew the buyer couldn’t afford.”

“‘These are professionals who knew they weren’t going to make it. I think you have an obligation to go after these guys … they’ve been there and done that and know what it means. People don’t, unfortunately, read all the paper work,’ he said.”

“Hare said he knows firsthand how destructive losing a home can be. After his father lost his home, he became an alcoholic.”

“‘My dad was never the same after that, and he never did anything wrong,’ he said. ‘Everything he worked for was gone.’”

From CBS 5.com. “Contra Costa County Supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday asking subprime mortgage lenders to voluntarily agree to a six-month moratorium on foreclosures in the county.”

“‘It’s no secret that Contra Costa, Solano and Alameda County are the hardest hit counties in the Bay Area,’ Supervisor John Gioia said.”

The Detroit News. “Southeastern Michigan homebuilders in 2007 had their slowest year since at least 1969, according to data released by Housing Consultants Inc.”

“The report showed that only 3,482 permits for new homes and condominiums were issued in 2007 in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties, a 48.1 percent drop from 2006. That’s the lowest recorded number of permits issued since the region’s county governments began reporting the numbers to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments in 1969.”

From Builder Online. “The continued existence of Kimball Hill Homes, one of the housing industry’s largest privately owned builders, as a business entity now hinges on the outcome of its negotiations with lenders over the terms of its debt and finding some way to stop the cash draining from its operations.”

“In its 10-k filing, which had been delayed for several weeks, Kimball Hill reported that it’s lost $220.5 million in the year ended Sept. 30, 2007, exacerbated by $240 million in impairment charges.”

“As a result of this erosion in buyer demand and its impairments, Kimball Hill’s operations incurred negative cash flow of $17.1 million, and its net worth fell below levels for one of the covenants in its senior credit facility.”

“In its 10-k…it states that it has ’substantial doubts about whether we will be able to continue as a going concern.’”

The Chicago Tribune. “‘The company’s losses from operations and default under its senior credit facility raise substantial doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern,’ auditor Deloitte & Touchee said in a letter that accompanied Kimball Hill’s filing, which is required because the company’s debt is publicly traded. The company itself is privately held.”

“In the filing, Kimball Hill said, ‘We are not in compliance’ with the loan terms. ‘We are currently unable to borrow additional amounts” under the senior credit facility.’”

“In 2006, Kimball Hill built 4,000 homes and had more than $1 billion in sales. Numerous Chicago-area home builders have reduced staffs, cut prices and offered special financing and other incentives to buyers in an effort to spur sales in a weak housing market.”

“Analysts have reported that new-home starts in Chicago fell to 17,000 over the last year, off from a peak of about 32,000 when the industry was at its high point two years ago.”

“In today’s troubled housing market the dreams of the Chicago Spire developer will meet reality when its sales office opens.”

“After a four-month delay, Dublin-based Shelbourne Development Ltd. will start selling the 1,194 super-luxury units it plans to build in a twisting 2,000-foot-tall tower designed by architect Santiago Calatrava.”

“‘There’s interest in the building because it’s one-of-a-kind,’ a Shelbourne spokeswoman said last week. With most units priced from $750,000 to $15 million, she added, ‘it will appeal to a specific audience.’”

“‘In this market, for the Spire to get several hundred contracts to move ahead with construction will be difficult,’ said James M. Kinney, president of a Chicago-based, high-end broker.”

“‘If they introduce 600 units priced at $2 million or more, that’s a 71/2-year supply for the downtown Chicago luxury market,’ Kinney added.”

The Memphis Daily News. “New Q4 residential building permits in Shelby County were down 63.7 percent compared to permit numbers for fourth quarter 2006, according to the most recent data.”

“The decline has been gradual but noticeable after two record-breaking years for local homebuilders.”

“‘It’s always kind of ebb and flow,’ Memphis Area Home Builders Association president Doug Collins told The Daily News. ‘There’s a shortage, so we build a bunch of houses to catch up. And then at some point we get caught up and nobody told us that the numbers were going to fall. Then we’ve got inventory and we’ve got to reduce it.’”

The National Association of Homebuilders. “Builder confidence in the market for new single-family homes was virtually unchanged for a fourth consecutive month in January as mortgage-market problems and inventory issues continued to pose challenges, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index.”

“‘Builders are taking a realistic view of the continuing housing market correction and doing what they should to get inventories under control and restore greater balance to the supply and demand equation,’ noted NAHB President Brian Catalde, a home builder from El Segundo, Calif.”

“In January, the index gauging current sales conditions for single-family homes remained unchanged at 19, while the index gauging sales expectations for the next six months rose two points to 28. Meanwhile, the index gauging traffic of prospective buyers rose one point to 14.”

“Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.”

“‘Builders are anticipating a time when market conditions will support an upswing in building activity – most likely in the second half of 2008,’ said NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders.”

It Appears We Are Headed In The Right Direction

The Pelican Press reports from Florida. “A real estate auctioneer hired by Sarasota County to sell off more than 2,000 residential lots in the North Port area last year is still owed a $240,000 bonus for doing a good job. But some of the people who bought lots have walked away from the deals. ‘Our staff got overwhelmed and there was a delay in getting deeds transferred,’ outgoing County Commission Chair Nora Patterson said. ‘Then the local real estate market collapsed and some people reneged on purchases.’”

“Most of the lots were located in remote areas of North Port that still don’t have utility services. There was a time when the lots were considered to have little or no value, but they became hot commodities several years ago when real estate values skyrocketed and drove the cost of new homes to record highs. Developers and speculators lined up to buy them.”

The News Press. “Ed Bonkowski is a real estate broker and asset manager (who) specializes in identifying real estate bargains. Q: What opportunities do you foresee for your company over the next year in this market climate?”

“A: I would caution that, unfortunately, all ’sellers’ opportunities,’ ranging from raw land to partially developed projects, have resulted from bank and/or lending sources, and (you) may have to watch a drastic market downturn as the loans begin to fail more frequently. A major investment emphasis will be in the form of foreclosures, where as many as 1,500 per month are now taking place in Lee County alone.”

“For the first time in 30 years, I have witnessed tenant resistance to normally accepted fair-market rentals. I believe this is directly attributable to tremendous vacancies in Lee County, which has left tenants as the new king in negotiations. The old adage of first and last month’s rent and security deposits for long-term rentals are a thing of the past.”

“Roberta and Don Licker were ready to start construction on their dream house in east Lee County — now they spend their days researching the complex details of a bankruptcy reorganization by Fort Lauderdale-based Levitt & Sons.”

“‘This company left people high and dry,’ said Roberta, referring to the 21 people who bought houses that weren’t finished and the additional 89 who are now living in Cascades, which had been planned for 570 home sites when it was started two years ago.”

“Levitt’s the first national builder whose bankruptcy has sucker punched Lee County residents but Fort Lauderdale-based attorney Robert Charbonneau said more are almost certainly coming. ‘I can assure you, it won’t be the last.’”

The Herald Tribune from Florida. “Million-dollar homes are the norm in Esplanade on the Bay, a small gated community on the banks of Sarasota Bay. But even here you can find signs of neighborhood neglect. An unfinished house, idle for years, is no more than a two-story, cinderblock shell with masonry clinging precariously to its rebar skeleton.”

“‘What happens during hurricane season?’ asked Loretta Saracino, who lives next door. ‘I don’t want concrete blocks flying into my home.’”

“The banks take ownership but often do not maintain the homes or make sure squatters have not moved in, said Ann Marie Harper, a county worker who tracks crime in Manatee nuisance properties. Sometimes it takes weeks to even determine ownership, she said.”

“Abandoned homes are sometimes used as a base for drug sales and prostitution. ‘Once you have one property like that, it just ripples through the neighborhood,’ Harper said.”

The St Petersburg Times from Florida. “The white brick and concrete block house off Beacon Square Drive in Holiday, has been empty for six months. This used to be home for a single dad and his son who grabbed their piece of the American dream with the help of a $70,000 bank loan and a $40,000 second mortgage from Pasco County.”

“But on Wednesday morning, Pasco Community Development manager George Romagnoli drove up to the courthouse in New Port Richey to bid on the foreclosed Holiday property. During the boom years, Romagnoli found himself competing with investors. But this week, no one else wanted the two-bedroom, two-bath ranch.”

“‘Things are bad out there,’ Romagnoli said.”

“How bad? During the first 11 months of last year, Pasco recorded 7,809 property foreclosures, a 133 percent jump over the previous year, reported RealtyTrac. In Hernando, 3,011 families fell behind on their mortgages and lost their homes last year, a 300 percent increase over 2006.”

The Palm Beach Post from Florida. “Nearly 5,000 St. Lucie County households defaulted on their mortgages in 2007, as resetting mortgages crashed head-on into plunging home prices and tightened loan policies.”

“Every single month of 2007 had more foreclosure filings than all 12 months of 2005, the figures for St. Lucie County show.”

“To understand just how fast and how high foreclosures have shot up in Port St. Lucie - the fastest-growing city in America a few years ago, according to a front-page story in The New York Times - consider that there were only 203 foreclosures in all of 2005.”

“The bust may have been unavoidable. ‘This (boom) was filled with speculators, weak borrowers and people stretching to buy more than they could afford,’ said real estate analyst Lewis Goodkin of Miami.”

The Orlando Sentinel. “55 West on the Esplanade, the troubled condominium high-rise in downtown Orlando, has been foreclosed on by the lender and is now being developed by a South Florida-based company that vows to finish the project by the end of the year.”

“Of the original 405 condo units planned, about 75 percent of the space was sold, but about half of the sales were to speculators who rescinded their purchase contracts or are in the process of doing so, said Bob Hensley, CEO of Grosse Pointe Development Co.”

“Hensley said everyone who wants their deposit back will receive it, though the lender, SNS Property Finance, will take a loss on the project.”

“‘We’re trying to minimize that [loss],’ he said. They will redesign or market some of the building differently, possibly to accommodate a small number of boutique hotel units.”

“Penthouse units atop the building are going to have to be used for some other purpose, Hensley said, because ‘they were overdone’ and would be too expensive for the Orlando market — $4 million or more.”

“‘An unfinished building like that would be really bad,’ said Greg Morrison, owner/president of Morrison Commercial Real Estate, which has its headquarters nearby.”

“Though he specializes in the commercial-office market rather than residential condos, Morrison said the condo market clearly remains ‘very soft’ in Orlando and elsewhere in Florida. ‘I really don’t know how much of a chance they would have to fill it.’”

“Break open the piggy bank: More Florida condos are going on the auction block, including a bunch near the beach an hour’s drive northeast of Orlando.”

“Locally based Stirling Sotheby’s International Realty’s auction group said Monday it will host its first major international auctions this month. On the block: 27 new, three-bedroom luxury condominiums in Naples, and 30 luxury condominiums at Ocean Walk in New Smyrna Beach (no relation to Wyndham Ocean Walk Resort in Daytona Beach).”

“Both events will be ‘absolute auctions,’ meaning no minimum bids are required, and all condominiums will be sold regardless of price, Soderstrom said.”

The Naples News in Florida. “Local Realtors see glimmers of hope in a new monthly sales report put out by the Naples Area Board of Realtors. Overall, there were 275 sales pending in the MLS in December. That came within two sales of breaking a 27-month downward trend.”

“The number of available condominiums dropped to 5,816 in December, down from 6,014 a year ago, a 3 percent decline. In December, there were 269 single-family and condominium sales, down from 312 a year ago. The median home price fell to $380,000, from $412,000 in December 2006, according to the report.”

“‘The facts are the facts, and when you look at the numbers it appears as though we are now once again headed in the right direction,’ said Arlene Carozza, NABOR’s president.”

“Last year, condo prices fell the most. The median price went from $365,000 to $300,000. ‘I know the average person, when you listen to the news, and read the various news stories, you think everything is going down. Yet that is not the case here,’ said Broker Michael Hughes in Naples.”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution from Georgia. “Amid a flood of gloomy economic indicators, the auctioneers at foreclosure sale specialist Hudson & Marshall are returning to Atlanta on Wednesday for a four-day frenzy of bidding and bargaining.”

“The company will offer 527 homes through Saturday, an indication of the rising tide of foreclosures.”

“The homes in the current crop of Hudson & Marshall offerings range in value from $30,000 to $700,000, according to Crystal Wright, a spokeswoman for the company. ‘There are some very nice properties in this lot,’ Wright said.”

“Among them is a Stone Mountain estate with five bedrooms, six baths, a media room and an indoor swimming pool last listed for $619,900.”

The Dothan Eagle from Alabama. “Sellers have had a great run in the Dothan real estate market, but the inevitable slowdown has put Dothan in a buyer’s market and 2008 is expected continue the trend, according to one Dothan realtor.”

“With around 900 homes for sale in the Dothan market — almost a record high — those looking to buy will be able to choose from several options, keeping prices steady or even lower.”

“‘If you’re looking for a $150,000 house to buy, you may have 10 to choose from right now instead of three or four as in the past,’ said broker Charles Woodall.”

The Island Packet from South Carolina. “Home and villa sales in the Hilton Head Island market were down slightly more than 10 percent in 2007, but the median price remained relatively stable, dropping less than 3 percent, according to data from the MLS of Hilton Head Island.”

“It was the second straight year where sales and prices dropped. Sales of single-family homes fell 20 percent in 2006 from 2005, and prices on those properties fell 9.3 percent, according to MLS data.”

“Andy Twisdale, a Realtor with Charter I North Realty and Marketing, said it would take two years to sell the current inventory if no other homes come on the market. Villas have about three years’ worth of inventory.”

“Because of the high inventory, Realtors will be happy if 2008’s sales and prices are on par with the last two years, Twisdale said. Still, those who bought before 2003 are realizing a profit on their home if they sell now, Realtors said.”

The Sun News from South Carolina. “When there’s blood in the streets, start buying. It’s an adage that local real estate investor Jeremy Finger lives by, and he thinks today’s market gives him the perfect chance to apply it.”

“‘Whenever there is chaos and whenever there is a lot of bad news somewhere, there’s usually opportunity,’ he said.”

“On the Grand Strand, some sellers have slashed prices by $5,000, $10,000 - even $60,000 to get buyers to bite. There are about 5,880 single-family homes for sale on the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors MLS - a 15-month supply.”

“There is a 23-month supply of condos with 7,659 listings.”

“Centex Homes is advertising $8,000 to $40,000 reductions in its base prices on homes to be built in its 11 local communities. Homes in Chandler’s Run near Myrtle Beach are being sold at $25,000 discounts, according to Prudential Burroughs & Chapin’s Web site.”

“Other homes listed on the MLS are selling at prices roughly $10,000 to $60,000 cheaper than the asking price. The Litchfield Co. sold a three-bedroom house in Murrells Inlet this week for $385,000, which was $10,000 less than the asking price. And the Dieter Co. sold a three-bedroom in Pawleys Island for $240,000, down $59,000 from the asking price.”

“Now builders are cutting prices, which is usually a last resort, said William Harrison, director of the Center for Real Estate at the University of South Carolina. ‘As a general rule, builders nationally are trying to become liquid, and they are pulling out all the stops in general to move their inventory,’ he said.”

“Centex Homes is advertising $8,000 to $40,000 reductions in its base prices on homes to be built in its 11 local communities.”

“‘I don’t think we’re going to see a significant recovery in 2008,’ Harrison said. There’s too much inventory and turmoil in the financial markets, and foreclosures will continue in 2008 that will bring down prices and glut the market further, Harrison said.”

“‘While it may be a buyer’s market, if I’m a buyer and I’ve got some patience, I don’t think I’d move into the market yet,’ Harrison said. ‘I don’t think we’ve seen the bottom.’”

Bits Bucket And Craigslist Finds For January 16, 2008

Please post off-topic ideas, links and Craigslist finds here.