January 19, 2008

A Precursor To A Healthier Market In California

The Sun reports from California. “Cora Viado came here three years ago to be closer to her son during her retirement. Now she’s moving away. Viado lives in Sierra Lakes, one of the housing developments in Fontana’s north end, which has become ground zero in San Bernardino County for home foreclosures. Viado wants to get out before it’s too late. The mortgage payments and property taxes are too high for her to keep her four-bedroom, four-bath home with cathedral ceilings.”

“A sign above her garage reads, in bright orange letters, ‘For Sale By Owner.’ She’s trying to keep the selling price low by not using a Realtor. ‘I’m going to sell this house,” she said as workmen laid new wood flooring and applied fresh paint to the walls of her house. ‘Somebody is going to buy it.’”

“The subdivision, pounded by the wind that barrels down from the Cajon Pass, was built to be the epitome of luxury. The winds are so strong, most of the ‘For Sale’ and ‘Foreclosed’ signs that hung on curbside posts in front of the two-story, sand-colored houses have been blown away.”

“Fontana resident William Bell will soon venture into the unknown as he prepares to lose his house. ‘Challenging’ ain’t the word,’ he said, trying to describe his situation. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s stressful.’”

“Bell purchased his 1,100-square-foot house on Mango Drive for about $300,000 in November 2006, right after the housing market started to dive. He refinanced his loan in December 2006, and again in April, raising it to $400,000 and his monthly payment by almost $500.”

“‘She told us it was fixed, and it wasn’t fixed,’ he said about his broker. ‘I don’t know how she did it, but she got us to sign an adjustable (mortgage). She’s long gone now.’”

“Bell’s property was recently reassessed, and he now owes almost $400 more a month just to keep the county tax collector happy.”

“The financial industry is getting hit hard as well. Wells Fargo’s home finance arm in Diamond Bar shut its doors in December, laying off 58 workers, and JP MorganChase’s subprime lending branch in Ontario let 91 employees go during the same month.”

“Even big-name commercial developers are getting the hint it is time to scale back. Their insatiable appetite for industrial building construction has sent vacancy rates to 15percent in the Rialto, San Bernardino, Redlands, Moreno Valley and Riverside areas - a number considered unhealthy.”

“‘The reason office space was being used out here is because this is where all the housing was being built,’ said Thomascm Galvin, research associate for Colliers International in Ontario. ‘You have finance, insurance and real estate (tenants). If the real estate goes south, the finance and insurance goes south, too.’”

The Daily Bulletin. “Jane Anderson may be sitting pretty in her home, but the dried and brown front lawns surrounding her in this unincorporated area of Riverside County is a sign of many foreclosures in the community.”

“‘In the past year you’re seeing more,’ Anderson said of foreclosure and for-sale signs on homes.”

“In Eastvale, there were 1,083 housing units in foreclosure proceedings from January to November 2007, said Tom Freeman, spokesman for the Riverside County Economic Development Agency. December numbers have not yet been released.”

“The 2007 foreclosures are in sharp contrast to the 217 in 2006 in the same time span, according to Joel Cone of RealtyTrac.”

“Anderson and her husband moved into Cloverdale, the first planned development in Eastvale, in 1999. At that time there were only 200 homes, but then came Cloverdale II and what Anderson referred to as a rush of development.”

“‘I think people got caught up and wanted to buy a home,’ she said. ‘Maybe they couldn’t afford to buy one somewhere else but could here.’”

The Oroville Mercury Register. “Money and financial market watchers were reluctant to say the ‘R’ word during Thursday’s Tri County Economic Forecast Conference. While talk of a recession has bounced around, economists John Mitchell of U.S. Bancorp. and Nancy Sidhu of Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. said there are too many positive signs to conclude a recession is here.”

“Indicators of a recession include consistent and widespread economist downturns. ‘It doesn’t get more exciting than this,’ said Mitchell, pacing the BMU floor in his usual style. ‘Look at all the stuff going around. We’re in the seventh year of an upturn. The U.S. economy has been growing since 2001, even though this is the third year of a housing contraction. Credit markets are in turmoil. It’s an election year. Ag’s happy; you can tell by their smiles.’”

“‘It’s not a recession,’ said Mitchell. ‘All the data we have says we’re still growing.’”

“Sidhu pointed out there are good signs in job growth in aerospace, health services, leisure, recreation and hospitality, as well as high tech. ‘The committee that decides is still looking. But if you think we’re going to have a recession, things start declining,’ he said.”

“Sidhu calls the current period that’s aroused recession talk ‘a pause.’ ‘These numbers won’t be truth in two months,’ she said.”

The Orange County Business Journal. “With radio ads still pitching potential borrowers, Wesley Hoaglund, owner of Lenox Financial Mortgage Corp. in Irvine, is hoping to survive a market where the number of home loans being made is about half of what it was a year ago.”

“‘We’re hoping to make it through the storm,’ Hoaglund said.”

“Loans at Lenox are down 60% from a year earlier, according to Hoaglund. And subprime loans that once made up about a quarter of his business have stalled to practically none, he said.” “He’s cut his staff by about 40% to less than 100 workers. Hoaglund also has cut his advertising budget in half.”

“Lenox recently foreclosed on a Moreno Valley home for which the borrower didn’t even make the first payment. The house that initially sold for $460,000 has been declining in value and was last listed at $250,000, he said. After paying real estate agent fees, the house could bring a loss of about $150,000, he said.”

“Like Hoaglund, mortgage broker Jim Walter had about a quarter of his business from people with less than great credit. Walter, a 25-year veteran of the business, said he sees the credit collapse as a badly needed cleansing of brokers who helped fuel the mortgage bubble.”

“‘I’m glad we’re getting rid of a lot of riffraff,’ said Walter, who runs Anaheim’s Mortgage Plan.”

“Estimates by the EDD don’t become official until the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics comes out with its figures months later. In the past, the EDD has usually underestimated job growth in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.”

“BLS figures for the second quarter of 2007 show that instead of the 45,200 jobs the state agency said was gained year over year, the two-county area actually lost 3,912 jobs.”

“‘EDD data was wildly overoptimistic,’ said Redlands-based regional economist John Husing. ‘This will far exceed the worst downward revision in EDD history. It means that the Inland Empire may well have been in a job recession for all of 2007.’”

“Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said things were definitely slowing around the state. ‘A lot of metropolitan areas are seeing very little growth,’ he said. ‘Orange County may even be in an employment recession.’”

The Fresno Bee. “Unemployment jumped to three-year highs across the central San Joaquin Valley in December, new statistics show. The poor jobs picture was echoed in Kings, Merced and Tulare counties, all of which posted double-digit unemployment rates also not matched since 2004, the department reported.”

“‘With housing, you can say that the Central Valley is the epicenter of the problem, and that’s reverberating across the economy,’ said Sharmila King, economics professor at University of the Pacific in Stockton.”

“Lauren Addison of Clovis was laid off in October from her job as an administrative assistant at an engineering firm. And she said that she was an escrow officer for 17 years before that, but can’t fall back on that job right now.”

“‘I’m about out of money,’ she said. ‘It’s tough out there.’”

The Modesto Bee. “Troy Cannon was at the downtown Modesto EDD office Friday filling out job applications. The Ceres resident has been searching for work for a year and half, after being laid off from his construction job.”

“Cannon has been told by construction firms that no one is hiring. Cannon has been applying for nonconstruction jobs, such as those at fast food restaurants. But at 42, he said, his application isn’t desirable to managers who tend to hire teenagers or senior citizens.”

“He’s been doing handyman jobs and recycling for extra cash, and his wife is training to become a truck driver. ‘I’m a jack-of-all-trades,’ he said. ‘I’m willing to do anything.’”

The Record Searchlight. “December unemployment shot up in Shasta County, reaching a 10-year high for the month, the state reported Friday. The slumping housing market continues to take its toll in Shasta County. There were 700 fewer people working in construction and real estate in December 2007, compared with a year ago.”

“Samantha Ironside, a Labor Ready customer service representative, said they have seen more people coming to ’s Lake Boulevard office to sign up for jobs. ‘We have a higher number of people than usual because they were laid off from construction jobs they usually worked,’ Ironside said.”

“Frank Strazzarino Jr., CEO of the Greater Redding Chamber of Commerce, said his members are dealing with a challenging economy. Employers are retrenching, leery to take on more employees because of the uncertain times, he said.”

“‘I think people are being careful to live within their means,’ Strazzarino said.”

The Sacramento Bee. “As elected officials from the White House to Sacramento tried Friday to revive an economy humbled by the real estate downturn, new California unemployment statistics suggest the task won’t be easy.”

“The unemployment rate in California jumped a half-point last month to 6.1 percent, the highest since 2004, officials said. The Employment Development Department said Sacramento-area unemployment moved up three-tenths of a point, to 5.9 percent.”

“‘How bad is this housing slump going to get?’ said Howard Roth, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. ‘It’s already worse than I expected.’”

“Barry Masson, an unemployed construction worker…visited EDD’s job-assistance center on 50th Street on Friday. ‘I’m grasping at all the straws I can,’ said Masson.”

“Masson was laid off last month from a seasonal job operating heavy equipment at home-building sites. ‘People are not selling homes – you know the whole story,’ he said. His unemployment benefits run out in February, he added.”

“As Sacramento struggles with a real estate slump that’s driven homeowners into foreclosure, home builders into bankruptcy and the region into a possible recession, big-time investors are smelling blood – and preparing to swoop in.”

“The arrival of the ‘bottom feeders’ doesn’t mean the downturn is over. Far from it. Most analysts still say recovery in Sacramento won’t begin until 2009 or later. But the circling of the investors, however ruthless, is a predictable and even necessary stage in the real estate cycle as the region, battered by 29 months of falling values, tries to find where the bottom is.”

“‘It’s a precursor to a healthier market,’ said Dean Wehrli of the Sullivan Group, a consulting firm that’s preparing studies for out-of-town investor groups. ‘The next step after that would be the slow beginning of a recovery.’”

“The recent interest by investors shows how bad things are in Sacramento. The sheer drop in values the past two years – more than 25 percent for houses and a stunning 80 percent for raw land, according to one estimate – has put the region on national and international investors’ radar screens.”

“But there probably won’t be a flood of quick deals. Many landowners, reeling from the sticker shock of collapsed prices, are leery of taking big losses. And potential purchasers see Sacramento as a fixer-upper, a long-term rehabilitation project that will take several years to pay off.”

“It’s all right ‘to ride the market down a little bit,’ said Ken Stevens, a Danville real estate investor who recently snapped up the unfinished Wolf Ranch Condominiums near the Cosumnes campus. ‘If you’re in it for the long haul, what’s the difference?’”

“One reason deals are slow to happen: The landowners, whether they’re bankers or builders or developers, are reluctant to swallow heavy losses. ‘I don’t have a shortage of buyers,’ said Jim Radler a Roseville land broker. ‘The problem is I don’t have any sellers … at the right price.’”

“In the Sacramento suburbs, lots worth $100,000 apiece during the boom would fetch barely $20,000 today, he said. In some parts of greater Sacramento and the Valley, lot prices have reverted to farmland values.”

“‘They’re looking at it like, ‘We want to go in and scoop up as much as we can for pennies on the dollar and then be able to just sit on it,’ said Kathryn Boyce, who follows the Sacramento market for Hanley Wood Market Intelligence.”

“‘They’re not just looking here,’ she added. ‘They’re looking everywhere: Sacramento, the Central Valley, Reno, Texas, Phoenix.’”

The Sierra Sun. “Foreclosure rates are a sure sign of a slumping housing market. And Tahoe-Truckee has recently seen a spike in defaulted home loans, as subprime loans and slumping prices catch up to some local homeowners.”

“‘I’ve been here going on 18 years and until six months ago there was no such thing [as a foreclosure market],’ said Kelly Smith, a Realtor in Carnelian Bay.”

“Smith now lists several foreclosures on his Web site, and expects defaults to become more widespread as the year progresses.”

“‘The reason that it is going to pick up is the adjustable rate mortgages … are still going to adjust,’ said Smith. Realtytrac identifies 129 properties in Truckee, Tahoe City and Kings Beach as ‘pre-foreclosure,’ ‘auction,’ or ‘bank-owned.’”

“The foreclosure rate in Tahoe and Truckee is ‘without a doubt’ the highest he’s seen in 18 years selling real estate in Tahoe, Smith said.”

“‘You have a whole collection of homes that were sold while there was a lot of credit,’ said Senior Regional Economist Cynthia Kroll of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the Haas School of Business. ‘That credit is not available anymore.’”

“Many economists, housing experts and others…expect the nation’s housing slump to drag on well into 2009. ‘It is going to be a really slow adjustment,’ said Kroll. ‘There are very few that are saying this will pick up in the spring. What happened in the credit market really pushed prices up.’”

The Trials And Tribulations Of Joe Six Pack

Readers suggested a topic on the housing downturn and people you know. “This weekend I would really love to see a thread that gives anecdotal details of how J6P is really holding up. Being isolated on this island and not living in the real world makes it very hard for me to sometimes understand what is going on in the real world. I live 3 blocks from Wall Street, for god’s sake. How much further removed can you get from reality?”

“I see some signs of reality kicking in. One co-worker has a house destroying his finances. Another co-worker has a house languishing for sale in Westchester. Another co-worker bought last year in Jersey for a ridiculous amount and just can’t believe that prices will go down.”

“If we get a weekend thread on ‘The Trials and Tribulations of Joe Six Pack and Sally Silicon’ I might be able to find more to share. I hope you can too. Reality is in such short supply here.”

One posted, “Neighbor and co worker who is renter - 7 yrs, great tenant, just got a notice from idiot landlord who says he is raising rent to 1600 and this summer to 1750. Meanwhile all the real estate agents are telling clients to NOT raise rents, too much on the market to be had, and much much newer. What is this idiot landlord thinking? Palm Springs, CA.”

And another, “I was just at a playgroup with my two year old. We all chip in a dollar and rent space from a local church for a few hours once a week.”

“I noticed two things that were different than usual. One, there was a father there with his kids, usually it’s all women. He looked/talked/dressed like a white collar worker, the sort of guy who’d be at work on a Friday morning. I remember seeing more Dads at my older son’s playgroup back in 2001-2002 too. Also, the box where we put the money had a lot of quarters in it, meaning several people paid with change.”

“My brother works in a supermarket and he said he’s noticed more people using coins to pay for their purchases too.”

“I noticed a few dads at the YMCA playroom too, although I haven’t been there in recent weeks. Finally, in the past two weeks, I’ve met two more people in my town who are renting sfh. Renting: All the cool kids are doing it.”

One added, “Interesting…As a matter of fact, I did notice more dads at our most recent playgroup. Will keep an eye on it to see if it’s a trend.”

One from Georgia. “My neighborhood in north Atlanta is a mix of boomer & older affluent and apartment dweller section 8ers. The easiest way to tell what is going on in the hood is at the local grocery stores.”

“Today the Kroger was almost empty. There were a few section 8ers in the store & most were staring at the food like kids looking at puppies in a pet shop window, with very liitle in their hand held baskets. It seemed that most of them were also having to make weighty decisions about what they could in fact buy.”

“In the check out line I was behind an elderly affluent lady who berated the store clerk when her total came to over $100. The old lady said it was ‘too much money for not much food.’”

“The street we live on is one of the few middle class townhouse developments in the area. This week one of our neighbors came home & saw a roaring fire burning in the fireplace of the vacant unit next to him (don’t know if it a foreclosure). The neighbor called the fire department. When the fire department arrived, a squatter was discovered living there.”

One from California. “San Diego County: 1. A realtor we’ve used on a few transactions quit RE and started working for an atty. She’s been in the business for over 10 years.”

“2. Another realtor we’ve used (Central Valley, CA) told me that things basically stopped dead just after summer, and they are having a very rough go of it.”

“3. We know at least two people who’ve been laid-off in the mortgage business. A couple more who are looking for other work in a non-related field before pulling the plug.”

“4. Another couple of people we know in the construction industry are picking up other jobs, not in construction field.”

“5. Almost everybody we know who’s bought a house, or cash-out HELOC’ed, is living paycheck-to-paycheck. They openly talk about how stressed they are about finances.”

“6. We know one family that lost two homes to foreclosure. Both parents were in the RE business. (Quite frankly, they deserved it, and don’t even seem bothered by it.)”

“7. The sportfishing industry in So Cal has been slower over the past year — and seems to have slowed down even more over the past few months. Also, there’s been a rather significant uptick in tackle/gear/boats for sale.”

“8. When people find out we’ve sold property (three transactions, a fourth in escrow pending some legal work) over the past six months, they ask in amazement how we did it so fast (all in escrow within 30 days). They still seem to miss the connection between lowering the price & selling.(????) They ask if we had to ‘give it away.’ (not kidding, their words) A couple of these people have asked because they’ve been trying to sell their homes (on and off the market, over and over and over, again) and ‘just can’t seem to find the right buyer.’ [rolls eyes]”

“9. Best of all…whenever someone discovers we’re renting, they say, ‘Wow! you are soooo lucky/smart!’ Totally different responses than what we got a few years ago, by far.”

From Red Hot To Deep-Space Cold In Florida

The News Press reports from Florida. “Up and down this two-mile palm-lined piece of paradise - also known as Bonita Beach -nearly 100 homes and condos are for sale at pocketbook-pleasing prices. 21 percent of the single-family beachfront homes in this southernmost corner of Lee County are for sale. And most are priced significantly lower than what owners were asking a year ago.”

“‘That’s a lot … the prices have definitely softened,’ said broker Susan Bellina. ‘The condos sold in 2007 sold for less than they did in 2005.’”

“In 2005, one two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Casa Bonita facing the Gulf sold for $840,000. Last year, a similar unit sold for $450,000, Bellina said.”

“‘In 2005, we were all crazy. There was a waiting list to buy. People were outbidding each other, and almost as soon as you’d put out a sign, the property was sold,’ she said. Then the bottom fell out.”

“‘When the market fell, the sellers were in shock. They couldn’t accept the fact that the market changed,’ Bellina said. ‘I don’t think that after 15 years of property values going up and up, they could accept the fact that the economy was affecting our piece of paradise.’”

“Realtor Loretta Young said sellers finally got the hint last year. ‘There were several sellers who dropped their asking price by $300,000 to $700,000,’ she said. ‘But those were the big beachfront homes and the people who dropped their prices like that could afford to do so. They are the ones who bought property there in the 1970s.’”

“‘There is a buyer for every home,’ she said. ‘I don’t think it’s going to go any lower, and I think a lot of the buyers are insulting the sellers when they make some of these offers. You’re not going to get a beachfront home for $300,000 unless you want to go to Costa Rica.’”

“Lee County had the worst rental occupancy rate in the state and the steepest decline in the fourth quarter, according to a report released Thursday. In complexes of 100 units or more, the occupancy rate was 80.4 percent.”

“‘It’s not surprising,’ said Fort Myers-based commercial real estate broker Ed Bonkowski. ‘There are too many vacant homes and speculation homes that people closed on. They’re doing anything they can to rent these properties.’”

“As a result, he said, ‘The tenants are in charge now. If you think you’re going to get first month, last month and deposit, you’ll be sitting vacant for a year.’”

The Tampa Tribune. “In the face of rising inventories of vacant homes and declining orders for new ones, Tampa Bay homebuilders slashed construction 59 percent in 2007, according to Metrostudy.”

“Metrostudy said there are 3,551 completed, vacant homes in the five-county Tampa Bay area. That’s 235 fewer homes than counted in the third quarter. These are homes that no one has lived in and are either owned by builders or investors. Such inventory peaked at just more than 4,700 units in the first quarter of 2007.”

“Joseph Narkiewicz, executive VP of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, said the majority of the inventory is made up of homes bought by investors, not homes that builders have been unable to sell.”

“‘And we’re not talking about New York investors,’ Narkiewicz said. ‘Look around at the next barbeque and ask your neighbors how many homes they bought. That’s a big part of the problem.’”

The Herald Tribune. “Managers at Allstate Builders of SW Florida Inc. — hit by a flurry of commercial liens in recent weeks — say they are not exiting the business of building homes.”

“The company, first established in North Port in 1982, is ‘phasing out of the business’ for the time being because of competition from foreclosed homes that is overwhelming its position, said Gary Grennell, Allstate Builders’ sales manager.”

“‘There is no sense in our trying to build homes only to have a house across the street sell in a bank foreclosure for $20,000 to $30,000 less,’ he said.”

“Its houses, mostly in North Port, sell for $130,000 to $210,000. ‘We have five or six finished, and if we lose $30,000 on each that’s $180,000 in losses,’ Grennell said, referring the undercutting by foreclosures. ‘Where’s the profit? Out the window.’”

“On top of the ‘nearly 5,000 unsold houses’ listed in local MLS, there also are competitive pressures from houses owned by contractors and banks, Grennell said. ‘We can’t compete with that.’”

“First State Bank’s parent has boosted its total reserve for loan losses by 55 percent to a record $7.6 million. The holding company said that the bank has nearly $19 million in impaired loans, both residential and commercial.”

“‘We have experienced a significant decline in property values within our core lending markets,’ said Jed Wilkinson, First State’s CEO.”

“Of its residential portfolio, $5.6 million in loans — or 10.4 percent — are impaired, the bank said. Impaired commercial loans rose to $13.1 million, or about 8.54 percent of total commercial loans. First State, which operates three branches in Sarasota County and four in Pinellas, said that its third-quarter earnings fell 30 percent because of a decline in mortgage fees.”

“The housing boom fueled a jump in the number of people wanting to sell real estate in Tampa Bay. Carol Austin, CEO of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, said 2008 numbers are getting closer to those of 2004, when the housing boom was red-hot.”

“Last year was a tough one for the real estate market. Homes are now sitting on the market for months. Some are not selling at all. Sellers are lowering prices and some are selling for less than what they owe on their mortgage.”

“Tony Rojas, a broker in Tampa, said he suspected that only about half of the agents who renewed were actually selling real estate for a living. In the coming year, he said, many more agents are likely to get new jobs.”

“‘A lot of people are on the edge, with little or no income coming in,’ he said. ‘They’re wondering how long they can do this.’”

“The median sales price for the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area dropped below $200,000 in November for the first time since April 2005, according to data from the Florida Association of Realtors.”

“November’s sales price of $189,100 was 21 percent lower than in June 2006, when prices peaked locally at $239,600.”

“Inventory has swelled, too. There were 19,354 homes listed for sale in December, five times as many as were listed in the same month in 2004, the Tampa Realtors group said.”

“It would take 17.6 months at the current selling pace to sell all those homes, according to the group. ‘We’re at a point now where being a part-time agent isn’t going to work,’ Rojas said. ‘In my 20 years as an agent, this is the toughest market I’ve seen.’”

“The roads might be clogged with the normal influx of winter residents, but many vacationers appear to be counting pennies at home rather than shells on Florida beaches.”

“Just-released November occupancy rates were down in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties an average of 10.3 percent — a trend that was mirrored in other parts of the nation.”

“Middle-class vacationers, especially those who use credit cards to pay for all or part of their holiday, who have been recently spooked by the poor economy and declining home values.”

“Florida is being hit harder than other places in the nation, but tourist destinations everywhere are suffering, said Duane Vinson, a spokesman for Smith Travel Research. Companies are cutting three-day conventions to two, while some leisure travelers are staying home altogether. The occupancy figures across the nation are as worrisome as those in Southwest Florida, Smith said. ‘You’re looking at double digits.’”

“Though some pundits have argued in recent months that tourism is recession-proof, the downturn comes as the housing market struggles at its lowest point in decades, as retail sales are down and while the federal government considers a broad stimulus package to bail the nation out of a downward economic course.”

The Sun Sentinel. “President Bush’s $145 billion tax relief package is emerging at a tough time for South Florida, but economic analysts doubt it will help much as joblessness rises sharply and wages fail to keep pace with inflation in the region.”

“In 2007, the ranks of Florida’s unemployed shot up by 49 percent. There were 441,000 people without jobs last December, compared with 297,000 in December 2006, according to figures from the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.”

“‘What a difference from a year ago,’ said economist Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. ‘The housing market has gone from red hot to deep-space cold. That means less employees in that sector.’”

The Miami Herald. “Florida’s unemployment rate hit its highest level in more than three years, according to employment data released Friday. The state’s white-hot employment growth of the past few years was fueled in large part by the housing boom. Since that started cooling off last year, the jobs picture has become more lackluster.”

“Construction jobs overall in Florida were down 3.3 percent in December, a loss of 20,900 jobs over the year. The state noted Friday that it was the first time since 1992 Florida has experienced 10 straight months of consecutive job declines in that industry.”

“Employers here, like in the rest of the state, are being cautious, said Miami recruiter Jorge Roca. Roca, who works for the staffing company Spherion, said the overabundance of qualified applicants willing to take lower-paying jobs means companies focus less on retention.”

“‘The candidates have become expendable,’ he said. Now, employers are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude and are more tentative about bringing on new people, given all the negative economic news.”

The News Journal. “With construction and mortgage jobs evaporating, unemployment soared in Volusia and Flagler counties last month, leaving the counties with their highest jobless rates in more than three years, state labor officials said Friday.”

“‘We’re going to have a rough go of it for the next few months before there’s any stabilization,’ said Sean Snaith, director of UCF’s Institute of Economic Competitiveness.”

“For the two counties combined, the rate averaged 5 percent, compared with 3.2 percent at the end of 2006. That meant more than 14,000 people were trying to find jobs. A few dozen of them paid a visit Friday to the One Stop Career Center near Volusia Mall, hoping to pick up hiring leads from the center’s database of job openings.”

“Among them was Keith Moore, 47, of Daytona Beach Shores. He said his remodeling business had been doing well the past couple of years, but in recent weeks, orders fell to almost nothing.”

“Moore said he’s trying to keep the business running, but in the meantime he’s looking for fill-in work as a machinist or even in food service. ‘I’ll go out to the track and wait tables if I have to,’ Moore said. ‘You have to do something to keep going.’”

From NBC 2 News. “Fifteen months and a drop in price of well over $100,000 later, a ‘For Sale’ sign still sits in homeowner Mark Sievert’s front yard. ‘As the sheet shows, it’s down to $388,000 and I’m just looking for an offer to be honest with you,’ said Sievert.”

“There is a glimmer of hope for Southwest Florida’s slumping real estate market. Despite slow sales in recent months, the newest numbers are showing the housing industry may recover faster than anticipated.”

“Even as we were there talking to Sievert, someone called to ask about his house - but still no luck. ‘Oh there is plenty of interest. I see plenty of people coming around taking fliers. I put those fliers out and I probably get rid of 15 to 20 of them a week,’ said Sievert.”

“Now, there may be hope for people like Sievert. The Naples Area Board of Realtors reports sales of homes valued at $300,000 or less were up 33-percent in 2007.”

“‘The good news is there are signs of recovery all over the marketplace, said Joe Ballarino of the Naples Area Board of Realtors. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal ranked Naples and Punta Gorda as two markets where home prices will fall more than any other place in the country by 2009.”

“Ballarino says that’s just dead wrong. ‘We have great beaches and great amenities. Our market is always going to come back before the rest of the housing market comes back,’ said Ballarino.”

Bits Bucket And Craigslist Finds For January 19, 2008

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