January 25, 2008

Most Of This Pain Could Have Been Avoided

It’s Friday desk clearing time for this blogger. “Clearwater leaders hailed the $100-million Water’s Edge condominium tower as the catalyst that would kick-start downtown by creating a high-class residential base. But a newly discovered mistake in the purchase contract between buyers and the seller threatens to puncture the city’s vision and leave the developer with a mostly empty tower.”

“Buyers can opt out of the sale and get their deposits refunded, plus interest. With the condo market in a downward spiral, some local real estate agents, brokers and city leaders expect that to happen.”

“Jim Warner, a broker on Sand Key, said he knew one speculator who was ready to walk away even before the mistake was discovered. ‘That’s the option,’ Warner said. ‘They should build a big door because that’s where people are going to go - out.’”

“The cocktail parties in which 100 or more condos were sold in a matter of hours are long over. Now, developers are happy to sign a few buyers in a month. With more than 1,000 condos opening in six towers in 2008, this will be the year that Nashville residents show whether urban living is something the city will embrace or let fall flat.”

“Those who plan to sell or rent their units said they see little chance of prices collapsing below their initial investments.”

“‘I think for the pre-construction buyer, it’s a good deal,” said Ke Qin, a 26-year-old engineer who bought a unit in a building that, during the height of the condo frenzy two years ago, once put a block of 200 rooms under contract in less than two days. ‘The prices are very reasonable.’”

“It was a rough year for Sullivan’s real estate market, and that could mean bad news for the county’s economy in 2008. Not only were there fewer sales and dropping home prices, but also more people are losing homes and properties to foreclosure.”

“David Knudsen, a Sullivan Realtor, said the market hasn’t dried up, just changed. ‘I’m not seeing Wall Street up here shopping this winter,’ he said. ‘In a typical month in 2005 and 2006, I would be contacted by three or four investors looking for large-acreage parcels to subdivide. I haven’t heard from an investor looking for parcels to subdivide for at least three months. To me, that part of the market has just dried up.’”

“Realtors in Greater Cincinnati continued to paint an optimistic picture of the real estate market. That did little to help the stress level of Thomas and Rachel Dzieran, who have been trying to sell their Mason home for 18 months.”

“They paid $475,000 for their house on Rosebrook Way. It was recently appraised for $455,000 and they just reduced the asking price to $439,000. They also have a second mortgage, via a home equity loan.”

“‘We’ve lost equity,’ said Rachael. ‘We actually cashed out part of my retirement to purchase the home, so I lost that other retirement equity and didn’t get any equity in the house.’”

“Thomas Dzieran said he believes when the house sells and closes, he’ll have to write the buyer a check for between $20,000 and $30,000. ‘We thought the market would be fine if we needed to move and it’s not,’ he said.”

“The real estate market in Lincoln, Neb., is usually as good or as bad as the annual harvests. Not last year, says agent Marcia Weddle. ‘Farmers had a great crop, it didn’t get hailed out and real estate has gone to heck in a hand basket,’ she says. And now, foreclosures, though still relatively low, are popping up in a city that 30 years ago rarely saw one.”

“Sales of newly built homes have been falling since 2003, when it seemed every door framer had become a contractor and built homes on speculation, says broker Bob Moline. ‘Those guys are gone,’ Moline says.”

“Still, he says, many buyers assume they have the advantage. They’re coming in with low-ball offers of 15% to 20% below the asking price, so sellers have to negotiate to get the deal done.”

“Housing starts in Eudora, which had been humming along in the earlier years of this decade at nearly 100 annually, slowed to a mere nine in 2007.”

“Higher energy costs, tighter credit policies because of bad loan practices and a glut of new homes on the market as builders sought to take advantage of what had been a boom market all contributed to the slow down.”

“The best use of the current respite could be much to make the city affordable and livable when housing development booms once again.”

“Super-low interest rates. Strong economy. Low unemployment. Lots of people moving into the state. That’s typically a recipe for a booming housing market. But not now, and not in Utah.”

“‘Housing prices are out of whack with incomes and there needs to be price adjustments,’ said Wells Fargo economist Kelly Matthews said. ‘There’s no way we are going to be able to work our way out of this situation without having some price adjustments. We’re just too far out of line.’”

“Cindy Huerta is trying to sell her 3,700-square-foot home near downtown Salt Lake City and has lowered the price from $699,000 to $579,000 for buyers who don’t have an agent.”

“Huerta bought the home in February of last year. But in August, she was forced to shut down her subprime mortgage company when business dried up. She has since found a full-time job at only a fraction of her previous income. Even if she sells the property for $579,000, Huerta said she is going to have to bring about $20,000 in cash to closing.”

“Even so, she is hoping for a quick sale because each month she is draining her savings to stay afloat. ‘I can’t keep this going for months and months,’ she said.”

“The head of homebuilder Ryland Group Inc. didn’t offer much hope for a quick turnabout as he discussed his firm’s losses Thursday, saying there is no end in sight for the housing slump.”

“Calabasas-based CEO R. Chad Dreier said home prices were ‘very high’ in both Northern and Southern California. Despite recent price declines, ‘it would take a pretty strong deal, with a great price and good terms to convince me to jump into that market,’ he said during a conference call.”

“During the late great housing bubble, as my personal worth inflated like a cheap Miami boob job, I naturally felt obligated to peruse the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal.”

“My millionaire status was based on the assumed worth of a 70-year-old stucco cottage. Lately, my million-dollar house isn’t. Not even close. And The New York Times reported Wednesday that some leading economists are now saying it never was. Worse, the economists said that current real estate prices need to fall another 30 percent before Florida real estate gets real.”

“So not only am I not a millionaire anymore, turns out I never was.”

“Banks in Spain are being penalized as fallout from the U.S. subprime market makes its way to the country that contributes most to Europe’s economic growth. A rapid cooling of Spain’s housing market will reverberate through Europe because the country has contributed more than a third of new jobs in the region and accounted for almost a quarter of consumer demand over the past two years, according to Lombard Street Research.”

“‘This country has been living off easy credit since 2001,’ said Gonzalo Bernardos, professor of economics at Barcelona University. ‘Everything became so cheap that people started to speculate. This is going to get worse.’”

“The biggest barrier to stabilizing the chaotic U.S. housing market is the oversupply of homes that cash-strapped builders are flogging at rock-bottom prices, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan says.”

“‘If there were some kind of alchemy whereby we could pick up all these 300,000 units, that would stabilize the markets,’ Mr. Greenspan told a Vancouver audience.”

“Mr. Greenspan also defended much-reviled subprime mortgages, which were typically extended to borrowers who wouldn’t qualify for conventional loans. The products were valuable because they made it easier for more people to buy homes, he said.”

“In his remarks, Mr. Greenspan admitted he was caught off guard by the rapid growth in subprime mortgages, saying there was a lengthy delay in data coming in on the products and that when he finally saw official tallies, ‘he couldn’t quite believe it.’”

“America’s housing meltdown has spawned an epidemic of home foreclosures and job losses. It has dealt huge hits to the bottom lines of big homebuilders and Wall Street banks. It has sent the stock market into a frightening tailspin. It’s triggering fears of a recession and sending shock waves to financial markets around the world.”

“Most of this pain could have been avoided had it not been for greed, imprudence and sloppiness on the part of everyone from homebuyers to mortgage lenders.”

“Reckless homebuyers, mortgage lenders, real estate speculators and Wall Street investors who took risks and got burned must, as a general rule, suck it up and move on. American taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for their mistakes, which often resulted from greed, dishonesty, wishful thinking and throwing caution to the wind.”

“Some Americans were skeptical long before the housing collapse. They would, for example, hear about a young couple of modest means buying a $200,000 home and wonder how on earth they could afford it.’

“In short, lending practices got far too loosey-goosey. The next time there’s a housing boom, such laxity shouldn’t be allowed, lest we want an inevitable housing bust to follow.”

“A young couple should wait to buy a home if the only choice is to take out an ultra-risky subprime loan. And if you’re a lender, how could you sleep at night knowing that you had made such a potentially problematic loan to someone blinded by the prospect of realizing the American dream?”

“The negative impact of the housing meltdown probably will total trillions of dollars when you take into account everything from tumbling home values to falling stock prices.”

“Will we learn from this? How on earth could we not?”

The Housing Adjustment Is Underway, But Not Finished

The Billings Gazette reports from Montana. “Since Hassan Kangarloo swept into Billings last May to buy the bankrupt Northern Hotel, he has managed to tangle the relatively simple sale into a complex web of debts. The Livingston Guest House Motel would be gutted and remodeled into classy residential and office condos, Kangarloo said. The ground floor interior is unfinished and so are most of the condos. Half a dozen Montana contractors have filed liens to collect more than $207,000 in unpaid debts.”

“Kangarloo blames his troubles on Montana contractors he claims have overcharged or stolen from him, as well as the nation’s current stumbling economy. ‘Unfortunately, it’s not just me,’ he recently told The Gazette. ‘The entire nation is going through a tough time in the financial markets.I ‘ve got to stop some of these losses because they think that I’m a rich boy coming up from California.’”

“Meanwhile, Kangarloo has defaulted on a six-month loan and owes $600,000 to a company headed by city native Carter Boehm. ‘Hassan came to Montana thinking I jumped off a turnip truck,’ Boehm said. ‘What he didn’t know is I own a fleet of turnip trucks.’”

The Idaho Statesman. “Doug and Becky Langford have had their home in the Meridian Heights subdivision on the market for almost a year. Doug Langford, a financial adviser with Beneficial Financial Group, admits their first mistake was wasting the first six months trying to sell their 1,762-square-foot, ranch-style home themselves.”

“The couple, who have since moved to Ogden, Utah, are still making mortgage payments on the property. It has not received a single offer, despite the Langfords’ decision to slash the original $220,000 price to $209,000, he said.”

“‘And there’s a good chance that we’re going to cut the price again,’ Langford said.”

“Meanwhile, the couple, who are expecting their first child, are renting a basement apartment while they wait for their home to sell. But at $209,000, the house is still priced well above its assessed value of $185,000, according to the Ada County assessor’s office.”

“Langford said selling the house will not end his problems. He said the couple owe $225,000 on the home. They purchased it using an 80/20 financing plan that amounts to two mortgages.”

“So, if the Langfords sell for $200,000, they will still need to take out a $25,000 loan to pay off the second mortgage. ‘That’s why I listed it at the price I did,’ Langford said. ‘I didn’t want to take out a $25,000 loan, and get nothing for it.’”

The Oregonian. “Umpqua Bank followed the lead of several other Northwest banks Thursday and reported a big increase in troubled loans. The bank’s total nonperforming assets soared from $9 million a year ago to $98 million at the close of 2007.”

“The collapse of the housing bubble has taken a significant toll on Oregon banks, where loan loss provisions in the fourth quarter alone are approaching $80 million.”

“About 75 percent of the loans now lumped in the troubled category as nonperforming assets are loans to residential developers, said Ron Farnsworth, Umpqua’s senior VP for finance. Umpqua’s performance has been hurt by an ill-timed expansion into Northern California.”

“About 73 percent of the bank’s troubled loans are in California, Farnsworth said.”

The Bend Bulletin from Oregon. “A bank foreclosure on a 38-acre chunk of land in northeast Bend has dropped land costs to the point where a group of Bend developers say they’ll be able to sell new houses again this summer for as little as $189,900 apiece, or a little more than half the 2007 median Bend sale price of $349,000.”

“Whether buyers will buy remains to be seen: At the moment, they’re not snapping up Bend houses very quickly at any price.”

“Developer Jay Audia said he and his partners are confident that they’ve found a price range that will attract first-time buyers to a market that was skewed by a three-year bubble that pushed local home prices to record heights, at least partly due to soaring land prices.”

“‘I see a lot of people trying to find a bottom,’ Audia said Tuesday. ‘They’re dropping their prices maybe $5,000 here, then $10,000 there. But we’re jumping ahead of the market, and this is going to find the market.’”

The Register Guard from Oregon. “Some of Lane County’s housing sales figures for last year look pretty nasty — pending sales down 14.8 percent, closed deals down 11.7 percent.”

“While things aren’t as good as they were, they’re not as bad as they might have been, say Randal and Cindy Whipple, a husband-and-wife team of brokers in Eugene.”

“‘Like many other parts of the country, we have suffered some setbacks, some price erosion, in some areas,’ Randal Whipple said. ‘We did have about 40 percent (increase) over a three-year time period, and there’s no getting around it, in some segments of the market we’re seeing some lowering of prices.’”

“Rising and falling home prices don’t mean much to people who don’t plan to buy or sell a home, Cindy Whipple said.”

“For people in that situation, ‘the changes in price are like monopoly money,’ she said. ‘It’s just a question of, ‘Do I feel richer or poorer?’ but it doesn’t really change anything for them. It’s only meaningful if they decide to buy or sell property.’”

The Curry Pilot from Oregon. “‘It Does Not Get More Exciting!’ said Regional economist Dr. John Mitchell’s opening slide for his keynote address at the annual Business Outlook Conference. This year’s appearance by Mitchell was underwritten by Umpqua Bank.”

“Mitchell’s prediction was for continued economic expansion through 2008, including continued ’slow growth’ in Oregon.”

“Given the trouble with the housing industry, Mitchell spent time explaining how the housing boom has been unwinding. There have been declines in construction, lowering of prices, changes in expectations, changes in regulations and tighter credit.”

“‘Housing adjustment is underway,’ he said, ‘but not finished.’”

“‘For Curry County,’ he added in a local review, ‘I suspect the weakness of the California real estate market spills over to here, but remember that the baby boomers have started to retire.’”

The Oregon City News. “Despite years of planning, with visioning drawings of renovated buildings and tree-lined streets, the plan to revitalize Milwaukie’s downtown core might be less feasible than many in the city had hoped.”

“‘When you get into an area like the Pearl District where the achievable rate is $600 to $700 per square foot, you start to think that it’s because of mixed use’ amenities in the area, said Jerry Johnson, of Johnson Gardner LLC. ‘The belief is that if there’s amenities like grocers, theaters, night clubs close by, people will pay more for housing.’”

“‘Rent levels in the area are seen to be well below what is necessary to support mid-rise construction,’ the report said.”

“‘You want to make the area more attractive so you can charge more for the area. You can develop that by generating activity downtown so it’s a place people actually want to be,’ he said. ‘The problem is it’s the chicken and the egg – you’ve got to get people interested in investing downtown,’ but to do that you’ve got to get people downtown.”

The Daily News from Washington. “It’s been one year since developer Todd Nicholson offered the city of Kelso $1.1 million for 9 acres of riverfront property across from Three Rivers Golf Course, but the sale still hasn’t closed - and it may not for six months.”

“The cooling housing market has prompted Nicholson to retool his vision. His original plan was to build 240 upscale condominium units. Now, Nicholson thinks it would be ’safer’ to build 60 to 70 single-family, unattached townhouses on narrow lots ’so we can absorb two or three years of really horrible sales,’ he said.”

The News Tribune. from Washington. “The weakening housing market coupled with tighter financing standards took their toll this week on two major projects on Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway. Developer Bob Thurston has told the Foss board that his bank wants him to sell half of the condominiums before it releases construction funding for the building.”

“Thurston changed the design when the condo market in Tacoma and the nation was hot and the hotel market was lukewarm. With home sales now weakening, it would be easier to finance a building that had no condo component, he has said.”

“Regarding the proposed office-residential building near the bridge, Prium general counsel Matt Sweeney said the ‘tremendous uncertainty’ in the market is slowing Prium’s plan to build a new Foss building.”

“The developer hasn’t been pressuring the state to expedite permits because the market is weak, Sweeney said. ‘I didn’t see any advantage in saying run run run when things were getting bad bad bad,’ said Sweeney.”

The Olympian from Washington. “A free workshop Wednesday night will cover investment opportunities that can result from South Sound’s growing mortgage foreclosure trend. Thurston County auditor’s records show mortgage foreclosure notices rose to 662 last year, a 52 percent increase over the number in 2006.”

“‘A year ago, we would see only about four sales a month,’ said Paulette Roswall, branch manager of Liberty Financial Group in Tumwater. ‘Now we see four a week that go to foreclosure.’”

The Seattle PI from Washington. “Last year was, in many ways, two different years for the Seattle-area housing market. There’s one market from January through July, when steady year-over-year increases in home inventory and declining sales didn’t keep the median King County house price from posting double-digit increases.”

“Then came August, when skittish lenders tightened mortgage standards, making it harder to get a loan, and investors pulled out of the mortgage market.”

“King County had enough homes on the market in most of early 2007 to last less than three months, given the sales pace at the time. The supply topped six months in September through November and seven months in December.”

“December’s supply hit nearly nine months in Snohomish County, 11 months in Pierce County, 11.5 months in Kitsap County and 13 months in Skagit County.”

“The psychological effect of the credit crunch went beyond its actual effect, said Jill Jacobi Wood, president of Windermere Real Estate. ‘I just think the buyers just kind of went ’snap,’ deciding to wait for the market to bottom out, she said.”

“Glenn Crellin, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University, theorized that the median prices earlier in 2007 were masking some softness because buyers were getting more for their money, rather than spending less.”

“‘Finally, it got to the point where they were able to afford all they wanted and spend less money, too,’ he said.”

Prices Are Finally Buckling In Florida

The Tampa Tribune reports from Florida. “Data released Thursday showed that sale prices of existing single-family homes in the Bay area dropped every month during 2007 when compared with the same month in 2006, and ended the year down 7 percent at $209,100. The Florida Association of Realtors, which tallied the decline, reported that December was even more grim: the median price was $194,200, a 14 percent drop from $226,800 for the same month a year ago.”

“‘The numbers don’t look good at all,’ said Chris Lafakis, an economist who covers Florida for Moody’s Economy.com. ‘Falling home prices discourage some buyers from buying, and that’s not what we need. Florida is literally drowning in excess supply right now.’”

“In the Bay area, he said, prices have dropped about 11 percent since peaking in mid-2006. He predicts they will fall by as much as 18 percent more. ‘Sellers in Tampa have been reluctant to slice prices, and that’s why the inventory is so high,’ Lafakis said.”

“There’s one thing that drives real estate agent Tony Rojas crazy: unrealistic sellers who insist on asking buyers to pay boom-year sales prices despite profound drops in area home values. So he has decided to walk away. In essence, he’s firing them.”

“‘We as Realtors have two choices,’ said Rojas. ‘We can tell clients what they want to hear. Or we can tell them the truth: Values have dropped. Some clients get so mad when I tell them what their home is really worth that they won’t even call me back.’”

The Ledger. “The housing market didn’t save any surprises for December, as sales totals fell again to cap off the weakest year in Polk County since 1999. Polk’s median sale price in December was $154,100, a decrease of12 percent from $174,300 the year prior, the Florida Association of Realtors reported.”

“‘I try to counsel my sellers to be competitive in their prices, and I think that’s the key right now,’ said Judy B. Cleaves, a Realtor based in Winter Haven.”

“According to a rough estimate from the Polk County Builders Association, the county still has between 4,500 and 5,000 unsold homes on the market. Scott Coulombe, the association’s director, said the group now estimates that as much as 50 percent of the sales activity during Polk’s housing boom might have been the work of speculators.”

“Although Cleaves said she is content to ride out a dismal period in Florida’s housing market, she is tempering her expectations of a significant recovery in 2008. ‘I think we’re going to have a ‘hang in there’ year,’ she said.”

The Herald Tribune. “The number of local homes sold in December fell 10 percent from a year earlier. Some argue that the Sarasota-Bradenton market is on firmer footing than much of the nation because sellers have aggressively reduced prices. But others are reluctant to call that bottom.”

“‘We’re not seeing a recovery, merely a slowing of the fall,’ said broker associate Andrew Bers. ‘After huge price run-ups locally over the past several years, our market retreat was one of the first and fastest. Now that decline is starting to slow as we return to more sustainable price levels, but affordability is still affected by several issues that will continue to put downward pressure on pricing and sales.’”

The News Press. “Lee County home sales ended a horrible year with a sharp two-month drop in prices, according to a report Thursday. For single-family homes in Lee County, the median price in December was $215,200, down 18 percent from $263,700 a year earlier and 10 percent off October’s $239,300. November’s numbers weren’t available.”

“‘I’ve seen in the last couple of months some pretty big price declines,’ said agent Brett Ellis. ‘A lot of sellers are getting caught unaware of what’s happening in the market.’”

“Overall, he said, the decline in the median price probably understates the actual drop in the market since its frenzied peak in late 2005. Since the record high of $322,300 in December 2005, the median price is off 33 percent.”

“About 1,000 homes a month are going into foreclosure, a trend Ellis said should peak in the third quarter of this year.”

“‘Forget the official median statistics; the market’s down, in my opinion, 40 percent and some of the waterfront markets more than that: half, maybe 60 percent,’ Ellis said.”

“One homeowner trying to sell said she’s still hoping to get a good price. ‘I don’t know. Look at the market. But we’ve got 2 acres. How much lower do we go?’ said Jill Goodman, who with her husband is trying to sell the four-bedroom, four-bath house and guest cottage they’ve owned for six years in Fort Myers for $729,000. They bought it in 2001 for $262,900.”

“They’re trying to sell without an agent and may come down on their asking price, which they’ve already cut from $1.1 million when they started in June.”

“‘There’s still a little room to negotiate,’ Goodman said.”

The Naples News. “The number of homes sold in Fort Myers/Cape Coal saw a 28-percent decline while condominiums dropped 10 percent. The Naples-Marco Island area showed a 26-percent decline in homes sold, said a report.”

“‘I have seen prices drop by more than 30 percent in some areas like Golden Gate Estates, less in others,’ said broker Jerry Osinski.”

“‘The real estate market is cyclical,’ said Mary Birdsong, broker in south Fort Myers. ‘I don’t know where the bottom will be, but the cycle will end.’”

The Miami Herald. “Would-be buyers can take heart that South Florida home prices are finally buckling.”

“In Broward County, the median price of an existing single-family home dropped 10 percent to $329,800 in December compared with a year ago, according to a report. Condo prices slipped 14 percent, to a median of $171,800, following a year of declines.”

“‘You are seeing 10 percent drops now, and you’re going to continue to see that, and even greater numbers,’ said Jack Winston, a principal with data analyst Goodkin Consulting in Miami, of condos. ‘It is going to be catastrophic.’”

“Doug DeWitt, a Miami real estate broker, said he had recently received 16 offers, mostly from cash-wielding investors, on a vandalized four-bedroom town house in Westchester reduced from $230,000 to $166,000.”

“Winston questioned the wisdom of bargain-hunters, saying they may be mistaken in thinking the market had hit bottom.”

“‘At the end of the day, who are you going to sell those units to? You need real buyers,’ Winston said. ‘People may scour around for bargains here and there, but if they aren’t going to live in the property, they’ll still have to hold it.’”

The Sun Sentinel. “Palm Beach County existing home sales last year fell 19 percent, to 6,971 from 8,640, the Florida Association of Realtors said Thursday. It was by far the fewest homes to change hands in a single year countywide since the Realtors group started keeping track in 1994.”

“‘We’re in a contraction phase,’ said David Levin, a Delray Beach-based housing analyst. ‘It’s going to take time. We need to step back philosophically and realize that.’”

The Palm Beach Post. “Median prices of existing single-family homes in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast dropped 12 months in a row, the Florida Association of Realtors said.”

“But although local home sale ads are filled with five and six-figure price cuts, and although sellers are offering to hold second mortgages or even pay several months of the mortgage, sales have stalled.”

“There’s no getting around it: 2007 was an ugly year for home sales, raising fears that the slumping housing market would lead to a recession.”

“Bradley Hunter, director of the South Florida region for MetroStudy in West Palm Beach, said he applies ‘the duck test’ when pondering such weighty things as recession: ‘If it quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck and walks like a duck,’ Hunter said, ‘it’s a duck.’”

“Translation? ‘We’re at least in a localized recession,’ he said.”

From TC Palm. “Existing single-family homes are selling for $43,200 less than a year ago in Martin and St. Lucie counties, but Realtors say things may be looking up. Or at least they’re stabilizing to numbers that more reflect the market before the speculators’ surge of the past few years.”

“‘I estimate we had somewhere in the area of 40 percent of the buyers the past few years were speculators,’ said Scott Wingfield, president of the Realtors Association of St. Lucie County. ‘They’re out of the market now. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to look at those numbers. We need to get back to comparing it to ’01, ’02, ’03 with what is happening. That is a real reflection of the true market.’”

The Orlando Sentinel. “Lenders have foreclosed on several properties owned by Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn, including his centerpiece tower project The Plaza, the largest redevelopment in downtown’s history.”

“The two other foreclosure suits against Kuhn were filed in late December by Illinois companies. One involves the mortgage on Kuhn’s Lake Butler home in Windermere; the other involves property in downtown Orlando on which Kuhn once planned to build a mixed-use tower.”

“The trio of foreclosures raises questions about Kuhn’s plans for Church Street Station, a once-popular but bankrupt entertainment complex he bought with great fanfare last year for $34 million.”

“‘We have been through some downturns and always come back,’ said John F. Ballard, a senior director based in Orlando with the commercial real-estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield of Florida. ‘I see no reason not to be confident about Orlando’s future.’”

“One of his fellow investors in The Plaza LLC, which does not include the garage, told me Kuhn is taking the hit ’stoically.’ ‘Cameron is not happy about it, but he’s not curled up into a fetal position,’ said Griff Winthrop.”

“Kuhn’s troubles follow a foreclosure by a Dutch bank on Euro American Advisors’ 55 West, a condo tower on Church Street. And we’re left with a downtown that appears to have a skyline thick with towers from a distance, but like a mirage, dissipates up close.”

“The sidewalks aren’t as crowded as they should be. Retail choices are lacking. Take a look at the balconies of the condo towers and count how many have the homey touches of plants or patio furniture — there aren’t many.”

“Downtown’s potential is still great. But empty buildings are still empty no matter how shiny and new they are.”

The News Journal. “It was not a good year for home sellers in Volusia and Flagler counties. There were 6,701 houses sold by Realtors in 2007, the fewest since 2001. The dwindling sales pulled the median price of houses in the two-county area below $200,000.”

“‘Things are still shaking themselves out,’ said Realtor Greg Antonich, a past-president of the Daytona Beach Area Association of Realtors.”

“He said the drop in the median sales price was to be expected, noting prices have risen in recent years as homeowners used their properties as ‘piggybanks’ and refinanced them for various reasons.”

“‘A lot of this was artificial,’ he said about pricing.”

“Local residents Arline and Richard Pendl have been trying to sell their home in Sunrise Oaks for nearly a year. But no serious takers have surfaced for the four-bedroom, 2,600-square-foot home with a double garage.”

“It isn’t that the retirees don’t like the house or even the area. They simply have decided it’s time to downsize and, oh yeah, there is the question of those increasing property taxes. ‘The taxes are just unbelievable,’ Arline Pendl said in a telephone interview. ‘They have gone up $2,000 since we moved here.’”

“So while they wait, the Pendls have dug in their heels and dropped their asking price to $369,000. They dropped it twice before, she said. ‘My husband and I agree that we are not going to give this house away,’ she said.’

Bits Bucket And Craigslist Finds For January 25, 2008

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