Pensacola, Florida
Monday August 20th 2018

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Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons

Finding opportunities in a challenging housing market
by Sean Boone

It’s become a market of inches.

Although the Obama administration has made financial push after push to boost real estate sales in the past year, the continued turbulence of the economy has kept the housing market shaky.

Despite more incentives to buy property, the market is still proving to be too much of a risk for most buyers. Recently released federal housing numbers show a 26 percent drop in sales in July from the previous year, even though interest rates are at their lowest in more than 30 years.

But should buyers who have the money to buy be worried to do so? Experts say yes…and no.

“If someone is looking to buy a house it’s not a bad time to be buying,” says Brian Hoffman, a Pensacola attorney who specializes in real estate closures and litigation. “The prices and interest rates are lower than they have ever been, and there are more and more bank foreclosures…the banks don’t want to own a bunch of property so they are trying to get rid of it as fast as they can.”

Hoffman, who will be speaking at the third annual Escambia-Santa Rosa Real Estate Council/IN/PYP Housing Seminar on Sept. 14, says the gamble that you take right now is buying in a market that could continue to fall.

“It’s the right time to buy, but you’re making major assumptions,” he says. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and most people have a friend who got utterly slammed by the falling values in the market.”

This year’s Real Estate Council meeting is themed “Making Lemonade Out of Lemons” and will feature eight local attorneys and experts as well as a discussion panel that will speak on various aspects of the local housing market and answer questions from the audience.

“It is essential to have a real estate attorney be a part of the process so that you get clear and good title,” says Greg Farrar, president of the Real Estate Council.  “It is still a buyers’ market and prices and mortgage rates are the most favorable to buyers since I began practicing law in 1987. The opportunities are great but so are the risks.

“Our council is offering the public an opportunity to listen to experienced attorneys for free.

Appraisal Fallout

The county is currently losing about a half to one percent of residential property values per month, according to Escambia Property Appraiser Chris Jones.

He says that value depletion is even worse with waterfront properties and undeveloped land. Jones notes that acquiring loans—particularly jumbo ones—is particularly difficult right now.

“The worst investments to have right now is vacant land,” he says. “Why would you build something right now when you can buy an existing building that is cheaper? No one is interested in the long time holding. Inventory is still somewhat high and it’s becoming more and more difficult scoring on loans. Credit is becoming more and more important.”

And with the dismal market on large real estate investments, the county’s revenue stream has continued to fall. Current projections show a 5.16 percent drop from last year for the county and a 3.10 percent skid inside the City of Pensacola.

Jones says he’ll be speaking at the Real Estate Council meeting to discuss where we are today compared to last year and where we are headed, as well as TRIM (truth in millage) notices, current actions by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist’s oil spill executive order.

“Historically there have been tax rebates for natural disasters,” he says. “My thought was to get the legislature get on board with this, but that has not occurred yet. I’m disappointed the Speaker (Larry Cretul, R-Ocala) has not decided to do a special session in September to look at that. Because none (of the millions BP has given the state of Florida) is covering property values, there will likely be a lawsuit.”

Foreclosures

One of the biggest changes in the real estate market this year has been the addition of foreclosure protection for both the buyer and the banks.

Hoffman says the court system’s attempt to absorb the foreclosures was not working, which prompted the state to create mandated mediation—something that he says is still relatively “cumbersome.”

“(The state) recently set up judges in each county for foreclosures,” he says. “From the perspective of a homeowner, someone had to represent the bank and could sit down and go through the options. From a public perspective, it really isn’t doing much. If someone hasn’t been making mortgage payments and it has been going on for quite some time, the process is still requiring at least six months before notification is sent (that they are not making payments).”

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