Cheaper home prices and lower mortgage rates are luring more Floridians back into the housing market, but the same story isn’t playing out nationally.

Florida’s existing home sales rose 24 percent last month, the fifth consecutive month to show an increase in activity, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

Nationwide, however, sales of existing homes fell 5.3 percent in January to their lowest levels in nearly 12 years.

In Florida 8,450 existing homes sold, up 24 percent from the 6,810 homes sold in January 2008, according to FAR.

“Many people are looking at today’s market and seeing opportunities to find the home or business they’ve always wanted,” FAR President Cynthia Shelton said.

What’s good news for buyers is bad for sellers, as foreclosures continue to depress home values.

The statewide median sales price for existing homes last month was $139,500, down 33 percent from last year, when the median sales price was $206,900.

Condos also are selling, with FAR reporting a 13 percent statewide gain to 2,556 units sold, up nearly 13 percent from 2,266 sold in January 2008. The existing condo median sales price last month was $113,400, down 40 percent from last January, when it was $190,200.

Fort Lauderdale saw home sales soar 52 percent in January, to 467 from 307 a year ago. Values continue their downward spiral, with the median price at $191,000, down 39 percent from last January’s median price of $314,200.

Condo sales in Fort Lauderdale were up 29 percent, to 531 units from 411, but median prices were nearly halved to $85,000 from $153,000 a year ago.

Miami reported a 47 percent hike in the number of existing home sales, to 407 from 276. The median price, however, fell 38 percent, to $208,100 from $336,800.

Miami condo sales were up 27 percent, to 379 units from 298. The median price fell 48 percent, to $149,100 from $284,000.

Activity wasn’t as upbeat in West Palm Beach, where January sales were up just 11 percent to 408 homes sold from 369 a year ago. Median prices were down 32 percent, to $232,100 from $343,200.

Condo sales were up 24 percent, to 375 units from 303. The median sales price was down 31 percent, to $108,900 from $157,700.

The national median sales price for existing single-family homes in December 2008 was $174,700, down 14.8 percent from a year earlier, according to National Association of Realtors.

“It appears some buyers are taking advantage of much lower home prices,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “The higher monthly sales gain and falling inventory are steps in the right direction, but buyers will continue to have an edge over sellers for the foreseeable future.”

Daily Real Estate NewsFebruary 18, 2009

After President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus plan into law Tuesday, he said now the focus needs to be on stopping the spread of foreclosures and falling home values.

“We must … do everything we can to help responsible home owners stay in their homes,” Obama said.

The challenge, say those who have been studying the problem, is to lower the amount of money borrowers must pay every month.

More than half of mortgage modifications have left borrowers with the same or higher loan payments because lenders tack on past-due principal, interest, taxes and insurance, which drives the total owed higher, according to an analysis by Alan M. White, a professor at Valparaiso University School of Law. The study looked at more than 23,000 modifications. At the same time, White says, lenders have been unwilling to reduce principal even for borrowers owing vastly more than their homes are worth.

As a result, 49 percent of borrowers redefaulted within six months after receiving a modification that increased their principal and interest payments by 10 percent to 20 percent, according to ratings company Fitch.

The re-default rate was 21 percent for borrowers who saw their payments fall by 20 percent or more.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Ruth Simon (02/18/2009)

South Florida Business Journal, Monday, February 16, 2009

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has joined the growing list of institutions agreeing to suspend foreclosures.

The two said they will suspend all foreclosure sales involving occupied single-family and two- to four-unit properties through March 6.

The suspension will give loan servicers more time to help troubled borrowers find an alternative to foreclosure.

The housing giants, which were seized by the government last fall, had said they would suspend evictions and foreclosure sales between Nov. 26 and Jan. 9, a decision affecting thousands of proposed sales.

The latest suspension does not apply to vacant properties in foreclosure.

McLean, Va.-based Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE) and Washington, D.C.-based Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM) own or guarantee almost half of the country’s mortgages.FNM) own or guarantee almost half of the country’s mortgages.

Freddie Mac said it gives lenders servicing its mortgages broad authority to provide forbearance to borrowers who are not yet delinquent. In addition, lenders can provide permanent rate reductions, mortgage term extensions, forbearance of principal or other modifications to borrowers who are already delinquent.