SEBRING - Steve Fruit has the numbers to prove that home sales are up. "But prices have not really started escalating yet," said the broker associate at RE/MAX Realty Plus II in Lake Placid. "We're usually six months to a year behind the rest of the market because so many of our buyers are seasonal, retirees or weekend buyers," Fruit said. He compiled a list of 1,137 single family homes sold from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012. The median price was $81,000.
For the current year, 1,351 homes sold - 16 percent more - but the median price moved $1,000, a mere 1.2 percent. By contrast, CoreLogic.com reported that home sales in Miami leapt 13.5 percent annually, compared with August 2012. One reason why: baby boomers are moving from higher-tax states Pennsylvania and California in favor of Florida, which has no state income tax, according to an analysis by West Palm Beach magazine Newsmax. "A new wave of migrating boomer, many of whom bring substantial wealth with them," are boosting Florida's economy, Newsmax reported from U.S. Census and Tax Foundation data. At the same time, a new wave has hit the foreclosure market. Florida had the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. in July, HeraldTribune.com reported from Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research figures. "One in every 326 housing units was in foreclosure," HeraldTribune.com wrote. "Nine of the top 10 foreclosure rates among American cities were in Florida... The good news, according to the Florida legislative office, is that the front end of the foreclosure stream - mortgages newly falling into delinquency - has steadily declined in 2013." Highlands County follows that trend too. Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine filed 1,508 foreclosures in 2009, 983 in 2010, 599 in 2011 and 896 in 2012. So far, 448 foreclosures have been filed in 2013, trending to 898 for the entire year. Even better news: "Florida's underwater homes declined from a high of 50 percent of all mortgages to about 26 percent today," HeraldTribune.com reported. The state has 54,410 zombie foreclosures - bank-foreclosed properties vacated by the homeowner that are now prime short-sale opportunities, according to RealtyTrac.com. More than half of foreclosures are vampires, RealtyTrac said - still occupied even though the bank has foreclosed. "They often represent a threat to the quality of the surrounding neighborhood, dragging down home values." Zombie properties may be distressed because the power has been shut off and the mortgage holder isn't mowing the lawn. On the surface, vampires "often will look like normal homes, but ... they represent a shadow inventory that is becoming more imminent as rising home prices motivate banks to sell off these homes." Deborah Worley, who runs her own real estate company, is noticing more new trends. "In the past three months, people are getting loans," the Lake Placid broker said. "I had two get loans in the last three weeks, and I didn't have any before that since - I don't even know when. Everything was cash, so no one was getting financing." She's also sold commercial properties for bargain prices. "Extremely low, but they are selling. If anything, commercial prices are going down." Worley was told Wednesday by a bank officer that borrowing money will become more difficult next year. "Come Jan. 1, the criteria for getting a loan is going to change. Verification will be a lot more in depth." Finally, since the federal government is phasing out flood insurance subsidies, Worley predicted that coastal home owners will move inland - perhaps to Highlands County - instead of hauling all the water for their flood policies. "If your flood insurance goes from $6,000 a year to $28,000 a year," Worley suggested, "you're going to have to sell it." firstname.lastname@example.org 863-386-5828