Recovery? Trying to draw meaning from the chaos of new housing news in Florida
Mothballed Tampa Bay area subdivision, 2012: A thaw in new home building may be under way. Photo: Bruce Moyer, Tampa Bay Times.
Wake up and good morning. So is the Tampa Bay and Florida housing market at a bottom and really ready to start improving? The crystal ball remains murky but there's no lack of housing activity on both sides of the equation to ponder. For openers:
* Homebuilder Newland Communities is taking the bet that demand for new housing is ready to rock by taking the mothballs of an Apollo Beach housing community called Waterset that could eventually offer up a whopping 6,700 new homes. As Newland senior vice president Rick Harcrow told Tampa Bay Times real estate reporter Mark Puente this week: "I don't know any build who isn't bullish about the spring buying season in 2013." The project will be one of the biggest in the country since the housing market crashed. Read more here.
* About 12 percent of all Florida homes with a mortgage were in some state of foreclosure in December, making the Sunshine State No. 1 nationwide with the highest foreclosure inventory. So says a new report from CoreLogic. For the Tampa Bay market in December, CoreLogic says 17 percent of mortgages are 90 days or more overdue (versus 7.3 percent nationally) and 12 percent are already part of the area's foreclosure inventory (versus just 3.4 percent nationally). Here are more details.
* The diminished but still hefty National Association of Home Builders show is under way this week in Orlando where housing economists are licking their wounds after last year incorrectly calling a bottom top the housing market. This week, economists like NAHB's David Crowe were more cautious but still predict a 16 percent improvement this year in new home sales and single family starts. Read more from the Wall Street Journal, the AP and get some local convention flavor from the Orlando Sentinel.
* Last but not least, after many months of wrangling, Florida is expected to join a multi-state government agreement today or tomorrow with five major banks worth (depending on various news reports) as little as $25 billion or as much as $37 billion that would focus on banks' foreclosure abuses and help homeowners whose mortgages are worth more than their homes. The deal would represent the largest government-industry settlement since a multi-state deal with the tobacco industry in 1998, according to the Wall Street Journal. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo Citibank and Ally Financial agreed to the settlement that would lower homeowners' mortgage principals, refinancing, a reserve account and checks to homeowners. The banks have sought releases from legal liability and immunity from further investigations into the so-called robo-signing cases so rampant in recent years in Florida and elsewhere. Read more here, here and here.
So what's this mishmash all mean? Progress, uneven though it seems, in moving forward for an industry that's been in economic quicksand for years. Patience.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times