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Some local real estate experts doubt that Obama's housing rescue package will work

LARGO — It's too early to tell if Linda Dubayah will qualify for President Obama's $75 billion housing rescue package.

But time is running out for Dubayah and scores of other Tampa Bay area homeowners. The 58-year-old Dubayah is selling her household furniture to fend off foreclosure.

"The savings is gone. Everything is gone," said Dubayah, who can't work because of a disability. Her only source of income, a Clearwater rental home, is threatened by foreclosure. "I have to figure something out. I don't have a lot of time."

Obama's multipronged message, aimed at helping those in foreclosure and preventing others from reaching that point, offered hope for Dubayah and thousands of residents in the Tampa Bay area on the cusp of losing their homes.

But local real estate experts, community development officials and attorneys who specialize in foreclosure say the optimism may be fleeting. Help, they say, may be out of reach for many bay area homeowners, more than 6,000 of whom received some type of foreclosure notice in January.

"This is an artificial Band Aid," said Peter K. Murphy, a real estate consultant with Home Encounter in Ybor City. "It's not going to fix the market. It's going to postpone the pain."

Obama's plan offers protections to homeowners possibly facing foreclosure, as well as to those who are making their mortgage payments but whose home values have dropped to the point that refinancing is impossible.

The rescue package could protect up to 9 million of the 52 million U.S. homeowners with a mortgage, administration officials say.

To qualify for the refinancing plan, a homeowner's mortgage debt must be no more than 105 percent of the value of the home.

But home values sank so fast and so low in the Tampa Bay area that many people owe much more than they own. The Tampa Bay area has seen property values drop as much as 42 percent the past two years, estimates say.

A house purchased for $120,000 in 2006 might be valued at $80,000 now. The house's $100,000 mortgage (after a $20,000 down payment) would have seemed prudent in 2006, but now that homeowner owes 125 percent more than he owns, making him ineligible for help under Obama's plan.

"For certain people it could be great," said attorney Michael Alex Wasylik, referring to the plan. But Wasylik, who works throughout the Tampa Bay area defending clients against foreclosures, said that because of some of the restrictions, "I think a lot of people are not going to benefit from this."

A Pasco County housing official said Obama's refinancing plan is not that different than one offered in 2007 by President George W. Bush.

Most homeowners were ineligible for the Bush plan simply because they owed more than what their homes were worth. George Romagnoli, Pasco County Community Development Manager, was unsure Obama's plan would change the dynamics.

"If you didn't put a big down payment down, and most people didn't, I think it will be tough to qualify," he said.

Others are more blunt.

Ken Thomas, a Miami based banking consultant and economist, said the Obama administration's attempt to arrest the falling housing market is probably doomed to failure.

Real estate will have to go through the messy process of healing itself, Thomas said. That includes more foreclosures and more people abandoning homes they consider to be losing investments.

"There's no immediate cure for the housing recession no matter what the government does,'' Thomas said. "It's like a canker sore: It will cure in seven days with medication and a week without medication."

For some, the offer of help comes too late.

Kimberly Kaloski has felt the real estate bust from more than one direction. She was an energetic, always busy real estate agent in St. Petersburg until "something happened where I just couldn't sell. Nobody wanted to buy anything. I just couldn't produce."

She moved to North Carolina, but the market went bust there, too. And then she couldn't keep up the payments on her St. Petersburg house.

"I had so much anxiety, I had heart palpitations," she said. She tried to negotiate a better deal with her lenders, but it was nearly impossible.

She said her house in the Gateway area is scheduled to be sold in a foreclosure sale today.

Late Wednesday, she was still making phone calls from North Carolina, trying to stop the sale.

Plan highlights

President Obama threw a $75 billion lifeline to home owners on Wednesday. What's included?

Help for those facing foreclosure. The plan offers incentives for lenders to renegotiate mortgages to make them more affordable.

Help for homeowners who are struggling, but still making payments and can't refinance because their homes are worth less than they owe.

Making credit available by offering $400B to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Some local real estate experts doubt that Obama's housing rescue package will work 02/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 10:03am]
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