Friday, June 7, 2013
Tags:   Indian Creek Homes, Miami Beach Homes

For years, Everglades restoration engineers and scientists have been working on ways to control the ripple effects when they finally start returning healthy water flows to the marsh.

Increased suburban flooding has long been the big concern from raising water levels in the Everglades but a critical plan now on the fast track surprisingly poses the opposite problem.

Initial computer modeling for the $1 billion plan, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is rushing to complete by year’s end, suggests the proposed re-plumbing of assorted levees, canals and pumps could divert too much water from a well field that supplies Miami-Dade County with much of its drinking water. At certain times of the year, it also could reduce already meager freshwater flows to southern Biscayne Bay that have turned much too salty.

Kim Taplin, chief of the Corps’s Central Everglades branch, acknowledged the results from the first modeling runs last month were unexpected but she also stressed that the suite of projects can be tweaked to ensure groundwater continues to recharge county wells in West Miami-Dade.

“It is truly a tentatively selected plan,’’ she said at a meeting on the plan this week. “There are a lot of policy issues that have to be worked out.’’

But the time frame for resolving the problem and other issues is short, and the stakes are high.

This particular plan, called the Central Everglades Planning Project, is an important experiment by the Corps to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that has tangled and slowed restoration since Congress first approved the joint state-federal restoration effort in 2000. The Corps — partnering with the South Florida Water Management District and a large “working group” of other state and federal agencies, environmentalists and outdoors groups — is trying to crunch its typical planning process of five-to-six years to 18 months.

The goal is to formally select a plan by April and have it approved by Corps leadership in Washington in time to include it among a handful of already authorized Everglades projects stalled until Congress approves funding — most likely through a massive public works spending bill. Such measures, called water resources development acts, are passed periodically, with the last one coming in 2007. Everglades supporters are pushing hard for another one.

The Central Everglades plan is designed to finally help the ailing heart of the Everglades — moving more water through state-owned water conservation areas south of Lake Okeechobee, down through the Shark River Slough, the historic headwaters of Everglades National Park and finally out into Florida Bay.

Though the plan wouldn’t do everything called for in the larger $13.5 billion restoration plan, which was expected to take decades to complete, it would represent a major first step toward restoring natural flow to a system long bottled up by dikes and drainage canals.

The plan calls for siphoning water currently released from the lake and “lost to tide” down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and redirecting it to the south.

The water — up to 65 million gallons annually — is intended to refresh long-parched swaths of the Glades and too-salty Florida Bay and offer relief to sections of state-owned marsh where water has historically been held too high, destroying tree islands and reducing wild life populations. After studying four alternatives, a working group hammering out the plan made a tentative choice last month, combining features from two alternatives. The new plan, known as 4R, includes nearly 20 separate projects to backfill portions of canals, remove or shorten levees, add gates and pumps, extend bridging along Tamiami Trail and remove the old road bed.

It also includes an underground wall called a “seepage barrier” south of Tamiami Trail designed to reduce the flow of groundwater from the Everglades east toward the suburbs. Because South Florida’s porous limestone geology behaves much like a sponge, adding water on one side of a levee tends to raise ground water levels on the other side as well, which can reduce the drainage capacity of canals and increase suburban flood risks.

Computer modeling last month, however, showed the design cut off so much seepage it reduced water flows to Miami-Dade’s well fields — an impact the county wants alleviated before endorsing any plan.

“We have very serious concerns at this point, and we aren’t prepared to support 4R for sure and probably any of the others until we can see some actual results of whatever can be done to address the shortcomings,” said Susan Markley, a section chief for the county’s division of environmental resources management.

Markley also cautioned that moving ahead with the plan without solving the issue could force expensive and time-consuming delays down the road. The Everglades restoration agreement includes a “savings clause” that legally obligates the Corps and district to preserve the existing water supply of utilities and other users.

At a meeting this week, Taplin agreed the design had gone overboard on stopping seepage. But she said tweaks to the seepage wall design and levees and pumping schedules should keep more groundwater around the well fields.

Barry Rosen, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who is vice chair of the project working group, said it wasn’t uncommon for initial modeling runs on complicated projects to produce such surprises.

“You have to draw it up once to see how you can refine it,” he said.

Biscayne National Park also has raised question about the plan, concerned that it will further reduce freshwater flows to the bay, which is also supposed to be targeted for restoration under the broader Everglades plan. But Taplin said improving conditions in Biscayne Bay is outside the scope of the Central Everglades effort.

Dawn Shirreffs, Everglades program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association and a member of the working group, admitted the expedited process was “a little scary’’ after years of dealing with the Corps’ grinding analysis.

Much of the focus, she said, had been on deciding what project to build to rapidly improve conditions in the marsh itself rather than on outside impacts like seepage. Still, she was confident that the “nitty-gritty details” would be addressed despite the fast track effort, which the Corps hopes to use as a model nationally if it succeeds.

“The Corps is not going to move forward with something that shows a violation of the savings clause,” she said.

Source: Miami Herald 2/18/2013

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Friday, June 7, 2013
Tags:   Indian Creek Homes, Miami Beach Homes

For years, Pablo Oliveira dreamed of buying a property to house his high-end linen and furniture rental company, Nuage Designs, which has created settings for such glamorous events as the weddings of Carrie Underwood and Chelsea Clinton.

A few months ago, that dream came true, when Oliveira purchased a warehouse across the street from his current Miami location. He is now renovating the loft-like space with the help of a $2.1 million, 25-year small business loan.

“It allows me to own my own space as opposed to renting, and that will decrease my costs for infrastructure and allow me to build equity with time,” said Oliveira, who secured a U.S. Small Business Administration-guaranteed loan from Wells Fargo.

For small businesses like Oliveira’s, a loan can be the critical key to growing a business, as well as the kindling to ignite an operation.

Take Harold Scott’s fledgling Great Scott Security, which manufactures window guards in Hollywood that can open quickly in case of need.

When he was 13, Scott’s stepfather perished in a Georgia house fire because he couldn’t escape through heavy window bars. Scott made it his mission to fix the problem.

“I promised myself I would dedicate all my time to working on a solution,” said Scott, 60.

Now retired from a 23-year career in the U.S. Justice Department, Scott recently secured a $7,500 microloan from Partners for Self Employment. He used it to buy a computer and pay for marketing and other business expenses for his quick-release window guards, which have met national, state and Miami-Dade County fire safety codes.

During the depths of the recession, business owners often griped that gaining access to capital was their biggest hurdle. Saddled with bad loans, many banks were wary of making new ones. At the same time, both the value of collateral and the creditworthiness of many borrowers tumbled.

Now, at last, banks are starting to open their pocketbooks again, experts say, though lending is still not on par with pre-recession levels.

“There is no question that small business borrowing declined as a result of the recession and has yet to recover to pre-crisis levels,” said Richard Brown, chief economist for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., via email. “According to the Federal Reserve, total loans to noncorporate businesses and farms stood at just under $3.8 trillion in September, which remains below the peak of about $4.1 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2008.”

Signs of Growth

In South Florida, more businesses are applying for loans and getting approvals from banks, according to lenders, officials at government agencies and leaders of organizations that help small business owners secure loans.

“Lenders are expressing a greater interest than they have in the past few years in terms of meeting the needs of the small business community,” said Marjorie Weber, Miami-Dade Chapter Chair of SCORE, which helps business owners put loan packages together and refers them to bankers.

Loan figures are indeed rising. During the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012, SBA-guaranteed loans were up in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties, according to the SBA. In fiscal 2012, 449 loans were approved in Miami-Dade, totaling $213.3 million, up from 426 loans for $154.4 million in 2011. In Broward, 262 loans for $91.4 million were approved in fiscal 2012, compared to 257 loans for $102.4 million in 2011.

“We’re seeing some really good numbers this year — we’re up for the first quarter, both in loan numbers and dollars, over last year in our district,” said Jonel Hein, the SBA’s deputy district director, whose region includes 24 counties south of Orlando. “We find it as an indication that the recovery is still continuing. The more we see loans increasing, whether dollar amounts or the number of loans, it’s a positive sign for South Florida.”

Among the loans SBA guarantees are those for start-ups, equipment, commercial property and debt refinancing. About 75 percent of loans go to existing businesses, with the remainder going to start-ups of less than two years.

“There’s a lot we can do,” Hein said. “It’s whether the borrower can find a lender to say, ‘Yes.’ ”

Just watch kids jumping on wall-to-wall trampolines at Sky Zone Miami, an indoor trampoline park, for further evidence that the market is bouncing back.

Owner Juan Brandt got a $900,000 SBA-guaranteed loan at the end of July from Wells Fargo to fund the build-out and equipment for his new franchise, which opened in October in Doral.

Brandt said he contacted SCORE and was assigned an experienced accountant as a counselor, who helped him refine his business plan. SCORE also put him in touch with banks that were most active in SBA lending, including Wells Fargo.

Still, getting a loan is not for the faint of heart. Brandt said it took about four months to get his loan.

“Even having help from SCORE and having the right person at the bank, a terrific executive who believed in the concept and was willing to work with me, even so you have to jump through a lot of hurdles to get to closing,” Brandt said.

In Miami-Dade and Broward, as well as nationally, Wells Fargo ranked at the top of the list of SBA lenders last year, in terms of dollar volume.

“We have grown our resources in Florida, which we believe is an important state with a lot of small business owners who need financing,” said Hakim Kassam, Wells Fargo’s regional sales manager for the Southeast United States, based in Deerfield Beach.

The bank has four dedicated SBA lenders in South Florida — two in Miami-Dade, one in Broward and one in Palm Beach, he said, who work with about 70 relationship bankers who funnel them business. Two types of loans are most in demand: owner-occupied commercial real estate financing — like Nuage Designs’ — and business acquisition financing, Kassam said.

Chase Bank, which made the top of the list for SBA loans last year, in terms of loan volume, also has witnessed a rebound. Both applications and approvals are up, said Carlos Alzate, Chase’s market manager of business banking for Miami-Dade.

‘A tremendous increase’

“What I’ve seen in the last year was a tremendous increase in loan origination for small businesses,” he said. In South Florida, the bank has 141 business bankers and three SBA specialists.

“As we look at financial statements for small businesses, you definitely see the improvement — not only sales are starting to increase again, but the bottom lines are increasing. You see little by little that businesses that may have had a rough year in 2009 and 2010 are starting to come out of it.”

One bellwether of the economy is the hiring of temporary workers, and CAREERXCHANGE, a staffing company with offices in Miami-Dade and Broward, is seeing its business grow with the recovery, said Suzanne Hodes, vice president and chief financial officer and one of the firm’s principals.

As a result, CAREERXCHANGE needed a larger line of credit, which it got from Chase Bank.

The company pays the workers that it places on a weekly basis, so it needed a $2 million line of credit to bridge the gap of 30 to 60 days that it takes to be paid by its clients, Hodes said.

“We don’t use our line of credit for everyday operations,” she said. “We use it just for seasonal surges.”

Other banks are also increasing their focus on small business lending. In South Florida, banks like TD Bank and BankUnited also ranked high in loans last year. And Bank of America said it wants to boost its loans, recently hiring more than 1,000 small business bankers across the country, including about 50 in South Florida.

SunTrust Bank is also seeing an upward trend and has added to its SBA-dedicated staff.

“We definitely see companies that are more healed than they have been,” said Jeff Nager, SBA division executive for SunTrust Bank, in Raleigh, N.C. “We’re seeing an uptick in the quality of the applications, the quality and the stability of the businesses. So we’re seeing some positive momentum in South Florida.”

As a result of the growth, SunTrust added a third SBA business development officer in South Florida at the beginning of the year. In all, the bank has 61 business and commercial bankers in South Florida, including those focused on SBA lending.

“Borrowers — small businesses and large businesses — have been holding cash, and it was the right thing to do in these economic times,” Nager said. “They have worked through that, and it’s time to start expanding again.”

Yet credit problems still haunt many would-be borrowers, creating difficult hurdles to surmount. “There are so many people who have ruined their credit that they can’t even approach a bank,” Weber said, citing such events as foreclosures or failure to repay personal loans. “There isn’t anybody who can borrow without a personal guarantee. If you mess up your credit, even though your business is doing fine, your personal guarantee behind that loan is no good.”

Sometimes, all a company needs is a small loan to tide them over, and microlenders may do the trick.

Microlender Accion provides financial education to help small business owners put together financial documentation to get a bank loan and also offers microloans itself from as little as a $500 to a maximum of $50,000, said Fabiana Estrada, Miami team leader and loan consultant for Accion.

“We are more flexible regarding credit scores, and we can lend to someone who is home-based,” Estrada said. “If you make cheesecake at home, and you need a new oven, you go to your bank, but they say you have not been doing it for two years, so they call Accion to help the client.”

Nonprofit lenders

Other lenders include community-based non-profit organizations, such as Partners for Self Employment, which made a microloan to Great Scott Security. In 2012, the organization disbursed $330,000 across 67 businesses, said Cornell Crews Jr., program director. Its loans range from $1,000 to $7,500. In addition to loans, the organization provides training and technical assistance.

Miami Bayside Foundation makes loans to minority-owned businesses based in the city of Miami as long as they are able to create jobs.

During the last couple of months, Executive Director Kathleen Murphy said she has seen a rise in completed applications. Only one new loan was approved last year, in addition to increases to two existing loans.

But already this year, two new loans have been approved and are expected to close soon, and more are in the pipeline, she said. Funded by Bayside Marketplace, the nonprofit organization’s goal is to advance economic development in the city through the support of minority businesses and education.

Contract security

Viking Defense, a security staffing company, was the company that secured a Miami Bayside Foundation loan in August — $50,000 to cover the time delay in getting paid on its contracts.

Owned by husband and wife Ricky and Annette Brantley and in business for four years, the Miami company started out with one contract and now has 16. Viking Defense has 36 employees and staffs apartment and condominium buildings, office buildings, warehouses and construction sites, 24 hours a day.

Ricky Brantley, Viking Defense’s president and chief executive, learned about Miami Bayside Foundation from Weber when he attended a SCORE seminar she gave on how to get financing and outlined Bayside Foundation’s criteria.

“I raised up my hand and said, ‘I have excellent credit, I have been in business four years, and I need some help,’” said Brantley, 55.

Weber told him to meet with her after class. She put him in contact with Murphy, and within about a month, he got his loan.

“Now I am able to bid on bigger contracts, especially from the county,” Brantley said. “It would have been a tremendous bind on me to make payroll, to know they don’t pay for 30, 45, 60 days. It really helps us out a lot.”

Source: Miami Herald 2/18/13

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Tags:   Newsletter

Miami-Dade and Broward home prices rose in June

The median price of an existing single-family home in Miami-Dade rose 5 percent in June to $194,250 from a year earlier, marking the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year price increases, the Miami Association of Realtors said.
Miami-Dade condos were the hottest items, with the median price of an existing condo spiking 34 percent in June to $160,000 from a year earlier amid a dramatic 29 percent drop in the inventory of residential units listed for sale, the group said.

The number of single-family homes sold in Miami-Dade dipped 1.8 percent in June from a year earlier, reflecting the scarcity of listings, but condo sales increased 4 percent over that period.

“Prices are going up, and things are selling,” said Anthony Askowitz, a broker with Re/MAX Advance Realty in Miami.

“There is just not much on the market. The homes that are good go very fast,” said Susan Pantin, a paralegal who closed on the purchase of a four-bedroom, two-bath home in Palmetto Bay on July 6.

Her new home, which was updated recently and in top condition with impact windows and a good roof, had been on the market just two days when three or four offers poured in, said Pantin, who had put in unsuccessful offers on four other homes in recent months. “When you find something, you have to move fast.”

In Broward County, the median price of a single family home jumped 8 percent to $215,000 in June from a year earlier as buyers similarly competed for a sharply smaller inventory of properties on the market, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

Despite the tight inventory of only half the number of single family homes listed for sale as last year, the number of home sales closed in June in Broward County rose 1.3 percent to 1,310 from 1,293 a year earlier, the Realtors group reported.

The median price of a Broward condo rose 14.5 percent to $85,900 in June from $75,000 last year, the Fort Lauderdale group said.

The number of Broward condos sold in June fell 4.4 percent to 1,485 from 1,554 a year earlier, reflecting a 47 percent drop in inventory of condos listed for sale.

Amid the dramatic decline in inventory and solid buyer demand, Broward homes are selling faster and at prices closer to their asking price, the Realtors group added.

With the average price of a South Florida home virtually sliced in half since the peak, few homeowners are willing to part with their properties at such depressed prices, especially since many of them are under water on their mortgages and would have to ante up cash out of their pockets in order to sell their homes. Meanwhile, with prices trending upward, buyers are feeling more pressure to act.

The average period of time that a single-family home was on the market in Broward fell to 39 days in June from 51 days a year earlier. Homes fetched 93.3 percent of asking prices, compared with 90.4 percent in June 2011.

“Inventory is continuing to shrink,” said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors in Miami. “It’s frustrating for our sales people, because they have buyers and there aren’t enough properties. It’s like going to Macy’s too late at Christmas and the shelves are empty.”

In June, a 4.1-month supply of single family homes and a 4.4-month supply of condos were available for sale in Miami-Dade, Miami Realtors said. In Broward, there was a 3.5-month supply of single family homes and a 3.7-month supply of condos, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

“When you get below a six-month supply, you definitely will see prices appreciate,” Shuffield said.

On the flip side: Tight credit standards for mortgage seekers continue to sideline many would-be buyers.

Cash is king in Miami-Dade: 65 percent of sales that closed in June — nearly two out of every three transactions — were for all cash, according to the Miami Realtors group.

Distressed properties are in high demand, totaling 44 percent of closed sales in June, down from 57 percent in June 2011. That includes bank-owned properties and short-sales, which are transactions in which the lender accepts less than is owed on the mortgage.

The 4 percent increase in condo sales in Miami-Dade combined with the 34 percent jump in median condo prices underscores a rebound in that segment of the market.

Todd Weiler, a defense-contract consultant who lives in a beachfront unit on Miami Beach, bought a one-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath condo in the Marina Blue tower at 888 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami with views of Biscayne Bay and downtown, for about $250,000 last November and just signed a contract to sell it for $315,000 this month. Weiler said he debated whether to live in it himself, but loves the beach so much he decided against it. “I thought now is a good time to take my winnings,” he said.

The statewide picture for residential real estate also looked sunnier in June, according to Florida Realtors.

The median price of a single-family home in Florida rose 8.2 percent in June to $151,000 from $139,500, the Florida Realtors said. Single-family home sales in Florida rose 5.3 percent in June to 18,800 from 17,861 a year earlier. The number of homes listed for sale in Florida shrunk 31.1 percent in June to 112,365 from 163,118 last year.

The median price of a Florida condo prices in Florida rose 15.8 percent in June to $110,000 from $95,000 last year, Florida Realtors said. The number of units sold in June rose 1.5 percent to 9,202 from 9,067 a year earlier, even amid a 35.6 percent plunge in inventory.

One big unknown for South Florida’s hard-hit housing market: How will the huge inventory of foreclosures affect home prices in the months and years ahead. EWM’s Shuffield expects that the region’s distressed properties, which are sought after by many buyers, will be absorbed without much tumult, but he acknowledges the uncertainty is a headwind for the market.

“Prices would be up even more, but people are still somewhat concerned about how many foreclosures are out there,” he said.

© 2012 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

By Martha Brannigan

Friday, November 2, 2012
Tags:   Newsletter


Brokers optimistic as Miami's housing glut melts away

Leaders of some of Miami-Dade's larger realty brokerages say that based on last year's performance and record-breaking levels of investor interest in the area, they're feeling optimistic about the future of the local residential market.

"I think we are on the verge of another boom," said Patricia Delinois, incoming president of Miami Realtor Association and president & CEO of Century 21 Premier Elite Realty. She cited National Association of Realtor Chief Economist Lawrence Yun's prediction of dramatic increases in sales in 2012.

"Sales prices per square foot are up; the luxury market is doing well; distressed sales are down from 2010; we're seeing sharp increases in the numbers of second-home buyers, especially in Miami Beach and South Beach, and the numbers of first-time buyers converting from renting is astounding," said Vanessa Grout, president and CEO of Douglas Elliman Florida. "All of that is very positive."

"We have been through one of the longest low cycles in South Florida's history, and the biggest high cycle just before it," said Mike Pappas, president and CEO of The Keyes Co., which closed on 20% more units in 2011 than in 2010.

Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell Realtors, said the 28,277 properties sold countywide in 2011 represents an 18% increase over 2010 sales and is the highest number reported since records have been kept.

The market has still not recovered from the dramatic price hit it took in 2008, Mr. Pappas said, but "we are eating through the inventory at a lot higher rate than anyone expected. There's a fire sale in South Florida real estate, and the world market is coming here bringing global cash.

"I believe the foundation has been laid for a new strong real-estate cycle. We are budgeting a 10% increase over last year in number of units sold."

Pricing increases, Mr. Pappas said, will depend upon getting through whatever inventory of distressed properties remains unreleased by lenders.

According to the Clear Capital Home Data Index Market Report, Miami's annual price gain of 5.6% in 2011 was the third highest in the nation, which correlates to its position as the market with the third- strongest decrease in REOs, or distressed properties. Clear Capital's economists predict Miami will be among the five highest performing metro areas in 2012, with an estimated 7.4% growth.

Right now, Mr. Shuffield said, there's a problem no one expected to see so soon: inventory unequal to demand. When the market faltered in 2008, there were 42,000 homes on the market locally. At the end of December 2010, there were 23,272 listings. Now, there are only 14,129.

"The challenge we're going to have this year," he said, "is getting more inventory."

"We're starting to have to push to get listings," Ms. Delinois said.

In 2011, 55% of all home sales were foreclosures or short sales, Mr. Shuffield said, down from two-thirds of all sales in 2010. That has resulted in some positive price adjustment, "but it's very building- specific and area-specific. Waterfront and Brickell properties are seeing solid increases, but outlying areas don't appeal as much to international buyers, so they're lagging behind."

Low inventories have sparked a small flurry of new project announcements.


The global nature of real estate marketing these days is driving a continuing trend towards consolidation in the industry. Small brokerages are being absorbed by larger firms with the resources to compete on a global scale; larger brokerages are expanding their footprints.

Douglas Elliman Florida is expanding into Boca Raton and Palm Beach, Ms. Grout said.

"We do encourage smaller companies to fold into our platform," she said. "That is part of our growth strategy. They can still maintain their individuality and independence to some extent.

"With the capital it takes to market these days, it's difficult for small shops to compete. We offer strong brand recognition, a strong network, back-office infrastructure."

Ms. Delinois said she chose to operate as a Century 21 franchise "because we saw what was happening with the global trend. Foreigners know the names of the large brokerages worldwide, and that recognition is what you need now. Branding is a must."

She said she is currently hiring at least one new agent a week, and is in the process of expanding to two new locations.

One Sotheby's International Realty, which reported a growth of more than 250% in sales in 2011, opened new offices over the past year in Key Biscayne, Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, Aventura and South Beach-South of Fifth.

"I think our industry consolidation will continue," Mr. Pappas said. "The free agency game of associates has driven the margins down so dramatically that only volume will allow a brokerage to provide excellent services to its associates."

By Marilyn Bowden

Thursday, November 1, 2012
Tags:   Newsletter

South Florida home prices up 4.4% from a year ago

South Florida’s beleaguered housing market got another dose of good news.
According to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday, home prices in the area rose 4.4 percent in June from a year earlier.

Nationally, single-family home prices also showed solid improvement, with the annual growth rate turning positive — 1.2 percent — for the first time since 2010 when federal tax credits were fueling sales.

Also bolstering signs that the residential market is finally on the upswing, prices in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties rose 1.6 percent in June from May, and they were up 0.7 percent in the second quarter from the first quarter, according to S&P/Case-Shiller.

The widely monitored report tracks sales of thousands of single-family homes.

South Florida, which was among the hardest hit spots in the nation during the housing crisis, chalked up its seventh straight month of rising values in June. That is the area’s longest positive streak logged since 2006.

Despite the recent gains in prices, South Florida home prices are still down 48 percent from their 2006 peak.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand, a lot of enthusiasm at open houses,” said Lisa Dority, an agent with REMAX/Advance Realty. “I don’t know that I’ve had a house on the market for more than three weeks.”

Along with rising confidence that the market has bottomed, buyers are attracted by the historically low mortgage rates. “You can get a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for 3.625 percent with no points,” said Ron Rosen, a mortgage broker with Abacus Lending Group in Miami. “It’s been very active.”

Lucy and Alex Arrieta expect to close soon on a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Aventura with an attractive FHA loan. The Arrietas, who have three children, are moving from a condo to a single-family house with a pool, capping a yearlong search. “We’re tired of looking,” said Lucy Arrieta, who with her husband had waited months to complete a short sale that eventually fell through.

Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell in Miami, said a primary factor shaping the market continues to be the tight inventory of homes for sale at a time that buyers are feeling convinced the housing market is safe to jump into again.

“When you get down to a four or five months’ supply [of homes for sale], it’s inevitable that prices will rise,” said Shuffield. “Buyer confidence is increasing, making people willing to make these deals.”

Despite the dearth of inventory, agents say buyers have a keen sense of the market and overpriced homes will sit untouched.

“The new inventory that is coming on the market priced correctly is selling,” said Nancy Klock Corey, who manages Coldwell Banker’s Miami Beach office. “There is a percentage of inventory on the market that is not saleable because it is overpriced.”

Jon Mann, an agent with The Jills team at Coldwell Banker, said the latest Case-Shiller data echo what he sees in the market. But Mann stressed that the Miami market is highly segmented, with homes in the downtown and coastal areas posting gains, “but down south and out west, you’re still seeing a continued decrease in home values.”

On a national basis, the latest Case-Shiller data were positive for all three major indexes the firm tracks — national, 10- and 20-city lists — in June. The national composite price rose 1.2 percent in the second quarter from the year-ago period and increased 6.9 percent from the first quarter of 2012.

“The combined positive news coming from both monthly and annual rates of change in home prices bodes well for the housing market,” David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

All 20 of the cities tracked saw average home price increases in June from May. Only six cities – Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego – still showed negative annual rates of change, according to the report.

While the Case-Shiller report focuses on single-family homes, the South Florida condo market, which is a major part of the region’s housing scene, is also back from the dead.

Maria Gugliotta, a Miami real estate investor, bought a one-bedroom condo at Paramount Bay at 2020 North Bayshore Drive for $395,000 in November 2011 and sold it about a month ago for $520,000. “But I don’t think you can stretch the rubber much more,” said Gugliotta, who thinks condo prices have gotten so high the math for renting them as an investment soon won’t add up. “Miami is beautiful. It’s full of opportunity, but it ends. [When prices get too high,] it’s not an investment anymore.”

© 2012 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

By Martha Brannigan

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Tags:   Newsletter
Miami Herald surveys South Florida housing market There have been worse times to sell your house in South Florida, but not many. The Case-Shiller index shows the region’s real estate values have dropped, on average, 49 percent since their peak in late 2006. That grim statistic actually helps explain why South Florida’s real estate market seems to be hopping again. With prices so low, homeowners don’t want to sell if they aren’t forced to. That’s led to a tight supply of listings, just as buyers feel more confident that the market either won’t get worse or is actually back on the rise. “A few years ago, there was such a bounty of choices and great prices,’’ said Jason Smith, a real estate agent with Keller Williams’ Showcase Miami office. “But it took some courage to pull the trigger back then.” How tight has the market gotten? Is it really that hard to find a house? Business Monday set out to see firsthand. We dispatched seven writers across South Florida, each with their own house-hunting assignment. From a South Beach studio for under $200,000 to a spacious Weston home for under $500,000, we tried to cover as much of the South Florida housing spectrum as we could. In general, real estate agents told us the same thing: Quality homes are limited, and buyers will pounce if the price is low enough. But try to push the limits of the current market, and sellers can expect their listings to sit and sit. Prices seem to have bounced off the bottom in the last six months: up 4 percent according to Case-Shiller. Only Phoenix has seen a bigger rebound. But for all of the confident talk among real estate agents, bankers don’t seem to have gotten the message. Mortgages remain a challenge at all price levels, making cash buyers the stars of the market. Agents said they’ve seen deal after deal fall apart once the appraisal report came back with a value far lower than the negotiated price. “There’s a gap between what the market is willing to pay, and what the bank appraisers are saying the values are,’’ said Ivory Cooks, a Coldwell Banker, "It's getting better. A little bit better."

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