1. Once-in-a-generation time to buy. Whoâ€™s in?
Most renters want to buy a home: 72 percent consider homeownership a good financial decision, and 64 percent believe the time is right, according to the National Association of RealtorsÂ® 2011 Housing Pulse survey. Mortgage rates hit a record low of 3.94 percent this year, homes sold for a fraction of their value five years ago, and excess inventory provided every buyer with a range of options. In some cities, homeownership became cheaper than renting. But job insecurities made buyers nervous to commit. Those who did found it difficult to get financing despite stellar credit scores. As a result, 2011 saw a real estate market with great deals, yet fewer buyers than needed. In 10 years, however, many Americans may look back on 2011 as the best time in a generation to invest in real estate.
2. The economy rebounded, sorta, kinda, a little
The Florida economy remained sluggish as unemployment rates stayed uncomfortably high and home sales stayed uncomfortably low; but, across the board, the state showed signs of recovery, with almost every economic indicator suggesting brighter days ahead. Home sales edged higher most months; selling prices held their own and, in a few cases, median selling prices rose. Floridiansâ€™ consumer confidence also rose toward the end of the year after bobbing around for most of the summer. Employment followed, and while the state has a long way to go to hit â€œnormal,â€ it reached a 2011 level of â€œbetter than last year.â€
3. Commercial market leaves â€œdireâ€ for â€œnot as badâ€
Florida investors increasingly want to buy office, retail and industrial properties, says Cynthia Shelton, Florida Realtorsâ€™ 2009 president and a director at Colliers International in Orlando. Vacancy rates, while high, have stabilized, along with rental rates. Core assets (essential to businesses) are selling and lenders â€“ including the life insurance companies â€“ are lending again. Banks are more realistic about prices for distressed properties, and 2012 should see the entry of more commercial tenants. â€œWith modest economic growth and job creation, the fundamentals for commercial real estate should gradually improve in the coming year,â€ adds Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.
4. Florida Legislature: We got Amendment 4 and scrapped the cap
Florida Realtors had a number of victories in the 2011 Florida Legislature, but none as important as a constitutional amendment voters will consider in November 2012, and none so hard-fought as a law to â€œscrap the capâ€ on Floridaâ€™s affordable housing trust funds. Amendment 4, if approved by Florida voters, will create a property tax increase cap of 5 percent each year on non-homestead real estate, down from the current 10 percent cap. It will also give some first-time homebuyers a property tax break that decreases over time. In 2012, Florida Realtors will roll out its â€œYes on 4â€ campaign. In the â€œscrap the capâ€ victory, the Florida Legislature agreed to allow all doc stamps earmarked for the affordable housing Sadowski Trust Fund to actually go into the fund.
5. Fasten your seatbelts. Property insurance is a bumpy ride.
Lawmakers wrestled with a question that has been around for years: Should property insurance be affordable or available? If affordable, a major storm could bankrupt the state. If widely available, the cost could drive buyers away and hurt current homeowners. Citizens Property Insurance, the state-owned insurer, sits squarely in the middle of the debate since it covers most of the high-risk properties and, should a major storm hit, would force all Floridians to help pay for damages. To attract private insurers to the state and cut down on the number of owners under Citizens, Gov. Scott and lawmakers made changes. Sinkhole coverage became optional and much more expensive. Citizens dropped about 7,500 coastal homes in early December, and policy costs and rules are set to become even stricter in 2012. The uneasy balance between affordable or available insurance shifted a bit closer to the â€œavailableâ€ side.
6. Facts at your fingertips: Florida Realtors adds research department
Florida Realtors Industry and Data Analysis Department (IDA) opened for business in June 2011. Designed to provide practical information for association members, Chief Economist Dr. John Tuccillo says the department will help Realtors in Florida deal more effectively with increasingly educated consumers. The services provided by IDA include current analyses of Floridaâ€™s real estate market and support for Florida Realtorsâ€™ public policy efforts in Tallahassee. IDA products are available to all members and can be found on the Research page of floridarealtors.org. â€œMembers are free to pull down and use any information provided by IDA,â€ says Tuccillo.
7. HAMP, HARP, TARP do little for at-risk homeowners
Falling home values and risky mortgages caused more Florida owners to face foreclosure. The government created, and modified, a number of programs slated to help owners keep their homes, but most applied only to about half of those in trouble â€“ owners who had mortgages held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Even then, however the carrots held out by HAMP, HARP, TARP and others didnâ€™t entice lenders that feared principal cuts and long-term changes. The issue led to some strategic defaults â€“ foreclosures where investors could afford to pay but walked away as a financial decision â€“ court backups, and a system that allowed some non-paying owners to live in a home for over two years before authorities finally foreclosed. Analysts expect the problem to improve but continue in 2012.
8. Should we slow the recovery to avoid another crisis?
U.S. regulators have conflicting goals: Speed the recovery but, at the same time, take steps to make sure it never happens again. Unfortunately, it hasnâ€™t figured out how to do both. While the federal government has tried to spark home sales through a number of programs (see No. 7 above), it has also created obstacles to homeownership by boosting mortgage rules, tightening appraisal standards and restricting the amount homeowners can deduct from federal taxes. A key concern of Realtors heading into 2012 is the qualified residential mortgage (QRM) rule â€“ a minimum standard that mortgage loans must meet before Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will consider buying them. Some lawmakers have suggested a 20 percent downpayment, a high standard that will force many buyers to wait years before they can afford homeownership. The discussion will continue in 2012.
9. Social networking goes from â€˜cutting edgeâ€™ to â€˜must doâ€™
New technology no longer surprises Realtors, who have been inundated with â€œcutting edge solutionsâ€ that now allow them to post videos, track complete transactions stored in a â€œcloud,â€ sign contracts without actually signing anything and politely ask their phone to look up information. Social networking was once the realm of early-adopters, and Realtors sold it to clients as â€œlook what I can do for you.â€ Now, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Goggle+ (new in 2011) and other social networking sites are standard in the real estate business. If youâ€™re a Realtor, you have a Facebook page â€“ itâ€™s that simple.
10. 2011 Realtors are different than 2005 Realtors
The skills needed to sell a house have changed. Realtors spend a lot more time talking to banks, trying to find out whatâ€™s happening with a clientâ€™s short sale; asking what paperwork they needed to file or re-file; and understanding new laws that oversee what they can do â€“ and canâ€™t do â€“ when working with short-sale sellers. Realtors learned to accept disappointment â€“ sales that fell apart at the last minute; appraisals that came in lower than hoped; and clients who wanted a bargain below any reasonable expectations.