By Hielscher, John
SARASOTA-MANATEE HOUSING MARKET
SARASOTA COUNTY – For the first time in at least seven years, the foreclosure rate has dipped below 2 percent in the Sarasota-Manatee region.
The rate of foreclosures among outstanding mortgages in the two counties fell to 1.91 percent in October, down sharply from its peak of 12.23 percent in June 2011, according to data provider CoreLogic.
While that means fewer homeowners are losing their properties, it also marks a turning point for Realtors and attorneys who have specialized in distressed properties during the downturn and prolonged recovery of the Southwest Florida real estate market.
“We have seen a noticeable decline in foreclosure activity,” said Sarasota real estate attorney Evan Berlin. “When foreclosure activity was high, we would see eight to 10 new foreclosure files a month, and 30 to 40 new short-sale files a month. We haven’t opened a new residential foreclosure file in several months, and the short-sale activity is virtually non-existent.”
Real estate agents also have shifted gears from working distressed properties as their main business for years, said Stafford Starcher, 2015 president of the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.
“Over the last three to four months, we have seen the decline to the point where they have had to redirect so they can maintain their business,” Starcher said. “Foreclosures will always be there, but it’s just not what it was.”
Sales of distressed single-family homes in Sarasota-Manatee were down 55 percent in November from last year, the Realtor association reported, while foreclosure and short sales of condos were off by nearly 38 percent.
Distressed sales now account for less than 12 percent of all home transactions in the two counties, compared with about 50 percent during the apex of the foreclosure crisis in 2008, the group said.
“Yes, foreclosures dried up in this area the past few months,” said Charryl Youman, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty in Venice. “If you look around, you still see abandoned homes.”
Lenders still control many foreclosed homes, she said, and some may soon show up on the market and help replenish the shortage of homes for sale.
“Banks are no different than regular sellers in Florida. They feel the best time to market their homes is when the snowbirds are here,” Youman said.
Sherry Ellis, a bankruptcy/foreclosure attorney in Sarasota, said in recent years foreclosures were a large percentage of her business.
“I think property owners are more savvy than in years past,” Ellis said. “They are thinking ahead and researching ways they can keep their homestead and rental/vacation properties before a foreclosure ensues.”
She said more clients today seek bankruptcy to modify a first mortgage or strip unsecured liens. She is seeing more foreclosure activity involving home or condo association fees and deficiency judgments from short sales, where the sellers thought deficiencies were waived.
Bankruptcy filings also are down by 17.5 percent through October over last year in the federal Middle District of Florida.
“It puts a crunch in our practices,” Ellis said, “but just like anything else, I believe it helps weed out those attorneys who simply ‘dabble in it’ from those attorneys who enjoy this practice of law, stick with it and have practiced bankruptcy law for 10-plus years and know what is going on.”
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