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2006 July | Spring Hill Homes for Sale

Mortgage rates post a slight decline

WASHINGTON — July 28, 2006 — Mortgage rates declined slightly this week as investors grew more hopeful that the Federal Reserve’s long string of rate hikes is drawing to a close.

Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages dipped to a nationwide average of 6.72 percent, down from 6.80 percent last week, which had been the highest level for rates in more than four years.

The lowest mortgage rates in four decades powered a boom in housing, which pushed homes sales to record levels for five consecutive years. But sales of both new and existing homes have slowed this year under the impact of rising interest rates.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that sales of new homes fell by 3 percent in June, the biggest drop in four months, with the inventory of unsold homes hitting a record high.

Analysts attributed this week’s drop in mortgage rates to testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke who told Congress last week that the Fed believed a slowing economy would help reduce inflation pressures. Those remarks were seen as a signal that the central bank’s long string of rate hikes could be drawing to a close.

“Mortgage rates drifted lower this week on indications that economic growth is moderating, inflation remains under control and the Fed just may pause raising rates for awhile,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac.

Rates on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, a popular choice for refinancing, fell to 6.34 percent this week, down from 6.41 percent last week.

Rates on one-year adjustable rate mortgages dropped to 5.78 percent, compared with 5.80 percent last week.

Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages slipped to 6.35 percent from 6.36 percent last week.

The mortgage rates do not include add-on fees known as points. The 5-year and 15-year mortgages carried a nationwide average fee of 0.4 point. The 30-year mortgage had a nationwide average fee of 0.3 point and the one-year ARM carried a fee of 0.7 point.

A year ago, 30-year mortgages averaged 5.77 percent, 15-year mortgages stood at 5.34 percent, one-year ARMs were at 4.46 percent and five-year ARMs averaged 5.27 percent.

***As always, the latest in Real Estate News as it pertains to Spring Hill Real Estate, Brooksville Real Estate, Weeki Wachee Real Estate, Hernando Beach North Real Estate, Hernando Beach South Real Estate, and Hudson Beach Real Estate. – Brought to you by Hernando Luxury Homes, Your Luxury Real Estate Leader in Hernando County, Florida and Pasco County, Florida.

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New policy: Throwing caution to the wind

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — July 12, 2006 — Al Vazquez calls his house “The Alamo.”

“Because it’s tough,” he said. “It’s been through more hurricanes than I’ve been through, that’s for sure.”

Enough so that Vazquez and his wife, Barbara Murphy, are betting that the strength of their 1926 mission-style stucco house east of I-95 in West Palm Beach is similar to that of the mission-turned-fortress in San Antonio.

This hurricane season, the couple plans to drop their windstorm insurance, or “go bare,” as the decision to self-insure has been dubbed. They’re waiting to sell another property and use the profit to pay off their mortgage.

And they’re not alone.

No Florida homeowner has to go bare because coverage is available from Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state’s last-resort insurer. But after two destructive storm seasons, and with windstorm insurance rates climbing ever higher — sometimes doubling in a single year — more people are questioning whether it’s worth the price.

That was the case with Vazquez and Murphy. They’re sick of their company, Citizens, and sick of paying a premium they think would be better off stashed in a mutual fund. They’re ready to ride out this storm season without falling back on any good hands, good neighbors or last-resort insurers. It’ll be up to just them to make any repairs.

Their savings: $1,400 a year in premiums.

The average homeowner might dream of going bare to save a few bucks and stick it to the insurance company, but it takes a specific mix of financial resources and moxie to drop your insurance. Few have it.

Florida’s increasingly dysfunctional insurance market is pushing more of those people to act. A growing number of homeowners are either quietly dropping their windstorm coverage or threatening to, they say. Most shy away from talking about it, and no one tracks their numbers, but agents say they are largely wealthy individuals who can afford to replace damaged homes.

But the regular Joe wants to go bare, too. The region’s booming housing market has pushed his home — and thousands of others — above the $1 million mark, especially in high-risk coastal areas.

“I’ve started to have clients threaten. They’re saying, ‘It’s getting crazy. We can’t afford it.’ They’re just venting right now. But there’s an undercurrent of seriousness to it,” said Rick Bogani, owner of Bogani Insurance Services in Royal Palm Beach. “I think if the price pressure keeps up, people will start making the move.”

Self-insuring means a homeowner drops his insurance coverage and plans to repair any damage and replace any lost possessions with his own money. Often, people who self-insure will set aside money just for that purpose.

There are many obstacles to going bare:

• Most lenders require insurance, so you can’t go bare if you have a mortgage.

• For most people, their house is their biggest asset. Gambling with it doesn’t make financial sense, no matter how they calculate it.

• Many folks couldn’t stash away sufficient money quickly enough to handle hurricane damage alone.

Tom Lynch, owner of Plastridge Agency in Delray Beach, said he has a few wealthy clients who have decided to drop their wind coverage. The insurance agent makes them sign a statement saying they understand they must pay for any wind damage.

“You’d have to figure out, ‘How old is my roof? Do I have shutters on my house?’ You really have to go through the logic with these people,” he said.

He said it often makes sense for owners of homes worth $1 million or more with 10 percent windstorm deductibles to self-insure. Those folks could be paying out as much as $100,000 before insurance kicks in.

By comparison, the owner of a $200,000 house with a 2 percent deductible might pay only $7,000 for his windstorm premium and deductible before the insurance money starts coming, Lynch said.

“For $7,000, do you really want to risk your contents and all the rest of it?” Lynch asked.

For Judy Ferel, the answer was yes. The high school science teacher dropped her windstorm insurance from Citizens about four years ago when she paid off the mortgage on her 33-year-old house in Delray Beach. She weathered Frances, Jeanne and Wilma with minimal damage. Even her screened pool cage remained standing.

“It was just getting so expensive. I’m a single mom, and I just decided I didn’t need it,” she said of her windstorm insurance. “My whole neighborhood did well in these storms.”

Ferel said windstorm insurance from Citizens would cost her $2,628. Vazquez, who will save $1,400 a year in premiums, said he figures that if a hurricane destroys his house, for which he paid $93,000 in 2004, he’ll be able to recover because of the land value. Indeed, the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office valued the house at nearly $130,000 in 2005 — about $83,000 for the land alone.

“I’m willing to take the risk,” he said.

Most experts in areas from financial planning to home safety caution against going bare. They usually recommend a higher deductible to lower premiums.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, said homeowners need to ask some hard questions before they drop windstorm coverage: How close is the house to the ocean and what kind of damage did similar houses sustain in past hurricanes? Does a structural engineer think it can withstand a serious storm? How much is the premium and what would happen if the house were destroyed? What is the value of the land?

“If you feel that your financial situation will allow you to make a complete recovery on the same timeline as with your insurance, maybe you could go without insurance,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes. “But if you can’t, you’re taking a dramatic risk with what would be your biggest investment.”

Homeowners insurance covers more than hurricane damage. It also pays for damage caused by thieves, fires and burst pipes. Its liability component protects the homeowner if he’s sued by someone who gets hurt on his property.

Because most people have one homeowners insurance policy, canceling windstorm means canceling all other coverage, too. The only alternative is to buy an all-perils policy to cover everything but windstorm from a surplus-lines insurer. These companies are not regulated and often charge much higher prices.

People living in the area designated for the high-risk pool, an area roughly east of Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County, get their windstorm policy from Citizens and their all-perils policy from another insurer. They can sometimes drop their windstorm insurance and keep their all-perils policy. But if the company carrying their all-perils policy finds out, it might demand they purchase a windstorm policy.

Bob Lotane, a spokesman for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, said there’s no law requiring homes to have both policies, but insurance companies don’t want to partially insure homes.

“It’s a company decision, and generally you’re going to find the companies want you to have both,” he said. “They don’t want people to be under-insured. It’s just not considered a good risk.”

Ferel, who lives in the high-risk area, has run into this problem. Her all-perils policy with the now-defunct Florida Preferred Property Insurance Co. will end on July 17. The insurers she has talked to want about $1,000 for an all-perils policy, double what she paid before, and are demanding she buy windstorm insurance, too. That would cost her an additional $2,628.

“If I’m forced to take it, I’ll just put it on my credit card,” said Ferel, who’s hoping to find an insurer who will overlook her windstorm insurance gap.

Not everyone is looking to self-insure. Jeff Platz, owner of First Florida Insurance in Jupiter, said he has been getting phone calls from self-insured homeowners who have been spooked by the past two hurricane seasons.

“They’ll say it’s not worth rolling the dice anymore. They’re saying it might be better not to self-insure,” he said. “Some guys who were self-insuring are jumping to the other side of the fence.”

***As always, the latest in Real Estate News as it pertains to Spring Hill Real Estate, Brooksville Real Estate, Weeki Wachee Real Estate, Hernando Beach North Real Estate, Hernando Beach South Real Estate, and Hudson Beach Real Estate. – Brought to you by Hernando Luxury Homes, Your Luxury Real Estate Leader in Hernando County, Florida and Pasco County, Florida.

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NAR: Home Sales to Stabilize in Months Ahead

WASHINGTON – July 12, 2006 — Home sales are projected to ease modestly but should stay within a relatively narrow range over the balance of the year, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

 

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, says the market shows signs of stabilizing. “The major housing indicators have been moving up and down within a reasonable range, which means the market should even-out just below present levels,” he says. “At the same time, housing inventory levels are balanced in much of the country, so overall price appreciation will be at a normal rate. We should see home sales rise and fall month to month, but don’t look for any big shifts one way or the other.”

 

Existing-home sales are expected to decline 6.7 percent to 6.60 million in 2006 from 7.08 million last year. That would still be the third highest level on record. New-home sales should fall 12.8 percent this year to 1.12 million from 1.28 million in 2005. Housing starts are forecast to decline 6.8 percent to 1.93 million this year from 2.07 million in 2005.

 

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is likely to reach 7.0 percent by the end of the year.

 

“The uptick in interest rates has been slowing home sales,” Lereah says. “We remain concerned about the potential impact of higher interest rates in some of the more expensive areas of the country.”

 

NAR President Thomas M. Stevens says consumers who have been on the sidelines should feel more confident about the market normalization. “When it comes to big ticket purchases, buyers are more comfortable in a stabilizing environment,” says Stevens. “At the same time, home sellers in most areas understand that the period of abnormal price growth is over, and they have become more realistic about the current market. This is helping to ease the pressure on home prices in some areas.”

 

The national median existing-home price for all housing types is expected to rise 5.3 percent to $231,300 in 2006. With more construction in lower cost regions as well as price incentives that are helping to clear unsold inventory, the median new-home price should increase 1.0 percent this year to $243,300.

 

The unemployment rate is projected to average 4.7 percent in 2006, while inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, is forecast at 3.4 percent. Growth in the U.S. gross domestic product is expected to be 3.4 percent this year, and inflation-adjusted disposable personal income is likely to grow 3.1 percent.

***As always, the latest in Real Estate News as it pertains to Spring Hill Real Estate, Brooksville Real Estate, Weeki Wachee Real Estate, Hernando Beach North Real Estate, Hernando Beach South Real Estate, and Hudson Beach Real Estate. – Brought to you by Hernando Luxury Homes, Your Luxury Real Estate Leader in Hernando County, Florida and Pasco County, Florida.

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Citizens offers extra coverage to meet code

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — July 12, 2006 — People with older homes have the chance to buy a little extra insurance coverage for them.

 

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer of last resort, recently sent out letters offering more ordinance and law coverage to its customers who have older homes not constructed to meet the current building code.

 

And if they buy the extra coverage by Saturday, it will kick in immediately.

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Rate Hikes Put the Squeeze on Renters, Too

WASHINGTON — July 12, 2006 — Homeowners are not the only ones feeling the pinch from rising interest rates. A majority of renters, 61 percent, say that rising rates — which impact all sorts of loans including credit card debt — will create problems for them.

 

That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Roper Public Affairs for True Credit.com, a credit education Web site owned by credit reporting agency TransUnion.

 

Additionally, according to a recent National Association of Realtors® (NAR) study, 68 percent of Americans, 7 percent more than last year, believe that having enough money to pay rent every month is difficult for families in their community.

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