September 2013 Pinellas County Real Estate Statistics Report is here!

Your Monthly Pinellas County Real Estate Statistics report for September 2013 is here! The market continues its slow climb up the ladder to better sales and activity. The flood insurance rate increases and effects of the government shutdown are being felt, but our numbers are still good compared to this same time last year. Please visit for the latest on the flood insurance issue and other issues related to home ownership.

Click here to access the report to learn what the data tells us about the market. The file may take a few moments to download.

Fla. looking at alternatives to fed flood insurance

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Oct. 9, 2013 – With thousands of homeowners locked in their homes because of spiraling flood insurance rates, Florida regulators are working on a program to lure private companies to write flood insurance in the state as an alternative to the federal program.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is talking to insurance companies interested in coming to Florida and writing expedited flood insurance policies, Rebecca Matthews, the department’s deputy chief of staff told the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Tuesday.

“This is an issue that may need to be taken care of a little sooner than (the 2014 session of the Florida Legislature),” she said, explaining that regulators do not plan to wait until legislators return to Tallahassee for the spring lawmaking session in March. “A handful of companies have shown interest.”

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, chairman of the committee, said lawmakers must respond to the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which could harm the state’s economy.

“If there’s money to be made in this, and the flexibility is given to private enterprise, then we can get that started,” he said. “The question, of course, is are we going to be able to do it fast enough.”

The act attempted to phase in a series of rate increases in the National Flood Insurance Program as a way to close the program’s $24 billion deficit. The biggest hit will be to an estimated 268,000 Floridians whose homes were built before 1974 and located in high-risk flood zones. They will lose their subsidized rates when they sell their homes. For some homes, the increase could mean their rates will rise from $500 to $16,000, the committee was told.

Thousands of other homeowners, including many who purchased homes in the last year, also face soaring premiums because of new flood maps that take effect as a result of the act.

John Sebree, senior vice president of Florida Realtors, told the committee that the rate shock from the flood insurance rate hikes will scare buyers away from purchasing older homes and Florida’s gradually recovering real estate market “could come to a screeching halt.”

He urged legislators to consider a Florida insurance alternative, rather than wait on the Congress, which has been unable to agree to delay the rate increases.

Simmons said that if the private market can’t respond fast enough, then the Legislature should consider creating an insurance pool of last resort that could offer rates lower than those provided under the federal program.

Nearly two million Florida homeowners carry flood insurance through the national program, making up 37 percent of the entire federal pool. In the last 20 years, Floridians paid $16 billion in premiums and saw less than $4 billion returned in claims.

Those numbers seem to indicate that although Florida suffers from its reputation from windstorms, its flood risk is not as steep and could potentially be profitable for private companies.

But insurance experts told the committee that insurers would need extraordinary regulatory flexibility if they were to enter the Florida flood insurance market because the federal program is not able to give them the data they need to determine how much to charge and assess their risk.

“The private sector has not written flood insurance because, when you start a company you have to have a ‘me too’ filing of something that already exists,” said Locke Burt a former state senator from Ormond Beach and an owner of Security First Insurance. In Florida, there is no company that already exists.

Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, said he is skeptical the private market can move quickly enough to fill the breech.

“I don’t think anything is off the table,” he said, after learning of the OIR and Senate plans. “The big problem we have is we don’t have enough information to base a decision on and, until we have expected loss ratios, I don’t think the private sector is going to be ready to jump in.”

Nelson said he believes there may be enough capital in the market now to draw new business to Florida but it would have to come from companies that already do not face exposure from Florida’s hurricane risk.

Burt and former state representative Don Brown, a lobbyist for Security First, recommended the Legislature create a task force to find a solution.

In the meantime, Simmons said the threat of Florida homeowners taking their money out of the National Flood Insurance Program might provoke Congress to take action.

“We can provide leverage to get a solution,” he said.

Senator: Flood insurance bill blocked by politics

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Oct. 3, 2013 – The government shutdown wasn’t the biggest grievance against Congress voiced by Gov. Rick Scott and a group of state and local leaders here Tuesday.

A throng of homeowners, real estate agents and city officials who met outside the Pinellas Realtor Organization’s building expressed shock and anger that officials in Washington had failed to stop massive flood insurance hikes that just went into effect.

Collin Elston, a retiree who recently bought a house in Treasure Island, said he expected foreclosure as his original $2,000 flood insurance bill likely will climb to $12,000 a year.

“This is our dream retirement home; it’s now turned into a nightmare,” the 71-year-old said.

About two-thirds of the 33,000 single-family homes designated for rate increases aren’t on waterfront lots, Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said. Many of the houses are modest – in the $130,000 range – and 1,100 of their owners are low-income seniors, she said.

In Washington on Tuesday, Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio joined a group of their colleagues who have vowed to stop or delay the Biggert-Waters flood insurance reform, but there was no mention of a forthcoming vote.

Most of their constituents in Clearwater faulted both political parties for the budget gridlock that has overshadowed a vote on flood insurance reform.

The governor, though, placed the blame on one person.

“President Obama is failing Floridians,” Scott said. “I’m here to call on the president to take immediate action to deal with the flood insurance program that’s going to devastate our real estate market right here.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who followed Scott in speaking at Tuesday’s gathering in Clearwater, said Republicans and Democrats both failed to press the “pause button” in time.

The 29 members of the Florida delegation neglected to make the issue a priority, he said, drawing cheers from the crowd of several hundred people.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who leads the Barrier Islands Government Council, noted that U.S. Reps. Bill Young, Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis voted for legislation that would delay rate hikes for a year. The Senate has not voted on the matter.

Biggert-Waters was passed in 2012 with the goal of mending a deficit of more than $20 billion in the National Flood Insurance Program. The bill calls for the removal of so-called subsidies that have kept rates low for older homes in high-risk areas built prior to accurate flood maps. Many of the rate increases took effect during the past year, including a measure that drives premiums up to their full risk rate when a home is sold – above $20,000 a year in extreme cases.

On Tuesday, rate hikes for businesses, repetitive flood loss properties and many homes went into effect.

U.S. senators from Florida, Louisiana and other hard-hit states held a news conference Wednesday promising to stop the increases until the Federal Emergency Management Agency finds a way to make the program affordable for struggling homeowners.

“This is about people. This is not just about some government program,” Rubio said.

The Republican senator has stopped short of saying whether he would vote in favor of specific legislation to stop or delay flood insurance reform. There still is debate in the Senate about different bills and no consensus on whether delays should be for one year, two years or more, and what types of properties should be exempt.

Nelson, a Democrat, has sponsored legislation to delay Biggert-Waters and said implementation should be delayed for a year at least until FEMA completes a mandated affordability study.

“The obvious solution right now is to have a delay of at least one year until the affordability study comes out,” he said.

In Florida, state and local officials are looking for ways to mitigate the financial hardship of the bill. Some have suggested creating a state flood insurance program or even pursuing a lawsuit against the federal government.

Attorney General Pam Bondi released a statement saying the matter could be resolved fully only by Congress, but her office is consulting with the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation to see if there is any other recourse.

Scott deflected media questions about ways the state could solve the issue, repeating his criticism of Obama’s leadership on both the budget and flood insurance issues.

Elston, the Treasure Island retiree, said he and thousands of homeowners throughout the state might be forced out of their homes if Congress doesn’t act. He bought a home with his wife in June with the expectation of a $2,000 annual premium, unaware of the flood reform situation. With a home at five feet below base flood elevation, Elston expects his rates to increase six-fold the next time he renews – much more than his Social Security and retirement funds can handle.

“We are faced after three months in the house with looking at – unless something happens with the government – we are looking at foreclosure within a year or so,” he said.

Average U.S. 30-year mortgage rate down to 4.32%

WASHINGTON – Sept. 27, 2013 – Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week to their lowest point in two months. The decline follows the Federal Reserve’s decision last week to hold off slowing its monthly bond purchases.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 4.32 percent from 4.50 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan declined to 3.37 percent from 3.54 percent.

Both are the lowest averages since July 25.

Mortgage rates are nearly a full percentage point higher than in May, when the Fed first signaled it might slow its $85-billion-a-month in bond buys. But last week the Fed kept the pace steady after lowering its outlook for economic growth.

The bond purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates, including mortgage rates.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was steady at 0.7 point. The fee for a 15-year loan also was unchanged at 0.7 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage slipped to 2.63 percent from 2.65 percent. The fee was unchanged at 0.4 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable mortgage dipped to 3.07 percent from 3.11 percent. The fee held at 0.5 point.

45% of U.S. sales in August were cash purchases

IRVINE, Calif. – Sept. 26, 2013 – U.S. residential properties, including single family homes and condominiums and townhomes, sold at an estimated annualized pace of 5.6 million in August, up 2 percent month-to-month and 12 percent year-to-year, according to RealtyTrac’s August 2013 U.S. Residential & Foreclosure Sales Report.

The national median sales price in August was $175,000, up 3 percent from the previous month and up 6 percent from a year ago – the 17th consecutive month in which median home prices increased year-to-year.

The median price of a distressed residential property in August – one in foreclosure or bank owned – was $116,000, up 1 percent from the previous month, but down 3 percent from a year ago. Median distressed prices have now declined on an annual basis for six consecutive months.

“Seven years after the housing bubble burst, U.S. home prices are clearly on the rise again, up 23 percent from the bottom in March 2012, although still 26 below the peak of the housing price bubble in August 2006,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “This recovery in home prices and sale volume continues to be driven in large part by cash buyers and institutional investors, as evidenced by the increasing share of sales represented by those two categories in August.”

High-level report findings

• 45% of all residential sales in August were cash purchases, up from 39% in July and 30% year-to-year.

• Among metro areas with a population of 1 million or more, the highest percentage of all-cash sales were inMiami (69%), Detroit (68%), Las Vegas (66%), Jacksonville, Fla., (65%) and Tampa, Fla., (64%).

• Institutional investors (purchasing 10 or more properties in the last 12 months) accounted for 10 percent of all sales in August, up from 9 percent in July and 9 percent in August 2012.

• Among metro areas with a population of 1 million or more, those with the highest percentage of institutional investor purchases were Memphis, Tenn. (31%), Jacksonville, Fla. (29%), Atlanta (22%), St. Louis (17%) and Detroit (17%).

• Short sales accounted for 15 percent of all U.S. residential sales in August, up from 14 percent in July and 8 percent in August 2012. States with the biggest percentage of short sales were Nevada (34%), Florida (29%), Ohio (23%), Maryland (21%), Tennessee (20%) and Michigan (20%).

• Bank-owned homes made up 10 percent of all U.S. residential sales in August, up from 9 percent in July and 9 percent year-to-year. States with the biggest percentage of REO were Nevada (22%), Ohio (17%), Arizona (17%), Michigan (16%), Illinois (14%) and California (14%).

• Sales volume increased from the previous month in 39 of the 42 states tracked. It was up from a year ago in 37 states, including Texas, (up 31%), Illinois (29%), Pennsylvania (28%), Virginia (26%) and Florida (22%).

• Notable exceptions where sales volume decreased from a year ago included California (down 17%), Arizona (12%) and Nevada (6%).

• States with biggest annual increases in median prices include California (up 32%), Nevada (26%), Georgia (21%), Arizona (20%) and New York (19%).

• Among metro areas with a population of 1 million or more, those with the biggest annual increases in median prices included San Francisco (up 35%), Sacramento (35%), Riverside-San Bernardino in Southern California (28%), Atlanta (28%), Los Angeles (26%), Las Vegas (26%) and Phoenix (25%).

August 2013 Pinellas County Real Estate Statistics Report is here!

Your Monthly Pinellas County Real Estate Statistics report for August 2013 is here! The great news is that new listings are up 25% (single family homes) and 16.4% (townhomes/condos) from this same time last year. Median sales prices are also up. Inventory is still lower than this same time last year and we are still in a seller’s market. 


On a side note, REALTOR® associations and their members are working hard to get our Senators to delay the flood insurance increase for at least a year so that they may work to find a better solution for homeowners and the real estate industry as a whole. We are already seeing the negative effects of this legislation on a robust market. 


 Monthly Pinellas County Real Estate Statistics

Lettuce, Lettuce and more Lettuce



Lettuce, or Lactuca Sativa are the oldest known vegetables to man. The vegetable has been developed from Lactuca Serriola, that is, prickly lettuce. It was a wild plant that had been developed in the Mediterranean and Caucasus region. It is said, Emperor Caesar Augustus had a statue made to immortalize the Romaine-type of this green leafy vegetable. This was because he believed it cured him of an illness. These seeds were brought to North America in the 1600’s from England. The common iceberg lettuce became popular only after the Second World War.


Boston/Bibb or Butterhead
It has been given this name because some find it to have a “buttery” flavor. Its leaves are light and smooth. It is smaller than other varieties of lettuce. 1 cup is only 7 calories.

Crisphead or Iceberg

Iceberg is a favorite among everyone, and is what you would generally find in your regular sandwich. It is called crisphead lettuce because of its crispy texture. It has light green leaves which are packed like cabbage. 1 cup is only 8 calories.

Cos or Romaine Lettuce

Many find Romaine lettuce to have the maximum flavor among other lettuce varieties. Its leaves are long, crisp and dark green in color. Romaine lettuce is also considered to be the most nutritious among all varieties of lettuce. 1 cup is only 8 calories.