Impact 5: Cautious optimism in housing market

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Flamingo Park in West Palm Beach is not a neighborhood untouched by foreclosures during our housing crisis. Scarcely any neighborhood is. George Cornell, though, hopes to profit from the aftermath of the crisis. 

Cornell talked to me outside his home. He said, "We got this out of a foreclosure several years ago for $150,000.  We put a few hundred thousand dollars into it, renovated soup to nuts, and we absolutely love it. We have had several bites on it so far."

Cornell hopes to sell his home for more than $500,000. That may be less than it fetched during boom times but would mark a handsome turnaround. Few of us, of course, are in position to take advantage of bargain basement foreclosure prices.  However, most of us might take heart from the outlook of Shari Olefson. The real estate attorney is author of "Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream." She said, "I think 2012 will be the worst year. You will see prices go down. In 2013 things will start turning around but there are still so many wild cards."

Foreclosure backlogs, a still shaky U.S. economy and the European debt crisis are among the wild cards. But Olefson adds this long term perspective. She said, "We will also recover quicker than the rest of the country because we are Florida. Foreigners want to be here. Retirees want to be here."

Jump starting the economy--experts argue--means diversifying that economy. Pau Baltrun heads the homeowners assistance division for the local law firm of Paul Krasker.  Baltrun said, "We need more economic possibilities. So much of our market is tied to real estate."

There will continue to be pressure for far better coordination of assistance programs for homeowners who want to find a way to affordably stay in their homes. Baltrun added, "There is a lot of money sitting on the sidelines. There are also a lot of people seeking help from their banks."

Olefson also argues that assistance programs need to be tailor made for the Florida market. She said, "There are no programs, there never have been programs to help for income properties, to help for second homes. That is one of the problems we have in Florida because so many of our foreclosures were not primary residences."

All of those issues, and so many more, are at the heart of the yearlong Impact 5 investigation we have begun this week. We hope your involvement and ideas will help us in the community wide look at how all of us together can work to emerge from the housing crisis.

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