New Restaurants, Retail Coming To Hot Alico Road Corner

Site work is underway now for a retail construction project that will bring a handful of restaurants and retail shops just northwest of Gulf Coast Town Center.

Development plans for the 22.5-acre parcel feature several restaurants, including Chili’s, Tijuana Flats, B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and PDQ, a new concept by the founders of Outback Steakhouse with a menu centered on chicken tenders.

Road and utility construction is first up for University Plaza West and that is scheduled to be finished in June so that the restaurants can begin construction, said Frank Mirasola, vice president of Vantage Properties, the project developer.

“The size and scope of Gulf Coast Town Center has created this large demand because the large customer base is coming from pretty far away just to shop and have a meal there,” Mirasola said. “These restaurant companies don’t spend millions of dollars on new locations unless they know they have the customer demand for them.”

B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, which features craft beer, burgers and pizza, has 15 locations in Florida.

PDQ, which stands for “People Dedicated to Quality,” according to the restaurant website, was founded in Tampa in 2011 by Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham and MVP Holdings CEO Nick Reader.

Vantage purchased the land for University Plaza for $4.5 million in December from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The land stretches from the northern entrance road to Gulf Coast Town Center south of Alico Road west to the Interstate 75 interchange. Negotiations are still underway with tenants for the land nearest the interstate and could include additional restaurants, shops, offices or a hotel, Mirasola said.

The project is one of several in the works near Gulf Coast Town Center. Commercial real estate broker Steve Cunningham, a partner with LandQwest Commercial in Fort Myers, said the area promises to see plenty of construction for years to come.

“During the recession, the retailers really pulled in their horns and were just focused on trying to maintain the status quo and surviving,” Cunningham said. “Now, they are ready to get back to work. Projects like these take one or two years of planning, so there will be things happening there for some time.”

Cunningham said Gulf Coast Town Center and Florida Gulf Coast University combine to be very attractive to retailers.

“It has the perfect mix of people because you have middle to upper-income residents in the neighborhoods nearby and then you have the college students,” Cunningham said.

Average Home Upsized Post-Recession

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The average new-home size has increased more than 300 square feet since 2009, growing from 2,362 square feet in 2009 to 2,679 square feet in 2013, according to recently released Census Bureau data.

With that added square footage, new homes are adding more bedrooms, bathrooms, and amenities than they had in 2009.

Forty-eight percent of homes built in 2013 had four bedrooms compared to 34 percent with that number in 2009.

Thirty-five percent of homes in 2013 had three or more full baths compared to 23 percent in 2010.

Also, homes today are also accommodating more garage space. Twenty-two percent of homes built in 2013 had garage space to fit three cars or more compared to 16 percent in 2010.

The amenities that builders say they are most likely to include in new homes are a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, low-e windows, a laundry room, and a great room, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Amenities favored by many builders are granite countertops, double sinks, and a central island in kitchens, as well as nine-foot or higher ceilings, a front porch, exterior lighting, and a patio.

Bigger homes are also meaning higher prices. The average sales price rose from $248,000 in 2009 to $318,000 in 2013.

At the bottom of the list of features that builders will include in new homes in 2014, according to NAHB: laminate kitchen countertops, an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor fireplace, a sunroom, a two-story foyer, and a whirlpool in the master bathroom.

5 Housing Trends Winter 2014

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If you plan to buy a house this winter, we have good news for you. Buyers will face less competition and will likely find a greater number of homes available for sale.

Now the bad news: Mortgage rates will keep climbing in 2014. They won’t necessarily spike overnight, but you may run out of time to grab the best mortgage rate if you wait too long. The size of your loan also may have to be adjusted after new rules and new loan limits go into effect this year.

Not sure this is the right time for you to buy a home? Maybe renting is a better option for you, but depending on where you live, expect rents to climb, as well.

Here are five housing trends you can expect to see this winter.

 

Mortgages Get More Expensive

It’s time to kiss extra-low mortgage rates goodbye.

Several factors will put upward pressure on rates in the next few months, including the Federal Reserve’s recent decision to scale back on its bond-purchasing stimulus program.

Higher mortgage fees on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans also will make mortgages more expensive in 2014, as they will result in higher rates for borrowers, says Brian Koss, executive vice president for Mortgage Network in Danvers, Mass.

The fee hike could affect many borrowers because Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about two-thirds of new mortgage loans.

With the higher fees, even borrowers with credit scores above 740 would pay more for mortgages, regardless of the size of their down payments. In addition, Fannie and Freddie have plans to raise the fees they charge lenders, which will translate into higher mortgage rates for consumers.

Mel Watt, the incoming director for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, says he will delay the implementation of higher fees, but has not offered details on when they could go into effect.

“It doesn’t make sense to add additional barriers now that the market is healing,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. Still, he says buyers should act quickly if they are ready to make a commitment now.

 

Buyers Face Less Competition

The housing market will march at a slower pace this winter. That’s good news for potential buyers who struggled to ink a deal during the fall.

Home sales have taken a dip after more than two years of year-over-year increases. A housing report by Re/Max found that home sales dropped 15.9 percent in November, compared with the previous month, and 7.8 percent compared with a year ago. The report is based on Multiple Listing Service data in 52 metro areas.

Home prices won’t follow the same trend as home sales, Yun says.

“But there will be less of a bidding frenzy than before,” he says. And don’t dare call this a buyer’s market yet. “It’s slightly tilted towards favoring the seller over the buyer.”

Still, buying a home should be a bit easier this year as the inventory of homes for sale increases.

“We are going to see more inventory coming online,” says Errol Samuelson, president of Realtor.com. “Homebuilders are calling for 1.1 (million) to 1.2 million housing starts next year, which is much better than a couple of years ago. And as home prices appreciate, people who were underwater will feel more comfortable putting their homes on the market.”

Loans Shrink

The Federal Housing Administration has reduced the maximum loan amount on FHA loans in 650 counties across the country. The new limits went into effect Jan. 1.

In high-cost areas the loan limit was reduced from $729,750 to $625,500. You may think that’s not such a big deal, but it affects the purchasing power of many buyers with low down payments in cities like New York and San Francisco.

The FHA also drastically reduced the loan limits in some counties. Limits in Salt Lake County, Utah, for example, dropped from $729,750 to $300,150.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also are considering reducing their loan limits from $417,000 to $400,000 in most markets, but have not made a final decision.

These reductions could hurt the housing market as buyers who want to buy outside the loan limits would face stricter underwriting requirements, says Matt Hackett, operations manager for Equity Now, a mortgage bank in New York City.

“In general, the reduction in explicit and implicit government-backed loan amounts pushes buyers on the margin into ‘non-agency’ loans, which tend to have more stringent qualification standards, reducing the overall pool of buyers which can qualify for a loan,” he says.

New Mortgage Rules

A series of new mortgage rules goes into effect in January. Most of the rules were created to protect consumers from lender abuses and to shield the mortgage market from the irresponsible lending standards seen during the last housing boom.

You may have heard that the new rules will make it harder for consumers to qualify for mortgages, will hinder mortgage lending and hurt the housing market. But in reality, most borrowers won’t be affected by the new rules when applying for a mortgage.

One controversial part of the new Qualified Mortgage rule, or QM, says a loan to a borrower with debt-to-income ratio of more than 43 percent will lack certain legal protections for lenders. Debt-to-income ratio is the percentage of monthly income that goes toward debt obligations.

Loans will be exempt from the 43 percent DTI cap for seven years, as long as the loans meet FHA, Fannie or Freddie Mac guidelines.

“Generally speaking, (the underwriting requirements) will stay about the same for most people,” says Michael Becker, a mortgage banker for WCS Funding in Baltimore.

Another part of the rule, which puts a cap on maximum points and fees that borrowers can be charged, could hurt borrowers seeking smaller loans, he adds.

Rents Get Less Affordable
As homeownership gets more expensive in 2014, many Americans may choose to rent instead of buy. That could put more pressure on already unaffordable rents.

Although rent growth has somewhat stabilized after a steady rise in 2011, rents are still increasing at a faster pace than overall inflation, according to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. One in four renting households spend more than half of their income on rent and about half spend more than 30 percent of their income, according to the study.

Demand for rentals continues to grow, especially for single-family homes, says Wally Charnoff, founder and chief executive officer of RentRange LLC, a rental market data company.

“We are seeing a shift where people seem more comfortable renting single-family homes in suburban neighborhoods instead of apartments,” he says.

Rents aren’t increasing everywhere in the nation, he says. But they are more likely to rise in areas with strong job growth, shows the Harvard study.

Market Neither Boom Nor Bust

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Southwest Florida experienced an unfamiliar new type of real estate market in 2013: a relatively normal one.

But that doesn’t mean the market’s immune from forces that could push it into either boom or bust.

Those were the conclusions of three real estate authorities who presented their takes on the year Tuesday night at The News-Press Market Watch: Focus on Real Estate.

Speaking before a sold-out crowd of about 900 at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers, presenter Randy Thibaut of Land Solutions said it’s important to look at what’s actually happening now, not the giddy feelings people have now the recession’s fading.

“There’s a lot of myth, a lot of boom, all kinds of things going on in the market. So I’m going to focus in on the facts,” said Thibaut, who specializes in sales and development of large tracts of land.

Southwest Florida’s real estate market has had “the frat party and the hangover” in the wild swings of the past 14 years, and now it’s moving into a new phase, presenter Denny Grimes of Denny Grimes & Co. and Royal Shell Real Estate told the crowd.

Now, he said, nine years after the boom ended, the area’s real estate market has returned to something approaching normal, and that’s a good thing.

“You generally don’t get that opportunity this soon” after a meteoric rise followed by a violent contraction, Grimes said.

There’s little likelihood the recovery will turn into a bubble of unwarranted speculation, Grimes said. “We would need four years of 20 percent increases to get to peak value. We are nowhere near a bubble.”

The retiring baby boom generation will fuel future growth, he said, because this area is an attractive retirement venue. “We offer water, warmth and way of life.”

Grimes predicted a sustainable real estate industry is on the horizon, saying that “2014 will usher in a rational boom” for at least five years.

But the presenters didn’t sugar coat the problems still lingering from the recession.

Financing, for example, is still hard to get from lenders who were burned by the sharp drop in values that followed the boom, said presenter Stan Stouder, a founding partner of CRE Consultants who handles commercial property sales and leasing.

“Why do they call it funding?” Stouder cracked. “There’s nothing fun about getting a loan today. They want you to guarantee every deal 100 percent.”

The deals that were made in Lee County in 2013 by and large were done without a lender’s help, he said. “Sixty-five percent of the commercial real estate deals had no financing at all.”

Thibaut noted that labor costs are rising because of an acute shortage of skilled tradesmen. Many qualified workers moved away after building slowed to a crawl after the boom ended.

“We’ve got to do something” to lure them back at a faster pace, he said.

But there are limits to the most careful planning and predicting, Thibaut said. “Predicting the future of where our home building industry’s going to go is like predicting where a hurricane’s going to go.”

Act Now to Refinance Your Home Before It’s Too Late

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(Florida) – There has never been a better time to refinance your home. That’s because of a little-known government program called the Home Affordable Refinance Plan (HARP). This allows Americans to refinance their homes at shockingly low rates, and reduce their payments by as much as $4,905 a year.

But here’s the catch – like most government programs, this is likely temporary. But the good news is, once you’re in, you’re in. If the thought of a lower payment, fewer years on your mortgage, and even taking some cash equity out of the deal is appealing, the time to act is right now.

A true middle-class stimulus package

This is unknown to many, but the Home Affordable Program is for the middle class. If your mortgage is $625,000 or less, you most likely qualify. Basically, the Government wants banks to cut your rates, which puts more money in your pocket (which is good for the economy). However, the banks aren’t too happy about this – here’s why:

  1. You can shop several lenders, not just your current mortgage holder
  2. Your home’s Loan-to-value (LTV) can be 80% to 125%

You think banks like the above? Rest assured, they do not. They’d rather keep you at the higher rate you financed at years ago. That’s why the pressure is on time-wise. The Middle Class seems to miss out on everything (did you ride the last stock bubble? Probably not). Thus, it’s almost a no-brainer to jump on this now. You should act fast in order to refinance your house at these near historic low refinance rates. If your mortgage rate is currently higher than 3.11%, you can greatly benefit:

  • The average monthly savings is $250. Can you use an extra $250 a month?
  • Many homeowners not only save every month, but depending on their current rates, they can also shorten their term.
  • Get cash now – because the rates are so low, besides the benefits above, many homeowners also opt to take a little cash equity for home improvements, a vacation, or a nice boost to the savings account.

Here is an example of how much can be saved:

Here’s an example of what can be saved by a rate of 3.25% and 6.75% (which is around what many homeowners have when they got loans years ago):

Refinance Example

So this means over the life of your mortgage, you could save more than $150,000. That’s just by lowering your “already good” rate of 6.75% to an even lower 3.25%.

This is why it’s a no-brainer – you will likely lower your payment, possibly shorten your term, AND also get cash. There’s zero downside. This is how powerful that little word called “interest” is. The middle class never sees “breaks” like this. So this is your chance to get “in”.

But how do you find these rates?

Here’s the trick – there are a few free websites out there that will compare mortgage rates for consumers, and allow them to choose the best one (that’s a great thing about the internet – it allows you to do business with lending institutions all over the country).

Our research found that RateMarketplace, one of the country’s largest and most respected refinance comparison websites, is one of the few companies with HARP lenders on its network, and is currently assisting homeowners like you to obtain further information regarding superb mortgage rates.

We like RateMarketplace, because there’s no obligation and their service is fast & easy. It takes about five minutes, and the service is 100% free. You have nothing to lose except money stress.
But you do have to act now.