South Florida home prices nearing bottom

Wendy Umla, a yacht captain who lives in Fort Lauderdale, hopes she’s one of those homeowners.

Helping troubled borrowers “would free up a whole lot more people to go out and spend,” she said. “The economy would pick right up, and subsequently the housing market. It’s all in the hands of the banks.”

Despite the strides the housing market made in 2011, there’s still a long way to go, analysts say.

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have about 100,000 of the 371,000 open foreclosure cases in Florida, according to Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach housing analyst. Many more homeowners are at least 60 days late on mortgage payments but have not been served with foreclosure papers.

What’s more, some big lenders, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase, are offering delinquent homeowners thousands of dollars in cash incentives to complete short sales — unloading the properties for less than they owe.

The upshot is that 2012 will be another year for clearing the backlog of distressed homes, said McCabe, who expects single-family home prices to fall another 5 percent and condominiums to decline by as much as 10 percent.

“Anyone who sees next year as a turnaround year is being overly optimistic,” McCabe said.

After a record run-up in prices from 2000 to 2005, values nationwide started falling the following year, with South Florida one of the hardest-hit areas.

Median home prices for Broward and Palm Beach counties tumbled by roughly 50 percent after peaking at $421,500 and $391,100, respectively, in November 2005, according to data from the Florida Realtors. The median means half the homes sold for more and half for less.

While Broward’s median has increased on an annual basis for much of 2011, some housing market followers insist the median price is misleading because it measures only prices of homes and condos sold in a month — not the values of all properties.

Many analysts prefer the Standard Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which tracks prices of the same house over time. It does not include condos.

The index has shown consistent price declines in the South Florida metro area: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Moody’s Analytics’ forecast for local home prices is based on trends revealed in the Case-Shiller index.

“We’re not in a freefall anymore,” said Chris Lafakis, an economist covering Florida for Moody’s. “But we still have some progress to make.”, 561-243-6529 or Twitter @paulowers