Fannie Mae seeks foreclosure freeze only in S.C.
2009/05/07, 2:20 pm
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Mortgage-backer Fannie Mae said it singled out South Carolina for an unusual court-ordered freeze on home foreclosure sales because the state gives local judges the authority to dismiss delayed cases, which other states do not.

Fannie Mae isn’t seeking a similar temporary freeze in other states, said Brian Faith, spokesman for the mortgage company.

“In South Carolina, judges have the discretion to cancel an ongoing foreclosure process if there is a significant delay between the foreclosure judgment date and the actual foreclosure sale,” Faith said in a statement.

If masters-in-equity — the special county judges that usually handle foreclosures in South Carolina — were to dismiss delayed cases, “the process begins anew, which leads to higher costs and losses,” Faith said.

“The court ruling effectively addresses this situation,” he said.

Fannie Mae suspended its foreclosure proceedings in late 2008 and during the first of quarter of 2009 while it reviewed cases for potential workout strategies, Faith said. In some cases, that created significant delays.

At Fannie Mae’s request, the S.C. Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order late Monday afternoon on foreclosure sales for some homes. It targets properties that could be eligible for a mortgage modification program that President Barack Obama’s administration is rolling out. The program offers more affordable mortgage payments to homeowners whose loans are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and who meet certain other criteria.

Fannie Mae did not want homeowners potentially eligible for the program to lose their homes in foreclosure before they had a chance to participate. The mortgage company estimates that more than 1,000 homes in South Carolina were headed to foreclosure sales this week. It filed the petition for a temporary restraining order on Friday.

Obama announced the Home Affordable Modification Program in February, but details were not outlined until April 6.

Masters-in-equity say they are still sorting through the implications of the S.C. Supreme Court order, which requires lenders seeking foreclosure to submit affidavits by May 15 stating whether loans in default are eligible for the modification program.

Homes not eligible will continue in the foreclosure process, according to the restraining order.

Published May 7, 2009


Less than 1% of homes in foreclosure in SC metro areas
2009/04/22, 2:07 pm
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CHARLESTON — Less than 1% of the homes owned in South Carolina’s largest metropolitan areas are in foreclosure, according to data released this morning. A national comparison of homes owned vs. homes in foreclosure shows the foreclosure problem to be concentrated in a relatively small number of metro areas, said the CEO of RealtyTrac, a national real estate data tracking firm. The Columbia metropolitan statistical area posted the second-lowest percentage of homes in foreclosure statewide for the first quarter of 2009. Spartanburg’s metropolitan statistical area posted the lowest percentage of homes in foreclosure for the first quarter of 2009. The second highest rate was in the Greenville-Mauldin-Easley MSA. The Charleston-North Charleston metropolitan statistical area posted the highest percentage of homes in foreclosure at 0.77%. RealtyTrac released its analysis of foreclosures in the nation’s 203 MSAs, which include metropolitan areas with at least 200,000 people. The analysis shows a percentage of the number of homes in a region that have received at least a notice of default, which is one of the first steps in the foreclosure process. The Columbia MSA ranked 155 out of 203 with 0.19% of homes with at least one foreclosure filing during the first three months of 2009. The Columbia metro area saw a 20.39% decline in foreclosures in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. The Greenville-Mauldin-Easley MSA ranked 66 with 0.59%. The Greenville metro area saw a 0.06% decline in foreclosures in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. The Charleston-North Charleston MSA ranked 51 with 0.77%. The Charleston metro area saw a 36.56% increase in foreclosures in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., posted the highest percentage at 4.48%. Merced, Calif, was the next highest at 4.21%. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., was third at 3.85%. Stockton, Calif, was fourth at 3.72%. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., finished the top five at 3.54%. “The metro areas with the highest levels of foreclosure activity in the first quarter of 2009 paint a picture of concentrated problems in a relatively small number of hard hit areas,” said James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s CEO. Saccacio said sales activity appears to be increasing in some of these larger markets as home prices have fallen to levels that are attractive to first-time homebuyers and investors. “While we expect many of these metro areas to continue to experience high levels of foreclosure activity throughout 2009, we also expect to see other markets rise up the ranks as unemployment rates surge throughout the country,” he said. Foreclosures in South Carolina MSAs Metro statistical area Rank out of 203 in U.S. % of homes with filings Charleston-North Charleston 51 0.77% Greenville-Mauldin-Easley 66 0.59% Myrtle Beach-Conway-NMB 93 0.40% Augusta-Richmond County* 104 0.36% Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord* 127 0.27% Columbia 155 0.19% Spartanburg 172 0.12% * Out of state regions include parts of South Carolina in this MSA. Nationally, RealtyTrac reported 0.63% of homes in the U.S. had a foreclosure filing in the first quarter of 2009 or 803,489 homes. Last week, RealtyTrac reported a 9% increase in foreclosure activity across the U.S. from the last quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009. Saccacio attributed a declining rate of actual bank ownership of foreclosed on properties, called REOs, for the quarter to an early year moratorium on foreclosures. RealtyTrac forecasted that a large number of new notices of default and a lifting of the moratorium could increase those numbers in the second quarter of the year. Published April 22, 2009

Sanford to take stimulus but adds strings to the deal
2009/04/06, 2:15 pm
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COLUMBIA — Gov. Mark Sanford said Friday he would accept the $700 million in federal stimulus money but would not release it unless the General Assembly agrees to pay down debt with state tax dollars.

He said he was accepting the money to stop other states from claiming the funds. Sanford has come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as from the public, for his stance against accepting the money. He had until midnight Friday to accept the funds.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell blasted Sanford on Thursday for refusing to accept the disputed funds, saying the Republican chief executive will have “shirked his responsibility to the taxpayers” if he fails to act.

“We are at the eleventh hour of this debate,” said Harrell, the Republican House leader. “It’s time for the nonsense to stop and for the governor to request the funds our citizens will have to pay back anyway.”

On Thursday, Sanford held another news conference with several state Senate allies, and they accused the governor’s critics of distorting the fiscal and employment impact of refusing the federal aid intended to help states through the recession.

Sanford continues to urge lawmakers to compromise and spend an equivalent amount of state-generated dollars to reduce debt if he agrees to accept the federal assistance. So far, legislators have refused such a deal.

Harrell has joined a chorus of Republicans calling for him to relent and take the money, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman. The Senate has resorted to drafting two alternative budgets, including one that includes draconian cuts in state workers and teachers.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said legislators — and specifically Leatherman — are using “scare tactics” to make the budget look worse than it might if the budget writers did not “leave money off the table.”

“The governor is willing to accept the stimulus money if an equal amount of state funds are spent to reduce debt,” Sawyer said.

The Wall Street Journal, in an article published Thursday, described Sanford and his position on this issue as “isolated” from Republicans who have supported him in the past. On Wednesday, hundreds of students, teachers and others rallied at the Statehouse in Columbia to protest the governor’s stance on taking the money, which they said could save hundreds of public employees’ jobs.

Harrell repeated his stance and that of others — that S.C. taxpayers will have to repay the money along with the taxpayers of the rest of the nation, so Sanford should take the money and use it to the state’s benefit.

“Because this plan became law, South Carolinians will have to repay this money whether we accept it or not,” Harrell said. “That is why it is so difficult to understand the governor’s rationale for requesting millions in energy efficiency money while rejecting money for teachers and law enforcement officers.

Harrell said the “most disturbing” part of Sanford’s news conference Thursday, however, came during discussion of jobs and unemployment.

Published April 6, 2009

Why Sanford doesn’t want bailout $ ?
2009/04/02, 7:03 pm
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America’s states are laboratories of democracy. They are both affected by, and relevant to, the larger national debate. What we’ve found in our own corner of the country is that carrying a substantial debt load limits our options when it comes to running government.

A recent report by the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked us 47th worst in the nation for annual debt service as a percentage of tax revenue. Our state dedicates nearly 11% of its annual tax revenue to paying debt. On top of that, South Carolina has another $20 billion in unfunded, long-term political promises for pensions and other liabilities. The state budget has already been cut four times in recent months as the national economic downturn has impacted South Carolina and driven down tax revenue.

President Barack Obama recently signed a “stimulus” bill that will spend about $2 billion through “programmatic means” in South Carolina. In other words, the federal government will put this money directly into existing funding formulas and programs such as Medicaid. But there is an additional $700 million that I as governor have influence over, and it is the disposition of this money that has drawn the national spotlight to South Carolina.

Here’s the background: Before the stimulus bill passed, I asked for states not to be bailed out. After it was signed into law, I said that a state bailout would create more problems than it solved, and that we shouldn’t spend money we don’t have. That debate was lost, so I looked for a reasonable middle ground. I asked the president for his support in using the $700 million to pay down state debt.

If we’re going to spend money we don’t have at the federal level, it becomes all the more important that our state balance sheet is in good order — particularly if this is a protracted downturn. But many people do not realize that the stimulus money runs out in 24 months — at which point South Carolina will be forced to find a new source of funding to sustain the new level of spending, or to make sharp cuts. Sure, I could kick the can down the road; in two years, I’ll be safely out of office. But it would be irresponsible.

If South Carolina could use stimulus money to pay down debt, in two years we will be able to spend, cut taxes or invest even if the federal government can no longer provide more money — not a remote possibility. In fact, paying debt related to education would free up over $162 million in debt service in the first two years and save roughly $125 million in interest payments over the next 13 years — just as paying off a family’s mortgage early frees up money for other uses.

When you’re in a hole, the first order of business is stop digging. South Carolina is in a hole, and it’s not a shallow one. Spending stimulus money on ongoing programs would mean 10% of our entire state budget would be paid for with one-time federal funds — the largest recorded level in state history.

Also, spending stimulus money will delay needed state restructuring. General Motors recently found itself in a similar spot. It needs to be restructured if it is to prosper, but a federal bailout enabled it to put off hard decisions. Likewise, taking federal stimulus money will only postpone changes essential to South Carolina’s prosperity. Though well-intended, it forestalls hard choices we must make.

One of Mr. Obama’s central campaign themes was his pledge to do away with politics of the past. In his inaugural address, he proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

This idea connected with millions of voters, myself included. I’ve always believed ideas should rise and fall on their merits. In fact, I saw such historical significance in his candidacy and the change he spoke of that I published an op-ed on it before South Carolina’s presidential primary last year. It was not an endorsement, but it did note the historic nature of his candidacy and the potential positive change in tone it represented. That potential may now be disappearing.

Last week I reached out to the president, asking for a federal waiver from restrictions on stimulus money. I got a most unusual response. Before I even received an acknowledgment of the request from the White House, I got word that the Democratic National Committee was launching campaign-style TV attack-ads against me for making it.

Is this the new brand of politics we were promised? Instead of engaging with me and other governors on the merits of our dissent, I am to be attacked in television ads? In the end, I just don’t believe a problem created by too much debt will be solved by piling on more debt. This doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable or extremist position.

Nevertheless, the White House declined my request for a waiver yesterday afternoon. That’s unfortunate. But in coming months we’ll continue advancing the debate at the state level about the merits of debt repayment. The fact remains that while we’d all like to spend unlimited dollars on the very real needs that exist in our state, we must spend in the context of what is sustainable.

Mr. Sanford, a Republican, is the governor of South Carolina.

State allocates $44 million to help mitigate foreclosures
2009/03/31, 2:20 pm
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CHARLESTON — More than $44 million has been awarded to communities and organizations across the state to buy foreclosed homes to sell or rent at affordable prices.

The top three awards include $7.4 million for the Lowcountry Housing Trust, representing Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties; $5 million for the city of Greenville; and $4.28 million for the Catawba Regional Council of Government, representing Lancaster County.

The money comes through the federal government’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is meant to prevent blight and declines in home values in neighborhoods with clusters of foreclosed homes.

At the same time, the program increases the inventory of affordable homes for those people earning 120% of area median income, said Tammie Hoy, director of the Lowcountry Housing Trust, which received the largest chunk of the state’s NSP funding.

The S.C. State Housing, Finance and Development Authority announced the awards last week and the money likely will flow to local housing officials by the summer, Hoy said.

Hoy estimates that the money will allow local housing officials to purchase about 100 homes now owned by banks. The $7.4 million will also cover the cost of any needed repairs to the homes, which might have been vacant for months. In addition, the money can provide homebuyers with assistance in making a down payment.

By April 15, her organization and its partners must submit to state housing officials the homes they intend to purchase. The trust’s original application sought nearly $20 million for the three counties, so local officials must pare down the list of homes they plan to buy.

Hoy emphasized that the money isn’t meant for isolated foreclosures. The federal program targets clusters of foreclosures or likely foreclosures that could bring down neighborhood values.

Hoy said the money could end up going further than the estimated 100 homes. When housing officials sell a home they have purchased, sales proceeds will be available for additional investments.

The money comes through the federal government’s Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. This year’s federal stimulus plan includes $2 billion for the program, but details on applying for those dollars are not expected until May, Hoy said.

The homes would be available to people earning up to 120% of area median income. Based on 2008 data, individuals earning up to $49,000 and families of four earning up to $79,000 would qualify, though Hoy said the program might use updated 2009 income data.

Communities and organizations receiving awards: Allocation:
Lowcountry Housing Trust  (Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties) $7,409,679
City of Greenville $5,000,000
Catawba Regional Council of Government (Lancaster County) $4,283,000
City of Columbia $3,900,000
Beaufort Housing Authority $2,943,000
Housing Authority of Myrtle Beach $2,500,000
Greenville County $2,260,000
Richland County $2,220,000
City of Anderson $2,173,087
City of Spartanburg $2,000,000
Sumter Housing Authority $1,700,000
Community Assistance Provider (Lexington County) $1,500,000
Santee-Lynches Affordable Housing CDC (Orangeburg County) $1,293,612
TN Development Corp. $1,038,350
SC Assoc. of Community Development Corp. $1,000,000
City of Florence $1,000,000
Community Development & Improvement Corp.  (Aiken and Darlington counties) $1,000,000
Companion Associates (Pickens) $700,000
Pickens County Habitat for Humanity $225,000
Source: S.C. State Housing, Finance and Development Authority
Published March 31, 2009

Home Sales Increase in February
2009/03/24, 3:17 pm
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COLUMBIA – Nearly 2,500 residential properties were sold in South Carolina in February, up 14.3% from January. In spite of this increase, total residential sales were down 35% compared to February 2008 sales, and down 34.2% year-to-date, according to the S.C. Association of Realtors.

This mirrors the nationwide trend where residential sales rose 5.1% in February, but remain 4.6% below sales in February 2008, according to figures released Monday by the National Association of Realtors.

In the South, existing home sales rose 6.1% in February but were 11.2% below February 2008, NAR reported.

The median home price in South Carolina in February was $135,000, compared to $146,700 in the South and $165,000 nationwide.

Charleston region home sales suffered the worst of the three largest metropolitan areas of South Carolina in February, as the number of homes sold declined 42.9%, according to the S.C. Association of Realtors. The Greater Greenville region came in second and the Greater Columbia region followed with a decrease of 33.2% and 26.3% respectively.

Across the state, some areas in the state posted a year-over-year decline of more than 50%, including Cherokee and Greenwood counties, which reported declines of 62.5% and 51.5% respectively.

The lone region to report a year-over-year increase in sales was the Southern Midlands Assoc., which represents Orangeburg and reported an increase of 4.2% in February 2009. Its increase represented an increase of one sale over last year.

MLS stats – February 2009


Jan. 08

     Jan. 09

      % chg.

     Feb. 08

     Feb. 09

      % chg.

2008 Total

2009 Total

       % chg.

Aiken 99 54 -45.50% 113 84 -25.70% 212 138 -34.90%
Beaufort 43 41 -4.70% 64 44 -31.30% 107 85 -20.60%
Charleston Trident 579 372 -35.80% 636 363 -42.90% 1215 735 -39.50%
Cherokee County 21 12 -42.90% 24 9 -62.50% 45 21 -53.30%
Coastal Carolinas 346 268 -22.50% 450 323 -28.20% 796 591 -25.80%
Greater Columbia 633 376 -40.60% 659 486 -26.30% 1292 862 -33.30%
Greater Greenville 499 331 -33.70% 591 395 -33.20% 1090 726 -33.40%
Greenwood 41 32 -22.00% 68 33 -51.50% 109 65 -40.40%
Hilton Head Area 130 87 -33.10% 141 95 -32.60% 271 182 -32.80%
Piedmont Regional Assoc. 207 136 -34.30% 260 129 -50.40% 467 265 -43.30%
Realtor Assoc. of Greater Pee Dee 146 87 -40.40% 163 84 -48.50% 309 171 -44.70%
Southern Midlands Assoc. 24 20 -16.70% 24 25 4.20% 48 45 -6.30%
Spartanburg 177 142 -19.80% 248 163 -34.30% 425 305 -28.20%
Sumter/Clarendon County 88 59 -33.00% 87 72 -17.20% 175 131 -25.10%
Western Upstate MLS 174 124 -28.70% 239 143 -40.20% 413 267 -35.40%
State totals 3,207 2,141 -33.20% 3,767 2448 -35.00% 6,974 4,589 -34.20%
Source: S.C. Association of Realtors

Do South Carolinians Favor Offshore Oil Drilling?
2009/03/04, 9:30 pm
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Staff Report
Published March 4, 2009

A poll from Citizens for Sound Conservation finds that 72% of South Carolinians favor increased access to offshore oil and gas resources, compared with a recent national poll that found 61% of Americans in favor of offshore drilling.

Wilson Research Strategies polled 300 South Carolinians last month, and support for exploration was at least 65% in every income level, age bracket and racial breakdown. In addition, 57% viewed the recent decision to delay offshore exploration by six months as a stalling technique.

“South Carolina voters are clearly ahead of the curve on this issue. Thankfully, our state leaders seem to be listening,” organization board member Cathy Novinger said.

Citizens for Sound Conservation is nonprofit foundation formed by community leaders representing manufacturers, homebuilders, realtors, energy providers and maritime and port interests.