Fla.’s Canadian homebuyers becoming big sellers

Feb. 25, 2016 – Escaping from the chilly north, Canadians always have been eager buyers of Southwest Florida vacation and retirement homes.

But now a lower loonie compared with the U.S. dollar is causing a reverse flow, heating up the sale of Canadian-owned homes in the United States, Canadian real estate agent Laura Leyser told a group of about 100 real estate agents and brokers Thursday evening at the Miromar Design Center in Estero.

With the exchange rate currently at about 73 cents for every U.S. dollar, some Canadians are deciding that a favorable exchange rate, coupled with rapidly rising home prices, are a good enough reason to give up their sunny Southwest Florida hideaways.

“Canadians see this time as an opportunity to sell,” said Leyser, who is past president of both the Canadian and Ontario real estate associations.

If Canadians start to sell in droves – perhaps also influenced by the volatility of the stock market and the future direction of home prices – it’s likely Southwest Florida’s real estate market will feel it.

Canadians make up the biggest proportion of international buyers in the Southwest Florida market, according to the Naples Area Board of Realtors. About seven out of 10 international buyers in Collier County are Canadians, NABOR said.

Leyser said Canadians traditionally have been attracted not only by the good weather but also by their perception that real estate in the region is a good investment with low property and sales taxes.

Lux amenities also are an attraction, since gated golf course communities with pools, clubhouses and tennis courts aren’t as common in Canadian cities, she said.

With average Canadian home prices up 17 percent in January from a year earlier, to $470,297, some Canadians also see Southwest Florida home prices as a bargain.

Yet while Canadians remain heavy buyers of Florida real estate – 41 percent of their purchases are in the Sunshine State – their investment is on the decline, partly due to a strengthening dollar that made U.S. homes more expensive for them, according a report by the National Association of Realtors. Nationwide, Canadian buyers were responsible for $11.2 billion in residential purchases in 2015, down from $13.8 billion in 2014, NAR reported.

Canadian buyers made up 14 percent of all international property buyers in the U.S. in 2015, NAR said.

While the volatility of the American stock market and concerns about the future direction of home prices may also put a damper on Canadian purchases in the near future, at least one perpetual worry of the real estate community is unlikely to have any effect: a future upward spike in mortgage interest rates.

Canadians can get a mortgage on a U.S. property from a Canadian bank at a lower rate than Americans can get from U.S. banks, Leyser said.

But interest rates aren’t much of an issue for Canadians anyway, since seven out of 10 buyers purchase with cash.

Copyright © 2016 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.), June Fletcher. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Lending disclosures delay 1 in 10 transactions

WASHINGTON – Feb. 15, 2016 – A new survey of Realtors conducted by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) attempted to find out exactly how well the TRID rules are, and are not, working. According to Realtors, the new disclosures led to few contract cancellations – but they’ve caused a delay in about one in 10 transactions.

NAR’s TRID survey highlights

10.4% of transactions were delayed
Less than 1% of transactions were canceled
The typical transaction delay due to the new disclosures is 8.8 days
54.5% of respondents had problems getting closing documents for transactions and half found errors once they did
Realtors were less likely to have access to closing documents in delayed settlements
Most frequent closing disclosure problems: Missing concessions, incorrect names or addresses. However, Realtors also cited problems with incorrect fees, commissions and taxes
E-settlement procedures had fewer errors and faster remediation

A complete overview of survey results can be found on NAR’s website.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®

Citizens Ins. recovers $4.2M in claim payouts

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Feb. 5, 2016 – Citizens Property Insurance Corporation – operated by Florida as the state’s insurer of last resort – reports that it recovered more than $4.2 million in customer premiums in 2015 by aggressively pursuing third parties responsible for losses and salvaging property involved in a claim.

According to Citizens, its recovery team of adjusters identified and recovered payments made by Citizens that it later found to be caused by, or contributed to, by other parties. Included in that figure is more than $440,000 in deductible payments returned to 391 policyholders.

“Such recoveries are part of an overall effort by Citizens to ensure that our policyholders are protected and their premiums kept as low as possible,” says Chris Gardner, Chairman of Citizens Board of Governors. “I applaud the team’s success.”

In 2015, Citizens recovered almost $4 million through the process. Additionally, Citizens recovered $186,344 in legal fees and another $35,000 by salvaging appliances and other items following a claim. The recovery team had a 2015 goal for that it says it surpassed: $2.7 million.

Examples of Citizens recovery efforts in 2015:

$210,000 from a contractor that caused an explosion using a homemade recipe to remove rust stains from terrazzo flooring
$125,000 from a condo owner’s insurance company because the owner didn’t turn off the water during an extended absence as required by the condo association
$65,000 from an air conditioning company that caused fire and smoke damage during a routine maintenance visit
Citizens’ recovery unit was established in 2009. Its eight employees are charged with reviewing claim losses that appear to be the fault of someone other than Citizens’ policyholder. Other parties include manufacturers of defective products, improper installation and other responsible parties that were negligent.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®

Fewer Fla. foreclosure homes ‘seriously underwater’

IRVINE, Calif. – Jan. 28, 2016 – RealtyTrac’s Year-End 2015 U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report finds a drop in the number of Florida homes that are “seriously underwater” – ones that owe at least 25 percent more on mortgages than the current value of their home.

At the end of 2015, one in five mortgage homes (19.8 percent) in the state were seriously underwater. One year earlier, it was one in four (24.7 percent). A significant part of that drop occurred in in the last quarter of the year: In the third quarter, 23.2 percent of Florida homes with a mortgage were seriously underwater.

On the flipside, more Florida homeowners became “equity rich” in 2015 – homes with at least 50 percent equity. The year ended with 20.7 percent of homes equity rich; a year earlier, it was 17.5 percent.

In a look at metro areas, two Florida cities ranked in the top five for their share of seriously underwater properties. Lakeland ranked second (24.4 percent of all mortgage homes seriously underwater) after Las Vegas; Orlando ranked fifth with 22.2 percent.

Two Florida cities also make RealtyTrac’s top-five list specific to foreclosure properties that are seriously underwater. Lakeland ranks third (46.1 percent) after Las Vegas and Chicago, and Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach ranks fifth (44.9 percent) after No. 4 Cleveland.

“The equity in South Florida homeownership continues to grow with our rising prices,” says Mike Pappas, CEO and president of Keyes Company in the South Florida market. “Distressed homeowners who are underwater still have options – working through a short sale – usually receiving some cash for moving or utilizing the advantageous HARP refinancing vehicle. ”

National foreclosure numbers

Nationwide, one in 10 of homes with a mortgage (11.5 percent) was seriously underwater at the end of 2015. That number is a drop from 12.7 percent at the end of the third quarter and 12.7 percent year-to-year.

“Over the past three and a half years, the number of seriously underwater properties has been cut in half,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “But we continue to deal with a long tail of seriously underwater properties, and it will likely be another five years at least before most of those remaining underwater properties move into positive equity territory.”

At the end of 2015, one in four U.S. homes with a mortgage was equity rich (at least 50 percent equity) – 22.5 percent of all properties with a mortgage. The number of equity rich properties at the end of 2015 was 19.2 percent of all properties with a mortgage compared and 20.3 percent at the end of 2014.

In a look at only homes in foreclosure at the end of 2015, 49.7 percent had some equity – the highest percentage since RealtyTrac began compiling the data in 2013. The percentage is an increase from 43.3 percent in the third quarter of 2015 and 34.6 percent year-to-year.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®

Scary letters entice some Sarasota owners to abandon Citizens?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sept. 14, 2015 – Call it the consumer-spooking warning that refused to die.

Private insurers have issued bold-faced warnings of 45 percent storm taxes five months after state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. said it would drop a tactic The Palm Beach Post probed.

The warning is on the way out, Citizens officials explained. But it may not disappear from private insurers’ letters until a new round coming up soon. The letters aim to persuade customers to switch from the state-run carrier.

“The language stating that the surcharge could be as high as 45 percent per year is misleading and should not be required,” said state insurance consumer advocate Sha’Ron James.

Offers are quite welcome to most consumers if they get sound coverage for a competitive price. But homeowners have said they felt misled to buy coverage that sometimes costs substantially more out of fear of a devastating 45 percent fee if they stick with Citizens.

“I get that letter, and I’m thinking I can’t afford to pay 45 percent,” John Adinolfe of Palm Springs said this spring. “I switched because I was led to believe I could be facing a 45 percent increase in premium.”

It’s clear the letters have had a big effect. Though acceptance rates have been slowing, takeout offers account for most of the record-setting departures from Citizens that have seen it shrink to the smallest size since its 2002 creation, less than 600,000 policies, down from 1.5 million.

The state-supervised offers are not like ordinary marketing pitches. Homeowners are automatically switched if they do nothing. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that passed unanimously this spring that would have strengthened consumer protections related to the offers.

Here’s the context the letters do not provide: A storm so bad it happens only once in 250 years – a quarter of a millennium, longer than the nation itself has existed – still would not be awful enough to trigger a 45 percent fee to pay off storm debts, Citizens officials acknowledged to The Post.

People have a far higher chance of being audited by the IRS or having twins or meeting someone with your same birthday in a group of 23 people, the newspaper found.

Citizens said senior company leaders decided to drop the warning in letters Citizens sends shortly before the Post published a story in March. But homeowners said they are still getting the 45 percent warning in letters from private companies nearly half a year later.

“We approve takeout letter language from private companies after (the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation) approves our language,” Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said last week.” OIR approved the new language that deletes the 45 percent reference on August 21. By that time, September assumptions had gone out already.”

For example, offer notices from Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Co., which are scheduled to go out in a few weeks, will contain the new language and not the reference to a 45 percent assessment, he said in a statement that an Office of Insurance Regulation spokeswoman confirmed.

Heritage CEO Bruce Lucas said his company follows state requirements and “we don’t control that language.”

In reality, Citizens expects it would probably not need to charge its customers or those of other insurers any assessments at all after a 1-in-100-year storm, far worse than Hurricane Andrew or any other storm to hit modern Florida.

Citizens has more than $7 billion in surplus to pay claims, plus backing from a state hurricane fund and offshore reinsurance. Private insurers in Florida had a $5.8 billion combined surplus plus reinsurance, according to figures provided by state regulators in March.

Moreover, the letters don’t say consumers could be charged another kind of storm tax even if they switch to private companies. That can come from the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which backs up private insurers including property and auto carriers and pays their claims if they fail. It happens: Four insurers serving Florida went out of business in 2010, nine in 2011 and one in 2012, requiring billions of dollars in claims to be covered.

Eleven out of 29 companies that took policies out of Citizens became insolvent, were ordered to stop writing business, or were taken over between 2003 and 2009, the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, representing big national insurers, has noted.

Florida-based insurers say they have the strengthened financial backing to serve customers well. Consumers like Adinolfe say they’re happy to make an informed decision – just not one based on what he called “scare tactics.”

Copyright © 2015 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Charles Elmore. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Interest-only mortgages return in different form

Aug. 21, 2015 – Don’t call it a comeback.

Interest-only mortgages got a bad reputation in the aftermath of the housing bust, but they’ve managed to stick around as an option for homebuyers who can meet stricter lending guidelines enacted by the government in recent years.

The loans can lower monthly mortgage payments by letting borrowers put off paying the principal on their loan for several years. When the interest-only period ends, the borrower’s monthly payment spikes as they begin to pay a combination of principal and interest until the loan is paid off.

That monthly payment shock, often accompanied by a higher interest rate on adjustable-rate interest-only loans, is what got many borrowers in trouble a decade ago.

One reason is that many of those borrowers qualified for their loans on the basis of their ability to repay the lower, interest-only payment. When their monthly payment reset higher, many couldn’t keep up.

That’s no longer the case. Now lenders are required to determine whether borrowers qualify for any interest-only loans, or other adjustable-rate mortgages, based on whether they can afford to make the eventual bigger monthly payments that await them once the initial interest-only period ends.

As a result, such interest-only loans now make up only about 0.2 percent of all adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, which account for about 4 percent of all home loans for purchase and refinancing, according to data from CoreLogic.

Use of interest-only mortgages peaked 10 years ago at the height of the housing bubble at around 10 percent of all ARMs.

“The big difference here is interest-only loans are back to being the niche product that they traditionally had been,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “The go-go days of the housing boom were the exception.”

Still, rising home prices can make interest-only loans a tempting option for borrowers who are interested in a lower mortgage payment and can qualify for such a loan under today’s stricter guidelines.

At least one lender is looking to expand access to interest-only loans to a broader range of homebuyers, not just the affluent buyers who typically take advantage of such loans.

Last month, United Wholesale Mortgage began making interest-only home loans through its network of mortgage brokers. The loan program covers mortgages as low as $250,000. That’s just above the U.S. median home price of $236,400, but well below the recent median price in Southern California of $426,000.

Even with today’s stricter guidelines aimed at ensuring borrowers can handle interest-only loans, they carry potential financial risks. Here are some things to consider when weighing whether such a loan is right for you:

Payment changes

Interest-only mortgages can come with a fixed or variable interest rate and an initial period when the borrower only pays interest on the loan. That’s usually three, five, seven or 10 years. After the interest-only period, the monthly payment can increase sharply as the borrower begins to also pay down the principal on their loan.

In addition, the borrower is left with 20 years to pay off the balance of the loan.

Lending requirements

To ensure borrowers can afford an interest-only mortgage, lenders often require large down payments relative to what one can find with a traditional 30-year, fixed-rate home loan backed by the government.

For example, the down payment on a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration can be as low as 3.5 percent, though the borrower will have to pay private mortgage insurance. And borrowers can qualify with a FICO score as low as 580.

In contrast, United Wholesale Mortgage requires that borrower put down 20 percent, have a FICO score of at least 720 and a debt-to-income ratio of 42 percent.

Building equity

With a traditional mortgage, the borrower is paying part of the principal with every payment. That helps build their equity in the home along the way. In the initial period of an interest-only mortgage, the borrower is only gaining equity if their home is appreciating.

Copyright © 2015 The Associated Press.

Floridians should prepare for solar power struggle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – July 27, 2015 – There is the possibility that three constitutional amendments could appear on the 2016 ballot for Florida voters related to the buying, selling and distribution of solar power involving homes and businesses.

There are petition drives underway for two of the solar initiatives, requiring at least 683,000 verified signatures in order to be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election.

The possible third solar amendment would be generated through a legislative bill sponsored by state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, as well as a similar bill sponsored in the Senate. He will file that bill later this year for the 2016 session. He had filed the energy bill last session, and it was rolling through various committees until House Speaker Steve Crisafulli decided the House would not take up any 2016 ballot initiatives during the 2015 session as it became clear the Legislature was heading toward an impasse over Medicaid expansion money.

The biggest difference between the two bills being generated by energy groups and Rodrigues’ bill is the petitions. Rodrigues doesn’t need those. He needs House and Senate approval, and for Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on the bill, and then it can be placed on the ballot.

Collecting necessary signatures and having them verified is a much more difficult task. Should the amendments appear on what will again be a large ballot because of the presidential election year, they would require 60 percent approval by voters to become law.

The amendments have a reasonable chance of passing because of a need to protect the environment by becoming less reliant on traditional fuel sources like oil and gas.

Power by clean energy, especially solar, is gaining strength and popularity in a state where there is an abundance of sunshine. A planned “solar-powered” city is set to break ground soon at Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County. Cape Coral is looking into becoming its own electric utility and wants solar as a power source – at least for streetlights.

But whether it’s power supplied by sunlight or utility companies there is a common link: revenue. Utility companies such as the Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) and Florida Power and Light have monopolies on power in their respective territories. With those monopolies come a long list of regulations that must be followed. LCEC customers can sell excess power back to the utility after LCEC rolled out its buy-back program in 2009. It currently has 191 customers, but only 35 of 174 customers in 2014 generated more power than they could use.

The state does not offer any incentives for people wishing to hook up solar panels.

All three amendments look at who controls the power, who profits from it and who is penalized because of it.

The Rodrigues bill
The bill will provide the same solar protections for businesses that homes have, meaning the county property appraiser can’t raise the value of a property because solar panels have been installed.

“Currently, that prohibition exists for residences but not businesses,” Rodrigues said through email. “So, when a business installs solar, its property value goes up. Since commercial properties do not have Save our Homes protection, this means that their property taxes go up.”

The bill also prevents a county from levying a tangible personal property tax on the business because solar has been determined to be equipment used by the business.

“By preventing a tax increase to a business because they have chosen solar, this will encourage more businesses to choose solar,” Rodrigues said.

Floridians for Solar Choice
Called the Florida Right to Produce and Sell Solar Energy Initiative, this was the first of the amendments proposed, and proponents of the bill have been aggressive in gathering signatures, especially in front of the Lee County Tax Collectors Office.

The amendment would allow homeowners and businesses to generate up to two megawatts of solar power without government regulation. This puts a business in the market of being able to sell solar. Called distributed generation, any excess power could be sold to other businesses.

“Currently, the retail sale of electricity by anyone other than government-sanctioned utility companies is prohibited,” Rodrigues said. “So while anyone can purchase their own solar panels for their own use, they are not allowed to sell any excess power.”

The current laws may create a monopoly for utilities, but they also are regulated. In return for the monopoly, utilities commit to providing electricity to all properties in a franchise area. The Public Service Commission regulates the rates utilities charge but provides the utilities a guaranteed rate of return.

“Under current law, state and local governments are authorized to charge people a differential on the cost of subsidizing backup power and electric grid access,” Rodrigues said.

If voters pass this amendment, government could not apply new fees on solar users. Also, those using solar power would still be guaranteed reliable electricity by the utility for times when solar power is not being generated.

Consumers for Smart Solar
This is the most recent of the proposed amendments. It allows homeowners and businesses to install solar but remain under state and local regulations, meaning they could not sell the power outside the regulated utility.

Solar users would be exempt from new fees, maintain access to the utility when they need it, but they would not be contributing to the cost of the grid.

Those pushing for this amendment say it is necessary because the solar choice amendment could shift costs to non-solar users by allowing solar companies to sell electricity without paying for the grid that distributed the power. This initiative is being led by former state Reps. Dick Batchelor of Orlando and Jim Kallinger of Winter Park as a counter to what they call the “Shady Solar Amendment (Floridians for Solar Choice). Both say this amendment “allows third parties – such as out-of-state solar companies – to act as de facto public utilities. However, it does not regulate these companies like public utilities.”

Utility monopolies can limit choice, and those who want to explore other energy options should be free to do so, they say. But regulation of utilities provides certain consumer safe guards and guarantees that power is provided.

Copyright © 2015 Fusion Media Limited. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

Fla. files complaint over land buying scheme

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – June 8, 2015 – Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a complaint against Property Solutions International Corp, Premier 1 Property Inc. and Marvin Scott for allegedly defrauding consumers out of thousands of dollars.

According to the complaint filed last week, the defendants promised consumers a property selling price that was many times the land’s actual value. In exchange, the defendants charged an upfront fee that averaged $2,250 for brokering the deals. At times they promised to refund most of the money but, according to Bondi, rarely followed through on the promises.

The defendants contacted potential sellers using unlicensed telemarketers that said that they already had buyers ready to purchase the properties. In one case cited in the complaint, the defendants contacted a senior citizen and told him they could sell his $4,000 property for nearly $30,000, after an upfront fee of $1,300.

In most cases, the defendants told consumers that the upfront fees would be used for attorney’s fees, closing fees, transfer fees, title fees, broker fees, deed fees, administrative fees, assessment fees and to advertise the properties on its websites.

In a typical sales pitch, the defendants said that 200 million people viewed their websites, CoastToCoastland.com and FSBOPropertySolutions.com. However, Bondi says those numbers are “inconsistent with the websites’ traffic estimates.”

The complaint seeks restitution for 34 complainants that allegedly paid more than $70,000 to the defendants. The defendants also conducted business using the names Coast To Coast Land and FSBO Property Solutions.

© 2015 Florida Realtors®

Fla.’s forced-sale condo rule could change. Good for Sarasota?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – March 25, 2015 – Florida lawmakers may sew up a legal loophole that has permitted property investors to force some condominium owners to sell their units for less than they paid for them.

Bills making their way through the state’s House and Senate seek to force bulk buyers of condo communities to pay more for any holdout units when they’re working on a deal to convert the complex into rental apartments.

Current Florida law mandates that a property’s condo status can be terminated under certain conditions. If those conditions exist, a bulk buyer can force owners to sell whether they want to or not based on current market prices.

Over the past eight years, the state has said buyers must pay the fair-market value of any holdout condo, but thanks to the housing meltdown, current fair-market value is often less than the amount of money owners owe on their mortgages.

Earlier attempts to revise this 2007 law have not been successful, but media coverage of impacted sellers has provided momentum this year. Passage isn’t a sure thing, but its chances have improved. Both measures advanced this week, with the House bill obtaining approval from its second subcommittee and the Senate bill gaining approval from its first committee.

However, no bill has been scheduled for a floor vote yet. To become law, the full House and Senate must pass the same bill; it then goes to Gov. Rick Scott who must sign it.

Passage would mark a win for homeowners. As currently written, the bill would require bulk buyers to pay holdout condo owners the greater of 110 percent of its original purchase price or 110 percent of their unit’s market value.

Critics say the changes would be an unnecessary roadblock to investors’ efforts to revive run-down properties.

Source: Wall Street Journal (03/25/15)

Fla.’s housing market continues on a steady track

Feb. 23, 2015 – Florida’s housing market had higher median prices, more new listings and a continued stabilization of inventory in January, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

Closed sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 16,087 last month, up 10 percent over January 2014.

“Home price gains in areas across Florida mean that home equity continues to improve and that, coupled with historically low interest rates, generates a great opportunity for sellers,” says 2015 Florida Realtors President Andrew Barbar. “Many homeowners who have been on the sidelines are now ready to list their properties for sale: Statewide, new listings for single-family homes in January rose 7.9 percent year-over-year, while new townhouse-condo listings rose 1 percent.”

Barbar noted that January marked the 38th month in a row that statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and townhouse-condo properties rose year-over-year.

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes last month was $175,000, up 7.4 percent from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. The statewide median price for townhouse-condo properties in January was $137,000, up 5.4 percent over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Looking at Florida’s townhouse-condo market, statewide closed sales totaled 7,294 last month, down slightly (-1.7 percent) compared to January 2014. That closed sales data reflected fewer short sales in January: Short sales for condo-townhouse properties declined 57.9 percent while short sales for single-family homes dropped 39.4 percent. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

“The major features of the market – prices and inventory – have settled into a path that will be characteristic of the whole year,” says Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. John Tuccillo.

“But there are some interesting wrinkles in the detailed numbers,” Tuccillo adds. “First, inventories for both single-family homes and townhouses and condos are shrinking, a sign of a continuing need for supply in the less than $250,000 area of the market. Right now, new construction remains the best option for households of moderate income. Adding to this is the continuing rapid decline in short sales, an ongoing trend that is likely to continue.

“Secondly, the percentage of condo sales accounted for by cash dropped dramatically in January. This shows the impact of a strengthening dollar on foreign demand, as well as the continuing decline in market participation by volume investors.”

Inventory was at a 5.3-months’ supply in January for single-family homes and at a 6.2-months’ supply for townhouse-condo properties, according to Florida Realtors.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.67 percent in January 2015, down from the 4.43 percent average recorded during the same month a year earlier.