Republican presidential candidates have kept housing on the back burner - until now. Next Tuesday's Florida primary is moving housing front-and-center. Bold new proposals? Don't be silly. (Hey, I'm an equal-opportunity critic - I said the same about Obama's State of the Union.) But Romney did hold a housing roundtable, and the candidates are using housing as a scoop for slinging mud at each other. At least that's something.
Why does the Florida primary thrust housing into the limelight? Four reasons:
1) The housing bust took Florida down.
Prices in most of Florida have fallen by at least 40% since their peak. Along with Nevada, Arizona and inland California, Florida was ground zero for the housing bubble, and now its residents are deep underwater.
2) Florida is in foreclosure purgatory.
It takes more than two years for homes to go through the foreclosure process in Florida, longer than any other state except New York and New Jersey (which have far fewer foreclosures to begin with). That means 14.0% of Florida loans are stuck in foreclosure, compared with 6.3% in Nevada, 3.2% in Arizona, 3.2% in California and 2.7% in Michigan, according to LPS. This keeps Florida's housing market in limbo and prevents Florida from benefitting from a plan to sell government-owned homes to investors after a foreclosure is complete.
3) Searches and prices are bubbling.
Despite the bust and the foreclosure backlog, demand is stirring in Florida. Our Metro Movers Index shows that far more house hunters are looking to move to Florida - especially to North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Cape Coral and West Palm Beach -than they are looking to leave. Thanks, baby boomers and investors. And prices rose more than 2% in the third quarter of 2011 in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and several other Florida metros.
4) What happens in Florida doesn't stay in Florida.
Florida is a national housing story. One-third of all the searches for Miami homes on Trulia.com are from people living more than 500 miles away. What's more, Chicagoans and New Yorkers can't seem to get enough of Florida. Three of the top 10 long-distance search destinations from Chicago are Florida metros, as are five of the top 10 search destinations from New York. You or someone you love cares about Florida.
The Florida housing market represents the worst of the bubble and hope for recovery. Let's hope the Republican candidates have something to say about it, because Florida voters will.
Follow Jed Kolko on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JedKolko