Sarasota Real Estate Market News

Florida’s ‘hardest-hit’ homeowners are eligible for more aid

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – April 30, 2012 – Florida’s struggling borrowers will get more money and more time to get back on their feet with new rules announced Friday for a $1 billion program aimed at keeping people in their homes and out of foreclosure.

The changes to the Hardest Hit Fund, which also eliminate eligibility roadblocks, validate complaints that the original plan was too optimistic in its timeline for unemployed and underemployed homeowners to turn their lives around.

Instead of six months of mortgage assistance, homeowners can now get up to a year, while the allowance to bring a loan current was increased from a cap of $6,000 to $18,000.

To minimize credit damage and reduce late fees, the money to bring a loan current will be awarded when the homeowner is approved for the program. Under the current process, the money is given at the end.

The Florida Housing Finance Corp., which oversees the program, approved the changes during a Friday meeting, but they still need federal authorization. That is expected in May.

“These changes are really good news and beneficial to a lot of Hardest Hit applicants,” said David Westcott, the corporation’s director of homeownership programs.

They also come just two weeks after a federal report criticized the program nationwide for ramping up too slowly and helping too few homeowners.

Announced in February 2010, the program has allocated $7.6 billion to 17 states and the District of Columbia to help homeowners while they look for a better job, or any job at all.

But as of the end of December, just 30,640 homeowners nationwide have benefited and just 3 percent of available money has been spent, according to the inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

In Florida, nearly $90 million has been set aside as of April 1 to assist 4,955 homeowners statewide. About 350 Palm Beach County homeowners have received Hardest Hit money.

Cecka Green, communications director for the Florida Housing Finance Corp., said Friday’s changes were not in response to the federal report and had been in discussion for a while.

The agenda item corporation board members approved does note that just 12 percent of homeowners receiving the monthly mortgage stipends had found jobs with incomes high enough to make their loan payments affordable at the end of the six months and qualify to have their arrearages paid.

Previously, homeowners’ monthly expenses had to be below 31 percent of their gross income to get the money to bring the loan current.

That requirement was eliminated with Friday’s vote because the money will come on the front end now, Green said.

It means Deborah Stockhammer of Jupiter River Estates may qualify to have her $9,800 unpaid balance funded. Although working, Stockhammer, 59, was denied the money previously because her salary was too low.

Also, because the plan changes are retroactive, Stockhammer, whose six months expired in March, may get another six months in monthly mortgage help.

“If they give it to the people who really need it and deserve it, it will be helpful,” she said. “We’re all not just sitting home doing nothing wanting a handout.”

Another eligibility roadblock removed was a requirement that homeowners be fewer than 180 days behind on their mortgage. With the changes, a homeowner can’t be in foreclosure, but there is a limit on how long a loan can be delinquent.

Foreclosure defense attorney Mike Wasylik said the new plan is a “bigger Band-Aid, but still a Band-Aid.” He believes using the money to write down loan balances would be a better use.

“Why not make it permanent help by taking the $1 billion and putting it toward principal reduction?” he said. “This is an economic policy that’s not solving the real problem.”

Copyright © 2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Kimberly Miller. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Short Sales and Foreclosures | Leave a comment

March pending home sales rise, market recovering

WASHINGTON (April 26, 2012) – Pending home sales increased in March and are well above a year ago, another signal the housing market is recovering, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 4.1 percent to 101.4 in March from an upwardly revised 97.4 in February, and it’s 12.8 percent above March 2011 when it was 89.9. The data reflects contracts but not closings.

The index is now at the highest level since April 2010 when it reached 111.3.

“First quarter sales closings were the highest first quarter sales in five years,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “The latest contract signing activity suggests the second quarter will be equally good. The housing market has clearly turned the corner. Rising sales are bringing down inventory and creating much more balanced conditions around the county, which means home prices will be rising in more areas as the year progresses.”

The PHSI in the Northeast slipped 0.8 percent to 78.2 in March but is 21.1 percent above March 2011. In the Midwest, the index declined 0.9 percent to 93.3 but is 16.9 percent higher than a year ago.

Pending home sales in the South rose 5.9 percent to an index of 114.1 in March and are 10.6 percent above March 2011. In the West, the index increased 8.7 percent in March to 108.0 and is 9.0 percent above a year ago.

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to the Market | Leave a comment

Investors becoming the new landlords

FORT MYERS, Fla. – April 25, 2012 – Gene Richards is a lifelong Vermonter, but on a recent weekday afternoon he found himself back on Florida’s west coast, scouting foreclosures to add to the collection of rental properties he has amassed in the wake of the housing crisis.

“I just started buying them and I haven’t stopped. I have 15 right now, and I’d buy another 15,” said Richards, 51, who runs a mortgage company and also owns rental properties back home in Burlington, Vt. “This to me is a no-brainer of an investment.”

With home prices at historic lows and rental rates on the rise, Richards and a growing number of investors with cash to spare are seeking lucrative returns by gobbling up foreclosures in distressed markets across the country and turning them into rentals.

“The investors are seeing bargain opportunities,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “The numbers are just very attractive, given the alternatives.”

The real estate data firm CoreLogic estimated in a report this month that the burgeoning foreclosures-to-rental business could become a $100 billion industry this year as bigger investors get involved in hard-hit markets from Florida to California to Arizona to the Midwest.

Yun cited a recent NAR survey that shows sales of investment homes soared nearly 65 percent in 2011 over the previous year. By contrast, the number of purchases by owners who intended to occupy the homes fell more than 15 percent.

Those numbers reflect the fact that investors often have the ability to purchase in bulk and with cash, bypassing the need to rely on credit approval from banks. But the survey also suggests that the combination of bargain prices and a steady stream of rental income seems more attractive to many investors than having their money languish in banking accounts or bonds.

Of course, the speculators who furiously acquired properties and flipped them in search of quick profits played a key role in fueling the housing bubble that wrecked the U.S. economy. But for the moment, Yun believes, the current investor boom in turning foreclosures into rentals could actually help to heal the ailing housing market.

“In the current market situation, I would say the investors are very helpful. …We don’t want to see foreclosed properties linger. The investors are clearing this inventory out of the system,” Yun said. “Investors during the bubble years were not helpful; they were just adding fuel to the fire. But now they’re playing a stabilizing role.”

In the past, the investors willing to buy bank-owned, single-family homes and turn them into rentals predominately were individuals or mom-and-pop outfits with only a handful of properties. They’re still in the mix, but larger players have entered the business, and even larger ones – including hedge funds and private equity firms – have said they plan to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in such properties.

California-based Waypoint Homes has amassed about 1,300 rental houses in California since the business began in 2008 and has begun expanding into Phoenix.

“We’re not looking at this as a short-term opportunity in a distressed market,” said Waypoint co-founder Colin Wiel, noting that some large hedge funds and private equity funds are looking to spend hundreds of millions of dollars going into the single-family rental business. “There’s so much big capital that’s so eager to get into this space. It’s the emergence of an enormous industry.”

In the Washington area, investor Dan Magder recently left his job with the private equity firm Lone Star Funds to start the District-based Rock Creek Capital Group and focus on the single-family rental business. He has partnered with Greenlet Investments of Texas, which owns hundreds of homes throughout the South, and he expects to spend as much as $200 million in coming years buying foreclosures, renovating them and renting them out.

“There are a tremendous amount of these homes that are going to be sitting there. At the same time, you have many people who were in these homes who are looking for a place to live,” Magder said, adding that between rising rents and low vacancy rates, “the financial proposition starts to look good.”

Banks and lenders currently own 634,282 distressed properties across the country, a 16-month supply at the current sales pace, according to RealtyTrac. An additional 717,874 properties are in the foreclosure process but have not yet been repossessed.

In February, the federal agency that oversees government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced its intention to hold bulk sales of about 2,500 foreclosed homes in some of the nation’s hardest-hit areas, such as Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and parts of Florida. The program could expand if successful.

The following month, Bank of America announced that it will test a pilot program to allow as many as 1,000 struggling homeowners to hand over the deed but stay in their homes and rent from the firm. The bank said it will work with property management companies to maintain the homes and eventually sell them to investors.

Some housing advocates say the idea of hedge funds and other large investors becoming large-scale landlords raises red flags. Will they abide by fair-housing laws? Will they actually maintain the homes or just slap on a coat of paint and ignore tenants until it’s time to sell?

“It’s a whole different thing than an apartment building, where all of your tenants are in one place. The fact that you have properties that may be scattered across a metropolitan area has its own set of challenges,” said Deborah Goldberg, special projects director for the National Fair Housing Alliance. “We’ve never been in this kind of situation before where you have so many vacant properties in so many places.”

The Federal Reserve recently issued a policy statement about bank-owned rental properties in which it urged banks to hire only reputable vendors and to comply with all landlord-tenant laws and property maintenance provisions.

Investors such as Wiel and Magder say they are aware of the potential problems and are using updated technology and infrastructure to make sure their properties are well maintained and their tenants treated fairly.

“The onus is on us to be effective stewards of these assets,” Magder said. “We’re dealing with real people and their lives, and you have to be sensitive to that. It’s actually the right business proposition, but it’s definitely the right thing to do.”

It’s a business proposition that isn’t likely to lose steam anytime soon. From institutional investors to small-time buyers, turning foreclosures into rentals seems to be one boom that has emerged from the housing bust.

Richards, the investor from Vermont, says he has no plans to cease his regular trips to Florida. Unlike the cavalcade of speculators who flocked to the state during the boom years to make a quick buck, he said he intends to be a responsible landlord and watch his investment grow over time.

“It isn’t about the flip for me,” he said of the foreclosures he has purchased. “I really like fixing them up. I feel like I’ve helped stimulate the economy down here. I don’t want to be the one who continues to hurt it.”

Copyright © 2012, Brady Dennis

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Investors, News related to the Market | Leave a comment

Low-ball offers don’t work anymore

WASHINGTON – April 23, 2012 – When the number of home sellers grossly outpaces the number of buyers, no offer can be ignored, even if it’s 25 percent or more off the asking price. But in today’s rebounding market, those low-ball offers don’t often work. Many times, the potential buyer finds that they don’t get a counter-offer. And, in many cases, another more realistic buyer gets the home.

A low-ball offer – generally 25 or more off the asking price – allows buyers to see if they can land a great deal, even if they’re willing to pay more. In a survey last year conducted by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), one in 10 respondents cited low-ball offers as a concern. According to real estate columnist Kenneth Harney, a NAR survey conducted in March and not yet released found that almost no one complained about low offers.

When the number of listings outpaced the number of buyers, many potential homeowners submitted a shockingly low offer on the theory that they had nothing to lose. If the seller balked, most would still counter with something below their asking price. Today, however, offers close to the asking price – or even beating it – will probably come in fairly quickly from someone else if a home is priced correctly in the first place.

Even buyers who still want to low-ball an offer on a home many times switch tactics after they lose a property or two to a more aggressive buyer.

Florida Realtor Marnie Matarese works with J Wood Realty in Sarasota. She told Harney that fewer buyers want to low-ball an offer in her area, but they still come in – mainly from out-of-state or out-of-the-country people who have read about the state’s foreclosures and short sales. That news, however, is old – it has not kept up with reality in many areas.

Matarese says some people still insist on making a low-ball offer, but that she doesn’t mind. “You can’t blame a buyer for trying to get a good deal,” she says.

In some cases, a seller isn’t offended by a low-ball offer, but their counter-offer shaves only a little bit off their original asking price. An Olympia, Wash., real estate agent had a $150,000 offer for a $250,000 listing, according to Harney. But after the dust settled and the seller shook off his irritation, he and the buyer agreed to $230,000.

Harney closed his column with this advice: “Rolling low-balls at sellers may have been an effective approach between 2008 and early 2011. But in 2012’s environment – at least in rebounding markets – it could be counterproductive if you truly want to buy.”

Source: Ken Harney. Distributed by Washington Post Writers Group.

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Buyers, News related to the Market | Leave a comment

Buyers: It’s time to commit

WASHINGTON – April 20, 2012 – It’s an old investment adage that remains true: “Buy low, sell high.”

National Association of Realtors® (NAR) President Moe Veissi, who served as Florida Realtors president in 2002, explains why conditions have never been better to buy a home in an online radio interview.

The Real Estate Today interview can also be forwarded through Facebook and Twitter to friends, family and clients.

Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc. in Miami, says today’s real estate market has “less folks looking, less inventory and more contracts working. … We’re just now seeing appreciation in real estate prices in some areas of the country. … This is a wonderful time to take advantage of interest rates that are lower than they’ve ever been.”

Veissi quotes investor Warren Buffet’s outlook on the current real estate market: “Warren Buffet appeared on CNBC about two weeks ago, and the young lady that was interviewing him asked where you should invest your money. Warren said, ‘If I had the capabilities, I’d buy 200,000 homes across this county … I think that housing in America today will outstrip the investment capabilities of the Wall Street blue chips over the longer term.”

To hear the five-minute radio interview and forward to friends and clients, visit the Real Estate Today website at:

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Buyers, News related to the Market | Leave a comment

Pace of short sales increases

NEW YORK – April 20, 2012 – Short sales outnumbered foreclosure sales in 12 states in January, indicating that more homeowners are finding an easier way out of a distressed home loan.

Short sales – which occur when a lender agrees to a home sale for less than what’s owed – were up 33 percent in January year-over-year, and preliminary February numbers also look strong, according to market researcher RealtyTrac.

Its data underscore lenders’ increased willingness to do short sales, which tend to harm neighborhoods less than foreclosures. Homeowners also may regain eligibility for a new mortgage sooner than those who go through foreclosure.

More short sales “is mostly a good thing,” says Ira Rheingold, of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. One concern is that homeowners may have to short sell after being denied loan modifications that would have enabled them to stay in homes, he says.

RealtyTrac says foreclosure sales, which occur after a bank has repossessed a property, still outnumber short sales nationwide but the gap is closing.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg News reported that data from mortgage tracker Lender Processing Services show short sales surpassed foreclosures in January for the first time.

RealtyTrac’s data show that occurred in key states at the forefront of the housing downturn, including California, Arizona, Florida and nine others.

Lenders are pricing short sales more aggressively, RealtyTrac adds. In January, the average short sale price was 10 percent lower than a year earlier, exceeding the drop in U.S. home prices.

Some mortgage servicers started pursuing short sales more aggressively months ago. Bank of America says it did 107,000 short sales last year, up from 92,000 in 2010 and double the 2009 volume.

New measures are also likely to boost short sales.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which own or guarantee 60 percent of home loans, will soon require lenders to decide short sale offers within 60 days. Realtors have complained that short sale offers often linger. The recent $25 billion mortgage settlement also encourages short sales.

New rules have slowed foreclosures in many states, increasing short sales, says Florida foreclosure defense attorney Roy Oppenheim.

Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Julie Schmit.

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Short Sales and Foreclosures | Leave a comment

Fla.’s housing market shows positive trends in March

ORLANDO, Fla. – April 19, 2012 – Florida’s housing market had increased pending sales, higher median prices and a reduced inventory of homes for sale in March, according to Florida Realtors® latest housing data.

“With the continued steep decline of inventory, historically low interest rates and buyers no longer willing to wait on the sidelines, Florida’s real estate market continues on its road to recovery,” says 2012 Florida Realtors President Summer Greene, regional manager of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Florida 1st in Fort Lauderdale. “The latest numbers show that pending sales are up almost 30 percent for single-family homes and almost 20 percent for townhomes and condos.”

Pending sales refer to contracts that are signed but not yet completed or closed; closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in March was $139,000, up 10.3 percent from the year-ago figure, according to data from Florida Realtors Industry Data and Analysis department, and vendor partner 10K Research and Marketing. The statewide median for townhome-condo properties was $105,000, up 20.8 percent over March 2011.

The national median sales price for existing single-family homes in February 2012 was $157,100, which is slightly higher than the previous year, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). In California, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in February was $266,660; in Massachusetts, it was $255,000; in New York, it was $220,000; and in Maryland, it was $212,301.

The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less. Housing industry analysts note that sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes.

Statewide sales of existing single-family homes totaled 18,370 in March, down 5.7 percent compared to the year-ago figure. Looking at Florida’s year-to-year comparison for sales of townhomes/condos, a total of 10,012 units sold statewide last month, down 12.4 percent from those sold in March 2011. NAR reported the national median existing condo price in February 2012 was $153,000.

In March, there was a 5.9-month supply of single-family homes in inventory and a 6.0-month supply for townhomes/condos, according to Florida Realtors.

“The encouraging trends we’ve seen in the Florida housing market are continuing, with very strong pending sales and decreasing inventory,” said Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. John Tuccillo. “The large jump in median sales prices for both single-family homes and condos is a sign that buyers are now looking at higher priced properties, while it’s becoming tougher to find properties at the lower end of the market.”

The interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.95 percent in March 2012, down from the 4.84 percent average during the same month a year earlier, according to Freddie Mac.

To download the full statewide housing activity report, go to the Research page of at and look under the header “New statewide housing reports.”

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to the Market | Leave a comment

Freddie Mac sets new short sale timelines, Fannie to follow

McLEAN, Va. – April 18, 2012 – Freddie Mac, the federally owned company that buys mortgages from local lenders, says it wants to make the short sale process easier on home sellers by updating its timelines for short sales and requiring better communication from lenders. Last year, Freddie Mac completed 45,623 short sales.

The initiative is part of the Servicing Alignment Initiative (SAI) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae launched in 2011 at the direction of their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Yesterday, FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must adopt the new short-sale guidelines, and the latter announced compliance shortly after that.

“Freddie Mac’s new timelines are intended to help make the decision process more transparent and timely for short sales under the Obama Administration’s HAFA program or Freddie Mac’s traditional short-sale option,” says Tracy Mooney, Freddie Mac senior vice president, single-family servicing.

Freddie Mac proposals

• Loan servicers should make a decision within 30 days of receiving 1) an offer on a property under Freddie Mac’s traditional short sale program or 2) a completed Borrower Response Package (BRP) requesting consideration for a short sale under HAFA or Freddie Mac’s traditional short sale program. BRPs are standardized assistance applications developed under the Servicing Alignment Initiative.

• If a lender needs more than 30 days, it must give homeowners a status update at least weekly, and a final decision must be made in less than 60 days.

• If a servicer makes a counteroffer, the borrower must respond within five business days. The servicer then has 10 more business days to respond to the buyer.

Freddie Mac says it will use the new timelines to evaluate servicer compliance with the SAI and its own servicing requirements.

© 2012 Florida Realtors®

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Short Sales and Foreclosures | Leave a comment

NAR economist: Fla. prices up 10% by 2013

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – April 18, 2012 – There is little to prevent another housing run-up and subsequent bust as long as there are people who want to get rich quick, said the chief economist of AIG during a business conference Tuesday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Ardavan Mobasheri, who spoke to about 100 people gathered for a real estate discussion at the International Economic Forum of the Americas, said the financial crisis that began in 2008 can “easily trace its roots to the excesses of the housing market” but can’t as easily be stopped from happening again.

“So long as individuals have the liberty and freedom to be greedy, the speculative bubbles will be inevitable, and we’ll have to deal with the outcome of the bursting of that bubble,” Mobasheri said. “There is no measure we can take to prevent investors who want in a short period of time to become rich.”

AIG, a multinational insurance company, was a major contributor to the economic crisis when it imploded in September 2008. A credit rating downgrade required it to put up billions of dollars in cash collateral, which triggered a lack of liquidity. Its federal bailout package of $182.3 billion was the single largest of any company in U.S. history. AIG has paid back billions of dollars. Its remaining debt to the Troubled Asset Relief Program is about $35.7 billion.

Although there is no cure for greed, changes in mortgage application requirements and underwriting guidelines will help thwart a repeat of the multitude of bad loans granted during the housing boom, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, who spoke during the same session as Mobasheri.

“Back in 2005 investors came in with exotic mortgages and liar loans, but that’s not the case today,” Yun said. “These investors are coming in solidly with cash deals.”

Yun was optimistic about a housing recovery, predicting Florida existing-home prices will jump 10 percent by the end of 2012.

Several Realtors in the session said bidding wars are again commonplace and that they are having trouble finding homes for traditional buyers, especially those getting a loan instead of using cash. One Realtor told the panelists she worries that another mini-bubble is forming.

“The home is on the market for $115,000 and people are bidding $150,000,” she said. “It’s not a fair game for people trying to purchase with financing.”

In February, there was a six-month supply of homes for sale in Palm Beach County, down from nearly 14 months during the same month last year, according to the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.

Yun’s pricing prediction was buoyed Tuesday by a report that found Palm Beach County listing prices were up 15 percent to $225,000 in March compared to the same time in 2011. Nationally, the list price was up 5.5 percent.

A backlog of homes in foreclosure will eventually expand the housing supply, a development welcomed by Florida Realtors President Summer Greene.

“When you put a foreclosure on the market you have, two, three, four offers coming in,” she said.

While real estate may be bouncing back, other speakers Tuesday were more reluctant to forecast a rapid overall fiscal recovery.

“Risks remain high and the path forward is shrouded in uncertainty,” said Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, during her keynote speech. “The global economy is far from out of the woods.”

Copyright © 2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Kimberly Miller. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to the Market | Leave a comment

Investors eye REOs as a ‘gold rush’

NEW YORK – April 16, 2012 – Investors are pouncing on foreclosure bargains and then turning the properties into moneymaking rentals, which has some drawing comparisons to a “Gold Rush” of sorts.

Diane Gozza, the executive vice president of Integrated Mortgage Solutions in Houston, recently wrote in an article for National Mortgage News that investors are eyeing the properties similar to how those risk-takers did back in the 1848 California “Gold Rush,” who also had dreams of striking it rich.

In recent months, investors have been buying up investment properties in bulk at rock-bottom prices.

They have plenty to choose from: The government-sponsored enterprises (GSE), which includes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, own more than 200,000 single-family foreclosed homes, and banks own about 600,000 more. To help accelerate the “rush,” the Federal Housing Finance Administration recently launched a pilot foreclosure-to-rental program, offering investors the chance to bid on 2,500 foreclosure properties owned by Fannie.

But some housing experts, including the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), have argued that such REO-rental programs aren’t needed because investors are already flooding the market to buy up foreclosures, making a government intervention unnecessary. (Read “NAR: REO Rental Programs Largely Unnecessary.”

“Taking into account the enormous stockpile of REO properties currently held by the GSEs, the auction and bulk investment in REO to rental properties may indeed be the next gold rush,” Gozza writes. “Much in the spirit of the 1848 gold rush, there will be risks and tough lessons learned. But this private-sector initiative has the potential to be the catalyst for a housing market recovery.”

Source: “Tapping into the Next ‘Gold Rush,’” National Mortgage News (April 10, 2012)

May 19, 2012 Posted by | News related to Buyers, News related to Investors, News related to Short Sales and Foreclosures, News related to the Market | Leave a comment