Existing Homes Sales Trend Up ... and Down

Fort Myers News Press -

Prices and sales of existing homes in Lee County were up markedly in October from the previous month — but still below this time last year, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Florida Association of Realtors.

The number of sales was 405, down 36 percent from 630 in October 2006 but up 24 percent from 327 in September 2007.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the National Association of Realtors said U.S. sales of existing homes fell for the eighth consecutive month in October, with median home prices falling by a record amount. Analysts blamed the worsening housing slump on the credit crunch that hit in August.

In Lee County, the median price for a single-family home sold with the help of a Realtor was $239,300, down 4 percent from $249,800 a year earlier but up 3 percent from $231,600 in September.

Still, with about 15,000 houses for sale in the county, selling a house can be tough.

“In January it’ll be a year I’ve had it up for sale,” said Rob Ross, who’s trying on his own to sell his three-bedroom, two-bath home in the Silver Lakes community in Gateway for $277,000. “One in five calls I’ve had is a potential buyer; the others are real estate agents who want to list my house or insurance people and so on.”

Prices have been falling for the past year.

“The irony is I listed it myself thinking I could pass the savings on to a potential buyer but I’ve just been chasing the market down,” Ross said.

Ross started out with an asking price in the mid $290,000s before cutting the price, and expects he’ll have to cut his price again because there are so many houses for sale in Silver Lakes.

Some areas are easier to sell than others, said Alva-based real estate broker Cindi Infiesto of The Florida Real Estate Store.

“I’m slammed today, I’ve been getting buyers all day,” she said Wednesday. “It was an unusually busy day but the last week and a half have been like that.”

But, she said, not everywhere is a good place to be for a seller.

“I don’t like taking any listings in Cape Coral — I don’t believe I can sell those,” Infiesto said. “The Cape is saturated with (speculatively built) homes and investor-related homes that are going into foreclosure. I didn’t see anything moving.”

On the other hand, she said, “Alva is not overbuilt and there’s not a lot of those spec houses here. I think my market’s a little different here.”

Nationally, sales of existing single-family homes and condominiums dropped by 1.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million units, according to the national association’s report.

The median price of a home sold last month in the United States declined to $207,800, a drop of 5.1 percent from a year ago, the biggest year-over-year price decline on record.

In Charlotte County, single-family homes were at $183,300 in October, down 11 percent from $206,300 in October 2006 but up 7 percent from $170,000 in September. Statewide, the price was $222,100, down 29 percent from $242,700 in October 2006 but 0.5 percent up from September’s $221,200.

The residential construction and real estate markets have been hit with waves of layoffs in Southwest Florida since the market peaked late in 2005.

Most recently, the Bonita Bay Group eliminated 14 jobs Tuesday — mainly in management — bringing the cuts to 74 since the beginning of the year.

The Bonita Bay Group eliminated 14 jobs Tuesday, bringing the cuts to 74 since the beginning of the year.

“It’s basically because of the current real estate market,” said spokeswoman Meredith Parsons.

She said the cuts won’t affect any of the company’s projects.

The Bonita-Springs based business established more than two decades ago plans, sells and manages master-planned communities.

The company terminated 30 positions in May and an additional 30 in August.
Most have been administrative and management positions.

Parsons said the Bonita Bay Group is aiming to reduce capital expenditures and streamline operations.

“When the market recovers, we’re confident we’re going to be a much stronger company,” she said.

But the company could cut more positions before that happens.

“It’s difficult to predict future market conditions,” Parsons said.

— Staff writer Christina Cepero and The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

New Homes prove popular buy in Lee County.

People are moving into new homes in Southwest Florida faster than builders are putting them up, according to a report released Wednesday by housing statistics company Metrostudy.It's a good sign for the housing market because the supply of new homes is being eaten up by customers.But a coming wave of foreclosures, the huge inventory of existing homes and rising unemployment could interfere with that rosy scenario, the report says. There are about 15,000 existing single-family homes for sale in Lee County.
"We're not out of the woods yet," said Brad Hunter, who directs Metrostudy's market research in Southwest Florida. "We still have some foreclosures that will be added to the market next year. It's a mixed bag but we're making some progress."In the third quarter of 2007, there were 907 move-ins to new homes compared with 357 starts. Collier County had 505 move-ins with 389 starts.
"The encouraging news is that combined quarterly new home starts in Collier and Lee counties are down 66 percent compared to last year," Hunter said. "Although the inventory of finished vacant units remains high, the number of homes under construction has dwindled, and move-ins have been outpacing starts almost two to one for the last three quarters."But the report also notes in the year ending in September, unemployment rose to 5.3 percent from 3.8 percent in Collier and to 5.2 percent in Lee from 3.1 percent.
That, along with foreclosures and high inventory of existing homes, "will dampen demand somewhat," Hunter said.Officials with two developments that have done well in the past year said key to their success is providing value and a good package of amenities.
"We've opened our big town hall amenity center, which is a phenomenal facility, and that's given us a pretty good amount of energy for the people who are visiting," said Jim Doyle, vice president of Jacksonville-based LandMar Group LLC, which is building the River Hall community in east Lee County. River Hall has had 162 housing starts and 209 move-ins in the past year: both rank third in the county in Metrostudy's report.Tambra Wolfe, project manager for the GL Homes gated community Botanica Lakes in south Fort Myers, said the project's location along the recently opened stretch of Treeline Boulevard is helping, "and also the fact that our neighborhood's a little different with the amenities we have than you'd find in the immediate area." Botanica is fourth on Metrostudy's list with 154 starts and 154 move-ins.The clubhouse under construction is a draw, Wolfe said, and "people can see that we're selling houses. We're seeing an increased traffic right now."
Doyle said: "We're cautiously optimistic" about the market. "People are still interested in Florida, still want to buy. They just want some good news before making that decision to buy."
Courtesy of Fort Myers News Press.