Lee County existing home prices drop 59 percent

The median price of an existing single-family home in Lee County fell to $94,900 in January — a 59 percent drop from a year ago and the lowest since it was $90,000 in February 1999 — according to statistics released Wednesday by the Florida Association of Realtors.In a separate report released Wednesday by the National Association of Realtors, fresh evidence emerged of a weakening housing market with U.S. sales of existing homes falling unexpectedly last month to the lowest level in nearly 12 years.
Lee County had 758 sales, an increase of 124 percent from the 338 recorded a year earlier, said the Florida release, which measures sales assisted by a Realtor.Driving both trends is a flood of homes that have been foreclosed on by lenders and put back on the market to be resold, said Brett Ellis, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Realty Group in Fort Myers.As banks sell for rock-bottom prices, buyers have stepped up, Ellis said.“I’m seeing Northern buyers buying second homes, first-home buyers coming off the fence, and long-term investors, not flippers.”The median price — half the prices lower and half higher — has fallen so sharply in part because lower-priced homes have been disproportionately foreclosed on, Ellis said. But he added don’t expect that to continue forever.“The next wave of foreclosures is the higher priced, waterfront homes,” Ellis said.Compared to December 2008, both sales and prices were down sharply in January.The number of sales was off 29 percent from December’s 1,064, and the median price was down 11 percent from December’s $106,900.But the numbers aren’t evenly distributed across the county.Cape Coral accounts for about half of the sales and Lehigh Acres another 17 percent, Ellis said.John McWilliams of John McWilliams and Tom Buckley & Associates, which has an office in Lehigh Acres, said about 85 percent of the sales there are from bank foreclosure properties.“A normal seller obviously cannot compete,” he said. “A builder can’t compete to build.”Among Lehigh residents trying to sell their house are Robert and Nancy Auer, who have had their two-bedroom, two-bath house for sale for two years. but with no success. They’re asking $234,900.“It’s one of those things we don’t have to sell,” Robert Auer said. “We’re waiting until things get better.”Until then, the Auers will keep the house up for sale, and they currently have it listed on forsalebyowner.com.The price won’t come down. “That’s what we owe on it,” Robert Auer said.Jeff Tumbarello, director of the Southwest Florida Real Estate Investment Association, which tracks local foreclosures, said that with foreclosures forcing prices ever lower, “We’re in a negative feedback loop — we’re at the point that foreclosures are now begetting foreclosures.”Thirty-seven percent of foreclosures in the county are owner-occupied, and with about 2,000 filed each month, there’s no sign yet that the pace is slowing down, he said.Even though the number of sales fell from December to January, Ellis said he’s optimistic that today’s low prices will spur more sales. “I’m seeing some big numbers coming for February and March.”Nationally, sales of existing homes fell 5.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.49 million last month, from 4.74 million units in December. It was the weakest showing since July 1997 and well below the slight rise in sales that economists expected.The median sales price nationally plunged to $170,300, from $199,800 a year earlier. That was the lowest price since March 2003 and the second-largest drop on record.And home prices are expected to keep falling this year. That has whittled away Americans’ single-biggest asset and figured prominently in consumers’ decisions to cut back spending, which has sorely hurt the economy.
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