Lee County's median home price spikes

The median price of an existing home sold in Lee County spiked past $100,000 in April — the first time in more than a year it reached that level.

In a report issued Monday, the Florida Association of Realtors said the median price of a single-family home sold with the help of Realtor was $101,500 in April. The last time prices were that high was December 2008, when it was $106,900.

Meanwhile, 1,473 houses were sold in April, almost the same as the 1,468 sold in April 2009, the report states.

The sharp increase in price was a rare break in the generally downward trend that has prevailed since the median price reached its all-time high of $322,300 in December 2005.

Part of the increase is a result of keen competition by investors that’s reduced the number of low-end houses for sale, said Steve Koffman, a real estate broker with Century 21 Sunbelt in Cape Coral. “The house that was $80,000 that was selling with 40 offers is gone and the next one’s $85,000 or $90,000.”

Brett Ellis, a real estate agent with Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers, said some people are looking at homes as a conservative way to invest their money.

“People aren’t really happy with the stock market,” he said. “They think it’s not a good place to park your money.”

Sal Fabozzi, 51, an information technology worker who lives on Long Island, N.Y., last month bought a lakefront house for $260,000 in the Somerset at the Plantation subdivision off Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers.

He closed on the house in March and had a sense that his timing was good. “I take it right now is a very good time to buy,” he said.

The lack of other good places to put his money also figured into his decision, said Fabozzi, who plans eventually to retire here. “If it’s in the bank getting 0.25 percent interest, better to buy something.”

Like many buyers this year, Fabozzi is applying for the first-time home buyer’s federal tax credit.

In a separate report, the National Association of Realtors said today that national sales of previously owned homes in April rose 7.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.77 million. That was the best showing in five months and better than the 5.63 million homes economists had expected.

The national increase in sales also sparked a rise in home prices. The median price for a new home rose to $173,100, up 4 percent from a year ago.

Statewide, the median price increased 1 percent to $140,100 in April from $138,100 a year earlier.

The federal government provided a big boost to home sales this spring by offering first-time buyers a tax credit of as much as $8,000. Homeowners who had purchased a home before but were looking to upgrade were able to qualify for a credit of as much as $6,500. The deadline for getting a signed sales contract was April 30.

Sales were up in all parts of the country except the West. The gains were led by a 21.1 percent jump in the Northeast and a 9.9 percent rise in the Midwest. Sales also rose 8.6 percent in the South.

In the West, sales dropped by 6.2 percent from March. Thank you to the Associated Press and News Press for this article.

Tax auction can be quite profitable

When someone doesn't pay his property taxes, the county Tax Collector's Office puts the parcel on a list that became available for the public to view this week online.

Some look at the list out of curiosity but others are shopping for an investment that pays as much as 18 percent interest and has the potential to pay off in a major way.

But it's not a good tactic for those unfamiliar with the perils and pitfalls of the game, experts say.

Some owners are already paying off their taxes. Of the 51,131 delinquent tracts on the original list, only about 48,000 were still in arrears by Tuesday, said Linda Baer, assistant director for customer support for the tax collector.

"Our reminder notices were just mailed about a week and a half ago," she said. "That basically reminds them their taxes haven't been paid. Sometimes people do wait for their income tax refund."

On May 25, there will be an auction of the tax certificates for all the property that is still delinquent as of 5 p.m. the day before.

Bidders offer to buy tax certificates for the amount owed on a parcel - the bidder who offers to take the lowest interest rate from the owner gets to buy the certificate.

If the property owner doesn't redeem the certificate in 22 months, the certificate owner can file to get a deed to the parcel.

That process takes about six months.

For those who choose carefully, it's a good investment, said Ed Bonkowski, a Fort Myers-based real estate and mortgage broker who puts investors in tax certificate purchases.

For those considering a bid, he said, "Caution's the word."

The danger is buying a tax certificate for a piece of property that isn't worth the taxes being paid off, he said.

For his clients, Bonkowski said, he only looks at properties with taxes owed in an amount no more than 3 percent of the assessed value of the parcel.

He evaluates properties in Lee and other counties, most of which now use online auctions.

But each county has its own procedures and a bidder needs to know them, he said.

Not all the property now on the list will be available for tax certificates.

Cape Coral real estate broker Greg Eagle, for example, has 961 parcels on the list either as trustee or owner but said he intends to pay the taxes before the deadline.

"It'll all be taken care of," he said.

Naples-based Stock Development has 580 parcels on the list, mainly from its sprawling Paseo project in south Lee County.

But Claudine Leger-Wetzel, Stock's director of sales and marketing, said that's only temporary.

"We are in the process of restructuring the community development district bonds" for Paseo, she said.

"Upon the completion of the restructuring, the tax issue will be addressed," she said. Courtesy Fort Myers News Press. Also view real estate listings at Real Estate at SWFloridaAds.com