Pros dismiss Fort Myers area home price surge

The existing-home median price in the greater Fort Myers area surged to a two-year high of $118,900 - up 17 percent from $101,900 in March, according to statistics released Thursday by Florida Realtors.

But real estate authorities said the sharp increase likely was caused mostly by the changing market for bank-owned foreclosure homes, not an actual 17 percent increase in value.

April's median was the highest since October 2008, when it was $139,000.

The median reached an all-time high of $322,300 in December 2005 at the height of the real estate boom. The price fell sharply after that and has been bumping along in the $100,000 range for more than two years.

Meanwhile, in a separate report also issued Thursday, sales of previously occupied homes fell 0.8 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million units, the National Association of Realtors said. That's far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represent a healthy market.

In Lee County, "the real reason it's going up so much is that the low end, the foreclosure market, that spigot has been cut off. The low end is not coming on the market and buyers have to substitute higher-priced properties," said Denny Grimes, president of Denny Grimes & Co. at Royal Shell in Fort Myers.

Brett Ellis, head of The Ellis Team with Re/Max Realty Group in Fort Myers, noted that only 45 percent of sales now are distressed properties - those taken back by lenders in foreclosure or short sales in which the bank gives up part of its debt so the house can be sold at market value.

Until recently, Ellis said, nondistressed sales had been in the minority as foreclosures flooded back onto the market.

But now competition by investors has soaked up most of the inexpensive homes, Ellis said.

"Anything under $100,000 is hard to come by," he said.

Michael Polly, Royal Shell's vice president of real estate operations in Fort Myers, said foreclosures have slowed down starting in November because of concerns about improper paperwork by attorneys. Courtesy of Fort Myers News Press
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Advantage in sprucing up home decor for sellers

Some local staging companies are reporting a spike in business this year. It's likely the result of a growing optimism in the market, said Ann Waters, owner of Naples Home Staging.

"Now that things are moving, people are starting to see - especially in the vacant homes - that it might be worth putting rental furniture in for three months. They have a hope of selling it," Waters said. "I had people before who said, 'I don't want to put anything in it. It's not going to sell anyway.'"

Waters - who has been furnishing, decorating and coaching sellers on how to make their homes more visually appealing for the past five years - said she saw more clients from January through March of this year than she did the second half of 2010.

Closing the deal

For some sellers, staging seems to work - and quickly.

"Sometimes we can't even finish staging a house before it's sold and these properties have been on the market for years," said Hanna Wynn Roppo, owner of Artful Staging Solutions in Naples, who estimated her business has increased by about 50 percent in the past year.

Unit O-1 in the Indies West condominiums, located at 2258 Gulf Shore Blvd. N. in Naples, hit the market last July. Wynn Roppo brought furniture and accessories into the home Feb. 11, and buyers submitted an offer two days later. It sold for $678,000 in March, according to property records.

"I think it made a big difference," seller Polly Higgins of Naples said of the staging.

Waters also has helped agents and sellers with speedy sales, including staging a vacant residence, at 154 Fourth Ave. N. in Naples, in January.

The home featured an odd floor plan with long, narrow lanai areas that had been converted to indoor rooms, said Mary Naylor, an agent with John R. Wood Realtors in Naples.

"People had a very difficult time envisioning how they would use the spaces," Naylor said. "The comments were negative in terms of the layout. After we had it (staging) done, it was like a miracle. We didn't hear it anymore." Article Courtesy of the Fort Myers News Pre