What a difference a year makes. As you can see from the 2010-2012 Single Family Median Price Comparison chart, January 2012 prices are up 30.86% over last year’s numbers.

Lee County Florida Single Family Price Comparison Chart
SW Florida Single Family Median Price Comparison Chart

We’ve been reporting that prices have been on the rise for months and that we thought we could be in for a strong selling season and the numbers are bearing witness to those sentiments.

Inventory levels are down which is affecting sales.  There are fewer transactions because there is less to sell, which is causing prices to go up.  Word is spreading up North too, as snowbirds and baby boomers are looking to buy now before prices go higher.

Don’t worry; it’s still a very healthy market.  We still have buyers offering $10,000 less on bank owned properties even though there are more than 10 offers on the property and the bank is countering at highest and best.  Some buyers just have to try even though their Realtor is advising and educating them on the market.  I always get a kick out of buyers that call me because they’re disgusted with their Realtor.  Upon asking a few questions inevitably the buyer tells me they’ve made offers on several properties but they never win any of the bids.

Usually the buyer isn’t following the advice of their Realtor.  If they are, perhaps the buyer just isn’t strong enough to compete with other buyers in that price range.  If the buyer feels they’re strong, ie. Writing cash offers, decent money in escrow, few contingencies, and offering above asking price and still not getting the properties, perhaps they need an experienced agent who knows how to structure offer to compete.  We’ve written many articles in the past that may help your agent understand what a seller considers when looking at multiple offers.  Check out our Blog archives at http://blog.topagent.com

Lee County Homes Sold by Price Points
SW Florida Homes Sold by Price Points

Look at the price point’s chart. Foreclosure sales are down across the board as foreclosure inventory is down significantly. Conventional sales are up as prices have risen since 2009.  Many more sellers can afford to sell today than 3 years ago.

You’ll also notice more sales in the higher price ranges.  This is because there is less inventory to sell in the under $100,000 range, so those sales are off.  That’s pushing buyers into higher price ranges.  Additionally, the economy is faring just a little better in some places.  Buyer sentiment is stronger, and buyers in the higher price ranges realize if they want an investment or place to eventually retire, buying sooner rather than later may be their least expensive option.  These higher priced homes seem like such a bargain compared to 6 years ago, and who doesn’t enjoy a good bargain, even if you’re rich?

We look forward to reviewing the February numbers once they’re out.  We think February will be another strong month, and already March has been super busy.  It should be, as March is the height of season.  It’s also the month of St Paddy’s day, so with a little luck of the Irish, our market might just end the season in fine shape.

 

The Florida Association of Realtors released official sales numbers this week and the numbers came in just about where we expected.  Last week wrote that by our calculations November sales were relatively flat versus October sales, and the official numbers bear that out.

Officially we had 6 more single family home sales in SW Florida in November than October.  October had 1,016 sales and November had 1,022.  Single family home prices were flat too.  Median prices were $90,000 in October and $89,800 in November.

SW Florida Real Estate Single Family Home Prices
SW Florida Median Sale Prices Single Family Homes

We are seeing a rise in pending sales as banks and title companies are struggling to get these files closed.  Closings are becoming trickier as homeowners associations are trying to collect as much or more than the law will allow and this delays closings.  Municipalities are trying the same thing with code violations, lot mowing fees, utilities, etc.  These tactics are really delaying closings.  With cash strapped governments it’s no wonder they’re trying to squeeze every dollar they can as tax revenues have declined.  They sell it as cleaning up the neighborhood and neighborhood stabilization, but money is the root and certain municipalities are much worse than others, and everyone in the industry knows exactly who they are.

These tactics do collect more revenues for government, but they also cause deals to fall through and properties to sit on market months longer, and we don’t believe this helps stabilize a neighborhood.  One of these days we’ll have to have the News Press do an expose on these tactics.

Statewide median sale prices of single family homes were down 5% and sales were down 15% versus last year.  Lee County sales were down 33% from last year, and prices were down 6%, so our price declines from last year are in line with the state, but our sales have been affected more radically.  This can be because our area is harder hit than others with foreclosures, and because of delays in the process by HOA’s and municipalities we discussed earlier.

We’re really going to be on the lookout in the 1st quarter of 2011 for what the banks do with inventory.  Evictions are due to start up again January 3rd with several of the large banks and Fannie Mae properties. Many of the large banks are resuming foreclosures again too, and the real test is going to be just how many are actually left to foreclose upon.

Our suspicion is we’re definitely in the second half of this crisis, and the worst is behind us, at least in SW Florida.  The rest of the country has more to go as we’ve already weeded out many of the investors from the boom, and the mortgage rests will affect other states more than us.  The real question is how many people are barely hanging on, and can they hold on long enough for the economy to recover.  This is the wildcard that will affect how many future foreclosures we see.  The sooner we clear out the foreclosures the quicker our real estate market can respond.  This, along with an economic recovery will do wonders to fixing a lot of ails.

Have you noticed that the weather has been dreadful this year up North?  A lot of northerners have, and SW Florida is looking pretty good in December.  Our prices are low, our weather is much better, and in a blizzard visions of sunshine, warm weather, beaches, and all the good stuff we enjoy seems worth looking into.  What used to be a dream can turn into a plan quickly, and we’re already seeing it.

Our market may be down, but it won’t be forever.  We just have too much good going for us to stay down for long, and this flat market could take off.  We’re just one blizzard away from several plane loads of buyers, so buckle up and let’s see what Santa and 2011 brings us.

As we’ve been telling you in these articles, we expect sales to trend downward once official numbers were released, and that is the case.  We still have some pretty good numbers though, and as you can see by the chart, the 2nd quarter of 2010 is the 2nd highest on record.  2009 was the highest on record.  We’re still topping 2005 levels by a large margin. 

SW Florida Single Family Home Sales by Quarter
Lee County Single Family Home Sales

Home sales fell 12% in June over last year, down from 1,705 last year to 1,501 this year.  Last month sales were 1,460, so we actually picked up a few sales.  Single family home prices were also up about 10% over last year.  Median price this year is $96,600 in June compared to $87,900 last year.  Prices were roughly even in May 2010, so prices pretty much held steady. 

Condo prices also held steady, holding at $131,400.  They were $131,900 in May, and $125,300 last June.  Condo sales were up 11.11% 

So what does all this mean?  We have seen an increase in phone calls lately and an increase in buyer activity in the higher price ranges.  This is a departure from last year when buyers only wanted the bargain basement homes.  Buyers in the higher price ranges still want value and are not willing to overpay by any means, but at least activity is picking up.  This can be attributed to the higher priced homes coming down in value and entering the buyer’s radar screen on where they perceive values should be. 

Buyers don’t always have a realistic view of what properties are worth, just as many sellers don’t.  The exciting time in the market is when buyers and sellers perception become closely aligned.  It is precisely then that transactions can occur. 

We would have more transactions occurring if more sellers could afford to sell.  Many sellers just owe too much to sell at these bargain prices.  Of course, if more sellers could afford to sell it would add inventory, so the market has a way of balancing itself out. 

We don’t think prices are going back to 2005 levels any time soon, but at least prices are on the rise, and home sales are faring well.  I’ve spoken with a few lenders who have said mortgage applications are down.  This is true in SW Florida and nationwide.  We have seen an influx of cash buyers again as banks are sometimes stingy with the money.  We have seen some lenders loosening some of their lender requirements.  There are some 100% financing loans out there and interest rates are down to about 4.25% 

Some buyers have backed off because they lost out on the $8,000 tax credit.  The interesting thing is, rates were 5.5% back when this program was in effect, so by waiting, a buyer would now save $54,612 in interest on a $200,000 loan.  Not bad for waiting just a few months. 

Will we ever see interest rates this low again?  Will we ever see home prices this low again?  Will we ever see them this low again together?  I think the answer may be No to questions 1 & 2, and definitely NO to #3.  Never before have we seen this much buying power in the market, and perhaps this is why home sales are still hanging tough.  If you‘re a buyer, their really isn’t a better time to buy than now, and that is a fact!

First, we’ll start with the good news.  Official real estate sales numbers for Lee County for November 2009 won’t be released until December 22.  Last year November single family home sales totaled 600 in the Lee County area.  This year we expect somewhere around 1,355 total single family home sales +/-.  Assuming the 1,355 is anywhere close to accurate, those numbers would be an increase of 125.83% over last year, which is pretty remarkable.  We’re sure the headlines will tout this feat. 

SW Florida Current Market Index
SW Florida Current Market Index

As many of our readers know, the Ellis Team developed the SW Florida Real Estate Current Market Index many years ago which has accurately predicted the forward direction of the local real estate market.  This month we spotted a new trend.  The Index spiked up a bit to 4.36, close to what it was back in March.  A falling Index number is a sign the market is heating up, and a rising number indicates the market is cooling down.  As you can see, the graph was heading down which led our market to record sales numbers all year. 

This month is the first month we’ve witnessed a spike in a long time, which could indicate December and January sales may fall from August and September levels.  We will want to keep our eye on this Index in the coming months to see if it is a continuing trend.  It does make sense though as the Homebuyer Tax Credit was due to expire at the end of November.  This credit was just recently extended, so we’ll have to see if this affects future home sales going forward. 

We’ve also witnessed an increase in listing inventory the last three months.  Pending sales are down over 100 units this month.  The pending sales drop can be attributed to lag time in the Homebuyer Tax Credit, and diminishing listings in the lower price ranges.  We’ve begun to see slightly higher priced listings coming to the market. 

FNMA has begun listing more properties as foreclosures, and the banks we work with are bringing new inventory to the market now as well.  These foreclosure listings are a result of foreclosures that began 6-9 months ago.  New foreclosure filings are trending down, which is good news for the market 6 months from now. 

We believe this season is going to be good, as visitors recognize this may be the last season to fully capitalize on our great bargains in SW Florida.  It will be interesting to see just how much inventory we can draw down through the end of March, as well as through July when the new Homebuyer Tax Credit expires. 

It’s not surprising that home sales trailed off just a little bit as they typically do this time of year.  It’s actually been a little bit surprising home sales have been as strong as they have, but of course investors have been swallowing up properties at great prices, and first time home buyers who were employed and qualified for a mortgage found the tax credit too good to pass up.

Even with these record sales, we’ve still added to overall inventory the last 3 months.  We’re going to want to keep our eye on that.  We’ve also reported that we feel there is pent-up supply, which is people who want to sell, but just cannot at these low prices.  It’s still very difficult to fully assess this market, as there are many hidden variables. 

The Treasury department has issued new guidance in the sale of short sales.  Details are forthcoming, but this should be a roadmap for banks to follow to make the short sale process quicker and a little less painful.  You’ll still need a short sale expert as many of details haven’t gone away, but the process is being streamlined and unified so no matter which bank is involved the process would stay the same.  Keep in mind, this is government, and most of their past efforts to modify mortgages and streamline have failed, so we’ll see if this is any different. 

Bottom line is we have a hot market, and visitors have shown interest and are buying.  It’s also the end of the year when sales fall, and they’ve remained very strong.  We have seen an uptick in listings and a fall-off in pending sales in recent months, and this could all be related to the supposed home buyer tax credit expiration in November.  We’re just saying we’ve spotted a slight trend in the numbers and it’s something to keep our eyes on.  We still expect big numbers on Tuesday when official sales numbers are reported, and we expect healthy sales all season.  Stay tuned, as we’ll be tracking.