You’ve probably heard the term pent-up demand bantered about over the years.  Pent-up demand is a term used in business to describe consumers who have held off purchases, bolstering savings accounts in uncertain economic times, and waiting for consumer confidence to increase before unleashing purchasing power. 

We’ve certainly seen pent-up demand unleashed in the last 12 months as the 4th qtr of 2008 was nearly an all-time record in home sales in SW Florida, and the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2009 have been all-time sales records.  We talked extensively how 1st time home buyers and investors have driven sales to record levels, but one thing that has been lacking is upward pricing pressure that usually accompanies a downward trend in inventory levels. 

In order to assess what future pricing trends may hold, we first must assess what is selling now, who is selling now, and what potential inventory lurks on the horizon, and intermix that with current economic conditions. 

As you can see from the attached chart, distressed sales accounted for 86% of the Lehigh Acres resale market, 71% of the Cape Coral market, and 66% of the Fort Myers market.  These sales all occurred in the last 3 months.  Distressed sales have actually fallen in Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral, and have risen about 4% in Fort Myers. 


Distressed Sales Single Family Lee County Florida June-August 2009
Distressed Sales Single Family Lee County Florida June-August 2009

To answer the Who is selling, the answer quite simply is banks who have foreclosed, and home sellers who owe more than what the property is worth, and with the assistance of their lenders by agreeing to a short sale.  Banks don’t always agree to a short sale unless the borrower has significant financial hardship, and even then these deals are tenuous at best. 

In answer to what is selling, primarily the foreclosures have been entry level homes at bargain basement prices.  We have recently seen some higher priced foreclosures, and we think more are in the pipeline.  We have also seen some intermediate and slightly higher priced short sales selling, with a trend also to higher priced properties of late. 

Let’s turn to what is Not selling.  Many sellers cannot afford to sell due to depressed property prices, but they do not qualify for a short sale because they don’t have the necessary hardship to qualify.  Other sellers cannot sell right now because they would not qualify for a new mortgage under current underwriting guidelines, so it’s best just to stay in their existing home and ride out the market. 

This leads us to the reality that we also have pent-up supply.  Due to record sales, our listed inventory has steadily been going down; however I think there is a lot more inventory that could be on the market if prices were higher.  Because prices are low, many sellers who don’t need to sell won’t and will wait out the market.  The only downfall with this strategy is that whatever these sellers would like to purchase to replace their existing home is also low right now, but will go up with the market.  Sellers waiting for higher prices to replace their existing home will be paying a higher price for the home they purchase, negating any financial gain by trying to take advantage of bargains today. 

Sellers today are in a no-win situation, unless they’ve owned their home for a significant time or put a lot down when they purchased.  If you’re going to trade up you have to do it within the current market.  As the market goes up and down, so does what you are selling, and what you are buying.  There really isn’t a great way to time the market, unless you have the wherewithal to buy a bargain home now and either rent out the new home or your existing home, then sell one when prices are better. 

Everyone wants to know when prices will return to what they were at the height of the market.  The answer is they may never return to the frenzied level that wasn’t sustainable.  If inflation returns like some think it will, tangible assets like gold and real estate typically do well.  However, if inflation returns, those price gains may be down the road because inflation in the short term can stifle home sales. The other wildcards are the job market, the overall health of the economy, and the biggie might also be pent-up supply. 

How much pent-up supply is out there?  Nobody really knows, just as it was hard to know how many of the pre-construction homes were actually sold to speculators who said on their loan applications they were primary borrowers. These so called speculators would later lead to foreclosures and the mess we are in today.  The builders may have had an idea when one person was buying seven homes, but there was no way to tell with all the people buying just one home back in the run-up. 

The real test will be when everyone who wants to sell feels like they can, and what the supply and demand factors are at that time.  Until then we have an artificial market, and any time you have an artificial market, artificial economic rules apply.  This market is a lot like the Price it Right Game show.  You don’t know what’s behind each door, and the only rule that applies is you must price it right to sell.

We’ve been researching and studying the SW Florida real estate market ahead of official releases due out next week, and our preliminary research tells us we expect sales numbers to increase approximately 100% or more over last August sales numbers.  The third quarter of 2009 is setting up to be another record quarter, and keep in mind 2008 numbers were near record numbers to begin with. 

Lee County single family inventory levels are on the decline again and pending sales are remaining strong.  The chart attached shows single family home inventory for Fort Myers and Cape Coral Florida. Listings in Fort Myers and Cape Coral fell by over 100 units as home buyers snapped up more property last month than came to the market. Separately, Lee County levels fell almost 200 units, suggesting buyers are buying faster than sellers and banks are bringing property to the market.


Fort Myers Cape Coral Listing Inventory Chart
Fort Myers Cape Coral Listing Inventory Chart

In the last several weeks we’ve addressed who is buying these properties, predominantly first time home buyers and long-term investors seeking to rent them out until the market improves.  At today’s low prices, properties actually cash flow, and we have lots of renters who have been displaced from properties. 

Now for some interesting observations we’re noticing that you won’t see in this chart.  We think home sales will be down about 11% from the previous month, which is normal due to seasonality.  Again, sales should be up about 100% over last year’s August, and last year’s August was down from July as well due to seasonality of the market, so no big surprises here. 

Foreclosure inventory increased 4.14% in the past month and foreclosure sales fell 13.82%  We’ve been saying for the past month or so banks are ramping up foreclosures for the next year and we expect double the write-downs banks will take, although because many of these properties will be in the higher price ranges it doesn’t mean we’ll see a doubling of foreclosure inventory.  Foreclosure inventory and sales will definitely be something we want to keep an eye on going forward and may tell the story of how our market is doing. 

Another trend we’re tracking is short sales to see if banks are cooperating more and agreeing to see short instead of taking back in foreclosure.  Even though total sales are down about 11%, and foreclosure sales are down about 13%, short sales are up about 3.76%.  This would suggest banks are cooperating more and our experience has been this is true; however it is still a very daunting process and not one a homeowner can reasonably attempt on their own.  In fact, it is so daunting that many agents won’t deal with short sales either.  If you’re going to attempt to buy or sell a short sale, make sure you’re dealing with an agent with lots of experience, preferably a CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert.)   

Distressed sales accounted for 70.04% of Lee County home sales in August, up slightly from 68.6% in July.  Distressed sales are here to stay for awhile.  In Fort Myers, 66.45% of the sales were distressed, while in Cape Coral the number is 68.87%  Lehigh Acres has far more distressed sales at 84.27%  County wide, distressed sales percentage remained stable over the previous month. 

Inventory levels fell in Fort Myers, remained fairly constant in Cape Coral, and increased about 2.35% in Lehigh Acres. So what’s the bottom line?  We believe median prices may increase some over time as banks bring higher priced foreclosures to the market.  Banks allowing more short sales may also increase the median sales price, but that doesn’t mean all homes are going up in value.  If this occurs like we think, it simply would mean the bottom has formed in the lower price range, and we’re still seeing erosion in prices in the mid to upper price ranges, and as they become more affordable buyers switch “on” and buy them.  

All real estate is local, and you can’t judge the entire market by a single statistic like median sales price.  This is why we take so much time to really study the market and explain what is really happening with hard facts.  We’ll keep an eye on the distressed end of the market, as these latest trends will offer us signs as to where the market actually is and where it’s headed. 

Until we flush out the distressed properties, normal market assumptions do not apply.  Supply and demand still rules, it’s just that it’s hard to get a grasp on supply without having a thorough understanding of what the banks are doing with foreclosures and short sales.  Until then we’ll keep tracking it for you and reporting the trends.

You’ve heard the expression Tis the Season, and in real estate season can mean many different things depending on where you live, and what type of product you’re referring to.  Let’s talk about the Seasonality of the SW Florida Real Estate Market. For many years in SW Florida condo sales were highly dependent on seasonal sales, and in many tour developments that is still true.  However, even with condos there are differences.  Some condos are located at the beach; some can be rented weekly Vs monthly, and so on.  There are only a few golden rules in real estate; Location, Location, Location, and Price.  If you over price a home in this market, chances are good it will not sell, and we all know location makes a difference, although some would argue it’s still a function of Price.  The better the location, the better the price, but that’s the old chicken and egg theory we’ll stay away from today.

Today we thought we’d illustrate some seasonal trends in single family home sales throughout the years. For many years we’ve told people single family home sales traditionally peak in the summer months, perhaps because kids are out of school and that’s when the relocations tend to take place, and perhaps that many of our buyers over the years were move-up buyers and they had more time to look after the Season their business just had.  For years we didn’t have large companies employing hundreds or thousands of people, so many of our buyers worked for or owned small business, and they were busier in Season than out of season.


Seasonality of the SW Florida Real Estate Market
Monthly Sales Graph since 2005 Showing Seasonality of SW Florida Real Estate Market

We have attracted a few large employers, although a few more would be welcomed by all here I think.  Our market has been in turmoil since 2005, so we weren’t sure the charts would show the traditional rule of thumb that home sales tend to peak March through end of summer.  Upon further study of the home sales graph, it does seem to hold true even in this time of change that home sales peak in the March through Summer time frame, and as we enter the fall one might expect home sales could decline.

This year may or may not be like recent past years as we have a first time home buyer tax credit in play that expires November 30, artificially low interest rates as the government has been buying treasuries at least through October, and artificially low property values due to the distressed nature of the market.  Put all this together and you’ve got a Perfect Storm for record sales, and we’ve seen that for the past year.

So what could speed this train up or slow it down going forward?  In a few weeks interest rates could head up if the government doesn’t decide to keep them lower.  If so, rates could shoot up over 6% almost overnight like it did a few months ago last time their decision was about to expire.  Additionally, the first time home buyer tax credit could go away, thus taking some motivation out of new buyers in the market.  How the public reacts to the overall economy, health plans, stimulus money, bailouts, etc. could also affect public confidence about the direction the country is headed, and affect purchasing decisions.  All these could slow the train down.

The train could also gain momentum if the government enacted a tax credit for all buyers, not just first-time home buyers.  Nationwide we’ve been lacking the move-up buyer, and that’s certainly true here as well.  A tax credit for everyone would spur a recovery in the overall market, and may decrease pressure on banks.  As tax payers we either spend it here or spend it there, however if we help save the banks and spur home sales we also help the economy and increase jobs at the same time.  It would also help if the government keeps interest rates low by buying treasuries allowing the market more time to heal itself.

A reform of the newly enacted (May 1) appraisal rules would also help the market, as new rules intended to help have actually hurt, and have not increased quality of many appraisals.  We would argue the new government program has increased costs, increased inefficiencies, and spurred out of town appraisers who don’t know the market’s intricacies, but what would you expect when you put the US government in charge of local property valuation rules?

Some banks are getting better at evaluating and approving short sales when they make sense and some have gotten worse.  How banks make decisions today will affect future foreclosure inventory.  We believe foreclosures coming to the market may increase in the next year, which will help sales because inventory has been shrinking, and this will bring more affordable housing to the market to replace dwindling inventory.  We don’t see rapid price increases on the horizon until we see job growth, and even though we have artificially low sales prices, we are seeing sales because they are bargains.  I’m not sure we’d see anywhere near the sales volume if these bargains went up significantly in price overnight, and this is why I don’t think prices will jump dramatically when inventory contracts until the overall economy heals with the housing market.  And this is why we are in favor of a home buyer tax credit for all, so we can heal both simultaneously.

Official real estate sales numbers were recently released so we decided to take a look at how the Fort Myers/Cape Coral market fared against the top markets in the state.  Cape Coral/Fort Myers is considered a metropolitan statistical area (MSAs) Our MSA includes Bonita Springs, Estero and all of Lee County Florida.
Let’s start off with the bad news and get that out of the way, which will lead us to the good news.  The bad news is the Cape Coral/Fort Myers MSA led the state in median sales price decline year over year for July.  Lee County was down 43% to $89,000 in July 2009, down from $154,900 in July of 2008.  This isn’t new news as we’ve led the state all year as SW Florida was perhaps the most over supplied market in the state for single family homes.
This leads us to the good news. Our area also leads the state in sales increases in transactions.  Because SW Florida was quicker to react than other markets, we were quicker to post sales gains.  The Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres areas have been the focus of news reports on NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, Wall Street Journal, and many other worldwide media outlets which has led to an awareness of the bargains available in SW Florida.  You’ve heard the old saying, “Even bad press is good press.”  Well, it’s certainly true as Lee County has drawn the attention of northerners, Canadians, Europeans and Germans among others looking to buy a piece of paradise at a decent price.
While we have seen many northerners buying second homes in our area, most of the single family home sales have been first time home buyers and investors.  My friend Jeff Tumbarello with the SW Florida Real Estate Investors Association recently did a study and found recent sales were 64% cash buyers, which is an indication investors have found SW Florida and realize it is a bargain.
Cash buyers can also be a sign that the new government appraisal rules are not working and are limiting many home sales.  The new program is called HVCC and stands for Home Valuation Code of Conduct.  This new program creates a middle man and increases costs to borrowers, and it prohibits communication from loan officers and appraisers.  At first glance this may sound good, but in reality it has increased pressure on appraisers to turn around appraisals quickly, while at the same time slowing down appraisals getting to the lender.  Imagine that, a government program increasing costs, increasing pressure and slowing things down.
The worse news is buyers are shopping these bargains, finding them, making offers and applying for financing only to be told that an out of area appraiser doesn’t think these homes are worth it.  The buyer wants to buy, and the seller wants to sell, but neither can, so it goes back on the market and is sold to a cash buyer for less because regular buyers can’t get financing.  Many of the foreclosures go to cash buyers because bank asset managers know it’s tough to get financing buyers through due to appraisal issues.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back most of the loans other than government FHA and VA loans, and both have adopted the HVCC which was put together by regulator Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), so we’re stuck with appraisal rules whether they’re good or not.  We can blame our government for keeping home prices artificially low and preventing many qualified buyers from purchasing a home they wish to buy.  I’m sure there are some good aspects to the rules, but the reality of the results is wrecking the market and changes should be adopted quickly.  Rules should not dictate market value, the market should.  These new rules will actually fuel further foreclosures from sellers who cannot sell.

Fort Myers-Cape Coral Sales Trends
The statewide average of home sale growth was 37%, and you can see Fort Myers/Cape Coral blew that average away at 104% The next closest was Miami at 64%.  As you can see, many metro areas are experiencing home sale growth which is encouraging, and this growth would have been much better both here and statewide if the appraisal issues were corrected.  We expect foreclosures to increase this year over last year.  The good news is buyers have absorbed all the foreclosures and eaten into existing inventory.  The sooner we fix the appraisal mess the government created, and complete the foreclosure cycle, the sooner our market will be back to normal.  In the meantime, enjoy the higher sales volume and the bargains as our market heals itself.