SW Florida Listing Inventory Down

This week we’ll focus on the amount of single family home inventory in Lee County and
compare that with pending sales activity from a historical perspective so that we might be
able to draw some conclusions as to what’s happening today in the SW Florida real estate
market, and where the market may be headed.

Fort Myers and Cape Coral Real Estate Listing Inventory
Fort Myers and Cape Coral Real Estate Listing Inventory

As you can see from the chart which shows Fort Myers and Cape Coral single family
home inventory levels since December, 2004, inventory began rising in the 3rd Qtr of
2005, which was a precursor of what was to come.  The overall Lee County graph looks
similar, only larger numbers. Because new construction contracts were still in effect and
building was in its height at that time, the public really didn’t understand what was about
to happen.  Simultaneous to the rising inventory levels, you can see that pending sales
started to drop off as well.  Combine that with the flood of new construction homes that
continued to flood the market, and you can see very quickly what was about to happen. 
Having this information in real-time back in 2005 would have saved some investors some

Fast forward to the 1st Qtr 2008.  As you can see, pending sales started to increase, and
listing inventory started to decrease. All the foreclosures entering market were quickly
absorbed, and then some.  2008 4th Qtr sales were close to an all-time record, and 1st Qtr
2009 was an all-time record.  In fact, we’re seeing more sales now than we saw at the
height of the Boom back in 2005.  So why isn’t everyone reporting this as the Boom?

2005 was filled with euphoria, rising prices, banks lending money like drunken sailors,
and just generally reckless abandon.  People just didn’t think it would end.  They ignored
the warning signs.  The market was not sustainable, but just try telling that at a cocktail
party with 6 of your closest friends who were flipping houses and making money. 
Nobody wanted it to end, and yet it could not continue.  It was phantom demand, and

Today we have more sales than the Boom, but consumer confidence is low,
unemployment is high, oil is still high compared to 2005, and home sale prices are low. 
Homeowners are having a hard time making payments as incomes are down, and few
people feel great about their financial matters.  This is why nobody is calling 2009 a
Boom, and perhaps they should.  The opportunities for a buyer today are far greater than
they ever were in 2005.  2005 was a false market as nothing was what it appeared. 
Today’s market is real, and the bargains are there.  In fact, sale prices are so far below
replacement cost there is no building inventory entering the market in the foreseeable

When the job market and the economy begin to recover, we may actually have difficulty
finding properties for buyers.  The builders have not been building, and many sellers
cannot afford to sell at today’s prices.  Banks have been forced to “short-sale” or
foreclose, and the foreclosures may start drying up by next year.  Some speculate there is
another wave coming due to resets in the ARM schedules in 2011; however we feel that
in SW Florida, most of those buyers have already walked because they were the
speculators who long ago realized they could never make a profit, so they chose not to
carry the costs.  If all this is true, we may have a period of diminishing inventory to sell
until the market sorts it out.

Many Realtors who study the market  were sounding the warning signs back in 2005, and
yet the public didn’t get the message.  Many of those same Realtors are recognizing that
2009 is a Boom, and yet not all of the public is getting that message either for reasons
outlined above.

Our goal is to provide you with meaningful data so that you can see what is really
happening in today’s market.  These first several weeks we’ll be providing a baseline of
where we’ve been and how that relates to where we’re headed.  We seek to provide
unbiased insight you might not have received anywhere else.  We seek to make sense of
what’s happening, and prove it with facts.  We can say that home sales have exploded
since 2008, and listing inventory is declining.  We’ll watch this market together, and
we’ll do our best to explain what’s happening.  We’re not tied to the outcome, as markets
go up and they go down.  Our job is to explain what it’s doing today, and offer our
insights as to where it may be going in the future, so you can make informed decisions. 
Remember, all real estate is local, even in SW Florida.  Just because we report something
is going on in the Cape or Fort Myers doesn’t necessarily mean the entire market is
affected the exact same way.

We are seeing a shift from Cape Coral, which has been on fire, over to Lehigh Acres, as
Lehigh is the affordable hot spot right now.  It’s the same shift we saw in the height when
prices in the Cape got carried away and buyers shifted to Lehigh.  Funny how life repeats
itself.  Stay tuned each week and we’ll present more insights.

Foreclosures, short sales, and entry level homes are dominating the Southwest Florida real estate market with most of the sales coming from Cape Coral.  When we look at the Percent of April’s closings under $200,000 chart, we can clearly see that closings under $200,000 dominate the Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, and Lee County real estate markets in general.  If you are priced above $200,000 in Lehigh Acres, you’ve got a slim chance of selling as that is not where the buyers are at in Lehigh.  Over 95% of Lehigh’s closings was at $200,000 or less.

We need not look any further than the Months Supply of Inventory Priced Less Than $200,000 chart.  As you can see, Lehigh Acres has over a 2 year supply of homes on the market right now, while Cape Coral and Lee County overall are less than 1 year.

Another interesting chart is the Percent of Homes Listed as Short Sales graph

Over 52% of homes listed in Lehigh Acres are short sales compared to 38.70 Percent for Lee County overall.  If we examine the shear number of short sales listed in Lee County priced less than $200,000 we can gain a little perspective.  Cape Coral has approximately half of the short sales listed in the entire county, and over half of the sales.  This tells us that when affordability meets opportunity, buyers jump off the fence and purchase.

Lastly, let’s look at the Percent of Homes on the Market is SW Florida Priced Less Than $200,000.  So it looks like Cape Coral is where the action is right now, and Cape Coral is probably closer to recovery than Lehigh Acres is, but you can see how fast a market can turn once transactions start occurring in a market segment.

We are also seeing the market being driven by the low end, but also a bleed-up effect which translates to more sales and more offers now in the $300,000-$500,000 range as well.  We expect May to be another good month for sales numbers once they’re posted at the end of the month.

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When deciding whether to build new or remodel an existing home, choosing a location is an important part of the initial decision set, according to Kira Sterling, senior vice president/CMO-Marketing at Toll Brothers.

When choosing a home to remodel, you have to take into account location carefully, looking at what is going on in the neighborhood — are other homes undergoing renovations and what are the comps?

“In new-home neighborhoods, all of the homes are of the same luxury quality and, for future resale value, that provides a constant and reliable indicator,” Sterling says. “For an investment, if you are doing a renovation, you should have a degree of comfort where you build.”

Depending on the level of renovation planned or needed, the home could risk becoming over-valued for the neighborhood if not built consistent with the other homes, and that, in turn, could hurt future resale opportunities.

“Your neighbors will love you, but your home’s appraisal will be out of line with the others,” says Damon Bradley, sales manager at Maryland-based Williamsburg Homes.

Bradley adds that it’s important to evaluate the exterior and interior space constraints of potential renovation properties, as well as any permitting issues.

“Many older homes don’t have the design features that today’s homes do. Is it possible to renovate it the way you want? You may be constrained by what the home or lot will allow for, unless you do practically a whole tear down,” he says.

Some people enjoy the challenge of renovating a historical home or like the idea of living in a piece of history and acknowledge (or even welcome) the ups and downs and surprises that a renovation can bring their way. However, if it’s just a matter of getting what you want in a home, you need to consider which trade-offs are acceptable to you, such as making concessions for load-bearing walls or replacing old floor joists to handle a new tile floor.

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