Sunday, August 12, 2012

Real estate market changes for better

Faster turnaround means more mobility, which also could mean more sales for agents, businesses.

When Bobbie Cochran went to sell her three-bedroom, two-bath house in Gateway, she expected what others had experienced in recent years: a long, difficult process.

Much to her surprise, Cochran, 88, a retiree from Wisconsin who’d lived in the house 14 years, sold in a week for $330,000 — $25,000 more than the appraised value.

“Because property wasn’t moving that great, I figured it would take a little longer than that,” she said. “But the first people who looked at it bought it.”

Now she’s renting temporarily while she waits for the villa she purchased to be built.

Until recently, Cochran’s experience was something not seen much in Lee County since the boom, said Denny Grimes of Denny Grimes & Co. at Royal Shell Real Estate, who represented Cochran in the sale.

The change in climate is the result of a slow but steady improvement in the affordability of homes in Southwest Florida with prices still low and the economy on the mend, he said. And the better market is helping to boost sales at some area businesses.

The numbers bear that out: According to the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach, the inventory of single-family homes on the market fell to 13,897 in June from 15,834 a year earlier. Meanwhile the median sales price increased to $127,000 from $101,500 in the same period.

The same trend held for Collier County, where the median price increased from $175,000 to $190,000 and the inventory fell from 7,208 to 6,310 in the same period, according to the Naples Area Board of Realtors.

With fewer choices and prices on the rise, “The stick has been taken out of the buyer’s hands,” Grimes said, noting that appraised values are sometimes below true value because they’re based mainly on comparable sales from two months ago or longer when prices were significantly lower.

The trend is helping home builders as well, said Brad Hunter, chief economist for Metrostudy, which tracks sales in Southwest Florida and other areas.

“That’s a big factor and that’s helping the new-home market,” he said. “Partially as a result of that we’re seeing builders busier than they’ve been for years” with new-home inventory down as well.

Psychology plays a role as well, Hunter said. “The fact that home prices are now going up in that market (Lee County) makes people feel more encouraged about buying. They don’t want to get into a market that’s going down.”

He said that “The other thing that’s happening that’s boosting demand is that people have been doubling up, taking roommates or moving in with mom and dad.”

As people get back on their feet financially and become able to afford their own place, Hunter said, housing demand will accelerate further.

Larry Norris, owner of Fort Myers-based Norris Furniture, said his business has been getting a boost as people are able to move more readily. “I’m seeing a little uptick in business from last summer.”

Most people either redecorate completely when they move or at least pick up a few items such as rugs and lamps even if they hadn’t planned on it, he said.

“We have some people who bring furniture down from up north and I hear they regret that,” Norris said with a chuckle.

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