Single-family-home permits in Lee County jumped to their highest level in five years, according to statistics released Monday.
Meanwhile, the number of foreclosure lawsuits filed in the county was 562, up from 422 in February but down from 794 in March 2012, a report by the Southwest
Florida Real Estate Investors Association states.
There were 221 permits issued for the month: 79 in Lee County; 61 in Fort Myers; 50 in Bonita Springs; 30 in Cape Coral and one in Sanibel. Fort Myers Beach numbers weren’t available Monday.
That was more than the 205 issued in February and the 218 in June 2012, last year’s high point.
“March was our best month since September 2005,” said Tim Rose, Fort Myers-based president of Arthur Rutenberg Homes. “That represented three contracts for about $2.6 million.”
After the bottom fell out of prices in early 2006, the number of homes being built fell sharply from the peak in 2005, when an average of 1,585 houses a month were built. At the recession’s bottom in 2009, only 68 permits per month were issued, according to statistics compiled by the Regional Economic Research Institute at FGCU.
Rose attributed the good March performance to an increasing number of decisions being made by baby boomers to build retirement houses.
“For the past five years they’ve put their plans on hold just to see what happens,” he said. “They’re either tired of keeping their lives on hold, or they’re feeling a little more confident” as the economy and the stock market perk up.
Also, Rose said, despite the rising cost of construction materials, new construction is able for the first time in years to compete with resales of existing homes. “We’re finally in parity with the houses that are out there. It’s no longer that the existing homes are beating us to death.”
Jeff Tumbarello, director of the real estate association, said that although
foreclosures were up from February that doesn’t mean the trend is headed in that direction.
For the past 18 months the monthly foreclosure number has been fluctuating but with no clear pattern up or down, he said.
There’s little likelihood of a return to the wave of foreclosures that peaked in October 2008 at 2,665, Tumbarello said, because “There’s not an infinite number of bad mortgages” and most recent purchases have been for cash.
Also, he noted, banks have become more adept at working out short sales, in which the bank avoids having to file a foreclosure by agreeing to let a house be sold at present market value even if that’s less than the mortgage balance.