Thursday, March 24, 2005

Manatee - Sarasota home prices soar



Existing homes cost an average of $84,200 more in February than just a year earlier

MELISSA FOLLOWELL Herald Staff Writer

People who bought homes in February shelled out $84,200 more than people who bought existing homes in the Bradenton-Sarasota market just one year earlier.

Numbers released by the Florida Association of Realtors on Wednesday showed a 41 percent increase in the median price of existing homes in the area, the highest price change in the state.
The median price of a home last month was $289,000 locally compared to a $201,400 median price statewide.

The Bradenton-Sarasota area held on as the fifth-most expensive housing market in Florida for the second month of 2005, according to Florida Association of Realtors.
While the number of local Realtor sales changed little from 2004, a steady demand for housing helped home costs skyrocket.

Rod Rawlings, broker for Action Team Real Estate in Bradenton, said he is more surprised by the awestruck reactions to the prices more than the increases themselves.
"We've been undervalued for a long time," Rawlings said.
He remembers published stories in the 1990s proclaiming the area a great investment and good place to retire, and he said baby boomers are now taking that advice to heart.
"Our generation is looking to acquire more real estate than they really need for investments and retirement," Rawlings said.

Climbing costs may scare some, but to others, the trend exhibits the markings of a good investment.

"We've started to look at real estate as the gold standard," Rawlings said.
Exchange rates across the borders are inspiring a lot of international buyers to get in the market and invest in the Bradenton-Sarasota area and elsewhere, said Maryellen Paterson, branch manager for Michael Saunders & Co.'s Lakewood Ranch office.

"Compared to metropolitan population centers, local real estate is still a bargain," said Denny King of Bosshardt Realty's Lakewood Ranch office.
Focus has also shifted in the areas of high demand. Some are forsaking their former dreams of homes on the Gulf for new dreams of homes on a golf course.

Areas like Lakewood Ranch are attracting buyers who are buying a lifestyle as much as a home, King said. There are currently 61 properties listed in Lakewood Ranch, but there normally would be between 400 to 500 listed in a community of that size, King said.

"The listings are literally selling as fast as we can list them," he added. King estimated that about 25 percent of the buyers he sees are investors. A group of those will buy a home or property and, sometimes before the home is even finished, will turn around and sell the property for a large profit. "I call them wholesalers," King said.

Paterson and King agree Lakewood Ranch's national reputation as a master-planned community has sparked an interest in some who might not have considered the area in the past.

"The best-kept secret is out," she said of Bradenton-Sarasota. While some assume the active market is a blessing to Realtors, matching the large number of clients up with the small number of available properties actually means more work for the agent. "Only the strong will survive," King said.

No one knows how long home costs will continue to appreciate or how far off a slow down of demand is, but Realtors are optimistic the market will even out and slowly reach a plateau rather than bottom out.

"In this part of Florida, it's simply supply and demand. Does it continue? That's the $64,000 question," King said.

Melissa Followell, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7920

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