By late February, Debbie Judge, branch manager of the Michael Saunders & Co. office on Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village, could look out her window and see vehicles backed up from the stop sign at Canal Road.
“It feels a lot like April,” she said Feb. 27. And many of those tourists coming to see the No. 1 beach are so enthralled with the island, they’re snapping up homes, Realtors said this week.
Judge said she knew it was going to be a good season when she learned in early fall that nothing was left to rent for the coming months.
“I think it became pretty evident with the traffic we saw last fall that the No. 1 beach helped put us on the map,” she said.
Numbers for 2011 already looked better in the fall than figures she had seen for several years, she said, with a 26% increase in housing units sold through her office and a 10% rise in the average price per unit.
In January, Judge said, her office recorded a 50% increase in closings.
“Pending (sales for February) are just off the chart,” she added.
Inventory on the Key has dropped from the 27-month level recorded in January 2006 to the 12-month level in January 2012, Judge added. “But we’ve got all price ranges in there,” she pointed out.
Keith Redding, a broker at Key Solutions Real Estate Group, on Midnight Pass Road, said he’s been enjoying looking out the window, too, seeing drivers “slamming on their brakes and turning into our parking lot.”
His office opened the first week of January, he said. From Jan. 1 through the last full week of February, prices of properties sold through Key Solutions have risen 12%.
Steve Bailey, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in the Village, said his pending sales had increased by 100% the past six months, compared to the previous half-year.
“Inventory is down and properties are selling fast,” said Adam Robinson, a broker with SarasotaForeclosures.com. “Prices are so good right now,” he added, averaging at levels he last saw in 2001 or 2002.
“Of course, everybody wants a three-bedroom (home) right on the beach for $400,000,” he said with a laugh. Although that’s not realistic, Robinson said, “the less-expensive waterfront homes sell immediately.”
For example, he said, a 2,700-square-foot, single-family condominium at Somerset Cove, which went on the market Feb. 23 for $399,000, was scheduled for 16 showings Feb. 25.
Judge said she had seen many good sales on Beach Road. One house priced about $3 million “sold rather quickly,” she said.
The best buyers, Robinson said, are owners of one- or two-bed condos, who want to upgrade or move from homes across the road from the beach to right on the beach. “They’re not comparing us to Naples,” he said. “They’ve decided they’re Siesta Key people.”
Although some potential buyers have had difficulty understanding they can’t afford waterfront property, Redding said, the majority of them realize they’re going to pay between $400,000 and $600,000 to see the water.
Thomas D. Ward, broker owner with ERA Waterside Realty, on Ocean Boulevard, said, “We’ve really seen a buying trend here the past two to three months.”
Properties priced in the $500,000 to $600,000 range had been staying on the market longer, he said, but newer homes costing more than $1 million “(are) very hot.”
Many houses in the $3 million range also are selling well, he said.
“(Buyers) want the new granite and tile and the marble,” he added, pointing, as an example, to the recent sale and transformation of the Hyatt Siesta Key Beach from a fractional-ownership property to a whole-ownership property called The Residences on Siesta Key Beach.
A Feb. 8 news release reported four whole-ownership sales and two pending sales, representing “two-thirds of all condominium sales on Siesta Key Beach over $950,000 during the last quarter of 2011.”
Still, Ward said, “Anything that’s a little older or dated, if they get it for a steal, they’ll take it.”
Bailey said one trend he had observed involves first-time homebuyers recognizing the value of owning property they can rent. Some of these, he added, had been renters themselves.
The average price of properties he’s been handling for people looking to invest in Key real estate has been between $300,000 and $400,000. People interested in becoming permanent residents, he said, were spending between $500,000 and $800,000.
Judge said most of her sales so far this year were under the $500,000 mark, but she pointed out that inventory at that price level had not been available for years. In 2005, during the height of the boom, she said, the average price was about $845,000.
“Siesta does have a higher average sales price” than other areas of the county, Bailey said. “It’s almost like this utopian, laid-back tropical environment, and (buyers are) recognizing they want to be there.”
Ali Murphy, rental director and sales associate at Argus Property Management, on Stickney Point Road, concurred with Bailey. Argus handles properties for 34 condominium complexes and homeowner associations on the island.
“When people get to Siesta Key,” Murphy said, “they realize how beautiful it is and how wonderful it is, and they want to live here.”
Where the buyers originate
Realtors selling houses and condominiums on Siesta Key are reporting a variety of customers, they said in interviews this week:
• Keith Redding, broker at Key Solutions, 6021 Midnight Pass Road: Many of the homebuyers are from the Northeast and Canada.
• Adam Robinson, broker with SarasotaForeclosures.com, 309 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota: Buyers have come from all over the United States, along with 15% from Canada and another 10% to 15% from other countries, including Europeans.
• Thomas D. Ward, broker owner, ERA Waterside Realty, 5221 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key: Buyers have come from South Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio and the Chicago area, along with “some hard-charging New Yorkers. (The latter trend) never really goes away,” he said.