EAST COUNTY — According to figures released by the Manatee Association of REALTORS, all indicators are pointing toward a healthier real-estate market.
Recent statistics show the real-estate market in the Bradenton/Sarasota area is following national trends, with median home prices, pending sales and closed sales all up — more than 28% compared to this time last year for single-family homes in the area.
Additionally, homes are staying on the market for less time, and fewer homes remain on the Multiple Listing Service.
“It’s just busy,” said Leslie Wells, president of MAR. “All the agents we talk to are busy. We’re seeing, I think, a shrinking inventory, and, consequently, new home construction is up because of it.”
Jimmy Stewart, vice president of sales for LWR Communities, a subsidiary of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, reported nearly 400 new homes had sold in Lakewood Ranch through Aug. 31 — a 40% increase compared to 2011. The community also saw 251 re-sales through the same period.
“Here, of all of the sales, 61% year-to-date are new home sales,” he said. “That’s absolutely inverse to any other community out there.”
Additionally, in Lakewood Ranch individuals can purchase a brand-new home for about 10% more than a re-sale. Currently, 214 homes are under construction in Lakewood Ranch, he said.
Stewart said he is seeing more local activity in the housing market and wants to make more lots available to builders to keep up with demand for new homes.
Numbers also indicate there is a resurgence in the high-end luxury-home market. In Lakewood Ranch’s most exclusive community, The Lake Club, there have been 27 sales year-to-date, with homes there priced at more than $1.2 million.
“That’s a discretionary purchase,” Stewart said. “We don’t really compete with other (communities) in this area, but we compete with other destinations, such as Naples and Palm Beach. People are liking Southwest Florida and (what the area) offers.”
Peter Mason, president of sales for homebuilder Lee Wetherington Homes, agreed, noting the time when landowners were sitting on the sidelines, waiting to step back into the market, is now over. In The Founders Club, Lee Wetherington has seen three local custom-home purchases in four months.
“This is a phenomenal sign of recovery in the Sarasota region,” Mason said. “Summer is traditionally slow for real estate in Florida, and to see the luxury market picking back up again in The Founder’s Club is a great sign of things to come this season. It’s really a strong indication that the local market is moving again.”
Mason said the builder started a spec home to help drive traffic; the investment seems to be working.
“(Buyers) feel now is the right time,” he said. “It’s nice to have people excited about housing again.”
MAR’s figures show existing inventory also is seeing increased activity. Its most recent report shows single-family homes are being snatched up quickly with homes spending only 50 days on the market compared to 74 last year, a 32.7% decrease. Although new listings were up slightly — 8.8% (334 homes), home inventory is down 25.4%, from 1,494 to 1,114.
Townhouses and condominiums are seeing a similar trend, spending 72 days on the market compared to 87 at the same time in 2011 — a 17.2% change. New listings are down 9.4%, and the number of units available for purchase has decreased by 21.9%, from 816 to 637.
In the Multiple Listing Service, Stewart said, about 16% of homes are tagged as distressed properties, meaning they either are bank-owned or short sales. That figure is consistent with Lakewood Ranch’s re-sale homes, as well.
“We have a very low re-sale inventory,” Stewart said. “There are about 115 homes active on the market out of 8,000.”
The 115-home figure hasn’t changed much over the last year, indicating remaining inventory likely is not priced at market value and properties have been “picked over,” Stewart said.
By the Numbers
16 — Percentage of homes tagged as distressed in the MLS
214 — Number of homes under construction in Lakewood Ranch
251 — Number of sales for existing homes in Lakewood Ranch in 2012, through Aug. 31
397 — Number of new home sales as of Aug. 31, in Lakewood Ranch
CASH PURCHASES FOR HOMES ON THE RISE
Housing-industry professionals said they are seeing an increase in cash buyers again. During the most recent real-estate boom, high numbers of cash purchases often indicated an infiltration of investors in the real-estate market. Now, however, it means baby-boomers are re-entering the market to purchase secondary homes, said Jimmy Stewart, vice president of sales for LWR Communities, a subsidiary of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
“Baby-boomers are sitting on a lot of cash,” he said. “We are seeing them at our information centers. These are people who have been visiting us for the last five to six years. They’re not retired yet, but media and market has told them it’s OK to buy now. They feel confident.”