BY: TRACY X. MIGUEL-NAVARRO
NAPLES – Southwest Florida’s real estate market is moving on up. That was the consensus of three economists and local experts who spoke Tuesday during the Naples Area Board of Realtors’ second annual economic summit.
“Lack of inventory will continue to put pressure on prices moving upward,” said Wes Kunkle, NABOR president and managing broker of Weichert Realtors on the Gulf inNorth Naples. Kunkle said the real estate market hit bottom 18 months ago.
Two of three economists told the crowd of 450 attending at the Waldorf Astoria Naples that the economy is a lot better than what people perceive it to be. The housing market’s recovery is shown by the trend of a decrease in inventory and increase in prices, the analysts said.
From mortgage lender standards, government policies, unemployment rates and real estate, attendees eager to learn about the economy and real estate trends attended the NABOR summit. The 3½-hour session was open only to NABOR members and Southwest Florida real estate professionals. Naples Mayor John Sorey welcomed the group and told Realtors they should applaud themselves because they are survivors of the real estate bubble’s burst and still are selling real estate today. Although Naples is built out within its city limits, Sorey said, the market has seen growth and improvement. He said the single-family residential market is coming back.
“We do like construction in the city of Naples,” Sorey said.
Cindy Carroll, vice president of Carroll & Carroll Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants in Naples, told the group that 60 to 70 percent of her transactions in the area are currently cash buyers. This compares with the 15 to 20 percent of cash buyers nationally.
However, as cash sales have become a larger part of the market, John Tuccillo, chief economist for Florida Realtors, told the group that this ultimately isn’t good because it could bring the market down in the future. Among other real estate trends, Carroll said, is the inventory dwindling in the Naples real estate market since 2008.
Those attending also spoke about the most recent Naples-area sales figures: The overall median sales price of homes increased 17 percent in 2012. The overall median price of closed sales rose from $175,000 in 2011 to $204,000 in 2012, according to a NABOR statement released last week that focused on sales for 2012 compared with 2011.
The median is the point that half the sales are higher and half lower. The monthly report tracks Realtor sales through the Sunshine Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in Collier County, excluding Marco Island.
Realtors are noticing the price of homes increasing west of U.S. 41 due to the lack of inventory, Kunkle said. Coupled with an increase of new construction, Kunkle said he is hoping the activity will create new jobs. Carroll said the challenge going forward is to properly price properties. Not everyone was in agreement on the pace of the recovery.
“Expect a slow, somewhat choppy economic recovery over the next couple of years,”
Shelton Weeks, chairman of the economics and finance department at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero, told the group. Weeks said unemployment rates are slowly falling, while inflation is under control, but to expect inflationary pressures to build U.S. and global economies to pick up speed.
“Our market will continue this healing process,” Weeks said. “Our market can be fairly healthy.”
According to Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist of Wells Fargo, based in Charlotte, N.C., the nation is almost four years into the economic recovery and there still is a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding sovereign debt issues in Europe, the federal budget deficit and the willingness of businesses and households to commit to major capital purchases. Among those attending who enjoyed the educational meeting was Coco Waldenmayer, a broker/manager at John R. Wood Realtors’ Fifth Avenue South office.
“The real estate market is in a solid upward trend,” Waldenmayer said, adding that she’s been impressed with the job market regaining so much strength.
“The challenge that we will have is a low inventory number, but that is also helping promote price increases,” she said.
Kathy Zorn, broker/owner of Florida Home Realty of Collier County, echoed Waldenmayer’s optimism. “What’s happening in our market is very encouraging,” Zorn said.