Buyers Wanted

Area real estate professionals are optimistic about the future of home sales in the Forgotten CoastBuyers WantedRealtors and market watchers along the Forgotten Coast expect better times in 2007

By Jason Dehart

Lots of real estate is available along the Forgotten Coast. But it’s expensive and moving slowly, according to local real estate agents and tourism experts who keep an eye on the trends.

“It was a long, lean year, 2006, when the market went down with Katrina,” said Paula Ramsey Pickett, Gulf County’s tourism development director. “Real estate values have taken a hit, the market has taken a hit, but I think it’s emerging as well as anywhere else in the state.”

Area real estate professionals acknowledged that sales aren’t where they would like for them to be, but most shared Pickett’s optimistic prediction of an upturn in the market.

“First and foremost, there is no doubt, looking in the rearview mirror, that we have had a tremendous influx of capital over the last few years, and it has appreciated area price levels to an unsustainable level,” said Patrick Jones, owner of Century 21 Gulf Coast Realty in Port St. Joe. “It has created an influx of new supply that has outstripped buyer demand. There are more parcels of properties, primarily lots. However, houses have played their roles as well. Buyer demand over the past 12 months has been very limited . . . and the pressure of debt financing on investors has created a buyers’ market that we see today.”

“The overall status is still slow, but it’s picking up – and we’re seeing additional activity and second homebuyers wanting to be on the coast,” said Allyn Jasper of Weichert Realty in Carrabelle. “I’m seeing a comeback at this point. Basically what I’m looking at is the market starting to grow, and people are seeing the market as a possible investment in their future.”

“Overall, I think we still have to look forward to the Forgotten Coast being the area that attracts the majority of people,” said Jason Naumann, a real estate broker and owner of Naumann Group Real Estate Inc., which has a coastal real estate office in Wakulla County. “It does not offer the hustle and bustle of active living with restaurants on every corner, but what it does offer is the natural beauty of Old Florida that so many people are seeking to find.”

From her vantage point, Pickett said rapidly increasing prices have now leveled off, but it’s too soon to tell if that is going to translate into home sales.

“We had somewhat of a correction in the market, and it’s definitely a buyer’s market right now,” she said. “There are lots of new properties on line . . . some of everything – waterfront, Gulf front, Gulf view. I think there is some interest in investing in real estate again. The Realtors are seeing an increase in inquiries, but whether they develop into closings, I’m not sure.

“Building permits have increased, so I think people are beginning to trust the market a little more,” Pickett said. “It’s stabilized, and there are not as much grave fluctuations. I think people are beginning to invest in their properties, as opposed to selling them or turning them around.”

Meanwhile, Jones said the cumulative effect of a soft market, high property taxes and increased insurance have put pressure on the market, causing sellers to reduce their prices.

“Home sales and home and lot sales have been down,” Jones said. “And the lack of liquidity in the market has forced property owners looking to sell to begin lowering their prices significantly. There are many opportunities for the second homebuyer.”

“Property taxes are acknowledged as an important issue,” he said. “And although it’ll take time to relieve the pressure, it is my opinion that relief is on the way. But going back to the current marketplace, right now, the best opportunity for value, to find value, is in new projects – excess inventory associated with new projects. Builders, end users and long-term investors stand to gain the most from the current real estate market.”

Naumann said he has noticed an interesting reversal among some of his clients.

“Recently I have had clients reverse from the typical, meaning they would in the past have had a small beach house and a larger in-town house,” he said. “Now we are seeing people purchase or build larger homes along our Forgotten coastline and purchase smaller homes or townhomes in Tallahassee. The reason for this is that they are wanting to homestead the beach house for tax purposes and save some money on insurance.”

Naumann said he has noticed that people from Tallahassee who owned coastal properties in places such as Cape San Blas, Mexico Beach and Destin are now wishing to be closer to Tallahassee because it’s better, and possibly cheaper, for them in the long run.

“For the most part, it has become difficult for them to justify having a coastal home they can only visit every so often for the amount they are spending on it,” he said. “I have a lot of Tallahassee residents selling property further away and buying at Shell Point and Ochlockonee Bay because they are only 35 to 45
minutes away and can run down on a Friday afternoon.”

And homebuyers are in luck, Naumann said, because his company offers two upscale communities – the Resort at Shell Point and Tradewinds – that may be agreeable to their new way of thinking.

“For example, Tradewinds is an upscale boating community overlooking the Gulf that offers all the amenities one would want, with strict architectural guidelines,” he said. “Our clients in the past have not been offered upscale boating communities along the Forgotten Coast, so it has been something they had to drive another two hours to find. Now, with projects like Tradewinds and the Resort at Shell Point, people have upscale, deed-restricted communities that more closely fit what they want to live in – and they don’t have to go very far to get it.”

Meanwhile, the other side of the real estate coin – vacation rental properties – remains very strong, according to Jones, of Century 21 Gulf Coast Realty.

“I would say, in my estimation, that over the past year more people were renting and looking around – renting before they buy to get a feel for the area, Franklin County specifically,” Jasper, of Weichert Realty in Carrabelle, said. “Basically, it’s probably true that sales are down … there are a large number of people who come through and rent … but in Carrabelle, where our office is, I haven’t see that as a detriment to sales one way or another.

“Vacation rentals are very strong, the strongest we’ve seen in the past few years,” Jones said. “Everything is pointing to a great summer.”

“We do get a lot of vacation people,” Jasper said. “It’s just a market that’s starting to creep back up, and I would say comparing this year to last year we are running about the same, volume-wise. I’m looking for a prosperous year. We’re holding more open houses and getting more inquiries about properties available than we’ve had in a long time.

“It’s picking up. I haven a good positive feeling about the market,” Jasper said. “It’s obviously still a buyer’s market – there’s a large number of inventory, they have a lot of choices, and it’s exciting.”

Categories: Forgotten Coast 2007, Forgotten Coast Archive