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Date of Issue: May 10, 2007

Island real estate: improving, but not yet great

Many Island real estate agents are happy to report that sales during the past winter season, after all was said and done, were better than last year.

But as some have pointed out, last year's sales were the worst in a decade, so any movement in property sales was an improvement.

"It was definitely better," said Jessie Brisson of Gulf-Bay Realty in Holmes Beach. "But it wasn't a major improvement, more like a steady trickle instead of the faucet being turned off." he said. Brisson said he had several sales this past season and he has some pending contracts.

Since sales last winter season were nowhere, this year was a big improvement, although nothing can compare to the boom seasons during 2004 and 2005, he observed.

Brisson also noticed more walk-in traffic during April, a sign he hopes will carry over into the summer season. "I'm optimistic about the future."

Barry Gould of Island Vacation Properties in the May issue of the Anna Maria Island Property Sales Report was positively upbeat about the Island real estate market.

Gould reported that 57 Island properties sold during February, March and April, a 63 percent jump from the same period last year. He also noted that there are currently 37 pending sales contracts with a total value of more than $27.7 million.

Sellers who accept lower offers are moving properties, said Gould, who said selling prices of the properties that sold during the three-month reporting period were 90.8 percent of the asking price.

"The increase in tourism is helping," said Gould. "New visitors are falling in love with the Island and deciding to buy while we are in a buyer's market."

Brisson agreed that sellers who have lowered their asking price are moving properties faster than those who aren't open to negotiations. Sales have picked up accordingly.

At RE/MAX Gulfstream on Anna Maria Island, Ron Travis said he was "surprised" by the sales volume for March and April. Sales of Island properties were up 37 percent.

"That's a big impact because last year was so bad," said Travis.

While Mike Norman of Mike Norman Realty agreed sales were better this winter than last, the Island real estate market isn't really out of its slump, he said. It's just that selling prices are getting more realistic and dropping, and the increase in sales reflects the dip in asking prices.

"The last three months weren't that great, but they were better than last year," said Norman. Sellers who wanted a sale were lowering their prices and people were snatching up those properties, he indicated.

During the three months from February to April in 2006, Norman's office sold 12 condominiums at an average per-square-foot price of $476. This season, the company sold 10 condominiums at an average per-square-foot price of $344.

The comparison of single-family home sales is even more demonstrative of how selling prices are dropping.

Norman sold 18 single-family homes in 2006 during the three-month winter season at an average per-square- foot price of $677. This year, with prices lowered, his firm sold 33 single-family homes for the season, but at an average per-square-foot price of $380.

"Properties were over-priced. Now that people have lowered their price, there's activity. The square-foot price is a clear picture of what's actually going on in the market," he said.

Norman's advice to anyone with a property for sale and looking to make a sale is lower the price and be willing to negotiate. There are still a lot of properties on the market that aren't selling. Activity in the market will continue as long as prices remain realistic, he predicted.

Gould noted in the AMIPSR that there are still more than 800 Island properties for sale.

But the optimism of Island real estate agents comes with a note of caution.

Gould predicted that the market has turned the corner "if" interest rates remain low, the Florida Legislature passes property tax reform to ease the tax burden on second-home ownership, and hurricanes stay away from Florida.