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Date of Issue: July 22, 2009

Time now for Island real estate bargain hunting

The good news for people interested in Island properties is sales agents say there are bargains galore this summer.

But, agents add, the market has “turned a corner” and the bargains won’t last long.

“The time to buy is now,” said Jesse Brisson of Gulf Bay Realty in Holmes Beach. “We’ve turned a corner on the Island. Prices are not going down and there are a lot of great values out there right now.”

Terry Hayes of Signature Sotheby’s agreed.

“Anything under $500,000 is going quick. We’re back to the prices we saw in 2001 and 2002, and anything that is in good shape near the Gulf is selling quickly,” she said.

Local sales agent Barry Gould says the number of active Anna Maria Island listings on the Manatee County Multiple Listing Service has declined by more than 400 since 2007. It’s a good sign that properties are selling, he said, and even better news, 48 sales are pending.

Gould noted there’s a growing trend for properties to be sold, but not reported to MLS. He believes sales figures for May and June of this year may actually be higher than reported.

The MLS reported 41 sales on the Island in May and June, including 18 single-family residences and 23 condominiums. The average sale price was $387,000.

Whatever the actual sales figures are, Gould said there are still quite a few value properties for sale that won’t be around in a few months, when the buying season begins.

“Last year we had a number of low-end properties that sold quickly,” Gould said.

Those were short-sales, foreclosures and bank sales, and, including condominiums, properties that were $200,000-$400,000.

“Those were fire-sale prices and many of them are no longer on the market,” he said.

“Prices are creeping up. A property that sold last year for $425,000 or $450,000 could get $500,000 in today’s market,” he said.

The hot bargains are new construction properties that are likely to become vacation rentals, said Jason Sato of Sato Real Estate in Anna Maria.

“I’ve had a lot of walkins this summer that are looking for a vacation home that they can rent out for most of the year,” Sato said.

Hayes agreed. “Builders are busy and that’s a good sign.”

And interested buyers are coming.

The high volume of summer vacationers on the Island has generated quite a number of people walking into the office, Sato said. “Most of them are looking for new construction that can become a vacation rental.

“And I’ve had quite a number of people coming from Canada as first-time visitors and they are very anxious to buy on the Island,” he added.

Sato said a lot of customers have said they’re tired of the fast-paced Orlando market and they look to Anna Maria Island for a change of pace.

“I had one couple from Winnipeg that came here for the first time recently from Orlando and absolutely fell in love with the Island. They’re looking for rental property,” he said.

While there are still bargains for a vacation rental property or single-family home, quite a number of condominiums are available for a great price, said Sato.

A few two-bedroom, two-bath condominiums that are near the Gulf of Mexico are available for just under $200,000, Gould said, and many closer to the water are selling in the $200,000-$300,000 range.

 Brisson and Sato agreed that condominium prices are a bargain, but noted that banks are reluctant to finance condominiums in the economy.

Additionally, said Hayes, many condominium associations have rules prohibiting vacation rentals and the buyer looking for income is not attracted to such properties.

“Many buyers want to realize as much rental income as possible,” she said.

Hayes agreed that mid-range homes (around $500,000) are selling well, but the high-end of the market — property priced at $1 million or higher — is not moving as quickly.

“The high-end buyers are out there, but looking for a deal,” she said.

Does the upswing in real estate mean the recession is over and Island real estate could return to the glory days of 2004-2006, when real estate values almost doubled?

“I’m not going to say that,” said Hayes. “But I’m optimistic about the future of Island real estate. The Island is different from the mainland.”

With all the optimism that the Island real estate market shows and with prices inching up, agents say people considering a purchase should not wait.

“The time to buy is now,” is the collective message.