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Date of Issue: January 23, 2008

Searching for prosperity? Time to buy

Islanders like to remind visitors and new residents that Anna Maria Island is not like the mainland.

Indeed. In today’s volatile real estate industry, sales agents will say that one can’t compare the Island’s real estate market with that of the mainland.

That’s why reports from the Florida Association of Realtors that indicate prices and sales in the Manatee-Sarasota metropolitan area showed a slight increase in November 2007 when compared with the same month in 2006 can’t be used as an Island indicator. It’s apples to oranges, noted Island real estate agent Jason Sato.

“We’re a totally different market. The Island is unique,” he observed.

“They can build another Lakewood Ranch, but they can’t build another Anna Maria Island,” said Sato.

For Sato, 2007 was a good year, while 2008 looks to be at least as good.

“Sales have definitely gotten better. There are more buyers out there,” he noted. And because Island property prices have fallen recently, there are more people who now believe they can buy on Anna Maria Island, Sato added.

According to the Anna Maria Island Property Sales Report published by Dantia Gould, the average price of a single-family home purchase on the Island at the end of September 2007 was $550,000 compared with a $783,000 average at the end of September 2006. The good news was that there were 56 sales during the third quarter of 2007 compared with just 44 for the same period in 2006.

The condominium market was also in flux. The average price fell from $475,000 to $425,000 for the reporting periods noted. Condo sales, however, jumped from 132 to 175 units.

With prices down from last year, Sato said prospective buyers are starting to show up looking for bargains. While December is traditionally a slow month in the real estate industry, Sato predicted that by March, the “usual lookers” will be back, but the serious buyers will also appear.

 Those serious buyers could be coming from Canada and overseas.

 Sato’s been getting a lot of interest from European buyers because of the weak dollar and some good publicity about Anna Maria Island.

“Europeans are coming in with money” and looking for price. If a property is “price-pointed” properly, Sato believes there’s going to be a lot of activity this winter season.

While Jessie Brisson at Gulf-Bay Realty has not been getting a lot of e-mails and calls from Europeans, he has seen a significant upswing in the number of inquiries, showings and sales on the Island.

For the first week of January 2008, there were 11 closings, which is a “very good sign” for the Island. In some weeks last year at this time, there were only two or three properties that sold.

With Island prices stabilizing, there are some good values in the market, he said.

“Prices are not increasing, but neither are they decreasing. We seem to have settled down. But we’ll really know if the season was a hit by the end of April,” he added.

Gail Sterling of Re/Max Gulfstream real estate agreed.

“Prices have definitely leveled off. A lot of properties are now affordable, especially to European buyers,” Sterling said.

He noted that because of the favorable rate, Europeans are now getting almost 50 percent more dollars in exchange for the Euro than they were two years ago. Sterling anticipates that the European and Canadian markets will be very good for Island sales this winter because of the exchange rate.

“I expect to be very busy for the next three months,” he predicted with enthusiasm, a sentiment that just about everyone in the Island real estate market would echo - or like to echo.