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Date of Issue: October 04, 2007

AMI real estate prediction: the worst is over

At this time last year, the Anna Maria Island real estate market was moving at the speed of an arthritic snail. In fact, the snail might even have been in a cast.

But times have changed, according to several leading Island real estate agents. The bottom has been hit and passed and the market is making a comeback.

Betsy Hills, who has been in real estate for more than 30 years in Anna Maria, said prices for Island real estate are always cyclical. But for the last 15 years, Island real estate values did nothing but head upward until last year, when the bottom fell out.

“We had a great 15 year run” until 2006, said Hills.

The “market correction” of last year brought sales to a near halt.

Thankfully, “we are now moving in the right direction,” she said.

“We are selling properties. Prices have been reduced and there are some good values out there, particularly for waterfront,” said Hills.

Fact is, she predicted, these values don’t come along on Anna Maria Island very often.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity that won’t come again. By this time next year, we won’t have prices this low. The bottom has been hit and we’re moving up,” she said confidently.

And sales are going up.

Sales are increasing because many sellers have lowered their asking prices in the past year to “realistic” expectations, said Barry Gould of Island Vacation Properties.

Through August 2007, said Gould, 149 sales of condominiums, homes and duplexes had been reported. For the first eight months of 2006, only 114 sales were reported. That’s a 33 percent increase, Gould noted.

At the same time, the average sale price has plummeted from $806,000 at this time last year to $574,000 this year. It’s a buyer’s market, claimed Gould.

“Smart shoppers are coming back and finding the Island property of their dreams,” he said, and the Island real estate market is still “undervalued” compared to similar Florida barrier islands. Even during the boom years of 2004 and 2005, Island prices were below comparable locations.

“Now that sellers are discounting prices, Anna Maria Island still has better deals as evidenced by the volume of sales,” he said.

But once the “discounted properties” are sold, Gould said he expects prices to “return to normal.”

That means “buy now,” he exclaimed, a sentiment agreed upon by Hills and other real estate agents.

“There are a lot of good buys out there,” said Jesse Brisson of Gulf-Bay Realty in Holmes Beach.

“There are some real steals and once the winter season gets here and the volume of traffic increases, those steals are going to go quickly,” he predicted.

Brisson noted that many of the “steals” are foreclosures sales by banks that have repossessed a property.

“These banks just want to get the property off their balance sheet. They’re pricing them at a steal,” he observed.

While some have noted the high inventory of homes that haven’t sold the past year, Brisson said quite a number of people put their property on the market, but aren’t really interested in selling.

“Those people are not going to lower their price, but they are competing with banks that are, so they’re not getting much attention,” he said.

Brisson agreed that the volume of sales is better than last year at this time, but he wants to wait for the winter season to determine if Island real estate is really on the upswing.

“Our sales are definitely up compared with last year at this time, but I just want to wait until we get a higher volume of traffic before I’m comfortable that we’ve really turned the corner,” said Brisson.

But there may be no need to “turn the corner” on the “high end” Island real estate market, said Terry Hayes of Sky Sotheby’s. She handles mostly properties priced at more than $1 million.

“I’ve increased my business in the past three years,” she said.

“Last year was the best year I ever had. The high-end market is there if you want to go out and get it. My phone is ringing off the hook,” she said.

Hayes noted that she only handles properties that are “priced right.” She’s had to tell a number of potential clients that their properties were over-priced.

“It’s hard to tell clients that their prices must come down to the market, but if it isn’t a property I can sell, I won’t take the listing.”

And, she added, sales have never been that far off, rather, it’s the inventory of homes for sale that’s excessive. Many of those excess listings are in eastern Manatee County, she observed.

“We’re lucky to be on Anna Maria Island and not at Lakewood Ranch” Hayes said. Island real estate is always in demand and Hayes is upbeat and positive about the future.

One area of sales that Island real estate agents might explore further is the foreign investment market, said Hills.

She said she’s been renting to a number of European visitors, particularly from Great Britain, who are taking advantage of a favorable exchange rate between the euro and the dollar.

“They’ll come here on vacation and fall in love with the Island,” said Hills. “Once they find out how far their money will go with the exchange rate, they’re ready to start looking for a purchase. I’m hoping we get more of them this winter.”

They might want to buy quickly. If Hills and other real estate agents are correct, today’s prices are as low as the market will go. Next year, the correction could be over and prices may have climbed to their 2004-05 levels.

“It just means that we’re in a buyer’s market,” said a very confident Hills.