Island defies bay-area real estate trend

Home sales in the Tampa Bay area dropped 13.6 percent in October 2010 compared with the same month last year, but sales on Anna Maria Island continued to buck the trend.

The area multiple listing service for the Island reported 19 single-family and condominium sales in October 2010, the same figure recorded in October 2009. However, when properties sold by the owner are added, the sales number jumps to 43 for October 2010, a 53.5 percent rise from the 28 total sales reported in October 2009.

For the entire Tampa Bay area, however, it was the second straight month of declining home sales as compared to 2009 figures, according to the Mid-Florida Multiple Listing Service. The lone bright — spot condo sales that rose 9 percent, according to the Mid-Florida data.

A few weeks ago, as interest in mainland real estate waned, several Island real estate sellers said buyers were popping up during the Island’s typical slow time of year.

Jesse Brisson of Gulf-Bay Realty said buyers were calling and e-mailing agents, looking at properties and buying in October and November.

He and other sellers predicted then that sales would be good this winter season, and the October sales figures appear to confirm that view.

“We’ve been incredibly busy since mid-October. The Island is in demand,” Brisson said.

Real estate interest picked up once reporting of the April 2010 oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans disappeared from the nightly news, Brisson observed. He expected a renewed interest in real estate after that, and he wasn’t disappointed.

Neither was Karin Stephan of Signature Sotheby’s.

“I started getting a lot of phone calls in October and a lot of people looking, especially for Gulffront. I had some very good sales,” she said.

“It was busier than I expected in October and November. And these are educated buyers. They’ve browsed the Internet. They know Anna Maria is different than the mainland, that we’re in a buyers market, but the bottom has just been passed. They know value.”

Smart buyers know that the Island has only one high-rise condominium, a couple fast-food franchises, no motel chains and beach parking lots are covered with sand and crushed shell, not asphalt, she said. “You can’t find that anywhere else in Florida.”

Stephan said she’s seen an upswing in cash buyers the past two months and sellers have lowered their prices accordingly.

Not all the best deals are cash, however.

One smart buyer got a Holmes Beach canalfront home for about $450,000, she said. That same house would have sold for $650,000 to $700,000 during 2005-06.

“That was a real bargain, a real value purchase,” Stephan said.

In addition to water and canalfront properties, many condominiums offer great value to the buyer, she said.

While there are still a few condo short sales on the Island under $200,000, many condominiums are priced from $200,000 to $300,000. That’s still a bargain, Stephan observed.

And properties are not being under-appraised prior to a closure, she said, a good sign for prospective buyers.

“I think it’s absolutely going to be a wonderful season starting this month. This place grows on people. When you live here, you feel good about living on an island.”

One person who feels good about the Island and the future of its real estate market is Nicole Skaggs.

She recently opened Big Fish Real Estate in Holmes Beach after more than 11 years on Anna Maria Island as a broker-sales agent for other offices.

Now, she’s a six-week owner-broker and has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of telephone calls received since she opened.

Like other agents, cash is making a splash, she said.

“I’m seeing a lot more buyers paying cash than before and negotiating good deals. Financing was tough last year, and it’s still hard for some condo short sales, but it’s loosened up recently,” Skaggs said.

An investment buyer with a 30 percent down payment should have no problem financing a short sale, she said. “These short sales are getting easier and easier, and we’ve still got a few of them left on the Island.”

Like other agents, she’s talked with a number of Europeans who fell in love with the Island during an October-November visit.

“They tell me this is the most unpretentious place they’ve ever visited and the most ‘old Florida’ island of any Florida island. We know. That’s why we live and work here,” Skaggs said.
Marianne Correll of Island Real Estate in Holmes Beach agreed.

“People come in and say, this is the ‘old Florida’ they’ve been searching for, and our prices are value-priced when they compare them to other resort islands,” she said.

Correll predicted Island sales this season would be better than last season, especially if a buyer can finance a short sale.

Prices are about what they were for Island property eight years ago, she said. That might not be the case next year, when most of the short sales likely will be gone, she said.

“It’s going to be a fabulous winter season for real estate,” Correll said.