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Date of Issue: May 07, 2008

Real estate booms at end of winter season

Island real estate agents are all smiles following what many consider an extremely successful winter season for sales after several years of a down market.

“The corner has been turned,” said Jessie Brisson of Gulf-Bay Realty.

He credited lower prices along with low interest rates as the key to the market rebound.

“There were a lot of reasonable prices in the market and buyers were taking advantage. In my opinion, the market has made a comeback.”

Sales figures from February, March and April compared with sales from the same three months last year justify Brisson’s enthusiasm.

For the three-month period in 2007, 57 properties, including condominiums and single-family homes, sold on Anna Maria Island, while for those three months this year, 64 sales were recorded, an increase of 12.2 percent.

While some people might say that’s not much to write home about, Barb Sato of Sato Real Estate in Anna Maria noted that there are presently 44 pending contracts — sales that will be finalized shortly.

And the sales reported are just from the multiple listing service of Island addresses said Barry Gould from Island Vacation Properties. Gould, who along with his wife Dantia, publishes the Anna Maria Island Sales Report, includes sales not recorded on the MLS.

His April report indicates even better news than the MLS is indicating.

For April 2008, Gould noted 39 sales compared with just 23 for April 2007, a 60 percent climb. The volume of sales also rose this year, with $27.8 million sold in April 2008 against $13.6 million for the same month last year.

“It’s been crazy the past few weeks,” Gould said.

Many people who were just looking early in the season waited until they didn’t have much competition for a particular property, then “made their move,” Gould said.

He agreed that prices have dropped and the “smart buyers” are taking advantage.

Indeed, said Brisson.

“We’ve seen a lot of baby boomers, pre-retirees, who want to get in when prices are low. They’re buying now, knowing that in five years, they’ll have made a smart move,” he said.

Even better news is that most buyers weren’t too worried about taxes and insurance.

“They all asked about it,” said Brisson, “but it never stopped a sale.”

One factor this season has been the favorable exchange rate for Europeans and Canadians.

Terry Hayes of Sotheby’s International Realty agreed that many Canadians along with British buyers had jumped into the market.

“They had been watching the market and now feel comfortable to buy. But I also saw a lot of northern buyers. I was thrilled with the season after the dismal fourth quarter of last year. It was positive to see buyers get off the fence,” Hayes said.

And many of those were the “smart buyers” who know the Island and know “good values,” she explained.

Properties that moved during the winter season were those in “tip-top condition and were priced right.”

And properties did move. “There was definitely a leveling of inventory and most properties sold within 10 percent of the asking price,” observed Hayes.

A property in good condition and a favorable exchange rate both contributed to the upturn in the market, said Sato, who, with Mike Norman of Mike Norman Real Estate, closed a $3.5 million sale of a beachfront house a few weeks ago.

It was the largest sale ever for a single-family home on the Island, according to Norman.

“Compared with last winter season, this year was definitely better,” an upbeat Norman added.

And the future looks bright.

Brisson said sales this summer, when vacationing Floridians come to the Island, will be a good. Floridians “will see the value and take advantage,” he predicted.

And with good reason said Sato. “The Island is always going to be in demand. That’s why you have to take the Island out of any equation for Manatee County real estate sales. We are always an exception.”

Brisson noted that many of the lower-priced and high-end properties moved quickly as people took advantage of the bargains. Homes in the $500,000 to $700,000 range are not moving quite as fast, but he predicted these homes would be in demand once the summer buying season begins.

“There are still some great values out there,” added Gould.

With baby boomers now discovering Anna Maria Island, real estate agents should continue to have sunny smiles.

“Everybody wants a piece of paradise,” said Sato. “Here’s their chance to get paradise at a great price.”