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For sale - please! The local real estate market feels rumblings from the North.

for sale-please!

The local real-estate market feels rumblings from the North.

The news from the North is bad. Home sales are plunging, rates are rising and housing inventory just keeps growing. And if Northerners moving to Sarasota can't sell their homes, can they buy down here?

Florida's large second-home market has traditionally helped to offset such market fluctuations. People who buy second homes don't have to worry about selling their house up North, and they're usually affluent enough to weather most economic ups and downs. But even that second-home market may not be safe this year, warned Florida Trend this summer. Trend predicted that the declining markets in the Midwest and Northeast could send Florida second-home sales down by 30 or even 40 percent. Add to that a general feeling of recession, and no wonder many Sarasota real estate agents say they've been worried for months.

Yet Ginger McQuigg, general manager of The Prudential Florida Realty, says the market is not that unhealthy. Area managers from Tampa to Naples are reporting a softer market, but sales in Sarasota County are holding their own, she says, citing the Sarasota Board of Realtors' Multiple Listing Service's monthly count of houses sold. In June 1988, there were 293 sales; in 1989, 265; and in 1990, 268. "Buyers are being more cautious," she said. "But there are good pockets and bad pockets."

To see just where the good and bad pockets in Sarasota are, we asked realtors specializing in different neighborhoods for a late-summer report. Here's what they said.


"Historically, recession comes to Florida last and leaves first," says Lloyd Johnson of Shaw Johnson Realty. "But I would say it's a delicate market. That's my gut feeling."

Yet in some ways, Casey Key property has never looked so good. Inventory is low: 31 houses are listed for sale and 15 of them are priced at more than $750,000. Nine top the million-dollar mark. Given that only four homes have ever sold for more than $1 million on Casey Key, that shows a lot of confidence.

No wonder. From July 1989 to June 1990, the average sale price on Casey Key was $545,000. And the average asking price these days has shot even higher -- to $749,000. "We have a whole new category of buyer," says Johnson.

Johnson believes these buyers, who pay $500,000 or more for a home, are not affected by the stagnant market up North. "They're bullet-proof. They're not pressed to sell and sometimes they're not looking to sell." Sarasota is also in the enviable position of attracting buyers from all over the country and even internationally, says Johnson. "We don't have executives moving in and out, so the commitment here is longer. People live here for five to seven years before moving on."

Johnson has seen a few buyers looking for houses below $500,000 who would love to purchase on Casey Key but can't until they sell their homes up North. He thinks he may see more this year. "We're not impervious to what's going on in the rest of the country. And the risk is real if you buy property at the wrong time. With our prices, I think the Sarasota luxury market is about to peak temporarily. We're walking a fine line."


For Bruce Winter of Elizabeth Lambie Real Estate, the soft market up North has sifted down to the white sands of Siesta Key. After a brisk first quarter, sales started to slow in May. "It was like someone shut the door," he says. "We have a referral outfit in Connecticut and they haven't sent us anybody in a long time."

Even traditional hot spots like Sanderling or Point of Rocks aren't selling well right now, he says. "We've had two or three on the water at Sanderling and they've been there forever." All over the key, it's taking six months and more to sell properties.

And some prices are beginning to slip. Although Gulf-front property is still figured at $3,500 per waterfront foot and bayfront land at $2,500, Winter says realtors in his office are often pricing homes five percent lower or sellers are lowering their asking prices to close deals. Suffering most: anything under $250,000.

Especially vulnerable are older people who can't maintain their properties, says Winter. One of his clients, an elderly woman who lived in a Whispering Sands condo, wanted to move back to Virginia to be with her family. She priced her unit at $135,000 but finally settled for $108,000. "That kind of thing knocks the comparables way down," says Winter.

Winter points out that all over Sarasota County, the absorption rate (the number of homes sold per month divided by the number on the market) is falling. This June it was 10.7 percent; two years ago for the same month, the rate was 13.8 percent.

Samantha Bisceglia of Taylor & Associates agrees that Siesta sales have slowed, particularly properties below $300,000. But she considers the dip temporary. "There's not much left out here and bayfront and Gulf-front are always a good market. We're selling a lifestyle, and where else can you find it at these prices?"


No tears or fears here, say realtors. In fact, Bobbie Banan with Michael Saunders & Co. says sales on Longboat, Lido, St. Armands and Bird Key are up 43 percent over last year. "And the pricier the property, the stronger the market."

Banan says most Longboat buyers already own property on the island and are upgrading. They like Longboat and know there's value there. In particular, anything behind the gates at the Longboat Key Club and Country Club Shores sells well. Twenty-eight homes sold in Country Club Shores from July 1989 to July 1990, for an average price of $274,943. The average number of days the homes were listed was only 58. On the Gulf side on south Longboat, 137 homes and condos sold during the same period for an average of $230,174. Gulf-front luxury condominiums in projects such as The Sanctuary, where the average price is between $500,000 to $600,000, are particularly strong.

To the north, says Banan, things are a little slower, and anything under $200,000 is taking longer to sell. "Many of these buyers don't have the excess cash; they're normal people."

Ann Martin, also of Michael Saunders, says she's having a great year with Lido and St. Armands' properties. Many homes are selling before 120 days. "The people coming here own two or three homes already in the Hamptons, Colorado and New York City. They're spending $500,000 to $1 million and they're paying cash."

Values keep rising on Bird Key. Forty-three homes sold from July 1989 to July 1990 and the average price was $371,029, according to MLS figures from the Sarasota Board of Realtors. Average length of time on the market: 107 days. That's pretty fast when most agents are saying that anything under six months is healthy. "Bird Key is just amazing," says Martha Brown of Taylor & Associates. "The appreciation has been incredible in the last few years." Still, Brown says the number of buyers is dropping a little and she's also seeing new caution among upper-end buyers. And although listing prices are not changing, lower offers are being accepted. "Buyers can make better deals," she says.


Recession? What recession? Debra Pitell of Michael Saunders insists she's in a seller's market. Five years ago, says Pitell, 25 homes were on the market in the area south of the Museum and north of Jungle Gardens. Today, MLS statistics show only seven listed. "I have a long list of people waiting to buy here," she says. "It's on the mainland, close to Sarasota and Bradenton. It has a history and the Asolo Performing Arts Center. It's where people want to be."

And as supply has fallen, prices have risen. Pitell says that five years ago a bayfront house went for $200,000. Now you can't buy a vacant bayfront lot for that price. Many houses are being renovated and enlarged, further increasing prices.

Those willing to look a little farther north and south can find more properties and spend less, says Ryan Crosby of Schlott. She considers the museum area the 1,200 houses from the Asolo Performing Arts Center to Whitaker Bayou and says 40 homes sold there from August 1989 to August 1990, with an average price of $108,000.


The Meadows, a planned community of 1,700 acres off 17th Street, enjoys the advantages of attracting affluent second-home buyers and many Canadians, who aren't subject -- at least not yet -- to the vagaries of the U.S. economy. Condos here range from $46,900 to $244,00 and single-family homes run from $89,500 to $450,000. Those prices are remaining firm, says Art Horwitz of The Prudential Florida Realty. The investor market, however, has dried up, says Horwitz, and he's starting to see the effects of the Northern markets. "I've got about seven or eight customers who tell me they can't do anything until they sell their homes."

Al Dumas of Schlott Inc., Realtors agrees that investor interest has dropped. Not too long ago, about 30 percent of buyers were investors, he says, and another 30 percent second-home buyers. Today he estimates that about 10 percent are investors and 30 percent are second-home buyers. Dumas believes homes are still moving well, although he will no longer take contracts from buyers who have a home listed for sale. Only about five percent of The Meadows' homes are on the market, he points out, and prices of single-family homes are still rising.


For years Northern retirees have been coming to Gulf Gate, three neighborhoods (Gulf Gate, Gulf Gate East and Gulf Gate Woods) south of Clark Road on the east side of U.S. 41. But Rita Bettis of Schlott says they're not coming in their usual numbers now, since they can't sell their homes up North.

Gulf Gate's first homes were developed in the 1950s and the last about 10 years ago. Prices range from $85,000 to $150,000; and Sarasota County tax records show that the average sale price from August 1989 through July 1990 was $107,803. Those records also show a precipitous drop in the number of sales. There were 128 sales from August 1987 through July 1988, 133 the year after that and only 56 from August 1989 through July 1990. That's a drop of 58 percent in one year -- although Bettis says she hasn't seen such a drastic decline.

And she remains optimistic. The summer, she says, is always slow. "And we still have what retired people want -- sunshine, water and golf courses. If houses are priced right, they're going to move."


Only eight houses and condos sold in this luxury country-club community last year. The average price was $592,500 and in late summer, MLS figures showed 31 properties listed from $249,000 to $1.1 million.

Joanne Fliss-Bradshaw of Taylor & Associates says she's probably sold more homes here than anyone. She was with Prestancia since 1985, before the first shovel ever broke ground. In the beginning, she presold everything in sight.

She says sales slowed when builders started building more spec homes in the $400,000 to $800,000 price range. Today it takes at least a year for homes to sell, and some properties have been on the market for 2 1/2 years.

"We're definitely affected by the market up North," says Fliss-Bradshaw. "People in golf-course communities up North buy golf-course communities down South. They look for a nice house like the nice house they just left, and they aren't buying right now."

But she says she's not disheartened. It's a great market to make a deal. You can get creative financing. And eventually, she says, things will sell again. It's just going to take time.


This neighborhood off Orange Avenue and near downtown has a waiting list of buyers: affluent families who want to live on the mainland and be on the water; doctors who need to be near the hospital; couples who love the charm of older houses and an established neighborhood. That's why Andy Cail of Schlott says she's not seeing any fallout from the Northern slowdown.

Homes on the water start at $500,000 and landlocked properties hover between $200,000 and $400,000, says Cail. MLS statistics show three sales last year, with an average price of $360,333. Only four are listed now. Their average asking price is $780,000. Cail says many homes sell even before they're listed. "Doctors will tell other doctors in the scrub room that their neighbors are thinking of moving and the house is sold right away."
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Title Annotation:Sarasota, Florida
Author:Burns, Susan
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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