Housing Starts Up In Fort Myers/Naples Area

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Builders started construction on 818 houses in the Naples/Fort Myers housing market in the first quarter of 2014, up 21 percent from a year earlier, according to a report by Metrostudy, a national provider of housing data.

“Finished, vacant home supply continues to be virtually non-existent,” said David Cobb, Metrostudy’s Regional Director in the Naples Market. “Lee County has only a 0.7 month’s supply, while Collier remains below equilibrium as well at 1.7 months of supply. As in the previous quarter, this is a reflection that almost every home under construction has been sold.”

In Lee County, there were 381 lot deliveries in the first quarter, up 29 percent from a year earlier.

The county has 6,902 vacant developed lots, down 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the report.

In addition to the developed lots, there are plans for 48,012 future lots. Many of these lots lie in the northern and eastern sections of the county, where development has been slow to recover.

Collier County housing starts rose 36 percent in the first quarter to 1,624. The annual starts rate has risen for 19 consecutive quarters, from a low of 399 in early 2009, the report states.

“Builders report that the labor market remains tight, which in some cases is limiting the supply of new homes,” said Cobb. “The supply of vacant, developed lots declined 9 percent year over year to 4,496.”

Zillow: Buy A Home In Southwest Florida

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To the age-old question of whether to buy or rent, Zillow has an answer: buy if you live in Southwest Florida.

The Seattle-based real estate data collector says in a recent survey that people in Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Hendry counties have better odds than most of the country of coming out ahead if they buy.

Nationally, buying is a good decision for people who plan to stay in the home for at least two years, according to an analysis of first-quarter financial data.

But what Zillow calls the “breakeven horizon” is much shorter here: 1.1 years for Lee County; 1.0 for Collier; 1.1 for Charlotte; and 0.7 for Hendry.

Commercial real estate agent Jim Garinger of Colliers International Southwest Florida said Zillow’s analysis is borne out by what he sees in the apartment complex market.

“Traditional apartment complex occupancy has become stronger over the past 12 months or so,” he said. “There’s been a significant increase across the board but especially in Class B apartments.”

As that’s happened, rents have increased as well, Garinger said.

The average apartment complex in the Fort Myers area in March had a vacancy rate of 96.7 percent, up 1.8 percent from March 2013, according to Carrollton, Texas-based ALN Apartment Data.

In the same period, the average monthly rent rose 7.9 percent to $920, ALN’s report says.

Even as occupancy rates and values rise for apartments, however, lenders are still skittish about financing multi-family housing, Garinger said.

“Lenders are still looking at comparable sales as distressed properties,” which makes them reluctant to finance purchases or new construction, he said.

That problem will resolve itself with time, Garinger said, but meanwhile “If you’re a renter, it’s a great time to buy if you can swing it. As occupancy rates increase, rents are increasing as well.”

Home prices are also going up and interest rates are still historically low, contributing to the advantage of buying, he said.

There’s no shortage of prospective home buyers.

The share of Americans who own their homes was 64.8 percent in the first quarter, down from 65.2 percent in the previous three months, the Census Bureau said. The rate is the lowest since the second quarter of 1995, when it was 64.7 percent.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers Leads In All-Cash Home Sales

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Cape Coral-Fort Myers leads the nation in all-cash home sales, according to statistics released today by Irvine, Calif.-based housing data company RealtyTrac.

Nationally, the share of all-cash sales reached a new high in the first quarter even as the share of institutional investor purchases dropped to the lowest level since the first quarter of 2012, said RealtyTrac’s Q12014 U.S. Institutional Investor & Cash Sales Report.

Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, those with the top five highest percentages of cash sales were all in Florida: Cape Coral-Fort Myers (73.6 percent), Miami (67.1 percent), Sarasota, (65.1 percent), Palm Bay, (64.1 percent), and Lakeland, (61.8 percent).

“Strict lending standards combined with low inventory continue to give the advantage to investors and other cash buyers in this housing market,” Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, said in a written release.

“The good news is that as institutional investors pull back their purchasing in many markets across the country, there is still strong demand from other cash buyers — including individual investors, second-home buyers and even owner-occupant buyers — to fill the vacuum of demand left by institutional investors,” Blomquist said.

15 percent of all-cash purchases in the first quarter were properties in the foreclosure process, and 10 percent were bank-owned properties.

Other findings in the report:

  • 11 percent of all-cash purchases in the first quarter were to institutional investors, investors buying at least 10 properties in a calendar year.
  • 52 percent of all-cash purchases in March (most recent month’s data only available for this metric) were sold to buyers with a different mailing address than the property address — indicating investors or second-home buyers. That compares to 34 percent of all sales — cash and financed — sold to investors or second-home buyers in March.

The average sales price of an all-cash purchase in the first quarter was $207,668 — 13 percent below the average estimated full market value of the properties that were purchased: $237,900.

Condo Market In SW Florida On The Rebound

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Mike Banson recently handled the last sale of a bank-owned condominium at the 13-floor North Star Yacht Club on the Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers.

That’s a sign of the times in Southwest Florida, where the condo market has enjoyed a resurgence in the past year as single-family prices bounced back from the depths of the recession.

“I was the on-site agent for about six years, selling out all the bank-owned units,” said Banson, of Vision One Realty Group — the last unit, a penthouse, went for $531,000.

Naples-based land-use consultant Michael Timmerman, president of MJT Realty Economic Advisors, said the condo sector is doing well for sales prices, although for larger projects the cost of construction still makes it impossible to build new ones.

Projects building on a smaller scale have had better luck.

Jeff Barney, spokesman for Santa Luz LLC, said the company’s condominium Santa Luz, which started sales in February, is sold out of all but two units of the 20 in its first phase.

The project, off Daniels Parkway east of I-75 near JetBlue Park, consists of buildings with four units in each one.

“We had a very busy season,” said Barney, adding that another eight units will go up for sale within three weeks with 36 more to come.

“Most of the buyers we have are snowbirds and what they really get drawn to is the maintenance-free lifestyle,” he said. “They can leave for six months and come back and everything looks exactly the same.”

Because of its location in Gateway, Barney said, “We’re getting some young families. The last two we sold have been to folks about 40.”

Commercial real estate broker Steve Luta said he thinks there will be interest by builders in smaller projects in and around downtown Fort Myers.

That could offer a more urban lifestyle with buildings situated near the jobs, restaurants and nightlife of downtown, he said. “Some people don’t want the single-family home, lawn maintenance, pool, and all that stuff.”

Gary Tasman, founder and executive director of Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property Southwest Florida, said new construction such as Santa Luz and Neill Communities’ Villa Palmeras, are selling well in Lee County.

“There are already home builders building condos and they’re selling as fast as they can get out of the ground,” he said.

There would be a market for new high-rise condos as well, Tasman said, but that sector — hard hit when the market imploded at the end of 2005 — is still being sold cheaply enough that the cost of new construction is far more than buying an existing one.

Banson said that’s the case at North Star, where “a lot of the units may be in the $150-per-square-foot range. It would take $300 a square foot to build this product again.”

Towers will first rise again directly on the Gulf of Mexico between Estero to Marco Island, he predicted.

For that type of construction, “The prices need to push $500 a foot to be viable right now,” he said. “It’s probably $400 right now.”

Still, Tasman said, prices are rising fast and new Gulf-front towers may come sooner rather than later. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear an announcement of a new Gulf Front tower within the next 12 months.”

Connect with this reporter: @DickHogan (Twitter) or email dhogan@news-press.comBy Dick Hogan

Condo costs

The cost per square foot of building a Gulf-front skyscraper condominium:

• $250 hard construction costs

• $75 soft costs (marketing, advertising etc.)

• $81 25 percent developer profit

• $101 land

Lee County Home Sales Jump In March

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TechVenture Real Estate is happy to inform you that Single-family-home sales jumped in March, according to statistics released today by the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach.

A total of 1,068 homes were sold in March, up 37.1 percent from 779 in February.
However, the March sales were down 7.1 percent from March 2013, when 1,150 were sold.
The median sales price was $185,000 in March, the same as February but up 8.8 percent from March 2013.

Median price for condominiums in March was $162,000, up 4.5 percent from $155,000 in February.
Single-family homes spent a median of 48 days on the market before coming under contract in March, and the average home sold for 93 percent of its listing price. In March 2013 those numbers were 54 days and 93.6 percent.

Things To Do In Cape Coral

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• Farmers Market Fresh farmers market located in the large field next to Gulf Coast Village. This farmers market will be every Thursday from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Locally grown produce, fresh pickles, jewelry, plants, sunglasses, food trucks and a lot more come check it out. Gulf Coast Village, 1333 Santa Barbara Blvd., Cape Coral, 785-8361.

Southwest Florida Marine Mammals Learn about the fascinating marine mammals found in our local waters, where you can go to see them and what time of year is the best time to look. (All Ages). 2-3 p.m. Rotary Park, 5505 Rose Garden Road, Cape Coral, 549-4606. CapeParks.com

In-Door Cardio Tennis Program An indoor tennis experience that is a lot of fun and will burn calories. Instructor Paul Segodo is a former Davis Cup professional tennis player from the country of Benin who came to America at the age of 9 to represent his country playing tennis. He has provided tennis instruction for more than 10 years to students of all ages and all tennis levels, and he still competes regularly. 8-9 a.m. $12. Lake Kennedy, 400 Santa Barbara Blvd., Cape Coral, 574-0575.

Karate for Self Defense All techniques are taught by Hilmar Fuchs in a fun, safe atmosphere. Participants do not need to be well coordinated or in top physical condition. Class typically meets on Fridays and sometimes on Saturdays from 9-10 a.m. Be sure to get an accurate schedule from the park office or instructor. Please register in advance. 18+ years. noon-4 p.m. $35 Cape Resident / $53 Non-Cape Resident. Eco Park, Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, East end of S.E. 23rd Terrace, Cape Coral, 549-4606. CapeParks.com

Cape Coral Farmers Market Approximately 100 of Southwest Florida’s finest vendors offering fresh, local and healthy produce and foods. Certified organic produce, Gulf-fresh seafood and Pine Island clams, fresh breads, pickles and olives, native plants, fresh cut flowers and orchids, cheeses, homemade jams, jellies and sauces, local honey and more. Live music each week, twice a month antique and craft Market. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Club Square in downtown Cape Coral, SE 47th Terrace and SE 10th Place, Cape Coral, 549-6900. capecoralfarmersmarket.com

• Cape Coral Hobby Club Learn card making, scrapbooking, knitting, crocheting, jewelry, bunka, seasonal crafts and more. The cost is $1. Meet every Monday from 9-11:30 a.m. Cape Coral Yacht Club. Driftwood Parkway, Cape Coral. $1. 560-5472.

Zumba Fitness Ditch the workout and join the party! Brickhouse Cardio Club offers a fun and supportive atmosphere where you can focus on your fitness goals. Come out, get fit, make friends, and have fun. Call Carrie for information at 239-424-6111. Mondays and Wednesday-Saturday from 10-11 a.m.; Monday-Friday, 6-7 p.m. $7 per class or memberships for unlimited classes. Brickhouse Cardio Club, 311 Del Prado Blvd., Cape Coral, 443-0061. brickhousecardio.com

Free Tom Allen Memorial Butterfly House Tour every Monday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Reservations are not required. Courtesy of the Friends of Wildlife. Donations accepted. Call 549-4606, email rotaryparkinfor@capecoral.net for information. Rotary Park, 5505 Rose Garden Road, Cape Coral. capeparks.com or ccfriendsofwildlife.org

Cape Coral Quilters Guild Meets every Monday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and welcomes those interested in quilting. For details, call or email Dianne Zinszer at 220-4555 or dezinszer@yahoo.com or go to capecoralquiltquild.com. They also accept donations of fabric to be used in our charity quilts. Annual dues $25. Christ Lutheran Church, 2911 Del Prado Blvd. S, Cape Coral.

Nar-Anon Meeting If you are the relative or friend of a person with a drug problem, the Nar-Anon Family Group may be able to help solve your side of the problem. Nar-Anon helps the family of the user attain serenity and a more normal home life, regardless of whether or not he/she has stopped using. Meetings are every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.. IUPAT Union Hall, 814 SE 46th Lane, Cape Coral. 1-888-947-8885.

Sunset Celebration Experience the beauty of Southwest Florida’s amazing sunsets at the Cape Coral Yacht Club for the Sunset Celebration on the first Wednesday of every month. Listen to live music on the beach by Barbara Dexter, shop from over 40 vendors selling unique crafts, jewelry and other gift items, or take a stroll on the pier and watch the beautiful sunset. A free shuttle will run every 15 minutes from 4820 Leonard Street. 5-8 p.m. Cape Coral Yacht Club, 5819 Driftwood Parkway, Cape Coral. 574-0806

Zumba with Rebecca Frey Every Tuesday at 5 p.m. and Wednesday at noon, come join an exciting cardio workout. $7. Lake Kennedy Center, 400 Santa Barbara Blvd, Cape Coral, 574-0575.

Lee-Collier Population Hits 1 Million

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A million people now live in Lee and Collier counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Lee County is among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation, according to Census Bureau information released Thursday.

Lee was the 10th fastest-growing metro area in the country with 2.5 percent growth in the year ending July 1, 2013, and now has an estimated population of more than 660,000 residents.

Collier County, which grew at a 2.1 percent rate during the same period, now has roughly 340,000 residents.

Overall, Lee County ranks 56th and Collier County 95th, respectively, in percentage growth nationwide for counties with 10,000 or more population.

The Villages, home to one of the nation’s largest retirement communities, topped the list of fastest-growing metro areas in the nation. The Villages grew by 5.2 percent and now has a population around 100,000 residents. Sumter County, which is home to The Villages, also was one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties.

The Census Bureau says the South Florida area, made up of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, was the nation’s eighth most populous metropolitan area with 5.8 million residents.

Elsewhere, America’s energy boom is fueling population growth west of the Mississippi River.

Six of the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan areas and eight of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the country are in or near the oil- and gas-rich fields of the Great Plains and Mountain West.

More and more oil and gas drilling is being done in those regions, drawing people from around the nation looking for work, the Census Bureau said.

New Restaurants, Retail Coming To Hot Alico Road Corner

Site work is underway now for a retail construction project that will bring a handful of restaurants and retail shops just northwest of Gulf Coast Town Center.

Development plans for the 22.5-acre parcel feature several restaurants, including Chili’s, Tijuana Flats, B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and PDQ, a new concept by the founders of Outback Steakhouse with a menu centered on chicken tenders.

Road and utility construction is first up for University Plaza West and that is scheduled to be finished in June so that the restaurants can begin construction, said Frank Mirasola, vice president of Vantage Properties, the project developer.

“The size and scope of Gulf Coast Town Center has created this large demand because the large customer base is coming from pretty far away just to shop and have a meal there,” Mirasola said. “These restaurant companies don’t spend millions of dollars on new locations unless they know they have the customer demand for them.”

B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, which features craft beer, burgers and pizza, has 15 locations in Florida.

PDQ, which stands for “People Dedicated to Quality,” according to the restaurant website, was founded in Tampa in 2011 by Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham and MVP Holdings CEO Nick Reader.

Vantage purchased the land for University Plaza for $4.5 million in December from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The land stretches from the northern entrance road to Gulf Coast Town Center south of Alico Road west to the Interstate 75 interchange. Negotiations are still underway with tenants for the land nearest the interstate and could include additional restaurants, shops, offices or a hotel, Mirasola said.

The project is one of several in the works near Gulf Coast Town Center. Commercial real estate broker Steve Cunningham, a partner with LandQwest Commercial in Fort Myers, said the area promises to see plenty of construction for years to come.

“During the recession, the retailers really pulled in their horns and were just focused on trying to maintain the status quo and surviving,” Cunningham said. “Now, they are ready to get back to work. Projects like these take one or two years of planning, so there will be things happening there for some time.”

Cunningham said Gulf Coast Town Center and Florida Gulf Coast University combine to be very attractive to retailers.

“It has the perfect mix of people because you have middle to upper-income residents in the neighborhoods nearby and then you have the college students,” Cunningham said.

Today’s Closets Are Anything But…

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More than 100 years ago a hook on the back of the door was all a person usually needed for their clothes. When closets first came in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century they were just little recesses in the wall.

These reach-in closets were about 3 feet deep, 4 feet wide and were composed of only a rod and a shelf above. The last two decades of the century came with a new trend in walk-in closets; a simple narrow space with clothes hanging on either side.

About a decade ago his-and-her walk in closets became the popular trend. Those closets still were simply a place to hang clothes and maybe a few shelves.

That’s now changed in Southwest Florida’s upscale homes, where closets are now almost as large as a room. These closets feature built-in cabinets with everything from drawers and shelves to specialty items.

“Closets are one of the new big things,” said Rob Woods, vice president of Michelangelo Custom Homes. “The well-heeled buyer does not want to feel cramped, especially the women, but now even the men.”

That’s why the closets in the Michelangelo Maison Coco model stretch most of the length of the hallway outside of the bedroom and are quite spacious inside.

The closet in London Bay’s Brighton model in Quail West is one of the most deluxe around. Along with shelves, drawers and hanging areas around the entire room, there is also an island with more drawers and shelves below and a huge countertop. There are three closets with mirrored fronts that pull out to form a three-way mirror. It has a pullout ironing board and even a window bench for relaxing.

“Our people just have a lot of clothes,” real estate agent Teri Speech said about her clients. “They are wealthy people. They would rather have a big separate closet than to transport everything.”

It’s not just single-family homes showcasing all the extra closet space. In the Aqua condos in North Naples, the closets are also like entire rooms.

“Luckily our wardrobe down here does not require four changes of seasons,” It’s shorts and golf attire, said Darline Hillard, director of sales for Aqua. “But they still want their closet space.”

Michael Hawkins, co-owner of EBL, a North Naples based business, says customers use their closets for more than storage and a place to put clothes.

“We’re seeing that more and more, people want it as a dressing room,” Hawkins explained.

While the trend started with homes in the $1 million-plus range, now homes around Lee and Collier counties that are far below that price are highlighting the extra closet space.

“There’s a big demand for closet space. This is one of the biggest closets for the size of the house,” said Diana Ibarria, senior vice president of the Naples division of CC Devco Homes, as she showed off a model home at Maple Ridge in Ave Maria.

Builders give a variety of reasons for the need for closet space. Some say the lack of basements and attics makes more storage areas a must, while others believe that people are just buying more clothes.

“His-and-her closets are a must these days,” said Jason Tracey of Tracey Quality Building in Cape Coral. In Florida you don’t have anywhere to store things. I get a lot of requests to make the bedroom a little smaller and the closets a little bigger.”

“We’re all buying more things. The master suite has larger closets,” added Dan Dodrill of Daniel Wayne Homes as he showed off his model in Horse Creek in Buckingham.

Even the interior design of these giant closets has changed from a shelf and rod to complete custom cubbies, shelves, shoe areasand more. Experts say it’s all part of their customer’s desire for better organization and an elegant space to dress each morning.

“We had to enlarge houses because people want bigger closets,” said David Gydosh, owner of Tundra Homes.

 

Average U.S. 30-year Mortgage Rate Falls

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Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages declined last week, edging closer to historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 4.32 percent from 4.37 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage eased to 3.32 percent from 3.38 percent.

Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows roughly a year ago.

The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion-a-month bond purchases, which have helped keep long-term interest rates low.

Deeming the economy to be gaining strength, the Fed announced in December and January — and again on Wednesday — that it was reducing its monthly bond purchases.

The Fed said after its latest two-day policy meeting that even after it raises short-term interest rates, the job market strengthens and inflation rises, the central bank expects its benchmark short-term rate to stay unusually low.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen stressed that with the job market still weak, the Fed intends to keep short-term rates near zero for a “considerable” time and would raise them only gradually. Yellen also suggested that the Fed could start raising rates six months after it halts its monthly bond purchases, which most economists expect by year’s end. That means short-term rates could rise by mid-2015.

The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales of U.S. existing homes slipped in February, the sixth decline in seven months as severe winter weather, rising prices and a tight supply of homes discouraged buyers.

Still, there were some signs that the market could pick up in the coming months. Sales improved in the South and West, where weather was less of a factor. And more people decided to sell, boosting the supply of available homes.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was unchanged at 0.6 point. The fee for a 15-year loan also held steady at 0.6 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage edged up to 2.49 percent from 2.48 percent. The average fee remained at 0.4 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable mortgage fell to 3.02 percent from 3.09 percent. The fee was unchanged at 0.4 point.