Thursday, February 06, 2020

Chirp, Chirp. They're Here.

Look who gave Greta a lift back to Europe, everyone's favorite sailing family, Riley, Elayna and young Lenny on La Vagabonde.

Firmly into snowbird season 2020 we sit this morning with 221 existing condo units for sale on the Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral MLS, a modest increase from our inventory levels of last year. There are another nineteen to-be-built, pre-construction offerings as well, most of those in the new luxury oceanfront building, The Surf at Cocoa Beach, to break ground shortly downtown.

January was slow for closed sales as is usually the case. We closed 38 condo units in our two cities in January compared to 40 in January 2019. Highest price sale was $603,500 for a corner unit at Majestic Seas with a median selling price of $240,000. Four oceanfront units commanded over $300 per square foot, all of them above the ground floor and with extensive remodeling. Sellers would be well-advised to remember that when they are pricing their units. An original condition 2/2 on the 5th floor with a magnificent view is not going to justify $300 a foot unless there is a Tesla being thrown in the deal.

Sixteen single family homes closed in the month, all in Cocoa Beach, none in Cape Canaveral. Highest price paid was $830,000 for a beautifully and completely remodeled four bedroom pool home on a canal with covered dock and boat lift. Half of the sixteen sold for more than a half million. Lowest price paid was $330,100 for a modestly updated but well-maintained four bedroom non-waterfront four blocks from the ocean.

I have had a slow but interesting start to 2020. I have been tussling with a minimal-contact buyer's agent who is also trying to be a mortgage broker for his client. As I expected, that distant lender failed to complete the loan but a local lender swept in and saved the day start to finish in less time than it took the the distant lender to get an appraiser to the property. Buyers are advised to use a local lender whenever possible. Rate shopping internet lenders may get a lower interest rate estimate but that saves nothing if they fail to close. That happens often enough that I would not consider using an out-of-town lender myself regardless the quoted interest rate.

The fairways at the Cocoa Beach Country Club recently resemble the scenes from Jurassic Park with herds of slow-moving herbivores roaming grassy plains. Those gentle giants in our case are our beloved snowbird visitors who do their best on our courses to teach us to slow down and smell the roses. I'm trying. I really am but as George W. used to say, "It's hard, reeeeeal hard."

"It’s so exciting. My son turned 14, and now he knows everything! Everything! I don’t have to tell him anything anymore because he already knows! In fact, he knows more than I do AND more than his dad does! We couldn’t be more thrilled. What a joyous time."  __Michele Tafoya

Friday, January 03, 2020

Here We Go Again

We begin the new decade with an inventory of 185 MLS-listed condo and townhome units for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. That's less than we've closed since Friday the 13th in September. There were a total of 690 units closed in 2019 at prices from $53,000 to $1.625 MM. Median selling price was $245,000. Private sales like the Meridian unit that closed for $1.275 MM are not included in my MLS-sourced stats.

There were a total of 154 single family homes closed in the year in our two cities at prices from $192,500 to $1.995 MM with a median of $410,000. There are but 55 for sale this morning.

Total sales activity for 2019 trailed last year's record setting 734 condo units but was still among the four highest years since 2005. Not surprisingly the other three high years were 2016, 2017 and 2018. I see no reason to anticipate this trend slowing outside of some unforeseen macro event. Of course, those trend-influencing macro event are always unforeseen so a trend shift remains anyone's guess. Just less than half (48%) of the sold units closed for cash so a sudden surge in mortgage rates would be expected to have limited effect. Units that were priced fairly sold quickly with 138 units selling in the first week on the market. At the other end of the spectrum we had 105 stubborn sellers who overpriced their units and had to wait over six months to sell. A quarter of those took over a year to sell.

Construction will begin this year on the new oceanfront condo, The Surf at Cocoa Beach, in downtown Cocoa Beach on the vacant lot that has been empty since the storms of 2004 destroyed the shabby old condo building that was there. It's a welcome addition to our newly vibrant downtown area. Expect more new things downtown in 2020.

 I snapped the eagle pictured at the Cocoa Beach Country Club last week. We are used to seeing lots of ospreys, dozens of species of wading birds and waterfowl including the occasional roseate spoonbill but bald eagles are a rare sight. The Country Club is a true lootbox for bird watchers. The arrival of our largest winter population of migratory fowl, the northern snowbird, has begun. In addition to the Cocoa Beach Country Club golf courses another good location for viewing is Publix. The males tend to gather around the free coffee up front while the females forage throughout the store before competing, often savagely, for spots in the Express Checkout line. The usual trend is steadily increasing numbers through the end of March into early April when we reach our max number of visitors with converging snowbirds, spring breakers and baseball families here for spring training at the Expo. It looks to be another record setting season.

Anyone looking for their own little slice of Cocoa Beach is welcome to contact me with questions or advice or representation. I'm willing to share what I know about our special little town and am willing to offer an opinion about the rest whether I know what I'm talking about or not. Happy New Year, all.

"Concentrated risk is not compensated in the long-run." __unknown

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ten Years Later

The end of a decade is a good excuse to look back at where we were ten years ago and compare to where we are now. In 2009 we were still reeling from the crash of 2007 and prices were looking for a bottom that they wouldn't find for a couple more years. A third of all sales in 2009 were distressed (either short sale, bank-owned or otherwise non-standard). Inventory of condo and townhome units in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral averaged just under 700 units for sale during the year. It seemed low at the time after retreating from almost 1200 units for sale just a few years earlier. Little did we know that the inventory contraction would continue and we would never again have so many properties for sale. Inventory was in a decline that would continue until all the distressed sales had finally been flushed out of the system. That took until 2016 when we settled into our new normal of around 200 units for sale in the two cities where we remain as we approach the end of the decade.

During the peak of distressed sale activity in 2011, 71% of all condo sales were cash, no mortgage. Some of that was because lending standards had tightened considerably since the fiasco period of NINJA (no income, no job or assets) loans of the early to mid 2000s. That percentage of cash buyers has slowly declined since and we look to have just over 50% of all condo sales in 2019 close for cash. The busiest year for sales during the decade was last year when we closed 734 units. I expect us to end 2019 with just under 700 units closed. It's a remarkable number considering inventory has hovered right around 200 units all year.

In 2009 six units at the two-year old Meridian closed for less than $600,000, the lowest for $510,000. A third floor 3000 square foot unit at Riomar in south Cocoa Beach closed for $550,000 and someone picked off a 6th floor direct ocean 2419 sq ft Constellation unit for $395,000. Prices in most complexes were well off the highs of 2006-2007 but would continue to drop for another couple of years. Even so, everyone who bought then and held on has done well. For what it's worth, the S&P 500 has just about tripled in the same ten year period.

Of the 663 units closed so far this year, 129 of them sold in the first week on the market and 42% closed within the first month. Just over half were purchased for cash even though mortgage rates are only about a third of a point above the all time low reached in 2012. There remains good demand for the low number of properties available and barring some macro event that would affect activity I see no reason to expect the upward trend in prices of the last seven or so years to slow. The advice for buyers is the same as it has been; know what you'd like to have and how to estimate what it is worth and don't hesitate to offer when that property is found. Forget lowballing in hopes of stealing something. That just ain't gonna happen. Chances are that there are several other prospective buyers looking at the same property. It's not necessary to overpay but it is extremely unlikely that you'll be able to purchase something for less than current value. Starting low may give another buyer time to get their offer in while you're negotiating up from your lowball number. A multiple offer situation is to be avoided if possible.

2019 has been a year of positive changes for Cocoa Beach. We finished our new parking garage downtown and several new restaurants opened downtown. The old Casablanca bar across from City Hall was gutted and turned into a swanky wine bar, Napa Beach Bubbles Bar. Those who remember the Casablanca need to stop by for a look and a drink. Prepare to be amazed at the changes. Another notable new addition is the 4th Street Fillin Station. The old gas station at the corner of 4th St. N. and Orlando Ave. has been transformed into a hip restaurant and bar with a huge backyard and indoor seating and bar in the old repair bays. It is kid friendly and has lots of good vegetarian options with a beer menu of several pages. It demands a visit. A new oceanfront condo project has been announced downtown between Minutemen Cswy and 1st St. North. Prices from $800,000 to $2.2 MM.

It was an exciting year for the space business at the Cape. We saw SpaceX launch a Falcon Heavy and successfully land all three stages, two on land and the other on the drone ship, Of Course I Still Love You. The Boeing Starliner crew capsule is planned to launch in a few days for an unmanned mission to the International Space Station in preparation for future manned missions. SpaceX began delivering its Starlink broadband satellites to orbit with a mind-boggling sixty satellites deployed from one launch vehicle. They expect the network of several hundred satellites to be functional and delivering satellite based broadband internet service by the end of 2020. The Boeing X-37 Spaceplane landed in October after 780 days in orbit. Jeff Bezos' space company, Blue Origin, has been busy with test flights and doing a massive expansion of their existing facility at the Cape. They completed their 12th suborbital test flight and landing last week of their New Shepard vehicle which is designed to carry astronauts on future missions.

Merry Christmas and best wishes to everyone as we wind down 2019 and prepare to launch into a brand new year. If you find yourself in Cocoa Beach, stop by our office downtown and say Hello.

"Don't blame the Clown for acting like a Clown, ask yourself why you keep going to the Circus."___Anonymous

Friday, November 22, 2019

Direct Ocean and Other Fuzzy Definitions

Here we sit with 194 total condo and townhome units for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, slightly more than a three month supply at the current sales rate. We've closed that number of units since July 28. Compare this to the peak of around 1200 units for sale in mid-2006. As I've mentioned before, it's less about total inventory than the number of possibilities that match a specific buyer's criteria.

If I'm looking for a direct east facing oceanfront unit above the ground floor with at least two bedrooms and two baths I have one available asking less than $400,000. If I must have a garage, there are none below $400,000. If my budget runs to $500,000, there are five possibilities. Six units matching our search criteria above have closed in the last 30 days only one for less than $485,000.

Interesting note here; as I was searching for east facing direct ocean units I had some results that were not east facing despite being entered by the listing agent as direct ocean, east facing. I feel certain these were intentional mistakes. This is a good time to point out that consumers who find a too-good-to-be-true listing should assume that it is a deceptive listing. There are no under-priced listings in our market, only misrepresented.

Prospective buyers who don't have to be directly on the beach have sixty units with at least two bedrooms and two baths asking less than $300,000, half of them below $250,000. Most are a short walk to the beach. Buyers hoping to find a single family home here have 64 to consider, ten asking over a million and ten asking less than $400,000.

Mortgage rates have stayed in the ridiculously low range for the entire year but 47% of condo buyers so far this year have paid cash for their purchase. Multiple offers have been the normal for any desirable property asking anywhere near fair value. Those of you planning to use a mortgage should keep in mind that should you find yourself in a multiple offer situation it is very likely that your competition will be offering cash. Knowing that, try to make the other parts of your offer as shiny as possible. Don't expect to win the contest with a mortgage contingency on a lowball offer.

The Cocoa Beach Art Show is next weekend. It's always a fun time with tons of good outdoor live music and street food as well as a lot of interesting art. Hope to see many of you there.

I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” __Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Buyers continue to write offers at a reasonably fast pace for what is usually our slowest season of the year. There have been 58 successful offers written on condos and townhomes in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral in the last 30 days. The activity is divided into fairly equal quarters by asking price; less than $200,000, $200,000 to $300,000, $300,000 to $400,000, and over $400,000. This activity is a representative mirror of the existing inventory of 180 units for sale. We have closed 544 units in all price ranges so far in 2019 so the existing inventory represents about a 14 week supply.

Half of the condos sold so far this year have closed for cash, no mortgage. Over half sold in less than two months on the market and a quarter of all sales sold in the first two weeks. That's an impressive number considering the tendency of sellers and agents to start new listings at optimistic asking prices.

Single family homes have been equally busy with 133 closed so far in 2019. A third of the buyers paid cash and a third sold in the first month on the market. There are 53 homes for sale this morning in our two cities, two thirds of them asking over a half million.

Daytime temps have settled into the 80s most days and hurricane season is almost finished with but one near miss for Cocoa Beach this year. The mullet run turned out to be a complete miss this time for surf fishermen because of the incredibly rough surf during the run but there were good catches of snook inside the Port for those with boats.
Thanksgiving is late this year, Nov. 28. Those of you who plan to be here for the Cocoa Beach Art Show probably need to be making accommodation arrangements now if you haven't already. At least one of the popular vacation rental condos close to downtown is undergoing concrete restoration so downtown units will be in short supply. Hope to see many of you that week.

"Talk low, talk slow and don't talk too much." __John Wayne

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Same As It Ever Was

Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral listing inventory has continued to erode through the summer to our current level of 197 existing condo and townhouse units for sale. Add the fifty single family homes for sale in the two cities and you've got 247 total residential properties for sale in a market that has seen 645 properties sell so far this year. That's a classic seller's market.

We've been in this particular dynamic for well over five years now. Buyers should keep this fact front of mind when making offers. The chance of buying a property below fair market value is practically zero and even finding a seller willing to accept fair market value is not a slam dunk. With the majority of listings asking delusional prices fair offers are often rejected. Here's an excerpt from an older post about offering strategies:

I've prepared and received many hundreds of offers over the years and I've seen quite a few that never stood a chance of success, a large number recently. Beginning negotiations on a positive note helps, and price and terms of the very first offer set the tone. Regardless of commentary to the contrary, emotions are a real part of most real estate transactions. We have humans on both sides so it's reasonable to expect human reactions and emotions. Assuming a property is priced within the range of what the data suggest is fair market value, an offer reasonably near that range will usually be received by a seller as a constructive beginning. An offer way below that fair range is usually received with negativity and little to no optimism that a deal will be possible. Constructive optimism or adversarial negativity. That first offer determines the tone of the negotiations and often has an impact on final terms. Anyone making a crazy low offer should be prepared to have to start over at a higher number when they receive no counter from a discouraged seller. Another thing; I have presented enough low offers to know that if one part of an offer is unattractive the other parts better be compelling if there is to be hope for a deal. An offer far below asking might be considered if it's cash, with a quick close. Might. An offer with a close more than 45 days in the future, contingent upon a mortgage or even worse, the sale of another property, better be close to the seller's wished-for selling price to stand a chance of consideration. Buyers who are compelled to offer low should consider the attractiveness of the terms and make them as shiny as possible if they hope to have any chance of success. New, overpriced listing might need a little seasoning time on the market before an unrealistic seller will consider reasonable offers.

I'm waiting for someone to consolidate the largest concrete restoration companies in the state and put together an IPO. It could be huge with demand for contractors off the chart. Condo associations contemplating concrete projects are finding that wait times can run into years if their project isn't a particularly enticing one. Owners in buildings that have been putting off addressing concrete repairs are in for a shock when they begin requesting quotes. If your building is showing cracked balconies or walkways and your Board is not discussing this, it might be prudent to push for what's only going to become worse and more expensive. [Translation: a large and growing special assessment] Procrastination can be very expensive.

My hope that the ocean would calm down enough during the annual mullet run to allow for some relatively peaceful surf fishing has not been realized. The ocean remains disturbed and the running mullet are safe from my cast net as are the snook that those mullet may have fetched for me. Oh, well. There's always next year.

I thought Twitter was driving us apart, but I’m slowly starting to think half of you always hated the other half but never knew it until Twitter.” __Michael Arrington

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

How Much Is My Condo Worth?

It's that time of year again, the mullet run is on and big fish are in the surf. Now if the wind and waves would calm down enough to take advantage of it I'd enjoy catching a few rod-benders and maybe get a snook for dinner.

What can I expect to get for my condo if I list it for sale next year? Barring some unknown influencing factor you can probably expect more than if you sell it today. Notice the qualifiers? So many things can happen to change the value that it is fruitless to estimate future value. Changes in taxation or ordinances, economic and natural disasters; none of these can be predicted and can drastically change a property's value overnight. On the other hand, estimating current value is a relatively straightforward process. We can usually find recently sold similar properties that we can use to determine approximate value of the subject property. The question then becomes; can we trust the comps?

Specifics of listed properties are sometimes inaccurately stated on MLS listings. Using a sold property as a comp and not catching an inaccuracy makes for a flawed comp and flawed projection of value on the subject property. Sometimes honest mistakes, other times, intentional. Square footage is one of the more common mistakes. I've never seen a property that claimed to be smaller than it actually was which makes me think this one is almost always intentionally overstated. When in doubt, go bigger. When every unit in the building is and always has been 1315 square feet, claiming 1711 on the MLS is likely to be picked up by agents familiar with the building. Others might not catch the error and use it as a comp to suggest/justify fair value of a different property.

Terms of sale: Beneficial financing terms might explain an unusually high price. Included furniture or lawn equipment will certainly push the final number up as will a post-closing occupancy by the seller. Paying for furniture off the closing statement will reduce the closed price but the listing agent is probably not going to change the "full" furnishings notation in the MLS when she closes the listing. Listing agents don't always rarely note these details in the closed listing. Unusually high or low sold prices might indicate unknown terms and should be weighted accordingly in their use as comparable sales.

Condition and quality of updates: A remodeled condo unit is worth more than an identical unit in original condition. How much more is the big question. The cost to remodel a 2/2 condo can vary by $50,000 depending on the extent of the remodel and the grade of fixtures and finishes used. Most sellers are firmly convinced that their remodel job increased the value more than it did. My job is to use reasonably similar sold comps to illustrate how their conviction is misguided.

Sellers and their agents are often guilty of confirmation bias and naturally select the comps that seem to justify the price that they want. As a buyer's agent I am constantly pointing out flawed assumptions and bad comps. All buyers would be well-served to understand the nature of determining fair value and the ways bad comps can justify a wrong valuation. I may be able to show a seller that his asking price is too high and my offer price is fair but that means nothing if there is competition for that particular property. There are cases where participation may include knowingly overpaying. Knowingly overpaying can sometimes make sense, knowingly being the key word. The buyer that overpays also establishes the newest comp completing the circle of price justification. I was reminded in a recent episode of Million Dollar Listing New York that the newest comp thing can work in reverse for sellers. Holding out for an unjustified high price can backfire if a new comp records at a lower price.

New York agent Steve had a client interested in two similar units in the same building. The two units were similar enough to expect to sell for about the same price. Asking prices were $7.5 and $7.6 million, both well above market value. The buyer offered $6.5 MM on Frederick's lower priced listing. Frederick advised the seller that $7.5 was optimistic when he took the listing but went ahead and took it at that price hoping she'd be realistic when an offer came. She wasn't and countered at $7.4 MM. When delivering that counter, Frederick insisted to Steve that, to be successful, an offer number had to be in the sevens. Rather than counter at 7-something, the buyer decided to offer $6.75 on the other listing. Steve presented the offer and told the listing agent that they had offered and were negotiating at the same time on the other unit. That seller with that knowledge decided to accept the $6.75 MM offer with no counter. With a new comp of $6.75 established in the building the first seller realized she wouldn't be getting 7-something and wound up accepting a $6.6 MM offer. Had she countered more realistically to her first offer, there is a good chance she could have gotten at least what the buyer paid for the other unit, $6.75 MM. Her inflexibility cost her at least $150,000. Reality sucks at times but it can be expensive to ignore.

Buyers and sellers both need to stay aware of other sales and competition of similar properties and to use those as guidance for pricing. Values are not static especially in an active market. If a new comp changes the landscape it's productive to change one's expectations with it. That goes equally for buyers and sellers. For a better score, do your homework.

Thanks to all of you who have contributed to the various relief funds for the people of hurricane-ravaged Abaco. It's going to be a long, long time for Abaco and its people to get back on their feet. In addition to their homes and belongings most have lost their jobs as well. If you haven't contributed but would like to help some particular and especially hard hit people consider giving to the staff at Cruise Abaco in Marsh Harbour. These are personal friends and are all good and currently needy people. This money goes only to the staff. These guys are surviving on donations at the moment and crammed into crowded shelters. Most can't consider coming to the US in the interim because of our immigration policy. If you want to help the Bahamas in general, there are many worthy charities found with a quick search. If you'd like to help Shorty, Luke, Joe, Aaron, Ray and all the other Cruise Abaco staff and their families, you can contribute directly through Mark and Patti's GoFundMe here and see updates on how your money made a difference. Everything is appreciated and not a penny will be wasted.

This is Shorty and his kids who have lost everything and are currently living in horrid conditions at an overcrowded shelter in Nassau. Shorty said the men take turns sleeping standing up supported by each other and the women and the kids get the bare floor.

“The simplest acts of kindness are far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”  _____Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Death of the MLS

South Cocoa Beach the Saturday before Dorian. 

Waiting on a hurricane. As of Wednesday last week the prediction was for Hurricane Dorian to roar ashore in Cocoa Beach as a Category 2 storm during the night tonight and tomorrow morning. As of this morning, Sunday, the latest prediction is for the storm to pass close offshore as a Category 3 Wednesday morning. This after sitting over my beloved Abaco as a Category 5 for two days. The impact there is sure to be extensive and heartbreaking. My heart is with the Bahamians even as I breathe a sign of relief at the possibility of not taking a direct hit here. There have been no casual conversations with anyone around here for the last week that was not hurricane related. Cocoa Beach this Sunday morning appears to be well-shuttered and ready as best we can be for what comes our way. Best wishes for everyone.

Our inventory is almost back at the 2015 record lows with only 187 existing condo and townhome units for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Single home inventory is equally sparse with but 43 existing single family homes for sale in our two cities. That is the lowest number in the last 15 years, possibly ever. The developer of the old Joyce's Trailer Park property in south Cocoa Beach has once again changed development plans, this time shifting from riverfront condo towers to a small neighborhood of single family homes offered at prices from $895,000 to $1,395,000. They of course come with promises of dockage and an over-the-water clubhouse that will sound familiar to the buyers of several oceanfront condos in south Cocoa Beach.

Sales of single family homes in August were tepid with thirteen homes closed in our two cities at prices between $314,900 for a fixer-upper in north Cocoa Beach to $1,995,000 for a brand new, two story, direct ocean home just south of downtown. That beauty has five bedrooms, 5.5 baths, two garages (3 spaces), 4275 square feet and a pool. Median price was over a half million with three of the closed houses over a million.

Condo sales were strong with 64 units closed, more than the same month last year. Median price was $250,000 with seven closed over a half million and highest, a 2nd floor Meridian at $765,000. There appears to remain strong demand for ocean facing units with prices steadily rising. Three units at Boardwalk downtown went under contract in one week all reportedly over $400,000. Royale Towers in Cocoa Beach has likewise been busy with multiple sales in the month.

I wonder how big a commission discount it would take for a typical seller to risk not listing on the MLS if they could reasonably expect their listing agent  to produce a buyer willing to pay their price? If the agent is already attracting a steady flow of both listings and buyers he has the means to accomplish some sales at fair market price without the MLS. I see a potential new business model for some agents that doesn't include the MLS or other brokers and agents. Sellers should already expect a discount should their agent or his team bring the buyer but I can see that discount becoming much larger without the MLS listing. You heard it here first.

My lifetime of religiously recycling has been undone by a single pre-hurricane day's sales of bottled water at the Cocoa Beach Publix alone. An approaching hurricane is not a good reason to buy four cases of individual size water bottles in my humble opinion. Extra water on hand? Sure, just not dozens of small ones. 

"If everything in your portfolio is doing well at the same time, it is a good indication that you are not diversified." __Ned