Monday, January 03, 2022

Against All Odds

Another year done and one in which we were still dealing with a disrupted economy. Despite the pandemic and related issues in the economy, 2021 was a multiple record setting year for Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral real estate. The number of residential properties sold in our two cities was the highest in history. Our average inventory was the lowest of all time and selling prices for many properties (not all) were at the highest levels ever.

Two years ago, January 2020, we began the year with 108 condos and townhomes and 21 single family homes for sale in the two cities. Inventory during 2021 averaged a little over half that in both property types. Despite the drastically low inventory we closed the most units ever, 863 condo and townhome units and 168 single-family homes. There are currently 14 single family homes and 57 condos for sale in the two cities. Anyone looking for a single-family home in Cocoa Beach for less than $625,000 has only one listing to consider. A buyer looking for an oceanfront weekly rental condo unit is completely out of luck with zero units offered on the MLS this January morning.

Vacation rentals were one of the story property types of 2021 when we saw an explosion of vacation rentals in buildings off the beach. That was fueled in part by the City of Cocoa Beach relaxing its opposition and enforcement of vacation rentals in previously prohibited off-the-beach areas. Prices being paid for those properties and for the few condos that allow weekly rentals skyrocketed. 

Vacation rentals weren't the only property type to see record high selling prices. Sellers of oceanfront units happily accepted over $300 per square foot for 43 different units during the year compared to just six the previous year and zero in 2019. That upward movement in prices continues with little resistance. Those hoping to purchase this year need to understand the dynamics at play and construct their offers accordingly. There will be competition for any desirable property and it is likely to include buyers who are willing to knowingly overpay. Buyers paid over asking price for 155 condos in 2021 and the majority of the remainder sold at or within 2% of asking price. Slightly more than half of all sales during the year were cash deals. Cash buyers always have an advantage over a buyer using a mortgage but that advantage has increased clout with these market conditions. With the current optimistic pricing, appraisals become an issue and the uncertainty that comes with that becomes a liability for a mortgage-seeking buyer. It is not uncommon for a seller to accept a lower cash offer over a mortgaged offer for just that reason. Don't lose that dream condo over a few thousand dollars if it's checking all the boxes. Pinch your nose, pay up, and enjoy the beach while market momentum closes the price gap after closing.

Welcome to all our new neighbors who bought in 2021. I hope Cocoa Beach turns out to be exactly the laid-back, friendly little beach town you were looking for.

"Wow. That's my husband. It's freaking Nazaré and I'm pretty sure he has a soft top with him." __Jordan Gravy

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

We Broke a Record

The pinkish/purple little flowers (above) that are seen on most local lawns this time of year are pusley or Florida Snow as it's more often called. It is invasive and, while pretty, not a welcome resident on most lawns. It is too low to effectively mow and resistant to almost all herbicides which we shouldn't be considering anyway because of runoff into the Banana River. I have embraced my infestation and it is thriving and providing an attraction for honeybees and butterflies not to mention it is pretty and hardier than my beleaguered grass..

Before dawn this morning an Atlas 5 rocket configured with five solid fuel boosters launched into the fog on the longest mission to date for the Atlas rockets. It will deliver two satellites into geosynchronous orbit 22,000 miles above the equator. 

More history was made yesterday morning when the 806th condo sale of the year in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral closed. Until yesterday, 2005 was the year of the most condo sales with a total of 805 units sold. That year our inventory of units for sale bounced around 800 units for sale at any given time. This year's inventory has been the lowest ever recorded at an average of around 50 to 60 units for sale most days. This morning, it stands at 70 existing total units for sale. That we set a sales record with this depleted inventory is remarkable. I see no reason to expect the pace of sales nor the inventory to change in the near future. Good hunting out there.

"Life is like a ten-speed bike. Most of us have gears we never use." __Charles M. Schulz

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Ghost Houses

Typical October beach crowd in south Cocoa Beach

Yesterday, 2021 became the busiest year for condo sales in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral since 2005. The Cocoa Beach MLS is reporting 740 sold condo and townhome units in our two cities since January 1. Somehow, the monthly sales average (74 units) has exceeded the inventory almost the entire time (65 units for sale this morning). In addition to record numbers of sales, prices have been in record territory all year and continue to steadily climb. There have been 177 condo units closed for over $300 per square foot with 36 of those selling for more than $400 a foot. Despite the high prices on many properties there are a few units selling for less than their price at the peak of market mania in 2005. 

There have been 145 single family homes closed in our two cities so far this year, 27 of them over a million dollars. Among these 145 sold homes are seven million-dollar houses that don't exist but have been reported as closed in the MLS. They are supposed to be on a riverfront parcel in south Cocoa Beach but so far there are only a few piles of dirt where some of these ghost houses closed six months ago. There are 24 MLS-listed houses for sale this morning in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral including seven more of the previously mentioned ghost houses offered as pre-construction. The listings don't mention whether or not a buyer will be expected to close before the houses are built. 

Hope everyone is enjoying the cooler weather. The highest predicted temperature for Cocoa Beach in the next ten days is 79. Hurricane season officially lasts through November but if we make it to the end of October without a hit, I let myself cautiously begin to relax. Work on the new Surf oceanfront condo building in downtown Cocoa Beach is moving along at a brisk pace. I'm still hoping that the cylindrical cell tower by the new police station will be decorated as a rocket but so far nothing. In case anyone's wondering, there are 55 days until Christmas. Happy Holidays.

“To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace.” __Confucius

Monday, October 18, 2021

Going Up - Lucy and Condo Fees

Lucy ascends into the clouds pre-dawn last week on a 12 year mission to explore the Trojan asteroids.

The concept of condominium ownership began in Florida in 1963 and in the next 18 years over a half million units were built. Those units are now at least 40 years old and represent 38% of the over 1.5 million units currently existing in the state. After the deadly collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside in June this year, the Florida Bar assembled a task force to review Florida Condominium law related to management, maintenance and inspection and to determine if changes or additions to current law could prevent or minimize the likelihood of a similar tragedy. The Task Force has completed it's review and has drafted recommendations for the Governor and Florida Legislature. Their recommendations, if adopted into law will affect all existing Florida condominiums.

After reading the report, here are some of my big takeaways. These are my interpretations and may not be exactly as intended by the writers of the report but I think I'm close. 

Florida BAR Task Force Recommendations

Structural Inspections: Requiring a structural and life-safety inspection by a structural engineer or architect by December 31, 2024 for all 3-story plus buildings older than five years and every five years thereafter. Miami/Dade and Broward Counties currently require an inspection and structural recertification for buildings by the time they're 40 years old. Boards will be required to inform owners of the building/s' condition after inspection. As it currently stands Boards are not required to share building issues with the owners and, in my experience, some Boards actively discourage discussions of issues to preclude those appearing in meeting minutes which could discourage prospective buyers. The report also recommends a path for owners to engage the State should a Board not perform it's duties to inspect and maintain.

Special Assessments: Voiding any limitations in the condo docs that limits the Board's ability to levy special assessments or to borrow money to perform repairs including requiring unit owner approval or voting to perform those repairs. This means that unit owners can't vote down special assessments they don't want to pay. Also, establishing a source of long term loans for owners who may not be able to afford a large special assessment.

Reserves: Establishing a baseline for reserves. Currently a Florida condominium association may elect to have zero reserves and, instead, levy special assessments to cover maintenance as needed. Most associations in our area have some level of reserves but very few have 100% funded reserves and even those that do rarely have funds specified for concrete repairs included. The Task Force recommendations are for at least 50% reserves for previously mandatory items and, included for the first time, building components with greater than 40 year life such as concrete, the whopper expense for any coastal high-rise building.

Local Government: Establishing some responsibility of local government to be involved in, or oversight of, the inspection process.

Insurance: The recommendations are vague here but the practice of under-insuring and using very high deductibles needs to be changed.

Summary - More regulation of condos is required to ensure public safety. That regulation will include building inspections (by both public and private sources), more frequent maintenance, higher reserves with newly included reserve items and better insurance coverage among other things. The impact to unit owners will be reflected in higher monthly fees to cover these new expenses. The impact will be felt least in well-maintained buildings with good reserves but associations with low monthly fees and deferred maintenance are about to become much more expensive for their owners. This is without considering insurance premium increases that may result from reconsidered risk in older Florida condo buildings that has nothing to do with the Task Force.

As a prospective buyer of a unit in an older condominium I would proceed with the assumption that the monthly fee will be increasing substantially over the next three years and that concrete work, if obviously needed, will probably be happening during that period along with a special assessment to pay for same. If I owned a unit in an older building with low reserves and with deferred maintenance I would probably be considering selling. Hey, don't shoot the messenger. This has been brewing for a long time. Will unit values in these buildings be affected? Absolutely, but they will almost certainly continue to go up until the impact is widely known. There may be a considerable period of continued appreciation before the piper demands payment. Feeling lucky? Well, do you?

Here is the entire Task Force report for those so inclined.

"I missed it in 96 and I'm not gonna miss it again." Ben Gravy referring to the approaching Hurricane Larry swell last month

Thursday, October 14, 2021

We Had Our Offer Accepted. Now What?

Masked bandit at the Cocoa Beach Country Club.

This is an excerpt from a post five years ago. Those who haven't been involved in a Florida real estate transaction often don't know what to expect nor who pays for what. Here's a simplification of the basics. As always, the contract spells out the exact responsibilities for the parties involved. It is entirely possible to negotiate to have the opposite party pay for an item that is not customarily paid by their side.


A real estate contract is considered executed when all parties have finished signing. After that, the next step is to send the file to the closing agent which in Florida is usually a title company or, sometimes, an attorney's office that is also a title company. The title company then does the title search, co-ordinates with the buyer's lender if a mortgage is involved, determines tax liabilities and gets an estoppel letter from the association if the property is a condo. They then pull all this together and generate a settlement statement with exact numbers in enough time for the buyers to wire their funds for arrival by day of closing and then have all parties sign their respective documents (couriered or emailed to parties who will not be attending actual closing), disburse funds after closing and record the relevant documents. It's a complicated and under-appreciated job. The majority of closers I work with are legit rock stars at the process. I often think of them when I'm in one of those closings that has run past an hour and the closer is slowly reading every document before sliding it over for signatures. I see it like paper route math. As a paper boy if I've got 100 papers to deliver and can throw four a minute from my speeding bike, I can do my route in 25 minutes. Slow my pace down by just 21 seconds per paper or stop for  a couple of short discussions with customers and that same route takes an hour. A closer who can only do one signature page per minute is going to take at least an hour to do a 60 page closing. There are stars who can do a sixty page closing in 15 minutes. You know who you are and I appreciate you more than I can express.

Title insurance rates tend to be very close among the different companies and government charges are identical but the settlement and other fees paid to the title company can vary by several hundred dollars. In my experience, the slower and less efficient the title company, the higher these additional fees. Makes sense. A closer who can only close two or three deals a day needs to charge more to make up for inefficiency.

In Florida the seller typically selects the title company since they are the ones paying (usually) for the buyer's owner's policy. If the seller doesn't have a preference, their listing agent will suggest a title company that's, hopefully, conveniently located and good at what they do. Sometimes they are neither. I wish it were different because the difference in closing agent can be the difference in whether a transaction closes on time or actually closes at all. Since the buyer has very little influence in the selection I would encourage listing agents to recommend title companies that are good at what they do and to please use one somewhat close to the property and/or principals. It is a disservice to the seller and buyer of a Cocoa Beach condo when the listing agent selects a title company in Palm Bay because it's convenient to her office. Likewise for continuing to use a company that wastes everyone's time with closings that last way too long. I'm thinking specifically about a closing last month attended by nine people that took an hour and a half for no good reason. There were times when I expected someone to poke the closer to see if she was still awake. For the record, this was at an attorney's office and not a title company. 

On that subject, listing agents, please stop insisting that the buyer's escrow deposit be held in an attorney's or title company's escrow account. By doing that you are depriving your client of the free dispute resolution offered by DBPR should that be necessary and ensuring that your client will have to waste money on an attorney to recover a rightfully withheld deposit. All parties to Florida real estate transactions are better served by having escrow deposits held in a Florida real estate broker's escrow account. A buyer's agent who offers to hold the deposit in their broker's escrow account is doing everyone involved a favor. Any listing agent who insists otherwise has either forgotten or is knowingly ignoring one of the most important parts of her required licensing education and is exposing her seller client to unnecessary risk. 

The scent of mullet has been strong at my office two blocks from the ocean every morning this week as millions of these fish stream southward in the surf on their annual migration. The dense schools are being shadowed by predators; snook, mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, tarpon and sharks among others. It is the best time of year for surf fishing but like many years, long-period storm swells this year are making for challenging conditions. The chance of landing a legal snook makes the trouble worth it. Good luck to all the beach fisherpeople.

"“A theory may be so rich in descriptive possibilities that it can be made to fit any data.” ________Phillip Johnson-Laird

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Setting Records and Taking Names

Real estate sales in 2021 in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are already in record territory and by the time the year is finished we look to have recorded the highest annual residential sales in history, eclipsing even the bubble years of 2004 and 2005. Here is a look at sales of all years, since I began keeping records in 2004, as they stood through the month of August.

The month of March 2021 set a new all-time monthly record for condo sales in our two cities with 103 units closed. That record was broken immediately in April when 113 units closed. That we've done this with the lowest inventory in history is nothing short of incredible. For context, condo inventory in 2004 and 2005 was hovering between 700 and 1000 units for sale. On January 1, 2021 inventory in our two cities was at 113 existing units for sale and dipped as low as 35 units for sale a few months later. We've closed more units most months this year than the average number for sale during the month.

Prices, likewise, have been record-setting. Here is an excerpt from one of my posts in 2015:

Prices paid for the 80 direct units that sold in 2015 ranged from $187 to $362 per square foot (if dropping the highest and the lowest). Pricing by the square foot is inexact but it's usually the best starting point in an exercise of estimating value. The median was $250/sf with only three units selling for more than $300 per square foot. Those properties that sold for more than $250 per square foot were generally newer or nicely remodeled and/or furnished. 

By comparison, in 2021 we have closed 95 direct ocean units so far at prices between $228 and $519 per square foot (dropping the high and the low). The median was $339/sf with 71 of the 95 selling for over $300 per square foot and 18 of those over $400/sf. Prices have been in uncharted territory for all of this year and are still climbing. Buyer appetite is still strong although we are going through typical fall slowdown in activity right now. Sellers are playing hardball and buyers are competing with one another for good properties. Multiple offers are to be expected on any desirable property. Knowing that some buyers are willing to knowingly overpay in a rising market will be beneficial knowledge for buyers who find themselves in multiple offer situations. Buyers and sellers need to remember that their estimate of value, no matter how they arrived at it, is an estimate. The opposing party will almost always have a different estimate. Sales happen only when the two parties can reach an agreement or compromise on that estimate. 

Speaking of multiple offers, a Sarasota listing agent is in hot water after being accused of presenting multiple offers in a biased manner to favor a buyer who also happened to be his customer, a fear every buyer harbors when notified of multiple offers.

I managed to slip away with a friend and put a few snook in the boat this week with Capt. Travis Tanner. All but two slots were oversize and released unharmed to continue to terrorize the mullet schools streaming through the Port. The snook will be following those schools into the ocean as the annual mullet run heats up and they move southward down the beach. Beach anglers fishing the trough right off the beach with artificials or live mullet in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral will be catching their share of one of the best-eating fish in our waters. Fish must be at least 28" and no more than 32" in total length to be harvested. All others must be released unharmed. Skin your fish if you don't want to ruin the taste. Good luck to all.

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” __George Orwell 1984

Monday, September 13, 2021

Money in the Bank

French kids enjoying the Thousand Islands in Cocoa Beach. Happy Birthday Alesia and Bianca. 

What's happening with Cocoa Beach real estate and which property types are seeing the most interest? What has been the impact locally, if any, from the Surfside condo collapse and should I avoid older condos altogether? What is the future for Cocoa Beach property prices and property insurance costs? These are some of the questions I have gotten recently.

One hot property type has been vacation rentals. After being a small, relatively unnoticed segment of the local market, demand for vacation rental properties has exploded. There are only about a dozen oceanfront condo complexes in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral that allow weekly rentals and until recently, short-term rentals, with a couple of exceptions, were only allowed in those particular condos plus oceanfront homes and duplexes. The City of Cocoa Beach no longer aggressively restricts short-term rentals and that has blown up demand for non-oceanfront properties with vacation rental potential. As these other properties have entered the vacation rental market, demand has been surprisingly strong from holiday goers. Apparently, for vacationers, an ocean view is not the must-have we thought it was. Long term single-family rental homes in quiet Cocoa Beach neighborhoods are shifting to AirBnB rentals and the character of those neighborhoods is changing. I've heard a few nightmare stories about rotating beach party crowds in once-quiet neighborhoods. The City, so far, has been unresponsive. In the meantime, prices for properties with vacation rental appeal are soaring. At the moment, among all the oceanfront condos that allow weekly rentals, there is only one for sale, a 760 square foot one bedroom with no ocean view asking $299,900.

In south Florida, post-Surfside collapse, high-rise buildings are required to do a structural inspection and recertification by their 40 year birthday. That requirement does not exist here...yet. Many of our older buildings are putting off making needed repairs because of the expense. At least one oceanfront building in Cocoa Beach has been recently flagged by the City as unsafe and occupants of units above the ground floor are prohibited from entering their units. I can think of a few other buildings that could find themselves in the same situation if they don't take care of their issues. I have not heard of any increases in condo master policy insurance yet but I think it's safe to expect rising premiums as policies hit their renewal date. Buyers and owners of units in older oceanfront condos would be well-advised to anticipate increases in condo fees as a result of repairs that can no longer be ignored and more expensive master policies. If higher premiums don't materialize, the repairs still have to happen and be paid for. As always, there is value in buying in a building that has been diligently maintained. I hesitate to speculate what could happen if insurers decide that poorly-maintained older buildings are no longer worth the risk.

Waterfront Cocoa Beach single family homes have been money in the bank for the last ten years. Will that continue to be the case? Extremely short supply and zero land on which to build more supports the positive. The big question is insurance. Will the new flood insurance rates beginning in October affect values? I suspect that even higher insurance will not change the story. The limited supply can't change. There are only nine waterfront Cocoa Beach single family homes for sale today, only one of them asking less than $749,000. Four waterfront homes have accepted an offer since September 1st.

Condo inventory stands at 72 exiting units for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Thirty five units have gone under contract since September 1st which means, at the same sales rate, our current inventory will be gone in less than a month. Have questions? I'm happy to try to answer questions about Cocoa Beach real estate. My contacts are at the top of the page. 

Here's an excerpt from an older post that is even more relevant now and those looking to purchase will be better prepared having read it.

Buyers need to keep this low inventory in mind when looking and offering. The more stringent one's must-have list the more crucial it becomes to shoot for success when offering. This is not the time to offer low and work up to fair. If the perfect property becomes available now is the time to be aggressive. Considering the pace of new listings, it could be a long time for another acceptable listing to appear and by that time, prices are likely to have increased. If you hope to buy a property in this market at this point in history, be bold and quick with your offers or be prepared to never buy. I don't like it either but, as I heard a high-ranking figure recently say, it is what it is. Know that if you do have to overpay for your perfect beach getaway, the tight inventory and vigorous demand will likely push the value up to your purchase price and beyond in short order. 

SpaceX is scheduled to launch four non-professional astronauts on a private three day orbital mission on Wednesday night. Two of the astronauts won their trip in contests. Night launches, manned or not, are always spectacular. Don't miss it.

"If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck." __Rick Nelson

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Tide Has Turned

Inventory of residential properties for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral bottomed at the end of June at a low of 35 condos and townhomes. Around the same time there were less than 15 existing single family homes for sale. Supply has been steadily increasing since then as the rate of sales has slowed. This morning we have 79 existing condo units for sale with another seven pre-construction offerings. Speaking of pre-construction, work is well underway on The Surf oceanfront building downtown. There are three remaining unsold units available there at prices between $1.45m and $1.625m.

There are 24 existing single family homes on the market right now with another seven yet-to-be-built offered in south Cocoa Beach at the long delayed project at the Old Fisherman's Wharf location. Fifteen homes have gone under contract so far in August. During the same time, 37 condo units have received an accepted contract.

Prices being asked continue to astound. How about a small rundown Cocoa Beach duplex for $675,000? Or a 900 square foot, 58 year old, 1st floor oceanfront condo with no garage for $499,999? It is remodeled and furnished for what that's worth. I would advise some caution for buyers. It's been extremely competitive with multiple offers on almost every decent property priced anywhere near reasonable and some buyers have payed crazy prices to get what they wanted. I wouldn't mind overpaying somewhat to get a perfect property but there appears to be less pressure with increasing inventory and slowing sales. Someone looking for a rare specific property type may have to overpay to get it but those who have flexibility should be in no rush to jump on the next thing that comes close to their criteria. We are entering our typically slow season until Christmas so there is likely to be less competition and more supply. Decent deals are still being had for those who have been patient and diligent.

FEMA will be overhauling the National Flood Insurance Program and resetting rates this fall. They are taking into account rising worldwide sea levels in addition to flood history for specific areas. I have no idea what that will mean for rates in our area but the usual increase without an overhaul is around 10%. Reporting suggests that higher-risk areas like Florida may be in for much higher increases. This is in addition to the still unknown changes we're going to see for master policies for older oceanfront buildings as a consequence of the Surfside condo collapse in June. A big increase in premiums for either of these things could slam the brakes on the affected sectors of our already cooling market. 

It's a little over one week until snook season opens here, the anniversary of Hurricane Dorian destroying Abaco in 2019. If the surf remains as calm as it has been recently, this could be a good year for surf fishing for snook and all the other predators along the beach feasting on the annual mullet run. I haven't seen any schools of mullet yet in south Cocoa Beach but they are bound to be here shortly. Good luck and good eating to all the surf fishers.

"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own." _Andy Warhol