Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Sound of Settling

An oldie but goodie; Ritchie cruising at 14th St. circa 1995.

There are signs of life in the high end of the market after two very tough years in which we've averaged just one sale per month of condos over $500,000 in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. Of the 26 closed sales so far in April, a surprising 4 units crossed the resistant half-million dollar barrier. I'm not going so far as to read a new trend into this but it is unusual enough to warrant reporting. Two were in existing buildings, Ocean Oasis and Diamond Bay on the river, and two were in new buildings, The Meridian just north of the Pier and Ocean Cove in south Cocoa Beach. All of the remaining 22 closed condos sold for less than $400,000 with 7 being short sales.

Of the 26 sold units, 7 were direct river. Sizes ranged from 1234 to a whopping 4137 sq. ft. Price per square foot ranged from $104 at Four Seasons to $158 at Harbor Isles with an average of $128 per square foot paid.

Direct ocean, east-facing units accounted for 9 of the sales. Sizes there ranged from 1196 square feet at the Windjammer to 2552 at the Meridian. Price per square foot ranged from a low of $197 at La Mer in Cape Canaveral to a high of $324 at the brand new Ocean Cove. Average price per square foot for direct ocean units was $237.

Unlike most areas of Florida, our inventory continues to shrink and is at it's lowest level in years. The same geographical limitation that prevented overbuilding during the boom years is starting to look like the little red engine of promise for the Cocoa Beach market. /fingers crossed

MLS inventory April 26, 2009 Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral

Condos, all prices_____686
over $500,000_________97 - 9 sold since New Year's Day
Single family homes____96
over $500,000_________35

Keep a fire burning in your eye

Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down
_________Jackson Browne

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why rental restrictions matter

In this post I'm going to address an often-overlooked, yet very important issue that condo buyers need to understand before they begin their search for the perfect condo at the beach. If you're already a client, you know the drill and have heard the sermon, so, you can just skip to the quote.

In addition to amenities, view, association health, building condition, parking and all the other items that a condo purchaser should review, a prudent buyer also needs to understand the implications of rental restrictions and how they will affect his use and cost of ownership. Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral condominiums evolved in a different direction than many coastal Florida communities with the vast majority of condos here restricting rentals to a minimum of at least one month and ranging up to 12 months. The number of ocean complexes allowing weekly rentals in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral is only about a dozen. The rental habits of our visitors makes these particular complexes the overwhelming best choice for owners who want the most flexibility for mixing personal use with income or for investors who want the maximum income possibility.

We have two distinct visitor seasons here, snowbirds in the cold months and vacationers in the summer. Our snowbird visitors typically stay for periods from a month to several months. Our summer guests are predominantly one-week vacationers. For condo owners in a 3-month minimum rental building, chances are high for finding a renter for three months or more in the January through April period, but finding a 3-month renter during the rest of the year can be difficult if not impossible. An owner of a weekly rental can usually count on renters during the entire year although much slower in the Labor Day to Christmas period. For owners of units with a six month or longer minimum, the choice is usually between a long-term tenant, which takes away the personal use option, or not renting at all to leave it open for personal use, which takes away all income.

For those not wanting or needing income, complexes that have longer rental periods may be preferable as they are typically quieter with more permanent residents and less visitors and the facilities like pools and tennis courts are less crowded.

If you're looking for a condo, determine in advance what your needs are for income and/or personal use and narrow your search to those complexes that match rather than finding out after purchasing that your plan of having a great beach getaway that also spins off a little income isn't realistic. If your buyer's agent hasn't asked you about your needs in regard to use and income or hasn't briefed you on the implications, fire her immediately. Why work with Eliza Doolittle when you can have Marie Curie?

You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people. ___Billy Ray Valentine

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hip to be Square

Suppose that, having heard various predictions about the "bottom" and the probable rebound in the real estate market, you have decided to take advantage of the crash and have been tracking real estate prices trying to anticipate the exact bottom. To maximize the opportunity you want to either buy right at the bottom or negotiate a price that will put you close to the bottom when that happens. How does a bottom in a price cycle look? What are the indications that it is close? The only absolute evidence that a bottom has been reached comes after the fact when sales begin to record that are higher than previous sales. With housing, this is a fuzzy process as all properties are not equal even with identical floor plans. For instance, in a condo complex, identical floor plan units will have different views, be in different conditions and be in different locations in the complex. Prices will always vary for identical units regardless of market direction. Just running the sales numbers does not give an accurate picture of market direction and a single selling price up or down may not indicate a trend reversal. I'm making two points here; one- that predictions are just that and should be taken with a grain of salt and, two- the bottom in prices will only be recognizable from the rear-view mirror. And, as I've said before, Ms. Bottomfeeder doesn't buy the market. She buys a specific property. That property type may lead or lag the general market.

Another twist in the bottom-searching strategy is that, for buyers looking for a specific property type, the supply of available matching units could skew the bottom for that property type years away from the general "market" bottom. A buyer looking to buy a non-waterfront 2/2 unit close to the beach will probably have multiple chances to steal a unit during the time of peak pain because of the high number of matching units. On the other hand, someone looking for a steal on a 4th floor or higher 2/2 direct ocean will have far less chances because of the much lower number of matching units. Narrow the search down with specific complexes and/or criteria like tennis courts, garage, pool and the choices shrink even more. For those looking to buy a Sand Dollar floor plan Stonewood on a high floor the lowest price sale could occur well before the market bottom when the only distressed seller offers her unit or, if no owner is distressed, those limited-supply units could skate right through a down market without a single low sale. Ask your buyer's broker about the reality of your expectations in case, like Diogenes, you may be embarking on a fruitless search.

My best advice to buyers is to not trust any predictions or bottom calls and try to be realistic about your expectations of a "deal". I think we can safely say that prices in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are not going to zero. Accepting that, and considering the 50%+ retracement in some prices, we can safely say that purchasing now, in most cases, carries far less risk than at any time since 2005. Is it still possible to overpay? Absolutely. I am still of the opinion that the new, luxury condo market presents considerable downside risk. The large number of unsold new units, tepid sales pace and the number of units being offered at less than their recent purchase price when new are evidence of an unhealthy market segment. Existing, older buildings are in a much different place. Many sellers, having purchased years ago, have a low basis and can be aggressive with their pricing. Example; looking for a direct ocean 3/2 between 2000 and 2100 sq.ft. in Cocoa Beach, I can find 8 units offered. The choices range from a 17 year old, 2nd floor unit for $359,900 to a 3 year old, 4th floor for $849,500. The newer unit, to be sure, is far nicer, but, a cool half-million dollars of difference is hard to justify. Be careful out there if you're purchasing. Opportunity abounds but risk is still present. You will be well-served to hook up with a well-informed and realistic buyer's agent, if you can find one, to help navigate the market. If your agent tells you the market has bottomed and it's a great time to buy, be skeptical. While both may be true, such a statement is too self-serving coming from a real estate agent to fail to light up the warning panel. If you do find a steal, congratulations and welcome to the best little beach town in Florida. Now, slow down, relax and enjoy life by the sea.

You are meant to play the ball as it lies, a fact that may help to touch on your own objective approach to life. ~Grantland Rice

Monday, April 06, 2009

Who's Shrugging?

March 31 marks the beginning of the end of snowbird season here as our winter visitors start heading back north. I'm not sure if that has any relation to market activity since then, but April has begun with a blast of condo sales activity. Since April 1 a total of 21 condos and townhomes have gone under contract in the Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral market according to the MLS, 3 over $500,000. If history is any indication, some of these will not close, but, even considering that, 21 contracts in 5 days is nothing to dismiss, especially considering that there was a total of 27 closed condos and townhouses in all of March. The April through July period has historically been the busiest time of year for sales regardless of market direction and it looks to hold true again this year.

There are a few newly-offered, attractively-priced weekly rental units available this morning in addition to a smattering of short sale gems. My favorite ocean condo deal at the moment is a 2nd floor, 2/2 with 1300+ sq. ft. and a big balcony offered for $245,000 as a short sale. It had a previous contract that fell apart in the laborious short sale process and is now back on the market. In case you've forgotten, today is opening day at The Master's in Augusta and it promises to be a good one again this year.

I'm amazed at the TV stations
I'm amazed what they want me to believe

_______My Morning Jacket

Saturday, April 04, 2009

1st Quarter Wrap-up

A pumped-up, male northern curly tailed lizard in my parking lot, which is apparently the northern edge of their range in the United States.

The March numbers are in and there were a total of 27 MLS listed condos and 6 single-family homes closed in the month in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. The range of prices for the homes was $120,000 to $465,000 and four of the six were foreclosures.

Of the 27 condos sold, there were several that were notable.

Portside 1/1.5, 3 year-old for $70,000. Sold new 3 years ago for $149,900.
Four Seasons non-water 2nd floor 2/2 with garage sold for $133,500
River Lakes 2/2 with garage closed for $152,000
Four Seasons direct river 3rd floor 2/2 with garage, $172,500
Puerto del Rio, top floor 3/2, w/garage, $176,000
_____This unit sold new in 2007 for $355,000

Shorewood 2104 sq.ft. corner, no view closed for $195,000
Chateau side view, 3rd floor, 2/2 short sale $212,000
Emerald Seas 5th floor direct ocean 2/2 sold for $290,000
Stonewood beautiful 8th floor direct 2/2 sold furnished for $310,000
Almar 4th floor corner direct ocean 2713 sq.ft. 2-car garage $430,000
_____This unit sold new in 2006 for $675,000

Riomar entire 2nd floor, 3008 sq.ft. closed for $550,000
Meridian 2nd floor corner, direct ocean, brand new, 2570 sq.ft. $735,000
_____asking price of $994,000 just a year ago

MLS inventory April 4, 2009 Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral

Condos, all prices_____700
over $500,000_________101 - 5 sold since New Year's Day
Single family homes___101 - not a typo, coincidence
over $500,000_________30

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
_______Winston Churchill