Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy 8th Anniversary

Beach restoration south Cocoa beach 2005
I just realized that this month marks the 8 year anniversary of this little real estate blog. In the 8 years I've been commenting on our market I've written 389 posts and angered scores of listing agents, developers and other market participants. Those same not universally loved comments have also initiated contact from hedge funds, banks, troubled developers and various members of the media. Not one of them realized the oracle was wearing flip flops until the first meeting. Hey. Whatcha gonna do? My shining moment of the last eight years, however, has to be the time I was accused straight-faced by a local lender as being the reason via this blog for the market crash. I may not have crashed the market but I will take credit for torpedoing more than one deal. All this because I write honestly about what I see happening in the Cocoa Beach real estate market. Expect more of the same, hopefully for at least another eight.

What's changed since then? When I began writing in March 2005 the market was poised for a meltdown but it wasn't apparent yet. We had never heard of short sales and there were zero foreclosures for sale in the two cities. There were 200 new condos either under construction or about to break ground just in the 3/4 mile stretch from Patrick Air Force Base to 18th Street South. It was to be a disaster for all of them except the one building that was never built, Cocoa Cabanas. They are still threatening to build, by the way. Magnolia Bay was set to break ground the following month and the announced 77 units were offered pre-construction starting at $549,900. Many of the pre-construction buyers eventually walked away from their 10% deposits but they lost less than those who went ahead and closed with an instant six figure loss. The fourth building was never built. It was a story to be repeated at all the other new buildings in the once-sleepy southern stretch of Cocoa Beach. Another boondoggle soon to be announced was the Enclave between 3rd and 4th Street South with an original plan of 24 zero lot line single family homes starting at a million dollars. Only 12 were built and several of those eventually sold for less than a half million. For the record, it was true then and as is still true today, no non-waterfront home has sold in Cocoa Beach for even close to a million dollars. For anyone to think they could sell, not one, but 24 for more than a million bucks seems incomprehensible. Those were heady, optimistic and greedy times.

At the same time in March 2005 pre-construction buyers were flipping contracts at Portside Villas for 5 to 7 times their investment. Similar, although not quite as lucrative, activity was happening at Solana on the River, Mystic Vistas, Majestic Bay and Puerto del Rio among others. The coming months were to see tens of millions in evaporated money for those unfortunate enough to be among the buyers of the flipped contracts or those who closed on those contracts rather than flip for a profit. Prices of individual units in some complexes eventually sold for a quarter of the number they were bringing in 2005, e.g., Perlas del Mar and Sea Spray Townhomes.

In early March 2005 the national average 30 year fixed rate mortgage was 5.77% and climbing and scrutiny of the borrower and the property was practically non-existent. Rates topped 6% by month's end. Inventory was still relatively low with around 400 condo units listed for sale in the Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral MLS and less than 45 single family homes. The condo inventory was top heavy with over 110 units asking over a half million. This  warning sign was ignored by almost all market participants. Inventory was about to blow up with total number of condos for sale almost tripling in a year's time as prices tumbled.

 Things have changed. MLS condo inventory is at 317 total units for sale this morning. Magnolia Bay and most of the other once-troubled complexes are on solid footing with most or all units sold. (There are a couple of exceptions in south Cocoa Beach.) The national average for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage  is 3.52%. Scrutiny of borrowers and the collateral property is now as invasive and thorough as a prostate exam. The Space Shuttle is no longer flying and Kelly Slater has been world champion five more times since that first blog post. The downtown sidewalks that were concrete in 2005 are now pavers and rowdy beach-goers are more likely to be accosted by a fired up old dude on a power trip in a Beach Ranger shirt than a cop. The locals on the deck at the Beach Shack have not noticed any change at all. Through it all, Cocoa Beach is still my pick as the best little beach town in Florida.

"I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific." ___Lily Tomlin