Friday, January 31, 2014

What's My Home Worth?

What is my property worth? In most cases, not as much as you are thinking or hoping. One of our agents shared a story with me yesterday that reminded me that property owners don't always err on the high side.

A Cocoa Beach homeowner told her that she had recently tried to sell her house to a neighbor but that he wouldn't come up to her number and the deal didn't get done. In this particular case, the homeowner didn't have the house listed with a Realtor and was shooting for a number that was under fair value. I don't know if she was guessing or going on Zillow's "Zestimate" or perhaps the Property Appraiser's "market value" but, whatever method she had used to arrive at her number it was off considerably to the downside. Lucky for her, the neighbor also had a mistaken sense of the value and she didn't sell to him and leave tens of thousands of dollars on the table. Of course, she would have had the satisfaction of not having paid a real estate commission but her walkaway check would have been less even with the commission savings. I'm not making a case here for listing one's property with a Realtor rather than trying it alone. I am making a case for knowing what a property is worth before trying to buy or sell. Zillow and the Property Appraiser are not reliable sources for property value. Recently sold, nearby comparable properties adjusted for differences and market dynamics are the only realistic metrics one should use for arriving at fair value. Here's a link to Zillow's explanation to why the Zestimate is over 20% off on more than 15% of Orlando listings.

In our story here, the neighbor missed out on a good deal by not knowing what the house was really worth. Buyers, be aware that you can occasionally get a great deal from an uninformed, unrepresented seller. Usually, FSBOs are overpriced but sometimes not. Whether buying or selling, it's a mistake to assume that because there is no real estate commission being paid that the deal is sweet. In many cases, one party is getting the short end of the stick. If you've done your homework, you'll never be that one.

On another note, the asking price a prospective listing agent suggests is not the metric property sellers should be focusing on when interviewing agents. There was a time in the not too distant past when most good listing agents would not accept a substantially over-priced listing. Why take a listing that doesn't have a good chance of selling? It's a little different now. With the current low inventory it makes sense to take any listing just to generate leads from buyers that might buy something else. Continuing that logic, a listing agent might suggest an unrealistically high price in order to get a listing from an optimistic seller. Ask for comps and the basis used for the suggested asking price from a prospective listing agent.

I'm happy to give readers an opinion of fair market value of any property in our market. I'll arrive at that opinion based on research of recently sold comparables, not ten minutes on Zillow. Email me,

"I'd rather an incompetent ideologue than an apathetic cynic" __Regis

Friday, January 24, 2014


The sales numbers from the first month of 2014 are not going to accurately reflect the level of activity in the Cocoa Beach real estate market. We began the month in a slow steady mode but by the second week every agent I talked to was running ragged writing and negotiating offers. Activity is still frenetic. I get the sense that a lot of people that had been waiting and thinking of purchasing have decided that now is better than later to pursue a purchase. The rising closed prices tend to support that decision. The continuing low inventory is adding friction to the process.

The bread and butter of our market, direct ocean condos, are in short supply. The property type I am most often asked about is an east facing, direct ocean condo above the ground floor with at least two bedrooms. This morning there are 64 total direct ocean, east facing condos for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral. A quarter of those have been for sale for over six months. In this competitive market that screams "overpriced". A third of the remaining units are ground floor which means that a buyer looking for a fairly priced direct ocean unit above the ground floor has a selection of 35 to choose from. Remove the two one bedroom units and we have 33 possibilities for the "at least two bedrooms" buyer. Only five of those are asking less than $300,000 and fully half are above $400,000. Tight supply.

There have been 30 condos closed in the two cities so far in 2014 according to the MLS. Only three of those were direct ocean units. Highest closed price was $548,500 for a direct ocean top floor (5th) Solana Shores 3/2. The last 4/4 Magnolia Bay developer-owned unit closed for $465,000. Not bad for a 3000+ square foot never-lived-in unit with two garages and 10' ceilings. The Mag Bay developer has only one unit of any size left for sale there.

The smoking deal of 2014 so far was a foreclosed ground floor, completely remodeled Windward East direct ocean 2/2 with 1482 square feet. Someone stole it for $205,000.

There are 89 condos under contract this morning with 72 of those having gone under contract since December 1. That will fuel the closed numbers in the weeks to come. As always, if you're looking to buy, have your funds available and/or your mortgage pre-approval process started. You also need to be checking the MLS daily or have your agent set up an auto-alert that will email you directly from the MLS when a property matching your criteria is listed. When a good one hits, it's gone quickly, so be prepared to move. Happy hunting.

"The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed."  __William Gibson

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Serendipity or Crafty Marketing?

And so it goes. I went to Satellite Beach yesterday to check out what looked to be a compelling oceanfront condo listing that had just been reduced to $245,900. The unit was described in the MLS as "Sought after South East corner condo with awesome ocean views".  Not a bad price for an upper floor, direct ocean southeast corner with 1305 square feet. I arrived to discover that the unit was a southwest corner on the A1A side with a north facing front door not west facing as indicated in the MLS. There was not a single east facing window or slider in the unit. The views of the ocean over the parking lot and adjacent property were nice. Now I realize a lot of people have trouble with directions and confuse east, west, north and south. Maybe that's the case here. Serendipitous mistake for the listing agent if it is. She got me there and has probably fielded quite a few inquiries. Maybe she's even been successful at steering a buyer disappointed with this unit to another bona fide southeast corner. Mistakes can be profitable.

The photo is of the beach at the end of Minutemen this past Friday. You can probably guess from where the shot was taken.

"Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked.” __Elizabeth Berg

Friday, January 17, 2014

Stretching the Truth

From this morning's hotsheet of new, sold and price changed listings in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral; a Portside Villas 2/2 unit that closed yesterday for $97,000. At $97,000, I consider these big (1211 square feet), 8 year old units to be an attractive buy. What I have never considered is that they could legitimately be described as "across the street from the ocean". The description in the MLS states "Adorable 2 bedroom, 2 bath Condo across the street from the Ocean!!! (Triple exclamation marks not mine) Technically, there is but one street between Portside Villas and the ocean. What an internet shopper might not know is that the walk from the unit to the beach is within a few feet of one mile. If a buyer was a bird, she'd be but 4402 feet front door to the beach. Unfeathered residents will have to walk to the nearest road that winds to the beach and according to Google maps that closest ground route is 4945 feet. Listing agents, please consider that you foster the bad opinion the public has of all of us when you do stuff like this. That unit would have sold just as fast if you had said "One mile to the beach". Larry out.

Written across the bottom of the inside of a bathroom stall door.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Too Much Information

I figure it's been long enough now, eleven days into the new year, for almost all the laggards to have updated their sold listings on the MLS for 2013. Here are what we'll arbitrarily call the "final" numbers. These numbers apply to Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral only and reflect just those property sales reported to the MLS. There were a handful of non-listed sales during the year that aren't part of these stats.

As I mentioned in a previous post, 2013 saw the highest number of condo sales since 2005. Cash still dominated the purchases with three out of five buyers stroking a check rather than getting a mortgage. The number of distressed sales continued to decline with short sales shrinking to only 7% of the total. One in three listings sold in less than a month on the market.

2013 Total condo sales - 660
Purchased with cash - 402
Short sales - 43
Bank-owned - 109
Sold in 30 days or less - 226

The story was similar with single family homes sales in 2013. Almost half of the buyers paid cash. Distressed sales were few and short sales were but a tiny blip on the screen. Almost half of all homes sold had a contract in less than a month from listing.

Total single family home sales 2013 - 125
Purchased with cash - 56
Short sales - 8
Bank-owned - 12
Sold in 30 days or less - 56

As of this morning, there are 62 total single family homes in the two cities for sale on the MLS. Seven of those are either under construction or not yet built. Two are short sales and three are bank-owned.

There are 303 condos for sale with 23 of those not yet built (possibly never). Of the 303, seven are short sales and 25 are bank-owned. Of the 25 bank-owned units, well over half have been on the market for more than 50 days, with four growing mold for over 100 days. This is a reflection of the banks' too-optimistic recent pricing.

The surf temp is lingering in the high 60s making short sessions without a wetsuit still possible. With winter guests arriving every day, the days of breezing through nine holes in less than two hours are over until after Easter but with today's forecast high of 79, I'm going to brave it.

Snowbirds, don't forget to tip your server. She is probably being paid $4.91 per hour (the minimum in Florida for tipped servers) which means she needs your tip to feed the babies.

"I embarrassed a lot of people. At this point I should know better than to make political statements."  __Dennis Rodman

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

It IS Different Here! [another past favorite]

[This post was originally published on Halloween Day 2008. It is still relevant and true so I thought, partly motivated by laziness (if that isn't a contradiction), that I'd repost for the newer readers enjoyment.]

There is a long list of thought-terminating real estate clich├ęs that are to the truth as fingernails are to a blackboard. Among the nominees for the best is the title of this post. Other self-serving RE industry creations are "Now's a great time to buy", "Real estate only goes up", "Interest rates are at historical lows", "Buy now or be priced out forever" and on and on. In spite of the transparent purpose of these phrases when used by Realtors about the real estate market, I will venture that "it is different here" has some compelling resonance when said about Cocoa Beach as a community. I'm not speaking as a Realtor, rather, as a resident. Our market is subject to the same influences as other markets across the state of Florida, but, it only takes a drive down A1A through the four or so blocks of "downtown" or a stroll along the uncrowded beach on a beautiful day to realize that the absence of crowds and the small-town sense of community here is a rare commodity to be treasured. I am guilty of taking what we have here for granted but it only takes a moment mired in traffic in any another coastal community in our state to remind me how good we have it. Name one other coastal Florida town that has a "Walk your child to school day" or that has a maximum speed limit of 35 MPH or whose population has not increased in the last 20 years. That is Cocoa Beach. It IS different here. If you're looking to purchase here, do your homework, know what represents good value and bargain hard. Remarkable deals continue to happen in the best little beach town in Florida.

Mosquitoes can be a problem in many areas of Florida but the constant sea breeze keeps the ocean side of the road pretty much free of them and other flying insects. On those few days that the wind shifts around from the west, mosquitoes and other small insects get blown over A1A to the ocean side and tuck into the lee of oceanfront buildings. When this happens, the dragonflies come out en masse to take advantage of the easy meal. The photo at the top is of one of these other-worldly creatures that share our airspace on offshore days like we've had recently.

"We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."
______Anais Nin