By Lisa Codianne Fowler
During the early 19th century, the term “selling like hotcakes” became a familiar expression for anything that sold quickly, effortlessly, and in mass quantities, making it difficult to keep up with demand. Today, the idiom couldn’t apply more to the housing market on Siesta Key.
According to leading Siesta Key realtors, at the beginning of the pandemic sales came to a screeching halt. But in May, when domestic travel restrictions were lifted, a phenomenon occurred. People from all over the country swooped down to grab a slice of paradise. Single-family homes in particular have been hot, plummeting inventory to historically low levels.
A market on fire
“The market, especially high-end, has been on fire, which traditionally doesn’t occur,” said Bob Ruiz of Key Solutions Real Estate. “Typically, condominiums and properties in the $1 million and under range are the largest sector of our sales. Though they remain strong, single family homes in the $2 – $5 million range are moving within 30-60 days of listing,” he advised. “Waterfront properties, both single-family homes and condos with boat docks are in particularly high demand.” Low mortgage rates are not what’s motivating these buyers, explained Ruiz, noting that primarily they are paying cash. Due to COVID-19, he said, more people are working remotely from home and home can be Florida, a state without income tax. According to Ruiz, working from home leads buyers to want more space, indoors and out. “They want backyards; they want a porch and an extra bedroom to make an office.”
Shelter in place
Lin Dunn of Team Dunn/Michael Saunders & Company also believes that the spike in sales was tied to the Covid-19 imposed lockdown. “People said, okay, if that pandemic comes back again, where do I want to be? In Chicago, New York, New Jersey? No,” he said, “they want to be in Florida!”
“We found that if a property was well-priced, well done, and with a pool and a view, it went immediately.” With inventory depleted, Dunn explained, the previously stagnant condo market accelerated. “I had a (condo) property just last week,” he recalled, “that came on the market for one day – it was a multiple offer situation. It’s amazing what’s happening and it’s all because of the pandemic.” In September of 2019, Dunn said, the Michael Saunders Siesta Key office had $27 million in sales. This year it was $80 million. “It’s all because that person in New York or Chicago, is thinking, ‘if I’m going to be stranded this year, I’d rather be stranded on sunny Siesta Key.’”
Back to the future
A flying DeLorean made famous in the popular “Back to the Future” 1985 film sure would come in handy right now. But in the absence of time travel, it’s anyone’s guess about the future of real estate on the Key. Will this trend continue? According to Siesta Key realtor Joe Kesslak of Gulf Shore Group/ReMax Alliance, “my gut feeling is yes, for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Interest rates are most likely going to remain low for quite some time and there’s normally a trend of northerners coming down to Florida to retire and get second homes. Now people are leaving properties in the cities; they want more space. Someone in New York City might have an apartment that’s 1,000 square feet worth two million dollars. Here they can buy a big home for a million dollars.” Another contributing factor, Kesslak noted, is the absence of state income tax. “New York charges 13.5% state tax. It’s crazy,” he exclaimed. The only “hiccup” he foresees is the dearth of inventory.
Low on listings
“This is the lowest inventory we’ve had in well over a decade,” said Dan Miller of Tropical Sands/ReMax. “Two of my people needed to find houses here locally, and I couldn’t find replacement houses.” Miller noted that there were only 83 single-family homes available, historically a very low number. Of those, only 15 were priced under one million, with just six canal-front properties available. As of mid-October, Miller reported 95 contracts pending. “It was a busy September,” he said. “The slowest time is hurricane season, from mid-August, rolling into early October.” However, during a seven-day period this October, Miller’s office had 14 listings, 16 sales, and 23 pending sales. “We’ve got more coming off the market than coming on. Inventory is not getting a chance to build,” he told the Siesta Sand.
Timing is everything
For 30 years, Ken and Julie Young had their hearts set on retiring in Siesta Key. They had family here and visited often. A far cry from Seattle, Washington, Siesta offered their ideal lifestyle. Working with Joe and Wendy Kesslak, of Gulf Shore/ReMax Alliance Group, they closed on their dream home in July that is close to town, the beach, and on a canal. “We had been looking for a long time, and the right home came along at the right time,” Ken Young recalled. Shortly after they closed there were opportunities to sell their new Siesta Key home for more than they paid. They happily declined.
A changed landscape
Al Nemore and Seth Westerberg of the Westerberg Group summed up the dramatic market shift. In a joint interview with the Siesta Sand, Nemore and Westerberg spoke about the current market. “Covid, and frankly all the turmoil across the country, has dramatically changed the real estate market on Siesta Key,” said Nemore. “It went from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market in just a few months. We’ve had homes that were on the market for over a year that had only received lowball offers up until the beginning of the summer,” Westerberg commented. “It seemed overnight that showings dramatically picked up and multiple offers came in. The biggest surprise was when all our properties under contract started getting backup offers as well. That’s when we knew there was a BIG shift happening.”
Missing our foreign friends
Amid the recent flurry of sales, one “key” element is missing: our seasonal Siesta Key residents from abroad. “We miss our Canadian and European friends and owners,” said Key Solutions’ Bob Ruiz. “Travel restrictions prevent them from using their precious Siesta second homes. We are praying for normalcy sooner than later and look forward to the return of our friends from abroad.”