Industry leaders see signs of recovery for housing market
By Marilyn Bowden
Executives at top real estate firms are pointing to signs of recovery in Miami-Dade's beleaguered housing market.
"We saw a sharp increase in our written new business for November," said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell. "It's up 24% over what we wrote in November 2005."
Even though at the end of 2005 the area was still reeling from the aftermath of three hurricanes, he said, "this still means that we will see many more closings in January 2007 than in January 2006."
The uptick in sales, Mr. Shuffield said, is spread across all market segments.
"I think in general people have seen an upturn," he said. "We had two $1.5 million buyers who moved to Miami last January. Both were anxious then about buying in a market that may be declining, but this past week both purchased."
Hard figures on November deals, however, are months away, and even then they'll only include resales. The most recent area figures, for October, summarize closings that came weeks or months after buyers signed contracts.
In that month, single-family home resales rose 6% from the prior October, from 511 to 544 homes. Condo resales fell 6%, from 541 to 508.
But realtors report soaring December sales.
"This month we've seen a big spike in sales," said Jeff Morr, founder of Majestic Properties. "Closings are up 20% over last year – and that's not a result of prices dropping. They have held up and even appreciated in some cases."
Overall, Majestic's sales were 40% lower this year than last, he said, "but I expect February to be a banner month when people start talking about recovery."
"There's no question that the worst is over," said Keyes Co. President Mike Pappas. "Interest rates continue to come down, and there is more activity in home sales. What is happening is that the market is understanding the market. There are adjustments in pricing, and those that are selling are listening and facing the facts of today."
People are selling for traditional motivations – divorces, job transfers, a need for more space – rather than just for profit, Mr. Pappas said, and the wait time is becoming more realistic.
Associates at Coldwell Banker are seeing a lot more contracts for single-family homes, said Gus Rubio, executive vice president and general manager for Miami-Dade.
"We expect it to flatten out and recover in first quarter 2007," he said. "But because of the excess number of new condos coming on line, that market may not recover quite as quickly. My prediction is that the condo market will take another 12 to18 months."
Market watchers need perspective on recent hyperactivity, Mr. Shuffield said.
"Every home in Miami-Dade is worth twice what it was five years ago," he said, "and you can't do that every five years."
"We have lost historical perspective on what has happened," Mr. Pappas said. "This was the greatest real estate run in the history of Florida. But I'm happy 2006 is over. Hopefully in 2007 we'll put the meat back on the bone."