By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer
Stephanie Bell started 2008 at Fran Maxon Real Estate in Anna Maria with a bang – a $2,450,000 cash sale on New Year’s Eve.
The sale of the three-parcel Holmes Beach property at 102 47th St. was a long time in the making, but worth the wait, she said.
"A lot of people have been looking but are not ready to commit," Bell said. "They’re waiting for the tax referendum or the presidential election."
But many have stopped looking and started buying, she and other Anna Maria Island real estate agents say.
"I firmly believe we’re on the upswing," said Barbara Sato, of Sato Real Estate in Anna Maria, who has three properties under contract and a fourth in progress.
"With no red tide, no hurricanes, beautiful weather and low mortgage rates, there’s been a positive upswing this year," she said, adding that two of her buyers are from the United Kingdom, a trend that other Realtors are seeing.
"We’re talking to more people about buying, mostly from out of town and England," said Steve Bark, of Bark and Co. Realty in Holmes Beach, who recently closed a sale to British buyers.
Europeans have the currency exchange rate in their favor, almost two to one, he said, adding that interest rates are reasonably stable around 6 percent.
In fact, the averate 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage now is going for 5.52 percent as of Monday, the lowest rate since September of 2005, according to national statistics provided by Bankrate.com.
In addition, fewer properties are on the market compared to this time last year, down from about 870 residential properties to about 650.
"I definitely think it’s a good sign," Bark said, adding that sales would be even better without insurance and tax worries.
"I don’t think our legislators get it," he said. "If you own one house and homestead it there’s no problem, but our market is second home people, and they don’t have any protection."
The tax reform proposal on the Jan. 29 ballot is a temporary fix where a permanent solution is needed, he said.
Despite tax and insurance concerns, buyers are starting to sign on the dotted line.
"They recognize we are at or very close to the bottom," Bark said. "The market has finally gotten to the point that people realize they better come look now."
"The pricing has bottomed here and it will stay level for the rest of 2008," predicted Al Galletto, sales manager for Island Real Estate in Holmes Beach. "Through the holidays and into the new year we’re seeing a lot more people buying. We’ve had several closings."
With average prices down 29 percent, that’s a trend he expects to continue.
"It’s encouraging," Bell agreed. "We’re very fortunate."