Consumer confidence and low mortgage rates point to continued strength
BY BERNIE WOODALL
Home sales on the Treasure Coast fell in the first quarter of 2019, but rising prices and expectations that the economy will remain strong point to a robust real estate market for the rest of the year, local and state industry leaders report.
Florida Realtors showed that single-family home sales in the metro area, including Martin and St. Lucie counties, fell 6.8 percent, while median prices rose 3.3 percent. For the same period and area, condo and townhouse sales fell 11 percent and median prices for those sales rose 8.6 percent.
For Indian River County, single-family home sales fell 6 percent and median prices rose 4 percent. Condo and townhouse sales rose 7.5 percent and values rose 21.7 percent, according to Florida Realtors.
Median price is the point at which half of sales are lower and half are higher.
Jarrod Lowe, a Realtor in Jensen Beach and the president-elect of the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches, covering Martin and St. Lucie counties as well as the much-larger Broward and Palm Beach counties, says the first-quarter decline in sales is nothing to worry about. The market has already strengthened in April and May, he said, in part because of continuing low mortgage rates and consumer confidence that the economy will stay strong.
The recovery from the recession a decade ago was slow. It took about five years for the market to return to good health, Realtors told Treasure Coast Business. If a significant economic slowdown strikes, the real estate and housing markets are likely to be quicker to recover, as the last recession was largely caused by a housing price bubble and loan crisis, which is not expected to recur.
“We have more of a competitive, balanced market, where before we were definitively in a buyers’ market for a long period of time,” Lowe says. “We are close to 10 years of sustained growth in the real estate market. We’re balancing and evening out, and it’s a healthy market which is fair for both buyers and sellers.”
Andrew Harper, president of the Realtor Association of Indian River County, says the average price for home sales rose 8.3 percent, well more than the median because of the outsized value of homes on the barrier islands. Beach area homes in the quarter averaged sale prices of $1.05 million. They made up 40 percent of the county’s transactional dollar volume in the first quarter while making up only 13 percent of all county sales.
In Okeechobee County, volume of sales is much less than its Treasure Coast neighbors, but it may be the hottest market among the four right now.
Cristie Schmidt, president of the Okeechobee County Board of Realtors, says, “We’ve got a real healthy market right now.” She says homes that were reaching contract in a month now often take only one or two weeks.
Buyers still come to the Treasure Coast from up north, but many are now relocating from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Realtors say, particularly to Port St. Lucie.
Realty group figures show that Martin’s market narrowly favors buyers, while Indian River and St. Lucie are still sellers’ markets, but much less so than a year ago.
A factor that may have contributed to the Treasure Coast’s drop in first quarter 2019 sales volume is that early 2018 sales may have been boosted by sales postponed from late 2017 when the area was recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma. Also, mortgage rates rose above 4 percent in the first quarter and have since fallen below that point, according to area Realtors.
Statewide, Orlando-based Florida Realtors showed a 1.2 percent drop in home sales in the first quarter as median sale prices rose 2 percent.
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