EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Marketplace column.
___ STEVE’S MARKETPLACE ____
The U.S. real estate market appears to be recovering from the doldrums of the last four years. However, before calling for a toast of celebration, this could be little more than a false, short-term move.
Nonetheless, a recovery must begin with tiny steps, somewhere, someway. For the first time since the real estate market began softening, some local professionals are muttering words of promise. Hope. Enthusiasm.
Several months ago, Roger Martin of ERA Fernandina Beach Realty said he was busier than any time since 2007 (for those who can’t remember, that was the top of the market). Even mortgage brokers like Dan Bulna of Atlantic Mortgage Consultants here are finding ways amid tightened regulations to finance real estate deals, with regularity.
Others like Hugh Williams, co-owner of Prudential Chaplin Williams Realty on Amelia Island, have received shocking news. John Holbrook informed him that he and other Chaplin Williams agents had been involved in a closing every business day of 2011 (on average) — amounting to about $1 million of sales per week. “That is when I fell out of my chair,” Williams said.
A year ago, things for Williams and co-owner Dee Chaplin were not as rosy. Their staid response to questions about the real estate market was: “It’s pretty bad. We’re struggling.”
That has recently changed. So much so, that Williams now proclaims: “My prediction is that 2012 will be a much better year.”
On a state level, Florida is growing again in terms of population. The state added some 256,000 residents in a 15-month period. And on a national level, homebuilding has accelerated and reached levels not seen since April 2010.
These are obviously favorable trends within the real estate markets. Especially when in past years, an entire month would pass with hardly a single closing — in all of Nassau County, Florida.
There are even visible, tangible signs of improvement. Houses being constructed along the beach on Amelia Island (especially those belonging to celebrities like author John Grisham). “Sold” signs replacing ubiquitous “for sale” placards. And serious buyers walking into local real estate offices to look at properties.
There are headwinds, however, regardless of the sudden prosperity. A glut of soon-to-be foreclosed properties hovers over the market like the beginning of a busy hurricane season. Financing is difficult to obtain for many individuals and businesses. And heightened federal regulations are complicating the marketplace.
Still, in some locations such as Amelia Island, the supply-demand equation can quickly become favorable because of a limited inventory. The same can be said for neighboring coastal locations, but not as much for towns and cities in the center of the state; property is virtually unlimited there.
But let’s not focus on any negatives. A new year is here. And hopefully, a new and improved landscape will develop within the local real estate market and elsewhere.