By now you’ve heard: Sarasota real estate is on the rebound. Sales keep climbing and prices are edging up, while properties’ time on the market continues to drop.
According to the Sarasota Association of Realtors (SAR), sales reached a seven-year high in March 2012, with more than 800 properties changing hands. Pending sales, which represent properties that went under contract, achieved their highest level in a year — an indication that the market surge will continue. SAR president Laura Benson called the numbers “amazing.”
But which areas, and what kinds of properties, are hottest? According to local real estate experts, three locales are current stand-outs: Lakewood Ranch, Siesta Key and Gulf Gate. Other areas are selling well — “Really, there’s no place that isn’t hot,” said Benson — but these are three favorites in their respective markets.
On a recent Sunday, Cindy and Jason Zabawa spent the afternoon at Central Park in Lakewood Ranch, imagining the 3,200-square-foot home that will soon be theirs. They already had a good idea: It would look much like the “Dolcetto” model in which they sat with their sales agent, Rob Hall of Cardel Homes.
The previous weekend, after they had decided they liked the model but wanted modifications, the Zabawas went over the details with Hall during a three-hour meeting. Changes included turning the dining room into a TV/game area, converting the library into a guest room, and eliminating the wine room to accommodate larger bedrooms and walk-in closets.
“Two days later we had the plans, with everything we wanted,” Jason Zabawa said of the modifications.
According to Jimmy Stewart, vice present of sales for LWR Communities LLC, 123 new homes were contracted in Lakewood Ranch during the first quarter of 2012 — a 35 percent increase over the first quarter of 2011. Sales of existing homes were up 11 percent during the same period.
The average price of an existing home was $348,000, while the average cost of a new home was $384,000. The inventory of sites for new homes is “lower than we’ve seen in a while,” Stewart said, and prices and square footages are on the rise.
The Zabawas are paying about $480,000 — “slightly more” than they would have a year ago, Hall said. Zabawa said the family is pleased with the price, and happy the home is new. “What we found when we were looking is that new is actually a better deal,” he said. “We’re getting the house we want, the way we want it.”
Hall said he has seen “a lot of traffic” coming through the model, particularly in the last few weekends. “People seem to be more in a position to buy right now, and I think they’re realizing the market is right.”
Because the Zabawas have been renting in Lakewood Ranch since moving from New Jersey last year, they already know the lifestyle. Their 10- and 12-year-olds play football, baseball and soccer, and the family never misses First Friday, when Main Street turns into a street fair with food kiosks, live music and dancing. “It’s great to live in an area where you’re not afraid to let your kids go off on their own,” Zabawa said.
Cardel likely will begin building the Zabawas’ home in July. All that’s left for them to do is choose which lot they want. They have two in mind, both of which sit on a lake.
“Stable, desirable and well-maintained,” is the way Pauline Bennett, managing broker of the downtown Coldwell Banker office, describes the Gulf Gate area. “It’s a very solid community and a logical choice for someone who wants that $200,000 price range,” Bennett said.
Others agreed that Gulf Gate offers value and ease. On a recent morning, Malcolm Parker stepped outside the Piccolo Italian Market & Deli off Gulf Gate Drive with a cappuccino in hand. His wife was nearby, shopping for shoes, he said, and he was taking a break. His next stop was A Taste of Europe International Food Market to buy perogies and a certain jam that his wife likes.
The couple, visiting Sarasota for a month from Indiana, discovered the string of shops that holds both stores when they homed in on Gulf Gate as a neighborhood in which they would eventually like to buy. They have looked at other cities, including Bradenton and St. Petersburg, Parker said, as well as other neighborhoods in Sarasota.
Parker said they are drawn to Gulf Gate by its convenient location, its affordability, and what he perceives as a mixed population of retirees and families. “You can get to the Gulf in just a few minutes, but you have everything you really need right here,” he said.
He gestured at the long row of shops: dry cleaner, tailor, hair salon, dog groomer, restaurants, produce store, bakery. “What else could you want?”
He smiled. “Plus, the golf course is just down the street.”
The Gulf Gate neighborhood of mostly single-family ranches is currently selling well. In the past 12 months, there have been 166 sales, according to Bennett, with a median price of $107,750. The median days-on-the-market was a brief 41 days, while the median list price to sale price was 94 percent.
Told that only 24 properties were currently for sale in Gulf Gate, Parker said he wasn’t surprised. “I think it would be a great place to live,” he said. “We love the neighborhood, and everyone we meet says it’s a friendly community.”
The couple has looked at a few houses — one was run-down; a couple of others were too small. But Parker doesn’t want to wait too long. “We want to get in before things go too high,” he said.
Near the beach
Longing for a place near the No. 1 beach in the nation? David Foster, an agent with Michael Saunders & Co. said now is the time to buy on Siesta Key. Listings are plentiful. “Values are still good there,” he said. “Knowledgeable people are buying now.”
Consider Beth and Tom McLean and Edward Carvallo and his fiancée, Ellen Brown, among those in the know. Both couples recently toured an open house on a cul-de-sac on Commonwealth Place. Sunlight winked off the canal that borders the rear of the house, while inside the house the updated kitchen overlooked an immaculate pool.
“This home is a dream come true!” read the listing sheet prepared by Realtor Gloria Totti-Cervoni, who was showing the place. “A fabulous waterfront property, only minutes to the Intracoastal Waterway … Pride of ownership beams brightly here.” With three bedrooms and two baths, the home’s list price was $645,000.
It was enough to pull in Carvallo and the McLeans, along with more than a dozen other interested parties. “We’ve always loved it here,” said Carvallo, a plastic surgeon from Palm Harbor. “And now that we’re retired, we can move.”
He and Brown want a place near the beach and restaurants, a one-story with at least three bedrooms, a study, a pool, and plenty of room for their schnoodle.
They’ve been looking for two months, Carvallo said, and liked what they were seeing on Siesta Key. So did the McLeans, who were out scouting for friends of theirs from Atlanta.
“It’s seems like the time to buy,” said Tom McLean. Both he and Totti-Cervoni agreed the Commonwealth Place home would have gone for more than $1 million at the height of the market seven years ago.
According to Debbie Judge, branch manager of Saunders’ Siesta Key office, pending sales on the key for the first quarter of 2012 were up 22.4 percent over the first quarter of 2011. Inventory for the same period was down 22.9 percent. During that same time, the average sales price increased 16.3 percent. Even so, Judge said, “For properties to sell, they must be priced correctly. Buyers are very well informed and are not overpaying.” The McLeans live a half-mile down the road, walk daily on Siesta Beach and do a lot a of gardening. They love the key lifestyle, they said — the easy-going village, the tropical warmth. At the open house, Tom McLean stood in the lanai and pointed at the canal. “If I had a boat, it would look great out there,” he said.
Courtesy of Sarasota Herald-Tribune,
Written By CYNTHIA ANDERSON, Correspondent