Agents expect quicker recovery among higher price points.

Luxury homes continued to sell during the early months of 2020 in the Sarasota-Manatee region.


Thirteen homes and eight condominiums each topping the $3 million mark closed from January through mid-April, MLS records show.


Home sales are expected to slow in the months ahead as the coronavirus pandemic keeps some buyers on the sidelines, and forces some sellers to pull their homes from the market or postpone open houses over health concerns.


But buyers wrapped up some pricey sales, most closing in January and February before the brunt of the virus-induced economic shutdown took effect.


“Yes, when the data from April comes out, it will be expected to show considerable declines from previous years,” said Michael Moulton, a luxury specialist with Michael Saunders & Co. “But I do believe that the demand for Sarasota real estate will be even greater as the market recovers. Though consumers at all levels have slashed spending on non-essential goods, when it comes to real estate investment, especially at the higher price points, activity is expected to recover rather quickly.”


A newly built home in the San Remo Estates area of Sarasota commanded the highest price so far at $4.92 million, MLS records show. The five-bedroom home at 1419 Tangier Way, totaling 6,218 square feet, was listed at $5.29 million. Sara Ferguson of Saunders was the listing agent.


Right behind was the $4.85 million paid for 447 Meadow Lark Drive on Bird Key. That four-bedroom, 7,258-square-foot home was listed over a year ago at $5.35 million. Judie Berger of Premier Sotheby’s was the listing agent.


Other top sales were $4.47 million for 6477 Gulfside Drive on Longboat Key; $4.4 million for 25 S. Washington Drive on St. Armands; and $4.25 million for unit 201 at 4750 Ocean Blvd. on Siesta Key.


Three months into 2020, Sarasota-Manatee home sales are 9% ahead of last year, with 3,560 closed sales of existing single-family homes.


But a slowdown is coming.


Pending sales of homes — those under contract and a reliable barometer of future closed sales — were down 33% in Sarasota-Manatee during March, which would translate to nearly 550 fewer closings in the months ahead.


And the stock of homes for sale in the region has dropped nearly 20%, leaving 1,100 fewer properties on the market.


Home buyers and sellers are grappling with the stock market plunge, the spike in unemployment that is cutting into travel and consumer buying, and the social distancing that is keeping people at home.


Drayton Saunders, president of the Saunders agency, said the number of people visiting for-sale homes, either in person or virtually, “dropped off the cliff” during the early weeks of the economic shut down. But those numbers rebounded last week.


“Those are people that have moved from curiosity to real interest,” he said in a video report.


“The market has slowed in response to COVID-19 but has by no means come to a halt,” added David Clapp, president of the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, about the latest local sales data. “New pending sales have decreased year-over-year, but they have not declined enough to cause concern. Since mid-March, new listings have decreased on a weekly basis, adding to the already low inventory we had prior to the coronavirus pandemic.


“And while these numbers are down, we fully expect this to change with more new listings coming onto the market as we come out of this pandemic,” he said.


Nationwide, sales of existing homes cratered 8.5% in March with real estate activity stalled by the coronavirus outbreak.


The National Association of Realtors said 5.27 million homes sold in March, off from 5.76 million in February. The decrease was the steepest since November 2015.


And the NAR experts say the numbers will likely get worse.


“Unfortunately, we knew home sales would wane in March due to the coronavirus outbreak,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “More temporary interruptions to home sales should be expected in the next couple of months, though home prices will still likely rise.”


The U.S. housing inventory at the end of March totaled 1.50 million units, up 2.7% from February but down 10.2% from one year ago. Unsold inventory sat at a 3.4-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3 months in February and down from the 3.8-month figure recorded in March 2019.


“Earlier in the year, we watched inventory gradually tick upward but with the current quarantine recommendations in place, fewer sellers are listing homes, which will limit buyer choices,” Yun said. “Significantly more listings are needed, and more will come on to the market once the economy steadily reopens.”


NAR’s most recent Flash Survey showed that 93% of sellers changed behavior to help the homebuying transaction move forward with social distancing and necessary precautions.