Latest sales trends show buyers' search for value, waterfront and newer homes

Sales of big homes for big bucks continue to be brisk in the Sarasota-Manatee real estate market.

Over the past six months, 28 homes and condominiums in the two counties sold for more than $4 million. Over the same six months in 2016-2017, only 10 properties were sold at that high price point.

“These are impressive numbers,” Roger Pettingell of Coldwell Banker Real Estate said. He specializes in luxury waterfront properties in Sarasota and Longboat Key. Luxury homes are “moving really good,” he said. “It’s exciting, actually.”

Others echo those views, citing the Sarasota-Manatee market's value and attractiveness.

“It’s a really positive trend,” said Joel Schemmel of Premier Sotheby's International Realty. “Hopefully, the market will continue to accelerate.”

“These are starting to make us look like a real luxury market,” Pettingell said. And the market is still not overpriced, he said, unlike Naples and Palm Beach.

Brian Loebker, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co., called the high-end buyer interest “extremely strong right now.”

Sales figures for this past March alone exceeded the number from January to March of 2017, Pettingell said. Of the $4 million-plus homes sold in the past half year, Pettingell sold four and Schemmel three, leading the pack.

On Wednesday, Pettingell closed the biggest deal in Sarasota County this year and the top sale on Bird Key ever. The 5,200-square-foot Sarasota Bay home and an adjacent vacant lot sold for $8.6 million.

Amenities and value

“Our customers cite Sarasota as a location filled with amenities and value — you would pay double, or maybe triple, for the same home in other locations like Miami or Naples,” Loebker said. “The Sarasota luxury real estate market is commanding the highest level of interest and attraction in its history at this moment.”

Schemmel calls Sarasota a “destination market.”

Buyers continue to be discriminating in the properties they view, Loebker said. “There is zero tolerance for over-paying or even viewing properties which seem over-priced. The buyers are active, paying with cash, and willing to strike a deal immediately provided it is fair and just for both buyer and seller,” he said. “Any signs of greed or over-selfconfidence, and the buyers will never view the property.”

The sheer number of $4 million-plus homes currently awaiting buyers may appear to be just as mind-boggling as the sales figures.

As of April 13, 103 homes were listed for $4 million or more in Sarasota and 19 in Manatee, including single-family homes, condos and townhomes, figures from My Florida Regional MLS indicate.

“The amount of inventory currently on the market over $4 million is not unusual," Loebker said. “Actually, the overall inventory has been down from October through February, so to see about 100 luxury homes over $4 million on the market right now is on trend with previous years. The key is getting these homes priced right for the buyer pool.”

At the end of April 2017, big listings totaled 79 in Sarasota and nine in Manatee. Listings for April 2016 stood at 70 and 12 respectively, Trendgraphix shows.

Pending sales through the end of this April will likely drop the number of listings, said Jennifer Horvat, chief marketing officer at Michael Saunders & Co.

On water but not on grade

The Realtors pointed out two other trends in the luxury market. The cost of waterfront land “has risen substantially,” Pettingell said, but buyers are less interested in older homes at grade level on water. Properties listed for $1 million to $2 million that are not on the water are the slowest to move, Schemmel said.

A lot of the luxury buyers live in Sarasota but are upgrading their homes while older residents who want to live closer to relatives and community amenities are selling and moving off the islands, thus increasing the luxury-market inventory.

Schemmel added another element to the high-end sales surge: value as an investment. “For the first time in a long time, real estate in the portfolio is a good thing,” he said, and “a great hedge against inflation.”

That is somewhat apparent in one segment of the luxury market. “Sarasota has proven itself as an exceptional location to have a second, third or fourth home,” Loebker said.

Luxury homebuilder Ryan Perrone, president of Nautilus Homes, which specializes in projects that start at about $4 million, agreed that the local market is strong. “We have seen an uptick in interest in our product. It is hard for me to say whether that is just due to a gain in market share or whether it is a trend."

A wider pool of buyers

The interest is coming from different parts of the country, too, broadening the pool of house shoppers.

“We have taken notice that while our city has been traditionally made up of Midwest transplants, there is a shift of people coming from California and the Northeast,” Perrone said. “I believe that this is because people from these markets are used to looking at those sorts of price points. In fact, those prices look like a deal when coming from L.A.”

Steve Murray, president of Murray Homes, is also seeing an increase in clients from California. Murray Homes is building six homes in the $4 million-plus price bracket, an increase over last year.

"We believe that this is in part due to the state income tax in those states, as well as the new tax regulations," Murray said in an email. "In addition, our area is seeing an increase in nationwide appeal due to awards, marketing and high-end hotels bringing new visitors to our region."

Murray echoed the view that Sarasota-Manatee homes represent value. "These clients are used to higher residential prices and so we are seen as a relative bargain when compared with Naples, Miami and their home towns."