Archives March, 2008


An Upswing In Confidence

Even though all real estate is local, the press tends to toss it all into one big bucket using oversimplified headlines that reflect the national overview. Yet people don’t buy real estate nationally; they buy it one property at a time, one market at a time. To get the real picture of what’s truly happening in your market of interest, you have to drill down and examine the statistics that apply there.

Happily, sales in Sarasota-Bradenton continue to be buoyed by sellers who have heeded the call to adjust their prices downward; leading an ever-increasing number of both American and European buyers to end the waiting game and act on properties of exceptional value. We are definitely encouraged by this response and can be very proud that we’ve taken exactly the steps that were called for in every Florida market, but took them first. Some Florida communities have yet to follow suit and their reluctance to do so is reflected in unusually anemic sales. Sarasota-Manatee, on the other hand, continues to post unit sales that outperform nearly every other statewide market large and small.

While year-over-year sales of existing single family homes netted an overall statewide decline of 25 percent in February, Sarasota-Bradenton was down only ten percent in a month that saw Jacksonville’s sales decline by 40 percent; Miami’s by 41 percent, Orlando’s by 31 percent, Tampa-St. Petersburg’s by 29 percent and Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach’s by 28 percent each.

According to the latest recap—issued just this past week by the Florida Association of Realtors—Sarasota-Manatee once again outsold such mega-markets as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, building on a solid trend that held throughout every month of 2007 and continues thus far into 2008. In fact, with 608 homes changing hands in February, Sarasota-Manatee sold more existing single-family homes than both Miami (244 sold) and Ft. Lauderdale (360 sold) put together. As well, we outsold West Palm Beach-Boca Raton by 34 percent and sold only marginally fewer homes than Jacksonville (687 sold), a market twice our size.

Further, if you isolate sales in Sarasota alone, the numbers are even more impressive. As reported by the Sarasota Association of Realtors, the month of February 2008 showed a major leap in overall property sales, according to statistics culled from the Sarasota MLS. In February, there were 423 property sales compared to only 329 in January—a one-month increase of 28 percent.

There were 294 single family homes sold in February, along with 129 condominiums. While sales were strong, the median sale price for homes and condominiums continued to fluctuate. Single-family homes actually saw a rise in the median sale price, from $265,000 in January to $285,000 in February—a seven percent increase. Condominiums, on the other hand, recorded a 24 percent decline in the median price, from $303,500 to $230,500.

Perhaps the brightest spot of all can be seen in the strength of February’s pending sales, which jumped to 654; the highest level in almost a year. Indeed, these sales have been edging steadily upwards since December of 2007, when there were only 374. Pending sales are a significant harbinger of closed sales activity to come within the next thirty to sixty days.

Inventory levels were also lower in February 2008, with 10,035 single family homes on the market compared to 10,391 last February—a reduction of 356. The inventory of condominiums dropped by 372 year-over-year; from 5,960 in February 2007 to 5,588 a year later. Not earth-shattering by any standard, but every drop in inventory is a step in the right direction.

Clearly these results indicate that confidence among buyers in our market is on a definite upswing. No one has the ability to time the market to the exact day, but anyone has the ability to make a prudent buying decision once they detect an exceptional value.


When Good Things Happen Thanks To Good People

Sarasota is that most uncommon of American markets that combines a fully-realized, leisure-centric lifestyle with the daily rhythms of a small-scale, progressive metropolis. Truly it’s a rare jewel with many facets, one of the most beautiful being its enormous philanthropic heart.

Each year, through numerous public charities and not-for-profit organizations—2,228 to be exact, throughout Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte Counties—the Southwest Florida community marshals thousands of volunteers and millions upon millions in donations to assist worthy causes, especially for the less fortunate among us. The region literally bustles all year long with activities that engage the community to pitch in wherever help is needed. No matter where your heart lies philanthropically, there’s certain to be an organization waiting to benefit from your time, talents and commitment. “Everyone can be great because anyone can serve,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

Volunteering has a number of lesser-known fringe benefits beyond those accrued by the people whose lives are touched by a volunteer’s commitment. Reams of scientific documentation ascribe incredible health benefits to those who make the time to volunteer regularly. Such outer-directed activities improve self-esteem, reduce heart rate and blood pressure and increase endorphin production—while boosting the immune system, buffering the impact of daily stressors and prohibiting social isolation. Moreover, people with solid social support networks achieved through volunteer activities exhibit lower premature death rates, a lower incident of heart disease, fewer health risk factors overall, and a general increase in life expectancy.

If you are new to the community, a seasonal resident or simply wish to broaden your local horizons, volunteering expands your social networking opportunities by exposing you to like-minded people you might not otherwise meet. Through their chosen affiliations, volunteers build lifelong friendships, absorb new job and people skills and set important examples for their children and others. As well, employers are more likely to hire job applicants who display a history of commitment toward helping others. Whatever your reason for giving of yourself as a volunteer, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

At Michael Saunders & Company we are proud to join in the spirit of giving back to a community that has given us so much to enjoy and be thankful for. This is evidenced every day in so many ways as our associates, staff and management donate their time, money and talents to benefit those in need of assistance—thus improving the quality of life for all of us.

Though best known for the exceptional real estate experiences they bring to every customer, one of the many things that make the people of this company so special is their deep and abiding sense of community. Today we dedicate this page to members of our own corporate family, as well as committed volunteers throughout the region, who continually give their all to make sure that “paradise” is as good as it can possibly be.

Pictured here is just a sampling of the associates at Michael Saunders & Company who distinguish themselves daily in service to such noteworthy organizations as the All-Star Children’s Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Child Protection Center, The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Downtown Partnership, Girls Inc., Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity, Marie Selby Gardens Botanical Gardens, Sarasota Museum of Art, The Selby Foundation, Senior Friendship Center and The Wellness Community, just to name a few.

As much as any one person can do to improve the human condition is magnified many times over when more good people like these heed the call to help others. As the saying goes: Snowflakes melt alone, but when joined together can be traffic stoppers.


Outshining The Sunshine Markets

The Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area, with its combined population of 5,523,032, has nearly eight times more people than the Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area. Yet according to monthly sales recaps issued by the Florida Association of Realtors, Sarasota-Bradenton—with its population of 703,351—sold significantly more existing single-family homes during every month of 2007 than Miami, Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach.

Is it any wonder then why real estate economist, Jack McCabe—whose Deerfield Beach headquarters lays midway between Miami and West Palm Beach—came to Sarasota, stood before an audience and had nothing but the grimmest prognostication for the state’s real estate market? More than two years into a correcting market and sellers up and down his stretch of coastline have yet to be nudged from their pricing pedestals. They cling to boom-time prices while refusing to accept the new dynamics of a buyers’ market that put sellers in Southwest Florida on the right track some time ago. We would naturally expect someone from his part of Florida to remain a wholesale pessimist.

Meanwhile, with January 2008 now in the record books, Sarasota-Bradenton continues to outsell these much larger markets, besting West Palm Beach by 33 percent, Ft. Lauderdale by 60 percent and Miami by an astounding 78 percent. Only Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa sold more existing single-family homes in their respective markets in January than Sarasota-Bradenton. That being said, Jacksonville—with nearly twice the population—sold only marginally more homes than Sarasota-Bradenton. Orlando with nearly three times the population sold less than twice as many homes; and Tampa with four times the population sold only two and half times the number of homes sold here.

We mention these truths not to make light of the depth of the correction still being felt in other places. But clearly something of seismic proportions has happened during this latest real estate correction that keeps Sarasota-Bradenton selling at a far better pace than its much larger neighbors to the north and east. It’s something more than our growing reputation as Florida’s cultural hub; something more than the sum of our world-class beaches and recreational opportunities; something more than an upscale demographic that has attracted solid commitments from some of the most illustrious names in luxury retailing, fine dining and deluxe hotels.

More than anything else, the big “something” that has Sarasota-Bradenton consistently outselling Florida’s other major sunshine metros is the reality check that long ago persuaded sellers here to scale back on unreasonable pricing expectations fixed in their minds from a few years of wild and unsustainable appreciation. Realtors in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are among the first to admit that sellers in their markets have yet to experience a similar epiphany when it comes to setting realistic prices. They half-jokingly ask if we can send someone down to teach them how to do it.

Obviously, Mr. McCabe can be partially forgiven for expressing such a bunker mentality. After all, he’s been reporting from one of the deepest foxholes in the state.

But wait. Could McCabe have an interest in keeping the market infected with fear and pessimism? Two years ago, Forbes Magazine offered this tidbit of information regarding his other entrepreneurial activities:

“In the aftermath of every crash come a few fearless souls, intent on making money on the misery of others. Jack McCabe, the Miami consultant, is raising a $250 million vulture fund to buy condos. He aims to pick up $1 billion of south Florida apartments on the cheap. Lenders are already offering him blocks of condos repossessed from distressed homeowners.”

Inviting an “expert” like McCabe to offer “guidance” on the real estate market in Southwest Florida is something akin to asking a fox to guard the hen house.

The Best of the Best

General George S. Patton, one of history’s greatest military leaders, once said: “The test of success is not what you do when you’re on top,” he told his troops. “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

Today we borrow the General’s definition of success to illustrate the outstanding accomplishments of the highest achieving associates at Michael Saunders & Company for 2007. While the region’s real estate cycle was wending its way toward the bottom late last year, the professionals at Michael Saunders & Company had already sharpened their focus, adjusted their game, and with shoulders to the wheel propelled the company to $ 1.5 billion in annual sales.

Eight of these associates bounced high enough to earn the distinction of being the top-producing professionals in the market’s top-producing company. In other words, they squeezed the sweetest lemonade from the most stubborn lemon of a real estate market in recent memory. In essence they did exactly what Patton told his wartime troops to do: “Make your plans to fit the circumstances,” he advised them.

Kudos for this year’s top individual performance belong to Linda Roe Dickinson of our St. Armands office. A perennial achiever for more than three decades, Linda has been the company’s top performer for the past several years while still finding time to be active on the boards of such noteworthy institutions as the important new Sarasota Museum of Art.

Top performance as a team goes to Annette Rogers and Michael Moulton, from the Longboat Key South office. Since joining forces only five years ago, Michael and Annette have channeled impressive individual careers into a most formidable team at Michael Saunders & Company.

Five other top performers stared down the barrel of a tough year and transformed it into another milestone in their string of personal bests. They include Janis Collier, Linda Driggs and the team of Kim and Michael Ogilvie—all from the Main Street office—along with Ann Martin of the St.Armands office. Each of these individuals or teams wrapped up 2007 with well over $ 20 million in sales. Congratulations are also in order for Jennifer Schwell, also of our St. Armands office, who came within a whisper of the $ 20 million mark.

Legions of other associates turned in annual performances in the many millions of dollars. We applaud each of them for achievements that are all the more impressive for coming in such a challenging year. Their stand-out performances epitomizes the disciplined expertise that led the combined constellation of the 450-plus all-stars at Michael Saunders & Company to achieve an average of $ 4.4 million in daily sales throughout 2007. While the “pessimistas” in the media wanted everyone to believe that absolutely nothing was stirring in our market, these professionals were quietly and resolutely proving them wrong. Day after day.
Each of them demonstrated what George Patton meant in another of his more illustrious quotes. “Pressure,” he said, “makes diamonds.”


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