Residential real estate sales solid through 2001, records set
By Marilyn Bowden
In a year fraught with uncertainty, real estate professionals say Miami-Dade's residential market remained strong, with 2001 totals breaking 2000 records.
"We were up about 10% in volume," said Alan Jacobson, co-owner of Wimbish Riteway Realtors, which deals primarily in the luxury market. "Since Sept. 11 we've seen a slight leveling off in pricing. But we had our best December ever."
Pat Dahne, Arvida's executive vice president and general manager for Miami-Dade County, said both the number of units sold and the average price per unit rose.
Despite the business lull after Sept. 11, she said, "because of the strong activity in the first eight months and then the resumption in November we will end the year ahead of 2000."
Keyes Co. ended the year with an 8.5% increase in written business over 2000, said President Mike Pappas.
"In closed business we were up 6.8%," he said. "We got hurt closing-wise at the end of the year because written business was down in September. To be honest, 2001 was not a consistent year, and it's a pleasant surprise that it ended up as strong as it was."
President Ron Shuffield said Esslinger Wooten Maxwell would end up with a significant increase over 2000.
"We are very pleased that our whole industry is up as well," he said.
The real estate market underwent more changes in 2001 than in any time in recent history, said Charlette Seidel and Patricia Klock Parker, Coldwell Banker brokers with 30 years experience in the field.
One is the speed of transactions.
"We saw more multiple contracts in shorter periods of time," said Ms. Seidel, vice president of the Coral Gables office. "We had a house in central Gables with eight contracts. Some homes sold in a matter of hours."
A "smorgasbord of loan products" from lenders made it easier for first-time buyers to enter the market, she said, and due to new technologies lenders can give very quick pre-approvals.
"They can do credit checks in an hour," she said.
Closings are also quicker. "We've had some in a week," Ms. Seidel said, "though that is still unusual.
"For the second year in a row we saw fairly substantial price appreciation," she said. "It was 10%-20% this year and about 10% the year before."
Because of rapid appreciation, she said, some buyers have been able to flip residential properties - buy and immediately resell - at a profit. "That hasn't happened in a long time," Ms. Seidel said.
Condos are growing in popularity, Ms. Seidel said, and people are more concerned with buying closer to where they work. "People who live in Broward and work in Miami-Dade are moving back."
Mr. Pappas said frequent drops in the interest rate have given the residential market a strong boost.
"There's been 11 Federal Reserve drops in the past 18 months," he said. "That has had a dramatic effect. Of all industries, real estate has been least affected in this recession."
With projections of a million people moving to South Florida over the next five years, he said, the market should continue to do well.
"We can never under-estimate the value of what the Feds have done," Mr. Shuffield said. "They are continuing to fuel the economy by drops in the rates and the positive news that that has created."
The interest rate drops prompted an increase in mortgage and title business at Arvida, Ms. Dahne said. "Our long-term plan," she said, "of seeing growth through those areas really kicked in."
While descending rates fueled a flurry of refinancing, Mr. Jacobson said, sales at the high end of the market were not much affected.
Declining inventories are still a matter of concern. Ms. Dahne said listings were down 8% from 2000 as the pool of available properties shrank.
Mr. Shuffield noted some signs of recovery.
"We started to see a tapering off of that decline over the summer," he said, "and September accelerated that, which is all to the good, since even more sales are predicted in 2002.
"If there's an area of caution it's in condos listed for over $750,000. We're seeing some good sales in specific developments but the inventory is outpacing the market quite a bit, though that can rebound quickly as the international buyer comes fully back into the market."
Mr. Jacobson said Wimbish Riteway sold 214 homes for more than $1 million this year, a 12%-13% jump over the year before, "in spite of the lull after Sept. 11."
Business is booming among independent sellers as well, said Scott Eckert, principal of Buy Owner, a marketing firm that helps homeowners sell without using a brokerage.
"We just came off the best year in our 17-year history," he said. "Our sales were nearly double anything they've ever been."
While declining interest rates helped, he said, "what helped us the most was our diversification and changes that we made in training.
"We added billboards to our advertising mix and spent more money letting buyers know about us and adding some sales training."