Palm prices jump back a decade

Jun.June 01, 2009 06:34 PM

The once pricey Palm Beach County market now can pull in first-time buyers at bargain rates. Homes that once sold for close to $350,000 are selling for about $200,000 today, and 40 percent discounts from peak prices are now the norm.

“Prices have dropped up to 50 percent over the last two years with many distressed homes selling for prices reaching back as far as 1999 levels,” said Shannon Brink, a broker with Re/Max Prestige Realty in West Palm Beach. “Waterfront homes and large estate homes are still priced above the average wage but there is now plenty of affordable housing in Palm Beach, Martin and Port St. Lucie counties.”

If the fire sales weren’t enough to get some fence-sitters moving, new legislation might be.

Downpayment assistance is now available through the Florida Homebuyer Opportunity Program, a $30 million initiative the state legislature approved earlier this month. 

Beginning July 1, buyers who qualify for the federal $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit will be able to apply for downpayment help before closing on the purchase of a home, and then repay the amount borrowed when they get their tax refund.

Some buyers aren’t waiting.

“In any given development, you will see pending sales are way up. Frequently, I’m seeing 10 to 12 pending sales now where there were only nine closed sales in the last six months,” said Chrissy Piazza, a broker at Re/Max Advantage Plus in Boca Raton. “And you don’t have to have ‘walk on water’ credit scores to qualify.”

Beyond Palm Beach County, Florida brokers see sales picking up in many desirable areas. Sales of existing single-family homes in Florida rose 25 percent in the first quarter compared to the same period a year earlier, according to statistics from the Florida Association of Realtors. That marks the third consecutive quarter Florida sales rose.

“Many first-time homebuyers are entering the market now to take advantage of current low mortgage rates, plentiful housing inventory and affordable homeownership opportunities,” said FAR President Cynthia Shelton. “Typical homebuyers are realizing that now is the time to buy — they can find the Florida home of their dreams at a cost they can afford.”

It may be a good time to buy in Florida, but is it the best time to buy? Some are not sure that better opportunities aren’t coming down the pike. High inventories and falling prices may still offer better bargains.

“Until the supply of REO properties are reduced significantly in the Florida marketplace, we will see continued value depreciation in the range of at least 15 to 20 percent over the next 12 to 18 months,” said Michael Sichenzia, president of Dynamic Consulting Enterprises, which specializes in identifying fraud and financial misconduct.

The bottom line for some is timing. First-time home buyers who have a compelling reason to buy now will be greeted with home prices that average well below the pricing of the past five years. Rick Burch, chairman of the Realtor Association of the Greater Miami and the Beaches, said median sales prices continue to decline in his region, just as in Palm Beach County.

“It is important to remember that a $203,700 median price for single-family and $149,000 for condominiums means that an amazing one-half of all homes and condos sold were under these amounts,” Burch said. “This is the first time in many years that the market has been so strong and so affordable for people in all price ranges in Miami and South Florida.”

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