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Realty Check

The housing market has taken a big hit, but the rental market, not so much. Local rental specialists report things aren’t too bad at all. Linda Elms, of Naples Realty Services, covers the Bonita Springs area and says owners who price their properties right are getting their homes rented. It’s all about making an attitude adjustment.

"There was a time when owners could get a little more than their mortgage payment from their rental fee, but that’s not the case anymore," she explains. "Condo units that used to rent for $1,200 or $1,300 a month might only get $1,000 or $1,100 in today’s market. Some folks have told me they’d rather let their places sit than rent for a lower price, but those [who] do price their units realistically usually can get an annual renter in 30 days."

The number of annual leases has increased, according to Darlene Plog, of Coldwell Banker’s rental division in Naples. She says that with taxes and insurance being what they are, more people are considering rental as a better financial option.

"The state of the national economy is also motivating more folks to think about renting," she says. Plog, who has been in real estate for nearly 20 years, says she’s never witnessed a market like the present one. "Our rental prices have gone down only slightly, but we saw a slowdown in the fall and winter and an encouraging surge in February—strange, but encouraging."

At Kelly Cove Realty in Fort Myers, Terry Hall-Gordley says annual rental prices are lower and inventory is higher, but activity is also up. "We’re seeing folks who like the idea of renting one place in Southwest Florida and exploring lots of others before they make the decision to buy. And there are also renters waiting to see if home prices are going to drop any more." Hall-Gordley says online exposure is a big help because it gets the properties to a wider audience. "The MLS [Multiple Listing System] has a rental section, and that’s a good asset," she notes.

Models We Love

Located in the Pavia neighborhood and built by Harwick Homes, the four-bedroom, five-bath Palazzina at Treviso Bay in Naples was designed by Sherri Dupont, of Collins & Dupont, with a mix that includes slightly Art Deco references that speak to Spanish/Mexican Revival influences. Chamois-gold tone walls define the warmth found throughout a home that is festive, yet relaxing and comfortable.

The parlor’s eyebrow-arch window soars to 17 feet; its window treatment has a strong tangerine color. The fireplace is done in a Mexican-adobe style with a single slab, boxed clear cypress mantle topped by a Spanish Colonial replica mirror and tile inlay.

"I usually try to keep the master suite less feminine-looking, a unisex room, and I also try to keep it more monochromatic, although because of the style of the décor, the artwork in this master bedroom is pretty vivid," Dupont says. The king headboard reflects Spanish details, as does the armoire. Both are done in hickory with a fruitwood finish. With 5,145 air-conditioned square feet and 8,022 total square feet, the Palazzina provides a true outdoor living space with slate floors, a fireplace and a bar area. The furnished price is $4,795,000.

Residence 1805 at the West Bay Club in Estero fuses contemporary style with Floridian elegance in a floor plan that includes two bedrooms, a den, three bathrooms and 1,750 air-conditioned square feet. The walnut-stained Brazilian wood floors provide a rich contrast to the natural colors of the walls and upholstery. Contrast is also the goal in the kitchen, where white granite from India is a dramatic counterpoint to the walnut-finished cabinets and stainless steel appliances.

Designer Zeke Fernandez, of Miami-based Nuhouse Design Associates, has dramatized the bedroom walls with linen fabrics backed to withstand the local climate. In the master bath he has chosen a Maya Romanoff wall covering with dupioni silk character. Floor-to-ceiling windows and two balconies showcase eastern and western views overlooking the nature preserve, Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The unit is priced at $1.25 million, furnished.

In the Trenches

The super-fat inventory of homes for sale is about to start slimming, says one local real estate specialist. First-time homebuyers are finally getting what they need to enter the market in Lee County, according to Rodger Bevington, broker and vice-president at Century 21 AAIM Realty Group, Fort Myers.

Bevington, who’s been on the local real estate scene since 1979, says a number of factors have come together to make it so. "One area is price," he states. "Local home prices are at what they were in the mid-1990s."

Then there are favorable interest rates. "At 5.5 [percent] or 6 percent, first-time buyers don’t have to inflate their incomes to qualify," he continues.

And speaking of fudging the facts, Bevington observes heightened scrutiny in play all through the process. "The banks are looking at applications a lot more closely than was the case in the recent past," he says. "And they’re using the services of review appraisers, which they’ve always had access to, but seldom employed in boom times."

Bevington points out that banks usually hire an appraiser to look at several properties, but that now, a review appraiser reviews those appraisals. Better-qualified buyers will be doing the buying, he says, since major lenders such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are approving 95 percent financing. "The buyers have to have the money for the 5 percent down payment and the closing costs, although the seller can contribute to the latter," he says.

The federal government is also watching more intently, he says, which keeps everyone on their toes. Savvy agents suggest clients winnow the inventory by focusing on their highest priorities.

"They can usually find everything on their list without visiting dozens of homes," Bevington says.

But super-negotiating is generally unsuccessful. "Buyers try to get the best price they can, but if sellers know their price is appropriate for the market, they won’t move too far," he says.

Bevington, who specializes in bank-held properties, says the activity is encouraging. "We’re even getting multiple offers on the same property."

Neighborhood Watch

Italian-inspired architecture and a club environment grace the 500 acres of Renaissance in Fort Myers. Worthington Communities launched marketing in 2003 for the elegant community of coach homes and single-
family homes located two minutes from I-75. Coach homes and lots start in the $300,000s. Single-family homes are priced from the $800,000s.
Number of properties at Renaissance: 394
Number of new sales and resales, February 2007 to February 2008: 30
Number of lot sales, January 2006 to January 2007: one
Price range, February 2007 to February 2008: $300,000 to $3,225,000
Average price: $1,525,000
Sample listing: The St. Augustine VI, above, by Arthur Rutenberg Homes, has four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths. Raised ceilings and columns contribute to the intriguing personality of the 3,577-square-foot residence. The pool and spa overlook a lake and preserve area. According to Trisha Kent, director of sales at Renaissance, the St. Augustine VI is priced at $1,931,957.
Recent sale: Located on the seventh fairway of the Arthur Hills-designed championship golf course, the two- bedroom, study, two-and-a-half bath home has 2,442 square feet under air and 3,435 total square feet. A negative-edge pool enhances outdoor living while elite brand appliances contribute to the kitchen experience. According to Dan O’Brien, owner and broker at Access Realty Group of Southwest Florida, Fort Myers, the original buyer purchased the home for $671,300 in June 2005, and the current owner paid $730,000 in Dec. 2007.

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