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Realty Check

Headlines don’t reveal reality in the real estate market, says one local agent, especially for single-family homes. Gary C. Ryan, an agent with Coldwell Banker, also notes that some communities are doing better than others.

"Media reporters paint with a broad brush," Ryan says. "They cite how many total units are on the market, but generalities don’t give a true picture of any one place." He maintains the small number of houses for sale are moving faster than the large quantity of condominium units.

"In the 12 Bonita/Estero communities that I monitor, there are almost 50 percent more condos for sale than single-family homes, and it is taking about 50 percent longer on average to sell a condo.

Today we have almost twice as many home sales pending as condo sales.

"We did it to ourselves, in 2004 through 2006," he reflects. "Investors came into the market, hoping to flip units for a good profit. Prices escalated on existing units and builders were encouraged to supply more product." Investors who might have bought three condo units in a building during the boom weren’t buying three houses on a street.

When the bubble burst, some walked away from closings. Banks tightened lending policies, and the condo glut continues.

"In older, more established communities, there is often less for sale," Ryan says. "Those owners have the staying power to wait out this decline, and few, if any, investors are trying to sell there."

Sometimes, he observes, communities shoot themselves in the foot by barring for-sale signs or making it difficult for sellers and agents to hold open houses. Ryan adds that some developments’ rules make it tougher for owners to rent property by making it harder for renters to use community amenities. Such changes can impede resales. He suggests buyers compare the number of homes for sale in a community with the number of total units. Sometimes that percentage is surprisingly small.

Builders in the News
When the Naples-based London Bay Homes recently received Builder Magazine’s America’s Best Builder Award for 2008, it became the seventh Florida builder to be so designated in the 16 years the award has been given. President and CEO Mark Wilson said the 17-year-old company, which debuted in St. Charles Yacht Club, Fort Myers, builds custom homes priced from $1 million to $10 million in 15 communities.

"I think there are two ways in which this award is beneficial," Wilson says. "It shows that some companies are succeeding in this market, despite the gloomy environment and news coverage. People like to know their builder is financially stable, and we certainly are.

"I also saw information from the Multiple Listing Service indicating the market [for homes] above $5 million is stronger today than it has been in several years, and the $3 million-plus range is doing reasonably well. Being named America’s Best Builder gives us excellent visibility at just the right time, so I expect we’ll see traffic to our sales offices and Web site jump as people want to learn more about how we bucked the downward trend."

The company had record-setting 2006 revenues—$73 million—and finished 2007 with $67 million in revenue. Wilson says that result was partly due to broadening price offerings to better seize short-term opportunities. "But we still maintain a long-term business strategy," he says. "Our market of affluent baby boomers is going to grow, and this is precisely the market that will remain bullish on Florida and its lifestyle."

Wilson sees future expansion likely into other parts of the state that have the right combination of location, demographics and pricing opportunities. "We’ll also keep an eye out for good opportunities in other parts of the United States."

Achieving the award is no cakewalk. Judges examine financial performance, efficiency of operating systems and management practices, construction quality programs and customer service. They assess design innovation and marketing. All 78,000 builder members of the National Association of Home Builders can compete. In 2008, the judges selected only London Bay Homes and Drees Homes of Fort Mitchell, Ky.

Models We Love
"We wanted to design a home that so much resembled a resort, no one would ever want to leave it," says Greg Schmidt. The president of Coastal Breeze Homes is talking about the Grande Etesian, a single-family home in Marsala at WCI Communities’ Tiburón in Naples. With southern lake and fairway views of Tiburón’s Black Course, the model’s floor plan includes four bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths and a study. The builder’s in-house interior designer, Kim Schmidt, decorated the model with soft ocean colors mixed with warm golds and chocolate browns. The style blends many design themes including beach house, Floridian and Mediterranean.

"We boosted the impact with lots of glass, such as the view of the waterfall and infinity-edge pool seen from the front door," Greg Schmidt says. "The glass delivers a light, airy ambience, and the details, such as coffered ceilings, arches and columns, convey the home’s capacity for elegant, gracious living."

Spanning 3,830 square feet under air and 5,671 total square feet, the furnished Grande Etesian is priced at $2,495,000 on leaseback.

The elevator opens into Model Residence 401’s private lobby, where pumpkin-colored walls and a triple-coffered, silver-finished ceiling introduce this fourth-floor home at Esperia South at Bonita Bay.

The great room’s sliding doors lead to a terrace overlooking the ninth green of the Bay Island golf course, Estero Bay and Bonita Beach. In the kitchen, a tray ceiling, accented with crown molding and grass cloth, looks down on a butcher-block island, black appliances and a decorative tile backsplash. The guest suite has a tray ceiling with floating crown molding that accents pumpkin-colored walls.

Beasley & Henley Interior Design used olive-colored grass cloth on the walls in the den to complement wood cabinetry with painted insets that resemble zebra wood. With three bedrooms, three baths, a den and 2,530 air-conditioned square feet, Residence 401 by The Lutgert Companies at Bonita Bay is priced, furnished, at $1,226,000.

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