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Signs of recovery? Market leading nation in increased home prices

By Staff | Jan 21, 2012

Kiplinger, a Washington D.C. based business and economic forecaster, is reporting that the Cape Coral-Fort Myers statistical area is leading the nation in increased home prices with populations of at least 200,000.

It’s a stark turnaround for what was once the poster child for both the housing bust and the recession.

Their data reflects a one-year period through Sept 30, 2011, when the median home price was $171,250.

Kiplinger is reporting the median home price is $100,000 for the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, a 12.1 percent increase from 2010 through 2011, but still down 63.4 percent from the peak of the housing boom.

Realtor Gloria Tate, of Raso Realty, thinks that report is accurate, but added that homes are still available in the city for under $100,000.

That inventory is dwindling, she said, but it’s clear that homes which were selling in the $50,000 – 70,000, are now easily in the $80,000 – $90,000 range.

It’s a combination of things, she said, that add to the quality of life in the city, from public amenities, to the county’s education system, to the citizens who have cleaned up their own neighborhoods.

Tate pointed to volunteer groups like “Take Pride in the Cape,” which spend their own time and money to clean up foreclosed and abandoned properties.

Tate thinks a true picture of the region’s median home prices are near.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods but we’re getting to a better place,” she said. “We’re getting very close because prices are going up and up.”

As of December 2011, Lee County’s unemployment rate sat at 10.2 percent.

While still high compared to the national average of 8.5 percent, year over year Lee County saw improvement on the unemployment front. In December 2010, the rate was 12.6 percent.

Milwaukee, WI based staffing agency “Manpower” is predicting significant gains in local employment during the first quarter of 2012 for Cape Coral-Fort Myers, with 17 percent of employers looking to up their staffing levels.

With an improved housing and employment outlook for Lee County, Cape Coral Economic Development Director Dana Brunett said the city is poised to turn the tide of public opinion.

Brunett said he’s been sharing the Kiplinger report with developers and investors to show that the city and region are stabilizing and primed again for growth.

Commercial and residential prices are still affordable despite their rise, he said. And constructions costs are low, he added.

“It’s difficult to do the comeback thing, but we have more reasons to be hopeful,” he said. “We need to stop worrying about what’s wrong and concentrate on what’s right. Compared to other areas we’re doing pretty good.”

Marion Briggs, president of the Greater Realtor Association of Fort Myers and the Beaches, thinks the county has reached its true median home prices.

Neither too inflated nor too depressed, Briggs said median prices are due to a several factors, but primarily the fact that the foreclosure inventory has finally been absorbed.

“If we had a bunch coming down the pipe we wouldn’t think anything of it,” Briggs said of any pending foreclosures, or the so-called “shadow inventory” that was supposed to be looming.

The Realtor Association is reporting that foreclosure and short sales declined from December 2010 – 2011, from 50.77 percent to 19.63 percent of all sales.

Lee County still is boasting a large percentage of foreign investors, accounting for 30 percent of all home sales.

“I truly believe we’ve turned the corner,” Briggs said.

Increased home prices could also mean an increase in new construction, according to Cape Coral City Councilmember Marty McClain.

He said construction industry countywide has a sense of “guarded optimism” that things are turning around, with the light at the end of the tunnel as more of a beam and less of a blip.

Some companies are even hiring, he said, another sign that work is on the up-tick.

“I think the industry is excited,” he said.