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Area home values on the rise

By Staff | Dec 22, 2012

Overall home valuations in the U.S. are expected to increase for the first time since 2006.

According to a report from Zillow, homes nationally are expected to gain more than $1.3 trillion in cumulative value, the highest such increase since 2005 during the peak of what became the housing bubble, which mirrors what other sources are saying.

And while some Realtors question the validity of the Internet site’s information at the local level, and despite numbers that fluctuate depending on who you ask, the consensus is yes, the housing market has gotten a whole lot better in the last 12 months.

“Appraised values have gone up between 20 and 30 percent in the last 12 months,” said Realtor/Broker Jim Fischer, Gulf Coast Realty Network, Cape Coral. “Inventory is low. Tons of people are buying. Investors, second-home buyers, a lot.”

Fischer said things are even better in Lehigh Acres, where a home that went for $60,000 last year now sells for $100,000 or more.

Fischer said commissions for the major real estate companies are up 5 to 6 percent from last year.

Fischer said he doesn’t agree with Zillow’s methodology, but agrees with the site’s assessment that things are improving.

“I don’t know where they get their numbers from. You would be hard pressed to say things aren’t improving,” Fischer said. “I would agree with them that things are improving, but I wouldn’t quote anything they say.”

Statewide, Cape Coral, is the gold standard in terms of the recovery, according to Realtor Gloria Tate, Raso Realty, Cape Coral.

“Things aren’t only getting better, but we’re leading the way in the recovery. We had a 14 percent increase in prices while nobody else was in double figures,” Tate said. “I hear from people that things are getting better in their cities, but I’m no expert about anywhere except Cape Coral.”

The good news on the housing front started in May, when Cape Coral property valuations went up 3.83 percent, one of the largest overall increases in Lee County.

Lee County Tax Assessor Ken Wilkinson said while the sales numbers are impressive, it is still too early to predict what this will mean in terms of overall valuation, since his office hasn’t started computing the 2013 tax rolls.

Wilkinson said he is waiting for local facts and figures before commenting on overall valuations.

“We’re still qualifying sales as they come in. They all haven’t been recorded,” Wilkinson said. “I’m hopeful it’s better than it was last year, but if the taxing authorities were hearing 14 percent and the assessment is up 4 (percent), they blame me.”

Fischer, Tate and Wilkinson panned not only the Zillow report, but Zillow itself for the methodology it uses to determine home values, which they call “Zestimates.”

Katie Curnette, Zillow’s communications director, said the company uses a complicated algorithm and other factors such as public records, tax rolls, sales of similar homes, and physical attribute, among other things, to determine the estimated value.

Curnette stood by her company’s methodology, which she used to prove that Cape Coral’s (and the nation’s) housing market has returned from the dead.

“We have a team of economists and place values in 100 million individual homes. It’s a very sophisticated method,” Curnette said.

Curnette said the numbers from the Realtors come from only homes that have sold, whereas Zillow’s comes from all the homes in the city.

“Eight percent of homes in Cape Coral sold last year. It doesn’t tell the whole story from such a small sample,” Curnette said. “Our model bases it on the value of all homes.”

According to Zillow, home values year-to-year have gone up 15.4 percent in Cape Coral, with the median value being at $131,500 as of Nov. 1.

But regardless of methodology, the evidence is clear that the dark days of the housing bust seem to finally be behind us, industry leaders agree.

“I think we’re looking at a steady road to recovery. We do see waterfront properties have increased in value,” Tate said. “It’s sinking in for many that things really are moving ahead.”

According to Cape Coral Economic Development Director Dana Brunett, the numbers may be even better.

House prices are up 23 percent and housing permits are up 51 percent in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties, he said.

The Governor’s Office also released housing numbers on Friday.

According to the Office of Gov. Rick Scott, housing starts in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers “metro” were up in October 2012, both over the month (20.7 percent) and over the year (65.1 percent), while foreclosures were down in Lee County in November 2012 both over the month (9.5 percent) and over the year (32 percent).

Governor’s Office: Unemployment

plummets in state

All the good news for Cape Coral housing comes in conjunction with new data suggesting growth on the local and statewide level.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area November unemployment rate dropped 2.2 percent from the same time last year, and had the third largest decline of 3.5 percent among all metro areas since December 2010.

The region’s rate dropped from 10.5 percent in November 2011, to 8.3 percent one year later. In 2010, the rate was 11.8 percent.

Looking ahead to early 2013, the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey indicated that the Cape Coral-Ft. Myers area was expected to be the strongest job market in the nation, with 27 percent of employers expected to add staff.