Red Hot SW Florida Real Estate

The housing market in Southwest Florida has been red-hot for the past three years. Now it’s about to get blistering.

That’s the conclusion of a new second-quarter survey by Local Market Monitor that predicts the Naples-Marco Island area will have the highest cumulative gain in one-to-four family home prices — 41 percent — over the next three years of any of the 20 Florida metropolitan statistical areas it tracks.

And it’s up considerably from the 29 percent three-year projection the 25-year-old Cary, N.C.-based real estate research firm made in the second quarter of 2014.

“That’s a big increase,” said Ingo Winzer, president and founder of the firm, which tracks 315 markets nationwide. “You’re looking at a real phenomenon.”

He forecast the giant gain after looking at recent data pointing to a growth in jobs, a shortage of both new and resale homes, and the relatively small number of foreclosed homes on the market.

“There’s been a surge in demand of people who aren’t just visiting but want to live full-time in Naples,” he said. “I think it will continue.”

Naples real estate agent Ryan Schwartz shares that opinion. Because many buyers are older, affluent and paying cash, he said, “no one is getting appraisals, and that’s pushing up prices dramatically fast.”

Winzer added that cash buyers are not likely to be inhibited over the next few years by the headwinds that many economists expect over the next few years, such as rising interest rates or a downturn in the stock market.

But that’s less likely to be the case in Cape Coral-Fort Myers where there are fewer cash buyers, Winzer said, which is one reason why he expects price growth there to slow a bit.

He expects Cape Coral-Fort Myers prices to increase 25 percent over the next three years, ranking it sixth in the state. While still a sizable gain, that’s less than the 31 percent three-year projection he made in the second quarter of 2014.

While he doesn’t think either market is in bubble territory right now, both could be soon if they pass what he calls the “equilibrium point,” when it is neither over- nor under-valued.

Right now, he calculates that number at $356,543 for Naples-Marco Island. In the second quarter of this year, actual home prices in the area (taken from federal data) were $337,050, or 5 percent below that, he said. Winzer expects prices in the second quarter of 2016 to be up 17 percent over the current quarter in the Naples area, which will make it overpriced next year.

Meanwhile, Cape Coral-Fort Myer’s home prices are now $204,750, or 18 percent below the equilibrium price of $249,729. Winzer expects prices to rise 8 percent in 2016, another 8 percent in 2017, and 9 percent in 2018. So the metro area won’t pass the equilibrium point for another three years, he said.

Jason Jakus, president of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beaches, said that while Cape Coral-Fort Myers was once hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, “the hardest hit areas are rebounding the fastest.”

Most desired are the relatively affordable waterfront properties in Southeast and Southwest Cape Coral, as well as downtown Fort Myers, he said, and saw the strongest price growth.

In contrast, the beachfront areas in Naples — which tend to run into the millions, saw the lowest price growth over the 12 months ending in April, according to the Naples Area Board of Realtors. The highest price increases for the period were in south Naples, where many new midrange communities are being built.

Local Market Monitor’s report also noted that with average rents of $1,185, the rent-to-price ratio in Naples-Marco Island was 4.2 percent, the lowest in Florida. Cape Coral-Fort Myers’ rents were lower at $984, giving it a rent-to-price ratio of 5.8 percent, the seventh lowest in the state.

Winzer said that when a rent-to-buy ratio was below 5 percent, it generally makes more financial sense to rent than to buy; conversely, when it’s higher, buying is a better choice. So generally, renting is the currently the smarter choice in Collier County and buying in Lee County.

That’s what Chicago residents Joanna and Thomas Wala figured when they recently bought a three-bedroom home with a blue door and a yard full of mango trees in Bonita Springs.

They plan to use it occasionally for vacations, and eventually to make it their retirement place in the sun — even though they are both still in their 40s and not at all ready to retire.

In the meantime, they are covering their expenses and even making a small profit by renting it out seasonally.

“Moving here now was out of the question,” said Joanna, an accountant. “But I did the calculations, and buying just made so much sense. We have something that’s worth something, and its value is growing.”