| St. Augustine Record
In a pandemic that has crushed the economy and in a market that has seen consistently rising prices, residential real estate in this county is still as robust as ever.
A destination of growth for decades, neither high unemployment nor fears of contracting COVID-19 have been able to slow St. Augustine home sales.
On the contrary, actually. According to Florida Realtors stats for the county, there were almost 200 more sales of single-family homes in July of this year (854) compared to July 2019.
And it isn’t because people are hunting for bargains. The median sales price climbed to $393,990 in July, significantly higher than last year ($355,000).
Agent Karen Zander of 97 Park in St. Augustine said buyers who are used to a more laid-back approach to finding a home are getting left out in this market.
“It’s a hard thing for a buyer to wrap their head around that they have to compete out of the gate on these houses,” she said.
Zander said her style is not to pressure anyone into a sale because it’s such a big decision in someone’s life. But this is not a time for dithering.
“You’ve got to be able to pull the trigger,” she said.
Fellow agent Dirk Schroeder of Century 21 St. Augustine Properties said the low inventory situation makes for a lot of competition for homes here. The Florida Realtors stats say there is just three months’ supply of homes in the county. A healthy supply is considered to be about six months’ worth.
“They (buyers) cannot wait around,” Schroeder said in an email to The Record. “The inventory is low and demand us high. While one is thinking about making an offer, another has it under contract.”
According to another source, the trend only continued in August.
The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR), which covers part of St. Johns County as well as other counties in the northeast, reported a sales increase of 8% compared to August 2019. Meanwhile, it reported that supply was down to 2.7 months’ of stock — a 40% drop from August 2019.
As the NEFAR report says: “In August, showings and pending sales remained at strong levels while housing inventory remained limited, continuing the competitive bidding market we have seen in recent months. With the stock indexes at or near record highs as mortgage rates remain near record lows, signs point to a busy fall housing market.”
In St. Johns County, Zander said the school district continues to draw new residents. She has also seen a stream of people from the Northeast relocate here because of the high quality of life and relative affordability.
There has even been some serious activity in the high-end market as Zander said her firm is expected to close on a beachfront home that will sell for the highest price of any home with a St. Augustine address in the history of the local Multiple Listings Service — more than $4 million. (That doesn’t include Ponte Vedra Beach or new construction.)
The real action is in the mainstream, though. With interest rates at historic lows and with people able to sell their existing homes for premium prices, average homes in this county are being sold almost as quickly as they come on the market.
One day last week, Zander looked at the MLS’s 24-hour activity report. There were 15 new listings and 27 closed sales. She said it’s been like that “day after day.”
“Anything that’s under about $450,000, if it’s priced right and it looks good, it will go so fast,” she said. “I don’t think the builders can build fast enough. They’re all running out of inventory.”
Local builder Chris Shee of MasterCraft Builder Group said business is brisk for local builders. His company is putting up homes in communities like Shearwater, TrailMark Madeira and others.
“Builders, from a supply side, it’s been great on the spec home side,” Shee said. “We all have a lot of specs in the ground right now because of the limited inventory of MLS. What we’re seeing is once we get those homes within about 30 days of being complete, they’re all selling.
“We have no finished inventory. And no builder really has any finished inventory on their hands.”
Shee said keeping up with demand is difficult because of a shortage of approved lots in the county and a lack of skilled trades workers to meet demand.
He said builders had to scramble this summer after bracing for a serious slowdown when the pandemic hit in the spring. Construction slowed in April, but demand unexpectedly ramped up quickly in May and June. And it hasn’t slowed since.
“So you had builders do big layoffs due to COVID in April … We were expecting activity to decrease and it went the other way,” Shee said. ‘In a large part, it comes down to the suppliers providing our supplies in time and the trades having the ability to have enough people to build our homes.”
As long as the houses keep going up, Zander said there is going to be a demand for the foreseeable future.
“The thing that we just can’t keep up with is the demand that we have coming in from elsewhere now,” she said. “We’re hearing from so many people that they just want out of those congested areas. They want to go to Florida.”