”Signs of Life” show up in the real estate market

Realtors are expressing cautious optimism that the housing market may have turned a corner as serious buyers scour the area for good deals.

“There are signs of life,” said Randi Rapp, managing broker at Esslinger Wooten Maxwell’s Aventura office. “There was a while that there wasn’t even a buyer on the horizon, but now a lot of our agents are busy showing properties.” “We are seeing more buyers,” said Charlette Seidel, managing broker of Coldwell Banker’s Coral Gables office.

“Some are buying, and other are looking, looking and looking.

We’re showing them 20-25 houses rather than five or six.” She said the more active price ranges are over $2 million and under $800,000.

“Buyers are taking a lot more time and looking at more,” said Consuelo Stewart, a principal of Stewart de la Vega Group, which specializes in luxury properties. “There’s a little more activity, but they will make very low offers.” Christian Kawas, a Realtor associate at Douglas Elliman Florida, said October was the best month he has had in three years.

“Some are actually buying,” he said. “The common element they are looking for is a good deal. Those three words are worth a lot of money these days.” Although many of the deals being made are cash transactions, Mr. Kawas said there is money available for qualified buyers.

“There are even some loans going through for condos,” he said. “But banks are a lot more conservative. In general, buyers have to have a credit score in the 700s and a down payment of 20%.” “There are plenty of lenders aggressively pursuing us – local banks or lenders associated with brokerages that did not have many bad mortgages because they always had stricter guidelines,” Ms. Seidel said. “It’s a matter of having a down payment. We are getting sellers to help with closing costs or buy down the mortgage.

“With condos, you have to find out if financing is available on the product. That depends on occupancy and if they have reserves and are up-to-date on maintenance.” But she said buyers are still bargaining with sellers to come down on their asking prices.

“It’s a negotiators’ market,” Ms. Seidel said.

Although asking prices have adjusted somewhat, Ms.

Stewart said that unless there’s a real necessity to move, most buyers are waiting for still lower price tags.

“In some cases buyers think they should have adjusted by 30%,” she said. “If the sellers are living there and don’t need to sell, they are pretty stubborn.

The best buys right now are from builders and sellers who need to relocate or are involved in a divorce.” While it’s impossible to know when pricing will hit bottom, Mr. Kawas said, a buyer can do very well by buying a foreclosure or a property that sells for or near foreclosed prices.

“You don’t have to buy a foreclosure to buy at foreclosure prices,” he said. “Developers are giving great deals – and you get a brand new unit.” For example, he said a twobedroom condo with great water views in a new building in the Brickell-downtown corridor goes for about $275 a square foot. A comparable unit in an older building is $250-$275 a square foot.

For a new unit with little or no view in the same area, he quoted pricing of $225-$275 a foot in a new building and $220-$225 in an older property.

“The prices are coming so far down,” Ms. Rapp said, “that people are more interested in buying or investing. Some are Canadians or from other parts of the US, but there are also locals in the market. I’m starting to feel like it’s a good time to be investing in real estate myself.” Ms. Stewart said the peak selling period in South Florida is between Jan. 15 and July.

“I expect the market to improve a lot after the middle of January,” she said. “I’m very optimistic that the new president will do what he can to get the economy going and restore people’s confidence.”

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