Around the State- Northwest- Aug. 2002
Home prices jumped by nearly a quarter in the early months of 2002.
By Julie S. Bettinger
Market conditions have generally favored sellers throughout Florida for the past several years, with the median home price jumping 33% from $95,800 in 1997 to $127,700 last year. In most of Okaloosa County, however, the trend toward a seller's market has been particularly pronounced.
O.J. Davis, broker-owner of Kenwood Realty in Fort Walton Beach who specializes in single-family homes, says the only calls he got this spring were from buyers, not sellers. Davis and others also report other classic signs of a seller's market: Homes getting multiple offers; sellers getting their asking prices or more; and the average number of days on the market falling -- by 50%.
In early summer, real estate brokers reported that sales prices had jumped by some 24% over the previous year. Figures from the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors show that the number of homes for sale in Fort Walton Beach and Niceville was down by 17% during the first five months of the year compared to 2001. The number of available rentals fell by 20%.
What's up? For one, conditions in Okaloosa limit supply: Eglin and Hurlburt Field Air Force bases surround the area, removing big chunks of otherwise developable land. "Here we're kind of landlocked," says Warren Meigs with Village Realty East. "Developers can't go south because of the Gulf, so (development) leapfrogs and goes to Crestview."
Niceville also is landlocked. Christina Ruckel, a Realtor with Ruckel Properties, says each time a new phase opens up on her company's 2 1/2-year-old Swift Creek development, prospective buyers camp out to be the first in line to buy.
It's not that demand has skyrocketed, Realtors say. There's just no land available to substantially boost inventory. The situation is being compounded by the fact that fewer homes are for sale. Dale Peterson, president of the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors, says homeowners are reluctant to sell because they'd have to turn around and pay a bundle for another house. "I think many people are holding on to their homes because it would be hard to replace what they have," Peterson says.
An additional factor will put even more pressure on housing prices, says Larry Sassano, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County: Military pay raises averaging nearly 7% are going into effect this year; the county has 24,000 active duty, reserve and civilian employees. That may prompt activity from buyers looking to move up, especially if interest rates remain low, says Sassano. The raises, he says, amount to a "tremendous impact for one county."
IN THE NEWS
Crestview -- Okaloosa County landed $1.75 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help build a hangar at the Bob Sikes Airport. Crestview Aerospace Corp. plans to lease the 52,000-sq.-ft. facility to fulfill contracts with Boeing, Bell Helicopter, Lockheed Martin and L3 Communications. The company refurbishes and modifies aircraft and manufactures aircraft components.
Destin -- According to a report by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, Okaloosa County ranks tops in the state in federal and military employment. It's also second in manufacturing of instruments and related products.
Eastpoint -- The environmental group Apalachicola Bay and River Keeper has sued the city of Apalachicola, saying the Eastpoint sewage treatment plant has been polluting a swamp that drains into a tributary of the Apalachicola Bay and River. The group wants the city to remove discharge from the swamp.
Madison -- A 150-acre recreation park is under construction in Madison. The facility, scheduled to open this fall, will have eight baseball/softball fields, picnic pavilions, soccer fields and a nature trail.
Mexico Beach -- St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) withdrew its proposal to build a housing development on 400 acres near Tyndall Air Force Base. Critics claimed the plan would leave too much development around Tyndall, putting the base in jeopardy of closure. St. Joe executives maintained that other housing developments are much closer to the base's runway, while St. Joe's parcel is more than nine miles away.
Niceville -- For the first time in its 45-year history, the Niceville-Valparaiso-Bay Area Chamber of Commerce will be located in Niceville, not Valparaiso. After four years of planning, the chamber is building a new facility, which will be completed in 2003.
Pensacola -- The trial of a real estate broker accused of illegally structuring a credit union withdrawal to bribe an Escambia County commissioner ended in mistrial with a hung jury. Prosecutors allege that Georgann Elliott withdrew $5,000 cash and $9,000 in the form of a cashier's check to avoid financial institutions' requirements for reporting cash transactions of $10,000 or more. Suspended County Commissioner Willie Junior testified that he received $10,000 from the defendant's husband, Realtor Joe Elliott, before voting to purchase $6.2 million in property from the couple. Georgann Elliott is facing a second trial on bribery-related charges.
Tallahassee -- Florida State University has proposed developing a 1,500-acre research park on the south side of Tallahassee on land that is primarily owned by the city, county and state. The concept includes research facilities, business incubators, an executive conference center and a hotel. Local officials are considering the proposal.
Turkey Point -- The Florida Department of Community Affairs has issued a list of objections to St. Joe Co.'s proposed SummerCamp development in eastern Franklin County. DCA has charged that the proposal for 499 homes and 25,000 square feet of commercial space and the proposed county growth policies to allow the project are too vague and raise serious environmental concerns. A letter sent to the county maintained that the type of development planned was "not appropriate" for the 784-acre parcel.
TALLAHASSEE -- Citing a recent study, Gov. Jeb Bush declared his One Florida plan a success. Results showed a rise in minority students taking pre-college tests and a higher number earning merit-based scholarships for college.
According to the review, the gains mean there should be a rise in the number of black and Hispanic students entering the state's 11 universities this fall. Bush's ban on racial preferences in university admissions was part of his One Florida initiative. Among the skeptics that question the study's validity are two Democrats from Miami, Sen. Kendrick Meek, who protested the plan, and gubernatorial candidate Sen. Daryl Jones. (Minority contractors grade One Florida, page 40.)