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Balboa Point at the Boca Country Club

Updated on September 2014



The Housing Bubble:
Sellers must redefine
"Prices are Popping!" 

© 2006 by Temple and Kerstin Williams

Boca Raton, FL, updated September 2014 -- (Note: this article, predicting the real estate crash of 2007-2010, was originally published in 2006).

Experts call real estate a local industry. When analysts slide Cleveland, Ohio, under their microscope, it does not reveal what’s happening in Los Angeles or Boston.

Still, if a “hot” real estate area cools off, who’s going to argue that it does not have larger implications? Boca Raton, Florida, may have some valuable lessons for the real estate industry as a whole.

Within Boca Raton, a “typical” subdivision -- the Boca Country Club -- characterizes the area. This popular subdivision of 945 homes, nestled in over a dozen separate and distinct communities, epitomizes life in the paradise of south Palm Beach, Florida.

Buyers choose from hi-rise condos, town and coach homes, attached courtyard villas, and detached estate homes. Many of the communities have their own clubhouses, while others offer small private pools in every home.

An 18-hole championship golf course threads its way through the Boca Country Club. The links are part of the world-famous Boca Raton Resort & Club, recently purchased by the Blackstone Group. Blackstone, a public company, has a well-deserved reputation as a savvy real estate group.

So how’s the Boca Country Club doing? Like dozens of other subdivisions in the Boca area, it has sizzled with sales for five, price-popping years. Until now.

Absorption Rate’s Crystal Ball

Real estate experts watch “absorption rates” closely. It’s a time-tested yardstick. Homes “go to contract” in an “average” amount of time. Recent history determines exactly how many, and how fast. Simple mathematics determines, over a year, how many homes can be “absorbed” in a particular market … if the immediate past projects the immediate future (which it often does).

In the year prior to Hurricane Wilma, which ripped through south Florida in October, 2005, 64 homes had new owners at the Boca Country Club. At any one time, between 8 and 12 homes were up for grabs. It took less than 45 days, on average, to find a buyer willing to go to contract. In some cases, homes went to contract in a day or two. Prices continually bounced higher at the rate of over a percentage point per month.

That’s the immediate past.

Here’s a snapshot of the present: 53 homes are for sale at the Boca Country Club as of this writing. That’s a record, five times higher than “normal” … and it actually surpasses the bad old days of the early 1990s, when IBM deserted Boca Raton and left its housing market in shambles for almost a decade (IBM has since returned, albeit much smaller).

On average, houses currently take 308.6 days to go to contract (up from the low 50s prior to Hurrican Wilma).

Given the current number of listings, 175 homes would have to sell in the next 12 months to “absorb” the homes with For Sale signs. That would be more than three times the number that sold last year.

It will not happen.

In the first three months of 2006, only 5 homes have been sold.

What’s Next?

One of three things will occur. Only three things can occur. Either prices plummet and buyers rush in. Or sellers take their homes off the market. Or it’s going to take a lot longer to sell a home.

Prices will not plummet in hurricanne-ravaged Palm Beach. Why? Because it costs a lot more to build a house than it used to. Roof tiles, wallboard, lumber, steel, washing machines and water heaters … everything costs more in a new house. And the osmosis of those rising prices drags up the pricetag of used homes.

Prices may not rise as fast as they have in the past five years – no more double digits – but they will not suddenly reverse. The battleship of rising prices does not turn on a dime. Not unless the pre-construction boom goes belly up, which seems unlikely (but stay tuned).

Watch out for 2008, however. That’s when capital gains jumps from 15% to 20% according to current legislation. A 5% hike on a big-ticket item like housing could get a lot of sellers to rush into the market to beat the deadline. Supply and demand. Housing prices suffer. The rush for the exits may have already started.

Will Sellers Stay Put?

Sellers faced with fewer buyers may pull their homes off the market. It’s a pain to keep it in show condition, and strangers rummaging through your kitchen and bedroom gets very old, very fast. It takes time, however, for a listing to “expire” -- most listing contracts are for 6 months or more, with 1-year the norm.

A real estate agent may suggest in a listing presentation that your home will sell for more than you imagined, and in just a few weeks. They may even hint that they have a buyer ready and willing, right now, this very minute. Often, this mystery buyer disappears once the listing is taken (as an aside, offer an agent who suggests a buyer in the wings a single day, one-show contract -- that usually separates fact from fiction).

Regardless, it remains surprisingly hard to cancel a listing contract once you’ve signed the bottom line. The listing agent will sadly explain that it’s his or her broker’s decision not to release the seller. Your home remains on the block until the listing expires, and if you sell your home to anyone who saw it while it was listed, you may owe the broker a commission even after it expires (there’s a time limit of six months to a year on this, depending on your listing contract).

Today, it seems likely that more homes will be listed on the market, not fewer. A record-shattering 53 homes are for sale at the Boca Country Club right now … powerful proof. So it does not look like inventory will pressure buyers into reaching for their wallets anytime soon.

Most Likely: A Stagnating Market

Sellers will suffer through the stigma of stagnation. They stand at that precipice at this very moment. Because a disconnect between buyers and sellers has appeared. A huge disconnect.

While many sellers currently believe that they can sell their homes in roughly 2 months, the absorption rate suggests a lot more time is needed: well over 2 years, not 2 months. That is a real disconnect.

At least one area of real estate seems destined to gain from all this … the long-suffering rental market will start to boom. An increasing number of Boca Raton homeowners have quickly discovered that the best way to “cash out” of a home is to rent instead of buy. That lets them bank the tax-free capital gains ($250,000 for a single person, or twice that for a married couple). No blossoming real estate taxes, no overheads, and you’re just a plane ticket away from outrunning the next hurricane threat. With money in your pocket and nothing to worry about.

Which may, in fact, explain who so many sellers have surfaced recently. They can’t downsize, because even smaller, less expensive homes often carry new, revised real estate taxes in excess of their existing residence. Once the tax assessor gets hold of a sales contract, and reappraises a new home, the new home’s tax base can double or triple. Housing Bubble? There’s no shortage of pinpricks right now.

  • Sellers want to cash in.

  • Tax assessors seem intent on doing the same.

  • Smart sellers would rather rent than downsize.

  • A 5% hike in capital gains looms on the horizon.

  • Five times as many sellers as usual have listed their homes.

  • Buyers seem willing to wait a while as things sort themselves out.

  • A lot of real estate agents and their brokers are holding their breath.

Every historical event takes time before it gets recorded as fact. But the Housing Bubble does seem to have witnessed a first-class “POP!”

Contact Information

Mailing Address: 3755 Mykonos Court, Boca Raton, FL 33487
E-mail Address: E-mail Kerstin or E-mail Temple
Direct Phone: 561-241-6323
Cell phone: 561-271-8121 (Kerstin) 561-251-6187 (Temple)
Direct Fax #: 561-241-6358

Broker: Templeworks Properties LLC, 3755 Mykonos Ct, Boca Raton, FL 33487

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