Lee land expected to cool off

Real estate expert says 2004 boom unlikely to continue

Several local real estate experts expressed their views and opinions to an overflow crowd of 1400 Tuesday night at the News-Press Market Watch 2005 Seminar held at the Harborside Event Center in Downtown Fort Myers.

The explosive increase in home prices that Lee County saw in 2004 won't go on forever, a real estate expert warned Tuesday night at The News-Press Market Watch."Can this continue?" real estate agent Denny Grimes of VIP Realty rhetorically asked . "In a word, no." In the super-heated market, Grimes said, investors are playing a game of musical chairs but need to be prepared for the possibility that they may have to hold onto property for a while before selling it. His rule of thumb: "Don't invest if you can't carry the costs." "My advice in the short run is to exercise a little caution."

Grimes also mentioned that investors with foresight already have passed this market by and are on to areas that haven't started to see massive appreciation such as along U.S. 27 between Lake Wales and Moore Haven.

Commercial real estate broker Frank D'Alessandro of D'Alessandro & Woodyard Commercial Realtors, said prospects are good for the real estate industry in Lee County, although noting that offices made up 51 percent of the new buildings permitted in the county in 2004. "That's a cautionary sign." Still, D'Alessandro said, office vacancy rates fell 6.7 percent to 10.2 percent. Net rents fell 63 cents per square foot to $13.46, which he attributed to "spiraling operating expenses" that landlords were forced to absorb because tenants weren't able to pay the increased costs.

D'Alessandro said he takes the middle ground on the question of whether there's a correction coming this year in the county's white hot real estate market."We say it will flatten out," he said, with a continued upward trend starting late in 2006.

One real estate agent at the event, Gary Tasman of VIP Commercial-TCN Worldwide, had a different perspective on the office market. "Prices are up, incentives by landlords are down. It's not really soft at all." In most parts of Lee County, he said, "There is not enough product to satisfy demand."

Former Lee County Economic Development Director Janet Watermeier, now President of the Florida Gulf Coast Group, expressed a growing concern about where the county's work force will find a place to live. "We're no longer quite the affordable community we used to be. "Lehigh Acres was the last place in the county where homes were affordable for working people and increasingly that population is looking to Hendry County, she said.

Watermeier also noted that growth of the population is accounting only for 36 percent of the new homes being built with the rest accounted for by investors, by renters taking advantage of low interest rates to buy homes, and by people who are purchasing second homes.

Lee land expected to cool off [News-Press]

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