STUART, Fla. – The Treasure Coast’s population is increasing, in part because of COVID-19, which is leading to a dwindling home supply and longer build times for custom homes.
People want bigger houses, more outdoor recreation and a better quality of life, industry professionals told TCPalm. Alluring mortgage rates add to the home sales hike.
The dilemma for Realtors and builders is meeting demand in a booming market.
“People that already live here can’t find anything,” said Emma Torres, a Realtor at Coastal Home Real Estate. “I’ve heard quite a few people say to me that they wish people would stop moving here so they can still find somewhere to move to.”
COVID-19 spurs population growth
The Treasure Coast’s population has grown 15% over the last 10 years, from 562,135 to 647,445, according to 2020 census data. The counties increased by:
18.5%: St. Lucie
Nearly 16%: Indian River
Over 8%: Martin
Home sales increased accordingly and continue to soar in 2021. From 2019 to 2020, closed sales on single-family homes increased by 10.5% in Martin, 8% in St. Lucie and nearly 6.5% in Indian River, according to local Realtor data. From May 2020 to May 2021, they increased by over 105% in Martin, 66% in St. Lucie and 62% in Indian River.
The number of households increased from 2019 to 2020 by 5.75% in St. Lucie – ranking in the top one-third of Florida’s 67 counties – and 1% in Martin, according to property appraiser data.
However, they decreased by 2.6% in Indian River.
Where are new residents coming from?
Many new residents are coming from other parts of Florida, data shows.
There was a 163% increase in Floridians moving to St. Lucie from 2019 to 2020, according to approved homestead applications tracked by the property appraiser’s office. Homestead applications are filed by people to establish permanent residence.
Sumter and Okeechobee counties saw the biggest percentage hikes in residents moving to St. Lucie from 2019 to 2020, data shows. St. Lucie, Palm Beach and Broward had the highest numbers of new homestead applications in St. Lucie from 2019 to 2020.
Martin similarly saw the highest numbers of homestead applications filed by locals in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The majority of approved applications were for Stuart residents. Existing Florida residents made up about 80% of approved applications.
Among the outsiders who relocated to the Treasure Coast, most moved from New York and New Jersey to St. Lucie and Martin, data shows.
Indian River did not track homesteaders’ previous residences.
Sally Daley, broker and owner at Daley & Co. Real Estate, said her Vero Beach company saw more clients moving from Florida cities such as Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale and uncommon states such as Texas, Arizona and California.
“[The pandemic] literally took all of the pieces on the chess board and kind of threw it up,” Daley said. “Instead of a percentage of people thinking about housing, it gave everybody time to think about housing.”
Population contributes to highly competitive real estate market
Rejected offer after rejected offer is the reality for many people trying to buy houses.
The coronavirus pandemic is “an accelerant on a fire,” Daley said, exacerbating existing trends, such as baby boomers migrating to Florida for lower taxes and better weather.
COVID spurred people to search for larger homes with work-from-home space and outdoor features, such as pools and kitchens, Realtors said. The Treasure Coast is further inundated because housing prices are more affordable than other Florida cities.
Migration patterns are further dwindling the housing supply, which isn’t replenished by renters becoming homeowners or outsiders moving here, Daley said.
Single-family home listings decreased 71% in Indian River, 61% in Martin and 44% in St. Lucie from May 2020 to May 2021, while inventory decreased 76% in Indian River, 71% in Martin and 54.5% in St. Lucie, Realtor association data shows.
“We’ve had to do all types of creative offers in order to get them even entertained,” Torres said. “Most of the offers, we’ve had to go to the extent where we would have to offer above the asking price.”
Cash sales are another factor in the competitive market. For single-family homes, cash sales from May 2020 to May 2021 increased by 217.5% in Martin, 160% in St. Lucie and 140% in Indian River.
It’s too difficult to predict what the future will hold, Torres said, and expert opinions vary. The situation likely will be the “new normal,” said Daley. Or it could take two to three years for the market to balance out, said Karen Johnson, president of Broward, Palm Beaches & St. Lucie Realtors.
Affordable housing crisis continues
People who may have less money – like those in the service industry – have a hard time finding affordable houses to buy, Johnson said. Median prices for single-family homes increased from May 2020 to May 2021 by:
Martin: 28.7%, from $365,000 to $469,900
Indian River: 27.1%, from $267,500 to $340,000
St. Lucie: 26.4%, from $236,500 to $299,000
“Affordability is definitely a crisis right now,” Johnson said.
People may be rushing the process, too, according to a drop in the median time from signing the contract to closing the sale in all three counties from 2020 to 2021, data shows. Getting multiple offers can expedite the process, Johnson said, but buyers also have been waiving their rights to inspections, appraisals and contingencies.
Home builders can’t keep up
Home builders are grappling with higher sales amid longer build times, material shortages and climbing prices.
Sales have increased from 2019 to 2020 by 64% for RJM Custom Homes, President Kim Bunner said, while Homecrete Homes’ sales are 40% ahead of last year, President Jeff Alexander said. Both companies hired more staff to handle the increase.
Building a new home now takes Homecrete about 12-14 months, rather than the previous 8-10 months, Alexander said. At RJM, the timeline went from 12 to at least 18 months, Bunner said.
“Our biggest thing is to be very transparent with people,” Bunner said. “We’re not telling them they’re going to be in their house in six months, and we’ve definitely lost deals over it.”
The delays are due to myriad factors. It takes longer to get certain building materials, such as windows and roof trusses. Contractors are short-staffed with COVID cases and quarantines. Architects and government building and permitting departments are backed up. And it’s taking longer for clients to close on loans, Bunner said.
“The supply chain – it’s been a challenge for everybody,” Alexander said. “It’s a lengthy process, but I do believe it’s worth it in the end.”
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