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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Oct. 19, 2007 14 years ago

Coffee Talk

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And the incentives just keep on coming: If necessity is the mother of invention, the Gulf Coast real estate market is mother of the year.An insider's insight into the market: Speaking of how to deal with a down market, the Sarasota Association of Realtors held an "Insiders Insights" conference on the local market Oct. 16.Lawsuits decline, entrepreneurs rejoice: Can lawsuits, the boogeyman constantly lurking in the corner for just about every entrepreneur and small business owner, actually be on the declineSchool enrollment levels out: One way to gauge population growth is to examine school-enrollment data.

Coffee Talk

+ And the incentives

just keep on coming

If necessity is the mother of invention, the Gulf Coast real estate market is mother of the year.

Because despite the repeated pleas of Sarasota-area Realtors that now really is the time to buy a house, the residential real estate market is still reeling.

One growth area, however, is the inventiveness being use to lure buyers off the side lines. From foreign trips to push sales to big-chunk discounts, it's the type of stuff that would have been both unimaginable and unnecessary even two years ago, while the boom was booming.

In Sarasota, for example, the developers behind Pineapple Square are offering a "Fly and Buy" program. The gist is that the developers of the downtown condo and retail project will pay for a potential out-of-town condo buyer's airfare, hotel and rental car while he's in Sarasota to sign a contract. What's more, the Pineapple Square folks will pay interest on a buyer's deposit.

And a few blocks away from Pineapple Square, at the Marquee on the Bay condo project on Gulf Stream and Main, developer Sam Hamad recently announced his own new incentive. This one, the second one from Hamad's Enterprise Associates in the past month, offers Marquee on the Bay buyers a $200,000 price cut on pre-construction purchases. Only two of those multimillion-dollar units remain before construction, Hamad says.

The price-cut incentive follows a price guarantee program Hamad began last month on condos at the Marquee en Ville, another downtown Sarasota luxury condo project. (Enterprise Associates owns the building where the Observer Group, parent of the Review, leases space.)

"I'm taking away all the risk for buyers," Hamad tells Coffee Talk, in regards to both incentives.

Sarasota-based SKY Sotheby's, which deals mostly in high-end homes, is taking the auction approach to boost its sales. The firm, partnering with Sarasota-based Daniel DeCaro Real Estate Auctions, is hosting its second major auction of the year Nov. 16. As many as 30 homes are scheduled to be listed, for prices ranging from $500,000 to $1.2 million.

And finally, there's that international trip: A small group of sales agents and other real estate-related professionals, sponsored by the Sarasota Association of Realtors, flew to England in September for a week-long trip to promote the area as a second-home destination, as well as a good value due to price decreases.

+ An insider's insight

into the market

Speaking of how to deal with a down market, the Sarasota Association of Realtors held an "Insiders Insights" conference on the local market Oct. 16. The session was essentially an hour-long cheerleading event designed to pump up local agents with both information and enthusiasm.

The highlight of the session was a panel discussion, with a foursome of experts made up of national housing economist John Tuccillo, Sarasota-based mortgage broker Penny Hill, Sarasota County Property Appraiser Jim Todora and Pat Neal, president of Lakewood Ranch-based homebuilder Neal Communities.

Neal told the crowd that in general, his remedy for the current market's malaise is patience, having been through similar slumps in 1969, 1974, 1982, 1991 and briefly in 2001. "We've been at this two years now," says Neal, "and I think we are almost through it."

Tuccillo, while not giving a time frame from when the market will rebound, did say he thinks the end is in sight, in Sarasota at least. A former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, Tuccillo says the area is currently in the first of three phases that are necessary to any housing recovery. That phase is a reduction in overall listings.

The next two phases, Tuccillo says, are a decrease in days a house stays unsold on the market and then when the actual sales price more closely reflects the listing price.

+ Lawsuits decline,

entrepreneurs rejoice

Can lawsuits, the boogeyman constantly lurking in the corner for just about every entrepreneur and small business owner, actually be on the decline?

A new survey says that just might be the case, at least in respect to past years.

The survey, released Oct. 15, is the fourth one conducted by Fulbright & Jaworski, a New York-based international firm. It's the first time the results show a decline in overall case filings.

Highlights of the survey, which are based on interviews with in-house attorneys for 250 major U.S. companies, include:

• A 6% increase in companies going a full year without being named a defendant in any lawsuit. Overall, 17% of respondents said they escaped the year un-sued, up from 11% in 2005-2006;

• A 5% decrease in companies bringing lawsuits. Almost two-thirds of the respondents, 65%, said their company had initiated at least one lawsuit in the past year, down from 70% in last year's survey and an even steeper decline from 2004, when 88% of the respondents said their companies had initiated litigation;

• An 11% drop in corporate attorneys expecting to see an increase in legal disputes over the next 12 months;

• A 4% drop in companies being the subject of some type of government or regulatory proceeding.

School enrollment levels out

One way to gauge population growth is to examine school-enrollment data. On the Gulf Coast from Tampa to Naples, most county school districts saw flat or declining enrollments following years of rapid growth. Lee County was a notable exception. "This year, from end of May to first of August, the number of students went up 3,200. People are continuing to move to Lee County," says David Hall, chairman of the finance committee of the Lee County School Board and president and chief operating officer of First Community Bank of Southwest Florida.

Here is the enrollment data by county. Data for 2004 to 2006 is from the Florida Department of Education and 2007 data is from the districts.

ENROLLMENT BY COUNTY

County Fall 2004 Fall 2005 Fall 2006 Fall 2007

Hillsborough 188,610 193,669 193,480 192,496

Pinellas 112,540 112,127 109,880 106,838

Manatee 41,065 42,353 42,242 42,007

Sarasota 41,158 41,884 42,190 42,026

Charlotte 17,402 17,868 17,888 17,821

Lee 70,843 75,579 78,980 80,526

Collier 41,941 43,295 43,164 42,823

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