It's a truism that location drives real estate valuation. In coastal Florida, that rule is more specific, according to a report in the News-Press (see: 'High-end waterfront home sales: Steady as the tide," by Dick Hogan). "The top 10 most expensive houses in Collier County in 2014 went for slightly more outrageous prices while Lee County's edged down a bit," the paper reports. "But one thing remained as constant as the tide: all were on salt water."
Luxury oceanfront houses are fetching top dollar again. The top priciest homes sold in Cape Coral in 2014, for example, all went for well over a million dollars, from a low of $1,490,000 to a high of $2,020,000.
The lingering economic effects of the last decade's real estate slump may not be over. But in high-end markets, at least, it looks like back to the future. At least one South Florida house recently gained back all the value it lost in the downturn, plus a little, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports (see: "Waterfront home in southern Manatee exceeds boomtime value," by Michael Braga). The 1960-sqft bayfront house in Sarasota sold for $1,165,000 in November — about the same as a buyer paid for it in 2005, but up almost $300,000 from the price the seller paid for the same house just two years ago ($725,000 in September 2012).
The top end of the market may be steaming, but Florida's overall housing market is still hampered by a big slug of "zombie foreclosures" — houses where the bank is in the process of seizing a home, but the owners have already abandoned the property. While their numbers are dropping, these unkempt vacant houses are still a big cause of blight in neighborhoods around the state. The Sun Sentinel has a report (see: "'Zombie' foreclosures on the decline across South Florida," by Paul Owers).
"Florida's zombie properties dropped 35 percent to 35,903, but the Sunshine State still had roughly twice as many as No. 2 New Jersey (17,983)," the paper reports. Completing the foreclosure process takes more than 900 days in Florida — longer than in any other U.S. state besides Hawaii or New Jersey, the paper reports. Remarked economist Ken Thomas: "It's in everyone's best interest to get these abandoned homes off the market. Tall grass and green pools are the kiss of death of neighborhoods. It's like a virus. One abandoned home can hurt four or five other homes nearby."