March 7, 2018

MONROE COUNTY — In the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, the number of homes on the market almost doubled in the Florida Keys, as property owners pulled up stakes and left the islands for good, and outside buyers remained reluctant to acquire property that had been threatened in successive years by a steady procession of storms. 

The response after last September’s Hurricane Irma has been different, with fewer properties on the market and increased sales levels in comparison to the months that followed Wilma, according to a recent Coldwell Banker Schmitt real estate report.

But last year’s real estate news wasn’t all rosy when compared to 2016, as property sales dropped about 5 percent, to 2,602 from 2,747, and average sales price edged down about 2 percent to $571,000 from $581,000, according to data from Tri-Services Multiple Listing Service Board for Key Largo to Key West.

One region outperforming the others in 2017 was Key Largo to Lower Matecumbe Key, which saw a 34 percent increase in average sales price to $575,000 from the prior year. All other regions experienced declines.

That large increase in the Upper Keys was largely attributable to 90 sales during 2017 at the $1 million-plus level, including one $10 million residential sale and about a dozen near or above $3 million.

“This aggressive activity in the luxury properties, and particularly the one sale for $10 million, skewed the percentage,” said Banks Prevatt, who authored the Coldwell Banker Schmitt report.

Not surprisingly, Irma had a considerable impact on transactions in September, causing a drop in total sales for the month to 61, down from the 194 to 234 range for that month during the three preceding years.

Homes also spent 10 more days in the market in 2017, as the average number increased from the previous year to 153 days.

But the overall response of the market to the storm so far has been cause for optimism.

“We look forward to 2018 being a good year for the Florida Keys real estate market with more sales and, ultimately, improving average sales prices,” Prevatt concluded in his report.

Jim Larson, a real estate broker with Keller Williams Realty in Islamorada, shares that positive outlook.

“Today, I feel a good pulse in the market,” he said. “People are positive about the direction the country is going and positive about investing in it — real estate being one of the top choices.”

The major sell-off 12 years ago occurred after some of the most active hurricane seasons on record. About 2,700 listings were on the market when Wilma struck in late October. That jumped to 3,500 by December and more than 4,500 in January 2006.

“The psychological state of many homeowners after so many recent close calls from hurricanes, the widespread flooding from Wilma, and the decline in buyers caused them to put their properties up for sale, many leaving the Keys,” according to Prevatt.

The post-Irma market is different in several ways. The islands hadn’t been seriously threatened or struck by a hurricane in a dozen years, and unlike 2005, when speculators were buying and flipping homes to cash in on skyrocketing prices, most post-Irma homeowners have significant equity in their properties and fewer distressed homes are on the market, Prevatt reports.

“As a result, the mindset of most owners to date has been to repair their property and remain in the Keys,” Prevatt said.