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What Florida Shows Us About the Real Estate Market

Median sales prices need to be taken with a grain of salt. They don't necessarily mean the average house value has grown 14% in Florida, because sometimes it's the pricier homes that move more briskly, other times it's the cheaper ones. A year ago, sales included more foreclosed homes going for fire-sale prices.

Because of the market's volatility, anyone considering buying a retirement or second home in Florida should pay special attention to some key questions.

First, how easily can the balance of supply and demand change? On many of the barrier islands off the East Coast, for instance, there's not much room for further development, so it's unlikely a flood of new homes will depress prices in these areas. But in many areas just a few miles away on the mainland there's plenty of undeveloped land. As prices rise, developers tend to break ground on single-family homes and condos, and that new supply slows the price gains or reverses them.

In areas popular for retirement and second homes, condominiums are very popular, and condo fees can be very high. In fact, you could pay more in condo fees than you would on your new mortgage. In an economic downturn, growing numbers of condo owners stop paying their fees. The association may respond by skimping on maintenance or jacking up fees.

So potential buyers eyeing the warm winter temperatures in Florida should be especially attentive to the basic lessons of the recent housing crisis: A home is a home, not an investment. And the best way to minimize your risks is to resist the temptation to buy the most expensive home you can afford, and to plan to own it long enough to ride out the downturns..

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