Ranked by AAA as tenth among America's favorite beaches, Naples, Florida offers upscale vacation and retirement homes. Now's the time, say local Realtors, before interest rates head back up.

"Resales of upscale vacation and retirement homes on 2003 have slowed," says Realtor Phil Gieseke ( Property Defects Home Inspection Professional House Inspector ). "The same rule from 2002 still applies: the higher the price point, the fewer the buyers. We have weathered the dot.com crash, but many people hesitate to make a major decision with uneasiness about international affairs and the economy."

Gieseke advises, "Those who recognize this trough as a buying opportunity are looking for bargains. But given that much of our second home and retirement property is held with little or no debt, there have been few financially motivated sellers. Those not offered their price have been waiting. However, as the peak season comes to an end, we are starting to hear 'motivated seller' and 'bring all offers'. On the other hand, there are scores of developers with ready inventory, and they are less willing to wait for the next season -- cash flow is the developer's lifeblood. We've seen the cash and upgrade incentives offered to new home buyers last fall continued into this year.

"The bottom line is this is a buyer's market," he says. "The selection is great and prices are less than they will be when the economy strengthens."

Gieseke proposes a long-term outlook. "The oldest Baby Boomers are in their late fifties. Some of them have fueled Southwest Florida expansion by buying second homes. While they start thinking retirement, we expect younger boomers (late thirties to early fifties) to start thinking second home. This second-then-retirement home cycle should continue for decades as the boomers continue to move through their forties, fifties, and sixties. Note: The biggest bulge in the birth rate was in the mid-1950s. These people are now in their late forties and have yet to enter this cycle in significant numbers. And there's more. Southwest Florida is attracting more than Baby Boomer vacationers and retirees. Developers now locate next to schools and advertise family amenities. We anticipate a mix of young and old, vacationers and residents over the next 20 years as this area grows into a self-sustaining commercial and residential community. As developers move outward to less expensive land, they offer either the same home value for less money or the same home with more surrounding green and water areas. Buyers are embracing both options."

He explains, "Upscale golfing communities are now selling east of I-75 as far north as Ft. Myers and south on 951 towards Marco Island. Lee County has approved the Simon Group's plan for the Coconut Point Mall, including 1.8 million square feet of retail space plus 1,000 multi-family units and 300,000 square feet of office space. It will be located on the east side of US 41 in Estero. Note that some of the established developments have already experienced rapid appreciation and are adjusting to the average area rate. This is because today's buyer is more value conscious, but still shuns the older 'dated' properties that will require more maintenance. However, newer areas are experiencing increased pressure on property values as shopping and services appear and mature. In all cases, while acknowledging the current eastward development, we still sense that the closer to the Gulf, the more valuable the property -- the weather, the shopping, and the services are superior. If you can see the Gulf or feel its breezes, that's a plus. An unobstructed view where you can walk out the door and put your feet in the sand is still in highest demand --and is least available."

Say Realtors John and Gale Crider , "Naples is the crown jewel of Southwest Florida -- nestled on the sun-drenched beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Naples is known for world-class shopping, dining, challenging golf courses and delightful boating. It is also only steps away from island seclusion or the untamed tropical wilderness of The Everglades."

The Criders suggest, "For months, the existing home market has been generating some of the only positive economic news. Although it seems nationally this may not be the case, Southwest Florida's local real estate market continues to post solid gains. According to the Naples Area Multiple Listing Service, the total number of unit sales for the period of April 1, 2002 through March 31, 2003 was 6,271 compared to 5,502 unit sales during the period of April 1, 2001 through March 31, 2002. This represents an increase in units sold of 13.98 percent. The average sales price for April 2002 through March 2003 was $402,798.69 versus $362,459.45 for April 2001 through March 2002 which is an 11.13 percent increase. The average days on market for April 2002 through March 2003 was 104 compared to 111 for the period of April 2001 through March 2002.

"As for the estate market in Southwest Florida, Phil Wood, the president of John R. Wood, Inc., stated it best: 'It appears more healthy than some would have us believe. The estate market, those properties priced $1 million and above, has been showing dramatic signs of improvement. According to data gathered from the Naples Area Multiple Listing Service, estate closings recorded for Bonita Springs and Naples in January and February 2003 equaled 82 units. This represents a 61 percent increase over the 51 units reported for the same period in 2002. The total dollar volume for these units was $166 million, which is up 77 percent compared to the $93.8 million recorded for the same period in 2002. We've been hearing continued reports of how the estate, or high-end market is soft, with sales slow and prices possibly declining, but these figures indicate that the turnaround may have arrived. Even though a softening may be taking place in the rest of the country's high-end market, it just shows us that the Naples and Bonita Springs area is truly unique and how the continued desirability of owning a home in Southwest Florida cannot be compared to many other areas of the country."

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