BRADENTON, April 16, 2010 -- A few months ago, the Filip family of Czechoslovakia bought their 2-bedroom, 2 bath unit in the El Conquistador Villages at a bargain price - just $75,000 for a unit that sold for twice that two years ago.
That's a pretty good price for a place right in the middle of an IMG-owned golf course, with its own pool, cabana and ample parking. The Filip family, who brought their 11-year-old daughter Kate to study tennis at the El Conquistador Racquet & Tennis Club, were able to run their flagpole factory back in Prague over the Internet for five months a year and headed home when the weather promised to get hot.
But now two units from the 32-unit, four-story building at 4119 61st Ave Ter W are up for sale. Both are ground-floor units, yet both are asking far more than the Filip family paid: $94,000 and $115,000, respectively, according to a color real estate insert from Wagner Realty in a local paper last Saturday.
Those events may be apocryphal, but a recent New York Times front-page real estate feature -- complete with nine photos -- highlighted a renovated 1938 cottage two blocks from the Manatee River in Bradenton that is selling for $250,000. The interior is gorgeous, but $250,000? Homes in the same area have sold below $150,000 in recent months.
Is the recession over for Bradenton home sellers, buyers and flippers?
While it's too early to say for sure, it's certainly a changing market. In Bradenton, condominium sales and prices outstripped a dismal real estate market across Florida and in most of the United States. While home sales were slow elsewhere, they rose sharply in the Bradenton-Sarasota market, and condominium units that were glutting the market only months ago suddenly started selling.
According to official figures, condominium prices in Manatee and Sarasota Counties jumped 18% in February over the same month in 2009, and sales jumped an astounding 48%. Those numbers outpaced every other jurisdiction in the United States, just as home sales here did back in the pre-recession "bubble" years.
There's a little more evidence in the form of lessened foreclosure activity. According to news reports, in the week before Easter only 33 homeowners suffered foreclosure. That number more than doubled to 77 last week, but that's still good news because, for more than a year, there have been more than 100 foreclosures -- and someitmes as many as 140 -- reported each week in Manatee County.
It appears that our foreclosure rate is slowing down, whether due to an improving economy, increased help for homeowners from the federal mortgage programs enacted by Congress, better employment rates or an as-yet unknown factor.
What, then could be behind our sudden condominium sales boom? The Manatee County Commission has just added a major boost to the budget of the country economic development commission, but that is unlikely to have had a material effect yet.
What could be happening, though, is that new employers are eyeing Bradenton's sunny climate, mild (well, "chilly" this year) winters, low taxes, alarge at-the-ready worforce, impressive roster of top athletes and other sports figures, hurricane-free history (we haven't suffered a direct hit from a hurricane since 1944), low wages and lack of state taxes with their bottom line in mind.
And it has to help that, in general, rents and home prices are affordable for any mid-level executive and most skilled workers.
It wouldn't surprise anyone if Manatee County suddenly landed a major American industrial giant and thousands of new jobs in the coming months. There's plent of available land, a welcoming local government structure, and tax benefits aplenty. Billions will be spent on the new bullet train project from Tampa to Orlando, and Bradenton's a short commute up I-75 from any of the construction sites.
Hundreds of engineers, contractors and skilled workers will have to relocate to the area, and there are few more attractive choices than Manatee County, where new homes and condos are abundant, crime is at a 20-year low, beaches are pristine, nearby, and generally offer free parking.
And prices here for new homes and condos -- as well as for pre-owned homes -- while not as rock-bottom as they were in January, are still a bargain by any rational standard.