Great Recession Buyers Have Tons of Equity

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The real estate market in South Florida has ebbed and flowed over the past few decades, bringing with it soaring home values in some periods, followed by devastating downturns.

When the housing bubble of 2006 and 2007 burst, the market dropped precipitously, with values reaching their lowest levels around 2012. The typical home value in South Florida in 2007 for example, peaked at $339,171 before falling to $162,918 in the beginning of 2012, according to numbers from Zillow.

During the low period, people grabbed up homes at very low prices, hoping, of course, that the market would rebound, but not knowing how just much it would skyrocket years later.

Those who were able to take advantage of the market have seen their home values double or even quadruple in the last decade.

Lantana homeowner Blair Alshut is one such homeowner. She purchased her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a pool in east Lantana in a short sale for $95,000 in January of 2011. Working as a waitress at the time, she was searching for a property that would fit her budget of $100,000. Eleven years later, she’s a Realtor in Palm Beach County, and estimates her property could now go for $425,000.

It was a home she saw potential in, as she and her husband put about $12,000 in renovations, redoing the kitchen themselves, and updating the floors in her home. Buying during the downturn gave her the chance to afford something that was closer to the water, a location she’s always wanted to be in.

“It’s honestly crazy how much it has risen,” said Alshut. “I would expect it to be a multiple offer situation,” she says of what would happen if she listed it.

Though it would be nice to sell now and make a profit, she doesn’t know where she would be able to go in today’s market.

Many homeowners are realizing how much equity they have gained after buying low decades ago. Home values rose steadily from 2013 to 2020 in South Florida, but have skyrocketed throughout the pandemic, fueled by dwindling inventory in the region, intense demand from out-of-state buyers and low mortgage rates. These factors have combined to create a market where bidding wars are the norm and homes are flying off the market in a matter of days.

Take Lantana, where the average home value dropped in the beginning of 2012 to $124,867, according to numbers from Zillow. The current average home value is $350,339.

After the downturn, it wasn’t unusual for homeowners to wait out the market to see if values would return.

“It was very common for people to stay in their property for a long period of time,” said Ken H. Johnson, real estate economist with Florida Atlantic University. “They were waiting for value to go where it was or slightly above where it was.”

And property taxes for some of these homeowners who bought decades ago haven’t skyrocketed too much, despite home values soaring. Many of them have homestead protections under the Florida “Save our Homes” law, which caps how much homesteaded properties can raise in value, either by 3% annually or the change in the National Consumer Price Index, which ever one is less.

A homestead property is defined as the primary residence inside a municipality up to one-half acre, and those outside of a municipality up to 160 acres.

Is cashing out possible?

If homeowners were expecting to cash out in the current market, they may be in for a shock.

“What really factors into that decision is where can I go? What can I buy?” said Eliot Koolik with the Koolik Group at Compass Boca. “Some people have ended up refinancing to keep their overhead low. They are looking at this market that they might as well stay in the house with a lot of space and still have a decent sized mortgage,” Koolik added.

It’s a decision Shauna, who preferred not to use her last name, and her family were weighing. They were looking to sell their Boynton Beach home they bought in foreclosure in 2011 for about $240,000. Similar homes in their neighborhood are now selling for about $700,000 and up, bringing them the possibility of a handsome $500,000 return.

“It’s nuts; I’d be able to afford my kid’s colleges,” she said.

However, they realized their decision has been limited by how little inventory there is left in South Florida and how high prices have risen. Not only would it be almost impossible to find a home in the right school district for her kids, but the market has also become so pricey and competitive, that they would probably end up in a far more expensive home. They decided against selling.

“It’s frustrating because where do you go?” Shauna said. “You can make a lot of money, but then you end up buying a home that is between $800-900,000. What does that house look like that I don’t already have?”

Inventory levels in South Florida have dropped, leaving buyers with few options.

“One of the trends I am seeing is individuals selling their second homes, or investment properties. These sellers do not have the concern of low inventory and the fear of not being able to find home,” said Karen Pica, real estate agent with Lang Realty in Delray Beach.

Brenda and Michael Smith, a retired couple living in Delray Beach, bought their rental property for around $24,000 in 2011. After fixing it up and renting it out for the past ten years, they’ve realized they could get about four times the amount on their investment.

They don’t plan on selling due to their current tenant, who is disabled.

“We’re here to help her,” Smith said. “Otherwise we would be selling it in the peak of the market.”

Paula Mendez, 36, is another homeowner who was able to purchase a home a decade ago on the cheap. She bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom townhome in Boynton Beach for $50,000 and has used it as a rental property to generate income over the years.

Now she says homes in her area are selling for around $200,000. She doesn’t plan on selling, as she wants to make sure she has a home in case of an emergency.

“If I would have to sell and then buy again, there is no capital gain there. I want to have a roof that is paid off if anything should happen,” she said.

© 2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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