Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

AGENTS SEE A GOOD YEAR ... OF A SORT Optimism about Sales of Luxury Properties Is Tempered

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

AGENTS SEE A GOOD YEAR ... OF A SORT Optimism about Sales of Luxury Properties Is Tempered

Article excerpt

Optimism about sales of luxury properties is tempered by politics, protests and warm winter weather up north

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA LUXURY home sales were up slightly in December and January, compared to the same two months a year ago.

A total of 43 homes and condos sold for $75.1 million, an average price of $1.75 million, during those months, according to MyFlorida Regional Multiple List Service statistics.

During the final month of 2010 and the start of 2011, there were 39 residential sales for a total of $67.9 million, with an average price of $1.74 million.

Though the differential is relatively small, local luxury real estate agents say they have high hopes for 2012's prime selling season, which lasts until the end of June.

"I'm definitely seeing a resurgence in buyers looking for homes over $1 million," said Cheryl Loeffler, a luxury agent with Signature Sotheby's in Sarasota. "Our pending sales are up 233 percent, which points to higher sales in the months ahead."

Loeffler said she closed two luxury condo sales in January, and she expects more activity in February and March.

"I have both sides of a deal on Longboat Key that is going to be a record sale for a condo," Loeffler said.

Other luxury agents say they, too, are optimistic about sales during snowbird season. But many worry about what the presidential election in November will mean for the local market.

"I think the market will stay on a steadily stabilizing course, but I'm not expecting fireworks," said Barbara Ackerman, a luxury agent with Coldwell Banker in Sarasota.

"This is an election year, and I expect consumers across the board will take a pause during the last quarter of the year."

With wealth and class likely to continue to play an important part in the presidential campaign, luxury buyers may be even more likely to snap their pocketbooks shut as "1 percent vs. the 99 percent" rhetoric ramps up, and warmer temperatures bring renewed Occupy protests nationwide.

"Many buyers are are tuned into tax codes and what could be changed," said Ackerman, who sold nearly $31 million worth of real estate in 2011. "The end of the year could see a dip."

Reid Murphy, a Longboat Key luxury agent who sold $40 million in real estate last year, is also nervous. …

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