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Boom times at John’s Island

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS (Week of November 30, 2023)

After a slow summer for home sales that was felt up and down the island, the John’s Island real estate market has come roaring back, with a strong October and blockbuster November.

“I will go on record and say we’ve already set a new record for November,” John’s Island Real Estate broker Bob Gibb told Vero Beach 32963 on Friday, when there were still six days left in the month to push the total higher.

“We were fortunate to have five properties worth more than $30 million go under contract in just the past 10 days,” added John’s Island Real Estate sales associate Luke Webb.

“The buyers we are seeing now aren’t coming just to look. Almost all of them are coming to town specifically to make a purchase on that trip.”

Altogether, the company’s eight agents put 15 homes under contract in October and the first 24 days in November with a total value of $76,500,000, according to marketing manager Mandy Robinson.

“All eight of our salespeople were actively involved in our success in October and November,” said Gibb. “Everyone brought something to the party.”

The 15 properties range in price from the low $2 millions to $11.5 million and include five condos and 10 houses.

The top sale was the 12,300-square-foot home at 171 Terrapin Point on Gem Island. Sitting on a 1.44-acre lot with 172 feet of river frontage, the grand Georgian Revival/Colonial house offers “unparalleled luxury and refinement, where the ideal fusion of meticulous design and craftsmanship come together,” according to the description on John’s Island Real Estate’s website.

That luxury includes a lavish riverside pool, a spice garden and a small putting green with a miniature sand trap. The recently updated house has a new roof and seawall, full hurricane protection, an elevator, numerous en suite bedrooms and a completely redone kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances.

The house was listed by broker associate Rennie Gibb. She had to negotiate the deal with her father and boss Bob Gibb, who brought the buyer. The contract price of $11.5 million was double what the house sold for in March 2020, when it closed for $5.7 million.

The next biggest deal was for another riverfront home not far from the clubhouse of the gated and guard-patrolled community.

“My clients who purchased 305 Indian Harbor fell in love with the open river view, beautiful sunsets and all of the nature right out your back door that this property offers,” said Webb, who brought the buyer in the transaction. “They also loved the fact that they can walk or ride their bikes to the club.”

The five-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath, 6,696-square foot home, which the JI website says has been “sumptuously renovated,” sits on a .65-acre lot and comes with a “new pool and deck ...  and completely updated dock with boat lift, kayak storage and seating.”

The property was listed by JI broker associate Susie Perticone for $11,775,000 and went under contract for $11 million, according to Webb. The house previously sold for $4,683,000 in August 2019, before the pandemic property boom that pushed island home prices dramatically higher.

Another notable deal mentioned by Webb was a “nicely renovated, ocean-view condo in the 750 building,” which was listed for $3,250,000 and went under contract for $3,358,000, $108,000 over ask.

“The largest thing we’re hearing from buyers as to why they’re coming down now is that taxes are bad and getting worse in many other parts of the county and crime is a much larger concern for them now than it has been in the past,” said Webb.

“John’s Island has always been a safe haven for families looking to spend more time together. New buyers mention that they love the fact that John’s Island offers guarded gates 24 hours a day along with roving security patrols 24 hours a day.”

The amenities are not bad, either. The 1,650-acre, member-owned, ocean-to-river private club community offers a world-class slate of activities, including three championship golf courses and three clubhouses.

Membership in the club is by invitation only but most property owners belong, and the amenities and lifestyle are such that families tend to stick around for generations.

“We are seeing third and fourth generations of families buying in John’s Island,” said Gibb.

The real estate company’s business is bolstered further by JI residents moving within the community, competing with newcomers arriving from the Northeast and other parts of the country.

“I have seen as many as six transactions by one person,” said Gibb. “We have seven or eight different choices of housing so that people can move up or down as their lifestyles evolve and they want more space for visiting grandchildren or need a house without stairs.”

Recent contracts illustrate the trend of club members moving within the community they love. Webb said the sellers in the 171 Terrapin Point transaction are moving to another riverfront home in JI, and the buyer of the $3,358,000 ocean-view condo was a resident in the same building.

“He had a two-bedroom and wanted a three-bedroom and was willing to pay over ask to make sure he didn’t miss out on the unit,” said Gibb.

Gibb said other factors driving the burst of sales include buyers who wanted to get into their new JI home before Christmas and people who have been on the sidelines, waiting to see what the U.S. economy is going to do.

“Buyers are getting contrasting opinions about the economy from different sources but they can’t keep postponing their plans forever,” Gibb said. “Some have delayed six months or a year already, waiting to see what was going to happen with the stock market and interest rates, but they realized time is getting away from them and decided to pull the trigger on a purchase.”

Group psychology plays a part, too, according to Gibb. “Even in the summer when it was slow, we had showings, showings, showings, but no one was quite ready.

“I felt like once the first shoe dropped, the others would follow, and that is what happened.”

Gibb said that he expects lean inventory to keep prices high in JI. There are only seven houses and one lot on the market in the approximately 1,380-home community, along with four condos and five Island House units. The properties range in price from $550,000 for a one-bedroom, one-bath, 590-square-foot Island House unit to $23,450,000 for an 11,000-square-foot oceanfront house.

John’s Island Real Estate held open houses at nine of the available  properties on Sunday that were attended by as many as 35 potential buyers.

“Whenever inventory starts to build up, it gets taken off,” said Gibb, who expects a good season ahead as the allure of Vero Beach generally and John’s Island in particular enable the 32963 area to buck national trends.

Nationally, “existing home sales declined 4.1 percent in October ... down 14.6 percent versus a year ago,” according Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust Advisors. In the same period, John’s Island Real Estate’s deals more than doubled, from two sales in October 2022 to five this year.

Gibbs said that, even with the worrisome summer slowdown, 2023 will be “the second or third best year” ever for his company in terms of sales volume.

“We are still setting records,” he added. “We sold a spec home for $8.3 million before the old house was even knocked down and that was a new high for a golf course home.”

“The team is the reason we are doing so well,” Gibbs concluded. “We’re a cool team, all helping each other, and everyone has participated in the success we are having.”