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Vero Beach real estate market bucks statewide trend

STORY BY PIETER VANBENNEKOM (Week of March 14, 2024)

While the rest of the state of Florida may be seeing a surge of “desperate sellers” trying to get out of their properties at any price because of rising insurance costs, the Vero Beach real estate market seems to be holding up rather well as prices show no sign of plummeting.

In its latest issue, Newsweek magazine said Florida now has proportionally the largest number of “motivated sellers” in the country. Motivated sellers are defined as owners of real estate, single-family homes or condominium units, who are willing to substantially lower the asking price for their properties, sometimes by as much as 25 percent, to get out of the property.

The motivation in recent years has often been crushing hikes in homeowners’ insurance rates, which property owners either pay directly, or in the form of special assessments and/or increased Home Owners Association (HOA) maintenance fees for condo owners.

In addition to the direct increases in insurance rates, homeowners have also often been forced to swallow additional costs for home improvements, such as a new roof or new, as a pre-condition for being able to get any insurance at all.

“What they’re saying may be true on a national or statewide level,” said leading real estate broker-owner Alex “Buzz” MacWilliam, “but every state has its cities and towns that are their own micro-markets with their own strengths and weaknesses. And Vero Beach is still a well sought-after community.” 

MacWilliam called Vero Beach a “discretionary market,” where sellers can afford to wait another year to sell at a better time. “I haven’t heard anyone panicking,” MacWilliam said. “In Vero Beach, I haven’t heard any seller say, ‘I’m moving out of Florida because I can’t afford the insurance anymore’.”

“I have heard of some people threatening to sell to get out,” said Harry Howle, a local risk management specialist with Gottzmann Insurance Group and former mayor of the city of Vero Beach, “but to date I have not seen any direct evidence of this (desperation selling) actually happening.”

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a press conference that, while multiple insurance carriers have left Florida, exacerbating the premium hikes, “You also have about $1.25 to $1.5 billion in capital that either has been or will be injected into this market.

“There’s seven companies now that have entered,” he said. “Insurance has gone up over the last three years – part of that’s inflation, part of it’s other policies – but we’re one of the states where people are actually coming into our market so that is obviously a good sign.”

Two other positive developments, DeSantis said, are credits for taxes paid on insurance premiums, and the My Safe Florida Home program, which MacWilliam referred to, resulting in premium decreases of up to 70 percent on hardened properties.

State-backed Citizens Property Insurance is Florida’s insurer of last resort, and the number of people needing to go that route is declining.  DeSantis expects that trend to continue.

From 2009 to 2019, the value of insured property in Florida remained level between $2.3 and $2.5 trillion. “Now, the total insured property is $3.3 trillion, so there’s more exposure,” DeSantis said, adding that the fact that 80 percent of property insurance lawsuits in the nation are filed in Florida demanded the incremental reforms the legislature has made over the past three sessions, plus special sessions.

The latest real estate sales figures for the Vero Beach area show that some properties are still selling above asking price, while most transactions now close at slightly below list prices, as a result of what appears to be near-normal final negotiations between buyers and sellers.

Asked to explain why he thinks the Vero Beach real estate market seems to be holding up better than the rest of the state, Howle noted that “many parts of our county are what one might consider affluent. There is a certain portion of the local society that will not be influenced by these rising costs” because people are able to absorb them.

Helping to stabilize the local market is the realization that insurance costs are not likely going to be any lower elsewhere in Florida.

Staff Writer Lisa Zahner contributed to this report.