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Closing Time: Best Tips and Tricks for the Housing Market

Real estate—it’s back, baby! As the highs (yay!) and lows (ugh!) of the housing market so profoundly taught us all during the last few years, real estate is the grease, gas and engine of the U.S. economy. When it hums, so does everything else. When it sputters for too long, everything else breaks down or worse—crashes.

The good news is that the market is more than on the mend, it’s moving again, according to research from Florida Realtors. Quite steadily, in fact. The average home price in Martin County is $488,745—$50,000 more than the average price was at this time last year. So far this quarter, some 548 houses have sold in Martin County—12 more than this time last year, and the school-zone surge (more below) of the season is just gearing up.

As for St. Lucie County, 1,234 single-family homes have sold this year, an 8.7 percent increase in sales compared to the first quarter of last year. The median sales price of a single home is $198,663—a 15 percent increase over 2016. The median sale price of town homes and condos stands at $165,000—a 23 percent increase over last year.

Still, what do childbirth, career change, bankruptcy and divorce all share in common? Each one, experts say, rivals the stress involved in buying a home. So, what follows is the ideal anxiety antidote: invaluable insight and advice from some of the area’s top realtors.

Here we present suggestions for sellers. Guidance for buyers. And all-around wisdom for anyone who’s looking (hoping, praying, pleading) to sell their home, find their dream home, or both.


Not all big spenders fit the traditional mold for retirees: “The average age for what I see in my market has definitely gotten lower,” says Debra Duvall of Water Pointe Realty who has sold real estate in Martin County for 36 years. “I have plenty [of clients] in their 30s who are very successful.”

Lure of the luxury lifestyle: “Our demographics have definitely shifted over the past seven, eight years,” says Kristen Cheskaty, broker and managing partner at Sailfish Point Realty. “We’re drawing younger buyers, in their mid-50s, who are looking to be loyal members of the club for many years still. Once they discover Sailfish Point, they’re bringing in their friends, which you can certainly anticipate in a club environment.”

Combine lifestyle and location: “The lifestyle we offer [includes] our incredible location away from traffic and congestion, with great access to the turnpike, Interstate 95, airports, shopping and dining, first-class amenities, natural setting and our beautiful riverfront. All of these features, combined with our warm, welcoming and friendly membership, make Harbour Ridge truly unique,” says Suzy Duffy, communications and marketing manager for Harbour Ridge Yacht & Country Club.

Tricks for the Housing Market

Opportunities and incentives: “Port St. Lucie was recently cited in the top cities in the country to start a small business,” says Brian Lemen, manager of Coldwell Banker Paradise. “One of the things that’s really drawing them is that $15,000 bond money for first-time home buyers. It’s an FHA product and after living in the home for five years, they don’t have to pay that money back. (There are specific lenders that are qualified to go with the bond money. Because Port St. Lucie was in a declining market, at this point, that $15,000 is still available.)”

Buyers range from the spontaneous to the scientific: “There are all different personalities with buyers,” says Patrick Stracuzzi, who’s been in real estate for 27 years. “[There are] people who are direct, and they buy the first time out. There are other people who will buy in the school system. There are buyers who are spontaneous purchasers and buyers who are very scientific and want to buy based on what other homes they’ve searched for. Still, every one single property is different. There are really no two houses the same.”

Convenience and community: “Because of the schools and the sizes of the homes that they’re building [in Tradition], you have a lot of families with children moving in,” says Ben Permuy, assistant team leader for Keller Williams Realty Port St. Lucie. “They like how it’s set up, with the shopping centers, the stores, how you can walk to the stores, the way it’s like a little village—that’s one of the big attractions.”


Done and done: “Anything that doesn’t need a lot of fixing up and is under $400,000 in Martin County, there is a pent-up demand for,” says Debra Duvall of Water Point Realty. “But—and I call it ‘either end of the spectrum’—you see ‘I want to move in and I don’t even want to redecorate’ to ‘I want to rehab something.’ The house that’s in the middle can be harder to sell.”

Needs new paint? Pass: “Since the recession, buyers want move-in condition,” says Dave Derrenbacker a broker at Water Pointe Realty Group. “People want to walk in and bring their toothbrush and be done. It’s crazy how many times you show a house and carpet needs to be replaced or rooms need to be painted and they walk out and want to see the next one.”

Something old in something new: “A lot of people are preferring established neighborhoods,” Duvall adds. “There are several builders who are doing infill building. They’re going into North River Shores or Sewall’s Point and buying established lots and putting in spec homes.”

Goin’ country: “For the longest time, everyone we sold to had a horse,” says Joan Rogers, president of the Realtor Association of Martin County and an agent with the Horsepower Team/BHHS Florida Realty. “Now it’s people who want a cow and goat and chickens. People who want their own food source. There [were] always people who did that, but we’re seeing more. And there are always people who live out here for privacy.”

Loan—a four-letter word: “Buyers need to adjust to the different mortgage opportunities that are out there,” Derrenbacker says. “Lending was fast and furious at the height of the boom, and it really tightened up. Now it’s expanding again, so they need to work with a good loan officer to make sure they’re finding the product that works best for them.”

Foreign investors flush with cash: “Many come down here and what they can buy, for the money, the buyer is usually someone from out of the county,” Stracuzzi says. “I’m seeing lots of changes—pretty quantum leaps—and again, the buyers are not from here. It’s a bargain to them. Are they overpaying? No, you can’t cost replace these homes.”


What to expect of your realtor: “They need to be paying attention to the listing,” says Dave Derrenbacker of Water Pointe Realty Group. “I tell my sellers that we’re working together to sell your house. It’s the realtor’s job to keep in touch with the seller and be aware of what’s going on in that neighborhood. Are properties selling that could affect the value list—either positively or negatively? It’s an ongoing customer service—not just get the listing and wait for it to sell.”

Mistakes sellers should avoid: Shannon Andersen, an agent with Keller Williams, shares the biggest pitfalls he sees ensnare sellers:

  • Not staging their home.
  • Overpricing the home.
  • Choosing agents with no marketing budgets. “You see the listings go up, and the agents took the pictures on their iPhone,” Andersen says. “Make sure your agent hires a professional photographer.”
  • Choosing agents with no systems in place in terms of contracts to close, or no negotiation and marketing skills.

Questions to ask you realtor before listing with them:

“You don’t need a dinosaur in the business to have a good agent,” Andersen says. “They need to know their numbers.” He says to ask:

  • Is this your full-time job? “We deal with some who say they’ll get with us when they get off work, but we need answers now,” Andersen says. “Make sure the agent is doing it full time.”
  • Average days on market?
  • How many homes do you sell per year?
  • At what price point [are you selling]? And what market? What are the average number of days on market for the agent? “If you’re working with someone who sells five homes a year, you’re probably not getting the level of service you should be getting,” Andersen says.

Make sure your realtor is using every tool available to find your buyer:

“In today’s tech-driven marketing, it’s vitally important to follow the data—and our data tells us where our buyers are coming from, allowing us to target them with pinpoint accuracy,” says Eddie Arguelles of Engel & Völkers Stuart. “Geographically speaking, we know specifically where our buyers are coming from. That reduces the number of days a home is on the market. The quicker that sellers are able to move their homes, the greater value it’s going to bring to that community in terms of exposure and price.”

Know the profile of your buyer:

“Our buyers are largely coming from the Northeast and Midwest, to escape harsh winters and high taxes, and South Florida, which has become very congested,” says Suzy Duffy of Harbour Ridge. “In addition to being active physically, they are looking for a strong sense of community, an opportunity to develop lifelong friendships and to enrich their lives and the lives of others through continued education, multiple affinity groups and involvement with charitable organizations—all of which are offered by our club and community.”

Moving close(ish) to home: “You’re starting to see a lot of people from down south moving into St. Lucie County because the homes are still affordable in price-per-square-foot (about $124-per-square-foot),” says Ben Permuy of Keller Williams Realty Port St. Lucie. “A lot of the baby boomers are downsizing. They’re done raising the kids, and they want to get something smaller. You’ve got a lot of families with younger children that are going from condos and townhouses to bigger homes. Most are moving to a different-sized home, but they’re staying in St. Lucie County—either downsizing or upsizing.”

Getting the right roof over their heads: “We know what is required for FHA and VA (loan) contracts, and we advise the seller on what to do,” says Brian Lemen of Coldwell Banker Paradise. “The biggest number of home buyers are FHA buyers. FHA is a really good product for first-time home buyers. FHA also has a really good construction product that allows buyers to qualify for a 203(K)—where they could have, say, a new roof installed and it’s built into the purchase price of the home.”


First thing’s first: “Get a realtor,” says Joan Rogers of the Realtor Association of Martin County. “The idea of a realtor versus someone who has passed the course is we have a code of ethics that we adhere [to]. That code of ethics lends itself to knowing that you’ll be dealing with someone who’s working clearly and honestly for you. That’s truly the biggest difference.”

Buyer’s market, seller’s market, or both?: “The sellers think it’s a seller’s market. The buyers think it’s a buyer’s market. The reality is, it depends on what price range you’re in—and of course, your location, location, location,” says Debra Duvall of Water Point Realty.

When the action starts: “In our area—Martin County, the Treasure Coast—is a bit of a roller coaster in that the height of our season is Jan. 15 through a little after Easter,” says Dave Derrenbacker of Water Pointe Realty Group. “Showings cool down a little bit until school gets out and then you have the summer season with families moving—that’s June, July and the first part of August is fast and furious.”

Real estate reality shows skew reality: “A lot of that stuff is not really real,” says realtor Patrick Stracuzzi. “I’ve been offered those opportunities, and I don’t want to do it. They’re actors, and they’re acting, and the buyer has already bought the home.”

Irrefutable rule of real estate: “You always buy location, location, location,” Stracuzzi says. “You can change kitchens. You can change floors. You can’t change a location.”

“A lot of the baby boomers are downsizing. They’re done raising the kids and they want to get something smaller.”

- Ben Permuy of Keller Williams Realty Port St. Lucie

What’s it worth?: “Appraisal is an art—it’s different opinions, different arts, one guy will say no, one guy will say yes,” Stracuzzi says. “It’s all in how someone looks at it.”

List to live by: “Make sure [to] attend all inspections and stay involved in the process,” says Jennifer Atkisson-Lovett, broker/owner of RE/MAX of Stuart. “Listen to the lender and the title company, and get paperwork in on a timely basis. In Florida, if you miss a timeline on a contract, you are legally in breach of contract and your deposits are at risk.”

Get a timeline: “If [your] lender or agent isn’t giving [you] a timeline, [you] need to be asking for one,” Atkisson-Lovett says. She advises asking the following:

  • What’s the deadline for effective date of contract? (That’s the date all parties sign, initial and the contract is delivered.)
  • What’s the date when loan application is due?
  • What’s the date for any additional deposits?
  • What’s the date for all inspections to be completed?
  • What’s the date for the loan commitment?
  • What’s the process for inspections?

Local lenders (say it with me: ‘local lenders’): “For buyers who want to use Internet lenders or out-of-area mortgage brokers that many found online, they would do so much better by using a local community bank or local community broker,” Atkisson-Lovett says. “Before they start searching for a home, they need to ask their agent for some really good local lenders and the agents are going to know who is competitive and able to deliver. The contract states if they get loan commitment, the buyer can lose their deposit if the loan doesn’t come through on time. If you’re in a quote with thousands of other people and they say, ‘We’re backed up, we couldn’t get the package through in time,’ they could lose their deposit.”

Get market savvy, or get overlooked: “I’ve been using a lot of video—a lot of realtors will not spend that money,” says realtor Patrick Stracuzzi. “And by doing that I’ve actually sold homes sight unseen. We’ve literally negotiated it, they did fly down, see it, inspected it, and closed the next week. If you have a beautiful product and it’s presented in such a way, that right buyer will buy it.”

When you can’t bring the buyer to the home, bring the home to the buyer: “We realized right away that one of the major advantages we’d be able to bring to the local market was providing our clients with ease of access to the international marketplace,” says Eddie Arguelles of Engel & Völkers Stuart, whose network of offices spans 36 countries. “Video is it. It’s a must. It is the way to court our global customers, allowing us to appeal to a much broader base of potential buyers when showcasing a property.”

Amenities matter (and vary): “Our marketing is really focused on the lifestyle of Sailfish Point,” says Kristen Cheskaty of Sailfish Point Realty. “The ocean, the club, the Nicklaus Golf Course, we have a fabulous tennis program… Many owners say it’s like being on their own tropical island. It’s not what they usually find in South Florida. It’s not high-rises and traffic. Once they experience what Martin County is about, and downtown Stuart, they quickly fall in love.”

Amenities are available for all: “What drives people to live here? Why do they stay? Because this is a beautiful place to live,” Arguelles says. “It’s a beautiful place to raise your family. It’s a community that cares and gives back. These qualities are not exclusive to gated communities or high-priced properties. These are qualities that everyone—from dress shoes to flip flops—enjoys.”