Area real estate experts see glimmers of hope

A new home in the Willow Oak subdivision located at Archer Road and Southwest 88th Street.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 9:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 11:21 p.m.

Professionals with ties to real estate are seeing glimmers of hope in the Gainesville market and a positive long-term outlook, but that bright future isn't coming fast enough as high rates of foreclosures, tight lending and slow job growth bog down the recovery.

A panel of industry leaders took stock of the commercial and residential market in Gainesville, across Florida and nationwide Thursday night at the second annual University of Florida Bergstrom Center Real Estate Forum at Villa East.

Home builder Barry Rutenberg said that, like a lot of builders, he responded to slow sales with more renovations, but after a "scary" 2008, his sales gradually picked up starting in the second quarter of 2009. He said there is stability in some segments of the housing market.

"Gainesville is less bad than it used to be," he said as a tongue-in-cheek assessment.

Apartment occupancies gradually rose last year and landlords are tentatively starting to pull back on concessions such as free months, gift cards and mopeds, though rates have not budged much, said John Fleming, managing partner of Trimark Properties.

The rental market suffered a double-whammy in 2008 as UF announced it was cutting enrollment even as new apartments flooded the market.

Trimark specializes in property around campus and Fleming said he sees opportunity in the 20-30 acres around the 10-acre Innovation Hub that UF is developing at the former Shands AGH site.

Bruce Delaney, director of real estate for the University of Florida Foundation, said the days of 1,000 new students a year are over, but can be offset by efforts to build businesses from UF inventions that draw creative-class workers who like more urban environments. That creates opportunities to invest in the core of the city, he said.

Home resales are facing a difficult 2011 as a flood of short sales and foreclosures hit the market, said JoAnn Whitworth, senior vice president of Coldwell Banker/M.M. Parrish Realtors.

"We've got to flush out the foreclosures," she said.

But Rutenberg said a wave of demand is coming from people who have delayed forming households.

Gateway Bank President Danny Gilliland said the economy won't recover until banks can start lending again, but formerly lax regulators have swung too far the other way, making even good loans difficult.

UF economics professor David Denslow said normally construction jobs would fuel employment growth, which is not happening. The demographic forecast looks good, however, as baby boomers retire and move to Florida.

Several large developments are in the planning stages with five- to 20-year horizons to build, said county planning director Steve Lachnicht.

Developer Svein Dyrkolbotn of the Celebration Point mixed-use development said county regulations should be flexible so developers can respond to market conditions.

A UF survey of statewide real estate professionals shows that conditions are getting better, "but we started from a really low place," said Bergstrom Center Director Tim Becker.

He said apartments and Class A commercial properties such as Publix-anchored retail centers are doing well statewide, but not much else is.

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