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Charlotte County home buyers frustrated by intense competition as realtors thrive

There are over 1,000 homes on the market in Charlotte County right now. Many of those homes are being priced well above market value, and buyers are often expected to put in cash offers.
Sabrina Salovitz
There are over 1,000 homes on the market in Charlotte County right now. Many of those homes are priced well above market value, and buyers often are expected to put in cash offers.

Anna and Ken Johnston had been renting a home in Punta Gorda for about three years when their landlord informed them that their rent would be increasing by $300.

“We were shocked, you know?” Anna Johnston said. “It went from being $1200 to $1500.”

The couple decided they might as well purchase a home if their monthly expenses would be going up so much anyway. They began aggressively looking for houses in the area, and during their hunt they bid on about15 properties.

“We would get outbid and we were typically told it was cash buyers from out-of-state that would offer a good 20 grand over appraisal,” Ken Johnston said. “It was devastating a couple times. We just wanted to buy a home.”

The couple have three children and describe themselves as a family with limited means, but their struggle is one that many in the area are facing right now.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the price-to-income ratio for homes in Punta Gorda is high by historic standards and getting worse. This means that there is already intense local competition for affordable properties.

“We went through an open house once in North Port and there were like 30 families there at the same time,” Ken Johnston said. “It's pretty difficult, not a lot of people are going to be able to have affordable housing in the area.”

While the incredible demand in the real-estate market right now has made house hunting all the more difficult for buyers like the Johnstons, it has been a boon for local realtors like Pamela Civitillo.

“It's an excellent time to be a realtor,” she said. “It used to be dead from July to September, but I noticed about three years ago that we became busy year-round.”

Civitillo has been a resident of Charlotte County since 1988 and has worked consistently in the Southwest Florida real estate market since 2006. She says home buyers can’t lose by moving to the area.

“We have no income tax, and our house taxes are so much lower than so many other states,” she said. “And this is probably one of the best places to live in the world because of where it's located: right on the Gulf Coast.”

According to Civitillo, another major attraction has been Florida’s response to the pandemic. That response has been less strict that some other states. While some people have criticized Florida's approach, it is a draw for many in the country who want to avoid mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions.

“Most of my customers are from outside of the state,” Civitillo said. “I would say 95% of the people that I've had buy homes in the last year are from other states.”

Many of these out-of-state buyers are retiring to Florida from areas with a much higher cost of living, so they’re able and willing to pay more than asking price for properties here. The median home price in Punta Gorda is $325,000, which is $31,133 less than the national median price, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Civitillo described one bidding war she was involved in for a home in Punta Gorda. She said her client’s bid was one of about 15. Despite making a cash offer that was $35,000 over asking price, her client's bid lost out.

“The bidding wars are unbelievable,” she said. “It's very frustrating to buyers because they think they're going in with the best possible scenario, especially when they’re paying cash, and then they end up not getting it.”

Civitillo doesn’t believe that the market will be leveling out any time soon, but she recommends that hopeful buyers hang in there, and act quickly when they find a home that meets their needs.

There is a happy ending for Anna and Ken Johnston, who eventually were able to purchase a home in Port Charlotte at a price that pleased them. The couple and their children moved in just a few weeks ago.

“I love it here,” Ken Johnston said. “I can't really picture living anywhere else.”