2 Ports of Stability in Florida’s Market

Content Source: New York Times

By Bethany Lyttle

Released: February 15, 2008

“It’s not Yahoo, but it is G.E.,” said Mike McMurray, an agent with VIP Realty in Sanibel, about the investment potential for property on Sanibel and Captiva Islands in Southwest Florida. “Even with general downturns in real estate, this market tends to be relatively stable,” he said.  

Certainly compared with much of Florida, including nearby Fort Myers, where there is a glut of inventory, Sanibel and Captiva are holding their own. Foreclosures are rare. And even though it was not a strong year for sales, Captiva set a record last year for the highest single selling price in Lee County, $14.2 million.

“We have some built-in safeties,” said Dave Osterholt, an agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International on Sanibel. “We have low-density populations and limited inventory due to decades-old development restrictions. We have extensive conservation practices — about 65 percent of the island is preserved. And the islands have a longstanding history as a vacation destination.”

Inventory on Sanibel (less so on Captiva) is up, and there have been significant price reductions at the middle and low ends of the market. But reasonably priced properties are selling, and people who know the island, especially current owners and renters, are becoming the first wave of active participants in a buyer’s market.

Both Mr. Osterholt and Mr. McMurray reported marked increases in showings, open house attendance, inquiries and offers, and higher sales in January 2008 as compared with January 2007. This is significant because the majority of sales on Sanibel are made from January through April, when populations soar because of returning second-home owners and tourism.

The new Sanibel Causeway, which opened last September, links the mainland to Sanibel, which is about 12 miles long by about 3 miles at its widest. To reach Captiva, which is less than five miles long and a half-mile wide, drivers take Sanibel-Captiva Road through Sanibel and cross a short bridge at Blind Pass.

Together, the islands offer over 15 miles of shell-strewn white sandy beaches. The J. N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge occupies over 5,000 acres of Sanibel.

Entry-level single-family houses on Sanibel Island — those not on the Gulf of Mexico — range from the high $400,000s to $1 million. One- and two-bedroom condominiums off the water can be found in the $300,000s. At the high end, single-family houses on the gulf list from about $5 million to about $10 million with more occasional listings of $15 million to $19 million.

On Captiva, which is smaller and on average more expensive, entry level for a single family home can be found in the high $700,000s, but prices are more typically $1 million and up. Resort condominiums are listed upward of $450,000. The high end on Captiva is in the $10 million to $16 million dollar range with exceptions up to $25 million.

In both locations, values are primarily determined by a property’s proximity to the water.


This 14,534-square-foot house has about 100 feet of gulf frontage. Built about five years ago, the house was built on land zoned for estates.

Outdoor spaces include a beach deck, accessible by a pathway, that can accommodate about 25 people with chaises; a 20-by-40-foot pool with a spa at one end and fountain near its center; an outdoor kitchen; three levels of decks; and a white sand beach. Interior details include black and white checkerboard marble floors and other areas in Brazilian cherry hardwood. To blend the indoors with the outdoors, two walls that make up one corner of the main level have pocket glass doors. Two master suites on the uppermost story have sun decks. There is a built-in five-foot saltwater aquarium in the family room. The house has six full and two half bathrooms. Its windows are impact-resistant glass for hurricane safety. Taxes: $103,953


Situated mid-island about a quarter mile from Algiers Beach, this house offers unexpected privacy because it adjoins conservation land on which no building is permitted. Other houses are not within view.

The house was designed and built by its current owners, who are artists, in 1979. It has about 1,900 square feet of living space on four stories, with skylights and many windows bringing light into the open-floor plan. There are two working fireplaces and two full bathrooms. The fourth story is an observation tower with a loft that has extensive conservation-land views and is accessible by a spiral staircase. The house also includes two artists’ studios on the lower level and a garage.

The lot, 0.37 acre, is big enough to accommodate a swimming pool, and there is a screened lanai. Periwinkle Way, the shopping, business and restaurant strip, is about a quarter-mile away. The roof was replaced in 2005. Taxes: $1,697

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