(Vero Beach, Fla.) Florida’s gated and private communities have been a driver in the state’s economic growth for decades, with developers investing millions in resort-style master-planned communities across the state. The strategy was to ride the retirement wave of 77 million baby boomers over the next 20 years, but the economic downturn now has experts uncertain when to expect a comeback.
Although it is not officially on the agenda, the future of Florida’s second home market is likely to be debated between sessions at the 2009 National Association of Realtors Resort Symposium. The symposium is slated for March 28-31 at the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Naples, Fla.
Billed as the “Sunshine Connection,” the symposium offers educational sessions, property tours and the chance for real estate professionals to swap best practices in marketing resort and second home properties around the world.
Brad Hunter, chief economist for Houston, Texas-based Metrostudy acknowledged that Florida’s migration trends were “terrible” in 2007, but said 2008 data from the U.S. Census Bureau pointed to some improvement.
“Population flows are still negative in the main South Florida counties such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach,” said Hunter, who also serves as the firm’s national director of consulting. “But the outflow was much more moderate during 2008, and is probably headed back to positive growth now.”
Hunter also said population growth is still positive for the state as a whole, citing recent research by the University of Florida. “It is not as fast as it was a few years ago, but it is still positive.”
In addition to watching migration patterns, those watching Florida second home trends are trying to understand where to find the positive indicators. While increased tourism and the stabilization of home values might eventually be two signs, taking a look at second home shopping habits can offer a glimpse at where potential buyers might be looking for gated communities, where the bulk of the shopping these days is taking place on the Internet.
According to 2008 data from PrivateCommunities.com, a niche Web site where affluent consumers have been finding second homes since its launch in 1996, Floridians themselves are expressing the strongest interest in Florida’s gated communities.
PrivateCommunities.com tracked information requests made by Florida residents who visited the site last year. Florida developers netted the largest share of requests (30.7%) followed closely by North Carolina developers (30.4%). Information requests were also made to developers in South Carolina (9.5%), Tennessee (8.8%) and Georgia (8.6%).
PrivateCommunities.com reported that even when national information requests to Florida developers were compared from all 50 states, people in Florida (17%) were requesting the largest share of the information in 2008, followed by consumers in New York (12.3%), New Jersey (7.2%), Pennsylvania (5.1%) and Massachusetts (4.1%).
“While this data itself does not signal when demand might return for second homes it does show us that Florida was popular for affluent consumers inside and outside the state,” said Elisabeth Miller-Fox, co-founder of PrivateCommunities.com. “For now it is a waiting game to see what will motivate them, and Florida might be in a good position when they’ve decided to make these decisions.”
Year-end data has been collected and analyzed since 1996 by PrivateCommunities.com, a Web research portal that tracks second home shopping habits and serves as a resource for affluent consumers to find second homes in resort destinations.