If the Lee County real estate bubble has sprung a leak, this might be remembered as one of the first signs.
Although other indicators remain strong, the median sale price of existing homes in Lee County fell nearly 10 percent from October to November, according to figures released Thursday by the Florida Association of Realtors.
It was the only time all year the median sale price decreased from the month before.
"(Hurricane) Wilma slowed things down, and it stayed slow, but we expect things to turn around when the season starts here in a few weeks," said Wes Brodersen, president of the Bonita Estero Association of Realtors.
Brodersen, the owner/broker of Exit Gulder Real Estate, said he has seen a slowdown in the number of sales and the rate of increase in sale price, but said nothing indicates a retreat that would force sales prices to drop. The number of existing home sales in Lee County grew about 4 percent from last November.
The $295,400 median sale price in November was still higher than the latest state and national median prices. It is also nearly 50 percent higher than the price from November 2004 and shows an overall growth of 34 percent from the start of the year. The median price is the point at which half the homes in the market sold for more and half for less.
"In 29 years, I've never seen a retreat in this market," Brodersen said. "The prices are holding, we are just waiting to see what will happen in the next few months."
Lee County continued to have the sixth highest median price in Florida while Naples remained the top market.
Naples' median single-family home price slipped $15,700 to $479,800 in November even as the number of home sales outpaced last year by 5 percent.
The 10 percent decrease in median sale price in Lee County from October to November may have been caused, in part, by the inflated increases from earlier in the year.
While the market price rose steadily throughout the year, never did it grow so much as it did from September to October, when the median sale price rose 11.5 percent. Even with the 10 percent drop in November, that month's $295,400 price is still the second highest of the year.
The 810 sales in November also was much higher than the 264 in October. They were the two slowest months of the year when it came to number of sales, which is typical in any given year. October sales were also slowed considerably as the area prepared for and then recovered from Hurricane Wilma.
The 4 percent increase in the number of sales from November compared to last November is in contrast to other South Florida markets that saw sharp declines. Sales in Miami dropped 25 percent compared with the volume a year ago in November. Fort Lauderdale sales were down 21 percent and the Sarasota-Bradenton market dropped 39 percent for the same period.
In terms of new home construction and sales, the $4.2 billion worth of permitted construction activity this year in Lee County set a record that was 40 percent higher than last year.
Even though permitting activity has leveled off toward the end of the year, that doesn't mean the market will be plummeting anytime soon, said Michael Reitmann, executive director for the Lee Building Industry Association.
"I don't see a substantial increase hitting us in the next few months, but I don't think anything will be decreasing either," Reitmann said. "It is leveling off."
The November decrease for existing home median price sales could just be a fluctuation; the months that follow will be more telling, he said.
When Hurricane Charley hit the area in 2004, Brodersen said, he saw a real estate slowdown before the heavy visitor season picked things up again. The same scenario is likely this year, he said.
"When the rentals are good, the sales are usually going to follow, and our rentals are very good right now," Brodersen said. "All the indicators we have say this is going up."
The coming year may not be the biggest year Lee County has seen, he said, but it will likely be a very good year and could be the second biggest ever.
"If you want to live in Florida, I say buy now before you can't afford it anymore," Brodersen said. "That is what I've been saying for two years, and I see no reason to change that now."