In the Know: As median home prices reach records of $620,000, higher insurance rates loom. And get ready for Great Wolf Lodge

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

Median prices are reaching breathtaking heights.

The most recent Naples Area Board of Realtors numbers show $620,000 on a single-family house. A year ago: $427,000.

Lee County's also continuing its climb in that category. The newest from the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association puts the average at $507,517, 48% higher than May 2020. The median hit $365,000, a 39% hop. And they're going quick, too, in an average of 27 days, a 60% improvement from last year.

The prices are part of a trend that has thrust Florida ahead of New York to fourth in the nation on highest housing costs, behind No. 1 California, Hawaii and Oregon, according to new data this past week from WalletHub finance analysts.

And that could spell problems for the future. WalletHub found that those top two are also among the places with the lowest rates of home ownership.

More of In the Know:

Naples Area Board of Realtors data for April 2021

While the home ownership rate in Florida is still above the national average, it has decreased almost 6% since 2005 through the first quarter of this year, according to iPropertyManagement, which advises landlords.

A better price locally can be found on condominiums, townhouses and duplexes, which sold in May at a Lee median of $246,000. While NABOR's full data for the most recent period won't be out until later in the month, April brought $318,000 for multi-family, with an overall for all housing of $445,000.

For the upscale folks coming to Collier, the going rate isn't scaring them away.

Even prior to this year, metro Naples ranked 24th in the country in 2020 on median prices, ahead of places like Washington D.C., Colorado Springs and Hilton Head Island, according to an In the Know analysis. That also didn't prevent Naples from being named Wednesday the best beach town to live in 2021 by WalletHub, which noted how it is a national leader with Sarasota and Santa Monica, CA on most coffee shops per capita.

Phil Wood is president of John R. Wood Properties

“Pricing is not an issue with most buyers," said Spencer Haynes, vice president of business development for Collier-based John R. Wood Properties. "What we are dealing with today is a market of real end-users, not investors or speculative flippers like what we saw in 2005-2006. People are not willing to buy anything just to get into a home right now. They have cash and are willing to wait until the right home becomes available.”

We're talking big-time cash.

Closed sales for $1 million abodes and more outperformed all other lower NABOR sectors in April, said Phil Wood, CEO of John R. Wood Properties.

“Traditionally, our seven-figure sales begin to level off after Easter, but today they remain strong," Wood said. "Whether it’s a single-family home over $1 million or a condominium over $2 million, the luxury market is still very much on fire.”

Naples Area Board of Realtors data for April 2021

Better chance of coming true: Back-up offers or Green Bay Packers tickets?

The post-pandemic buying frenzy I've been reporting on for a year now has led to unique circumstances.

Like the concept of submitting back-up offers, according to Jeff Jones, broker at Keller Williams Naples.

Normally, that might be akin to joining the Green Bay Packers season ticket waiting list of more than 137,000 names, considered the longest of any sports franchise on the planet and 30 years or more on hold. You might move up in line though if QB Aaron Rodgers does move out, like a lot of other Cheeseheads who headed to Southwest Florida. Miami Dolphins, Line One.

Hey, Aaron Rodgers. How about following your fellow Cheeseheads to Southwest Florida, coming in for a softer landing than this at Naples Airport and trying on a Miami Dolphins jersey? Just a short limo ride away to Hard Rock Stadium.

“If a buyer is interested in a home that already has an accepted offer, that doesn’t mean it has sold. With such tight inventory, buyers are submitting offers on multiple homes so it’s a great practice to submit a back-up offer if a buyer is really interested in the home," Jones said. "The buyer's back-up offer could become the winning offer.”

Other factors, beyond COVID-19, are now increasingly in play for existing homes, according to the Bonita Springs-Estero Realtors group, which had closed sales up 90% from a year ago and a median through April of $355,000.

“Another variable we did not see in recent prior years is the new home construction industry’s current struggle with materials availability and cost,” said BER's Adam Ruud, managing broker at Domain Realty in Bonita Springs. “The rising costs and delay in materials availability are delaying new home construction by as much as two years in some cases, so those buyers are now also turning their interests to the resale market.”

Bonita Springs Estero Realtors group data through the end of April 2021.

Historically, NABOR says new construction sales accounted for 25 percent of all home sales in Naples.

"They are virtually nil right now," NABOR's always insightful Mollie Page told me. "Buyers are consuming everything. And with less new product available from builders due to material shortages, the resale market is basically the only option."

And as the heat rises, this might be the second year in a row that the market won't significantly cool down as it had traditionally done at this point on the calendar.

“Summer is coming, but there is no end to demand at the moment, and with new construction not posing much competition," said Jerry Murphy, managing broker at Downing-Frye Realty in Bonita Springs.

Like the Naples high ranking by WalletHub, a national audience continues to take note of Southwest Florida. Collier has won the No. 1 spot by the firm in the past, recognized in April as the premier beachside location to reside by Travel + Leisure magazine, and finished second in 2020 on a Best Small Cities tally by Resonance Consultancy, a specialist in the destination-branding industry.

"Naples ranks so highly on lists like these because of three factors: weather, quality of life and the economy," said Southwest Florida real estate appraiser and broker Matt Simmons, managing partner at Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons. "The pandemic has been an accelerator of existing trends more than a creator of new ones.

"People have been flocking to Florida for decades and over the past 10 years as remote work has become possible we’ve seen even more people choose the Sunshine State. However, the pandemic poured gasoline on the fire."

Matt Simmons, managing partner at Maxwell, Hendry and Simmons speaks at Market Watch 2021 at Hertz Arena on Thursday, June 3, 2021. The event is sponsored by the News-Press and Naples Daily News.

Higher insurance is among hurdles

Besides the potential of Florida becoming a Delta variant hotspot in a new coronavirus phase and how that might affect unvaccinated citizens, another hurdle to look out for is soaring insurance rates.

BER, in a report to its members and the public, cautioned that "due to recent Florida legislative changes, homeowner insurance premiums are expected to increase by up to 40% in 2021. Floridians across the state have seen their rates increase recently, many by double digits.

"In 2020, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved 105 homeowners insurance rate increases, and some companies put in for more than one. More than half of the increases were greater than 10%."

In a statement this year, the state agency, also known as FOIR, largely blamed the increasingly harsh tropical weather and high rates for reinsurance, which is basically insurance to back up insurers:

“The market is currently facing significant challenges as the frequency of claims increases and those claims become more expensive.

"These challenges are largely due to increased litigation, exacerbated by higher catastrophe claim losses as a result of multiple hurricanes over the past several years and rising reinsurance costs as a result of a hardening reinsurance market.”

For Southwest Florida homeowner Richard Lipov, for example, that meant a premium boost from $1,000 to $1,545 for his 2003 home valued at $360,000.

“As a buyer, you don’t want to be surprised after the fact with insurance,” said Realtor Dena Wilcoxen of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty. “You’ll definitely want to get a quote as soon as you identify a potential property so you’ll know how much insurance will cost you or if you’re even able to get an older roof insured.”

FOIR's web site,, can provide a vague idea on what sample rates Southwest Florida residents might pay 27 potential insurers.

The most expensive home it uses as an example is a 2005 masonry home with a replacement value of $300,000, a $500 non-hurricane deductible, a 2% hurricane deductible, no claims in the past three years, and minimum premium discounts for limited wind mitigation features and no hip roof.

In our research, rates in Collier ranged from $1,901 to $7,226 for a median of $4,075. In Lee: $1,482 to $6,627, median of $3,717.

In the Know found earlier this year that an expected surge in flood insurance prices in the autumn may hit homeowners hard, particularly those living in low-lying areas. And as we previously reported, that also could put a bit of a damper on the homebuying.

The Great Wolf Lodge lurks

Sometimes readers like Len Stout are too kind. Yabba Dabba Doo!

"I enjoy reading your 'In The Know' articles. You seen to be able to dig up the real story," Stout, of Naples, said after Monday's piece examining Collier's version of Bedrock at Davis and Santa Barbara boulevards. "When does the county staff plan to present a proposed (Great Wolf Resorts) agreement to the commissioners?"

Sir Stout is referring to a proposed 550-room Great Wolf Lodge and indoor water park on 20 acres off I-75 and along Collier Boulevard that I first wrote about and researched for you last year. In February, the County Commission authorized staff negotiations for a spot adjacent to the Paradise Coast Sports Complex. For someone who has followed government for a few decades, that usually means, done deal.

In his timing of asking the question this past week, he might be a little like a wolf, which has a strong sense of smell, sight and hearing and is quick to detect the slightest movement of anything in front of it. Those rascals can hear as far as six miles away in the forest and 10 miles in the open, and that would make them good school teachers, too.

'Cause Sir Stout, the county staff plans to recommend approval of a $15 million Great Wolf deal at Tuesday's commission meeting.

Great Wolf is asking the county for the millions in incentives to help with costs of land, permit fees and impact fees to help close the financing gap of the project, according to a county report. The hotel would take up to six years to pay back incentives.

The construction and development of the project will cost about $235 million, public documents show.

Great Wolf has 17 locations in North America, with the nearest one outside the Atlanta area, according to records. In the Know found that Its recent new one in Arizona took about 20 months to construct. The company has until Feb. 28, 2026 to open its doors, under the county's agreement.

The commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. on the third floor of the administration building at 3299 Tamiami Trail E., Naples.

Don Wynn, founder of Sunshine Ace Hardware and other local ventures.

Founders Square: Hello, Ace Hardware 

Sunshine Ace Hardware has historic ties to the Wynns, their 80-year-old local market and the early days of Naples.

Now it's time for the future at fashionable Founders Square with another location at the mixed-use center under construction at Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard.

At 20,000 square feet, company location No. 5 in the county marks its first new Collier Ace spot in 15 years, although it's been expanding to other places. There are 11 hardware and gift operations in Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Manatee and Pinellas counties run by the family-owned firm.

“Our business still holds true to the values that my grandfather instilled over 60 years ago," said Sunshine Ace President Michael Wynn. “The Immokalee Road corridor is poised for explosive growth over the next decade, but there currently are no hardware stores in northeastern Collier County. This new store will serve the thousands of residents and businesses coming to this region over the next few decades.” 

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year, with completion expected in mid-2022.

Michael Wynn

Founders Square, where work began in January 2020, will include restaurants, retail shops, medical offices, a self-storage setup, a bank, a convenience store and apartments. The first of the businesses should open by the end of summer, according to David Genson, president of development for Barron Collier Companies.

Here's some of the planned roster so far: Outback Steakhouse, Slicers Hoagies, I Heart Mac & Cheese, Collier Urgent Care Center, Fuji Sushi Bar & Asian Bistro, Tacos & Tequila, Salon Bellezza, Skillets and South Street City Oven and Grill.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, which supplemented this report. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.