In the Know: Is the local home-buying surge over? And where's the best vacation spot for working remotely?

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

With dwindling inventory, new contracts for homes have dropped off to the lowest point since early in the coronavirus age, according to new data Friday from the Naples Area Board of Realtors.

Pending sales were down 14.5% in June from a year ago. The 1,256 is still above the pandemic's first full month of 613 in April 2020 and 1,167 in May 2020. And it's not that far off last year's monthly average of 1,354.

There's just not as much to choose from. Inventory is down 80% as compared to June 2020.

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Lee County has had a similar drop in choices, but there, the pending sales are still soaring at 78% over last year, according to the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association.

One of many taken aback by the Collier-Lee disparity was Phil Wood, who like hotelier Phil McCabe has an outstanding first name, and directs John R. Wood Properties, which works both counties.

"I’m surprised because our sales are at an all-time high," Wood told me Friday. "We have already reached the same number in written sales this year ($3.65 billion) than we did for all of 2020, so we’re having a bang-up year."

Because of the COVID-19 anomaly, Wood's speedy stats guy tells me looking at three-year averages or longer provides a better picture, and both counties are well above that.

"We have every reason to believe that market conditions in Southwest Florida will remain strong for some time to come," said Mike Dodge, with the cool title of Wood's Director of Education/Director of Market Research.

In the Know: NABOR data for June 2021.

For housing that does get listed, most disappear quickly. Gone in 29 days in Collier, 70% faster than a year ago. In Lee, it's taking 25 days.

And it's going to cost you. Collier's median is up 30% to $465,000. Lee, $320,000, up more than $80,000.

The escalating prices have the attention of Collier Commissioner Rick LoCastro, who has become chair of a few county panels including for affordable housing.

"The affordable housing committee one is important to me," LoCastro told me earlier this month. "I've been on the front lines of the affordable housing issue, mostly notably as the COO of Physicians Regional" where he said he missed out on bringing in some strong job candidates due to high costs of abodes.

"One of the reasons I wanted to chair the affordable housing committee is, I'd like to accelerate our efforts a bit, a bit more," he said. "It's not going to be, there again, one thing that's going to solve this for all."

More:In the Know: What are the hottest selling homes? And top PGA earner sells Naples estate

More:In the Know: What Southwest Florida communities are the fastest growing in the state, the nation, according to new census stats?

In the Know: Lee County's Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association comparison data for June 2020 and June 2021.

That Lee County is still seeing a rise in new contracts is consistent with a continuing trend, based on several brand new bundles of data I've unpacked and assembled for you in this column, in addition to all the up-to-the-minute local real estate info.

Fresh stats via the National Association of Realtors and the Updater relocation technology company found the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area with the first quarter's greatest percentage of inbound migration in the nation. Other Florida metros in the Top 20: No. 5. Sarasota; 11. Tampa. 12. West Palm Beach: 13. Lakeland. 16. Jacksonville: 17. Melbourne.

Naples, which has been seeing residents leave, along with companies, for the more affordable pastures of Lee County, didn't make the cut, but as you'll see, does play prominently into some of my other latest numbers.

And what part of the country was losing ground, according to Updater? Milwaukee and Cleveland are at the top, with 50% of cities with the highest percentage of outbound moves located in the Midwest.

Provided to In the Know: Top metro areas for annual percentage growth, 2020. Lee County finished third in the nation.

One SWFL city is a star with CoStar

CoStar statistics guru Brian Alford shared some of his real estate data company's handiwork with me, reflecting "the remarkable population growth in Southwest Florida."

Relying on recently unveiled Census data for metro areas, Alford and his crew developed national 2020 metrics for annual percentage population growth, nominal population growth and domestic migration.

"Fort Myers places third in all of them," said Alford, Florida director of market analytics.

With just under 2% in 2020, Sarasota came sixth in annual percentage growth for communities with at least 750,000 residents. Fort Myers was close to 2.5%. Austin, Texas led with about 3%.

Provided to In the Know:  Fort Myers, Sarasota, Daytona Beach and other Florida metro areas were among the top in the nation in population numbers growth for 2019 and 2020. Lee County finished third in the nation.

In pure numbers for 2019 and 2020, the Lee metro area added nearly 20,000 to its total, almost equal to three Sanibels.

Only Boise, Idaho and Lakeland had slightly more. Sarasota was back at fifth, with just over 15,000 in CoStar's comparison of communities with a 1 million maximum population.

As far as CoStar's separate look at domestic migration digits for 2020 for that market category, Pensacola finished 15th, Central Florida's The Villages, 17th, Punta Gorda 18th and Naples 20th.

The top 11 in this order: Sarasota, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Fort Myers, Lakeland, Boise, Daytona Beach, Port St. Lucie, Charleston, South Carolina, Melbourne, Knoxville, Tennessee and Ocala.

Provided to In the Know:  Lee, Charlotte, Collier and Sarasota counties were among the nation's top markets for domestic migration in 2020.

'A lot of the pluses'

24/7 Wall St., a financial industry publication for U.S. and global equity investors, did its own analysis of census numbers, specifically looking at net migration from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2020.

It found that a half-dozen of the top 11 metropolitan areas with the fastest population growth due to net migration are in Florida, and four of those are from this region: Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties and the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro.

"People live longer so they're looking for a place to retire. That population has grown," LoCastro said. "There's never one particular thing. It's always a host of things together, and we've got a lot of them, a lot of the pluses."

Nothing in the Midwest or the Northeast ranks anywhere among the top 25 — or even top 50 — of places drawing newbies, according to the findings.

"It will be interesting to see over the years if we maintain that steady climb. I think we will," LoCastro said. "Being here in Southwest Florida and especially Collier County, I've seen the addition of, like I was saying, choices, schools, even our medical care. Watching NCH grow exponentially and Physicians Regional improve and more doctors come to this area. I certainly believe that there isn't one thing."

Here's a closer look:

1. The Villages

Change due to migration: 61.5% (57,449)

2020 population: 139,018

2. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC

Migration: 37.8% (142,172)

2020 population: 514,488

3. Charlotte County

Migration: 31.3% (50,133)

2020 population: 194,711

4. Lee County

Migration: 28.1% (174,050)

2020 population: 790,767

5. St. George, Utah

Migration: 26.7% (36,905)

2020 population: 184,913

6. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton

Migration: 26.1% (183,136)

2020 population: 854,684

7. Bend, OR

Migration: 25.5% (40,225)

2020 population: 201,769

8. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL

Migration: 24.9% (45,301)

2020 population: 229,287

9. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas

Migration: 23.9% (410,335)

2020 population: 2,295,303

10. Sebastian-Vero Beach

Migration: 23% (31,790)

2020 population: 162,518

11. Collier County

Migration: 22.4% (72,076)

2020 population: 392,973

The Delta threat, and a trend reversal

Updater in its study had also noted a new trend – or, as the state realty association called it, a reversal of an old trend: People seem to be moving back to cities after the pandemic sent them initially packing from places like New York, where early cases could be traced to the flood of arriving international travelers and spread rapidly.

Now, it's Florida leading America with the new Delta variant, finding itself with one in five of all national cases, and it's hard to say how it will play out this time around with people fleeing hotspots.

The Sunshine State has been stamped with a "Travel alert" by Forbes magazine, citing it as "the epicenter of the pandemic of the unvaccinated."

On Wednesday, Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton of GoodStock Consulting health care consultants told Yahoo news that not only should Americans be careful about going to the UK, which has its own challenges, she also cautioned about traveling to Florida.

That was within hours of the Financial Times reporting that powerhouse global soccer programs Arsenal and Inter Milan withdrew from the popular annual Florida Cup, featuring some of the world's best teams.

Raised in South Florida, Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general, worries about what's ahead for the Sunshine State when it comes to the Delta variant.

A potential sign of things to come across the Peninsula, Tallahassee Memorial announced late Thursday it was reopening its COVID Unit and suspending elective surgeries.

A somber Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said it's "heartbreaking" to see what is happening in the Sunshine State, considering that it could be avoided through vaccinations.

“I’m very worried about my home state of Florida,” Murthy told WPLG in Miami, where he was raised and was Palmetto Senior High's valedictorian. “The Delta variant is the most transmissible version of COVID-19 that we’ve seen to date.”

Southwest Florida recognized as a top vacation spot for digital nomads wanting to work remotely.

Unexpected Southwest Florida winner

Just like awards season in the entertainment world, this must be lists season. They just keep coming, and a few of them are even interesting, especially when Southwest Florida is declared king or queen of something.

Like this one put together through research from Allconnect, which coordinates utility and communication services for consumers, and shared it with me this past week.

Top 60 vacation towns for digital nomads who want to work remotely while on holiday.

Southwest Florida recognized as a top vacation spot for digital nomads wanting to work remotely.

So we're figuring on Naples. Gotta be Naples. It's always Naples.

And the crown goes to  … Port Charlotte.

Wait a minute. Don't want to have a 2015 Steve Harvey moment and declare the wrong Miss Universe. Five minutes preserved in gut-wrenching YouTube glory that the game show host said recently was part of the worst week of his life.

Let me double-check. Let me see that teleprompter. 

Yep, right here on the cue card. I'll hold it up: Port Charlotte.

That, according to Joe Supan, who oversees all things broadband at Allconnect, which reached this conclusion through various barometers, such as six months of internal data from 152,187 speed tests, average download speeds and percentage of vacation housing.

Demand for long-term lodging options continues to rise as workers and students continue to work remotely/

Half the homes are vacation housing

Supan explained that smaller towns situated around larger cities usually have the best combination of vacation rentals, internet speed and extensive coverage.

About halfway between Sarasota and Fort Myers is a good place to be, especially with "average download speeds of 149 Mbps and high-speed connections widely available," Supan said, also noting amenities, such as golf courses and hiking trails. "A full 62% of the city’s housing is classified as vacation homes, and full houses are generally cheaper to rent than many of Florida’s other popular vacation towns."

Delray Beach (80% vacation homes) and Pompano Beach (74% vacation homes) connected at the No. 2 and 4 slots respectively, with Crimson Tide-loving Tuscaloosa, Alabama wedged in-between. And get this: 61% of the housing there is designated as vacation.

More:In the Know: New data shows Southwest Florida led state with incoming migration during pandemic

And:In the Know: Seeking affordability, businesses migrating from Collier to Lee

Plus:'The worst week of my life': Steve Harvey recalls 'painful' Miss Universe name mix up

What others in Southwest Florida made the cut? We'll include percentage of vacation housing, which represent about half, if not more of local domiciles.

Fort Myers (52% vacation homes) at 15, Lehigh Acres (49%), 26 and Cape Coral (72%), 27.

No Naples.

Let them have this one, Collier County. After all, In the Know has bestowed all types of honors on thee, like reporting earlier this month that you had the No. 3 spot on the most total vacation homes in the U.S., with 58,406. Lee got the gold on that, with 90,792.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (pfernandez@gannett.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.