Home prices rise

Home prices rise

Real estate in high demand throughout Historic Districts

Real estate professionals in Jacksonville’s Historic Districts are optimistic about this new year because they know their neighborhoods are among the most desirable in Northeast Florida. The neighborhoods’ enticing blend of history, charm, architecture and sense of community ensures a steady market and lively interest. While low inventory is a challenge for buyers wanting to purchase, it also is a sign that people enjoy living there and want to stay.

“Demand has always been strong in the majority of Jacksonville’s Historic Districts and I don’t see any change in that regard,” said Melanie Green, communications director, Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR). “Many newer neighborhoods are residential only. They don’t have the walkability and closeness to downtown and businesses, along with proximity to the St. Johns River, that are features enjoyed by the Historic District neighborhoods. These features aren’t really changeable, making the popularity of these neighborhoods evergreen.”

Because of those advantages, Historic District market statistics are frequently better than Northeast Florida as a whole in some categories, according to Green. 

Unlike many other places, home prices have gone up year after year in Avondale and Riverside, said Mona Gardella, chief operating officer, Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty, Avondale. She attributes that to a one-of-a-kind location where historic homes retain their value.

 “It’s a desirable place to live for various reasons. It’s a community where you meet your neighbors, walk your dog, and people say hello and smile. Proximity to businesses, downtown, the water, museums and parks is great,” she said. “People appreciate the tradition but also the diversity—in architecture and the demographics.”

“In our Historic Districts, homes are built to have a sense of community,” agreed Linda McMorrow, Realtor, Legends of Real Estate. “In smaller neighborhoods like San Marco, Riverside and Avondale people go out and walk dogs and take kids for a walk and ride bikes and you get to know all the people who live around you. It’s like an extended family.”

Although not a growth area because it has been built out for many years, the Historic Districts are a sought-after destination for many people, according to Missi Howell, vice president/managing broker, Watson Realty Corp., San Marco, and treasurer of NEFAR. “If they move out it is often because they are downsizing.”

“In St. Johns County or Ponte Vedra or Nocatee they can’t build houses fast enough, but they can build them. We don’t have those opportunities here,” McMorrow said.

Lorri Reynolds, vice president/managing broker, Watson Realty Corp., Ortega, foresees a leveling out of the market this year. Buyers can afford more but are not going to overpay.

Cautious sellers sometimes take homes off the market until February or March, knowing the market usually improves after the first of the year. “We are blessed to be in a market that truly is unique and attracts a lot of families,” she said. “Even people who live in other areas because they grew up there will look at our area because they hear about it.”

Historic market statistics and sales

NEFAR’s market statistics released in October 2019 (latest available by publication date) show that the Historic Districts did better than Northeast Florida as a whole in many categories compared to October 2018. Historic neighborhoods on both sides of the St. Johns River saw increases in median sales prices, even though days on the market were a little longer in some areas. The region comprising Riverside, Avondale and Ortega saw an increase of 11.6 percent in closed sales and an increase of nearly 25 percent in median sales price, and it had fewer days on the market until sale compared to last year.

In Riverside/Avondale/Ortega, the only Historic District that is a specific NEFAR region, median sales price increased from $247,860 in October 2018 to $308,250 in October 2019. For the same months in all of Northeast Florida, the increase was $212,000 to $235,550.

It’s noteworthy that the region that includes rapidly rebounding Murray Hill had an increase of a little more than 12 percent over last year in median sales prices.

Homes in Murray Hill are appreciating very well, especially the bungalows, Reynolds said. “Murray Hill has the same culture but is not as expensive as Riverside, Avondale and Ortega,” she said. “All these neighborhoods have a lot to offer in terms of unique custom homes and a laid-back lifestyle.”

Consistently low interest rates have helped a lot, too.

Green sees no indication that interest rates won’t remain low, which she said bodes well for the real estate market. “We’ve been blessed with low inflation and mortgage rates for a long time now,” she said.

With rates staying below 4%, buyers who have been renting are now qualifying for loans, said Josh Cohen, managing broker, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty, who manages real estate offices on both sides of the river. “Rates are at historic lows. It’s a great time to refinance and to buy,” he said.

Ted Miller, president, Fred Miller Group, is optimistic about 2020 because of low inventory levels, favorable interest rates and a steady flow of folks relocating to Jacksonville for jobs.

“In my lifetime I have not seen interest rates this low,” said Sally Suslak, broker/owner, Traditions Realty LLC, who sells all over Northeast Florida, frequently in Riverside and Avondale. “Compared to the city we are on a higher end of the spectrum for prices and sometimes that takes longer. People like the architecture, walkability, and nearness to downtown, the interstate, the river and parks.”

Janie Boyd, broker/owner, Janie Boyd & Associates Real Estate Services, remembers when interest rates were as high as 17% and when 9 % and 6% were considered good rates. “We have been under 4% for so long,” she said. “Mortgage lenders have come a long way from times of recessions and buyers can get money.” While still a sellers’ market, “things are starting to turn around to a buyers’ market and we are seeing a lot more contracts with closing costs concessions.”

Boyd said millennials who had been sitting on the sidelines are starting to buy homes in Historic District neighborhoods because of the more favorable lending. “For years they have had financial wherewithal to make monthly payments but have not been able to save for down payments and closing costs,” she said.

Jeffrey Chefan, managing broker/owner, First Coast Sotheby’s International Realty, has worked all through the Historic Districts for three decades and recently compared sales and statistics in San Marco to those in Ortega, Avondale and Riverside for the past year. In both markets, homes in the $400,000 to $600,000 price range sold best. Sales slid a bit in the $600,000 to $1 million range and picked up in the $1 million plus range, particularly in the Ortega area, he said.

“On the river itself, the $1 million plus range is coming back after the market crash and Hurricane Irma. Values are still way down from 2005 and 2006, but they’re coming back,” he said. “What is really exciting is to see a number of homes in the $2 million plus range sell. There are tremendous values for properties on the river. You would be lucky to get a lot on Ponte Vedra Boulevard for less than $2.5 million. Here on the river, you are able to purchase a 7,000-square-foot-plus home for $2.5 million that is close to the top-rated schools for both private and public.”

“Timing is very important when it comes to real estate,” said Cohen. “People are capitalizing on the low interest rates and putting their homes on the market. Now is a good time to list.” In Riverside, Avondale and Ortega, properties listed for more than $1 million saw a 36 percent increase in closed sales compared to last year, which he attributes to a vibrant job market and overall good economy combined with low interest rates. 

Realtor Jon Singleton with Watson Realty Corp. works in three counties and estimates that 75% of his listings are in historic neighborhoods. This past fall was his best for closings for all types of homes in 18 years. People are willing to pay top dollar for totally renovated homes, he said. “There are a lot of great fixer-uppers out there that are not selling as well,” he said.

Small homes are hot, too.

“A well-located bungalow is one of the hottest properties around,” McMorrow said. “Bungalows that are refinished and repainted and where everything is gray and white will sell overnight.” She said buying, fixing up and selling bungalows is a good business if the work is done well.

Although single family homes sell best, investing in a condominium is a good way to make an investment in real estate, McMorrow said.

All kinds of homes are selling, including condos and bungalows, according to Suslak. “For older people who are giving up homes they lived in for many years and scaling down, we have great condos near all the restaurants,” she said. “Condo sales are steady in all the buildings.”

Suslak said the rental market in the area is also strong and inventories are low because people want to live there.

More than a home, it’s a lifestyle

A word that comes up often when describing the desirability of the Historic Districts is walkability.

“People love to be in a walkable community, and in all of Northeast Florida, there are not that many,” said Chefan. “Because of that, Avondale, Riverside and San Marco are popular.” He said people are willing to renovate homes to be in areas that are walkable and mature, noting the districts’ distinctive foliage and big oak trees.

“Not only do we all love to live here because of our fabulous riverfront, numerous green spaces, abundant eateries, museums, theaters, and preservation of our historic homes and landmarks, we were also named one of the top 10 neighborhoods in America,” said Lee Gudal Davis, broker associate/Realtor with Norville Realty. Davis said she enjoyed growing up in Avondale, which was named one of the 10 great neighborhoods in 2010 by the American Planning Association.

Davis said all of those attributes contribute to the residential real estate market in Riverside/Avondale/Ortega, which she called a banner year in 2019. “The current mortgage rate market now allows new and existing homeowners to not only afford terrific homes, but to build equity faster,” she said. 

“People are looking for that time when things were a lot simpler … take a nice stroll to pick up something to eat and drink and walk home,” Reynolds said. “Where else in Jacksonville can you say that?” Other draws in the Historic Districts are the absence of homeowners’ associations and related fees, and that every home is different. “The lifestyle is much more laid back. We all like that.”

“It’s not cookie cutter. Not gated. We do not have HOAs. You can ride your bike and walk along the river,” agreed Boyd, adding that having the Cummer Museum, Riverside Arts Market, abundance of restaurants, craft breweries and the Winston Family YMCA nearby enhances the desirability.

People moving to Jacksonville because of its strong job market often choose to live in the Historic Districts because of their charm, character and walkability, said Cohen. “Everyone likes the lifestyle … being able to walk to their favorite coffee shop, brewery and wine bar,” he said.

“Riverside and Avondale will be going strong for a long time because of all the reasons why people are moving here now,” Suslak said.  

Downtown connection enhances desirability

Some real estate experts speculated that business growth and anticipated projects downtown—including development of Lot J at TIAA Bank Field and The District on the Southbank—will generate even more interest in properties in the Historic Districts.

“There is a lot of energy going into Downtown. That means people need somewhere to live,” Singleton said. “A lot of them want to live in Riverside, Avondale, San Marco and Springfield. That contributes to demand and desirability, which is very positive for real estate.”

“I’m so excited about proposed development Downtown and think the proximity of these neighborhoods will benefit the residents and the values,” said Miller, mentioning Lot J and projects on the Southbank and Northbank, including what becomes of the Jacksonville Landing. “As downtown improves that will enhance values and desirability of historic markets.” 

Demand continues for generations

“Jacksonville’s Historic Districts are hidden treasures filled with many generational families and awesome histories. In comparison to a year ago, the real estate inventories have declined, which makes it difficult for newcomers who wish to reside in the Avondale, Riverside and San Marco neighborhoods,” said Anita Vining, Realtor, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty. “The shopping districts are appealing as they house Jacksonville’s top-rated restaurants, unique boutiques and theaters. The walkability from one’s home to the business corridors is something typically not found in the suburbs. As the city continues to grow, these areas will only become more in demand and, in my professional opinion, will drive real estate prices even higher. A charming older home or the land on which it sits cannot be duplicated.”

Historic Districts’ Market Statistics

The following Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR) market analysis compares the entire region—which encompasses all of Duval, Clay and Putnam counties and part of St. Johns County—with regions where Historic District neighborhoods are located. The data compares October 2019 (the latest available by publication date) with October 2018.

Closed sales:

  • Northeast Florida Region:  -6.6 percent
  • San Marco/San Jose (a subset of Southside/Mandarin/Bartram): -14.9 percent
  • St. Nicholas (a subset of Southside): -21.8 percent
  • Riverside/Avondale/Ortega:  +11.6 percent
  • Murray Hill (a subset of Hyde Grove/Murray Hill/Lakeshore/Wesconnett): -0.8 percent

Days on market until sale:

  • Northeast Florida Region: +11.9 percent
  • San Marco/San Jose (a subset of Southside/Mandarin/Bartram): +7.4 percent
  • St. Nicholas (a subset of Southside): +15.2 percent
  • Riverside/Avondale/Ortega: -7.4 percent
  • Murray Hill (a subset of Hyde Grove/Murray Hill/Lakeshore/Wesconnett): +20.8 percent

Median sales price:

  • Northeast Florida Region: +11.1 percent
  • San Marco/San Jose (a subset of Southside/Mandarin/Bartram): +8.5 percent
  • St. Nicholas (a subset of Southside): +29.2 percent
  • Riverside/Avondale/Ortega: +24.4 percent
  • Murray Hill (a subset of Hyde Grove/Murray Hill/Lakeshore/Wesconnett): +12.1 percent

Inventory of homes for sale:

  • Northeast Florida Region: -11.9 percent
  • San Marco/San Jose (a subset of Southside/Mandarin/Bartram): -24.7 percent
  • St. Nicholas (a subset of Southside): -2.8 percent
  • Riverside/Avondale/Ortega: -2.3 percent
  • Murray Hill (a subset of Hyde Grove/Murray Hill/Lakeshore/Wesconnett): +0.3 percent

By Lorrie DeFrank
Resident Community News

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