There are exceptions to every trend and rule but for the past 30 years or so, the draw of Punta Gorda for northerners has largely been the water and the historic downtown. Countless boaters have sailed or fished on our beautiful harbor. They have peppered locals with questions like: “How deep is the Ponce Inlet?” “How tall is the Marion Bridge at high tide?” “How do I join the Isles Yacht Club?” As a realtor, we have to know the answers to these questions as well as we know our in-law’s names...or better. Other questions concerning schools or restaurants or libraries or proximity to the airport would be asked and answered but the heart of the issue almost always came back to the boating and the small-town atmosphere of downtown Punta Gorda. However, regardless of Hurricane Charley, times (and the questions) are changing.
Waterfront real estate has always been highly desired. Most prospective buyers would still like to be on the water but the non-waterfront market has been quite hot over the past year due to two main factors. First, the development of our area into a very nice social community with many new restaurants, clubs, and local shopping has prompted people to choose this area because of the community and not just the harbor. Second, the prices of the waterfront real estate have risen dramatically over the past five years.
The price of the average home sold in Punta Gorda Isles and Burnt Store Isles at the end of 1999 was $238,768. As of November 1, 2004, the average sales price is now $498,786. That is a significant price jump for a time period of just under 5 years. If this area were the only place to see such a jump in waterfront real estate, prospective buyers would be flocking to the canal communities in Naples, Marco Island, Sarasota and anywhere with gulf access waterfront properties. However, those areas have seen very similar rates of appreciation. Also, many of those were already at a much higher level in 1999, so their average now is also considerably higher.
In Charlotte County, areas like Burnt Store Lakes and Burnt Store Meadows are experiencing a building frenzy even though there is no gulf-access water within those communities. As more and more new homes go up, the prices of lots continue to rise as well. Many of these homes are the same floor plan, builder, and cost as homes built on the water. However, a non-waterfront lot can be bought for $80,000 instead of $425,000 and up. For a prospective buyer whose priority is a new home in a great community, the $345,000 difference in price for the same type of home can be quite attractive.
The development of gated, golf-course communities on Burnt Store Road or off of I-75 is an almost certainty in the near future. All one needs to do is look about 50 miles south to Naples to see what happens when a city becomes attractive by offering shopping, arts, and great restaurants. Naples did that 15-20 years ago and the waterfront real estate skyrocketed. Soon after, gated, golf-course communities were developed at a rapid rate. As the expansion continued, Bonita Springs started to share in the growth and is still booming. Now, most prospective buyers who visit Naples would like to be on the water but if not, they are not deterred because the city has everything that they are looking for.
Even in a traditional boating community like Punta Gorda Isles, condominium complexes without gulf access are selling out as fast as they can be built. Fountain Court on West End Drive is an example. Another is Vivante which is located at the end of Marion Avenue immediately before Ponce de Leon Park. There is not much to see at Vivante yet since they just recently broke ground on the first of 22 buildings. However, demand was so high that they needed to have a lottery to distribute the units for sale in the first three buildings. With this type of demand, look for many more complexes with great amenities to be built in the near future.
Overall, our area is experiencing a change because our average buyer is changing. No longer is boating the only and absolute draw to the area for the vast majority of our prospective neighbors. Charlotte County’s upper class growth, expanding number of very nice restaurants, and overall ambience is drawing a significantly higher number of non-boaters who want to be in Charlotte County simply because it is Charlotte County. For those buyers, living on the water would be nice but watching the sunset from Ponce Park or Fishermen’s Village is just fine.