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Home hunters turn to Southwest Florida for its abundance of beaches, growing business opportunities and tropical temperatures. And experts say real estate demand is exceeding supply in many areas within it.

“Sellers are really driving the bus right now,” Steve Wood, real estate advisor with Venture Realty & Investments, says of the Fort Myers market—the south region in particular.

A seller-charged market means escalated prices and a larger pool of buyers vying for the same set of properties.

The median list price in Fort Myers was $299,000 in August, up from $295,500 one year ago, according to a market snapshot by Movoto Real Estate. But this isn’t the trend for all Lee County areas.

Just 12 miles east of Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres is experiencing an even balance of buyers and sellers, according to Wood. Rental properties are behind most of the demand and some properties remain in foreclosure.

Cape Coral is booming in development. Many buyers, Wood says, are Northerners who are ditching mounds of snow for property with water access. “Cape Coral is really busy right now, but I wouldn’t say it’s a seller’s market for those building [a] home because there is enough available inventory of lots,” he says.

Estero and Bonita Springs are heating up for buyers seeking to build. Both areas are experiencing exponential growth, thanks to the Village of Estero formation in late 2014 and the revival of downtown Bonita Springs. “There’s a lot more vacancy with the exception of some gated communities,” Wood says.

It’s a steady market for sellers in nearly all of Naples. The second quarter median closed price was $317,000, up from $270,000 the year before, according to the Naples Area Board of Realtors.

“If you look around Collier County, there’s building going on everywhere that’s due to demand and lack of inventory,” says Mark Simoff, broker with Downing-Frye Realty. “Certainly the beach corridor is doing quite well. I can’t really see an area that’s suffering due to inventory.”

Phil Wood, president of John R. Wood Properties, says luxury property buyers kept the seller’s market steady this past summer in affluent Naples neighborhoods. “The $1 million and up buyers are normally only here in the winter or early spring. This year they kept coming back and buying in late June and early July,” he says.

Sales are up in more modest areas, too. There were 17 closed second-quarter sales in Immokalee/Ave Maria, up 89 percent from nine in the second quarter of last year. “The value of the home, the size and quality of the home that you can get there for the price makes it a very good value,” Wood says.

Wood says the trend continues through Marco Island, which had an estimated 1,200 closings last year. Simoff says it takes time for markets to switch control.

“It’s almost as if you liken it to an oil tanker—if you need to turn it around you can’t do it on a dime. There’s a certain momentum there where it’s going to take some time,” he says.

Sellers have the upper hand in high-demand areas with low inventory, but with thorough research and swift movement, buyers can stay a step ahead.

Simoff says home hunters should “try to establish wants and needs early on and do not be afraid to trust judgment.” Too much hesitation can result in someone else snatching the property under consideration.

“Once you come to liking a particular property, you have to have that thought that a similar buyer is going to be looking at a similar pool of properties and they may also think it’s the best one,” Simoff says. “Five or six years ago, when it came to picking what you liked the best, you could take time.”

But as the Southwest Florida market continues to gain momentum, it’s important for buyers to expect—and prepare for—added competition in many of its communities. GB

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