Rising market tides sweep out new homebuyers

Rapidly rising home prices in Marion County, and throughout the Sunshine State, are snuffing out the dream of homeownership for many working and middle-class families, including essential workers and first responders.

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Posted February 18, 2022 | By Rosemarie Dowell and Jennifer Hunt Murty

This house at 817 SE 12th Street in Ocala, Fla. is listed for sale by Roberts Real Estate for $350,000 as shown in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

Rapidly rising home prices in Marion County, and throughout the Sunshine State, are snuffing out the dream of homeownership for many working and middle-class families, including essential workers and first responders.

Last year, the median price for a single-family home in Marion County rose to $230,000, a 24.3% rise year over year, according to the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors, fanning an already affordable housing calamity.

Statewide, the median price for a single-family home rose to $365,000 the last quarter of 2021, a 19% increase over the same period in 2020, according to a report by Florida Realtors.

Florida is among the country’s leading housing hot spots, fueled by an influx of out-of-state buyers, investors, and low inventory, which has essentially locked out first-time home buyers.

The statistics make the state among the worst for home affordability.

“The market is pricing out our local service workers like waitresses, bank tellers, and teachers as well as our first responders and we do not want them to leave the community,” said Virginia Wright, president of the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors.

For that reason, said Wright, Florida realtors are backing Senate Bill 788, or the Florida Hometown Hero Housing Program, that will help frontline workers with down payment and closing cost assistance. The legislation is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“There is an affordable housing crisis for everyday normal working people,” she said. “And I’m hoping the bill goes through.”

Other help could be on the way soon if Gov. Ron DeSantis’s budget proposal of 355.5 million for affordable housing programs gets approved.

Florida Housing, the state’s housing finance agency, praised the proposed budget.

“Since taking office, Governor Ron DeSantis has been a strong advocate for funding Florida’s affordable housing programs, because affordable housing is a lynchpin for Florida’s workforce,” Florida Housing Executive Director Trey Price said in a press release following the budget announcement.

“Governor DeSantis understands these funds meet critical housing needs and provide a significant economic impact in our communities statewide,” he said.

At the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Paul Bloom, director of public information, said the area’s escalating home prices have admittedly made it difficult for new hires to find an affordable home.

“As anyone that is currently in the market for a home can attest to, homes are selling rapidly at a significantly higher price than they were just 18 months ago,” he said.

The starting salary for a new deputy is $44,566 annually, said Bloom, and the sheriff’s office offers $7,000 in moving assistance for new hires coming from out of state, along with $5,000 signing bonuses, but that may not be enough for deputies seeking homeownership.

“In my eyes, affordable housing is a big hurdle,” said Bloom. “While that starting salary is good and quite a jump from what it used to be, it can still be challenging in the current housing market.”

Rusty Branson, regional president for SouthState Bank, gave a snapshot of what a typical conventional mortgage on a $230,000 single family home would be: it “would require 20% or $46,000 down payment with the 80% or $184,000 balance finance over a maximum 30-year time period.

The monthly payment, given the current interest rate, would be around $880, before real estate taxes and property insurance, Branson said.

Meanwhile, monthly rental costs have soared to an average of $1,367 in Marion County, according to RentCafe.com, putting a financial strain on singles and families who aren’t pursuing homeownership or lack the money required for a down payment.

Florida leads the nation in rental housing unaffordability, according to a report from rental listing company, Apartment List.

Jeff Walczak, public information officer for the Ocala Police Department. said while no one has directly said they’ve been impacted by housing prices, a few recruits, who were coming from out of town, say they’ve had a difficult time finding apartments.

Wright, a realtor since 2000, said Marion County does offer help for lower-income homebuyers through its SHIP (State Housing Initiatives Partnership) program.

“We encourage people to look into the program,” she said. “There are resources out there for homebuyers that need help.”

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