The spiraling housing market didn't want to go alone, so pulled the whole local economy down with it. "Flagler County thrived on growth and needed new people moving in," the county's property appraiser, James E. Gardner, tells me. "And then it stopped. When the growth stopped, we had nothing else."
To illustrate the halt in growth, Gardner's office shares numbers documenting the trend for completed new builds of single family homes, duplexes, and mobile homes in recent years. From a peak of 3,825 in 2005, this category of new construction dipped to 3,111 in 2006, then dove to 849 in 2007, 437 in 2008, and only 120 so far this year.
The county does not collect statistics on short sales, but the trend in foreclosures evidences the most desperate end of the spectrum in housing losses. According to Tara Seguine of the Flagler County Criminal-Civil Division, the county did not even begin keeping track of foreclosures until the numbers began to spike in late 2006. Prior to that, foreclosure filings averaged about 30 per month, which would make for approximately 360 annually. From October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007 the county documented 1,048 foreclosures. The numbers rose to 2,508 the following year, continuing on that pace since October 1, 2008 to reach 1,821 by the end of May.
Gardner looks over the horizon with concern, recognizing how the reverberating effects of the market's bust will lead to an inevitable budget shortfall and necessary cutbacks for the county as property tax revenues will track the decline in assessed values. At the moment, Gardner is faced with a $2.8 billion drop in the market value of taxable property. His property assessments do not even take into account the bargain-basement pricing of short sales and foreclosures, since those circumstantial property transfers have always been considered anomalies that shouldn't be included in the calculation. These days, however, the anomalies have become more the norm, with short sells, in foreclosure, or bank-owned properties representing a full 25% of the listings currently on the market, according to county statistics and a survey of the MLS (Multiple Listings Service) database that realtors use.
The upside to all of this bad news--as I am repeatedly reminded during the two days I spend in Florida--is that the market deflation has created good value for those who have any money to buy. Considering the hardship I have seen over the past few weeks, it takes a little creativity for me to imagine people with money to spend. But they do exist, and are apparently starting to take advantage of the deals to be had in Flagler County. According to Gardner and a few real estate agents I talk to, after more than a year of completely crippled stagnancy, things have started to move again. A few sales trickled in starting in late February and March, with a slow trend continuing to build.
Recovery will not be quick or easy, and the market may never return to its pre-crash levels. For the sake of Bradley and his unemployed friends, I just hope they get the opportunity to finally build the houses at the top of those driveways to nowhere.