This week is spring break for a lot of peeps, and we know that a hefty slice of Dallasites and North Texans have invaded the Beaches of Walton County, Florida, those picture-perfect white sands along Highway 30-A in the panhandle of northwest Florida.
And after October, we might just re-populate the place.
We all love Seaside, that grand-daddy of perfect beach development, the original New Urbanism: walkable, mixed-use communities, that have been kind to nature. Seaside is probably the most cloned beach development in the world. Highway 30 A is what they call the scenic beach front highway that gets you around the Panhandle’s Emerald coast between Destin and Panama City. The bicycles (and pedestrians) rule here and have right of way, as they should. The area was developed as the perfect beach resort in 1981. In fact, Seaside is so picture perfect, The Truman Show was filmed there, the story of a man in a reality show living “the perfect life”. Watercolor, the pride of the St. Joe Company, sprouted up next, snuggled next to Seaside and fed off its success most successfully.
Then, about ten miles east, the developers of Seaside spread their success to another New Urbanism community called Rosemary Beach. Developed in 1995, Rosemary Beach was a huge success and is almost completely developed, full of Texans come spring break and summer.
Then developers began a long-term plan for another community with a different flavor: Bermuda, Antigua, Guatemala. Maybe a little higher-end, more contemporary. Instead of the signature pastel wood beach cottage with metal roofs, or the charming red brick of Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach structures would be simple white-washed masonry forms, white-tile rooftops and decorative profiles; quiet pedestrian corridors and verdant green open spaces with velvet-y grass embraced by courtyard homes and pristine white rooftops. The quirky spelling of the town’s name because it is named after the founder’s family matriarch. All these developments are in Santa Rosa Beach. Then there’s Grayton Beach, Seagrove, and the large vacation compounds of Watersound, another St. Joe developement, a few miles up 30-A.
And like Dallas, real estate in all these communities is hopping. Unlike most of Florida, buyers are in their 40’s and 50’s, many of them with families looking for second home beach retreats. Veteran agent Karen Wagner is the go-to sales agent in this powder-white sand sliver of the Floridian coast. Karen tells me the 30-A market is, like Dallas, suffering from a lack of inventory and a lot of eager beaver buyers.
Vacation homes have always been Karen’s specialty. She began her real estate career in Hilton Head, managing a travel agency and selling memberships for the Melrose Club on Daufuskie Island. From Hilton Head, Karen moved to Atlanta in 1989, working for Trammell Crow and Gables Residential. That’s where she met her husband, Steve, a renowned artist. They moved to the Florida panhandle in 1999 because they fell in love with the area.
“We got married at Seaside in 1989,” says Karen. “We are both so drawn to the water.”
The minute she stepped foot in Florida, Watercolor was sprouting right next to Seaside. Karen was one of Watercolor’s original agents. Since 2000, Karen has become one of the most successful real estate agents in the area, with a sales volume of over $40 million in 2013 alone. The average value of the homes she sold last year was $2 million, and it was her best year EVER! Karen has several clients from Dallas.
“Texas is our 12th feeder market,” says Karen, with Atlanta, New Orleans, Oklahoma, St. Louis, and Nashville being the top five.
“And we love our Texans. But they need to act fast — there’s definitely less inventory, only a handful of lots left, ” says Karen. “Those left will be gone by beginning of summer. And prices are getting crazy!”
The area continues to re-create itself as a perfect family second home haven. Besides films festivals, new restaurants and endless beach activities, the 30-A Songwriter’s festival (folk, country, rock to blue) is in its fifth year bringing in 150 songwriters, 200 performances at 25 venues along Highway 30-A including Kristian Bush (Sugarland), Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and a host of esteemed artists.
A Texan recently picked up a $4.55 million home by knocking on the door of an unlisted home, spending $300,000 over his buyer’s budget.
“Most of my buyers are cash buyers, or they are getting financing just because it is so cheap,” says Karen. “We are already starting to see vacation home prices firming up.”
The least expensive home in Seagrove Beach currently is a $6.9 million, 3 bedroom house on the Gulf. A home in Alys Beach recently sold for $8.5 million to a Nashville resident. Alys Beach, says Karen, is coming along as one of the area’s highest price points.
But this is nothing: Karen says wait until Southwest Airlines begins direct flights to Panama City Beach’s shining Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. The direct flights will bring bucketloads of more buyers to the area.
“Our Dallas market is so strong because it’s really just a 9 hour drive on Interstate 10,” says Karen. “But with those direct flights on Southwest, it’s going to be extremely convenient.”
Every other plate in the panhandle NOW is from Texas, says Karen. Texas is just re-populating Walton County!
With so many states loving the lure of the clean, clear Gulf waters, I had to ask Karen –has Seaside, now 33 years old, lost any of its polish.
“Seaside will always be the magical, first traditional neighborhood development in this area,” says Karen. “They are revamping the neighborhood theater and actually there have been three home tear-downs thus far.”
Price points are really good right now in Seaside, says Karen, and home values are definitely back depending on when you bought. The area is definitely seeing more price increases than decreases. At one point, she says, a fractional ownership at Watercolor’s Private Residence Clubs was available for less than $100,000.
But that was then, and now with inventories down, not as many spec homes available, the only homes under construction are custom homes.
“If you want to build a custom home, there are six lots left in Watercolor,” says Karen. “There is just no more land.”
Of course, she says Watercolor is talking about developing 45 more home sites that have not yet been platted. Stay tuned here on SecondShelters as Karen gives us continuous updates about the real estate in this beautiful region.