Wednesday, February 22, 2006

. . .and while we're in Florida

I saw the following scenario play out years earlier in Southern California. A lot of the people that work there, especially people working in low-paying service industry jobs, can't afford to live there. Many employers, including landscape company owners, count on their south-of-the-border workers to serve their customers. These workers (yes, they're legal) leave their homes at a ridiculously early hour, say 4 a.m, so they can get through customs and arrive at the job at a reasonable hour.

Now the same thing is happening in south Florida, in particular the Keys and in Collier County in the southwest corner of the state. In the Keys where the supply of housing is finite and demand is incredibly high, prices for property have gone through the roof. Hourly workers commute as much as 3 hours a day (one way) to get to their jobs. A similar labor situation is developing in Florida's southwest Gulf Coast, although not as dramatically.

Naples, once a quaint little town on the edge of the Everglades is now boomtown, albiet still with a lot of charm. Ft. Myers, Bonita Springs, that whole area is going real estate nuts. Even Immokolee where lots of the workers live is in for a big housing shock when a new college is finished near there.

Adios, little mom-and-pop motels and trailer parks. Hola, condos, gated communities and mega mansions.

Some folks are predicting that housing prices in south Florida will plateau or even fall, but don't count on it. Not even hurricanes — a not uncommon occurance in these parts — can discourage new buyers. Every week Baby Boomers with cash from selling their homes up north swallow up mortgages big enough to choke a mule, apparently figuring the kids can do quite well without an inheritance.

(Why or why didn't I pull the trigger on that neat 3-bedroom ranch on the canal in Cape Coral five years ago?) — Ron Hall

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