Property values in the area have stabilized, according to local experts, after seeing nearly a decade of declining numbers. And some areas are experiencing moderate, sustainable growth.
"As of twenty-four to thirty-six months ago, the news was all bad," said Gregory Papajohn, a certified property appraiser for Trinity Property Appraisals, Gulf Breeze. "The number of transactions are way up and the number of distress sales [foreclosures and short sales] are way down."
Two years ago, short sales - which happen when a seller owes more on the mortgage than what the house is actually worth based on market value - attributed for 45-50 percent of sales, according to Papajohn. Now, he says the economy is more active and short sales account for merely 20 percent of the market.
The financial environment has not changed much, according to the appraiser. Interest rates are still at record lows, under four percent. And it's still relatively difficult to secure a loan from the banks.
But there is one key difference in the environment: attitude.
Consumer confidence seems to be the catalyst for stabilization in the market.
"There was always pent-up demand, but the overall attitude was dark," Papajohn said. "People are seeing the stock market up. People are seeing their 401ks up. It's basic herd mentality. At some point, the heard has to turn."
After the economic collapse of 2008, the economy resulted in lost jobs and homeowners began defaulting on their statements. Or homeowners were becoming upside-down in their mortgages and still making the payments but losing value. The 2008 collapse occurred five years into an already declining market driven by other factors, Papajohn said.
"This is the first time I've said 'appreciate' in several years," said Scott Green, Remax realtor who specializes in waterfront properties.
Property values have suffered several large blows over the past ten years, Green said. Homes flooded the market after Hurricane Ivan in 2003 and caused prices and values to plummet.
"The beach took a brutal beating during Ivan," Green said, referring to the loss of value after the devastation. "Ivan came in and wiped out 10,000 homes."
Green notes the construction industry thrived during rebuilding efforts, but the increase of homes on the market spurred overall values to drop in the area.
"A healthy market for us is 3,000 listings," Green said. "After Ivan, we peaked at 7,800 listings."
Then Hurricane Dennis made landfall in 2005, followed by Hurricane Katrina a few months later. Green said there seemed to be a loss of consumer confidence and interest in coastal properties, which had been such a driving force in the local economy.
"We've been labeled a declining market," Green said, referring to Santa Rosa County being lumped in with southern metros such as Miami and Tampa where the market is still suffering. "I don't think we'll be labeled that much longer."
While sales are rising, there are fewer homes on the market and prices have stabilized. It is still difficult to secure a mortgage, according to Papajohn. The financial companies have to deal with the government and investors, who repackage mortgages and sell them to other investors.
"The banks are hog-tied in some ways," Papajohn said. "The banks took government money, so they have to play by those rules."
While the banks are forced to adhere to certain governmental standards, securing a loan lends its own set of difficulties. The appraiser said he noticed vast inconsistencies to practices, speculating upon hyper-focused, case-by-case scrutiny.
"I've seen them fight to the death over $2,000 on a $30,000 house," Papajohn said. "Then they'll turn around and not raise an issue about $30,000 on a Portofino condo."
The appraiser noted a staunch stabilization in values, but was cautious when it came to appreciation in the market. He stressed the appreciation in values were "moderate and sustainable," unlike local bubbles that popped in the past, such as the Gulf Breeze area that had appreciation that was "ridiculously unsustainable."
"That's the fallacy of the housing market," Papajohn said. "There's a lot of moving parts. You can't reduce the problem to one issue."