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May 29, 2024
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Palm Beach real estate sales volume slips in 2023, 4Q reports confirm

Palm Beach real estate sales volume slipped in 2023, although the latest sales reports show the fourth quarter was busy and residential listings were up.

The bloom may be slightly off the rose that is Palm Beach real estate, but the wealthy island town still saw nearly $2 billion worth of single-family sales last year, with properties trading at far greater prices than before the coronavirus pandemic sent the market into overdrive nearly four years ago.

That’s the consensus of several end-of-year sales reports just issued by agencies that do business in town. 

The total dollar amount of Palm Beach sales of houses, townhomes and vacant land slipped to about $1.9 billion in 2023 from $2.25 billion the year before, according to the new fourth-quarter report issued by the Frisbie Palm Beach Real Estate Group, headed by Corcoran Group agent Suzanne Frisbie.  

It was a similar story for condominiums and co-operative units, which saw a decrease in total sales volume over the past 12 months, Frisbie’s report shows. In Midtown, condo and co-op sales last year totaled $312 million, down 31% from 2022, while South End multifamily sales decreased 37% year over year to $219 million. 

“While conditions have cooled after the frenzy witnessed at the start of the (COVID-19 health crisis), prices and overall dollar volume remain considerably elevated from pre-pandemic levels,” Frisbie’s report said.

Her report also showed that 2023 recorded the second-highest median sale price ever — at $11.75 million — for single-family properties. The median is the price at which half of the properties sold for more and half for less.

Sotheby’s International Realty brokerage manager Jessica Shapiro also took note of the prices at which properties sold on the island last year — and the timing of those sales — in her agency’s fourth-quarter report. 

Her analysis noted that the top 10 most expensive sales of 2023 all occurred in the first seven months of the year. Those included April’s $170 million transaction involving an oceanfront estate at 589 N. County Road, which set a new town price record when dealer Michael Cantanucci and his wife, Kimberly, bought the property from coffee mogul Robert Stiller and his wife, Christine. Broker Lawrence Moens of Lawrence A. Moens Associates represented the Stillers, and broker Christian Angle of Christian Angle Real Estate acted for the Cantanuccis in the private deal.

That sale broke a sale-price record that had been set only the month before,when the late Rush Limbaugh’s oceanfront compound at 1495 N. Ocean Blvd. sold for a recorded $155 million to a company controlled by Willian Lauder, executive chairman of Estée Lauder Cos. The Daily News has not confirmed that any real estate agents were involved with the sale. 

Palm Beach, Shapiro wrote in the Sotheby’s report, “proved to be an outlier from national forecasts in 2023, due to its luxury underpinnings. We saw record-breaking prices, yet scarce (sales) activity, leading to big fluctuations in median and average sales prices, quarter to quarter.” 

She added: “As big-ticket buyers took a backseat toward the end of the year, activity in the lower end of the single-family market ticked up” in October, November and December.

Delving into fourth-quarter real estate sales in Palm Beach 

The sales reports used different criteria and analytics to measure sales, so apples-to-apples comparisons among the reports can be difficult. But the overall trends are similar. 

The number of Palm Beach single-family sales in the fourth quarter was up, year over year, the reports agreed. Sales rose by as much as 73%, according to the analysis issued by Brown Harris Stevens. The same report showed the number of condo transactions experienced a more limited jump of 18% compared to the fourth quarter of 2022. 

“Although sales volume increased,” the Brown Harris Stevens report said, the market’s statistical measures were lower this period because the end of 2022 had several high-priced sales that were not matched” in the quarter that just ended.

The latest report from the Corcoran Group, which is issued separately from Frisbie’s analysis, also noted that single-family sales in the fourth quarter of 2023 were up sharply, year over year. That was a dramatic change “after nine consecutive quarters with annual declines in sales,” The Corcoran Report said. 

In the new report commissioned by Douglas Elliman Real Estate, analyst Jonathan Miller found that single-family prices saw a year-over-year decline in the fourth quarter, “skewed lower by a significant drop” in average sale size. 

“The average price (paid) per square foot for (single-family properties) was $2,880, down 1.6% annually, but (it) remained more than double the pre-pandemic level,” wrote Miller, who heads Miller Samuel Inc. In New York City. 

Palm Beach has struggled over the past few years with having enough houses on the market to meet buyer demand, real estate observers have noted. 

But the town saw an increase of nearly 69% in the number of single-family listings in the multiple listing service over the past three months, compared to the fourth quarter of the previous year, the Elliman Report showed. 

Miller described the island’s market as one in which single-family listing inventory had risen faster than sales closed in the quarter that just ended. 

“Despite the increase in listing inventory, the market share of bidding wars rose to 20% of all closings in the quarter, with one in five sales (closing) above the last asking price,” Miller wrote. 

In her report, Frisbie alluded to a reason for such bidding wars: Better-quality and appropriately priced properties are still scarce — and when they enter the market, buyers typically respond to them. The island’s market, Frisbie wrote, “remains hindered by limited, often uninspiring, and/or ambitiously priced inventory.” 

The Corcoran Report noted that the median price of condo and co-op sales in town remained “stable,” showing only a 2% increase when comparing the fourth quarter of 2023 and 2022.

Palm Beach may see stronger sales activity this year, reports predict

In the report from Sotheby’s International Realty, Shapiro echoed some of the other analyses when she described 2023 as “a year filled with uncertainty about the direction of the economy.” 

But Shapiro also sounded an optimistic note. “We enter 2024 with more inventory than last year throughout the Palm Beach County market and expect greater sales activity” than in 2023, she wrote. 

In a note accompanying her fourth-quarter report, broker Linda R. Olsson said Palm Beach continues to be a market in which homes, particularly larger estates, remain powerful draws for “people fleeing high-tax states such as New York, California and Illinois.”

Like Shaprio, Frisbie’s report also noted the unsettled economic picture of 2023 but said Palm Beach continues to be well positioned to offer buyers “a trusted safe haven” for residential investment. 

“For its security, beauty and intrinsic quality-of-life characteristics, the Palm Beach real estate market is poised for an overall positive performance in the year ahead,” Frisbie’s report concluded.

The complete fourth-quarter sales reports are expected to be available this week at BHSUSA.comInhabit.Corcoran.comElliman.comFrisbiePalmBeach.comLindaOlsson.com and SothebysRealty.com.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


Darrell Hofheinz is a USA TODAY Network of Florida journalist who writes about Palm Beach real estate in his weekly “Beyond the Hedges” column. He welcomes tips about real estate news on the island. Email dhofheinz@pbdailynews.com, call 561-820-3831 or tweet @PBDN_Hofheinz. 

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