Q & A

New Realtor Association President Tony Barrett Shares His Insights on the Local Market

Barrett, the incoming president of the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, answers the big question: Will the real estate market waver in 2024?

By Kim Doleatto January 31, 2024


Once an aspiring hog farmer, Tony Barrett, who's originally from a small farm community in Illinois, is now the 2024 president of the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee (RASM), replacing outgoing president Brian Tresidder.

But those long-ago aspirations shifted and Barrett wound up leaving the town of Ridgefarm—which he described as having, “corn on one side of the road and beans on the other”—to instead join the Army as a combat medic. In 1991, after falling in love with the area while on vacation, he settled here. He remembers when chickens roamed free at State Road 70 and 15th Street East.

Tony Barrett

Tony Barrett

Barrett went on to spend 25 years as a firefighter and paramedic with the Sarasota Fire Department and took up real estate as a second job. Now 56 and retired from firefighting, he has been in the real estate industry for 20 years, growing his brokerage, Barrett Realty. And while real estate and firefighting are seemingly different two different ends of the career spectrum, Barrett says they're similar in their urgency. “When the bell rings, you answer it," he explains. "In both jobs, we like to solve problems."

We talked with Barrett about what today's buyers want, the current real estate cooldown after the frenzied years of the pandemic, and whether it's a buyer's or seller's market. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you think led to our current real estate cooldown? 

"Interest rates going up has had the biggest impact. But we had a lot of fraud in the homeowners insurance claims world, where attorney-backed consumers were replacing roofs that didn't need it. Due to those excessive attorney fees, many insurers left the state, and premiums went way up for homeowners insurance overall."

"But we're seeing improvements there. Several insurance companies are coming back into the Florida market. And if we forego another hurricane season, like we did in 2023, it'll help bring down rates and, hopefully, help with affordability.

"Current inventory is showing we’re transitioning into a more even market, where buyers and sellers can negotiate. We still see about 1,000 people a day coming into the state, but people also leaving who are getting priced out." 

"At one point during the craziness of a year and a half ago, we dipped down to .2 months of inventory, and people were buying like it was the end of the world and no one would ever build another house. A lot is coming down the pipeline, which will help keep inventories level. Also, economists who never agree with each other seem to agree that interest rates will decrease over the next two quarters, further balancing both the buyer's and seller's side."

We’ve historically been more affordable than other beachside destinations. Would you say Sarasota and Manatee counties are still affordable? 

"I would consider this to still be a place of great value when you consider all the offerings, like arts and culture, entertainment and beaches. The prices have taken plenty of people out of our market who lived and worked here full time, however.

"But there are improvements there. The Live Local Act will offer more density opportunities and incentives to include attainable housing in developments, but I have not worked with a lender or buyer with the program.

"The Sadowski Act Housing Trust Funds help local municipalities to assist residents with housing, too, and so do local down payment assistance programs."

Should home shoppers wait to buy? 

"I don’t have a crystal ball—I like to reference Warren Buffet, who says, ‘You can’t time the market.’ There’s no best time to buy because it’s so personal. If you need a house and you’ve saved up for that, you should buy. Fluctuations will always be a factor. I think buyers are savvy now and have lots of information. There are lots of different options right now that can benefit them." 

Where’s the most affordable local area for buying a home?

"I don't think anyone would consider anything a good deal now. Compared to just three years ago, [prices have] increased so much.

"Over my years of buying and selling, homes have always appreciated in value. They may not year over year, but over 10 years, they certainly will. I don't think the best deals are on the market right now, but I’m seeing buyers who were recently on the sidelines coming out. You’re rolling the dice on interest rates; anything can happen in 30 to 60 days where those are concerned. I

"If you can afford to buy and you need a home, it's a good time to buy." 

Do you foresee the cost of building coming down?

"I think material costs have decreased after the crazy increases we saw a few years ago, now that supplies and alternatives to certain materials are available. 

"But builders are still buying land at a rapid rate, and lots of rural areas are being purchased for residential development. As long as the market remains hot, they'll be here. 

People are still coming here who want to build their dream home. As long as that demand persists, I don't see new construction costs lowering—but builders and developers can offer homebuyers certain incentives that resale home sellers can't."

What do home buyers want today? 

"Buyers want transparency. They want value and the best rates available. We’ll see more normalizing and new interest in buyers coming around to check out new inventory."

"Avoid over-improving your home. If you put a considerable amount of money into it, you probably won’t get that back. Some key points are good curb appeal, a solid roof and de-cluttered spaces. Don't do things like adding a new kitchen that the buyer might want to rip out because they don’t like it. If you have a couple of stains on the carpet, instead of replacing it, add a carpet allowance to the transaction. Now that the post-pandemic panic-buying is over, parties have time and space to negotiate."

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