Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gulf beach property market collapse

(AP)  This was the year, Alicia Hollis and her fellow real estate agents thought. After a nasty batch of hurricanes and the bursting of the housing bubble, this was the year that condo sales along the Florida Panhandle's brilliant white beaches were going to rebound.

Then came the oil - or more accurately, the mere threat of oil.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Though most of the Gulf Coast remains free of tar balls, sheen and sludge from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, owners and agents say the disaster has still stained a showcase piece of the real estate market.

It's the third sucker punch in six years for property owners, many of whom were depending on rental units to fund their retirement. State lawmakers are looking to let homeowners off the hook on some of their taxes, hoping to pass the cost along to BP.

But things won't get better as long as images of oiled sand keep buyers away.

"We can sell places in town - people need a place to live - but the beach: look how empty it is," said Hollis, who's been selling homes in the Panhandle since 1973. "It's so heartbreaking."

Hollis' agency based on Okaloosa Island, where rows of condos line the beach, typically sells six or seven units a month. It hasn't sold a single beachfront property since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the Louisiana coast April 20. No one is even looking, she said.

More Oil Spill Coverage

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New Drilling Regulator Promises Investigations

Joe Barton Keeps GOP Leadership Role

Judge Who Tossed Drilling Ban an Oil Investor