MANATEE -- If one of Manatee County's best-known experts on high-priced housing is to be believed, buyers in the multimillion-dollar home market aren't looking for deals anymore. What they want is perfection.
Keynoting a sumptuous open house Wednesday afternoon in the exclusive gated community The Concession in East Manatee, luxury real estate broker Michael Saunders said "the most discerning buyers" are coming to Southwest Florida to purchase homes that bring value to their lives. She made the statement against the backdrop of a 7,005-square-foot home at 19428 Ganton Ave. that is on the market for $2.295 million.
The home is one of hundreds in the million-dollar price range that have gone up for sale in Sarasota and Manatee counties in 2015. One month from the end of the year, sales of homes costing more than $1 million has already surpassed the 2014 total of 483, hitting 516 as of the start of this month.
The event drew more than 100 people, including real estate agents and potential buyers. Hosted by listing agents Deborah O'Mara and Tom Cinquegrano, the open house featured food and a cooking demonstration by Sarasota chef Paul Mattison, a Frank Sinatra-style crooner, a photo booth and a new Lamborghini Huracan on display in the driveway.
The extreme party theme was in line with Saunders' comments. She said luxury buyers are looking for an "experiential lifestyle" that is anchored by the homes they choose to buy. That experience for some, she said, might well include the 20-plus-seat movie theater included in the Ganton home O'Mara and Cinquegrano are selling for owners Karen and Steve Tulman.
"So people have the money," Saunders said. "If it has value and worth, they will pay for it."
Seven years on from the housing market crash, the local market is in high gear. Selling prices are as high as they've been in five years and Manatee and Sarasota counties are predicted this year to see an all-time record for the number of home sales.
Real estate professionals say the only negative in the market is a lack of properties to sell. Inventory levels are at a five-year low.
Saunders told those gathered at the open house that there is still room for the market to grow. She said home prices still are not what they were before the crash. Many potential sellers are still waiting to go to market until they can be certain they can sell their homes for more than they paid.
"It's all about the balance of inventory and demand," she said.
At the million-dollar level, existing homes are selling not necessarily out of a desire to turn a profit, but to allow owners to pursue their lifestyles. Karen Tulman said she and her husband are selling because they want to downsize. She said their home has been known as "The Party House," having hosted huge family gatherings and parties over the past few years.
The couple is planning to live in nearby Lakewood Ranch, a desire solidified by the opening of The Mall at University Town Center last year.
"There's no way I want to move away from that," Tulman said.
Manatee has a particularly strong purchase in the luxury home market. Scores of high-end homes are currently under construction in The Concession, Lakewood Ranch and on the county's islands and waterfront. Ozzie Patzmann, a recent transplant to the area from California, typifies buyers who are coming to the area because they want to enjoy the sun, the water and the cultural and dining scenes.
"There's way more things to do here," said Patzmann, who just moved into the Lakewood Ranch home he and his wife, Linda, have been having built for over a year.
O'Mara, who was Manatee County's second-highest grossing Realtor in 2014 with over $35 million in sales, said she is aiming to make her big open house event an annual occurrence. She and Cinquegrano also held one last year.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.