Residential sales are on the rise across the Emerald Coast, creating a favorable market for sellers. 

Four days, two days and even four hours are how long real estate agents in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties say it's taking to sell homes once they hit the market. 

"Houses are selling faster than we can even get them listed," said June Dillman, broker owner at Wayne Patton Reality in Fort Walton Beach. 

January, typically the slowest month for the housing market, saw an 18.2 percent increase in closed sales compared to the same month in 2016 in Okaloosa County, according to president-elect Liz McMaster of the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors.

The number of closed sales for South Santa Rosa County, according to Mark Miller, president of the Navarre Area Board Of Realtors, increased by 17 percent, while Walton County increased by 5.6 percent.

The housing sales market is expected to increase throughout the year in Okaloosa and Walton counties, McMaster said. However, she said the increase may be tempered with concerns over mortgage rate increases. 

"I believe we have entered into a sellers' market," McMaster said. "Short sales and foreclosures are a very rare occurrence now. Still, mortgage rates are near historical lows."

The same can be seen in Santa Rosa County, according to Miller.

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Why buy now?

Tery Pilcher, president of the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors, said those looking to buy a home should do so sooner rather than later.

In Okaloosa County, the median sales price for the first quarter of 2017 has increased by 6.2 percent since last year, according to the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors. Walton County increased 4.6 percent. 

South Santa Rosa County, specifically the Gulf Breeze and Navarre area, has increased by 3 percent.

"Our prices are on the rise, but our market is still very accessible to buyers," Pilcher said. "It's a great time to buy a house because prices will start to increase." 

'We need more houses to sell'

The Emerald Coast is experiencing a housing inventory shortage, according to real estate agents from the three counties. Pilcher said the agents are now having to find inventive ways to get new homes on the market. 

Joe Capelotti with Coastal Realty Services said agents in Okaloosa County are calling expired listings and owners who are selling without a realtor.

"The availability of land has sorely decreased," Capelotti said. "Many builders are tearing down older homes to make way for new ones. In Shalimar, an 18-home development is being built where an old trailer park once stood."

In Santa Rosa and Walton counties, more land is available, tempting investors to invest in new developments there, according to Miller and Capelotti.

"In Navarre last year, 300 brand new homes were sold," Miller said.

'A great place to live'

Both regional and local factors have contributed to the housing surge, according to Pilcher and Miller. 

Pilcher said the increased demand in Okaloosa and South Walton could be credited to new tourist development and the job market.  

"We're seeing more jobs created in our area," he said. "It's just a great place to live. Our school systems are in great shape and there are lots of opportunity here."

Miller said South Santa Rosa County's convenience to both Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola, the school system and its suburban feel contribute to that area's home sales.

A second bubble?

In 2006, Miller said the housing market crashed after investors created a false bull market.

Builders were constructing houses as fast as they could, according to Miller, creating a supply that exceeded the need.

"What I saw in Navarre prior to the bubble bursting was an artificial market created from investors buying houses just to flip them without any intentions to live in them," he said.

Since the crash in 2006, Miller said sellers have been conservative with their pricing increases. However, he said that may change as the year progresses.

"I'm not seeing the false market happening now," Miller said. "Right now we're still in that situation where there isn't an oversupply for affordable housing.

"A three to 10 percent (annual) increase is a good thing."