Wednesday, April 20, 2011

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Tampa area home sales soar to highest level since boom

In the Tampa Bay area, 3,267 single-fmaily homes were sold last month, a 17 percent increase over March 2010.
In the Tampa Bay area, 3,267 single-fmaily homes were sold last month, a 17 percent increase over March 2010.
Published: April 20, 2011
TAMPA - The number of existing homes sold in the Tampa Bay area soared last month to their highest level since June 2006, roughly the peak of the real estate bubble.
But the good news only goes so far. The median sale price of a home was just $112,900 in March – less than half of the median sale price five years ago.
The trend shows the powerful influence of investors, who are snapping up properties, but also paying rock-bottom prices for foreclosed homes and "short sales," or homes sold for less than the amount owed on them.
At the least, investors are clearing out the Bay area's massive glut of homes on the market, which is a plus, said Mark Vitner, an economist with Wells Fargo who tracks Florida.
"Prices are about as good as they're going to get," Vitner said.
Florida Realtors, the state's Realtors association, released local and statewide sales figures Wednesday for existing single-family homes and condos for March. The number of sales was good for both types of housing.
In the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area, the number of existing single-family homes sold hit 3,267 last month. That's up 17 percent over March 2010, when 2,782 single-family homes sold locally.
More impressively, it's the highest total since the heady days of the mid-2000s. To find a higher figure you have to go back to June 2006, when 3,442 homes sold in the Bay area, according to Florida Realtors data.
Meantime, the number of condominium units sold last month rose to 1,197. That was up 21 percent from March 2010, when 991 condos sold.
Prices remain stubbornly low, though, because so many foreclosure and distressed housing sales are dragging down prices, the Realtors group said.
For example, the median sale price of a single-family home in the Bay area was $112,900 in March. That's down 14 percent from March 2010, when homes sold for $131,400 locally.
Looking back at June 2006, around the height of the housing boom, the median sale price for a single-family home was $239,600, Florida Realtors data show.
Real estate and title insurance agents are fielding calls from Northerners who want a second home and from investors who see eventual profits. Brenda Wade, a real estate agent with Signature Realty in Brandon, said any home listed for less than $100,000 gets the most calls.
"People recognize value, and they're calling to scoop those up," she said.
Stephen Dorsett, who runs a title insurance company in Tampa called Clear Title America, said at least 65 percent of the deals he's working on involve distressed properties. And the majority of the buyers are using cash to buy them, including buying groups that are picking up 10 to 20 homes per month.
Dorsett is optimistic about the sales trends, but he's nervous about the number of homes that banks are still holding onto and other homes that banks just haven't foreclosed on yet. This so-called "shadow inventory" is still lurking, and when banks finally list them for sale it could erase some of the gains in the housing market, he said.
"The big question is what happens when the shadow inventory hits the market," Dorsett said. "They will come on the market; it's just a matter of when."
For now, the surge in home sales appears to be eating into the Bay area's glut of homes for sale, which is an important step toward repairing the area's housing market, Vitner said. Eventually, builders will begin building new houses as the inventory of existing homes clears out, he said.
According to the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, Tampa has an inventory of 13,024 homes on the market, or a six-month supply. When things were at their worst, in January 2008, the city had a 25-month supply.
Wade, the Brandon real estate agent, has watched the supply dwindle in FishHawk Ranch. At one time, the east Hillsborough community had 350 homes for sale, but that had dropped to about 125 the last time she checked.
Statewide, the sales figures for existing single-family homes were strong as well.
Last month, the number of single-family homes sold statewide was up 12 percent over March 2010. However, the median sale price statewide was $126,300 last month, which was down 7 percent.
The number of condo units sold statewide rose 24 percent last month, but the price of those condos fell 11 percent compared with March 2010

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