If you've got cash and haven't bought your retirement home in Florida yet, homes are on sale — half off.
And if you're picky, you've got lots from which to choose. The inventory hovers around 2,500.
In January 2006, the median sales price for homes in Hernando was $183,500. Four years later, it's down 47.3 percent to $96,750, according to the Multiple Listing Service.
With an economy built on growth now at a standstill, Hernando County home builders, their subcontractors and other professions tied to the industry have been devastated.
New home permits issued for 2009 were down 97 percent from 2005.
"On a scale of one to 10, if 10 was back then in the 2005-06 days, it's a minus 2 now," said Ernie Ramirez of Zerimar Builders.
It's been awhile since Ramirez built a custom home.
"As times pass, I'm sure it will reach a more stable place," he said.
But like many builders, Ramirez also worries about the subcontractors he's worked with for years. His company bids regularly on county jobs.
"It's almost impossible to get work, but we manage to get by," he said. "I primarily want to keep people going. Each time we get a job, we get to use our plumbers, our drywall people, our electricians."
A year ago, there was a sense that the inventory of homes might give. It hasn't.
"Short sales keep piling on," said Al Boland, president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors. "The average short sale house is on the market six months. Each month you get a couple more."
Nearly 30 percent of homes on the market are listed as short sale or lender owned, Boland said.
With homes costing half what they did a few years ago and tax credits available for first-time home buyers, Realtors say they are experiencing an increase in calls.
"It seems to be busier this year," said John Sullivan of Exit Success Realty. Sullivan has had more inquiries from first-time home buyers as well as from those seeking a warm place to retire.
"I'm getting more responses to my advertising," he said. "The Northern market is saying they're ready to buy their retirement home. Many of them have cash."
Many of those "good deals" are short sales and foreclosures. And in January, the numbers in those categories finally began to improve.
Foreclosure filings averaged about 275 a month for both 2008 and 2009. For January 2010, that number was 235, a 15 percent decrease.
But no one is predicting a quick turnaround.
"It took a long time to get here," said Realtor Gary Schraut. "It's going to take a long time to get out."
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.