If the Tampa Bay area's existing-home sales are in a trough, new-home construction has plunged into the Grand Canyon.
Builders started just 1,155 homes in the third quarter that ended Sept. 30. That's 81 percent down from the peak of 6,162 housing starts in the first quarter of 2006.
It's no wonder that more than a half dozen local builders have closed up shop or declared bankruptcy.
"There's not a whole lot of room left between 1,155 and zero," said Tony Polito, whose consulting firm, Metrostudy, released local new-home statistics Thursday.
New-home closings — when a buyer actually moves in to the house — showed a similar drop. Their third-quarter pace of 1,410 is 76 percent below the peak of 5,749 in early 2006.
Polito predicts housing starts could revive in mid 2009, if only because they're so low right now. The average price of a new home locally has fallen to $232,600.
"Interest rates are low. If you're creditworthy, prices are down," Polito said.
Even if sales improve, the Tampa Bay area is strapped with too many vacant developed lots. Inventory totaled 31,451 in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Hernando and Citrus counties.
Based on the recent home starts pace, that's enough ready-to-build lots to last more than six years.