Our housing slump has marked its two-year anniversary. Those of us invested in real estate — let's say the vast majority of us — keep our eyes peeled for that flicker of a recovery that becomes a glimmer that becomes a glare.
Let's train our telescopes on the few flickers that are brightening the housing horizon:
Flicker No. 1: Multiple offers on single houses. The Pinellas Realtor Organization issued a statement last week celebrating the return of multiple offers. I double-checked with other sales people and learned multiple offers are rearing their pretty heads again. "I have not seen them in two years but just last week I had multiple offers on three different properties," one St. Petersburg Realtor said. Realtors say these bidding wars — more like bidding skirmishes — tend to break out when home sellers concede they won't get top dollar. Lesson: A bargain still attracts finicky buyers.
Flicker No. 2: Vacant homes are moving slowly off the market. One of the sad sights of the downturn are the thousands of homes in the bay area bought as investments that never found buyers. But after peaking at more than 10,000 last summer, the number of vacant homes for sale ebbed to 8,770 in March. Not every explanation for the decline is encouraging. Some may be rented. Others were foreclosed on. On a similar trend, builders are slimming their inventory of vacant new homes. The number of such idle new homes dropped by 200 so far this year, but remains high at 3,400.
Flicker No. 3: Home sales statistics suggested a decent trend. The Greater Tampa Association of Realtors said sales in Hillsborough and central Pasco counties were down 14 percent from March 2007 to March 2008. Bad news? Not quite. A month earlier, February sales were off 33 percent from a year earlier. That trend, if real, portends a market reaching bottom. Further support comes from pending home sales. Across the Tampa Bay area in March, they were about the same as they were a year earlier. A word of warning: Since most of these yet-to-close sales depend on buyers getting mortgages, tighter lending could stymie many deals.
We can dicker over the significance of each flicker. But these words from Pinellas Realtors make as much sense as any: "It will take a while to have a healthy market, but it is good to hear about positive trends."