Florida home sales, prices rise, continuing rebound

Median prices top a year earlier's for the 15th straight month, but inventory is still an issue.
Published April 22 2013
Updated April 23 2013

Florida homes sold quicker, more often and for higher prices last month than in March 2012, as tight supplies and investor zeal helped the market to revive, state Realtors data show.

Florida's median home prices last month bested the year before for the 15th month in a row, climbing 15 percent to $160,000, data show. Sales climbed 9 percent over March 2012, with nearly half of the 20,000 closings paid in cash.

Tight inventories continue to turn the market's screws, squeezing newly emboldened buyers into shrinking supplies. If no more homes were added, the state's inventory would sell in five months, below the six-month supply commonly considered healthy.

Bidding wars, often between prospective buyers and speculative investors, helped trim the typical home's days on the market to less than two months while bumping prices higher.

But economists said Florida sellers remain skittish after years of housing gloom. While new pending sales across the state climbed 23 percent over the last year, new listings only grew 3 percent.

"Inventory remains an issue, but this is fast becoming a sellers' market," state Realtors chief economist John Tuccillo said. "As sellers realize this, we expect inventories to rise."

More Tampa Bay homes sold last month than have in nearly seven years, the Tampa Bay Times reported April 12. The typical home's price soared 22 percent since March 2012, to $150,000, My Florida Regional Multiple Listing Service data show.

South Florida was the only metro area in the state last month to beat out Tampa Bay's sales boom. In the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach market, nearly 3,500 homes sold at a typical price of $240,000.

Home sales nationwide rose 10 percent last month over March 2012, the 21st month in a row of year-over-year gains. The typical home sold for $184,300, up 12 percent over the year before.

The number of U.S. homes for sale grew for the second month in a row, a sign that timid sellers are leaving their shell. And across Tampa Bay, builders have broken ground on long-frozen subdivisions, injecting new homes into the supply.

Real estate agents are scouting for new sellers by touting the market's demand and drastically low interest rates. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.41 percent last week, down from 3.9 percent a year ago, Freddie Mac data show.

But potential threats to a full-speed recovery remain. Many potential buyers said they are being turned away by stringent loan standards. And much of the local buying is being done by cash-wealthy investors, whose short-term shopping sprees could cause prices to balloon.

"We need to correct the imbalance between investors and owner-occupier households," Tuccillo said, "if the market is to prosper for a long time."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com.