Pummeled by record foreclosures and stubbornly high unemployment, Florida's housing market is still struggling to find its footing.
Home sales remained troubled in August, as sales rose 3 percent from July, but the median sales price slipped 3 percent to $134,000. Compared with a year ago, sales are up just 1 percent and the median sales price is down 9 percent.
The month-to-month snapshot for Tampa Bay area homeowners was slightly better, with 2,408 homes changing hands in August with a median sales price of $135,400. That's a 5 percent increase in sales and 4 percent increase in price from July. Compared with August 2009, however, bay area sales were down 6 percent and prices down 4 percent.
Nationally, existing home sales rose a more respectable 7.6 percent between July and August, but that wasn't enough to keep August from being the second-worst month for sales in more than a decade. Despite a slight upward revision in the numbers, July remained the worst month for sales in 15 years.
Vernon Taylor, broker-owner of VET Realty in Lutz and president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, cited numerous reasons why he expects the housing market to remain in flux:
Some homeowners won't move because they're scared about losing their jobs. The glut of foreclosures and short sales continue to push prices lower, with housing prices nationally now at the lowest level in six years. GMAC Mortgage has halted evictions in Florida and 22 other states amid allegations of mishandled affidavits. And banks are holding onto some abandoned homes until pricing improves, indicating another round of foreclosures lies ahead.
"Every time we turn around, we hear banks haven't released all their foreclosures," Taylor said. "We're going to have another year or so of really trying to push the ball up hill. It's not easy."
In the spring, homes sales briefly showed a spark when the federal government offered home-buying tax credits. But the housing industry has struggled to rebound since the credits expired, despite record-low interest rates.
The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.37 percent Thursday, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. Earlier this month, the rate fell as low as 4.32 percent, the lowest level on record dating back to 1971.
One problem often cited: Many potential buyers are on the sidelines waiting to see if foreclosures will drive prices even lower. About 2.5 million homes have been lost to foreclosure nationally since the recession started in December 2007, according to RealtyTrac Inc. And, according to Moody's Analytics, another 2.2 million homes could be lost to foreclosures or distressed sales over the next four years.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, said after the tax credits ended, the housing industry entered a "pause period" that he expects to last through September. The encouraging news, he said, is that the huge drop in home prices since 2006 have made housing affordable again.
"Given rock-bottom mortgage interest rates and historically high housing affordability conditions, the pace of a sales recovery could pick up quickly, providing the economy consistently adds jobs," he said.
Florida, with an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, isn't anticipating any quick recovery. Some metro areas have added jobs since last year. Tampa Bay, however, is among those still on the down side, having shed 4,300 jobs year over the year.
The August report on Florida's condo market, which was also released Thursday, showed mixed results.
Condo sales statewide were up 22 percent from year-ago levels and up 3 percent from a month ago, but that could be because buyers were getting good bargains. The median condo sales price fell to $81,600, down 24 percent from a year ago and down 6 percent from July.
Times wires contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jeffmharrington.