Meleita Fletcher began packing up her home last week in New Jersey. At the end of this month, she will move into a house she recently purchased in Spring Hill.
"I'm still rejoicing," Fletcher, 58, said by phone. "To be single and be able to purchase a new home. It really makes me feel good."
Fletcher's house is one of 1,238 Hernando County homes sold during the first half of 2010, representing a 15 percent increase over home sales during the same time last year and a 35 percent increase compared to 2008.
In addition to home sales, foreclosure filings and building permits issued for single-family homes are all moving in favorable directions. Unemployment, which peaked in January at 15.8 percent, has decreased to 13.8 percent, according to the Florida workforce agency.
All told, after three years of economic decline, statistics for the first six months of 2010 are showing signs that the economy in Hernando County might have begun to stabilize.
"I am very encouraged," said Al Boland, president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors. "We averaged over 200 (single-family homes) per month for the first six months, which we have not seen since 2006."
Foreclosure filings, which have averaged more than 270 each month for the past two years, have dropped by 21.6 percent during the first half of the year, according to the Hernando County Clerk of the Courts Office.
While single-family home sales are up and the inventory is down to just more than 2,050 homes, the median sales price averages 3.5 percent less than the first half of last year. A major reason for that is that, of the homes sold during the first half of 2010, 14 percent were short sales and 32 percent were foreclosures.
"Homes that are priced correctly are selling and going very quickly," said Realtor Gary Shraut. "This is quite different than prices for the '05, '06, and '07 markets. Some are selling for 40 to 50 percent less."
It's is a bitter pill for home buyers who bought and financed during the boom times and are still holding out for 2006-07 prices.
"You basically have two different real estate markets going on at the same time," said Joshua Hanoud, a Realtor associate. "Ninety percent of the market is overpriced."
For those looking to buy, especially with cash in hand, there are deals to be had.
Tracy Barker, 35, recently purchased a home in Sterling Hill for $67,100. She credits Hanoud with helping her to seal the deal.
"There were five other offers," Barker said. "We made my offer more appealing."
Hanoud says he spends time educating both his buyers and sellers about the market.
"The best analogy is the stock market," said Hanoud. "You can't take a stock worth $50 and sell it for $75."
Building permits issued for single-family homes are up 27 percent from last year, but continue to lag far behind the housing boom years, when hundreds of permits were issued each month, according to the Hernando County Development Department.
No one is predicting a return to boom levels of construction anytime soon.
This spring, University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith predicted that Florida is several years away from returning to 2001 levels of housing starts.
For those looking to relocate or start a business, there are numerous options available on the commercial real estate market.
"There's probably more available than we've ever had in the county," said Shraut. "Commercial was built based on homes (being built) rather than homes occupied. We are overbuilt."
In the commercial and industrial markets, county business development director Mike McHugh said companies are holding their own.
"I give them credit," said McHugh. "I don't know that the big manufacturers have weathered the economy as well."
Small manufacturers, such as those located near the Hernando County Airport, have an advantage in being able to adapt quickly to changes in supply and demand.
Plus, many of the smaller companies are operated and owned by individuals who reside here in Hernando County.
"These are folks who have their life savings, all their personal wealth, invested here," McHugh said. "They're not playing with stockholders' money. It's their money and they make it happen."
On the unemployment front, county numbers have decreased from a high of 15.8 percent in January to 13.8 percent in May. But despite the decrease in the jobless numbers, for those seeking work, it's still a very competitive market.
Virginia D. Vinson, human resources director with Seating Constructors USA, a small manufacturer in the Hernando County corporate airpark, recently posted an advertisement on Craigslist for an administrative support person.
In less than 24 hours, her in box was brimming with interested job-seekers. Amid the pile, Vinson saw numerous viable candidates.
"Most are extremely well qualified or over-qualified," she said.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.