Home sales in Hernando County rose 28 percent in February compared to a year ago.
For some, the news raised hopes that the worst may be over for a ravaged real estate market. The increase was slightly better than the increase of 23 percent for the entire Tampa Bay area, which was the largest year-to-year jump since September 2005.
"If we're not at the bottom, my sense is that we're going to be seeing it within the next quarter or so," said Brooksville Realtor Gary Schraut. "When you see a home that sold for $185,000 go to $85,000, I'm just not sure how much lower homes can go."
That's the challenge now. Though more houses are changing hands, it's at bargain-basement prices.
Of the Hernando County homes sold so far during 2009, 50 percent were bank-owned and nearly 10 percent were short sales.
"Prices are going down, so people are buying," said Joshua Hanoud, Realtor-associate with Tropic Shores Realty. "But they are only buying stuff that's priced really, really well."
The median sale price for homes was $97,000 in February, a 44 percent decrease since February 2006.
For people seeking a home to live in, prices and interest rates are low, and many properties are available. But experts say it's no market for those in search of a quick profit.
First-time home buyers have the added incentive of an $8,000 federal tax credit.
"It's the perfect time to enter or re-enter the market and buy real estate," said Marilyn Pearson-Adams, president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors.
Across the county, real estate companies report business is picking up after a dismal winter.
"I have been getting more calls on the inventory homes," said Chris Glover of Palmwood Realty Inc. "People are starting to realize that the prices are phenomenal."
Schraut's office has also been seeing more activity.
"We're having closings," he said. "That's a first step."
Others worry the market might not have hit bottom yet.
Nationally, millions of homeowners hold adjustable-rate mortgages that will reset at higher rates between now and 2013, Hanoud said.
"(Many of) those people aren't going to be able to refinance, either, or come up with another $400, $500 or $600 a month," he said.
"It doesn't mean it's not a great time to buy," Hanoud added, "as long as you are planning to do it long term."
Vladimir Hucko, a real estate agent with Re/Max Advantage in Spring Hill, is also skeptical about the turnaround. For Hernando County residents with limited resources, he said, home prices are still too high.
"Taxes and insurance can be as much as a mortgage for some people," Hucko said. "Whatever break you are going to get from your bank, State Farm is going to get in your other pocket."
Hanoud of Tropic Shores Realty said it's essential that clients price their homes right.
"We got nine offers on a house the other day," he said, "because it was priced right. Even $10,000 can make a difference."