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Home sales stabilize as prices drop to 2004 levels

The Tampa Bay area's median home price has returned to what it was in December 2004, but those discounts helped keep home sales from falling further in August.

Single-family home sales in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando totaled 2,154 in August, identical to the number of sales in August 2007, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

This marked the fourth straight month that local sales were flat, or fell or rose slightly, suggesting the market has flattened.

Low prices have been decisive. Tampa's median home price stood at $171,200 in August, 20 percent below the $214,100 median price in August 2007. Realtors say distressed sales — sales of properties behind on monthly payments — make up at least a quarter of the traffic. Many are short sales in which banks allow homeowners to sell their house for less than the outstanding mortgage balance.

"I looked at 30 properties for a client wanting a house for $150,000, and all but two were short sales or bank-owned properties," said St. Petersburg Realtor James Tuten of Charles Rutenberg Realty.

In Florida as a whole, sales were down 4 percent in August vs. a year earlier. Business was way up year over year in Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Pierce. Even sales in Miami shot up 22 percent, reflecting a 30 percent price decline.

But the slump seems to be intensifying across Florida Panhandle cities previously buffered from housing pain. Panama City sales were down 29 percent, Pensacola's were down 31 percent and Tallahassee's dropped 42 percent.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, predicted stable home sales would eventually spur prices higher. But he didn't predict when that would happen, and many economist say foreclosures will continue to suppress prices through 2010.

"Home prices generally follow sales trends after a few months of lag time. Still, inventory remains high in many parts of the country and will require time to fully absorb," Yun said. "We expect more balanced conditions in 2009 and will eventually return to normal, long-term appreciation patterns."

>>Fast Facts

Home sales

Changes from August 2007 to August 2008:

Fort Myers: up 32 percent

West Palm Beach: up 10 percent

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater: flat

Jacksonville: down 18 percent

Lakeland: down 20 percent

Sarasota-Bradenton: down 29 percent

Source: Florida Association of Realtors

Home sales stabilize as prices drop to 2004 levels 09/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 26, 2008 12:24pm]

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