Coming off a robust year for Tampa Bay homes sales, area Realtors have a mixed forecast for 2016.
Demand for moderately priced homes — under $250,000 — will remain strong, but the turbulent stock market and uncertainty over who will be the next U.S. president could leave some prospective buyers sitting on the fence.
The Tampa Bay Times interviewed four prominent local Realtors to get their take on what's in store for the housing market: Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker; Bonnie Strickland of the St. Petersburg-based Strickland Property Group; Andrew Duncan of Tampa's Duncan Duo & Associates; and Martha Thorn of the Belleair Bluffs-based Thorn Collection.
Although we spoke to the Realtors separately, we've compiled their answers into a question-and-answer format.
How do you think the bay area real estate market in general will fare this year?
DUNCAN: I don't want to scare you, but I think (sales) will be flat. Here's why. Election years historically hurt the real estate market because there's apprehension, and while I see our market being very heathy and I think prices will still rise, I think sales will be flat because we're having a hard time with inventory and buyers are getting frustrated. We are running ads on Facebook to find homes for buyers we represent, because either they've lost out because the market is so competitive or they can't find what they're looking for.
STRICKLAND: What makes me optimistic is our location and where we live. There's high demand and low supply, also record-breaking interest rates. Economists are saying we'll never have interest rates this low again. When there is a little shakeup in the stock market, people look for an opportunity to put money in places they feel safe, and I can't think of a safer place than St. Petersburg. I have more buyers than sellers now — it's a seller's market.
RICHARDSON: It has a lot to do with what happens economically. With the stock market we're seeing turbulence, and that does change the luxury market. I think you'll see some concern there. There's a lot of demand in lower price points; I think you'll see a lot of activity there. Where you have well-priced listings, they don't stay on the market long. But there are (inflated) prices people put on property and they're stubborn to move them.
THORN: What I'm seeing now is that the market has slowed down. I think that's because people are distracted by the stock market and what's going on politically, but there's still considerable activity and I look forward to it being even better. Interestingly enough, there weren't any sales over $5 million (in 2015) but we've already got two this year, so to me that's an indication 2016 is going to be even better.
What do you see as some of the hottest areas real estate wise in the Tampa Bay market?
DUNCAN: Safety Harbor and Oldsmar have become very popular, and Westchase is grouped in with that. If you drove along Hillsborough Avenue a couple of years ago, it was just vacant strip mall after vacant strip mall. People were concerned about moving there because restaurants weren't there, the commercial development was lagging. Now it's started coming back.
THORN: Belleair Shore, Clearwater Beach is a very hot area. We've had a lot of high-end sales in the northern end of the county (Pinellas), Crystal Beach, up around Ozona. The Seminole area is extremely popular because the school district is very strong.
STRICKLAND: Snell Isle, the Old Northeast and surrounding areas. In certain neighborhoods we're getting top dollar, the highest price per square foot ever in areas like Harbour Isle and Venetian Isles.
RICHARDSON: The Old Northeast and South Tampa are very strong When you get up into the Palm Harbor and East Lake areas, there's a lot of demand. And of course the beaches. All areas are moving if priced well.
What else do you find interesting, or worrisome, about the bay area market his year?
STRICKLAND: I was born and raised here, and never in my lifetime have I seen so many South Tampa people wanting to relocate to St. Pete. It's because of the vibrancy of downtown; they like downtown. They say, ''There (in Tampa) it closed up at 5 and our downtown picks up at 5." They like that it's cycling-friendly.
THORN: My concern is, will people get inflated ideas of the value (of their homes) and will those move or will we have another slowdown.
RICHARDSON: I think there is not as much move-up market activity as we once enjoyed. Part of that baby boom generation that drove the market very aggressively is downsizing and moving into smaller homes. And new home buyers coming out of college, which historically is one of the strongest stimuli for the market, they're not buying as aggressively in their late 20s and early 30s because of student loan debt. People are employed but underemployed. It's a complex marketplace these days.
DUNCAN: There's a separation of demographics. You have the millennials that want to live in certain parts of town, and as the population ages, you've got people moving out to the suburbs or Westchase or Oldsmar or Town 'N Country. They're saying, 'I'll give up proximity to some of the places (younger people like) for maybe a little more house."
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow @susanskate.