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Short-term home price changes: one lousy trend indicator

Trying to get accurate information about short-term home price changes is as tricky as walking through a briar patch wearing Velcro.

That thought occurred while picking through a Web site called neighborhoodscout.com. It claims Tampa — and here it means the city itself — ranks among the top 100 cities for home price appreciation.

To be exact, Tampa was 100th on the list, with a reported home price gain of 2.48 percent over the summer.

Right after tumbling off the office chair and chipping my chin on the keyboard, I realized I needed more proof for such a counter-intuitive claim. Enter Zillow.com.

Zillow decided to play spoilsport. In fact, it delivered Tampa a body blow. It claims Tampa home prices fell 10.2 percent from the quarter ending June 30 to the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Things don't get much clearer when you pull back to observe home price changes throughout the Tampa Bay region.

Among the four counties of the region, Zillow listed Pasco as the only county where prices appreciated a bit in the summer. Prices fell in Hillsborough (-5.7 percent), Pinellas (-3.1 percent) and Hernando (-3.6 percent).

But a tighter look at individual neighborhoods and communities revealed a lot more variance. In Hillsborough County, Brandon and Town 'N Country were price winners, but Westchase and Cheval were price losers.

In Pasco County, coastal communities like Holiday and Jasmine Estates appreciated as mid county suburbs like Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel depreciated.

Pinellas County showed price gains in places like Seminole and Clearwater, but declines in St. Petersburg and Largo.

Was this the final word on how well the housing market performed in the summer? Hardly.

Home Encounter, a Tampa real estate company, decided to flip Zillow's findings on their head.

Home Encounter gauges which homes in which neighborhoods are selling most successfully. It does this by rating how fast homes find buyers and how closely the final price compares with the initial listing price.

According to Home Encounter, St. Petersburg, that Zillow bottom feeder, was a pricing winner. So were Safety Harbor, Largo and Palm Harbor.

Land O'Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Trinity — confined to the dog house by Zillow — were Home Encounter's winners in Pasco.

In Hillsborough, downtown Tampa, Westchase and Cheval kicked tail. Home Encounter had refuted Zillow once again.

What's the larger lesson from all this? Short-term price changes are probably hogwash, at least if you're trying to draw a reliable trend line.

By almost every measurement, home prices have pretty much stagnated since February and March. But what's wrong with a little stagnation? Considering the housing market's concrete galoshes — foreclosure-strapped homes account for about half of all sales — prices are hanging tough.

Plateauing sure beats plunging.

James Thorner can be reached at jthorner@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3313.

Short-term home price changes: one lousy trend indicator 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 8:36pm]
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