Tampa Bay's housing market is recovering but is about a year behind other hard-hit regions across the country.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, told about 75 Realtors on Thursday that the bay area resembles markets like Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas that bottomed out last year.
He pointed to the 14.2 percent jump in year-to-date sales and the housing inventory of 6.2 months, down from 20 months a few years ago. The lower the supply, the more robust the market.
"It is a market that appears to be improving," Yun said at the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. "Buyers are much more active here. A genuine demand is appearing."
But the average price, Yun cautioned, of $159,227 is still down 7 percent from a year ago. The prices should rise as long as the supply remains relatively low, he added.
The declining inventory was good news to the 75 agents.
"This is almost back to a normal market of 4.5 months (supply)," said Jim Selvey, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. "It's a great improvement."
Despite the Sunshine State's lackluster economy, Yun offered optimism. Although Florida lost residents the past few years, he predicted thousands of retiring baby boomers will return the next few years. The southward migration, he said, is inevitable.
"A good chunk of baby boomers don't want to shovel snow," he said.
Nationally, he predicted sales of previously occupied homes to rise 4 percent this year. But the entire market could suffer greatly, he said, if a new federal initiative requires borrowers to pay more cash up front when getting the cheapest mortgages and interest rates.
Borrowers who don't meet certain income and debt ratios could be required to have a 20 percent down payment. The measure, which aims to prevent another foreclosure crisis, could be finalized in a year.
Yun said 60 percent of all potential buyers would be disqualified if they needed a 20 percent down payment. Tougher underwriting standards have solved many of the issues that led to the foreclosure crisis, he added.
Borrowers are being examined more closely, and only 1.2 percent of loans issued since 2009 have defaulted, Yun said.
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.