By the numbers
8,316 Homes and condos listed for sale in Pinellas County
9,981 Homes and condos listed in Hillsborough County
1,638 Listings for homes at $140,000 to $159,000 in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties
37% Decrease from a year ago in those moderately priced homes.
The amount of Tampa Bay area real estate for sale has fallen to levels not seen for almost six years.
"I think this one stat is a bright spot in an otherwise uncertain market," said Tim Wilmath, director of valuation for the Hillsborough property appraiser.
Pinellas County listings for homes and condos fell last month to 8,316, a level last seen in December 2005. In Hillsborough County, the 9,981 listings were the lowest total seen since January 2006.
Real estate experts say a healthy inventory supply is six months, meaning it would take about six months to sell all the inventory that is currently on the market. The lower the supply, the stronger the market.
Hillsborough's supply peaked at 25 months in January 2008; Pinellas' at 18 months in March 2007. Today, Hillsborough's supply is 5.8 months; Pinellas', 7.1 months.
In normal times, declining inventory would have homeowners rushing to drive "For Sale" signs in their lawns to snatch rising prices and multiple offers. But these days, even with mortgage rates at record lows, many homeowners have seen comparable properties in their neighborhoods go for a song and are hesitant to battle with the discounted prices of foreclosed and short-sale houses.
"I'm not replacing my listing inventory," said Craig Beggins, owner of Century 21 Beggins Enterprises in Apollo Beach. "The only people selling right now are the ones who have to sell."
The inventory decline is statewide.
Miami listings are down 49 percent from one year ago. Fort Myers, 42 percent; Orlando, 46 percent; Sarasota-Bradenton, 32 percent. That compares to the 33 percent drop in Tampa Bay.
But the good news may not last.
Some experts predict that lenders will start putting more homes on the market from the shadow inventory. These are homes that have already been seized by a lender but not listed for sale. The shadow inventory could further depress prices if banks put at lot of homes up for sale at once.
John Tucillo, chief economist at Florida Realtors, said the inventory of less expensive homes has shrunk, but the market is still saturated with higher-priced homes. "You're almost getting a bifurcated market," he said. "We're seeing shortages in some price ranges."
Moderately priced homes are disappearing from the market.
Listings decreased 37 percent in the $140,000 to $159,000 price range in Hillsborough and Pinellas ounties. The figure fell from 2,587 in September 2010 to 1,638 last month, according to data from the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors and Pinellas Realtor Organization.
Tony Delgado, an agent with Homeward Real Estate in South Tampa, said it's becoming harder to find homes priced around $150,000. He said one of his clients took nine months to find a home on a deal closing this week.
"People are just giving up on selling their homes," he said.
The dwindling supply in Tampa Bay area has not done much to raise sales or median prices of single-family homes. But the gaps are closing when compared year-over-year.
Sales were higher in six of nine months this year compared to the same months in 2010. A federal tax credit artificially inflated the figures in the three higher months in 2010.
In January, the median price was $110,000, 16 percent lower than the $130,500 media price in January 2010. In September, the gap closed by going from $130,100 in 2010 to $126,900 last month.
And a sliver of good news emerged last week about the Sunshine State's housing market.
Florida, among the hardest-hit when the housing market imploded, appears to be stabilizing, according to a report from the real-estate website Realtor.com.
Across the country, the largest year-over-year increase in September's median list prices occurred in five Florida markets: Fort Myers, Miami, Naples, Sarasota-Bradenton and Punta Gorda, the report said.
Still, Delgado, an agent for 22 years, fears the inventory will eventually rise again as banks put more distressed properties on the market, driving prices down again.
He added: "That's going to have a negative impact and drive more people into foreclosure."
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.