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Tampa Bay area home sales dip in May, but prices rebound

After rallying for eight straight months, Tampa Bay home sales stumbled in May.

Single-family home sales totaled 2,243, down 1.2 percent from the 2,270 sales recorded in May 2008, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. It's also fewer than the 2,326 home closings in April.

But on the home price front, the trajectory has been positive. In May, Tampa Bay's median home sales price reached its 2009 peak. It rose to $141,100, up from $135,200 in April.

"We hit some great numbers in Hillsborough County. We moved 1,440 units and the median sales price was back up," said Deborah Farmer of StarLight Realty, past president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. "I never thought I'd see the day when I could say, 'Back up.' "

May's sales crimp appeared as the government's housing stimulus lost some of its tickle. Mortgage rates rose unexpectedly in late May from their April lows. An Obama administration foreclosure prevention plan designed to help at least 2 million homeowners has enlisted fewer than 20,000 so far.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, cast blame on banks forced to reject loans based on low appraisals.

"Pending home sales indicated much stronger activity, but some contracts are falling through from faulty valuations that keep buyers from getting a loan," Yun said.

"In the past month, stories of appraisal problems have been snowballing from across the country with many contracts falling through at the last moment."

Another possible explanation for the local slippage in sales: Foreclosure homes, a mainstay of the market for most of this year, didn't sell as well in May as they did in April.

For example, in Pinellas County, bank-owned homes represented 24 percent of sales in March and 22 percent of sales in April. But in May, that number declined to 20 percent. That could also explain why prices steadied: fewer foreclosure homes to suppress housing values.

"While one month of data does not a trend make, it is the first green shoot we have seen in some time as far as prices are concerned," said Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida. "Until prices stop declining, we cannot state with confidence that the housing market has stabilized."

Overall sales in Florida rose 16 percent year over year, from 12,044 to 13,921. Prices statewide fell 29 percent, from $203,800 last year to $144,400 in May. Driving much of the business were sales surges in places like Orlando and Cape Coral/Fort Myers.

Though Orlando housing prices stood a hair over Tampa's, sales there soared 31 percent in May. Home closings in Fort Lauderdale rose 47 percent last month.

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

U.S. sales inch up

Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes rose by 2.4 percent from April to May — the third monthly increase this year — but the results missed analysts' expectations. The National Association of Realtors said Tuesday that home sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 4.77 million, up from a downwardly revised rate of 4.66 million in April. About one in three homes sold last month was a foreclosure or distressed sale, dragging down the median price to $173,000.

Tampa Bay area home sales dip in May, but prices rebound 06/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 7:28am]
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