Tampa Bay area home sales have spent two years grasping for a ledge to arrest the plunge into the canyon.
The bad news? Better stock up on more picks and ropes: January home sales in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties fell by 24 percent from a year earlier. Prices slid 15 percent in the same interval.
The good news? The regional plunge to the bottom may be nearly over.
Home sales totaled 1,235 last month in the three counties, the Florida Association of Realtors said. That's 24 percent below the 1,627 homes that sold in January 2007 and 59 percent below peak January sales of 2,995 in 2005. Reflecting a glut of more than 40,000 houses and condos for sale on the market, median home sales prices declined from $220,100 to $187,100 the past year.
But insiders like Deborah Farmer of Star Light Realty are starting to detect a possible path out of the depths. She's president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, which shed about 1,200 members the past year.
Economic trends suggest local home sales are bottoming, Farmer said, and last month's voter approval of property tax reform will cut the cost of homeownership.
"I talk to 100 Realtors a week, and 90 percent of them are going, 'Yeah, we're picking up,' " Farmer said.
The Tampa Bay housing market didn't take the worst beating in January. Miami, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville all had steeper sales declines.
And evidence from the housing market to our south suggests our home sales descent could cease this year.
Sarasota-Bradenton home sales rose 4 percent from January 2007 to January 2008, stopping what had been a half-year slide in year-to-year sales. Sarasota's housing downturn started in the first half of 2005, at least six months before the bubble burst in Tampa.
As for a home price recovery, expert opinion is less optimistic. Housing boom prices exceeded rents and incomes so much that a few years of stagnation are in order, said University of Florida economics professor David Denslow.
"Look at San Diego and other boomtowns," Denslow said. "In those places you have six to seven years of declines followed by six to seven years of boom. That could become our pattern."
Pasco County had the worst year-over-year homes sales decline at 28 percent. It was followed by Pinellas at 25 percent and Hillsborough at 21 percent.
James Thorner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or