Call them stable. Call them stagnant. Call them lackluster.
But Tampa Bay area home sales, dragged down by tight credit and weak population growth, will be anything but spectacular over the next four years, according to a housing forecast released Tuesday by Florida economist Hank Fishkind.
Between now and 2012, Fishkind predicts flat or modestly weaker home sales in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties and a gradual sales increase in Hillsborough County.
In Fishkind's view, prices will slowly rise as the market consumes the surplus that's kept the "for sale" listings clogged with more than 30,000 homes. The average price increase through 2012 will range from a 9.1 percent in Hernando County to 17.2 percent in Pasco County.
"As the inventory gets absorbed, prices will stabilize," Fishkind said Tuesday.
Fishkind places little faith in the Baby Boomer retiree wave that's supposed to re-energize housing sales. While a national economic recovery is possible by the end of 2009, many retirees won't have the means to afford a big move. He joked that baby boomers' 401Ks have become 101Ks.
"It will take time for people in the Midwest and Northeast, which are the main sources of Florida's population growth, to recognize and act on changing economic conditions," Fishkind said. "As a result, Florida is unlikely to experience expanded migration until the middle of 2010, at best."
Unlike many forecasters, Fishkind doesn't expect a new tsunami of home foreclosures in 2009. Foreclosures are still rising but at a diminishing rate, he said. His greatest fear is that the area will suffer a meltdown in commercial real estate, mostly shopping centers and offices. Hillsborough County, which Fishkind described as grossly overbuilt, could feel it worse. "That will be the big story of 2009," he said.
Fishkind's yearly forecast, sponsored by Attorneys' Title Insurance Fund, flopped in 2008. Last year's report predicted Florida home sales of 320,608, 42 percent higher than the 225,810 that actually sold. Fishkind said he learned from that mistake.
"As I told my wife, I'm one of the only ones stupid enough to publish my predictions," he said. "I failed to anticipate the financial panic. I'm not trying to make excuses, but I think it's a failure of my profession."