Tampa Bay's housing market continued to bloom last month amid the best spring selling season in years, but tight supplies of homes for sale are squeezing hopeful buyers out of deals, new Realtors data show.
Nearly 3,200 local homes sold last month, making it Tampa Bay's busiest sales month in seven years, multiple listing service data show. And the typical buyer signed a contract within a month, the fastest pace of deal-making since the boom.
With so much demand, the supply of homes for sale has failed to keep up, sparking bidding wars and rapid-fire sales.
The number of months it would take the market to sell out with no new homes for sale plunged to four months in Pinellas and three months in Hillsborough, far below what Realtors said is a healthy six-month supply.
"I don't think the average homeowner really understands how low our inventory is, and how great the demand is," Re/Max Bay to Bay agent Rae Catanese said. "It is extremely frustrating for buyers. It's too low, it's unhealthy, and I don't know if that's going to change any time soon."
The typical Tampa Bay home sold for $150,000 last month, 15 percent higher than April 2012, data show. Rising prices have helped once-underwater homeowners resurface with equity and convinced reluctant buyers to return to the market.
But often they clash with aggressive investors, who win over sellers with all-cash deals. Half of Tampa Bay's home sales last month went to cash offers, data show, and Realtors said prospective home buyers with loans can rarely compete.
"Lots of times we run into people who already lost out on one or two deals and are now incredibly motivated to purchase," Keller Williams agent Lonnie Orns said. Added Catanese: Buyers "can make an offer within an hour, but even that's no guarantee."
Tampa Bay home sales have steadily grown since the housing bust, surging dramatically since January 2008, when barely 1,000 homes sold. But market prices remain a shadow of the ballooned summer of 2006, when the typical home sold for about $100,000 more.
Florida has seen 16 straight months of year-over-year price gains, and home sales statewide jumped 17 percent over last year, the Florida Realtors said Wednesday.
Home sales across the country also sped up last month to their quickest pace since November 2009, when the market spiked due to the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, the National Association of Realtors said. American home prices have increased year-over-year for 14 months in a row.
As prices climb, more and more home sellers are joining the market out of choice, not distress. Foreclosures and short sales accounted for about a third of Tampa Bay's home sales last month, down 6 percent from April 2012.
Cheap credit has also helped entice buyers to the market, with the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage falling to 3.45 percent, mortgage giant Freddie Mac said. That's down from 3.91 percent in April 2012.
Yet in the wake of the recession, Realtors said, even stable homebuyers are being turned away from tightfisted banks with rigorous restrictions for handing out loans.
"The robust housing market recovery is occurring in spite of tight access to credit and limited inventory," Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. The only way to "tame price growth to a manageable, healthy pace" unhindered by scant supplies, he added, would be quicker construction of new homes.
In Tampa Bay, builders broke ground on nearly 1,500 homes in the first three months of the year, 46 percent more than the same time last year, construction research firm Metrostudy said. By the end of March, 3,600 homes were under construction or finished and awaiting buyers.
But surges of construction for restarted subdivisions and new homes, agents said, have provided little breathing room for the feverish existing-home market.
"Every time something comes on the market and it's decent, there's instantly five or six other offers," broker Melody Stang said. "It's hard for the buyers to really find a decent house. … It feels like 2003 to me, all over again."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.