Tampa Bay's existing home sales rose 7 percent in November, climbing faster than both the state and the nation.
The bay area recorded 2,060 sales last month, compared with 1,923 in October, according to the latest housing data released Wednesday by Florida Realtors.
Statewide, sales were up only slightly from October to November with 11,900 single-family homes sold. Compared with November 2009, statewide sales decreased 15 percent, and local sales dropped 10 percent. Those decreases can, at least in part, be explained by the rush to meet the deadline for an $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit available last year. Congress later extended the benefit into 2010.
Wendell Davis, president of Florida Realtors, agreed that the tax credit could have skewed the November 2009 figures. He pointed out that this year's sales in November were higher than in November 2007 and 2008.
The flat numbers statewide, he said, are expected in November and December. He thinks sales will rise in the first quarter of 2011.
"We have not seen anything to indicate that this is a downward trend," he said.
Nick Fraser, owner of Remax All Star in Madeira Beach, didn't expect any big gains last month compared with the year before. He predicts a large inventory of houses to disappear from the market next year.
More sellers, he said, are lowering prices as the market remains tilted in favor of buyers. Buyers continue to make low-ball offers on multiple homes, he added, knowing that they can wait for the right price.
Sellers are becoming realistic, he said.
"I've noticed more motivation from them," Fraser said.
Florida sales are up 5 percent since January. The median home price across Florida is $132,700, and $125,000 in the bay area.
Foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies continue to plague the state's housing market. Nearly half of Floridians remain underwater on their mortgages, meaning they owe more than their house is worth.
Economist Sean Snaith of the University of Central Florida wrote in his quarterly report on Florida's financial health earlier this week: "Florida's spell in housing hell continues. I should actually say housing purgatory, since the housing market will not be in this state for eternity, but some may argue it may feel that way."
Snaith, and many other experts, predict the state's housing recovery will be long and slow.
"There will be no V-shaped recovery for housing in Florida," he wrote.
Nationally, existing homes sales rose 5.6 percent from October to November, according to the National Association of Realtors. Lawrence Yun, chief economist, is hopeful for 2011.
"Continuing gains in home sales are encouraging," he said. "The positive impact of steady job creation will more than trump some negative impact from a modest rise in mortgage interest rates, which remain historically favorable."
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459.