Fewer short sales and investor purchases led Tampa Bay home sales to sputter last month, but rising prices and a stabilizing housing market could fuel a strong spring selling season, new listing data show.
About 2,900 homes here sold last month, down 7 percent from March 2013, extending a losing streak not seen here since 2007: Five of the past six months have seen sales drop lower than they were a year before.
But that dropoff is largely due to climbing median home prices, which hit $157,000 last month and which have beaten their year-ago levels for 27 months in a row.
Those climbing prices have turned away bargain-hunting investors who helped fuel last year's housing market. About 1,200 homes sold last month in all-cash deals, which investors prefer, compared with 1,500 in March 2013.
Rising prices have also helped "underwater" homeowners who owed more than the value of their home resurface with equity. About 225 homes sold last month as short sales, for less than their outstanding loans, compared with 500 in March last year.
Condo sales slipped 1 percent last month compared to March 2013, but median prices jumped 10 percent, to about $81,000, data show.
As the first month after the winter doldrums, March is seen as a key month for real estate agents. Last month saw 25 percent more home sales here than in February, My Florida Regional Multiple Listing Service data show.
And many of those sales came the old-fashioned way, not as short sales or foreclosures, which agents said was a sign the scars of the housing bubble are continuing to disappear. About 2,000 conventional sales were completed last month, about the same level as in March 2013.
"The market is stabilizing. The last of the short sales are pretty much gone, and (foreclosures) have slowed," said Brad Monroe, a Brandon-based broker associate with Pangea Realty Group. "The regular market is doing very well."
Some Realtors expect this selling year may be one of moderation, after last year's resurgent bounce off the bottom led to worries over a new housing bubble.
Mortgage rates have nudged upward, with a 30-year fixed loan averaging about 4.3 percent last month, compared to 3.5 percent last March.
Agents and buyers continue to struggle with tight inventories of homes on the market, as homeowners wait for even higher prices before listing their home for sale.
In a monthly survey by Credit Suisse, agents here said buyer traffic was lower than expected, with many running into problems securing loans from banks or scouring for too few homes.
Tight supplies of for-sale homes have helped bump prices higher, and agents said they expected them to keep climbing in coming months.
After a poor January and February, said Craig Beggins, the Apollo Beach-based broker of Century 21 Beggins Enterprises, March was "fantastic." "I've got people bouncing off the walls expecting the spring selling season to knock it out of the park."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]