Here's a sliver of good news for the local housing market: Tampa Bay did not record the nation's biggest drop in home values during the first quarter.
For years, Tampa Bay has been No. 1 in most lists of plunging home values and other negative housing news. The region still ranks among the worst. But, in what passes for good news these days, it's no longer the worst.
From January to March, seven of the largest 25 metros areas had larger house price declines than Tampa Bay's 3.8 percent drop, according to a report released today by housing tracker Zillow.com. It said the median value of homes in Tampa Bay fell to $107,200.
The new No. 1 on the list was Detroit, where median home prices fell 5.2 percent.
Statewide, Orlando dropped 2.9 percent; Miami-Fort Lauderdale fell 1.8 percent; and Sarasota remained flat. Of the 137 regions tracked by Zillow, only three showed rising house values: Fort Myers, 2.4 percent; Honolulu and Champaign-Urbana, Ill., rose less than 1 percent.
Nationally, home values slipped 3 percent to $169,000.
Is the worst over in the Sunshine State?
The housing market will not stabilize completely until more new jobs are created, said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. It's not surprising, he said, that other regions are now recording bigger value declines than Florida, since the state rose faster than others during the housing boom.
"The quicker they rise, the harder they fall," he said.
Snaith acknowledged that the lower declines are good for the state.
"Anything is better than what we went through," he said. "We've endured a significant amount of pain. Prices are still falling, and we really haven't seen the stabilization."
Since the real estate market peaked in 2006, bay area values have plummeted 50.6 percent to levels last seen in November 2001. Values fell 10.9 percent in the bay area from March 2010, Zillow reported.
The percentage of Tampa Bay homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth now stands at 59.8, a 10.7 percent jump from last March.
With the threat of more foreclosures and values falling, Zillow revised its housing forecast: The market will hit bottom not this year, but next.
"Home value declines are currently equal to those we experienced during the darkest days of the housing recession," said Stan Humphries, Zillow's chief economist. "With accelerating declines during the first quarter, it is unreasonable to expect home values to return to stability by the end of 2011."
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.