Sales of single family-homes in the Tampa Bay area plunged in December as prices again rose.
In one good sign for buyers, though, the supply of available homes continued to inch up, with Pinellas County having its largest supply in at least three years.
The bay area market reflected those statewide and nationally, both of which saw a slump in sales as the year ended. The December numbers are partly a result of higher interest rates during much of 2018.
"The housing market is obviously very sensitive to mortgage rates,'' Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, said Tuesday. "Softer sales in December reflected … contract signing activity in previous months when mortgage rates were higher than today. Now, with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring."
Eric Sain, president of Florida Realtors, also saw a silver lining in December's figures.
"Florida's housing sector is continuing to show signs that inventory levels are finally easing in many local markets after being constrained for a long time," he said. "Improving inventory and interest rates that, though rising remain historically low, offer a good opportunity for homebuyers who have been waiting on the sidelines.''
Pasco had the biggest drop in year-over-year sales, plunging 13.7 percent as the median price rose a scant 2.3 percent to $220,000. Other figures released today by Florida Realtors:
Hillsborough: Sales down 12.8 percent, prices up 5.8 percent to $249,900.
Pinellas: Sales down 8.6 percent, prices up 4.2 percent to $249,900.
Hernando: Sales up 4.8 percent, prices up 6 percent to $174,900
For the second consecutive month, Pinellas had a three-month supply of homes. That was the most since December 2015, the furthest back that records go. Inventory in Hernando was also at three months while Pasco and Hillsborough had less. A five-month supply is considered a "balanced'' market that favors neither buyers nor sellers.
The top price paid for a Tampa Bay home in December was $6.399 million for a three-bedroom, three-bath house with 100 feet of white sandy beach in Redington Beach. The price was also the third highest for any home sold in the bay area last year.
In Tampa's gated Avila community, a six-bedroom, six-bath brick house went for $2.7 million in Hillsborough's most expensive sale of the month. The home, on the seventh green of Avila's golf course, was built in 1987 but renovated since then.
"It has the most beautiful view in Avila, overlooking both the golf course and the lake,'' said Dianne Martin, the listing agent. Unlike previous years, though, neither it nor any other house in Avila made the Tampa Bay Times list of the 25 most expensive homes sold in 2018.
"Older ones suffer a bit if they haven't been renovated,'' Martin said. "Prices for updated ones are inching up though not like in South Tampa.''
In Pasco's New Port Richey, a buyer paid $1.05 million for a six-bedroom, five-bath waterfront estate on two lots. And in Hernando, December's priciest sale was $490,00 for a lakefront home in Brooksville.
Statewide, sales of single-family homes plunged almost 10 percent. Prices rose 4.2 percent to a median of $255,000.
Nationally, sales of existing homes — condos and townhomes as well as houses — dropped 10.3 percent after two consecutive months of increases. Prices rose almost 3 percent to $253,600, the 82nd straight month of year-over-year gains.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.