1. Business

Home sales and prices rise in Florida and Tampa Bay area

Florida home sellers, for a change, are gaining some leverage in the market.

The number of homes for sale in May was down 34 percent from a year ago, while the inventory of homes on the market has dwindled to a 5.5-month supply, down sharply from a near 10-month supply in May of 2011.

The result: Homes are selling 20 percent faster than a year ago, and sellers are getting closer to their asking prices.

Home sale prices rose to a median of $147,000, up 9 percent from a year ago and up 2 percent from April. A total of 18,723 single-family homes changed hands, up 7 percent from a year ago and up nearly 7 percent just from April.

That upswing doesn't appear to be slowing down, despite a new influx of foreclosures. The number of pending sales expected to close within 90 days was up 43 percent from a year ago for single-family homes and up 33 percent for townhomes and condos.

"The recovery in Florida's housing market and economy continues to grow stronger and stronger," said Summer Greene, a Fort Lauderdale Realtor and 2012 president of the Florida Realtors organization.

A similar pattern played out on a micro level.

The Greater Tampa Association of Realtors said median sales prices for single family homes have risen to $143,000, up almost 8 percent from last year. Two more numbers cheered by home sellers: Homes are selling after 41 days on the market on average, down from 67 days a year ago, and homes are fetching 92 percent of their original asking price.

The Pinellas Realtor Organization reported the median sales price at $135,000, up 16 percent from last year, with total home sales also up 16 percent. The group described houses in the $120,000 to $140,000 range as the "sweet spot" of the market, accounting for almost 10 percent of all closed sales in May.

Curtailed home building has helped shrivel the inventory of available Pinellas County homes to a 3.7 month supply, less than half the 8.2-month supply of a year ago. Real estate experts say a healthy inventory supply is six months, meaning it would take about six months to sell all the inventory that is currently on the market. The lower the supply, the stronger the market.

Nationally, home prices in May rose to $182,600, up 7.9 percent compared to a year ago. But the number of sales fell 1.5 percent to an annualized rate of 4.55 million units, still far below the rate of 6 million that economists consider healthy.