Remembering 2013, the year Tampa Bay's housing market came alive

Published Jan. 8, 2014

Wave farewell to a banner year for Tampa Bay's housing market.

More than 35,000 homes sold here last year, the most since 2005, a Tampa Bay Times analysis of listing data shows.

And the median home sold for $155,000, the highest price since 2008.

After years of fits and starts in the shadow of the housing bust and Great Recession, 2013 gave plenty of reason to believe a recovery here was under way.

Though local home prices and sales have cooled from the hard-charging sellers' market of early last year, home values have stayed high.

Each month's median sales price last year averaged 18 percent higher than the year before, data show. Even the lowest-priced month in 2013 did better than the best month in 2011.

Rising prices here helped buoy homeowners owing more in loans than their homes were worth. More than 100,000 homes here resurfaced with equity between 2012 and 2013, CoreLogic data show, as the rate of "underwater" homes here plunged from 45 to 30 percent.

That growth helped Tampa Bay, still one of the foreclosure capitals of the country, shift toward a healthier conventional market, sales data show. About 67 percent of Realtors' sales last year were nondistressed homes, up dramatically from 2011, when foreclosures and short sales ate up half the market.

Cripplingly tight supplies of homes for sale here finally loosened as sellers jumped at rising prices. The Greater Tampa Association of Realtors' inventory has grown every month since bottoming in March and, though still a sellers' market, is closer to keeping up with demand.

Tight supplies led to bidding wars and helped hasten new real estate deals. The typical home here last year went under contract 32 days after listing, the quickest since the bubble days of 2005, when buyers signed contracts in half the time.

But the year was not without its hurdles. First-time and move-up home buyers sparred — and often lost — for home sales with investors, whose cash deals made up 44 percent of local home sales last year. Also, dramatic flood insurance rate hikes began to scare buyers away.

Housing affordability slipped as home prices and mortgage rates rose. Interest rates for a typical 30-year loan nationwide are a full percentage point higher than they were last year, at about 4.5 percent, though they're still very low when compared to the last three decades.

More than 8,200 Tampa Bay condos sold last year, 5 percent more than 2012, listing data show. Median condo prices in 2013 grew to about $80,000, 13 percent higher than the year before.

In December alone, more than 2,800 Tampa Bay single-family homes sold at a median price of $164,000.

The median home sold here in 2013 was more than 1,700 square feet, the largest on record, continuing a decades-long trend toward the ever-expanding American home. With lenders imposing tough standards on whom they would give mortgages, those who bought also more often had the means and aims to buy bigger.

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As buyers reawakened, so too did home builders, newly confident and reinvigorated by tight inventories and looser credit. Builders pulled permits for 6,867 new single-family homes here, the most since 2007, census data show.

Developers, too, hoped to get in on the action as homeownership slid and rent rates climbed. Multifamily building permits for everything from duplexes to apartment compounds climbed to more than 4,500 units here, the most since 2005.

About two-thirds of new single-family homes started here last year were in Hillsborough County's expanding southern and eastern suburbia, data from construction firm Metrostudy show. A quarter of the homes were built among Pasco County's young and sprawling subdivisions.

So what's next for our suddenly spry home economy? Changes to federal loan-approval guidelines will allow former homeowners to buy within a year of foreclosure, and some agents say those "boomerang buyers" will set a new high-water mark since the bust.

Others worry rising mortgage rates will lead home sales into an "air pocket," or they worry slowdowns from once-active investors will drive the market to sputter and fall.

In 2013, "an influx of investors … exaggerated the turnaround in prices," Wells Fargo economists wrote in a report released Tuesday. "By contrast, the fundamentals underlying the demand for housing, job growth, income growth and household formations, have improved much more modestly."

Many, though, are optimistic that sinking unemployment and rising confidence will allow 2014's housing market to hit its stride, settling somewhere between the disastrous wasteland of the bust and 2013's exuberant rise. "I'm a lot more comfortable and confident in the marketplace now than I was nine months ago … when it felt like things were heating up a bit too much," said Mike Storey, president of building for Neal Communities, a Sarasota builder preparing for a big Hillsborough push in 2014. "Tempering is good for the market, good for business and good for buyers overall."

Drew Harwell can be reached at