Tampa Bay homes prices soared 20 percent in January, the third-largest gain in all of Florida.
The dramatic year-over-year increase, exceeded only by those in the Fort Myers and Port St. Lucie areas, was caused in large part by a continuing shortage of homes for sale, which is driving up prices.
"There are a lot of buyers out there, but the inventory remains tight," Charles Richardson, regional vice president of Coldwell Banker, said Tuesday. Homes under $500,000 that are priced right and in good shape make up what he calls the "hottest segment of the market" and can easily spark bidding wars.
"Somebody will lose out on an offer one time, then they realize that sellers are not deeply discounting in today's market," Richardson said.
The median price of single-family homes — which make up by far the biggest share of the residential market — jumped 23.6 percent in Pinellas to $193,500; 21.3 percent in Hillsborough to $194,000; 16.6 percent in Pasco to $142,000; and 23.8 percent in Hernando to $130,000. (The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.)
All four counties had well under a three-month inventory of available homes.
Re/Max Metro agent Julia Brazier has a client who is moving back to the bay area from up North and is frustrated by the scant supply.
"He's like, 'Where are the houses?' " Brazier said. She added that while he would prefer to buy in Tampa close to his work, his wife favors the other side of the bay.
"She said, 'I think our potential for investment is going to be higher in St. Pete than in Tampa,' " Brazier said. "Tampa is going to catch up (because of ) all the new city center features, but right now St. Petersburg is Tampa's prettier younger sister."
In the bay area overall, the supply of homes available in January dropped 18.6 percent below its level a year ago, according to a report Tuesday by the online real estate site Zillow. That tight inventory is driving up home values at twice the rate of rents, it said.
The most expensive home sold in January was a gulffront estate in Belleair Shore that went to a California couple in a $6.4 million cash deal. It was the first bay area sale above $5 million since the summer of 2014.
In Hillsborough County's priciest purchase, another California couple paid $3.18 million cash for a home on a large, wooded waterfront site in the Ballast Point area of South Tampa. The couple, who had family ties to the bay area, likely will tear down the 59-year-old house and build another, said agent Alayna Sherwood of Premier Sotheby's International.
"South Tampa is doing well," Sherwood said, adding that goes for the market in general. "Things are moving pretty quickly when priced accurately."
Pasco's top seller in January was a 69-acre estate on the Anclote River in New Port Richey that went for $1.65 million. And in Hernando, the biggest sale was $425,000 for a home overlooking the 13th hole of the Southern Hills golf course in Brooksville.
As the spring shopping season approaches, Zillow identified the best Tampa Bay areas for buyers and sellers by analyzing the number of days that listings spent on its website and the percentage of homes with a price cut.
The findings: If you're planning to sell your home, you're likely to sell faster and closer to your asking price if you live in Holiday, Safety Harbor, Indian Shores, Dunedin or the Egypt Lake-Leto area of Tampa.
If you're buying a home, you're apt to negotiate the best deals in Belleair, North Weeki Wachee, South Pasadena, Ruskin and Plant City, Zillow says.
Canadians, who traditionally make up the bay area's largest share of foreign buyers by far, are largely absent from the market this year because their dollar is worth just 73 cents against the U.S. dollar. But Richardson of Coldwell Banker said this could be a prime time for Canadians who want to sell homes they bought in the bay area three or four years ago.
"They can get the benefit of a favorable exchange rate on this side," he said. "We had one Canadian that sold and improved their position on the property by almost $50,000, so it's got a big impact."
Statewide, sales of single-family homes rose 2.7 percent while the median price jumped 13.7 percent to $199,000. January marked the 50th month in a row that the statewide median price rose year-over-year.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.