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Tampa Bay home sales soar in March; highest level since 2005

Published Apr. 23, 2015

Tampa Bay home sales hit a torrid pace in March, rocketing in some areas to the highest levels in years.

In Hillsborough County, year-over-year sales of single family homes, condos and townhomes shot up 25 percent.

In Pinellas, March was the second busiest month in 10 years, exceeded only by sales during March 2005, right before the housing boom hit its peak.

And in the greater Tampa Bay metro area, which includes Pasco and Hernando counties, more than 5,500 homes, townhomes and condos traded hands in March, the most in any part of Florida except for Miami-Dade.

"It's all very strong, I don't see any area of weakness,'' Charles Richardson, regional senior vice president of Coldwell Banker, said Wednesday of Tampa Bay's housing market. "You don't see any areas that are stalling. If homes are priced well today, they are selling.''

Richardson offered a small caveat: "When you start measuring year over year, it's always good to keep in perspective what the previous year was. Last year we had a pretty slow start so we're measuring against not a great quarter last year but conversely there are a lot of buyers in the marketplace and it's been a very strong selling period.''

Between February and March, Coldwell Banker saw an almost 50 percent jump in visits to its website, FloridaMoves.com. Much of the increased traffic came from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — all states that suffered through an unusually long and harsh winter.

"You have people looking at Florida that probably would not have if they hadn't shoveled snow off their roofs all winter,'' Richardson said.

In Pinellas County, 2,046 homes, townhomes and condos sold in March — almost identical to the figures during the boom period a decade ago.

"On the beaches, what we're seeing is that places in the $300,000 to $800,000 category are just flying off the shelves,'' said Alex Jansen, CEO of Coastal Properties Group International, a Christie's subsidiary. "Inland, your (bank-owned) homes up to $150,000 are going just as quick unless totally trashed, and places $300,000 to $500,000 in nice tract neighborhoods like East Lake Woodlands and Lansbrook are moving very well."

Could that mean another bust is in the making?

"I can attest to the fact that a lot of people last week at our company meeting were saying it kind of feels like 2005 again, kind of scary,'' Jansen said. "What's different now is more people are paying in cash and getting mortgages is much more difficult.''

Prices also are rising more slowly than they did a decade ago, when they shot up as much as 25 percent in a year. The median price of single family homes sold in Pinellas and Hillsborough in March was $180,000 — just a 10.4 percent increase from March 2014 and $2,000 less than in July, according to a Coldwell Banker analysis.

"We're not in a bubble market,'' Richardson said. "We didn't see a big run up in prices like we did in the 2004 and 2005 area where everybody was betting on appreciation and buying at any price. It's not a rapidly appreciating market, it's a stabilized market. Prices have pretty much got to where there's enough buyers and enough sellers that there's equilibrium.''

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For Florida as a whole, sales of single-family homes soared almost 25 percent in March while condo sales were up almost 14 percent. The only area without a double-digit sales gain was Naples/Marco Island, where sales rose less than 1 percent. But the $419,500 median price was by far the highest in Florida.

"If there is concern in (Florida's) market, it lies in the upper middle price ranges, where inventories and time on the market are up even though sales growth is strong,'' said John Tuccillo, chief economist for Florida Realtors. "This will bear watching over time.''

Nationally, sales of existing homes, townhomes and condos in March rose to their highest annual rate in 18 months.

"After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March,'' said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. "The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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