Despite a slowdown toward year's end, Tampa Bay home sales in 2015 continued a strong recovery from the darkest days of the housing crash.
A total of 46,512 single-family homes sold last year in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco counties, a 39 percent increase from 2012.
Prices also rebounded dramatically, from just $129,000 four years ago to a median of $180,000 last month.
"It was the best year we've ever had,'' said Realtor Bonnie Strickland, who made a "scary jump" in 2015 when she and her team left a Re/Max agency in St. Petersburg to start her own brokerage. "We closed over $85 million (in sales); the year before we were just north of $75 million."
Throughout the entire bay area, though, sales couldn't maintain the torrid pace set early in 2015. In February, sales jumped nearly 29 percent over the same month a year before; in December, they rose just 3.3 percent from December 2014.
"The market, as we start the new year, is a little tight on inventory," said Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president for Coldwell Banker. "At the lower end of the market, there's just a lot more demand than supply."
In Pinellas, for example, there was less than a 31/2-month supply of homes for sale as of Jan. 1 compared to an inventory of more than four months a year earlier.
Statewide, the Florida Realtors organization expects sales of existing homes to rise about 8 to 10 percent this year, accompanied by a 5 percent increase in home values.
"While these figures are still well above the long-term historical trends, they suggest a somewhat calmer year in Florida's residential real estate market compared to last year," said Brad O'Connor, the organization's chief economist. "Mortgage rates are expected to rise for the first time in the past few years, by about 1 percentage point in our estimation … but rates will still be historically low, so the overall impact will be slight."
One well-known Tampa Bay Realtor, though, is not so bullish on the outlook for 2016.
"The beginning of this year doesn't seem to have the same type of energy that last year had," said Andrew Duncan of Tampa's Duncan Duo & Associates.
Duncan, who has a Sunday morning radio show on real estate, said wild swings in stock prices and uncertainty over who will be the next U.S. president could have a chilling effect on the housing market.
"I've talked to friends around the country," he said, "and I don't want to say the 'R' word, but there's concern about a slowdown. My friends in Miami say the market for higher-end stuff there is just dead — there's millions of dollars of inventory not moving, whereas at this time last year, everything was gangbusters."
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The Tampa Bay area, though, doesn't have the huge condominium glut that Miami does. Demand continues to be strong for higher-end condos along the Pinellas beaches and in downtown St. Petersburg, where no units are available in some of the most sought-after condo towers.
Bay area luxury sales in general show signs of picking up. Although there were no sales above $5 million last year, an estate in Belleair Shore sold this month for $6.4 million while two more homes — one on Tampa's Davis Islands, the other in Belleair — are under contract for well above $5 million.
The biggest demand, though, will continue to be for moderately priced homes.
"In the luxury market, people buy because they want to have that house, but when you get in the $200,000-to-$250,000 range, those people have to have a home, they're not just buying on a whim," Thorn said. "Interest rates are still low, and they don't have as much money tied up in the stock market, so a better investment is a home."
For single-family homes, Hernando led the way with a year-over-year gain of 16.9 percent in the number of sales, followed by Pinellas at 3.4 percent, Pasco at 2.6 percent and Hillsborough basically flat.
Hillsborough, though, had the highest median price — $211,000 — trailed by Pinellas at $186,450, Pasco at $167,000 and Hernando at $129,000.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.