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Tampa Bay’s May home sales saw steepest declines of pandemic so far

But local Realtors say that a shortage of homes on the market has created a 'micro bubble' lately for those who still want to buy.

Single-family home sales in Tampa Bay plummeted in May at rates much higher than even April’s year-over-year declines as the pandemic continued to stunt the market, according to new figures released Monday by Florida Realtors.

Pinellas’ sales were down 46 percent compared to May 2019, while Hillsborough saw a 28 percent drop and Pasco slipped by 32 percent. Those drops were also steeper than the entire U.S. market, which saw an annual 26.6 percent drop in May, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Also unlike April, these drops affected nearly every price range. Previously, Hillsborough and Pasco both saw some pricier homes continue to be sold at rates higher than last year. But in May, the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic left virtually no price point unscathed, though the most dramatic drops were still in sales below $250,000.

Related: Lower-priced home sales hit hardest by pandemic in Tampa Bay, new numbers show

Local Realtors attributed the drops both to sellers’ hesitancy to allow strangers to tour their houses as well as buyers’ fears about financial stability.

Lance Williams, a Tampa Realtor, said he was working with a potential buyer who was ready to move forward with a purchase — until he found out he was being furloughed minutes before he signed the contract.

"There's still uncertainty," he said.

But there are also trends that have given Realtors reason for optimism. First, the median sales price in all three counties is continuing to go up year-over-year, indicating that the economic turmoil has still not affected home values.

Additionally, because so few sellers have been listing their homes, the ones that do get listed are selling quickly. The length of time homes are on the market in Tampa Bay before they’re sold has been down compared to last year for several months.

“It’s created almost a micro-bubble” of mid-priced homes, said St. Petersburg Realtor Renee Celli. “When sellers do decide to sell and they list their property at fair market value they’re getting multiple offers and getting offers way over the list price.”

Celli said she noticed this trend beginning in late May but it’s become especially pronounced this month. She recently had to use what’s called an “escalation clause” in making an offer on a home listed for $350,000, which means that the buyers offered the sellers $100 more than their highest offer up to $400,000.

They still didn't get the house.

“I’m advising (buyers) that unless you see something you have to have, maybe wait a month and see if this reaction cools down so you don’t find yourself overpaying,” she said.

Williams agreed that the rock bottom interest rates have some financially stable people realizing that "money is nearly free and now really is a good time to act."

“I think a lot of that is just personal perception,” he added. “If the world feels like everything is in a melee people will act that way. And if the world feels like it’s getting more secure people will act that way.”

But he cautioned that a second wave of coronavirus cases could alter this attitude. Florida has been breaking records for new infections in recent days as the economy continues to reopen.

“That is something everybody is wondering about,” he said. “I’m one of them.”

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