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September home sales surged in Tampa Bay, nation

The local market is “very strong — sort of amazingly, doesn’t-make-any-sense kind of strong,” said one St. Petersburg Realtor.

Home sales typically slow down toward the end of the year, but this September — even as the coronavirus stubbornly maintains its grip — they surged ahead of last year’s numbers, according to new figures released Thursday.

Nationwide, sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condos and co-ops were 20.9 percent higher than last September, and 9.4 percent higher than August, the National Association of Realtors said.

“Home sales flourished this past month, even as we contend with an ongoing and unforgiving pandemic,” said Vince Malta, the association’s president, who also expressed his pride that the real estate industry is continuing to move the national economy forward.

The association’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, attributed the early autumn strength to record-low interest rates “and an abundance of buyers in the marketplace, including buyers of vacation homes given the greater flexibility to work from home.”

Tampa Bay’s local market similarly charged ahead of last year’s sales numbers in September, according to new figures released by Florida Realtors. Year-over-year, the increases in each local county were as follows: Pinellas by nearly 12 percent, Hillsborough by about 10 percent, Pasco by 16 percent and Hernando by 25 percent.

That comes after an August where local sales numbers appeared to be flattening following a robust summer, and Hillsborough’s figures were actually lower year-over-year.

Related: While national home sales increased in August, Tampa Bay’s numbers were mixed

As the inventory shortage persists — active listings were down more than 40 percent in all four counties, making Tampa Bay’s shortage even more severe than the national average — prices were being driven up at a rapid clip. Pinellas' September median sales price was the highest in the area, at $320,000, which was nearly 18 percent higher than the median price one year ago.

Hillsborough’s median price was $294,900, a 15 percent year-over-year increase; Pasco’s was $264,900, up 12 percent; and Hernando’s was $213,000, also up 12 percent.

Yun, the National Association of Realtors economist, said homebuilders are starting to ramp up supply to ease the pressure, “but a need for even more production still exists.”

The local market is “very strong — sort of amazingly, doesn’t-make-any-sense kind of strong,” said Ann Rogers, a St. Petersburg broker associate at Foresite Residential Real Estate. She’s been selling homes in Tampa Bay since 1994, and said the frenzy of the current market gives her pause.

“It feels a lot like 2007,” she said.

Rogers said she put in an offer for a downtown St. Petersburg condo last week at a price that was $35,000 more than the current owners had paid. They bought it six months ago.

Rogers especially noted a divide between the high-end market and lower-priced homes, a divide that’s been apparent in sales figures since the market recovered after its spring slump.

The higher price ranges still fuel the year-over-year gains, while sales of homes priced at $250,000 or less are largely down. In September, there was a 123 percent increase in the number of $1 million-plus homes that sold in Pinellas, for example, and a 105 percent increase in Hillsborough sales in the range of $600,000 to $999,999.

Meanwhile, Rogers said she’s seen some people in middle- and lower-income brackets making “practical moves."

“There are a lot of people moving in with their parents,” Rogers said. “One person may have lost their job so they’re saying, ‘I can work from anywhere so why don’t we move, and you can take care of mom and dad.'”

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