Florida home sales continue to rise as prices remain low

Florida home sales continue to rise as prices remain low



TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s plunging home prices sent sales soaring over the three months ending in September, the fifth straight quarter of higher-than-previous year sales, Florida Realtors reported Tuesday.

With median existing home prices tumbling to $145,400 for the third quarter —- $40,200 below where they were a year ago — sales jumped 33 percent as 44,345 homes sold.

Condos, whose median prices have dropped $54,000 in a year — to $106,100 — also had a sharp leap in sales. The 14,797 condos sold between June through September represented a 56 percent boost from 2008.

But with Florida unemployment rising to 11 percent during the fall, industry analysts say sales of foreclosed homes and other distressed properties continue to pull down median prices while also driving sales.

“Most economists think the recession is over, but people are afraid to spend money as unemployment keeps going up, which creates problems for every sector of the real estate market,” said Tim Becker, director of the University of Florida’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies.

Becker earlier told the News Service of Florida that declining home prices – while boosting sales for 13 consecutive months – are also contributing to the foreclosure rise.

Owners whose home values have dropped significantly — leaving them “under water” — have no incentive to continue paying mortgages and may let their homes lapse into what is termed a strategic foreclosure, Becker said.

The continuing tide of foreclosures, in turn, is making it difficult for to bring the state’s unsold housing inventory out of what most analysts say is an 18-month backlog.

Marla Martin, a spokeswoman for Florida Realtors, said that while home prices have dropped sharply, there are signs that the level of decline is lessening. The third-quarter median sales price of $145,400 was 1.25 percent higher than the previous sales price of $143,600.

“The price decline is moderating; the gap is lessening,” Martin said. “That’s a good sign.”

Across Florida, the latest quarterly report shows some of the region’s hardest hit are experiencing the best sales jump from a year ago. The Fort Myers-Cape Coral region, which has suffered some of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, had an 88 percent increase in existing single-family sales from 2008 — with 4,143 homes sold in the latest third quarter.

Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Ocala and the Port St. Lucie-Fort Pierce area all reported at least 40 percent more home sales through September than the previous year’s quarter.

All of Florida’s major metropolitan areas reported increases in existing home sales in the third quarter, compared to a year earlier. Condo sales also were up across most metro areas.