Florida home sales plunge, but prices steady

Published November 21, 2006

With home sales falling in the third quarter in 38 states, Florida has plenty of company in a housing crunch. But few of its neighbors up North are feeling the pain so acutely.

The National Association of Realtors reported Monday that the number of homes sold in Florida plummeted 34.2 percent in the third quarter, compared with the year-ago quarter. Only Arizona and Nevada fell harder, declining 36 and 38 percent, respectively. Nationally, the average decline was 12.7 percent.

And in the Tampa Bay area, third-quarter home sales decreased even more, by a whopping 43 percent, the Florida Association of Realtors said Monday.

But to buyers' dismay, prices aren't following the sharp downward spiral. The median sales price held steady across the state, at just less than $248,000. And in the Tampa Bay area, home prices increased 8 percent from a year ago, from $216,100 to $234,000. (Between the second and third quarters, however, the price increase was much more tepid, less than 1 percent.) Nationally, median prices fell 1.2 percent to $224,900.

Ann Guiberson, who is the president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization, and other real estate agents cited several reasons why prices haven't fallen proportionally.

One is that home sales here, though down dramatically from last year's red-hot market, are still very high.

"It's never going to look good compared to last year," Guiberson said. "That's one of the things that has been a little bit misleading."

Brad Monroe, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors and a managing broker for Coldwell Banker in New Tampa, said that his office sold as many homes in Tampa this October as it did in October 2003, which was its third-best year ever.

And while the prices might seem high, it's really a buyer's market, the Realtors said.

There are lots of houses to choose from. If the median prices seem high, they're probably being pushed up by big homes, which are still selling well, and people who have to buy because they're relocating.

"I can tell you this," said Bob Memoli, a broker-owner at Florida Luxury Realty in west Pasco, "that every day, I'm getting constant, big price reductions on homes."

That's cold comfort for first-time buyers who are comparing this year's prices to those from, say, five years ago. But the Realtors said that today's prices are sustainable and realistic. They've been driven up by rising costs for materials and construction. Also, in some areas - Pinellas especially - there's just no more room to build.

"You know what?" said Guiberson. "It's never going to get much cheaper."