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A prime time to buy a house?

"Now is a good time to buy a house!" The Tampa Bay area Realtors who favor this mantra tend to repeat it to me with a mixture of bubbliness and bile.

By James Thorner, Times Staff Writer
Published November 5, 2007


"Now is a good time to buy a house!" The Tampa Bay area Realtors who favor this mantra tend to repeat it to me with a mixture of bubbliness and bile.

The bubbliness is a salesperson's talent for talking up a shaky housing market. The bile stems from their belief that the media have been talking down the same market. Is it a good time to buy? Let's start with economists tuned to the housing market:

- Jan Hatzius, economist at Goldman Sachs: Florida homes could depreciate 30 to 40 percent from their peak in 2005-2006. The slide could last two more years in Florida, Hatzius said, though he didn't rate the Tampa market.

- The S&P/Shiller-Case home price index: Last week's report ranked Tampa the worst nationally for home price declines at 10 percent. "The fall in home prices is showing no real signs of a slowdown or turnaround," study director Robert Shiller said.

- Lawrence Yun: As staff economist of the National Association of Realtors, he tends to cultivate rosier assessments. Yet even he predicted several poor months before home sales turn around. He cited banks clamping down on risky mortgage lending.

So is it time to start hunting for bargains? Now is a good time to shop for a house, if not to buy.

Some prices are probably flirting with the bottom: Houses repossessed by the bank. Properties dumped by their overburdened owners. New home builders closing out inventory.

On the other hand, beware of miserable deals offered by sellers trying to spin gold from a leaden market. You see plenty of people trying to flip condos and houses for twice what they paid in 2004. Some would call it a fair exchange. Others would call it profiteering.

Realtors have it right on one point. Holdouts will return to the market. Some will time it right; others will miss it and pay more.

This is spoken by a guy who avoided the stock market after 2002. It could never rise again, could it?

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or 813 226-3313. Read (Un)Real Estate at blogs.tampabay.com/realestate.