Area home sales fell, but prices shot up


Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 10:58 p.m.

Sales of existing single-family homes in the Gainesville area plunged 21 percent in 2006, while the median price of homes locally jumped 19 percent — the largest increase in the state.

The average price of a home in the Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area — which consists of Alachua and Gilchrist counties — rose from $179,200 to $213,200.

The dip in home sales locally, agents say, came despite the fact that sales were still riding the crest of the 2004-05 nationwide investment wave through the first seven months of 2006. For the rest of '06, however, sales slowed to a near standstill.

Meantime, home sales are starting to pick up again, agents say.

Statewide sales were down 28 percent in 2006, while the median price was up 6 percent from $235,200 to $248,300.

USA Today reports that nationwide existing home sales were down 8.4 percent, a 17-year low, but the market probably hit bottom in September and is entering a slow recovery that will last until June, according to the National Association of Realtors. New home sales fell 17.8 percent, the biggest drop in 16 years, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

In the Gainesville MSA, 3,174 existing homes sold in 2006 compared to 3,993 in 2005.

Gainesville's stable university-driven economy is largely immune from national fluctuations, but Sherry Patrick, president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors, said the news affected buyers' moods. "The national media started saying every single real estate market in the country was in trouble and people started reading that and thought, 'I'll wait for that to bottom,' but it's not going to bottom here."

Many more potential investors were pulling out of contracts and deciding not to buy last year, according to Aaron Bosshardt, chief operations officer of Bosshardt Realty.

The slowdown in sales means more homes are on the market — currently 1,964 listed in Alachua County, Patrick said. "A year or two ago, there might be 700 to 800."

That means homes are on the market longer before being sold and buyers have more time to choose. "A few years ago, they'd run out with their Realtor when something came within their price range and they knew they had to make a move right away," Patrick said. "They were going to lose that house if they didn't make up their mind."

For the year, homes in the $100,000-$300,000 range in Alachua County's Multiple Listings Service were on the market 3.7 months, according to Steve Elwood, senior vice president with Coldwell Banker/M.M. Parrish. The wait went up for higher prices — 6.1 months in the $300,000-$500,000 range, 8.7 months for $500,000-$600,000 and 11.8 months for $600,000 to $1 million.

Sellers are offering more incentives or they have to price homes lower to sell, Bosshardt said.

Patrick said sellers are also doing more to spruce up homes. "Is your house so special that it's going to be the first one somebody's going to buy, or is it going to go in six months?" she said.

Although Alachua County's housing inventory may seem high, Elwood said the factors that matter — a buyer's price range and location requirements — may not leave many homes for a particular buyer to choose from.

At the same time, the current availability of new homes that are priced to sell tends to inhibit sellers of existing homes from getting as much as they'd like to, Elwood said.

Agents say the market is picking up and they're getting a lot more calls in recent weeks.

Chris Curry, agent with RE/MAX Professionals, said his office had 93 appointments in the previous three months but has already set 45 this month. He predicts 2007 will be the last good year for sales, however. "Because of all the other stuff going on, rates are going to go up in 2008. The election and everybody fighting back and forth. Builders are going to pull back more, sellers are waking up. Then it will flatten out for a long time."

Existing condominium sales were up 10 percent in the Gainesville MSA, from 1,171 to 1,284, and prices up 13 percent, from $135,300 to $153,400.

Curry said the sales increase is misleading because so many more condos that have been converted from apartments are on the market. At the beginning of the year, there were 1,000 condos on the market with 250 selling per month, while at the end of the year 3,300 were on the market with 50 selling per month. "Everyone saw the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and started condo-converting," he said.

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or 374-5094.

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