Area existing home sales fell 27% in 2008


Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 10:24 p.m.

Officials announced Monday that the state saw a 4 percent decline in existing home sales during 2008. The picture was much worse in the Gainesville market, where sales plunged 27 percent.

The Florida Association of Realtors said the Gainesville Metroplitan Statistical Area, which includes Alachua and Gilchrist counties, had 1,925 existing home sales in 2008, down from 2,644 in 2007.

The median price decreased 10 percent to $189,100.

Also released Monday were the sales figures for December 2008. During the month, Gainesville had a 32 percent dip in sales from the previous December - from 179 to 121 - but only a 4 percent decline in median price, to $180,700.

Craig McCall, president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors, said that although the sales numbers are down, he expects more buyers to enter the market as interest rates remain low and demand for housing increases.

McCall said he expects more activity in the local market, fueled by the University of Florida and the local medical community.

"It's a great time to buy. A lot of buyers are sitting on the fence, not sure of when funds from the federal bailout are going to hit Main Street," he said. "We are seeing more buyers visiting open houses, more leads coming from the Internet, and as UF and Santa Fe (College) make their announcements of acceptance, that should help increase the buyer pool."

McCall said the market won't bounce back to the peak levels of 2005 or 2006, but the long-term outlook is positive.

He said he is encouraged by President Obama's attention to the housing market and the effort to provide relief.

The area's condo market, which experienced a 71 percent nosedive in sales in 2008, had a 4 percent increase in median price, and McCall expects to see an upturn in that sector.

McCall, who attended a meeting of the Florida Association of Realtors over the weekend in Orlando, said the group's lead economist also predicts sales to pick up.

Aaron Bosshardt, president of Bosshardt Realty, said that while the area's real estate market is to some degree insulated, with the University of Florida and other state and county offices, "we need to be aware of cuts that may come with government because a lot of economy is based on it, and we have to be ready to overcome the obstacle."

The company just took over sales at Tower 24, a mixed-use development on SW 75th Street, and has seen increasing traffic to open houses in recent weeks.

He expects it may be March, April, May or even June before the local tone of the market is set. "I don't see a big bounce back because there has been a shift in consumer behavior. It's a big change from where we came from, and consumer confidence is not there," McCall said.

A survey of economic experts released last week by UF reports that confidence in the state's real estate market has plummeted.

In the report, Wayne Archer, executive director of UF's Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies, said that the survey finds that belief in the market has sagged to lows seldom seen in Florida.

"The big news is that the recession and the latest shocks in the financial markets and automobile industry have finally taken their toll," Archer said. "People not only foresee tough times in the short term, but they're also revising downward their longer-term future outlook."

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