November housing sales slowed in return to traditional market


Published: Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.

Existing home sales dropped for the first time in more than two years statewide and nationwide and slowed considerably in Alachua County in November — largely as a result of fewer distressed sales — in what one economist called a return to a more traditional market.

Florida home sales were down 1.2 percent compared with November 2012 sales, the first year-over-year drop since January 2012, while U.S. sales dropped 0.9 percent during that time for the first such drop in 29 months.

Alachua County still showed positive gains at 8 percent — with 149 closings in November compared with 138 in November 2012 — but it marked the first time in a year that the gains were lower than 20 percent.

The slower pace of sales was largely the result of a drop in foreclosure sales from 30 to 21 over the year. Traditional sales were actually up 21 percent, from 95 to 115, during that time.

Fewer foreclosures also helped boost the median sales price nearly 13 percent, from $160,143 to $180,707. The market shifted away from sales below $200,000 to more sales above that mark.

Greta Rice, president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors, said the shift is also the result of investors finding fewer lower-priced homes and other buyers feeling more comfortable with higher prices.

Rice, who is also broker of Tioga Realty, said other factors point to a healthier market than November's numbers indicate. New construction is not included in the report, and local builders continue to be busy, she said.

The 6.6-month's supply of homes on the market also includes a portion of distressed properties and stagnant listings that are priced too high, she said.

“There's not as much inventory to go around as far as customers are concerned,” Rice said.

“You get a house that's positioned correctly, you'll sell that in just a couple weeks and that's because we don't have enough inventory on the market.”

The drop in statewide sales was largely the result of a 47 percent decrease in short sales. Traditional sales were up nearly 11 percent.

A drop in cash-only sales also indicates a diminishing investor presence, said John Tuccillo, chief economist for Florida Realtors.

“It signals a continued return to what we would consider a more traditional market,” he said.

The median sale price in Florida rose 13 percent over the year to $169,900.

National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun credited the drop in U.S. home sales to higher mortgage interest rates, constrained inventory and tight credit.

He said new home construction has not kept pace with pent-up demand, leading to higher rents and higher home prices.

The national median sales price of $196,200 was up 9.4 percent over last year, the highest rise in eight years.

Alachua County condominium and townhouse sales rose 35 percent from 26 to 35 over the year while the median sale price was up 13 percent to $77,000.

Florida condo sales dropped 7 percent over the year, and the median sale price was up 17 percent to $131,299.

NAR President Steve Brown said new mortgage rules that take effect in January could cost borrowers more or prevent them from getting a loan.

Rice said she has talked to local lenders who told her credit will be especially tight for loans around $50,000.

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