Local home sales improved sharply last month compared to December 2012

In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, photo, a for sale sign hangs in front of a house in Mount Lebanon, Pa. The National Association of Realtors released existing home sales for December on Thursday.

Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 3:17 p.m.

The combination of an improved housing market and buyers rushing to close sales by the end of the year boosted home sales in Alachua County by 38 percent in December and pushed U.S. sales for all of 2013 to the highest level since 2006.

Local Realtors reported 239 sales of existing single-family homes last month compared to 173 in December 2012, marking the highest December total in at least four years and the third-highest total for any month during that time behind only June and July of 2013.

December is traditionally a good month for sales as buyers try to close in time to claim homestead exemption and for tax reporting purposes, followed by a slow January, said Gary Thomas, president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors.

The median sales price — with half selling for more and half for less — was $167,500 in December, up 8 percent from $155,500 a year prior.

Thomas, a broker with Re/Max Professionals, said all indicators were up in 2013, including cash sales, pending sales and new listings. He said the most important number from December is the 5.9-month supply of inventory, based on the pace of sales and available listings, which was down from a 7.8-month supply in December 2012.

"It's showing that the market is coming into balance between buyers and sellers," he said.

Statewide sales were up 9 percent and the median sale price up 11 percent to $172,630.

U.S. sales of all housing types were down 0.6 percent in December but finished the year with 5.09 million sales, up 9 percent over all of 2012 and the highest total since 6.48 million sales in 2006, which the National Association of Realtors referred to in a news release as "unsustainably high."

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said housing has experienced a healthy recovery over the past two years driven by job growth, low interest rates and pent-up demand, but lost momentum at the end of the year due to disappointing job growth and limited inventory.

Thomas said local Realtors are more optimistic heading into 2014, but the market needs more first-time home buyers and more builders building new homes.

"Twenty-five to 30-year-old people are still not buying like they were, even though there are still low interest rates," he said. "The reason is they're still scared to death with the national economy."

Freddie Mac reported a 4.46 percent average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in December, up from 3.35 percent a year ago and 4.26 percent in November.

Alachua County condominium and townhome sales dropped 6 percent to 49 in December from 52 a year prior, while the median sale price was up 56 percent from $56,250 to $82,000.

Statewide condo sales dropped 3 percent while the median sale price was up 17 percent to $137,500 from $117,500. The sales drop reflected a 47 percent decline in short sales. Traditional sales were up 6 percent.

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