MANATEE -- Foreclosed home sales were a relative rarity in Manatee and Sarasota counties in 2015 as a booming residential market saw its lowest levels of distressed sales since 2010.
In Manatee County -- where one in six single-family homes and one in five condominiums sold as foreclosures or in short sales five years ago -- foreclosures were down 78 percent from a peak of more than 8,800 in 2010. According to real estate research company RealtyTrac, that recovery ranked the county as having one of the lowest rates of home foreclosure in Florida, 48th out of 67 counties.
Sarasota County also reaped the rewards of the improved real estate economy, ranking 33rd among Florida counties with a 65 percent foreclosure drop since 2010.
The two-county area saw 5,271 foreclosure filings in 2015, well down from 6,434 in 2014.
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The falloff in foreclosures has helped bring the existing home market back in line with what local real estate professionals consider normal. Home prices have been on the rise for several years, hitting five-year highs last summer and fall in the two counties.
"I think it allows the local market to return to a state of normalization," said Linda Formella, president of the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.
The median selling price of existing single-family homes in Manatee County in November was $270,000, according to Multiple Listing Service statistics. The median in Sarasota County was $228,750.
Having less foreclosure inventory on the market has also changed how some real estate professionals approach the housing market. Formella, who runs the Bradenton office of Michael Saunders & Co., said agents in her office who specialized in distressed property sales after the housing market crash in 2008 have had to largely move back to the conventional home sale market.
"I think they're having to develop a different base of clientele," she said.
The drop in foreclosures has also made a difference in home price appraisals. Don Saba, an appraiser and owner of Sarasota-based Saba & Associates, said he found fewer submarkets in 2015 where the majority of homes for sale were in the distressed category. Saba said the impact of the reduction is seen in more liquidation sales. Its impact on market rate sales, he said, is minimal.
The improved local foreclosure numbers came as Florida remained a foreclosure leader in the U.S., ranking second among all states with 159,733 foreclosure filings last year. Even so, the state has made strides over the past several years: The number of foreclosures per 1,000 housing units statewide has dropped from 5.93 in 2009 to 1.77 last year.
Nationwide, foreclosure filings were reported on about 1.1 million U.S. properties in 2015, down 3 percent from 2014 and down 62 percent from a peak of approximately 2.8 million in 2010. Last year's total was the tightest foreclosure market since 2006, when 717,522 properties went into foreclosure nationwide.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.