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October home sales surge; prices decline

MANATEE — Local home and condominium resales surged in October but there’s disagreement about whether that signals a recovering market or a distressed one that’s being propped up by the federal government.

Sales of existing single-family homes in the Sarasota-Bradenton market rose nearly 50 percent in October compared to the same month a year ago, the Florida Association of Realtors reported Monday. Sales of previously-owned condos also soared, more than doubling the year-ago figure.

Local Realtors sold 812 single-family homes and 249 condo units in October, compared to 542 and 113, respectively, in October 2008, the trade group said.

Bargain-hunters and first-time homebuyers racing to meet a tax-credit deadline drove the sales spike, pushing down median sales prices below year-ago levels.

The median single-family sales price was $154,500, down from September’s $164,000 and 9 percent below October 2008’s $169,000 mark. The median resale price for condos was $152,800 in October, up from September’s $134,800 but 28 percent less than the $212,500 median recorded in October 2008.

To some, the October sales showing is the latest sign that the battered local housing market, which dramatically rose only to fall as quickly, is regaining its footing.

“Price drives any sale, and unlike those crazy days when prices were out of sight, now more folks can afford to buy a home,” said Jason Sato, co-owner of Sato Real Estate in Anna Maria. “Of course the tax credit, that sweetens the pie.”

Analysts said the credit, of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers, propelled October sales and likely will do the same in November because it was scheduled to expire Nov. 30. Earlier this month, Congress extended the credit to April 30 and expanded it to include an up-to-$6,500 credit for existing homeowners buying new houses.

But some said the tax credit is artificially propping a distressed market that remains glutted with foreclosures and short sales.

“Take out all the foreclosures, take out all the short sales and take out all the first-time buyers, and then we’ll see what the market really did,” said Paul Spenceley, an agent with Century 21 All Acres Realty in Bradenton. “The way things are now, it’s not a real market.”

Barry Grooms, outgoing president of the Manatee Association of Realtors, disagreed. He said falling prices, coupled with low mortgage rates, are luring would-be homebuyers who have been on the sidelines waiting for the right time to buy.

He also believes prices will begin to creep up, especially as more homes are sold.

“It’s only going to be a matter of time when inventory reaches a level where we see growth in pricing,” Grooms said.

Statewide, home resales rose 45 percent in October, the trade group said. The median sales price was $140,300, down 17 percent from $169,700 in the same month a year ago.

Nationally, home sales rose 10.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.1 million units in October from a downwardly revised pace of 5.54 million in September and up 23.5 percent from the 4.94 million-unit level in October 2008, the National Association of Realtors reported.

Last month’s sales activity was the highest pace since February 2007, when it hit 6.55 million. The seven-month supply of homes on the market also is the lowest level since then.

“In parts of the country, especially in Southwestern states but also in Florida and suburban Washington, D.C., we’ve been getting many reports of multiple bids in the lower price ranges with foreclosed properties getting absorbed quickly,” said Vicki Cox Golder, the national Realtor group’s president. “In fact, low-end inventory has become very tight in many areas and in some cases buyers are becoming more aggressive.”