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Local home resales soar, buck U.S. trend

MANATEE — A December sales surge helped the local housing market buck the national trend and close last year on a high note, according to data released Monday.

Local Realtors sold 872 existing single-family homes in December, a 43 percent jump from the 610 they sold in the same month a year earlier, the Florida Association of Realtors said. Sales soared in Sarasota-Bradenton and throughout Florida, capping a turnaround year for both markets.

U.S. sales of previously occupied homes fell by nearly 17 percent last month, the largest monthly drop in more than 40 years, the National Association of Realtors said.

The reports had economists questioning if the national housing recovery is on solid footing. But local Realtors say they’ve been too busy to contemplate the issue.

“Every agent I talk to, I always ask: ‘How’s business?’ And everybody is telling me that they’ve been extremely busy,” said Cindy Greco of Wagner Realty, the Manatee Association of Realtors’ 2010 president. “I’m trying to schedule meetings for the association, but I’m having trouble getting everyone together at the same time because they’re all so busy. That’s a good problem to have.”

More noteworthy was that prices also went up locally. The median sales price — the point where half sold for more and half for less — was $167,400 last month, up from $160,000 in the last month of 2008.

That 5 percent gain broke a 3 1/2-year streak of monthly year-over-year price drops. May 2006 was the last time that prices were higher than they were in the same month the previous year, according to the Florida Realtors group.

December’s year-over-year gain “tells me our single-family market has pretty much stabilized right now,” Greco said. “Prices finally got down to the point that buyers were willing to pay.”

Local home prices peaked at $353,500 in January 2006, and bottomed out at $144,000 in February 2009. The median home price has stayed in the $150,000 to $180,000 range since then, as first-time homebuyers and investors snapped up deeply discounted foreclosures and other distressed properties.

They continued to dominate the condominium market in December, pushing sales up but prices down. Sales grew by 144 percent — from 127 units sold in December 2008 to 310 sold last month — while the median sales price dropped another 22 percent to $148,600, according to the Realtors group.

Experts had forecast a sales lull after the original Nov. 30 expiration of an up-to-$8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers. Although Congress extended the tax credit to April 30 and expanded it to include homeowners who move, it did so in early November — too late for sales that were set to close in December and January.

It wasn’t missed much, several local agents said.

“This past December was extremely busy with straight sales, short sales and bank sales,” said Marilyn Sakelaris, an agent at Leslie Wells Realty in Parrish. “We were busy enough.”

With the strong finish, local single-family home resales were 15 percent higher in 2009 than in 2008. But the median sales price fell 29 percent to $160,000, tied with Miami for the second-worst among Florida markets. Only Naples-Fort Myers, at minus-43 percent, fared worse.

Florida home resales rose by 33 percent in December, the 16th straight month of sales gains. The median fell another 10 percent, to $140,400.

U.S. sales fell 16.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.45 million, from an unchanged pace of 6.54 million in November, the national Realtors group said. Economists had expected a 10-percent drop.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.