Manatee home sales figures prove hopeful

MANATEE — The Bradenton-Sarasota market continued to lag behind the state and national housing recoveries in June but showed a slight improvement from the previous month, according to figures released Thursday.

Local sales of existing single-family homes fell 8 percent last month, while they rose in Florida for the 10th consecutive month, the Florida Association of Realtors said. Nationally, sales were up for the third straight month, according to separate reports by the National Association of Realtors and the Associated Press-RE/Max.

But local agents say they see encouraging signs when the June figures are compared to May: Both sales and prices rose slightly, suggesting the local market is getting better.

“We’re starting to see a definite improvement, and it’s a welcome improvement,” said Barry Grooms of RE/Max Alliance Group, the Manatee Association of Realtors’ president.

Bradenton-Sarasota Realtors sold 789 single-family homes last month, 69 fewer than in June 2008 but six more than in May, the statewide Realtors group said. The month-over-month sales uptick may be seasonal, however: home sales typically rise from May to June as buyers with school-aged children wait until the school year is over to close on deals.

The local median sales price — the point where half sold for more and half for less — was $162,700 in June, down 30 percent from a year ago but up 3.8 percent from the previous month.

That indicates foreclosures and other distressed sales are not weighing down the market as much as they did previously, analysts said. Nationally, about one out of three homes sold in June was foreclosure-related, down from nearly half earlier this year.

Grooms said more bank-owned properties locally are attracting multiple offers that are close to, or even higher than, the asking price. He credits that to lenders spending more time and money to improve those homes’ chances of selling.

“They’re spending the money to pretty up the houses and not dumping them at fire-sale prices as we had feared they would do,” Grooms said. “To me, that’s a good sign.”

But the local market’s figures still pale in comparison to Florida as a whole, where June sales were 28 percent higher than the same time a year ago. Gains in larger markets, especially Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Miami and Orlando, led the surge.

In all, only three of the state’s 19 metro markets — Gainesville, Bradenton-Sarasota and Tallahassee — saw sales drops, the Florida trade group said.

Grooms said Bradenton-Sarasota’s recovery is lagging because the local market had soared much higher during the boom.

“Some areas weren’t hit as hard as we were, so they’re going to take less time to recover,” he said.

Condominium sales were the lone bright spot locally, rising 3 percent in June from a year ago. The median price fell to $145,800, a 38-percent drop that mirrored the state average.

Three straight months of U.S. home sales gains — the first time that’s happened since early 2004, during the boom — is leading analysts to pronounce a recovery is underway.

“The turnaround in the housing market appears finally to be here and indeed may be gaining some speed,” wrote Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors Inc.

U.S. home sales rose 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million last month, from a downwardly revised pace of 4.72 million in May. It was the highest sales level since last October and beat economists’ expectations of an annual pace of 4.84 million units, according to Thomson Reuters.

The glut of homes up for sale dwindled to 3.8 million. That’s a 9.4-month supply at the current sales pace and another important sign of a recovery. When the market balances at a 7-month supply prices should begin to stabilize, the Realtors’ group said.

That probably won’t happen until next year because of a backlog of foreclosures that have yet to come on to the market.

The median sales price was $181,800 in June, down 15 percent from year-ago levels but up slightly from $174,700 in May.

Nevertheless, prices have risen for three straight months in about half of the 55 major metropolitan areas tracked by the Associated Press-RE/Max Housing Report, also released Thursday. — Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.