Wednesday, February 28, 2007

US Resales are Up

Existing-homes sales nationwide rose in January as warm weather helped the chilly market, though the numbers were still down sharply in Florida, industry reports showed Tuesday.

The National Association of Realtors said total existing-home sales -- everything from single-family homes to town homes and condos -- increased 3 percent from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.46 million units -- the highest rate in seven months. But that was down 4.3 percent from the same month a year ago, when sales were coming off a record year in 2005.

In Florida, a separate report by the Florida Association of Realtors showed that single-family home sales in January fell 27 percent from a year ago, to 9,382. Condo sales were off 30 percent to 3,007.

Metro Orlando -- Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties -- posted one of the higher downturns for the month in Florida, with existing-home sales off 35 percent from last year to 1,385. Condo sales were down 44 percent to 247. Earlier this month, the Orlando Regional Realtor Association reported similar year-over-year declines using somewhat different data.A glut of homes and high prices have been blamed for the slack demand.

"I think what we're seeing is a housing market still struggling," said Michael Larson, a real estate analyst with Weiss Research in Jupiter. Both nationally and in Florida, he said, with large numbers of homes listed for sale, "we're facing a long period of working off the excess."

Marla Martin, a spokeswoman for the Orlando-based Florida Association of Realtors, said a number of local Realtor boards across the state are reporting that housing inventories show signs of stabilizing, if not actually dipping by small amounts.

"We're hopeful. It's just a sign, but we're hopeful," she said.

Larson, however, said he thinks any dips in inventory in most parts of the state will be temporary, as more people begin to put their homes back on the market this spring, a peak selling season.

"There's a lot of disappointed sellers out there coming back into market," Larson said, having failed to sell last year as the downturn began to gather momentum.

Nationally, the inventory of homes for sale rose 2.9 percent in January to 3.55 million -- a 6.6-month supply at the current sales pace, the national Realtors association said. In a prepared statement accompanying the report, David Lereah, the group's chief economist, noted that unusually warm weather helped sales in January. But he noted that winter storms during February will probably cause a decline when this month's numbers are reported in March.

Even though the national data is seasonally adjusted, he said, the cold weather's disruption to the economy in February was so severe -- with many home closings postponed -- that a near-term dip in activity is expected, "followed by a continuing recovery in home sales."

The median sales price nationally for all types of housing in January was off 3.1 percent from a year earlier to $210,600.In Florida, the median for single-family homes dipped 2 percent to $239,300 compared with a year ago. For condos, the statewide median slipped 1 percent to $209,000.

Metro Orlando's median price for single-family homes was up 2 percent to $259,900, according to the Florida Realtors' data, making it one of only six metro areas in the state to post an increase. The local Realtors group, using data mainly from Orange and Seminole counties, reported several weeks ago that the January median price for single-family homes and condos combined was up 3.6 percent from a year earlier.

Reggie Hall, Orlando district manager for ZipRealty, said buyers in Central Florida are beginning to see better deals as a result of the buildup in existing home inventory. "For first time buyers, there are good opportunities out there," particularly in condos, Hall said. "And the incentives from builders are amazing, because of the inventory that they're trying to move. We thought they were good in December and late last year but they've gotten even better." Courtesy Orlando Sentinel 2/28/07.