Florida Market Seen Softening

Rising inventory levels and still-low mortgage rates have continued to affect Florida's housing market, which is adjusting to a better balance between buyers and sellers following a five-year run of record sales.

Statewide, sales of single-family existing homes totaled 13,539 in February, compared to 16,916 homes a year ago, for a 20% decrease, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

Realtors from across the state reported that the supply of homes available for sale in their markets is improving, offering buyers more housing opportunities. The statewide median price for single-family existing homes in February was $244,200, up 24% from the February 2005 statewide median of $197,700.

In February 2001, the statewide median sales price was $118,200, which shows an increase of about 106% over the five-year period, according to FAR records.

Sales of existing condominiums in Florida also decreased in February, with a total of 4,342 condos sold statewide compared to 5,643 in February 2005 for a 23% decline, according to FAR. The statewide median sales price for condos rose 11% to $218,700 in February. A year ago, it was $197,000. The national median existing condo price was $216,900 in January 2006.

Along with the University of Florida Real Estate Research Center, the Florida Association of Realtors began compiling data on closed condo sales for comparison purposes in 2005. The condo data series began in January 2006.

Favorable mortgage rates continued to spark buyers' interest in markets across the state. In February, interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.25%, up from the 5.63% average rate in February 2005.

Among the state's larger markets, the Jacksonville metropolitan statistical area reported a total of 1,200 single-family existing homes sold in the area in February, compared to 1,218 homes a year ago for a 1% decrease. The median sales price rose 14% to $196,200. A year ago, it was $171,800.

Kay Seitzinger, president of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors and assistant manager with Watson Realty Corp. in Ponte Vedra Beach, says a convenient location, employment opportunities and appealing lifestyle attract people to the Jacksonville area.

"The continued strong market we are having here in Northeast Florida is considerably influenced by our area's stable economy," she said. "With our diverse business base and positive job outlook, people continue to relocate to the Greater Jacksonville area. Add to that our great quality of life, with so many arts and leisure activities, who wouldn't want to live here?"

As for smaller markets in Florida, the Tallahassee MSA reported strong resales activity in February with a total of 330 single-family homes changing hands, compared to 298 homes a year ago for an increase of 11%. The area's median sales price rose 15% to $185,800. A year ago, it was $161,300.

Kenny Ayers, president of the Tallahassee Board of Realtors and new-home specialist with Heritage Homes Realty of Tallahassee representing Turner Heritage Homes, notes that the area's changing seasons and friendly community appeal to many homebuyers.

"As the state capital, we have a lot of job opportunities with the government and state offices, plus three big universities and colleges," he said. "The Tallahassee area is convenient to the coast and offers a nice mix of art and cultural activities along with a laid-back, friendly lifestyle."

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