Friday, December 18, 2009

Orlando Home Sales Stay High But Prices Hit a Low

By Mary Shanklin
Orlando Sentinel

The last time Orlando-area home prices were as low as now, it was the year George W. Bush first took office, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Apple released the iPod.

Last month the number of existing-home sales doubled from a year ago as prices dipped to a midpoint of $123,000, according to a report released Friday by the Orlando Regional Realtor Association.

The last time the median price was below $123,000 was March 2001, at the outset of the previous recession, when it dipped to $120,287. So anyone who bought an existing home in the past eight years probably paid more than if they bought the property today. During the housing boom, the local median peaked at $264,436 in July 2007.

In the past year, prices in the Orlando Realtors' core market (mainly Orange and Seminole counties) have fallen by more than 25 percent.

Sellers seem to be recognizing the market's extended decline, as the difference between the average sales price and average list price actually narrowed a few tenths of a percentage point in November, to 94.9 percent, despite the drop in prices.

The pace of sales last month actually fell slightly from October, to 2,238 from 2,319but the November total was up more than 100 percent from the same month a year ago, an indication of how much sales activity has been improving for more than a year now. So far this year, Orlando Realtors have reported selling 21,420 homes, compared with 13,435 homes through the first 11 months of 2008.

The Orlando Realtors group broke down the prices paid for single-family homes and condo units in November by the level of financial distress involved: The median price for "normal" sales was $173,960, a 3 percent decrease from October to November; the median price for "short sales" was $122,000, down 2 percent from October; and the median for bank-owned properties was $84,000, up 5 percent from October.

Of all properties sold in November, 63 percent were owned by a bank already or in some stage of distress; the remaining 37 percent were "normal," or conventional sales, in which the owner wasn't under threat of foreclosure.

Orlando resident Bruce Tooker thinks many of the financially strapped homeowners peddling short sales -- listings for which the bank has agreed to accept less than the amount owed on the property's mortgage, to avoid the expense of a full foreclosure -- are still delusional about market prices.

Tooker said he recently submitted a low offer on a short-sale house near Westmoreland Drive in Orlando. The sellers had paid $329,000 for the house at the peak of the market and wanted $200,000 now, but it was worth only $169,000 when compared with similar sales, he said.

Tooker said he's in no hurry to buy because he expects prices will decay further.

"There are just too many houses out there and not enough buyers," he said.

According to the Orlando Realtors group, a growing number of buyers are poised to close on sales: Friday's report noted that the number of pending sales has more than doubled in the past year, growing from 3,326 to 8,633. That included 3,023 sales contracts filed just last month, an 84 percent increase from November 2008's new filings.

Mary Shanklin can be reached at or 407-420-5538.

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