By Anthony Clark | The Gainesville Sun
Home sales continued on an upward trend in Alachua County last month with the eighth straight month of 20 percent increases over the prior year while the median sales price was up nearly 6 percent.
Realtors closed on 225 sales of existing single-family homes in August compared to 183 in August 2012 for a 23 percent increase, according to data from the Gainesville Multiple Listings Service.
The median sales price rose to $170,000 from $160,653 a year ago.
"They're encouraging. Still not as much as I'd like to see," Thomas McIntosh, president of Prudential Trend Realty, said of the 225 sales.
"August is traditionally a big closing month. I'd like to see 225 in January and February," he said.
McIntosh also cautioned that the increased median sales price has more to do with more higher-priced homes selling than with home price appreciation.
"I'm not ready to say we've got inflation going on in the housing market," McIntosh said. "You can go to certain pockets and see, if the same house were to sell year over year, that house would sell for more money. I don't think you can say that for every house in Gainesville, Fla."
Statewide home sales were up nearly 13 percent over the year and the median price up nearly 19 percent to $175,000 from $147,500 a year ago, according to Florida Realtors.
Florida Realtors Chief Economist John Tuccillo said the most striking feature of the August data was the rise in new listings and inventory, easing pressure on inventory that has led to home price inflation in many markets.
New listings were up 17 percent statewide and the month's supply rose from 5.0 to 5.1 months at August's pace of sales.
U.S. sales of all housing types closed at the fastest pace in 6½ years in August, the National Association of Realtors reported. Sales totals were up 1.7 percent over July and 13.2 percent over August 2012. The median sales price was up 14.7 percent over the year to $212,100.
NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said rising mortgage interest rates pushed more buyers to close deals.
The national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.46 percent in August, the highest since July 2011.
Interest rates have been rising in anticipation of the Fed slowing or stopping its $85 billion monthly securities purchases to boost the economy, but the Fed announced Wednesday that its stimulus would continue for at least another month.
McIntosh said he thinks the Fed was responding to the rising interest rates since housing has traditionally led the U.S. out of past recessions but has been weaker coming out of the last one.
"Housing still needs help," McIntosh said.
Craig Wilburn, a senior vice president with Bosshardt Realty Services, said perceptions of rising rates, even though they are still historically low, could hurt sales.
"It could negatively impact people's motivation to buy long term if they feel they've missed the boat," he said.
Wilburn said Wednesday's Fed announcement should help that perception.
"I've told my clients not to panic," Wilburn said. "It's going to be OK. But I have seen some people demonstrate a sense of urgency."
Alachua County condominium and townhouse sales jumped 55 percent from 49 in August 2012 to 76 last month, while the median sales price fell nearly 17 percent from $82,000 to $68,500.
McIntosh said the increased condo sales were driven by college students arriving for the fall semester.
Florida condo sales were up 6 percent in August and the median price up 25 percent to $130,000.
McIntosh noted an increase in cash sales for single-family homes and condos, indicating that buyers are finding good deals but also that credit is still tighter than it should be.
"As the mortgage market begins to function properly, you'll see more activity," he said.
Alachua County buyers paid cash for 58 single-family homes in August, a 9 percent increase over last year, and 52 condos, a 58 percent increase.