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Region's September home sales lower than August but up from 2011
Coming off an unusually hot summer, sales of existing homes and condominiums in Southwest Florida cooled off somewhat during September — though activity was well ahead of the same period in 2011.
The continued pace of recovery has surprised analysts and industry participants alike, and it points to a gradual return to a sellers' market that has been absent from the region for five years.Realtors in Sarasota and Manatee counties sold 928 homes and condominiums last month, down 21.4 percent from August but up 12 percent from the same month in 2011.

"The real estate industry has returned to a much healthier place than we were four or five years ago," said Laura Benson, president of the Sarasota Association of Realtors. "For the agents who experienced the down times, this has become a great period of rebound."

September is typically a slow month for real estate sales, with families focusing on getting children back to school. Tourists, another pool of buyers here, also tend to stay home, to take a break between summer stays and winter excursions.Additionally, summer sales were stronger than expected, with August sales coming in 15.2 percent higher than in July.

The strong summer could also explain why the number of pending sales in September also declined over the month.
Even so, pending sales remained well ahead of last year, a sign agents say better reflects the ongoing recovery of the region's residential real estate market.

But as in recent months, a dwindling inventory of homes for sale is increasingly worrying Realtors and housing experts. Though the shrinking supply translates into increased demand and more offers from buyers, it also means fewer properties are on the market and prompts some owners to hold on to their homes rather than sell them.

"Our inventory is now down to 3,460, the lowest level since 1998," Benson said. "The downward trend in inventory started four years ago, when we had over 9,500 properties for sale."
Deanna Atkinson, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Bradenton, said inventory at her company is the lowest it has been in 15 years.In Manatee County, for instance, inventory of single-family homes stands at a 4.5-month supply, a 35 percent drop over the year."That's very significant," she said. "It is slowly turning into more of a seller's market."

Typically, a market is considered balanced when inventory stands at 6 months. Less than that figure indicates a sellers' market.
Prices, meanwhile, showed little movement over the month and were just slightly ahead of last year.In the territory covered by the Sarasota Association, the median sales price for a single-family home was $169,950, a mere $5 more than August and up 3 percent over the year.

The Manatee Association of Realtors reported a median price of $167,250, down 1.6 percent for the month but up 1.4 percent for the year.
Single-family prices have increased for both associations over the past 12 months: A median $170,000 in Sarasota, up nearly 8 percent; and $163,000 in Manatee, a 5.2 percent gain.
"People are anxious to buy, and everything is getting multiple offers," Atkinson said. "Any bank-owned property that is of good quality is getting scooped up."

Pending sales — properties placed under contract and key measure of future closings — in Sarasota fell to 844 in September from 953 in August, but were up from 723 a year earlier. In Manatee, pending sales totaled 367 last month, up from 354 in August and 265 last year.
"More local buyers are feeling the need to make their move," said Linda Driggs, a Realtor for 19 years with Michael Saunders & Co. in Sarasota. During September, Sarasota Association members sold 500 single-family homes, down nearly 15 percent from August but up 16 percent from one year earlier.

A total of 148 condos were sold, a 36 percent decline from the previous month but 5.7 percent ahead of last year. Condo sales typically slow at this time of year and pick up with the return of snowbirds and tourists in cooler months.

Manatee Realtors closed 196 single-family sales in September, down 23.7 percent from August but up 2 percent compared with last year. They sold 84 condos, 20 percent fewer than the prior month but 27 percent ahead of a year ago.

Statewide, sales of existing single-family homes totaled 15,643 in September, down 16.7 percent from August but up 2 percent over the year, Florida Realtors reported. The median closing price was $145,000, down 1.4 percent from August but up 7.4 percent from a year ago.
The inventory for single-family homes in Florida stood at a 5.2-month supply.
"Inventories have now tilted to the point where we truly have a sellers' market forming," said John Tuccillo, Florida Realtors' chief economist.

"Prices are up smartly and have been for quite a while. It's getting to the point where Florida is the place to buy, but it may soon move out of reach for many households."
Nationwide, sales of previously occupied homes fell in September after hitting a two-year high in August, in part because, like in Southwest Florida, there were fewer homes available for sale.
The National Association of Realtors reported sales dipped 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.75 million.
That is down from a rate of 4.83 million in August, which was the highest level in more than two years, but up 11 percent from a year earlier.
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