Florida home sales weathered the impact and threat of hurricanes in August, and single-family existing-home sales gained 3 percent while median sales prices rose 15 percent from July to August, the Florida Association of Realtors reported today.

The strike of Hurricane Charley and menace of Hurricane Frances led to delayed closings because home buyers were unable to obtain homeowners’ insurance policies.

Statewide, a total of 20,294 homes changed hands in August 2004, compared to 19,748 homes in August 2003. The statewide median sales price rose 15 percent to $189,500 – a year ago it was $164,100. In 1999, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $106,200 – which represents a 78.4 percent increase over a five-year period, the association also reported.

In markets across the state, the aftermath of Hurricane Charley also created other problems for resale activity, as many lenders delayed closings for property re-inspections or repairs. In addition, local Realtor boards and associations, real estate firms and Multiple Listing Services in many areas across Florida were directly affected by the hurricane, which in turn impacted the collection of data for the month.

Mike O’Connell, an economist with the South Florida Regional Planning Council, said hurricanes can accelerate long-term development trends or economic direction already taking place in a community but aren’t likely to change the market. O’Connell developed a computer model for the state that studies the economic impact of hurricanes on Florida.

Florida’s median sales price compares to the national median sales price for existing single-family homes, which was $191,300 in July, up 8.7 percent from July 2003 when the median price was $176,000. In California, the statewide median resale price was $463,540 in July; in Maryland, the average resale price was $296,896; in New York, the median price was $261,000; in North Carolina, the average price was $201,209; and in Ohio, the average resale price was $157,658.

Interest rates remained at historically low levels last month, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaging 5.87 percent. A year ago, it averaged 6.26 percent. The Florida association’s sales figures reflect closings, which typically occur 30-90 days after sales contracts are written.

Among the state’s larger metropolitan statistical areas, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater reported the most sales last month, with a total of 4,391 homes changing hands compared to 3,907 homes last year for a 12 percent gain. The market’s median sales price increased 16 percent to $166,400, compared to $143,100 a year ago.

Continued low mortgage rates are encouraging people to buy homes, said Sam Jacobs, president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors and broker for RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Port Richey. “This area is growing, especially in central and east Pasco County,” he said. “There is a lot of new development occurring toward new Tampa and new home construction helps fuel sales of existing homes. Our area also offers housing opportunities that are affordable to many buyers, including a strong first-time buyer market.”

Other larger markets reporting higher sales last month compared to August 2003 include: Jacksonville, where 1,561 homes sold for a 14 percent increase; and Orlando, where 3,141 homes sold for a 5 percent gain. In Orlando, the median sales price rose 14 percent to $174,000, and in Jacksonville it rose 12 percent to $166,700.

Among the state’s smaller metro areas, the Ocala market reported a 36 percent boost in home sales in August, with 559 homes changing hands compared to 412 homes a year ago. The area’s median sales price rose 9 percent to $112,000; a year ago, it was $102,600.

Pat Ketchie, president of the Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors and broker-owner of Advantage Real Estate Corp. in Salt Springs, cites the area’s natural beauty, including the Ocala National Forest and beautiful rolling hills, as a major draw for home buyers. “The Ocala area offers a lot of benefits to buyers, including a great location geographically that is in the middle of the middle of the state,” she said. “We can easily travel to Jacksonville or to Orlando or to Miami, yet residents are out of the busy hustle and bustle of urban traffic hubs like those cities. Plus, housing here is still very affordable.”

Other smaller metro areas reporting strong resale activity last month include: Fort Walton Beach, where 566 homes sold for a 43 percent increase; and Pensacola, where 619 homes sold for a 27 percent gain. The median sales price in those markets also rose: in Fort Walton Beach, 29 percent to $200,800; and in Pensacola, 3 percent to $128,500.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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