Mixed March Results: More Homes Sold, Prices Declined; Real Estate's Volatility Makes It Tough to Predict the Future

Article excerpt

Byline: KEVIN TURNER

Even when armed with five years of month-by-month data tracking sale prices, home sales volumes, housing starts and foreclosures for the Jacksonville area, it's difficult to predict when the real estate market here will turn around.

The number of home sales increased in March for the second month, but prices declined slightly, giving few clues as to what lies ahead.

Northeast Florida Builders Association President Glenn Layton said boomtime building in 750-home subdivisions has given way to smaller-scale projects today, but there's good news in the fact that the leftover glut of new homes from the boom era are just about sold. He said consumer confidence is finally beginning to rebound and buyers are snapping up good deals. The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that, nationally, first-time buyers are now driving the market, armed with low mortgage interest rates and new tax credits.

Melanie Green, communications director for the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, said Jacksonville's housing market is set for a turnaround.

"With the steps that the federal government is taking to strengthen our economy, including measures that have contributed to the nearly lowest mortgage rates in decades and the $8,000 tax credit for new home buyers included in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, there is now an environment being created that screams out for buyers," she said.

But foreclosures continue to dog the market because they drive prices down, pushing homeowners "underwater" - owing more on their house than they can get for it when they sell. And foreclosures in the Jacksonville metropolitan area aren't showing any sign of abating since beginning a steady upward track in December 2006. Since September, they have risen and dropped erratically.

"One of the reasons the recovery is delayed and things are going up and down is because the government is involved," said Shari Olefson, a partner of Fowler White Boggs in Fort Lauderdale and author of "Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream." Most of that involvement, led by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, has so far been on the Wall Street and bank side, she said, but has impacted how banks are handling foreclosures and how long they take to process them. …

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