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Have Housing Prices Hit Bottom?

By Michael Pollick
Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jan. 8, 2008

Florida's best known economist says the Sarasota-Manatee residential property market bottomed out in September-October and has now stabilized in both price and volume.

Hank Fishkind predicts flat prices for both counties through 2010, as the region chews through excess inventories of new houses and condominiums.

His findings jibe with what some Southwest Florida real estate observers have been saying and with what statistics from the Florida Association of Realtors have shown during the final months of 2007.

In November, for example, Sarasota-Bradenton Realtors sold twice as many homes as their Miami counterparts. The median price in November -- the most recent sales reports available -- was $267,700, down 4 percent from a year earlier, but an improvement from $244,300 in September and $263,900 in October.

Fishkind made his own predictions for this region as part of a 33-county economic report prepared on behalf of Attorney's Title Insurance Fund Inc., a leading title insurance underwriter.

His report painted Miami-Dade and Lee County as the state's most problematic areas, because of excessive condo building in South Florida and a proportionately higher level of home building during the boom in Fort Myers.

Orlando has the strongest market in Florida, followed by the Tampa Bay area and Interstate 4 corridor, Fishkind said.

"But both Manatee County and Sarasota County are still in considerably better shape than many other areas," he said.

Fishkind said that Charlotte County continues to shake off some of the vestiges of 2004's Hurricane Charley, but that the market is in far better shape than its neighbors to the south, where speculation on investment properties was rampant during the housing run-up.

"We are starting to see more normal activity," Fishkind said. "I am much more concerned about Lee County t