It was a quick trip from list date to sale date for the troubled Key West-style house in West Palm Beach’s south end.
Just 99 days from start to finish, paid for in cash, and the once mangy foreclosure with broken windows and dead grass off El Prado and South Dixie Highway has new owners, a green lawn and, on Thursday, was cocooned in a pest control tent -- a telltale sign of a deal.
In 2008, a Palm Beach County single-family home was on the market for a median of 140 days.
In January, it was down to 85.
The El Prado sale, which closed for $6,200 more than the foreclosure auction price, is indicative of Palm Beach County’s real estate market in recent months as traditional homebuyers and investors clamor for scant properties.
Last month, Palm Beach County single-family home sales jumped 19 percent from the same time in 2012, while sale prices increased 21 percent to a median of $218,000, according to a report released Thursday by the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.
Inventory stood at a 5.9 months’ supply, down 47 percent from January 2012.
“It looks like real stabilization,” said Kevin Kent, a broker-associate with Platinum Properties in Palm Beach County. “Nationwide, there is confidence building in the economy and people feel more free to go out and make the purchases they’ve wanted to make.”
Statewide, sales of single-family homes totaled 13,679 in January, up 11.7 percent from the previous year, while median sales prices jumped 12.4 percent to $145,000. The Florida Realtors group, which issued a statewide sales report Thursday, said January marked the 13th consecutive month for price gains for single-family homes and condominiums.
The median condo price was $112,000, an 18 percent increase.
The number of homes sold nationally jumped 9 percent in January from the previous year to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million. The median sales price was $173,600, up 12 percent.
The national report spurred declarations from some economists that the real estate market has tipped to favor the seller. Even Wells Fargo analysts sounded giddy, declaring that the spring home-buying season could “surprise on the upside,” as long as there’s no federal fiscal crisis.
“Buyer traffic is continuing to pick up, while seller traffic is holding steady,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, which issued a nationwide sales report Thursday. “In fact, buyer traffic is 40 percent above a year ago, so there is plenty of demand but insufficient inventory to improve sales more strongly.”
Higher sale prices also buoyed home values. About 70,484 South Florida homeowners regained equity in their homes during the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a new report from Zillow. That still left 39.6 percent of homes with mortgages in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties underwater, meaning the homeowner owes more on the loan than the home is worth. But that’s down from 41 percent during the third quarter of last year.
Thursday’s rosy home sales news is balanced by darker forces in the market, such as the 371,119 pending foreclosures in Florida’s court system as of December. Many of those homes will go up for sale at distressed prices after bank repossession.
Part of Palm Beach County’s rising prices are a result of fewer distressed sales. In January, foreclosure sales were down 37 percent from the previous year. Short sales were down 8 percent.
Also not revealed in the reports is the stress felt by some traditional buyers searching for the perfect home in a market full of investors, complex deals and tightened lending standards.
“Why does it take so long for a bank to do a short sale?” asked Ray Luisi, who closed on his Delray Beach home in December after wrangling with the bank for three months. “It just seems like the banks don’t want to communicate.”
Luisi put 20 percent down and easily earned financing.
Kent said more brokers are telling him about traditional loans that require just 5 percent down, but “you have to have sparkling credit.”
As for the Key West-style home, its ride was swift, but not without bumps. Repossessed by the bank in May, it was initially under contract within a month of going on the market in November. That fell through, the price dropped a little, it went under contract again, and the price dropped a little more. It closed earlier this month for $83,000, $11,000 less than its original list price.