Palm Beach County home prices soften as seller’s market eases

11:59 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 Nation & World

Palm Beach County home prices softened in November, reflecting a shift away from the strong seller’s market of recent years.

The median price of houses sold last month was just $300,000, the lowest point since March, the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches said Wednesday. Sales totaled 1,225, the weakest showing since February.

In a telltale sign of the direction of the housing market, the inventory of homes for sale is increasing. There was a 5.1-month supply of houses on the market in November, an 11 percent increase from a year ago.

An inventory of 5.5 months is considered a balanced market, one that favors neither sellers nor buyers, said Judy Ramella, president of the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches and a broker at Continental Properties in West Palm Beach.

“Sellers have had market advantage for quite some time, but now we are inching towards the benchmark for a neutral market,” Ramella said.

As a result, the median price of houses sold by Realtors was up only 3.8 percent from a year ago. And the average home price fell from a year ago, perhaps a reflection of slowing mansion sales.

Mike Pappas, president of The Keyes Co., sees a shortage of homes priced at less than $300,000 but a glut of mansions listed at more than $1 million.

“It’s a tale of two cities right now,” Pappas said.

Meanwhile, condos and townhouses already have moved to a neutral market, according to Realtors’ statistics. There was a 5.6-month supply of condos in November.

Even so, condo prices were strong. The median sale price of a condo in Palm Beach County was $160,000 in November, up 15 percent from a year ago.

Nationally, the inventory of homes for sale is just 4 months, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

The distressed sales that drove Palm Beach County’s post-crash market have all but disappeared. There were only 89 sales of foreclosed houses in November, a 48 percent plunge from a year ago.

Palm Beach County home prices have soared over the past five years, and housing experts long have expected the market to cool. Mortgage rates rose after the Nov. 8 election, although buyers who closed deals in November likely were under contract to buy in October, before the increase in rates.

The average rate for a 30-year mortgage is 4.16 percent, according to, a rock-bottom price by historical standards. And lending standards have eased, bringing more young buyers into the market, Pappas said.

“People don’t believe they can get financing, and once they realize they can, it’s opening up a door,” he said.

Even as Palm Beach County’s housing market slows, the underlying economy remains solid. The unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in November, and wages are the highest in the state.