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Housing prices in county stabilizing, Realtors' report says

After several years of rapid appreciation, experts say the cost of housing in Miami-Dade is leveling off


After several years of rapid appreciation, experts say the cost of housing in Miami-Dade is leveling off and becoming more stable.

According to a year-end sales report from the Florida Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing single-family home in the Miami metropolitan area rose 28% in 2005, leaping from 5273,900 to $351,200, although the number of sales using real estate brokers declined by about 1,500 over the period.

Despite those figures, marketwatchers say Miami-area pricing started slowing in mid-2005.

"On a sales and dollar-volume basis, it peaked during May-June 2005," said David Dabby, principal of The Dabby Group, a real estate valuation and consulting firm. "Since that time, sales have been declining and average pricing has leveled off. So, on average, what cost $300 a square foot in May-June is still selling for that today."

Esslinger Wooten Maxwell's Facts & Trends report, which is based on mean rather than median prices on the resale market, reported a mean countywide sale price of $536,000 in December. The average asking price was $921,000, a sign not of seller expectations gone rampant, said Esslinger Wooten Maxwell Sales Manager Beth Butler, but rather of an imbalance between supply and demand. More homes are selling in the lower price ranges, while more luxury homes are being put on the market.

She said Facts & Trends' breakdown shows that all areas of the county are holding their prices. In December, mean prices paid for a single-family home were:

Miami Beach, $2.058 million

Pinecrest, $1.718 million

Coral Gables, $1.221 million

Aventura    S836,000

Doral, 5612,000

Miami Springs, $395,000

"What we're seeing is that the tempo of sales is slowing," she said. "There are more houses on the market, so it's taking them a lot longer to sell. But I don't see anyone desperate to sell at drastic price reductions, and I don't see anything depreciating.

"We still have decent appreciation in the sought-after areas where we've always had it."

Mr. Dabby said he would expect homes in higher-end cornmunities such as Miami Beach and Pinecrest to continue to appreciate.

"The market has stabilized because prices have risen so fast," he said. "There's nothing wrong with a balanced market. A stable market will always produce much lower price returns. My advice would be to buy a house if you need a house, but

don't buy it it you're looking for rapid appreciation."

One potential fly in the ointment, Mr. Dabby said, would he a spike in interest rates, which have been rising by small increments.

John McCabe of McCabe Research & Consulting, which focuses on the condo market, points to August as the pivotal month when "sales cooled, appreciation started to slow and

inventory to blind.

"Sales took a big nosedive in November and December, which are historically the slowest sales months," he said. "So it's hard to predict. But I think January and February will tell the tale. Sales may improve slightly, but they've definitely been on a downward trend, and I predict they will be very slow in months to come."

Mr. McCabe estimated 2006 could see sale price drops of 20%-30%.

According to the Florida Association of Realtors, Miami's 28% appreciation in median home price over 2005 was on par with the rest of the state. Appreciation statewide was 29%, with spikes in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area (44%) and Orlando (41%).