MONROE COUNTY -- The first quarter of 2013 was a good one for the Florida Keys housing market overall, but the results were mixed in the Upper Keys.
According to Multiple Listing Service data compiled by Coldwell Banker Schmitt Real Estate, 668 homes, condos and mobile homes sold Keyswide from January through March -- up 27 percent from the same period last year. Prices rose as well, with the median home property costing $330,000, a 5 percent increase from the first quarter of 2012.
The price increases, though, were not steady across the Keys. Median prices rose 14 percent in the Middle Keys, 12 percent in the Lower Keys and 7 percent in Key West. In contrast, the median Upper Keys home price dropped 8 percent, from $315,000 last year to $290,000 this year.
Multiple Listing Service data doesn't capture sales at the Ocean Reef Club on North Key Largo, nor does it capture homes that were listed by owners.
The price decline in the Upper Keys could be a bit misleading, data suggests. While canalfront homes and condo prices did drop, the prices of open-water and dry-lot homes bumped slightly upward, MLS data prepared by Century 21 Schwartz Realty shows.
Helping to drive the median price downward was the strong quarter for the less expensive dry-lot homes. All told, there 151 residential sales in the Islamorada, Tavernier and Key Largo areas during the first quarter, up from 138 during the first three months of last year. The less costly dry-lot homes drove the increase, with 47 selling this January through March compared with 31 last year.
Meanwhile, said Century 21 Schwartz's Tracy Larson, the 21 percent decrease in the average sales price of canalfront homes, to $611,000, was influenced by three foreclosure properties that sold for less than $300,000. She called the canalfront dip an anomaly.
"I think the second quarter stats will show that has improved," Larson said.
In the Middle Keys, the 14 percent increase in median home prices last quarter was accompanied by a 25 percent increase in the number of sales, which jumped from 84 to 105. The Lower Keys had 73 closings this year from January through March, up from 59 last year. Keyswide, closings jumped 21 percent, from 402 to 482.
The spring could bring more of the same. There were 27 percent more pending transactions in the Keys at the end of March 2013 than there were at the end of March 2012.
Distressed properties are still a prevalent player in the Keys market, but their numbers are diminishing. The portion of distressed homes in the Upper Keys housing market was 13 percent at the end of the first quarter, down from 17 percent last year, according to data compiled by Realty World Freewheeler.
One negative indicator in the first quarter housing market is that homes which sold this winter were listed for 10 days longer on average than those that sold last winter.
Still, said Ed Anderson of Coldwell Banker, home inventory in the Keys now stands at 15 months, down from 56 months in late 2007, during the height of the housing collapse
"We feel like the indicators are that things are going to be good this year," Anderson said. "We anticipate that we should start to see an increase in the average sale price as the year progresses."