Real estate hit by exodus

Aug.August 18, 2009 12:56 PM

Florida’s population declined last year for the first time in 63 years as the steep global recession put the brakes on migration here and sent many residents packing, new University of Florida research shows.

Florida lost 58,000 residents compared to a year earlier, as the nation’s fourth largest state reported a population of 18.7 million people. The number of Floridians lost represents a city roughly the size of Pensacola, Homestead or Kissimmee.

“It’s really both a cause and an effect,” said Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida. “The recession is causing people to leave and this is an effect of the recession.”

For the state’s embattled real estate industry, the population decline is just one more challenge, said John Seabree, lobbyist for the Florida Association of Realtors. State economists say 300,000 homes already are for sale in Florida, considered a two-year backlog of inventory.

“When the economy starts easing nationwide, that’s when Florida will bounce back,” Seabree said, noting home sales have been climbing in consecutive months for almost a year. The average sale price has risen for three straight months.

Statewide, the average home sells for $142,000, realtors said.

A year earlier, even as the recession began to grip Florida and the nation, the state still gained 126,852 new residents. But those findings were a sharp drop from increases of almost 500,000 residents seen in 2003 to 2004, records show.

South Florida was among the areas hardest hit by the population slump, said Smith, who so far has released only the statewide population figure.

The university is expected to release city-by-city details of the latest population survey Wednesday. But the findings bolster trends already reflected in three consecutive years of school enrollment decline and a drop in the number of jobs available in Florida.

State economists forecast that Florida’s unemployment rate will hover around 11 percent through at least the first half of next year.

Luring out-of-state residents has been Florida’s central economic plan since the early days of statehood. One of Florida’s most robust periods occurred when annual population growth of 2 to 2.6 percent was reported from the mid-1990s through 2006, according to university demographers.

But when the recession hit — officially in December 2007 — Florida’s growth numbers began tailing off. Looking ahead, only 70,000 new Floridians are expected to be added in the next two years, officials have said.

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