End of Population Growth Era in Florida

"We're experiencing a tremendous amount of transactions, up 35% year over year for the first six months, and it's being driven by first-time homebuyers," says Rei Mesa, president of Prudential Florida Real Estate.

Despite the precipitous price drop, many economists expect Florida housing values to remain higher than those in the rest of the Southeast. That may entice retirees and families to move from northern states to Georgia or North Carolina instead of Florida, says University of Florida economist David Denslow.

Already, some Floridians such as Linden and Nancy Anderson are leaving. The Andersons moved to South Florida from New York in 1985 seeking a safer place for their teenage son.

"When we used to come down here on vacation, I liked what I saw," says Linden, now 69, who worked as a ramp serviceman for now-defunct Eastern Airlines and later as a shuttle bus driver for Hertz. They bought a house in Kendall, 20 miles south of Miami, when prices were low but later bought a larger home when prices were rising rapidly.

He hasn't worked since heart surgery. Nancy, 68, has gone back to work part time as a dental assistant. She complains that Florida wages are low while the cost of living is high.

They're ready to move to Georgia to be close to their son and 4-year-old grandson, but they can't sell their house. Its value has already dropped $100,000 to about $260,000.

Says Nancy: "I'm stuck."

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