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GAINESVILLE, FL-The latest quarterly survey by the University of Florida’s Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies shows that respondents are gaining confidence in government stimulus plans to unfreeze credit and revitalize business conditions. Positive responses to many questions indicate light at the end of the tunnel, say the surveyors.

“People believe in some instances that a lot of what the government is doing to try to inject capital into the system may actually have some effect,” says Timothy Becker, director of the Bergstrom Center. He notes that the most significant finding is that respondents’ perception of their own business outlook has improved after three years of steady decline.

Another positive finding is the perception of availability of capital, which Becker says jumped to its highest level in three years of surveying by UF. Respondents expect some money to trickle back into real estate as investors gain confidence in the steps banks are taking to remove bad assets from their balance sheets, he says.

“If real estate investors think there are opportunities out there for their firms to make money, that means there are deals that will be getting done,” Becker says. “And when deals start getting done, various participants in the transactions make money and it’s almost like a snowball effect.”

However, many of the survey’s 335 respondents express concern that capital is not yet actually available. Berger points out that any recovery will slow down if loans come due on shopping centers, for example, and there is no capital in the marketplace to refinance those loans.

The latest survey, released Tuesday, is the Bergstrom Center’s first since December, when confidence in real estate markets had sunk to a new low. The retail sector is in the worst shape in Florida because of reduced consumer spending, while the office market is being affected by job losses.

Confidence in the apartment market is also falling, as the result of foreclosed residents moving in with family or friends rather than rental units, Becker says. Single-family home prices are expected to continue falling in areas with a glut of foreclosures, he says.

In a related note, the Florida Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that sales of existing single-family homes rose 25% in the first quarter from the same period in 2008, with sales of existing condominiums increasing 19%. However, the statewide median price of existing homes fell 30% over the year, to $141,000.

“In the short term, I think we will have more downward pressure on prices, particularly in places where foreclosures have been pretty high,” Becker says. He points to Lee County as being the state’s hardest-hit area, with places such as Miami and Jacksonville hurting to some extent.

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