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Lifestyle dictates suburbs vs. city

Living in the suburbs you can get more house for the money, but South Tampa loyalists prefer charm over huge rooms.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 19, 2002


TAMPA -- What's the difference between South Tampa and the suburbs?

About 1,000 square feet.

A pool, maybe. Or even a three-car garage.

For some, South Tampa is the center of the universe, orbited by old-house charm, Bayshore views and short commutes to downtown.

But it's no secret that buyers get little house for their money.

Just see how far $250,000 will go in Palma Ceia vs. the far-flung neighborhoods of Carrollwood, New Tampa or Brandon, where frills are often the norm.

"For $250,000 you can get a nice four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a two- or three-car garage, a pool and a decent-sized lot on a conservation area in the suburbs," says Linda Hallgren, an agent for Smith and Associates.

The same house, Hallgren estimates, would cost twice as much south of Kennedy Boulevard.

These days, South Tampa homes in the $250,000 price range include a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with 1,370 square feet and a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with 1,672 square feet.

For the same price in Westchase, shoppers find a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home with 2,236 square feet and a pool and heated spa. Brandon listings include several four- and five-bedroom homes with 2,400 to 3,000 square feet of living space.

The decision to settle south or in the suburbs for the most part boils down to lifestyle choices, say Tampa real estate agents.

"The suburbs are more family oriented, and it's easier to get a home with a pool, which is very appealing to people moving to Tampa from other parts of the country," Hallgren says.

Brian Livingston moved to Carrollwood from Kansas City, Mo., with his wife and two children in August. They spent about $260,000 for a 2,800-square-foot home with four bedrooms, four bathrooms and a pool.

"We were originally attracted to South Tampa," Livingston says. "We lived in an 80-year-old house in Kansas City and liked it, and we lived in an older house in California and liked it."

The Livingstons liked the beautiful old homes of South Tampa but found them too small to be practical. They also had tiny yards and were near busy streets.

"We wanted room for two kids, a dog, a pool and a yard," Livingston says. "If it was just my wife and I we would probably be living in South Tampa right now."

Gordon Imms moved from Toronto in November. He looked all over the Tampa area, including South Tampa, for a home that met his needs and desires. Coming from the frigid North, he knew he wanted a pool.

"It's not something we have back home," he says.

So he settled in Brandon, in a brand new, 2,600-square-foot home with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a great room, formal dining room, breakfast room and a pool that overlooks a lake in a conservation area. The price: $222,940.

"I saw what was available (in Brandon) vs. what was in South Tampa, and I decided, no, I don't need to fix up a house," Imms says. "I wanted the new build and the square footage."

Brian Seaberg, who in December bought a 3,000-square-foot house with four bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a swimming pool, attached three-car garage and a view of a pond in a conservation area for $256,500, puts it a little more strongly.

"The pricing in South Tampa to me isn't aligned with lifestyle down there," Seaberg says. "We didn't even consider it. Frankly I don't know how they move that property. For us, this is a lot of house. It's as much house as we'll ever need. And I can't imagine pigeon-holing into 1,600 square feet."

Jeff and Sue Pavone, on the other hand, have always lived in South Tampa and probably always will. They moved just a few blocks from their home on Himes Avenue in February 2001.

They looked for years for a house in South Tampa that was within their price range before finding a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom, two-story home with 2,445 square feet for $245,000 -- a veritable bargain by local standards.

They knew they could get more house for their money in other neighborhoods.

"Everyone talks about that," Sue says.

But Jeff refused to move out of the area.

"We wanted to stay in South Tampa. We wanted to stay in this area because it's close to Bayshore where we exercise," Sue says. "The school system is great and it's convenient to everything."

The couple's children are 12 and 14.

Soon, Hallgren says, it will be hard to find anything for under $200,000 in the south part of town unless it's "geographically challenged," meaning it probably has the Crosstown Expressway or Dale Mabry Highway in its backyard.

"In South Tampa, the big thing is the tear-down and rebuild," Hallgren says. "They're pushing out the low end."

But that's not likely to deter loyalists who will continue to pay a premium to live in South Tampa, while their friends pay the same price to spread out in their sprawling homes in the suburbs.

-- Janet Zink, who begins writing about Hillsborough homes and real estate for the Times this week, has lived in Tampa for 15 years.

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