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It's a renter's market in South Tampa

Houses must compete with fancy new apartments to attract residents. Some people are lowering rents.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002


Drive around South Tampa these days, and you'll see "House for Rent" signs posted on what seems like every street corner.

What gives?

Those who own and manage properties say a convergence of circumstances -- chiefly, low interest rates and an apartment building boom -- have increased options for renters.

The result: Rental houses stay on the market longer than they have in the past.

"Five years ago there was hardly any competition," says Patty Ragland, who owns Tampa Bay Realty and has been managing rental houses, townhomes and condominiums in South Tampa for a decade.

Post apartment communities in Hyde Park and on Harbour Island and the Madison at SoHo in Hyde Park, which offer brand-new construction and feature such amenities as swimming pools, fitness centers and community events, are luring people who otherwise might choose to rent a house, she says.

To compete, she's had to lower prices on some of the 25 homes she rents in South Tampa. Currently, she's listing a three-bedroom, two-bathroom pool home on Davis Islands for $2,000 a month, and four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Interbay (surrounded by $1-million homes) for $1,900 a month.

Those homes have to compete with a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse at Post Harbour Place that commands about $2,300 a month.

Russell Rich, a real estate agent with Geary and Associates, manages about 80 houses and duplexes for rent in South Tampa. He says higher-end homes, especially those that rent for more than $1,000, are slow to move.

Rich says his agency recently lowered rents on a number of rentals.

Marcia Montgomery owns five houses for rent in South Tampa. She's currently listing a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home for $1,200 a month and is considering lowering the asking price, even though she recently bought and completely renovated the home.

"Usually I put an ad in the paper and it's rented within a day," Montgomery says.

But a week passed with no takers.

Low interest rates could be converting renters to buyers, Montgomery reasons. With many rentals going for $1,000 or more, some find it cheaper to own.

"I guarantee you if I had anything under $1,000 I could rent it in a day," she says.

Not everyone, though, sees the new communities as a drain on business.

Property managers with apartments in South Tampa say they're faring just fine.

Hamilton Jones, owner of Gaspar Properties, which oversees about 120 units in South Tampa, says the big marketing efforts of the new rental communities actually bring more people to the area. Plus, the rents of the older units tend to be lower than those at the newly built apartment complexes.

"They're asking exorbitant prices," says Eddie Hauer, who manages 60 apartment buildings in South Tampa. "I'm renting my one-bedrooms for $500."

One-bedroom apartments at the Madison at SoHo start at $965 a month.

Mark Bastille, with three apartment buildings in Hyde Park, says rentals are a little more sluggish than in previous years. Five years ago, he was able to bump up rents every year, and now they've leveled off. But he's keeping his properties leased.

"I was a little worried that all of this luxury stuff they're building would hurt (my business)," he says. "But my stuff is a specialty because it's old buildings, Hyde Park charm, a mom-and-pop deal. So we cater to a smaller niche of that bigger market."

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