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It's a hot sellers' market here, too

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

Low interest rates and the Suncoast Parkway have boosted not only the sale of new homes in Hernando County but the resale of existing homes.

"Every indicator I have is saying that sales are up," said Lisa Gurske, executive vice president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors.

Sales of existing single-family homes in 2002 -- 3,146 houses -- were about the same as in 2001 -- 3,151 -- according to the Hernando County Property Appraiser's Office. But both years showed a 21 percent jump from 2000, when 2,601 single-family houses were sold.

Nationwide, low interest rates have encouraged a growth spurt in the housing market during the past two years, as figures for national housing starts and sales have shown.

The all-time record low for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 5.69 percent for the week ending Dec. 27, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, which surveys lenders to estimate weekly averages.

"For the last six months, we've been at numbers not seen since the early '60s," said Tisha Richardson, association spokeswoman.

Several local mortgage companies said they had an incredible year with both new sales and refinancing.

"This rate is as low as it's gotten," said Cindy Lemke, a branch broker at Home Mortgage Corp. of America in Spring Hill, who quoted a 5.87 interest rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan of $100,000 in mid January. "2002 was a great year."

Elaine Grenon, owner of Keller Williams Realty of the Florida West Coast, said her sales doubled in 2002 over 2001.

"The lower interest rates definitely helps, especially for the younger families in the area," Grenon said.

Some people have decided the securities market is too volatile for their investment or retirement savings, said Marilyn Pearson of Century 21 Alliance Realty.

"People are investing their money in real estate, because they feel it's more secure," said Pearson, who is also president of the county's Realtors association.

Hernando County has also benefitted, in particular, from the opening of the Suncoast Parkway, both Realtors and builders said. More Pinellas and Hillsborough residents are realizing how quickly they can get from Hernando County to Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"The area around Spring Hill Drive, on this (west) side of the parkway has had tremendous growth," said Dan Richard, broker president of Florida Realty Connections. "We're in a serious sellers' market. A house that's priced right is gone."

The strong housing market has attracted new Realtors and builders to the area. More agents mean more advertising dollars are spent attracting more prospective buyers to the county, said Shiloh Homes president Eugene Concklin. On the other hand, with so many new agents and small companies, sales have dispersed some.

"We're getting our share of business, but there are just so many sellers out there right now that nobody's making a killing," said Pat Fleck, owner of Fleck Real Estate, who has sold real estate in Spring Hill for nearly three decades.

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