Real estate prices continue to rise, particularly for homes on the water or a golf course or those with several acres.
By AMY WIMMER SCHWARB
Published February 15, 2004
[Times photo: Stephen J. Coddington]
Harry and Sandy Greenway moved into their 7 3/4-acre home in Crystal River Country Estates in Lecanto in 1984 for $123,000. Today, they wouldn't consider selling it for less than $300,000.
Harry Greenway bought his piece of Citrus County paradise 20 years ago and paid $123,000 for the house with 73/4 wooded acres, three bedrooms and a long, curvy driveway.
Then Greenway invested more, adding a pool, asphalting his driveway and installing a four-car garage. Today, he wouldn't consider selling it for less than $300,000.
Like thousands of other Floridians in Citrus County and elsewhere, Greenway's home isn't just his castle; it's a major investment. Stock prices may falter, but real estate prices have gone nowhere but up, up, up, especially for homes on the water or a golf course, or those that come with several acres.
Today, the median sale price of a home in Citrus County is 54 percent higher than it was five years ago, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis of 14,626 Citrus home sales since 1998. The average sale price then was $58,400; last year, it was $90,000.
On the water, property has done even better than in the Central Ridge, where Greenway lives.
"I did look at some houses in Crystal River," Greenway, a retired Florida Power employee, said of his house hunt 20 years ago. "You could buy most of the houses on Kings Bay over there for $70,000 at that time. Now, you're looking at that just for a lot."
In areas to the south like St. Petersburg and south Tampa, where property values have ballooned to price out middle-income families not already established in the neighborhoods, skyrocketing house prices have actually become a problem. Locals fear that businesses looking for new locations might bypass areas that lack moderately priced housing.
But longtime Citrus County property owners have the best of both worlds: Low housing prices a few years ago made it easy to get into the market, and those property owners have seen their real estate investments grow exponentially.
At the same time, Citrus today still offers the cheapest housing on the North Suncoast, and already, Suncoast Parkway commuters are taking notice, even though the parkway terminates south of the Citrus County line.
"People love the lifestyle of Citrus County," said Ken Breland, vice president and director of sales for Black Diamond Realty. "The parkway now gives them quick, ready access to Tampa International Airport, major shopping, all of the commercial amenities of the Tampa Bay market."
The median sale price for a Pasco County home last year was $104,000; for Hernando County, it was $105,000. Yet median sale prices in Citrus escalated more quickly in the past five years, at 54 percent.
The prices increased 50 percent in Pasco, 37 percent in Hernando. The slower pace in the other North Suncoast counties is likely due to the fact that Citrus real estate started off at a lower price.
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For Citrus, Black Diamond property owners were the big winners from 1998 to 2003, when median sale prices climbed 176 percent in the gated neighborhood. Following a close second was Crystal River, where the median sale price went from $67,200 in 1998 to $185,000 in 2003.
Property Appraiser Ron Schultz says that's no surprise. In his review of Citrus property prices, "the rich are getting richer," Schultz said. People who invest more reap more, Schultz says.
The median sale price for a home in Black Diamond in 2002, for example, was $297,500. In 2003, the median sale price was $387,000.
"An outsider comes in and says, "My gosh, this is heaven,' " Helfand, of Black Diamond Realty, said of his community's appeal to buyers from South Florida and Tampa Bay. "You've got great schools. It's a safe place to live. And oh, by the way, you happen to have two world-class golf courses."
Meanwhile, nearby affordable Beverly Hills had a median sale price of $53,250 in 2002 that had risen to only $54,000 by 2003.
In Beverly Hills, the sales prices have increased 33 percent between 1998 and 2003, one of the worst performances in the county. But the prices in the original sections of the development, where prices have lagged, are included in that average, leaving the newer parts of Beverly Hills to buoy averages in the old.
Schultz said he studied Beverly Hills two years ago and found that the older homes are not even appreciating at the price of inflation. "The decision was being made by young, entry-level people: Do I buy a pre-existing starter home, or do I buy a mobile home?" Schultz said. "More of them were making the mobile home decision, and therefore that was driving down the price of the entry-level home."
The only area where home prices are escalating more slowly than Beverly Hills is Citrus Springs, where county government has stepped in to help a community abandoned by its developer.
The county helped residents establish a system for assessing fees that helped repave roads, add street lights and build a new, state-of-the-art community center for Citrus Springs. Those improvements, plus the addition of the lauded El Diablo golf course, could add up to good things ahead for Citrus Springs.
In 2003, the median sale price for Citrus Springs was $74,500.
"The biggest year is yet to come," said Peter Monteleone, a longtime Citrus Springs resident. "The prices will be breaking $100,000 because what's happening now - it's being discovered. It was kind of like the best-kept secret in the county."
But in the meantime, the area's median sale price grew just 21 percent in Citrus Springs, the most modest increase in the county. The increase is favorable compared to areas like north Zephyrhills in Pasco County or Timber Pines in Hernando County, but by fast-escalating Citrus County standards, the increase is modest.
Some of the most significant increases in median sales came in the communities most people would expect: Crystal River, Homosassa, Hernando and other areas where lakes and rivers give Citrus ample waterfront property.
According to the Property Appraiser's Office, the median sale price increased just 4.94 percent between 2002 and 2003. But look specifically at riverfront properties, and that figure swells to 29.52 percent.
"There are a lot of people out there in the real estate profession saying, "Can this rate of increase be maintained?' And most of them are saying no," said Schultz. "Whether it's going to burst or gradually decline is anybody's guess."
- Times staff writer Matthew Waite and computer-assisted reporting specialist Constance Humburg contributed to this report. Amy Wimmer Schwarb can be reached at 860-7305 or firstname.lastname@example.org