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Single-family home sales grow steadily

Since 2000, sales have leaped approximately 20 percent annually, thanks to low interest rates and access to Tampa.

By BETH N. GRAY
Published February 15, 2004

That loud explosion you heard during 2003 likely originated from local real estate offices.

Sales of new and existing single-family homes by members of the Hernando County Association of Realtors reached a whopping 3,806 units during the past year, up from 3,146 the previous year, according to tabulations by the association.

Sales of single-family homes since 2000 leaped approximately 20 percent annually; last year's increase was 21 percent.

And buyers didn't dawdle. According to Realtors' records, 1,120 homes sold within 30 days of being placed on the market. An additional 782 homes sold within 60 days of listing.

Why such bustling activity?

"We're a bedroom community for Tampa," Hernando County property appraiser Alvin Mazourek said.

Real estate broker Barbara Quist with Remax Advantage Realty of Hernando County concurred, saying the Suncoast Parkway has made for an easy commute to the Tampa Bay area and opened livable opportunities for those who want to get away from urban congestion "where they don't have room to breathe."

"A lot of our customers are coming from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough," Quist said. "And still, customers are coming from all over the world to retire here."

Broker John Healion with Weichert Realtors in Spring Hill said new residents with roots and family elsewhere like Hernando's quick trip to Tampa International Airport via the Suncoast Parkway.

Also fueling last year's buying binge were low mortgage interest rates.

"They start as low as 1.25 percent . . . lowest I've ever seen," said Clay Heitler, owner of Affordable Home Mortgage Inc., which does business in Hernando and Pasco counties. "These low rates are keeping people buying houses and spending more money than they can usually afford."

Low interest rates enabled a lot of first-time buyers to get out of the rental market, Quist said, while low-cost money prompted others "to buy a home they couldn't afford before."

"People are buying their dream homes," said Cindy Lenke, Spring Hill branch broker with Home Mortgage Corp. of America Inc. "Buyers are upgrading."

Healion said the basic sale is for a three-bedroom, two-bath home with an attached garage.

"Most of them do have swimming pools," he said. "That's always high on the list."

Yet Gary Schraut of Coldwell Banker Schraut & Associates of Brooksville and Spring Hill maintained that it is not the size or configuration that drives a sale. "The real thing is the living area," Schraut said. "What really moves this is the living room," which, he explained, includes a great room, a family room and a formal dining room.

With more luxury amenities being offered, home prices have grown along with the number of sales. Mazourek said the average expenditure for a resale home last year was about $121,000, compared with $109,000 in 2002.

The higher prices for resale property have been boosted, Mazourek said, by rising land values and greater costs of new construction in Hernando.

The most popular purchases, according to the Realtors association, were three-bedroom homes costing between $100,000 and $119,999. Second in sales were three-bedroom units that commanded $120,000 to $139,999.

Close behind were more modest accommodations - two-bedroom residences with closing prices between $70,000 and $70,999.

Condominiums and townhouses were weak sellers, with only 28 units sold during the year.

As for the location of all the action, "it's almost across the board," Schraut said. "All developments are doing well. It's not just Silverthorn or Lake in the Woods or the Spring Hill Country Club. Everything is selling."

Added Quist: "I don't know one (development or community) that isn't selling."

Will the boom continue in 2004? Most believe so.

"As long as things stay as they are and there's no outside influences - a major storm or hurricane - I think 2004 will be as strong as 2003," Schraut said.

"If interest rates remain low, we should have a good market," Healion said.

The steadiness of interest rates will continue this year, predicted mortgage broker Heitler, and that will keep the home-buying market eager and able to upgrade their abodes.

"I don't see them raising interest rates. It's one area that is really holding on," he said. "It's sparking the economy."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]


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