A city that has doubled in land and population since 2000 bids adieu to the under-$100,000 abode.
By MARY JANE PARK
Published February 15, 2004
SEMINOLE - Years before its incorporation as a city in 1970, Seminole was "orange groves, rattlesnakes and cows," native Sandy Hartmann remembers.
Central Plaza in St. Petersburg was the big shopping draw. "We'd go to Bay Pines and catch the bridge," Hartmann says. "It was a one-way bridge then, and you had to honk the horn before you crossed over."
As is typical throughout much of the rest of Pinellas County, Seminole has little space left on which to build.
"They're finding every crack of green space they can possibly build on," Hartmann says.
Relatively affordable housing has drawn numerous residents to the area, although median prices in Oakhurst, Northwest Seminole and West Seminole are edging toward the $200,000 mark.
Five years ago, it was fairly easy to purchase a house in the area for $60,000. No more. These days, buyers will find it difficult to find a single-family home for less than $100,000, says Hartmann, who is No. 1 in residential sales in Seminole.
The area is roughly defined by Ulmerton Road to the north, Starkey Road to the east, Bay Pines Boulevard to the south and Oakhurst Road to the west.
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Several factors make it a desirable community in which to live, Hartmann says.
"It's close to the beach. It's not as congested as other areas. From where I live in Seminole, I'm five minutes to a regional shopping center (Seminole Mall). I'm five minutes to Tyrone and Largo. The beaches are at my fingertips. There's no traffic. There are no bridges. It's a straight shot to the airport (Tampa International). People come home to Seminole."
Dee Engelken has lived on the same street in Oakhurst Shores for about 35 years. She and her husband, Dan, started in one house and then moved up to get a back yard with trees instead of a pool. Their ranch-style home has a view of the Intracoastal Waterway and Boca Ciega Bay. They have a dock and have owned several boats.
The Engelkens have no plans to leave the neighborhood. They like being on the mainland and being settled. Remodeling is probably more cost-effective with home prices so high now, Dee Engelken said. She and her husband remodeled both of their Oakhurst Shores homes.
"Some people are going crazy with remodeling," she says, meaning they are adding second stories instead of a bedroom and bath.
"I heard the other day that two houses were being demolished."
Teardowns are a trend in many Pinellas beach towns and neighborhoods in St. Petersburg such as Snell Isle. But Oakhurst Shores has yet to have many new owners who buy, tear down and build bigger, she says.
Soon-to-be retirees from up North are buying in Oakhurst Shores, as are young families, Engelken says. Even some siblings have followed family members in.
City Manager Frank Edmunds says local governments nationwide are feeling pressure to make their communities more livable.
They "are more sensitive on the excellence of the municipal services they are offering, whether it be recreation, library or response from code enforcement," Edmunds says. Seminole has been upgrading its recreational facilities in the past couple of years, he said.
A factor over which the city has no control also tags the livability of a town: public schools.
Seminole's are highly sought after, receiving favorable ratings. Seminole High, for example, boasts excellence in academics, athletics and band.
Two years ago, the Pinellas school system announced a new choice plan that left the placement of children in schools up to a lottery. However, the district allowed families who were in their homes as of June 6, 2001, to be grandfathered into the neighborhood schools they would have attended under the previous system. That triggered a rush to buy in Seminole, as figures for the area show.
"People were grabbing houses off the shelf," Hartmann says. "There was a huge push for living here."
These days, she says, some of those buyers feel they are being held hostage to their homes.
"I've heard that quite a bit," she says.
Though house values have increased, parents are reluctant to move because they lose their grandfathering advantage in selecting public schools.
For the past few years, annexation has been a crucial issue in Seminole, which has doubled in land and population since 2000.
Although the city tried in vain last summer to add another five areas to increase its population, land mass and tax income, it still is adding a number of residents who have applied for voluntary annexation.
If homeowners wish to take a slow, steady approach toward being included in the city limits, the same trend is true of house sales during the past five years, both within the city and just outside it.
Median sales prices are up anywhere from 46 to 61 percent in the greater Seminole area.
Only residents of the Oakhurst area outside the city limits saw an appreciation of more than 60 percent in median sales prices.
In part, that may be because houses in the Oakhurst Shores area, some of which face the Intracoastal Waterway along Boca Ciega Bay, are the only waterfront offerings in the area.
Three years ago, Hartmann said, housing stock in Oakhurst Shores sold for around $200,000. More recently, new buyers are paying at least half a million dollars to move into the area and are spending thousands more for reconstruction. Some are beginning to raze existing houses to build new, larger waterfront manses.
West Seminole prices appreciated least in the seven Seminole-area regions studied, going up by 46 percent.
Hartmann says house prices have increased so dramatically that tenants are finding it difficult to save enough money to buy. She anticipates the next real estate trend will be rapidly rising rents, which may spur another cycle in buying.
- Staff writer Sharon L. Bond contributed to this report.