ST. PETERSBURG - The most active active real estate market in the city is right in its center, two big neighborhoods called Disston Heights and Central Oak Park.
More homes are sold here than anywhere. Part of it is sheer size. These are large tracts of land with thousands of homes.
But it's not that simple. It's not just merely the number of sales. It's how many homes have sold compared to the total number of homes in the neighborhood.
In Disston Heights since 1998, there have been more than nine home sales for every 10 single-family residences that exist.
There are some simple reasons. These neighborhoods are high and dry - safer from hurricanes and no need for expensive flood insurance - and their affordable homes mean that more potential buyers exist for them.
The city of St. Petersburg's Web site describes Disston Heights as a well-kept neighborhood of concrete block homes and manicured lawns in the north central part of town. It is big.
Stretching from 34th Street to 58th Street N between 13th and 40th avenues, it dips down to Fifth Avenue N between 49th Street and 58th Street. Between 58th and 66th streets N, it fills a narrow band from 30th to 40th avenues.
More than 8,000 parcels of land and 3,000 homes occupy the area. In the past five years, 2,798 home sales have been recorded.
Affordability makes it popular.
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"If you're looking for a three-bedroom, two-bath house, you're looking at spending $250,000 or more," said Ted Tomas, who has been selling real estate in central St. Petersburg for 33 years. "Homes in Disston Heights are available for $100,000 less than that."
Disston Heights was settled in the late 1950s and early 1960s by young couples looking for starter homes, Tomas said. Many of them stayed to raise their families, but in the past five years, as they approached their 70s, they moved into retirement communities or died.
They have been replaced by younger families looking for starter homes of their own. Jeff Mars, 40, bought his two-bedroom, two-bath house, which was built in 1955, a little more than 10 years ago for $75,000. He was attracted to the neighborhood because it reminded him of the one he grew up in back in Rochester, N.Y.
"It seemed like a great place to raise children and it still is," Mars said. "It all revolved around security and peace of mind."
When Mars recently refinanced the 1,600-square-foot home, it appraised $138,000. He was pleased, but not surprised.
"I knew what the houses in the neighborhood were going for," he said.
His situation is typical. Since 1998, the median sales price in Disston Heights has risen 67 percent, from $69,000 to $115,000.
Disston Heights Neighborhood Association president Bob Garton Jr. has a convenient yardstick for measuring real estate activity in the area. The association assembles welcome packets for newcomers. Recently, members have been handing out between 50 and 60 a month, Garton said.
He and his roommate looked all over the county before settling two years ago on an 800-square-foot Disston Heights home, which cost $65,000. Besides the large selection of property from which he could choose, Garton was impressed with the relative height of the area.
"High and dry, no flood insurance required," is how Tomas, the Realtor, said he would describe the area in an advertisement. "And affordable. Not everyone can afford to go to Snell Isle or the beaches."
Central Oak Park has much the same history as its neighbor to the north.
As its name implies, it is a central St. Petersburg neighborhood with trees, sidewalks, brick streets and a cozy charm. Similar to Disston Heights, it was built mostly during the late 1940s and the 1950s and is experiencing what might be called a "second wave" of population.
Singles and younger families are looking for starter homes and are replacing some of the original residents who are retiring, selling out or dying.
The dynamic has resulted in 1,262 home sales since 1998 in a neighborhood city records show contains 2,950 homes. That represents a 43 percent turnover rate, although some houses have probably been sold more than once.
At the same time, the median sales price has jumped from $57,500 to $89,950 during the past five years.
On one block alone on 48th Street, houses have sold for $269,000 and $257,000, said neighborhood association president Dan Spice. Houses once selling for $50,000 to $55,000 are going for $80,000 to $100,000, he said.
"One of the things we've noticed, there are fewer rental properties," Spice said, which often translates into more pride in ownership and a more attractive piece of property.
Brian Longstreth, a Realtor and former Central Oak Park president, bought his first house in the neighborhood for $40,000 in 1993. It sold for double that in 2000, when Longstreth bought another house a few blocks away.
Longstreth said he likes the neighborhood because it is just a few minutes from downtown, the beaches and Interstate 275 access.
"It's one of those hidden neighborhoods. People don't realize how nice it is until you get off the main thoroughfare," Longstreth said.