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Retiring baby boomers fuel waterfront boom

Tiny Crystal Beach used to be sleepy, beachy. Now an influx of newcomers is changing its feel.

Published February 15, 2004

CRYSTAL BEACH - Most every day, David Smalley walks his rowing shell the five blocks from his Broadus Street home to Crystal Beach Park before taking the boat out into St. Joseph's Sound.

Smalley, 63, loves the water. For a while, he, and his wife, Linda Hall-Smalley, 58, even lived on a 36-foot trawler.

So when the two retired teachers from Connecticut decided to buy a home here in 2002, settling close to the water was a must.

"It was very important," said Hall-Smalley.

They aren't the first newcomers to Pinellas to make that decision, and real estate agents say they won't be the last.

Retirees like the Smalleys have historically flocked to Pinellas County, helping create high demand for waterfront property - whether it's the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay or Lake Tarpon. And as baby boomers begin to retire en masse over the next decade, their ranks are only expected to grow.

In July 2002, the Smalleys decided on a converted beach home scheduled for demolition. Renovated, the home cost them $175,000. The man who sold it to them, Norm Cullen, owner of Bayou Marketing Group Inc., bought the house for a "few thousand bucks," he said.

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Real houses, real prices

So, what does a median price house look like? It depends on the neighborhood. To view representative homes from south Pinellas County, see our photo gallery.

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But the money didn't matter to the Smalleys.

They moved to Crystal Beach for the view.

"It's perfect," Hall-Smalley said. "It's a real neighborhood. It's an old, established neighborhood. There's just something about that."

Though the Smalleys have lived in Crystal Beach only since 2001, they have seen the homes get bigger, newer and pricier. They wish the people looking to build multimillion-dollar mansions along the waterfront would stay away.

But they don't even have to see the numbers to know that's not likely to happen.

The demand created by an influx of baby boomer retirees will continue to translate into higher home prices, Largo-based Realtor Brian Staveley said.

"Where do they want to live?" Staveley said. "They're not moving to Idaho or Nebraska. They're moving to Florida and California. And that's what they're going to continue to do."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 06:41:45]

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