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The elusive starter home

Many buyers who are almost squeezed out of the market look for a find in Pinellas Park, Lealman and Kenneth City.

Published February 15, 2004

Carrie Vitale helps families with modest incomes find homes they can afford. In the mid Pinellas communities of Pinellas Park, Lealman and Kenneth City, there is still housing under $100,000, but Vitale wonders for how long.

Median real estate prices have risen from $65,000 to $100,000 in the past five years - good news for many - but Vitale sees families on the margin being squeezed out of the opportunity to own a home.

"A lot of what we see, in so many of the areas, the housing has gone out of the range of some people," said Vitale, whose Tampa Bay Community Development Association oversees the Homebuyer Assistance Program. "The prices have caused a lot of families and individuals not to afford (a home). Housing under $100,000 is few and far between."

Beyond the normal upward trend for property values, officials and real estate agents see contributing factors in Pinellas Park, Lealman and Kenneth City:

- New owners are buying up available low-cost properties, then rehabilitating them.

- The central location is accessible to airports, interstates, beaches and the rest of Pinellas.

- It's one of the last areas in Pinellas County where larger tracts of undeveloped land can be found. Pinellas Park has encouraged the development of properties half an acre and larger - enough for a horse or two in the back yard.

- Long-deprived neighborhoods are seeing improvements such as reclaimed water, parks and ball fields.

Property values are up everywhere, but the presence or absence of the following factors predict just how rich an increase a neighborhood experienced.

The cost
of living (here):
Research home prices
by neighborhood
Use the interactive maps located on the pages linked below show the rates at which prices have risen in neighborhoods throughout the 5-county Tampa Bay area:
Pinellas County
Citrus County
Hernando County
Pasco County
Hillsborough County

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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.

County Appraisers
To research detailed information about individual properties, click below to each county's website.
Citrus appraiser
Citrus database search
Hernando appraiser
Hernando database search
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Pinellas appraiser
Pinellas database search
Hillsborough appraiser
Hillsborough database search

NEW VERSUS OLD: Near the western end of 94th Avenue N, many new houses have large, manicured lots and grazing horses. Prices are up 77 percent since 1998.

But Mainlands, a community for seniors that has small, cookie-cutter homes in a condominium-style setting, saw only a 36 percent rise in prices, the lowest percentage increase in Pinellas Park, Lealman and Kenneth City.

Realtor Rick Butler, a Pinellas Park council member, said the wide disparity should not last long.

"I think (Mainlands) was what I consider a late bloomer," Butler said. "I think you're going to see those values begin to rise rather quickly" as senior buyers realize that bargains are available.

AMENITIES COUNT: Government interest and care can help - or hurt - home prices. Consider the unincorporated Lealman area between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. It stretches roughly from Interstate 275 on the east to Park Street on the west. It's divided in two by Kenneth City and the edge of Pinellas Park.

Eastern Lealman can be defined by what it does not have: street lights, unified garbage service, grocery stores, adequate fire hydrants. There is one small park. The housing stock is old, much of it wood frame.

Neighborhood activists are working to get street lights, but mass improvements are a long way off.

Western Lealman, between Kenneth City and Park Street, also lacks adequate fire hydrants and unified garbage service, but there are subdivisions with street lights. A strip mall at 54th Avenue N and Park Street has a Publix. Doctors' offices abound on the perimeter.

Property values over the past five years reflect the differences: In the east, the median price for a single-family home increased from $53,700 in 1998 to $82,000 last year, or 53 percent.

In west Lealman, single-family home values rose by 69 percent and, more to the point, the median price last year was $114,000.

Extras also make for differences between Pinellas Park neighborhoods.

Broderick Park has undergone a $2.1-million renovation and speed tables have been installed to slow traffic.

The price of housing in the area has risen 67 percent, from a median price of $62,900 in 1998 to $104,900 in 2003.

A few streets away, near Youth Park, the houses are older and, in many cases, appear to be in poor condition. There are few trees. The neighborhood has gotten less attention from the city. So, the percentage increase (47) in property values paled against its neighbor, and the median sales price was $10,000 less.

A year or so ago, Youth Park residents asked for the city's help. Pinellas Park has since spent about $30,000 on new sidewalks and pedestrian safety crossings, decorative street lighting and neighborhood signs. Another $10,000 will go toward landscaping, shade trees and garbage cans next to benches. Though not related to the revitalization efforts, the city has connected 80 percent of the homes in the neighborhood to the reclaimed water system.

The goal is for city improvements to provide something for residents to be proud of, said Susan Walker, Pinellas Park's business and neighborhood development director. That pride, she said, should motivate homeowners to keep the neighborhood clean and upgrade their own properties.

"In any neighborhood revitalization effort, the goal is to increase property values," Walker said.

There's some evidence it's working. Residents in Youth Park have signed a contract agreeing to maintain the landscaping and other improvements the city has made.

"I've seen a lot of improvements," said Sue Grace, who has lived in the Youth Park area for about nine years. The first six years, she rented her duplex. Then she bought her side of the duplex from her brother-in-law because the price was right and she wanted to live in Pinellas Park.

About the time she bought her home, Grace and about 20 neighbors complained to the city about speeding traffic. The city put in speed tables and the revitalization effort grew from that.

Grace said she has noticed homeowners painting and cleaning up. Business owners are also tidying up, renovating and driving out homeless squatters.

On 70th Avenue, the neighborhood's northern boundary, new construction is coming. ParkSide mall is scheduled to be razed and rebuilt in a new configuration. Plans include building apartments on the Youth Park side of 70th Avenue.

Grace said she's considering buying more property in the area, if the price is right.

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