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Buying into Pasco's bargains

Homeowners are yielding large gains, but prices are still more affordable than in some nearby counties.

JAMES THORNER
Published February 15, 2004

Built starting in the 1960s, homes in Gulf Harbors generally don't fall into the luxurious category.

But thanks to the neighborhood's access to the Gulf of Mexico, they're reaping luxurious prices. Just ask Kent Taylor.

In August 2000, Taylor bought a 30-year-old, canal-side home on Windward Way for $175,000. Last year, he sold it for $368,000. That's a 110 percent increase in three years.

"There are thousands of families moving to Pasco every year, but there's no more waterfront," Taylor said. "We have some of the best water access in 30 miles in either direction."

That helps explain why Gulf Harbors, near New Port Richey, showed the largest increase of any Pasco County subdivision - 75 percent from 1998 to 2003. But the property boom is repeated in nearly every neighborhood in the county.

Look what's happening elsewhere in west Pasco: Older neighborhoods such as Regency Park and Embassy Hills were once retiree havens but now sell at solid mark-ups to 30-somethings.

Those aging communities actually jumped in value faster than some of the manicured new bedroom communities in Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel.

Homes in Holiday showed price increases of 53 percent since 1998. More than a few look a bit tattered after 30 years of Florida rain and rays, but it didn't seem to matter. Houses in New Port Richey and Port Richey racked up similar gains.

The cost
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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.

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Central Pasco suburbia, where many, if not most, of the housing sales involved new homes, showed a slower appreciation.

Since 1998, Land O'Lakes house sale prices rose 34 percent, the Meadow Pointe community 20 percent and other parts of Wesley Chapel 35 percent.

The figures come from an analysis of more than 54,000 sales of single-family homes in Pasco from 1998 to July 2003. Mobile homes, duplexes and apartments were excluded.

In the county as a whole, the Times found an increase in median sales prices of 50 percent, from $70,000 in 1998 to $105,000 in 2003. Median means half the homes sold for more than those amounts and half sold for less.

The advantage of using a median rather than an average is that the median irons out extremes in prices. The sale of a million-dollar house, for example, could skew an average too far upward.

The $105,000 figure represented a decline in the median price of $122,500 from 2002, but it seems to be a temporary blip fueled by a glut of sales in the range of $75,000 to $100,000 in early 2003.

Homes that sold for less than $100,000 are clustered on Pasco's west side in neighborhoods strung along either side of U.S. 19: Embassy Hills, Jasmine Estates, Regency Park and Holiday Lake Estates.

Buyers, many of them young single women, are scooping up what they consider bargain homes that used to be belong to seniors. Low mortgage interest rates help.

Michelle Vaughn was renting what she calls a "cheesy little apartment" in Port Richey. But an Embassy Hills two-bedroom, two-bath house presented an offer she couldn't refuse last year.

It was close to her family, to her job at Bayonet Point Hospital and the classrooms of Pasco-Hernando Community College where she's studying radiology.

Best of all, her mortgage payment of $560 on the $71,900 house was just a tad higher than her former rent.

"But what I get for my mortgage is 100 times better than what I got for my rent," said Vaughn, who's single and 34 years old.

Home prices in Vaughn's subdivision and nearby Jasmine Estates have climbed 44 percent since 1998. A couple years ago Vaughn's place was worth little more than $50,000.

Housing prices in neighboring Pinellas County, fueled by a scarcity of land and proximity to beaches, have made Pasco homes look like a bargain, said Sam Jacobs, president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors.

In parts of St. Petersburg, plain 1,000-square foot bungalows sell for $150,000. The same house sells for about half as much in some west Pasco neighborhoods.

"We've had a very significant and steady appreciation in west Pasco County across the board," Jacobs said. "It's a matter of supply and demand. If our values are lower here than they are in Pinellas and Hillsborough County we will continue to attract people from the south."

For spectacular appreciation, though, you still can't beat oceanfront property.

Median prices in Gulf Harbors rose from $125,000 in 1998 to $219,000 last year. Middle class folks are suddenly swimming in green stuff other than gulf sea grass.

Taylor said he spent most of his life assuming he couldn't afford a home on the coast. But he bit the bullet, bought the $175,000 home and renovated parts of the 2,000-square-foot structure.

With the profit he turned on the Windward Way home - almost $200,000, not counting his renovation costs - he invested in another house down the street.

"For people in Pinellas, waterfront is just out of reach," Taylor said. "If they want the water they're willing to come up here and drive an extra 15 miles every day."

In places where old and new homes share roughly the same area, new construction can bring up the median. Newly built homes can make older homes look cheaper by comparison.

But there are exceptions, particularly in large neighborhoods such as Meadow Pointe that offer nearly identical old and new homes. Older homes prices can climb only as fast as new home prices. Otherwise, house seekers would simply build from scratch.

The median sales price of houses in Meadow Pointe was $124,000 in 1998. By 2003 the price had risen to $150,000. Not bad, but lower than what's happening elsewhere.

Existing homes in older neighborhoods such as Lake Padgett Estate East registered steeper gains. A $90,000 three-bedroom bought in 1998 commonly went for $135,000 in 2003, a gain of 50 percent over five years.

Helping Lake Padgett was the nearby Plantation Palms golf course community, where prices on comparable homes on smaller lots ran $20,000 higher.

Land O'Lakes' median prices also got a jolt upward from the 600 homes sold over the past two years in Oakstead west of U.S. 41.

Among the couples flocking to Oakstead was April and Thomas Neudenberger, who moved to Pasco from Pittsburgh in 2002.

The Pittsburgh tax burden was crushing. Pasco's property taxes are half of what they paid in Pennsylvania. The couple moved into the Brenfield section of Oakstead in 2002. They already dream about moving up to a new home in Oakstead, a luxury two-story in the new Ballastone subdivision.

It will be more expensive, of course. But that bodes well for pumping up median home prices in Land O'Lakes.

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