Home buyers must take compromise to heart in the booming Tampa Bay area market. It turns out $150,000 doesn't go far as it used to.
By BILL VARIAN,CARRIE JOHNSON and MATTHEW WAITE
Published February 16, 2004
[Times photo:Willie Allen Jr.]
Realtor Greg Burton, left, and Shannon and Jon Eggleton listen as homeowner Anne Hirsch points out custom elements of the kitchen in her home, which is for sale.
[Times photo: Toni Sandys]
Doug and Amy Rowe, with their 9-week old daughter Sunny Lane, spent six months looking for a house in the $150,000 to $175,000 range in Hillsborough County. They found several but not in ares where they wanted to raise a family. The couple ultimately moved to Baycrest.
Darren and Heather Bishop knew their first home probably would need work.
They planned to spend roughly $150,000 and figured that meant looking at older homes, peeling paint and ugly wallpaper.
That proved to be optimistic.
The Bishops, who are in their late twenties, visited more than 50 St. Petersburg homes and saw termite damage, loose tiles and an attic bonus room so cramped neither of them could stand.
"At times when it's really frustrating and we're having no luck," said Heather Bishop, a mental health counselor, "we think maybe we should keep renting."
Buyers looking for houses priced at $150,000 to $175,000 had plenty of options five years ago, from a house near the water on Davis Islands in Tampa to an Old Northeast bungalow in St. Petersburg.
Now those buyers must make more compromises. That often means choosing a suburb and commuting 40 minutes to work, or picking a house that needs work.
A St. Petersburg Times analysis of more than 260,000 single-family home sales between January 1998 and July 2003 found that median prices leapt 50 percent in Pinellas County and 31 percent in Hillsborough. Prices in some of the most sought-after neighborhoods on both sides of the bay more than doubled.
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Searching for that affordable dream home is starting to feel like an episode of Survivor.
"I hate to sound like $150,000 is poor people, but it is," said Marc Seidenberg, a real estate agent with RealWorks in Tampa. "They don't have a lot of choices."
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The Bishops are living the challenge.
Two weeks ago, they revisited a 1,400-square-foot ranch house on 43rd Avenue NE in St. Petersburg, a neighborhood filled with smaller, concrete block houses. Asking price: $160,000.
The house has a new roof, modern wiring, ample space and new windows. Its drawbacks filled an entire page of Heather Bishop's notebook.
The brown and green shag carpeting was as old as they are. The last roof leaked, causing water damage around the windows that was only partially fixed. Some outdoor siding was growing green mold.
The Bishops put in a bid, but then reconsidered and withdrew it. Now they are back to where they started.
In Hillsborough County, pickings also can be slim.
Prices on Davis Islands, an upscale island community just off downtown Tampa, typically run about $318,000, a 77 percent increase from five years ago.
The typical home in the desirable South Tampa neighborhood of Palma Ceia that cost $159,500 five years ago is now $269,900. Waterfront homes with three bedrooms in Apollo Beach in south Hillsborough start at $300,000.
Hillsborough residents Douglass and Amy Rowe feel the Bishops' pain.
When they went shopping for their first home last year, they figured they had $150,000 to $175,000 to spend. The Rowes, both 30 years old, hoped for three bedrooms, two bathrooms and more than 1,500 square feet in an established area on the rise.
Easier said than done.
They checked neighborhoods in the South Tampa peninsula south of downtown, where he grew up. It was unaffordable, with the exception of a few pockets in the less fashionable parts north of Kennedy Boulevard. They found houses they liked elsewhere, but with their first child on the way, they were anxious about the neighborhoods.
So the Rowes picked communities they liked and watched for houses to go up for sale.
"My thinking is you can always fix a house, but not a neighborhood," said Douglass Rowe, a financial consultant.
When they took a day to discuss a good prospect, the house was sold. They explored Clearwater and Seminole in Pinellas but found few deals.
After six months, the Rowes found a three-bedroom, two-bath home in the west Hillsborough community of Baycrest. The seller was motivated, and they bought the 1,800-square-foot house late last year for $159,900. They moved in two weeks before the birth of their daughter, Sunny Lane Rowe.
"It was not easy, by any means," Douglass Rowe said.
* * *
Geoff Mollard, a Realtor with Tourtelot Bros. in St. Petersburg since 1995, has watched rising prices move steadily west, from the popular Old Northeast to Crescent Lake to Euclid-St. Paul.
"Good luck buying in any of those places now," he said.
Farther west in St. Petersburg, the area near Tyrone Square Mall was once a trove of affordable housing. Now there's little in the $150,000 range. It's the same to the south in Gulfport, where Mollard recently represented a homeowner selling a two-bedroom, one-bath house for $159,000.
"The day I put the sign up on the yard, I got calls from three agents who were trying to get the property," he said. "That's the kind of thing you hear about in California. Not here."
In Tampa, Coldwell Banker Realtor Mike Hughes has witnessed a similar phenomenon. He has seen the sticker shock spread out of South Tampa to older urban areas north of downtown, including the Seminole Heights neighborhood of 1920s bungalows. His five-person team of agents sold about $32-million in homes last year concentrating on those two areas.
Hughes himself bought a Tudor house on Lake Roberta in Seminole Heights in 1997 for $109,500.
"People thought I was out of my mind," he said.
He's now the seller's Realtor for a house across the lake with an asking price of $187,500.
Though neighborhoods have taken off in both Hillsborough and Pinellas, those who work in real estate see a difference between the counties. There is room for more new homes in Hillsborough. Pinellas, which is a peninsula, is essentially built out.
"We're not like New Tampa," said Mollard, the St. Petersburg Realtor. "We can't sprawl. We're done."
Hillsborough has lots of open, undeveloped land, particularly in the eastern county, where former farmland is now being subdivided. Many developers there are dedicating lots to the under-$175,000 market.
Craig Beggins, president and broker of Century 21 Beggins Enterprises, encourages prospective buyers in that price range to consider Apollo Beach in south Hillsborough.
Yes, Apollo Beach, where there's really no beach but plenty of water. Buyers in the under-$175,000 range may not be able to live on that water, but new housing developments can put them near it.
The main restaurant franchise in Apollo Beach is a Dairy Queen, but change may be on the horizon.
Mirabay, a master-planned community, has space for some 1,350 houses and another 700 townhouses and multifamily homes. Other planned communities in the area have taken off, many offering houses at $150,000 and less. Resale prices are rising, despite views of Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend Power Station nearby.
"We struggled in this market for a long time," Beggins said. "I'm just glad I bought my house when we did. I wonder what this town's going to be like when we get a Chili's."
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Some in the real estate and development business say local neighborhoods still have homes in the price range of young working couples who look hard and long enough. They say the Tampa Bay area is still relatively affordable compared to other parts of the country. But the selection is getting slimmer.
"You can still buy in South Tampa, for instance, but it's going to be a diminished dream house or a condominium," said Warren Weathers, deputy property appraiser for Hillsborough County. "Or you're going to do it in an area that is still transforming.
"And you've got to be the first one out there every morning."
* * *
Shannon Eggleton and her husband, Jon, moved to St. Petersburg from Cleveland last year and expected to find an abundance of affordable housing.
"There's a perception up North that it's so much cheaper to live down here," said Shannon Eggleton, 27, a jewelry buyer for the Home Shopping Network. "But that's not true. At least not here."
They wanted to live as close to downtown as possible, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. They really wanted to live in Tampa's Hyde Park, a community of waterfront mansions, elegant bungalows and funky apartments near downtown.
But that wasn't going to happen - at least not in their price range.
"There's always something you're going to have to compromise on," she said. "That's what we learned."
After looking at dozens of houses, the couple finally found a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow in the Woodlawn neighborhood north of downtown St. Petersburg, a popular area known for its charming architecture and brick streets. The selling price was $199,900, reduced from $219,000.
"If they hadn't brought the price down," she said, "we wouldn't have been able to afford it."
Deals like that don't last long. Hours after the Eggletons got the contract, someone else bid on the house.
"We were really lucky," she said. "We've got a really great house."
- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.