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Neighborhood ripe for change a good gamble

CURTIS KRUEGER
Published February 16, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Kathy Young spent $59,000 for a two-story, three-bedroom house because she liked its hardwood floors and its location in St. Petersburg's Historic Kenwood neighborhood just north of downtown.

But what really caught her eye was the neighborhood's potential.

After two years of scraping, scrubbing, patching, painting and remodeling, Young sold the house last April for $192,500 - more than three times her purchase price.

"I was thrilled to death," said Young, 61, a full-time home restorer who estimates she put $30,000 to $35,000 into the renovation.

On the 2500 block of Burlington Avenue, just about everyone is thrilled to death.

Across the street from Young, a home purchased for $60,000 in 2001 is listed for sale at $179,900. Down the street, a house that sold for $45,000 in 1996 was purchased last year for $134,000.

The 14 homes on this block make up a tiny fraction of the Tampa Bay area's collective real estate. But it illustrates some of the forces transforming real estate throughout the region.

The market for the houses on this block is hot: 10 of the 14 have sold within the past five years, some more than once. Many have been restored by new owners who pulled up carpet and tore down ugly partitions, looking for the original workmanship. The block is full of 1920s-era bungalows with fireplaces, wood floors, big porches and original accents such as a built-in hutch or an ironing board compartment. The neighborhood recently was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

But a decade ago, homeowners on this block were gladly unloading bungalows for $17,000, $24,500 and $29,000.

Fred Veeder, who may have lived on the block longer than anyone else, has witnessed the changes firsthand. His mother bought the house at 2555 Burlington and a separate rental property that came with it for $55,000 in 1992. Its geode-encrusted fireplace and overall craftsmanship impressed them. And the home's wooden floors, moldings and historic character reminded her of the grand, six-bedroom structure she just left behind in Louisville.

"You've got solid brass doorknobs, solid brass fittings, chandeliers, instead of some cheap things like they've got nowadays," said Veeder, 53.

The block was no gem, however.

In the early 1990s, Burlington Avenue had plenty of decaying homes, and many turned into low-income rentals. Veeder said the neighborhood was overrun with drug addicts and prostitutes, and he remembers finding drunks passed out in his yard.

"A dozen years ago it was rather dangerous and rather dingy," he said. "People were kind of leery about coming to visit."

Bob Jeffrey, St. Petersburg's manager of urban design and historic preservation, said the neighborhood "went down to the point where housing values were just astronomically low and it was sort of a forgotten neighborhood."

So what did Jeffrey do? He bought 10 houses himself in the general area in the early 1990s, including one in the 2600 block of Burlington. He said he didn't pay more than $30,000 for any of them.

The cost
of living (here):
Research home prices
by neighborhood
map
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
Pasco appraiser
Pinellas appraiser
Pinellas database search
Hillsborough appraiser
Hillsborough database search

Jeffrey saw a neighborhood ripe for change, just beneath the peeling paint and boarded windows. "Because it was a beautiful craftsman-style bungalow neighborhood," he said, "it was able to come back very quickly."

Jeffrey has sold the homes and bought apartment buildings nearby.

St. Petersburg homeowners have flocked to the Old Northeast and Crescent Lake in the past decade, dramatically driving up prices in these historic neighborhoods close to downtown. In the mid-1990s, Kenwood was the next-closest neighborhood that still featured bargains.

For homeowners here, perfect timing has meant tens of thousands of dollars. Consider the bungalow at 2535 Burlington Ave., which has three bedrooms and roughly 1,050 square feet of floor space. It sold for $41,800 in 1999. Roland J. Bourgoyne bought it six months later and paid nearly twice that, $80,000. Yet he's the one who may have gotten the best deal.

If he were to sell the house now, Bourgoyne said, "I would not take less than $140,000 and I would probably get it."

The house appraised for nearly that much during refinancing, he said.

But Bourgoyne is not selling. He said he loves the feeling of openness and light in the bungalow, which he has decorated artfully with stained glass pieces by Vincent J. Cianciola, his business partner in the Vincent William Gallery in St. Pete Beach. Bourgoyne, 50, also likes being five minutes from the interstate, 15 minutes from the gallery and 25 minutes (apart from rush hour) from his full-time job with the city of Tampa.

Across the street, Amy Grecco and Mike Lawlor live in a four-bedroom bungalow at 2536 Burlington Avenue that was built in the 1920s from a kit purchased from the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog. Grecco paid $92,000 in 1999 for the house, which sold for $65,000 five years earlier. A recent appraisal put the value at $190,000, Grecco said.

Lawlor, a professional remodeler, poured so much sweat and creativity into the home that it was featured on the 2003 "Bungalow Fest" home tour. He has rebuilt the fireplace mantle, added fancy tile countertops in the kitchen, put in a hot tub and deck, and redone the two bedrooms upstairs. Grecco thinks the house, which includes a separate apartment behind the home, would fetch more than $200,000.

Not everyone is selling.

Sandy Cochran, 34, picked up her one-bedroom, three-porch bungalow in 1994 for $34,000 and has no plans to move. She restored the wooden floors and would like to redo the kitchen, but her full-time job teaching third grade and her part-time job at a call center don't leave much extra time.

It's the same for Veeder, who works in the meat department at Publix and stays with a roommate in the house he inherited from his mother at 2555 Burlington. He said it's a challenge to pay the $3,000 annual property tax bill. Yet considering this block's booming market, it's easy to imagine him selling the property for well over $100,000.

But he won't.

Veeder has looked around. He knows even a $100,000 profit won't go too far in St. Petersburg's booming real estate market.

"Look at the property values around here. Where am I going to find something comparable?"

- Times researcher Kitty Bennett and staff writer Matthew Waite contributed to this report.

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