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Neighborhood Report

County sales dip, but central Tampa surges

South Tampa is a hodgepodge. Volume in New Tampa and Lithia slumps. Could a buyers' market be brewing?

By RICK GERSHMAN and BILL COATS
Published June 2, 2006


Home sales declined 17 percent across Hillsborough County in the first quarter of 2006 compared to last year, but some central and South Tampa areas bucked the trend.

Sales were especially strong in central Tampa, particularly the Ybor City neighborhoods and eastern Seminole Heights, according to sales figures from the county property appraiser. Grouped together, the areas northeast of downtown had sales gains of 53 percent.

East Tampa areas such as Belmont Heights and Jackson Heights showed 43 percent gains, and western Seminole Heights had 39 percent gains.

News was more mixed in South Tampa areas. Generally east of Dale Mabry, sales were up 13 percent. And in the neighborhoods south of Gandy Boulevard, sales were up almost 11 percent.

But in South Tampa west of Dale Mabry, home sales dropped more than 20 percent.

The numbers for such large areas can be somewhat illusory, Realtor Sue Paskert said, because buying trends can vary wildly from street to street within a neighborhood.

On the whole, though, "things are finally leveling out," said Paskert, who specializes in South Tampa.

Still, South Tampa remains a strong market, she said. The biggest problem is that many homes are overpriced. Homes aren't depreciating, but there's not the rapid rate of appreciation sellers began to take for granted.

"We could be moving into a buyers' market," she said. "Many sellers are living in a market of six to 12 months ago, and they're not being realistic about prices."

Her sentiments were echoed by Umesh Shah, who owns a local franchise of HomeVestors. "A lot of sellers are still in denial about the value of their house."

Paskert said she's having to reduce the price of houses she listed, "which I hate to do - I like to get it right the first time. But the prices had gotten inflated."

But this cooling-off period is normal, she said, and she's generally optimistic about the future.

Shah's company buys "ugly houses'' at less than market value, fixes them up and sells them for a profit. In places like Tampa Heights, the strategy is still working well.

Two months ago, he paid $128,000 for a fixer-upper. He expected to spruce it up and make some money from it. Instead, he listed it immediately, thinking, why not?

A day later, he had a contract for $155,000 from an investor who lived in the neighborhood. "I was really surprised,'' he said. "I was expecting a month or two.''

Not everyone is having such good fortune. In middle-class suburbs like New Tampa, the torrid pace of home sales during the past two years has hit the brakes. In New Tampa, sales of existing homes dropped 48 percent in the first three months of this year compared to last year.

"People with dollar signs in their eyeballs came into the market,'' said longtime Tampa Realtor Betty Kennedy. "They won't be around long.''

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.

[Last modified June 1, 2006, 11:37:46]


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