Housing costs spur change

A home for less than $10, 000? It may be $220, 000 today.

Published May 1, 2007

SPRING HILL - Realtor Frank Stefaniw smiles when he thinks about clients Chris and Sherry Brant.

But he's just as quick to worry about the couple - one of the latest to move to Spring Hill. Earlier this year, Stefaniw helped them buy their three-bedroom, two-bath home on Banyan Road.

He thinks the Brants, both managers at the Sonic fast-food restaurant on U.S. 19, are good people. Nearly four months after they've moved in, they all still keep in close contact.

"We say 'hi' to Frank whenever we get the chance, " said Chris Brant, 31. "We got lucky to have a Realtor like him."

But Stefaniw worries about their financial future. The couple, both in their early 30s, live in a Spring Hill that's much different than it used to be.

As the community celebrates its 40th anniversary, it's evident that the Mackle brothers' offerings of a cheap chance at basking in the Florida sunshine isn't so cheap anymore.

In 2005, the median sale price of a home was $155, 500, compared to the most expensive $20, 600 homes for sale back in 1967. The cheapest ones cost about $8, 500 then.

"Years ago, the two-bedroom, one-bath homes were fine for seniors to retire, " said Stefaniw, 42, who works with Marie Powell Realty in Spring Hill. "But now, families are moving here. The demand for larger homes has increased. And with the increase in people, the county needs more money. There are taxes, insurance and all kinds of other expenses that didn't exist before.

"It's not what it used to be by a long shot, even compared to when I moved here in 1998."

The Brants signed a zero-down, 30-year mortgage for the $175, 000 home, built in 1988 on land owned by the Deltona Corp.

Instead of using the savings they had to put money down on the house, the couple decided to spend the money on the cost of moving, some remodeling and redecorating.

Although they plan to refinance in a few years, Brant said, it just made sense for them to do it that way.

"As far as the financial side of it goes, we didn't like the idea of jumping through hoops for a bank. Our mortgage is as much as it was for the house we rented in Ellenton. It's nice to be able to have the future of owning something."

But 40 years ago, couples moving to Spring Hill had the option of putting as little as $76 down and paying $15.50 a month for a home. They could buy one for less than $10, 000 over time - much more manageable for the average working family than prices today, regardless of how much inflation has affected prices.

And, they didn't move to Florida with Humvees to park in the driveway, as is the case now in some of Spring Hill's ritzier neighborhoods. Original pioneers came mostly with furniture and savings, if that.

Since the Brants' house was built in 1988, county property records show it has steadily increased in value. In five years, the home went from $15, 000 to $65, 000. By 2003, it was sold for nearly $83, 000, and by 2004 for $115, 000. That same year, the owners put in the pool that the Brants liked so much when they bought the home in February.

Evidence of change in their quiet neighborhood is shown by the much larger homes a few streets over in Plantation Estates. The owners of a home for sale on Aldoro Avenue say buyers can get an "immaculate mini mansion, " 2, 439 square feet, built in 1997. There's also a pool with a waterfall. The cost: $340, 000.

Along with more expensive homes in Spring Hill have come more affluent residents. For example, U.S. Census data from just the first half of this decade show that the median household income in Spring Hill jumped nearly $10, 000, from $32, 861 in 2000 to $41, 735 in 2005.

And whether it's been people who come to the county looking for very large homes or those like the Brants who seek what they can afford, all residents continue to increase the demand for services they want to meet their way of life, said Pat Fagan, a longtime county resident who currently lives in Spring Hill.

Fagan also serves on the Hernando School Board and as director of the county Parks and Recreation Department. The growth has hit hard, and at a time when officials continue to play catchup, he said.

"When Spring Hill was built, it was not built to accommodate what it is today, " Fagan said. "We're having to spend money to upgrade the roads, parks and schools. We could build a new park next week, and six months from now we could be getting requests to build another one because of the number of families moving into the community."

For Stefaniw, who moved to Spring Hill from Hackettstown, N.J., nine years ago, the surge in prices and growing affluence have been phenomenal - even for a place still considered much more affordable than cites such as Tampa or St. Petersburg.

"My home when I bought it was $76, 000, " Stefaniw said. "Now, even in this slower market, it's about $250, 000. For a decent three-bedroom, two-bath, it costs at least $220, 000. And when you compound taxes on top of that, maybe about $3, 000 or $4, 000 for someone moving in - that's a lot of money. That's what it's like for newbies."

That's why he says he will make sure to remind the Brants to refinance as soon as they can, so they don't end up like so many others: in foreclosure because of homes they couldn't really afford.

The Brants' mortgage terms are such that even after they pay the home off, they'll still pay again on the interest balloon payment due after that.

"And maybe they won't end up like me, working all the time to live here in Florida, " Stefaniw said.

"In the time I've been here, I think I've been to the beach once."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.