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Resale dip hits bay area hard

A 35 percent plunge in sales of existing homes is among the state's worst.

Published May 26, 2007

Paul Swisher, 60, of St. Petersburg, works on a sign for the front of his home, which he is now trying to sell himself. The 1926 bungalow has been for sale for more than a year. Swisher took early retirement and plans to move to Texas.

Realtors couldn't sell Paul Swisher's house. Maybe his rhapsodies will.

Frustrated by a home on the market for nearly 15 months, the St. Petersburg resident has taken a new tack to attract potential buyers: a 3-by-4 whiteboard on his lawn, where he writes messages in praise of his 1926 bungalow.

"Hey, what's up with this?" he wrote this week, in purple and green markers. "Do I have to hit somebody over the head with a brick? This is a truly beautiful home. Are you going to force me to stand out here in a clown suit?"

The answer may be "yes" if housing numbers released Friday are any indication. In the Tampa Bay area, the number of existing homes sold in April plunged 35 percent from April 2006 -- and 56 percent compared with April 2005, during the housing bubble that's now a fading memory.

Though sales are falling almost everywhere, the decline is especially steep in the bay area. Sales fell just 11 percent nationally, and 26 percent statewide.

The National Association of Realtors put a positive spin on any decline: It shows that speculators are disappearing and that mortgage lenders are becoming more selective.

That line of thought doesn't do much for Swisher, who is 60. He's lived in his bungalow at 12th Street and 11th Avenue N for six years, but he's ready to move to Dallas to be near friends and his new horse, Shotgun.

Since listing his house in March 2006, he's dropped the price by $86,000 from $425,000, which his Realtor recommended, to $339,000. He's also gotten rid of the Realtor.

In a glutted market, he sees the whiteboard messages as a way to stand out. He was inspired by restaurants that list daily specials on message boards. And though he doesn't fancy himself the next Great American Novelist, he said the messages, which he changes every few days, have been fairly effective. "No one's beating down the door," he said, "but I'm getting more activity now than I did when it was listed" with a Realtor.

Swisher hopes that a "For Sale" flag he just ordered, which he'll hang from the 20-foot flagpole in his yard, will attract some inquiries, too.

If he was in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, he might not be in such a tight spot: Sales rose there - -the only place in the state to post a sales increase -- by 16 percent.

At the other end of the scale, homes sales fell more steeply than in the Tampa Bay area in only a few areas of the state: Miami, Fort Myers, Lakeland, Ocala and Port St. Lucie, which fell the hardest -- 41 percent -- between April of this year and last.

Prices, however, did not follow the same steep sales decline. The median sales price fell 5 percent in the Tampa Bay area, to $209,700, and 3 percent statewide, to $237,800.

Swisher knows that property insurance and taxes are putting a squeeze on Florida residents -- himself included -- but doesn't think that should prevent people from buying homes. "I figure, people still need to live here," said Swisher, who took early retirement from American Airlines last year. "They're going to pay taxes and insurance wherever they live."

He thinks overeager weather forecasters are discouraging would-be home buyers. "They come out saying we're going to have another horrendous hurricane season, and now they're saying it again this year, and that hurts the market. And how do they know?

"I don't think people even think of the ripple effect that has. You've got home inspectors who aren't doing inspections. You've got movers who aren't moving people."

Christina Rexrode can be reached at or 727 893-8318.

Home sales

The bay area suffered a greater percentage drop in home sales than the state and national rates.

Sale prices

Median sale prices dropped the most here, too.


April 2007

April 2006 Percent difference
Tampa Bay 2, 257 3, 480 -35
Florida 12, 016 16, 283 -26
U.S. 5.99M 6.71M -10.7

Source: Florida Association of Realtors


April 2007

April 2006 Percent difference
Tampa Bay $209, 700 $221, 600 -5
Florida $237, 800 $245, 900 -3
U.S. $220, 900 $222, 600 -0.8

[Last modified May 25, 2007, 23:14:09]

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