Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for December, 2008

Don’t pack your bags just yet

Looking at those shiny new light rail cars in the previous post, you may be thinking that a move to that part of the world wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But before you start packing, consider this little tidbit.
Standard & Poor’s puts out a monthly report on home values through its Case/Shiller Home Price Indices, a fancy term for something that S&P calls “the leading measure of U.S. home prices.” It looks at home values in 20 different markets around the nation.
So guess which market has lost the most value during the past year? That’s right, Phoenix. Home prices in that area have slipped more than 32 per cent, more than anywhere else in the country.
Where is Tampa Bay in all of that? Homes in this area have dropped a little under 20 per cent — a good-sized drop, but well below the crash-and-burn experience in Phoenix. Or, for that matter, in Las Vegas, which was second on the S&P list at 31.7 per cent; or Miami, which lost 29 per cent of its real estate value (and led the Florida lost-value sweepstakes).
There’s more, if you’d like to look it over. Just visit


Phoenix’s new light rail system would look good here

Phoenix's light rail: A model for Tampa Bay?

I know what you’re thinking: Why on earth is Beth writing about a new light rail system in Phoenix, Ariz.?

Good question. Let me answer that question with another question: What is the single most obvious lack in the Tampa Bay region, which is the 19th largest metro area in the U.S.?

ANSWER: Light rail transportation.

There are lots of wonderful things to talk about when it comes to Tampa Bay – the beaches, the great airport, the Bucs and the Rays and the Lightning, to name just a few.

But one thing we don’t like to talk about very much is transportation. Getting around here can be tough – the roads are clogged with traffic, especially during the winter “Snow Bird” season. There are just three bridges (well, two bridges and a causeway) that connect the Pinellas side of the bay with the Tampa side.

What we need is some sort of light rail system. It will no doubt happen some day, but so far we have lacked the political will (and the financing) to get it done.

And that brings me to Phoenix.

Just like Tampa, Phoenix used to have street cars, but they went away sometime around 1950. Since then it has been cars, cars and more cars on the region’s streets. Like Tampa Bay, Phoenix has undergone huge growth in the past 50 or 60 years, and local transportation has failed to keep up with the demand.

Until now.

On Saturday (that’s Dec. 27, 2008) Phoenix unveiled its new light rail system with a big party that included everything from free train rides to live music (by, among others, Grand Funk Railroad). Nearly 100,000 residents turned out for the region-wide shindig.

The new system cost $1.4 billion and, for now, only runs the 20 miles between central Phoenix and Mesa. But the system will expand and grow to include many other areas in the coming years.

It took about 15 years to plan the system, and then another four years to build it. Financing it was tricky, just as it will be here if light rail ever comes to Tampa Bay. Still, the Phoenixites (Phoenixers? Phoenicians?) got it done with a special transportation tax along with federal grants and sales taxes.

Planners in Phoenix say the system should have a huge positive effect on downtown business, should lighten auto traffic significantly, and should encourage housing near the rail line and discourage sprawl. In other words, it will be more than just a transportation system; it should also change the face of the overall Phoenix community for the better.

Fares are $1.25 per ride, or you can get an all-day pass for $2.50.

If you compare the new Phoenix system with what could take place here in Tampa Bay, keep in mind the 20-mile range of the Phoenix light rail system; that’s about that same distance as downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa. That image may disappoint those of us who live in North Pinellas County. But if they built a St. Pete-to-Tampa track and started service there, it would be only a matter of time before the service reached north into our part of the county.

Imagine a big circular route from St. Pete over to Tampa, out through New Tampa and then west to North Pinellas or even South Pasco, then down to South Pinellas again. Wouldn’t that be great?

If you want to learn more about the Phoenix system, go to

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November home sales in Tampa Bay

According to the Florida Association of Realtors, homes sales in the Tampa Bay area during November totaled 1,701. The number in November 2007 was 1,644. Pretty darn close to one another.
You might take that as an indication that things are leveling off sales-wise in this part of the world, but that might be a premature assumption. The wild card is home sale prices — the median price of a home in Tampa Bay during November was just $149,800, the first time median prices have dropped into the 140s since the second quarter of 2004. Foreclosed properties selling at rock-bottom prices account for the big price drop.
What the statewide figures show is that foreclosures-equal-lower-prices-equal-more sales. No big surprise there.
Nationwide, home values dropped 13 percent from November 2007 to November 2008. That’s the biggerst one-year price decline in 40 years. Compared to the national figures, Tampa Bay is looking comparatively good.

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“Where are Pinellas County home prices going in 2009?”

I didn’t make that question up. Some people find this blog by searching Google, and one reader from somewhere in Ontario found me by typing that very question into the Google search engine yesterday.
It made me think, “That’s more than just a Google search string; it’s a pretty basic question about what we may expect real estate-wise during the coming year. It’s a question that everybody wants answered.”
So here’s my answer: I have no idea.
I don’t think ANYBODY really knows where home prices will go in Pinellas County in the coming year, and that’s the problem. Uncertainty is everywhere right now, not just in the housing market but in every corner of the economy. We have many more questions than answers because we’ve never been in this position before — not for a very long time, anyway.
So, having no real answers, I’ll venture an opinion:
I think we are at or near the bottom. I have a couple of reasons for thinking that; for one thing, prices seem to be holding fairly steady and have been for some months after a period of free-fall. For another thing, first-time homebuyers are pretty active in the market right now, which tells me that young employed people are seeing value in the current marketplace. And third, investors are coming forth and buying properties, often with cash.
Those are all good signs. BUT, I don’t have to tick off the areas of uncertainties in the economy, inside and outside of the real estate market.
Anyway, I’m going to try to remember that question from that Ontario reader about Pinellas County home prices, and I’m going to post some stories on this blog throughout the year that respond to that question in one way or another.

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Real estate values down big-time during 2008

Just how much can we expect national real estate values to deflate during 2008, once the year comes to an end in the next couple of weeks? One national real estate organization that tracks such things believes the loss will amount to more than $2 trillion — that’s “trillion,” with a “T.”
Zillow is an organization that follows and keeps track of real estate values in the different regions of the country. It says that real estate values in the U.S. declined $1.9 trillion in the first three quarters of the year.
What does that mean? Zillow says it means that 11.7 million households now owe more on their home mortgages than their homes are actually worth. One in seven of all homeowners were upside-down on their mortgages at the end of the third quarter.
That means negative equity, falling values and increasing numbers of forclosures.
Is there any good news in all this? Well, some. First time homeowners are looking at property and buying, and rates continue to be good. Locally, home sales seem to have leveled off. But with so much bad news in so many sectors of the economy, it’s still a time for caution.

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One more story from the Palm Harbor arts show…

 John Mascoll is a native of Barbados and a trained engineer, but what he really loves is turning wood. And his wood working is so beautiful that it takes your breath away. It’s so good, in fact, that he won Best in Show at the recent Palm Harbor arts show.

We don’t really know John, but we have a connection to him — my husband Bill works with John’s wife, Jannice, at St. Petersburg College. Bill spotted John as we walked through the arts show last weekend, and he managed to get a couple of pictures, which I’ve posted here.

John, who lives in Safety Harbor, does very precise wood turnings, producing vases and vessels of all kinds as well as smaller works. He likes to use exotic woods that offer gorgeous grains and shades.

Jannice says that John’s father worked in wood back in Barbados. Once he moved to the U.S. and settled in Georgia, he started going to meetings of woodworkers and learned the craft.

John Mascoll exhibits his work at a lot of arts shows around the area. If you see him, stop by for a minute and take a look.

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Carol Elder Napoli’s art

Carol Elder Napoli

Carol Elder Napoli

About three or four years ago (when the real estate market was really good!) I was looking for some art — we had just bought a new house and we were interested in doing some decorating.
This is never easy for us; both of us are of the Lyndon Johnson School of Art. He once had his presidential portrait done, and he didn’t like it at all. When someone challenged his opinion, he said, “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.”
That sort of describes our collective art knowledge. However, we do usually have pretty strong opinions about the art we see. We both like abstract paintings, and we both tend to like bold colors.
So, several years ago, we went to the annual Palm Harbor art show with an eye for the right abstract painting. We had pretty much seen everything without much success when we came upon a booth that displayed a number of paintings that we liked immediately. We spent some time looking them over, and then we realized that the artist, Carol Elder Napoli, was the same artist whose work we had admired several months previously at another art show in Sanibel.
One painting really appealed to us; we bought it and took it home, and it has really stood the test of time for us. We like it more the longer we have it.
So two days ago we were walking through the Palm Harbor art show when Bill spotted a painting in one of the booths. He realized right away that it was one of Carol’s paintings, and it turned out he was right.
Carol remembered us, and we spent some time talking to her and her husband.
Carol’s work carries strong spiritual and emotional messages. She works in bold acrylic colors, which you may be able to tell from the picture above.
Here’s a little bit from her website:
“While painting, the work and I enter into a dialog adding to the mystery of how the work will be completed. Much of the result depends on an emotional, intuitive response to the paint and various images, color and marks that together form a composition. My paintings fit into the “abstract” genre, but they are not to be considered non-objective works. I paint with a purpose and desire to touch the viewer at a place of recognition, perhaps even within a narrative.”
You can learn more about her at her website, . Carol Elder Napoli lives and works in New Smyrna Beach, and she attends many art shows around Florida.

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Palm Harbor art show

art-show-street-2221I mentioned in an earlier post that this weekend is The Big One — the annual Palm Harbor art and craft show.

This first weekend in December is the traditional date for the Palm Harbor show, which closes down the main drag in Old Palm Harbor for two days. Arts and crafts types from all over the state and beyond come to town to show and sell their wares.
There’s ceramic craftsmen, painters, sculptors, metal workers, jewelers, carvers and more. It’s a great time, and we try to go every year.
For the past two or three years, the show had been moved to the St. Petersburg College campus in Tarpon Springs, mostly because of lengthy road construction in the downtown Palm Harbor area. But this year the show was back in Palm Harbor, and everyone seemed pretty glad about that.

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Dunedin’s old-fashioned Christmas


The town of Dunedin has been spending a lot of time planning its Old Fashioned Christmas celebration, and it came together tonight with lots of music, decorations, magic tricks, food, hayrides powered by real Belgian draft horses and even real snow floating down from overhead traffic lights.
dunedin-xmas-twoIt was a great time, and hundreds of people turned out to take part.
We were going to try to take in the boat parade, but we never made it as far as the pier. We spent several hours walking around, taking in the sights, visiting the well-decorated shops and having a

light meal at Sea Sea Rider’s Restaurant.

Dunedin doesn’t mind blocking off the main street in the downtown area, and that’s what they did. They set up an area for face-painting for kids and another area for other crafts for kids. They had

a little gasoline-powered train that the kids seemed to love, and most of the downtown stores were open and highly decorated.

dunedin-xmas-three1Of course, Santa Claus was there, too. When we went by he seemed to be having a little beard problem that required the assistance of Mrs. Claus.

All in all, a great night. It’s one of the many events that takes place during the year, and really makes Dunedin a wonderful place to live.








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Palm Harbor U. High School gets major award

 Palm Harbor University High School has earned a Silver Award from U.S. News and World Report as part of the magazine’s 2009 America’s Best High Schools edition.

The magazine reviewed 21,000 schools and then gave out 1,900 Gold, Silver, Bronze and Honorable Mention awards. There were 50 Gold awards given to Florida high schools; one of them, Design and Architectural Senior High School in Miami, was ranked Number 5 overall in the nation.

The ratings are based on the success of students in various demographic groups and by the college readiness of students.

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