Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for January, 2009

California leads the real estate value decline

All the data appears to be in, and we can now say with authority that the state with the biggest decline in real estate values for 2008 was….

(Drum roll, please….)


That’s right, California was the big winner (actually, loser) in the real estate downturn sweepstakes, losing 26.9 percent of its real estate value during the year. Next was Nevada, with a 22.8 percent value drop, followed by Arizona (19 percent) and then (ahem) Florida, with an 18.2 percent drop.

Values actually dropped in 35 states during 2008.

That’s the story for 2008, but what about the total drop in values since, say, the peak of real estate value in July 2006? California still leads the way with a 42 percent decline. Nevada protected its second place position with a 39 percent decline. Arizona and Florida are tied for third place at 33 percent.

If you want to look at actual metro markets rather than states, we see nine California markets leading the list, but then Miami-Dade in Florida captures the 10th spot.

Did any market actually gain value during 2008? Actually, several did. If you live in Binghampton, N.Y., you live in a place where real estate actually appreciated by 7.78%. Plattsburgh, N.Y., Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Rocky Mount, N.C., Auburn, N.Y. and Florence-Mussel Shoals, AL also did pretty well.

This data comes from First American CoreLogic, which follows real estate values across the country.

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Golfer’s paradise

If you like to ski or run around on snowmobiles, Pinellas County is obviously not for you. But if you love to play golf, then Pinellas County is close to paradise.

According to, a website that keeps track of golf courses, Pinellas County has no fewer than 53 courses. And there’s even more than that available to golfers who don’t mind short drives north to Pasco County, east to Hillsborough County, or south over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to Manatee County.

If you click on the link above, it will take you to the websites of many of the golf courses that it lists.

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Moves in and out of Florida about the same in 2008


Trying to make sense of the real estate market? Trying to figure out which states are attractive moving destinations, and which ones aren’t? There are all kinds of statistics out there, but one set of numbers that caught my eye came from a rather unexpected source — United Van Lines.

United has been keeping track of where its customers are moving to — and from — for the past 32 years. And they claim that their annual survey has always turned out to be very close to the mark.
Florida has just about always had a reputation for being a major move magnet. The thing you always used to hear was that Florida attracted about 1,000 new residents every single week. But that may not be true anymore, at least according to United Van lines figures.
United says that just about as many people moved OUT of Florida last year as moved IN from other states.
Some of the other stats from United were sort of surprising. For example, the Mid-Atlantic and Western regions were very popular destinations.
The District of Columbia was the country’s top destination, with 62.1 percent of moves being inbound rather than outbound. All of the mid-Atlantic states showed high inbound migrations.
Most of the states in New England and the rest of the Northeast showed high levels of outbound migration.
Oregon has had 21 consecutive years of high-inbound migration, and had another such year in 2008. Nevada’s inbound migration remained high once again, for the 23rd consecutive year.
While inbound and outbound moves in Florida were almost the same, most other Southern states recorded more inbound than outbound moves.
States in the Great Lakes area have shown high levels of outbound migration for many years, and that continued in 2008. More than 67 percent of moves involving Michigan were outbound, and outbound moves from Indiana totaled 57 percent.
Outbound moves from New York were more than 55 percent, and from Illinois totaled more than 57 percent.
Other “balanced” states — states with the same number of inbound and outbound moves, like Florida — included Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, Washington and West Virginia.
United Van Lines is the country’s biggest household goods mover. The company’s 2008 migration survey was based on 198,962 moves.

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The light rail saga continued

Since I got all fired up recently about the new light rail system in Phoenix, and how nice such a system would be in Tampa Bay, I thought I’d share our recent experience with light rail transportation in Baltimore.

Light rail in Baltimore

Light rail in Baltimore

This past week, we spent a few days with family in Connecticut, and then went on to Baltimore for two more days. If you’ve ever flow into Baltimore, you know that the Baltimore-Washington Airport is not very close to the downtown area – it’s located at a central point between Baltimore and Washington, DC.

When I was making arrangements for the trip, I found a shuttle service that could take us from the airport to downtown Baltimore. I don’t remember the cost exactly, but it was around $15 per person each way, or around $60 for the two of us round-trip.

A little later, we discovered that Baltimore has a light rail system that runs from Hunt Valley, north of the city, then right through downtown Baltimore and then on to Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County. One leg of the rail line down near the Glen Burnie end shoots off and goes directly to the airport.

So that’s what we did.

There was a little bit of a walk through the airport terminal to get to the train boarding area, but once through the terminal doors the train was sitting right there waiting for us. The fare was a measly $1.60 per person (and it could have been just $.55 if I had read down a little further and found the special 55-plus fare). Once on board, the train made about 10 stops before delivering us to the Baltimore Convention Center right downtown.

We had decided to stay in the colorful Fells Point area, and that was still a fair distance away, so we flagged down a cab for the last leg of the trip.

Here are the best parts of the light rail train ride; it was really cheap as well as hugely convenient, and it only took 30 minutes to get from the airport to the heart of downtown Baltimore. It also made us feel like we were doing the right thing, environmentally speaking.

Here was the worst part: On the return trip from downtown to the airport, we just missed the Airport train and had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was cold. No, actually, it was worse than just cold. It was REALLY cold, around 24 degrees, and we had to stand outside for a half-hour. For thin-blooded Floridians, it was torture.

Still, we loved it. One of the light rail stops is Camden Yards, and we’re thinking about flying up there next summer for a Tampa Bay Rays – Baltimore Orioles game. I’m still dreaming about a Pinellas County light rail system, something that could serve Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater and other North Pinellas communities as well as St. Petersburg and Tampa.

If you want to learn more about Baltimore’s light rail system, go to

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A proud Greek heritage is on display in Tarpon Springs


Tarpon Springs is a charming Florida Gulf Coast town known for its Greek restaurants, bakeries, gift shops and sponge merchants. It is very much a Greek community, and it traces its Greek roots back more than 100 years, when Greek divers and their families immigrated to Tarpon Springs to work in the town’s sponge trade.

Florida’s sponge industry really began in the early 1800s, many miles south of Tarpon Springs, in Key West. Men would crisscross the shallow waters off Key West in rowboats or sailboats, scooping grass sponges off the bottom with long rakes. The harvested sponges would be carried by boat to Tampa Bay, and then shipped from there to New York City.

Key West quickly became the major source of sponges for customers in New York and throughout the Northeast, but that was about to change as technology allowed men to dive to the ocean floor. Divers soon found there were larger sponge beds, and a much larger variety of sponge types, in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, further up the west coast of Florida.

By the late 1880s, a wealthy Philadelphia banker named John K. Cheney sought to take advantage of those bountiful sponge resources off Florida’s coast.  He built warehouses in the town of Tarpon Springs, and soon he, along with another businessman named Ernest Meres, became the town’s first sponge merchants. He bought sponges locally and then sold them to associates in New York City.

In 1896, a Greek immigrant who had been working in New York as a sponge buyer, John Cocoris, arrived in Tarpon Springs. He went to work for John Cheney, and soon recruited 500 sponge divers from Greece.

The Greek divers were amazed to find that the floor of the Gulf was thick with sponges of all kinds. Baskets of large wool-sponges could be quickly sent in baskets from the sea floor up to the boats that waited on the surface. Cheney and his associates added boats and divers to increase their harvest.

Just a few years after the turn of the century, there were more than 1,500 Greek sponge divers and other workers employed in the Tarpon Springs sponge trade. By 1936, that number had increased to more than 2,000, and Tarpon Springs was recognized around the world as the sponge capital of the world.

However, the sponge industry faced a number of serious challenges in the 1940s. First, Red Tide attacked the gulf and killed most of the sponges. Then, synthetic sponges were developed. and they cut into market previously dominated by natural sponges. It took more than 20 years for the sponge market to right itself.

Now, tourism has replaced sponge diving as Tarpon Springs’ major economic activity. Tourists enjoy Tarpon’s Greek influence and culture, which have survived the ups and downs of the 100-year-old sponge trade.


Marc Washburn is a sponge merchant in Tarpon Springs and also on the Internet. His e-store, Natural Bath & Body Shop, carries traditional Greek olive oil soaps, Loofah, and a large selection of sea sponges.

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