Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for March, 2009

What’s driving the market in North Pinellas County?

The real estate market is still slow here, just as it is everywhere, and there’s plenty of uncertainty about buying and selling to go around.  Still, things have been quite a lot better since around the first of the year, and I’ve been pretty busy with a steady stream of buyers.

birdhouse-209x3001What’s the common denominator? It’s probably that many of them are first-time home buyers.

This is not a very good time for the move-up buyer, who wants to trade up to a larger or nicer home.  Those people already own a home, and the chances are good they may owe more than the house is worth, or have a large enough mortgage that there just isn’t much equity left to finance a move to a nicer, more expensive home.

But for first-time homeowners, this is a great time.  Home prices are lower than they have been in a decade, interest rates are low, inventories and selection are great, and sellers are willing to negotiate in earnest. And don’t forget that big $8,000 tax credit that’s available to first time homebuyers (or to people who haven’t bought a home in the past three years or longer.)

I’ve sold a number of houses so far this year to first-time home buyers, and some of the deals have been REALLY favorable.

Do you have a good first-time home buyer story that you’d like to share? Use the “comment” area at the top of this post  — I’d like to hear from you.

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Clearwater’s Pier 60: The place for sunsets

I spent a very enjoyable day yesterday with a client from out of town, someone who has really fallen in love with Dunedin. I think we’ve found her and her family the perfect townhouse. In fact, they spent so much time on the Internet that they had a pretty good idea what property they wanted before they ever came to Pinellas County and got down to some serious looking.

sunsetAnyway, once we got done with our real estate business, she went off on her own to do some more exploring of the area. She ended up forgoing dinner, opting instead for some ice cream and a visit to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset. This picture is one she took of Pier 60, the pier at Clearwater Beach where locals and tourists gather to watch the sunset. It’s a tradition that has been going on for the past 10 or 12 years, and it’s loosely based on the nightly sunset salute that’s been taking place at Key West for years.

As you can see by the picture, the sunsets are spectacular. But you will also enjoy the local musicians, the buskers (street performers) as well as the food vendors that set up every night. There’s plenty to do and see around here, and the Pier 60 sunsets are up at the top of the list.

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New Pinellas County park is on the way

Who would have ever thought that you would have to actually travel to a park to see an orange grove in Pinellas County?

It wasn’t too many years ago that North Pinellas County was almost one big orange grove. As recently as the 1980s, orange groves still dotted the area. The subdivision where I live was an orange grove until it was subdivided in the mid-1980s. We still have a couple of orange trees in the backyard that are left over from those days.

orange-treeNow, Pinellas County is about to open a new county park in Largo that will be devoted in part to preserving a bit of  Pinellas County’s orange-growing history.

The county bought 157 acres in Largo (at Belleair and Keene roads) from the Taylor family back in 1998 (for $13 million), and later they bought a few additional acres. This coming December, the county hopes to open the land as Eagle Lake Park. Some of the Taylor family’s orange groves will be preserved so people can see what orange grove farming was like in Pinellas County.

Pinellas County has some great parks, and Eagle Lake Park will just be the newest one. You can learn more at www.pinellascounty.org/park/

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Federal government offers mortgage help

 

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Okay, so you’ve been living in your home in Pinellas County and faithfully making your mortgage payments, but your home’s value has been steadily slipping and now you owe more than the place is worth. You keep reading about new government programs that are supposed to help, but you need to find out more.

Fear not – there’s a place you can go to find the help you need.

That place is www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov. It’s a website designed to describe the benefits of a federal program called, well, Making Home Affordable. It offers homeowners a number of opportunities to either refinance their mortgages, or modify the mortgages they already have.

The Making Home Affordable program is financed with $75 billion for loan servicers and borrowers. Its designers say that it should be able to offer mortgage help to four million homeowners who need to modify their loans to make them more affordable, or who need to negotiate short sales of their properties with their mortgage providers.

Officials say that the money will allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance up to five million loans they own (or guarantee). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have set up web sites and toll-free hotlines for borrowers who need to determine if their mortgages fall under Fannie or Freddie. Fannie Mae’s is www.fanniemae.com/homeaffordable (phone number (800) 732-6643); Freddie Mac’s is www.freddiemac.com/avoidforeclosure (phone number (800) 373-3343).

Some borrowers might prefer to get information first from their own mortgage servicer. To do that, go to www.HopeNow.com and fill out an application. That web site is operated by an alliance of mortgage servicers and nonprofit counselors. You can talk to them on the phone at (888) 995-4673.

No matter where you live in North Pinellas County – Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor, or anywhere else, for that matter – the information offered applies to you.

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Jacarandas add color to Pinellas County

If you’re not from around these parts but you come to visit in the spring, you may be surprised at the bright blue trees that can be found all over Pinellas County.

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Jacaranda tree

The bright purplish-blue flowers give an almost electric coloration to the trees, and when the leaves drop (after about eight weeks) they create a royal-blue carpet on the green grass. Just gorgeous.

These are jacaranda trees, and they add a beautiful splash of color that announces the coming of spring.

Florida has lost of non-indiginous plants (and animals, too) that the state would like to get rid of, but the jacarandas are more welcome, even though they are not native to Florida.

There are more than 50 types of jacarandas, but most of the ones you see in Florida come from the Amazon river valley area of South America.

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One of the oldest cemeteries in Pinellas County

Kids can be pretty hard to figure.

Take my granddaughter, Caitlyn.  She is eight years old and in the second grade. Now, you’d think a young girl like that would have plenty of fears — the dark, or things that go bump in the night.

Caitlyn reads the inscription on a gravestone

Caitlyn reads the inscription on a gravestone

So where do you think she’s been pestering us to take her?  To a cemetery.

We haven’t really been able to figure out where this cemetery thing came from, but she’s really fascinated. So this past weekend her grandfather decided to take her on a field trip.

Since I had written recently about Curlew Methodist Church, that’s where they went — Curlew Methodist has one of the oldest graveyards around here, and there are quite a few gravestones that date back to the 1880s.

Caitlyn loved it.  She enjoyed reading all the inscriptions, and she liked learning about the people who were buried there.  She decided that the Jones family must have been pretty big around here, because so many of them had headstones in the cemetery. And she liked reciting some of the short poems she found on some of the stones.

She wasn’t scared at all.

“The ghosts are only around at night, anyway,” she said.

Caitlyn said she was going to tell all about her cemetery adventure at the next Show and Tell at her school.

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Curlew church is one of Pinellas County’s oldest

Curlew Methodist Church in Palm Harbor

Curlew Methodist Church in Palm Harbor

I’m from New England, a place where communities often stretch back several hundred years. It’s not like that here in North Pinellas County.

The area where I live, made up of Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and even much of Clearwater, was little more than orange groves just 20 or 30 years ago. There are many wonderful assets in this region, but the local history is a bit thin.

But that’s not true of everything. A case in point is Curlew United Methodist Church, located in a little corner of Palm Harbor just north of Curlew Road.

Most churches in this area are not very old, but Curlew United Methodist Church was founded 140 years ago, in 1869. John Sutton, a local resident, decided that this part of North Pinellas County, a near-frontier area back then, needed a place of worship. He called together 22 of his friends and neighbors, and he then provided six acres of land for the church and an adjoining cemetery.

Sutton wasn’t done at that point; he also provided logs from the property, which were rafted down to a saw mill in Clearwater, cut into boards, and then rafted back up the coast.

The church members agreed to help build the church, which Sutton named Curlew after the pink birds that flocked nearby. Actually, Sutton thought the birds were curlew birds, but he was incorrect; they actually were pink spoonbills. No matter; the name “Curlew” stuck, and that’s the name of the church today.

About 12 years later, the church was destroyed by fire. The members held their services under a big oak tree on the property for a couple of years, then built a new building. However, that building wasn’t very well put together, and members tore it down in 1902 and built a new one.

That building was remodeled in 1942, and it still stands on the site and serves the members of the congregation, but not as the main church building; that structure was erected in 1969.

The cemetary that Sutton founded surrounds the church on two sides, and its gravestones provide a fascinating record of life and death in North Pinellas County from the late 1800s until the present day.

Today, the Curlew United Methodist Church still counts descendants of John Sutton among its worshippers. It is the oldest church in Pinellas County to still occupy its original site.

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Pinellas County parks: Great places to go

phillippe-park-entrance2Pinellas County offers some of the finest parks you will find anywhere.

Some, like Fort DeSoto at the southern tip of the county, have beaches that are considered among the best in the country. Others, like John Chestnut Sr. Park, offer plenty of lake frontage.

But Phillippe Park is special, because it offers lots of frontage on Tampa Bay; because it has been a public park since the 1940s, which is pretty much ancient history around here; because it is named after the man who brought the citrus industry to Tampa Bay; and because it has a big Indian mound within its borders.

 I attended a picnic at Phillippe Park this weekend and was reminded of how beautiful it is.

 

Tampa Bay from the park

Tampa Bay from the park

There are a number of shelters you can reserve for picnics, and the grounds are kept in immaculate condition by the park rangers. 

There is plenty of parking, and Phillippe Park is a great place for a walk, or just a sit on one of the benches that overlook the water.

If you want to learn more about Pinellas County’s parks, you can click here.

 

 

 

 

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Palm Harbor may incorporate

If you don’t live in Palm Harbor (or at least in North Pinellas County), you may not know this, but Palm Harbor is not an incorporated town, even though it is pretty much built out and is home to around 60,000 people.

All of its services – police, fire, public works and so forth – are provided by the county. It has always been that way.

Palm Harbor has a small historic district

Palm Harbor has a small historic district

But maybe not for too much longer.  

Bills have been filed in the state legislature that would allow Palm Harbor residents to vote on whether they want their community to become an actual town. If that ever happens, Palm Harbor will become Pinellas County’s 25 incorporated community.

As you might imagine, some residents think incorporation would be a fine idea. Others, of course, feel otherwise. At least some of those who like the idea are represented by the Palm Harbor Coalition. Some people who don’t think it’s a great idea are represented by the Crystal Beach Community Association.

Supporters generally feel that a new town government would be more responsive to the people who live here. Many opponents say they think taxes will go up if Palm Harbor incorporates.

Whether you like the idea or hate it, the people of Palm Harbor will ultimately make the decision. The measure will go on the 2010 ballot if the legislature passes the enabling legislation. And before the legislature can do that, it has to conduct a feasibility study to see if it makes sense fiscally to make Palm Harbor a real, official town or city.

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St. Paddy’s Day in Palm Harbor

peggy-o-neills-irish-pubOne thing you have to say about Downtown Palm Harbor — for a small downtown area, it seems as though there’s always something going on there.

I went there early in the morning on Saturday to just get a few photos to go with the previous post. When I got there, Florida Avenue was roped off. Hmmmm, I thought — what could this be?

Turns out it was sort of a mini-celebration. Peggy O’Neill’s, the Irish pub, was about to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

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St. Patrick's Day vendor

The interesting thing about Downtown Palm Harbor is they are always doing something fun that draws people to the area. This weekend its St. Patrick’s Day. Next weekend there is an arts and crafts display. After Thanksgiving there is a really big art program, and on another weekend there is a big motorcycle event.

There aren’t a lot of merchants in Downtown Palm Harbor, but they go the extra mile to make their neighborhood fun.

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