Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for April, 2009

Pinellas homeowners: New program makes refinancing possible

making-home-affordableWould you like to refinance your home, but find that you can’t because the value of your property has declined? You may be able to refinance anyway under the federal government’s new Making Home Affordable program.

This is good for some homeowners in Pinellas County and in Tampa Bay, where foreclosures and declining values are among the highest in the nation.

Making Home Affordable has two parts – one allows for the modification of existing mortgages, while the other offers opportunities for home refinancing, if the home mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

Let’s look at the refinancing function of Making Home Affordable:

• To qualify, borrowers must occupy their homes. The home may have up to four units, but the owner has to occupy one of them.

• Interest rates under Making Home Affordable are “market rates,” but it is a little unclear what that means exactly.

• Loan balances may be as much as 105 percent of the current value of the home. Otherwise, borrowers have to comply with all the other usual underwriting demands, things like all payments must be current, income has to be high enough to cover the new payment amounts, and there can’t be more than a single late payment during previous 12 months. 

• Mortgage insurance on the old loan will carry over to the new loan – a little unusual, because generally mortgage insurance policies end when the loan is paid off; then a new policy gets issued for the new mortgage.

• It’s okay to have a second mortgage on the property as long as the second mortgage holder has agreed to remain in the second position lien-wise.

• Cash cannot be withdrawn during the transaction, but closing costs can be included in the mortgage amount.

To learn more, visit

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Showing the Palm Harbor Library colors

Palm Harbor library

Palm Harbor library

Here in Palm Harbor, we are pretty proud of our library.
Palm Harbor is in an unincorporated part of Pinellas County. That means there are no local funds available for such things as libraries. But we make due with funding from the county, and we find other sources of funding when we need them.
Case in point; a few years ago there was a lot of support for upgrades and modernizations for the library.  So library supporters got together and found more than a million dollars for a library upgrade project — $500,000 from the state, $247,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, $500,000 in local matching funds and $100,000 that was raised by the Friends of the Library.
The result was an upgraded parking lot, a new community room and new restrooms, as well as a much-improved teen room. There is also several new study rooms and a new conference room.
While other libraries in the county (and elsewhere) are cutting back and trying to figure out how to keep the doors open, the Palm Harbor Library is going strong.
Several library workers and supporters were on hand at the Palm Harbor Citrus Festival this weekend just to “show the colors” and make sure people in the community remember that their library is an important community resource.

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Palm Harbor Citrus Festival


We just got back from spending a little time at the Palm Harbor Citrus Festival, the latest effort to pump up the Old Palm Harbor downtown section, located right off Alt. 19.

This is the first year of the Citrus Festival, which celebrates Palm Harbor’s history as a major citrus growing region.  Actually, that history doesen’t really hark back that far — Palm Harbor was still hosting large tracts of citrus growing land right up through the 1970s and 1980s. Earlier than that, citrus fruit is what built and sustained  this northern part of Pinellas County.

We got to the Festival a bit early on Saturday morning, so there weren’t too many people milling around. But exhibitors were setting up their booths, and carnival workers  were just showing up to get their rides going. There were a number of food booths, including one interesting-looking barbecue outfit that just might draw me back there at mid-day for lunch.

The Downtown Palm Harbor merchants really do a good job of trying to pump up their region. They do a great and very well-know arts show arounf the holiday season, and the annual Taste of Palm Harbor event is very popular. They even sponsor an annual motorcycle event.

You can see more pictures of the Citrus Festival at

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Lamp posts in Dunedin

Lamp post in Dunedin

Lamp post in Dunedin

 Ever since we put up this blog, with the newsboy standing under the lamp post, I’ve become a little more aware of lamp posts in North Pinellas County. Old-style lamp posts aren’t all that common, but I did notice that downtown Dunedin has some really dandy examples — I guess when they did over the downtown area, they were careful to add some nice old-style touches, and antique-looking lamp posts were among them.

I noticed this one on Main Street the other night. I’m not sure if you can read it, but the sign says “Dunedin — Best Walking Town in America.” I wonder if that was an actual award the city received. I’ll try to find out — if I do, I’ll post the answer here. If you already know the answer, post a comment and share it.

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Dunedin wall art

Wall art in downtown Dunedin

Wall art in downtown Dunedin

I’ve always liked wall art — the pictures and paintings and advertisements you see painted on the sides of buildings.  I especially like the real old ones that are sometimes so faded you can barely make them out. Sometimes when you drive through an old town you will see what’s left of an ad for some brand of flour or tobacco, or perhaps some local saddlery that’s long gone.

There are some efforts at more modern wall art, and I like those, too. I’ve been noticing an example down in Dunedin, and I finally remembered to take a picture of it last night.

I’ll be looking for other local examples of wall art to post on the blog. Do you know of any? If so, leave a post and tell me where it is — I’ll go take a picture of it.


Is this the best pizza in Pinellas County?

Monty's Pizza

Monty's Pizza

There’s all kinds of different pizza. There’s thin crust, thick crust, Chicago style, New York style and Sicilian pizza, just to name a few. People are particular about their pizza, and not everyone thinks the same way when it comes to deciding what’s good, and what’s not so good.

All that being said, we like Monty’s Pizza in Clearwater. A lot.

We go there just about every Sunday night, and we always order the same thing: a medium deluxe. At Monty’s, a deluxe pizza has five toppings of your choice. For us, that means pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese, olive oil and mushrooms. (There’s one waitress there who doesn’t think olive oil should be a topping. When she waits on us, we order onions, too.)

Monty’s is owned by a family from Connecticut, according to the story on the back of the menu. They have been turning out pizzas in Pinellas County since the early 80s. The restaurant itself is a bit funky, and that adds to the charm. Also, there’s an old Ford outside in the parking lot painted up to look like a NASCAR racer sponsored by Monty’s. If you drive by, you see the Ford before you see the actual “Monty’s” sign on the building.

Monty’s is in mid-county on Nursery, just west of Belcher. If you come on a Sunday night, we’ll probably see you there.

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Believe it or not, home construction applications are UP

house-under-construction4With real estate sales and values way down from their historic highs of about three years ago, you’d think that developers would be thinking about just about anything except building more new houses.
But you would be wrong.
Developers have been submitting large numbers of proposals for new homes and new commercial developments to state approval agencies. How many? Applications have been filed for more than a half-million new homes as well as about 500 million square feet of commercial space.
What are they thinking?
State officials say it is owners or large land tracts that are behind the push for more development approvals. Whether new homes and communities are being built or not, the people who own those large tracts of land want the permits to build. It increases the land’s value, and it puts the land in a good position to host new developments if and when the market conditions improve.
Much of the land in question is now zoned agricultural, or is envirtonmentally sensitive. But if that land becomes approved for residential or commercial development, it suddenly becomes worth a lot more money.
With real estate in a full stall, you wouldn’t think that new development applications would be taken seriously. But with government and business hoping for an economic jump start, just about anything is possible.

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Al Boyd’s boot

It wasn’t so long ago that North Pinellas County was little more than orange groves and open land. Because of that, the area isn’t exactly chock full of old stories and legends. But there is a pretty good story involving Boot Ranch. Boot Ranch is now a shopping center, but it used to be a good-sized ranch that was owned by one Al Boyd.

Al Boyd's boot

Al Boyd's boot

Since Al called his spread Boot Ranch, he built a great big boot to mark the entrance of his driveway — a 17-foot bit of concrete footwear that bore the image of a Brahmin bull. At the time, the boot stood at what is now the intersection of Tampa Road and McMullen Booth.

The Boyd ranch was a large spread that covered a significant bit of acreage in North Pinellas County. But, like all the other large tracts in the area, it was eventually sold to make way for housing developments, apartments and a big shopping center, appropriately named the Shoppes at Boot Ranch. When the shopping center was built, the big boot was painted white, pink and light green (not exactly cowboy colors) and was moved to a place of honor in the shopping center parking lot. That is where it still stands today.

Here’s the interesting part:

If you look closely at the base near the boot’s toe, you can see the faint outline of a small window. And if you walk around to the back, you can see the faint outline of a painted-over door.
Legend has it that Al Boyd had a small room built into the boot.

According to legend, Al was unhappy that some locals used to drive by and take pot shots at the boot. He asked the sheriff about what he could do to retaliate, and the law officer said he could return the fire if he were in or near the boot — that returning fire would be tantamount to self-defense.

So, Al reportedly would hang out in his little room in the boot and wait for gun-toting ne’er-do-wells to drive by. If they opened fire on his boot, Al supposedly would stick his rifle through the window of the boot and return fire. One night he supposedly peppered the door of a passing pickup truck when the occupants took a few shots at the boot.

The boot had a colorful past, just like Al Boyd. It seems kind of sad that it is living out its final days in a shopping center parking lot.

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First-time homebuyer programs in other countries


Scottish row house

Scottish row houses

If you are a first-time homebuyer, you know how hard it can be to get that initial investment together, even in times like these, when home prices are dropping and interest rates are low.

 Yes, there are first-time-homebuyer programs of various types available through different agencies. But have you ever wondered what other countries do to help people who are buying their first homes?

 If you lived in Scotland, you could get some special assistance through a government program that is just now being expanded for people trying to buy their own homes.


 Here’s how it works:


First-time home buyers find the homes they want, but then only pay between 60 and 80 percent of the purchase price. The government picks up the rest, and holds on to its portion as an equity stake.


When the house gets sold sometime in the future, some of the sale proceeds go to the government to pay off that equity stake. If the homebuyers decide they want to pay off the government before they sell, they are free to do so. The whole arrangement is interest-free.


The Scottish government has been experimenting with the plan, called LIFT, and has made it available in limited areas, funding it with 24 million pounds. It has been so successful that the government is now expanding it to all of Scotland, and upping the fund to 60 million pounds.


Government officials hope the shared-equity idea will help not only first-time homebuyers, but home sellers as well. It is primarily aimed at low-to-moderate-income buyers.


To learn more click on


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Pinellas County’s brunch of brunches

Don Cesar Hotel

Don Cesar Hotel

There’s brunch, with a nice variety of food and a decent price tag, maybe put out by a good local eatery. And then there is brunch put on by the Don CeSar Hotel, one of the premier hotels in the Tampa Bay region. This brunch is a few steps, or many steps, above the average, with smoked salmon and mounds of the best fresh fruit and carving stations for prime rib, lamb, ham and pork, as well as a dizzying array of fancy homemade desserts.

The Don CeSar is where we had brunch this morning. It was truly memorable and worth describing to anyone thinking about moving to Pinellas County.

First, a little bit about the hotel. The Don CeSar overlooks the Gulf of Mexico in the south part of the county, just south of St. Pete Beach and just

Don CeSar Hotel entrance

Don CeSar Hotel entrance

north of Pass-A-Grille Beach. It is pretty old but beautifully kept in bright pink paint with white trim.  It was built in the 1920s. Then, just as now, it is a place for the well-known and the well-to-do.

It became a convelescent center for the U.S. Air Force during World War II and then fell into such disrepair that it was abandoned and almost torn down in the 1970s. But local people put up a ruckus to save the Don, and someone bought it and renovated it to its present glory. It has been an icon of the Tampa Bay region ever since.

But back to the brunch; it features more than 200 separate items as well as pasta and omelette stations . There’s a dessert staion for crepes and a sundae bar. If you like bubbles with your brunch, there’s even complementary champagne.

We’ve lived in Pinellas County since 1993, and this was our first brunch trip to the Don CeSar. At around $100 for two, we won’t be going back every weekend, but it’s a nice treat or special occasion.

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