Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for June, 2009

Carl Cowden III is Tampa Bay’s premier painter of murals

Artist Carl Cowden III

Artist Carl Cowden III

In 1974, while still in high school, Carl Cowden III painted a 4 x 8 panel that was part of a temporary construction wall. That project, part of a contest for students, won him second place. Today, Cowden is Tampa Bay’s premier painter of murals.

He graduated from the University of Tampa in 1978 with a degree in fine arts and then got a job with the Community Design Center as a mural artist. The Community Design Center was a Tampa non-profit that developed building and restoration codes for historic neighborhoods. Between 1978 and 1980, he completed six large public murals.

During those early years, he was also known locally for his music.  His band, the Voodoo Idols, began performing in 1978 and continued until 1986.

Safety Harbor Fire Station mural

Safety Harbor Fire Station mural

While he doesn’t limit his work to murals, the murals may be what he is best known for, and he is proud of the contribution they make to the community.

“Public art adds to the quality of life and property,” Cowden said. “These are images that are enjoyed by generations for generations.”

Cowden’s murals can be found just about anywhere and everywhere in Tampa Bay, and all kinds of clients pay for his services. For example, after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, the team and the local Outdoor Arts Foundation decided to depict the victory on a 10-foot-by-28-foot oil tank at 39th Street and Adamo Drive. Cowden had to work 130 feet off the ground to get that project completed.

According to Cowden, the lifespan of any mural depend on a number of factors.

Oldsmar City Hall mural

Oldsmar City Hall mural

“Of ultimate importance is the condition of the wall before it is painted — the quality of the wall preparation as well as the paint and sealer used to complete the mural,” he said. “The wall must be sealed well, especially at the top. This keeps moisture from seeping behind the paint or substrate, which can destroy it from the inside out.”
A public mural’s value is largely determined by the community it serves as well as by the property owner, Cowden said, making the projects very site-specific. The process can be complicated somewhat by the fact that property owners may not live in the local community.

“When I begin a design, I like to speak to the local community and the individuals who will live with it,” he said. “In this way, it is more than just a pretty picture — it is something that has meaning and value to the community. When the people who live with a mural have no say in it, or it deteriorates, or the community loses its unity, its value is diminished and it is subject to vandalism and the owner’s needs.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Public art in Tampa Bay

tampa-street-artIt seems as though communities are becoming more aware of the fact that art can liven up and enhance any downtown area.

While walking down Franklin Street in downtown Tampa recently, I noticed several examples of original art along the sidewalk. This particular piece was a design in the shape of a harp, with actual wind chimes where the harp strings would be.

A sign identified the piece as “Harp Fountain,” and the artist as Marc DeWaele, who owns the Art Symphony Galleria at 2714 South MacDill Ave. in Tampa.

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Palm Harbor is home to Your Claim to Frame



We’ve written a number of times before about Old Palm Harbor and the things that go on there, from art shows to special events to the great food available in the local restaurants.

But any discussion about the old downtown area of Palm Harbor wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of Your Claim to Frame, one of the long-time businesses that anchor the old downtown area.

Don Hurt started his framing business in 1979 in the Highland Lakes Shopping Center on US19, but in 1990 he relocated the business to downtown Palm Harbor, and it has been thriving there ever since, operating out of a tidy yellow building at 1210 Nebraska Ave.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Your Claim to Frame.

Your Claim to Frame, downtown Palm Harbor

Your Claim to Frame, downtown Palm Harbor

Don not only is known because of Your Claim to Frame; he also has been very active in community affairs and the local Chamber of Commerce. He takes a special interest in the Downtown Merchants Association.

We have a couple of connections to Don and Your Claim to Frame. For one thing, most of the art in our home has been framed by Your Claim to Frame, and we know first-hand that Don is a stickler for great work. And second, Don is a Harley Davidson enthusiast, just as we are.

Your Claim to Frame is one of Palm Harbor’s best businesses, and Don always seems to have time for some friendly conversation. Stop in sometime and say hello, or call 727-784-0708.

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Tampa Theater is a Tampa Bay treasure

tampa-theaterIf you have seen the movie Casablanca, chances are you’ve seen it on TV. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a terrific movie and it comes across great no matter how or where you see it. But next weekend is a true treat for movie buffs — you get to see Casablanca at the Tampa Theater.
If you are not familiar with the Tampa Theater, it is a true gem of a movie theater that was built in 1926 and then lovingly restored in the 1980s to its original splendor.  The detail inside the lobby and theater itself are breathtaking. It is a true local treasure, and if you live in Pinellas County it is a fairly short hop across the Courtney Campbell Causeway or over Hillsborough Avenue to Tampa to take advantage of what it has to offer.
The Tampa Theater is home to many concerts and events, but it is still a great place to see a movie, especially on old black-and-white classic. We saw Keb Mo in concert there a few years ago, and we’ve attended everything from cocktail parties to receptions in the tiled lobby.
Oh, yeah — back to Casablanca.  It is being shown next Saturday (June 27) at 3 p.m., and then it is being shown again the following day at the same time.  If you’ve never been to the Tampa Theater, it’s a great time to go and admire it. It is on Franklin Street in Downtown Tampa — learn more at

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Pinellas County homes: Sales up, prices down

When it comes to tracking the latest home sales in Pinellas County, the trend continues — sales up, but average sales price down.

The Pinellas Realtor Organization, which keeps track of such things, reports sales of homes in the county for May totaled 971, up from 941 homes sold in May of 2008. That’s a good, if modest, increase of 3.2 percent. The median sales price, however, was just $140,000, down a full 20 percent from May 2008’s median price of $175,000.

That trend — sales up, but home sale prices down — has been going on for some time now.

Another statistic from the Pinellas Realtor Organization is encouraging. In May, there were 6,910 single family homes listed in the Multiple Listing Service, way down from the peak of 11,003 single family MLS listings in February 2006.

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Bills would extend tax credits beyond first time home buyers

sold-signThe real estate market is getting a bit better, and much of the action is taking place among first-time home buyers.

And why not? There are some really great deals at the less-expensive end of the market; first-time buyers usually don’t have an existing home that they have to unload before buying a new one; and let’s not forget that very attractive $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit from the federal government.

“But wait!” you say.  “What about me?  I’m not a first time home buyer, but why shouldn’t I get that $8,000 tax credit, too?”

Well, maybe you’re right. At least that’s what two members of Congress from the Dallas area think.  They have introduced legislation that would make the $8,000 credit apply to everyone and all houses. Not only that, but they would extend the tax credit all the way into 2010. The current tax credit only applies to homes purchased by Nov. 30 of this year.

The legislation comes from Rep. Kenny Marchant, a Republican, and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat. They have filed separate bills to expand the reach and the time limit for the tax credits. Marchant’s bill also includes a $3,000 credit that could be used by people refinancing their existing loans.

You would think that home builder and realtor lobbying groups would be all for these new bills. But they are acting cautiously because they don’t want anything to undermine the current tax credit which expires at the end of November.

There is plenty of legislative business already on the House calendar, so don’t expect fast action on these bills.  But that may change later in 2009, after members return from their summer recess.


Higher interest rates may slow housing market recovery

What’s the biggest (and latest) threat to a recovery in the housing market? Probably rising interest rates, which have jumped up noticeably in the past couple of weeks.

green-arrowAt midweek, the rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage had climbed to 5.79 percent, up from just 5 percent two weeks ago. That may not seem like a huge increase, but experts are saying that the increase is already having a dampening effect on refinances. Some say that the increase from 5 percent to 5.79 percent may mean that refinance applications are likely to be cut in half.

The major culprit seems to be interest rates on Treasury notes. The Federal Reserve is trying to combat the increasing interest rates by buying up Treasury notes. So far, however, that strategy doesn’t seem to be having much of an affect.

A few weeks ago, interest rates had fallen below 5 percent, which was the lowest level in more than 50 years. Those very low rates, along with low purchase prices, seemed to be providing enough momentum to get the sluggish housing market moving again. But higher interest rates could let the air out of that momentum.

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Will Austin’s new energy audit law ever apply to Pinellas County real estate?

energy-illustrationHave you thought about having an energy audit done on your Pinellas County home? If you lived in Austin, Tex., and you were planning on selling your home, you’d be doing that energy audit because the city requires it.

Under a new city ordinance, homeowners MUST pay to have an energy audit done before they can sell their homes. And they must pay between $200 and $300 for the privilege.

The new law went into effect at the first of June.

Austin isn’t the first U.S. city to require energy audits of home sellers. Similar laws have been in effect in San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif. since the 1980s. In those communities you not only have to have the audit performed; you also must make the recommended repairs and upgrades. That provision does not exist in the Austin statute.

The requirement applies to homes that are more than 10 years old. The home sellers must provide copies of the energy audits to any and all potential buyers.

A number of Austin homeowners have registered their displeasure about the new law.  Some of them don’t like the idea of having to fork over $200 or $300; others say that the energy audits may make it more difficult to sell their homes in an already challenging market.

But supporters say that the audits can find enough energy-related problems that, if repaired, could prevent the city from having to build a new 700-megawatt powerplant by the year 2020.

So far, more than 300 energy audits have been conducted in Austin. The most common findings: HVAC ducts leak a lot of air, on average double what is recommended; and attics lack adequate insulation, often needing six more inches to get up to code.

I don’t know of any move afoot to make  similar laws apply here to Pinellas County real estate. But a number of communities around the country are watching the Austin experiment very closely.

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Kelly’s: fun dining in Dunedin

Kelly's Restaurant, Dunedin

Kelly's Restaurant, Dunedin

We had dinner on Sunday night at Kelly’s on Main Street in Dunedin.

We don’t go there that often, mostly because when we eat in downtown Dunedin we often end up across the street at Cafe Alfresco. But Kelly’s has good food as well as a certain avant garde attitude that’s fun.

When we first lived here Kelly’s had a pretty ordinary outside dining area in back. Now, that area has been re-designed and enlarged, and there’s plenty of room for entertainment and for a very active bar area off to one side. When we were there, a few people were eating inside and many more were out back, eating and drinking and listening to live music.

Also, the owners of Kelly’s have acquired and developed the next-door Chic-A-Boom Room, a cocktail bar, as well as Blur one door down, a night club.

Kelly’s puts on a very good breakfast, and many people head there on the weekends for eggs benedict and other breakfast goodies. If you go, get there early, or you will have to wait for a seat.

kelleys-neon-sign1Kelly’s puts a premium on fun. There’s a manniquin near the front door (named Peggy Sue) who greets diners as they enter, and the tables feature unique salt-and-pepper shakers as well as wildly different coffee mugs.

Kelly’s fits nicely into the old Our Town style of Dunedin’s downtown, but at the same time it sports a kitschy bit of new wave color. It’s hip and fun, and the food is great.  Don’t miss it.

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Caladesi Island in Dunedin is US’s best beach

Caladesi Island beach

Caladesi Island beach

What’s the best beach in all of the US? According to Dr. Beach, who rates America’s beaches every year, it is none other than Caladesi Island, right here in lovely Dunedin, Florida.

What makes the beach at Caladesi Island the best bit of Dunedin real estate there is? For one thing, it is the limited accessibility and the total lack of auto traffic.  Caladesi Island is a mile off the Dunedin coast and is reachable only by private boat or by a ferry, the Caladesi Connection,  which runs from Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.

Only a limited number of people are allowed on the island, and pets are not allowed on the ferry.

But once you are there, there’s plenty to see and do. A mangrove-covered kayak trail winds from the marina three miles to St. Joseph Sound, and kayaks are available for rent. Wildlife that range from gopher tortoises to ospreys can be spotted. Dr. Beach also loves the powdery white sand and the crystal clear Gulf of Mexico water.

The ferry will set you back $10 per person, $6 for kids between the ages of 4 and 12. If you miss the ferry, don’t worry — it will be back in an hour. Once you are on the island, you have four hours to swim, sunbathe, hike  or do a little beachcombing before you must return to the ferry for the return trip.

Picnic tables and shelters are available, and you can rent picnic pavilions. If you bring your own boat, a marina offers electric and water hookups. If you forgot your picnic basket, don’t worry – a snack bar/gift shop, Cafe Caladesi, is nearby.

By the way, Dr. Beach is really Dr. Stephen Leatherman, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research. He has selected the annual Top 10 Beaches in the country since 1991.

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