Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for July, 2009

Some new rules will change the mortgage process

 Getting ready to buy a new home? The federal government has come up with a new set of rules that may have an impact on your mortgage. The new rules, from the Federal Reserve, go into effect at the end of this month.
Here are the high points:
— Lenders must provide you a mortgage cost disclosure within three business days of the date you apply for the mortgage. If they don’t you can walk away from the deal.
— Lenders can’t collect fees until you get that aforementioned cost disclosure statement. The only exception is a reasonable fee for checking your credit. It has been fairly common for lenders to ask for money up-front to cover appraisals, credit checks and other fees. No more.
— Once the lender provides the mortgage cost disclosure, there must be a seven-day waiting period before the closing.
— The appraisal must be delivered by the lender to the borrower at least three business days before the loan closing. Borrowers have always had a right to see the appraisal, but they often didn’t know they had that right, and they often didn’t request it because they didn’t know they were entitled to it. Now, the closing can’t happen until you’ve received it.
— If the annual percentage rate of the loan goes up more than one-eighth of one percent between the time you get the early cost disclosure and the closing, the lender must re-disclose all the costs and provide an additional seven days for you to consider the deal.
It is all meant to make the mortgage transaction more transparent and give borrowers more confidence about the deal they are signing.

Chamberlins were part of Palm Harbor history

Grave of Franklin and Ella Chamberlin

Grave of Franklin and Ella Chamberlin

Back in March I wrote about the cemetery at Curlew Methodist Church in Palm Harbor, one of the oldest cemeteries in Pinellas County. You can read that earlier post here.

Not long afterwards, I got a nice note from Michael Chamberlin of California, who said he had enjoyed the article because his great-grandparents, James F. and Ella Chamberlin, were buried in that cemetery. I filed that information away, thinking I would go back up to the cemetery and see if I could find James’ and Ella’s headstones.

It took a little while, but over the Fourth of July weekend we stopped by the cemetery and walked around a bit.

We thought we would be there for a while — there are quite a few graves in that old cemetery. As luck would have it, the very first headstone we saw — the closest one to the church buildings to the left of the main driveway — said “Chamberlin.”

We were pretty sure we had found the right stone, although some of the information was a bit different from that provided by Michael Chamberlin. He had identified his great-grandfather as “James F.”, but the stone identified him as “Franklin.” Michael said his great-grandmother died in 1926, but the stone had the year of death as 1929.

I took a picture of the gravestone and sent it, along with a note, to Michael Chamberlin. he confirmed that his great-grandfather’s middle name was Franklin, and he confirmed the 1926 year of death for Ella Chamberlin.

In his earlier note, Michael said that his great-grandparents were originally from Beloit, Wis., and that they had moved to Florida and bought a 20-acre citrus grove on Curlew Road in 1910. He said their son, George L. Chamberlin, followed his parents to Pinellas County. He became very active in Republican politics here, and during the Calvin Coolidge administration was named postmaster of Palm Harbor.

It’s interesting how one story leads to another. I believe the old Palm Harbor post office was located in the Sutherland Building in old Downtown Palm Harbor, a building which now houses Peggy O’Neill’s restaurant, which I’ve written about previously.  The post office boxes are still in the restaurant, I’m pretty sure. Maybe I’ll try to dig up a story about the Post Office, and maybe a bit more about George Chamberlin.

It’s fun writing about the history of this part of Florida. If you have any interesting old stories about Pinellas County that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.

Special thanks to Michael Chamberlin for providing the information about his family members.

The Dunedin Country Club

Dunedin Country Club

Dunedin Country Club

Picture this:

You are a developer in Dunedin, Fla., and you have a vision about a new housing development. You want to attract people from up north who may want to relocate to a warmer, sunnier climate.

So you buy a big tract of land and you subdivide it into house lots. Right in the middle of it you leave plenty of space for a golf course. And just to make sure you make the course really attractive and interesting, you hire one of the greatest living golf course architects to design it.

Sounds like a pretty contemporary scenario, right?

In this case, however, it was not.  All of this took place in the 1920s. The subdivision included Dunedin’s Fairway Estates, and the golf course was the Donald Ross-designed Dunedin Country Club.

This story starts in the early years of the 20th century, when Baron Otto Quarles arrived in Florida from Europe. He bought a huge tract of land north of Dunedin and built a large mansion on the site, but within a few years he lost interest and relocated to the other side of Tampa Bay, in Tampa.

About 20 years later, a developer acquired the land and announced very ambitious plans. Two golf courses, a casino and more than 6,000 home sites were part of the scheme. But then came the great Florida real estate bust of 1929, and the project went bankrupt.

Before that happened, however, Donald Ross was retained to design the golf course. Ross was a native of Scotland who designed more than 300 U.S. golf courses during his career. He was based in North Carolina and designed many courses there, but Florida was fertile ground for his talents, too. Ross-designed golf courses are highly prized; today, fewer than 20 Donald Ross courses survive in Florida.

The Depression took its toll on the course. By the mid-1930s it was in need of major repairs and maintenance. In 1938, the city of Dunedin obtained ownership of the course. Money was invested in the course, and golfers began using it again in 1938.

A real break for the course happened in 1945, when it was selected to become the home course of the PGA of America. The PGA leased the club and made Dunedin its national headquarters. That relationship lasted until 1962, when the PGA moved to another location in Palm Beach Gardens/

During those years the course was played by some of the greatest name in golf — Ben Hogan, Sam Snead. Bobby Jones and Babe Zaharias among them.

The Dunedin Country Club has been going through some financial and management issues lately. Here’s a link to a story in the St. Petersburg TIMES:

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Dunedin awaits rebirth of Fenway Hotel

Dunedin's Fenway Hotel

Dunedin's Fenway Hotel

If I could travel through time, I think I might like to visit West Central Florida around 1925. The area was in the middle of a big land boom, and communities such as Clearwater and Dunedin were in the middle of exciting growth.

 Downtown areas were being developed, new hotels and commercial buildings were being built, and some beautiful and expensive private homes were going up.
Some residents of Dunedin felt that their community was being left a bit behind. Visitors to the area were attracted to Clearwater and St. Petersburg, not to Dunedin, which didn’t have the kind of resort hotel that people flocked to in the 1920s to escape the cold and snow of their native northern homes.

fenway-fenway-smallA local realty company decided to try to do something about that, and started pushing the idea of a very high-end resort hotel on Dunedin’s Main Street (now Edgewater Drive). The financing scheme seems a little offbeat – the developers asked every Dunedin resident to chip in a few bucks, and quite a few stepped up and did just that.
A Clearwater developer, George H. Bowles, paid $250,000 for a controlling interest in the still-unfinished hotel, and he was able to find the financing necessary to complete the project. The hotel opened in 1925.

One interesting feature that Bowles brought to the new hotel was WGHB, the first commercial radio station in the area. Bowles was a big radio enthusiast, and the December opening ceremonies of the Fenway were carried on a six-hour broadcast that was beamed across the country.

Remains of the Fnway Hotel pier

Remains of the Fenway Hotel pier

The Fenway attracted many wealthy visitors and it was an important icon of Dunedin through the late 1950s. But like many grand hotels of that era, it fell into disrepair and went out of business. It later became the campus of Trinity College, which then took the name of its parent institution, Schiller International University.

In recent months, a St. Petersburg attorney, George Rahdert, has stepped forward with plans to re-develop the old Fenway. There has been a lot of vigorous debate about what the Fenway’s future would be, from demolition to a reinvigorated hotel. Rahdert wants to restore the existing hotel and add new wings.
Some neighbors aren’t very happy about a new commercial enterprise operating near their homes. Other local residents are delighted that such an historic relic might be saved and restored.
The Fenway by the Bay Hotel that Rahdert envisions would include a ballroom, a 150-seat restaurant and more than 100 hotel rooms. What the developers have in mind is a “condotel,”. a facility where people can purchase suites which they could occupy for part of the year and rent out as hotel rooms at other times.

The project is now going through county review and approval processes. 

Go here for more information about the Fenway Hotel project.

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WWII Marine Corps amphibious vehicle was developed in Dunedin

alligator-oneDonald Roebling didn’t have to work, and he could trace that very good fortune all the way back to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Roebling’s great-grandfather, John Roebling, was the original chief engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge project, the construction of which began in 1870. But John Roebling was injured at the construction site and had to turn his chief engineer duties over to his son, Washington Roebling. John Roebling died of an infection related to his injury before the bridge opened to traffic in 1883.

Which leads us back to Washington Roebling’s grandson, Donald.

In the 1930s, Donald Roebling was living a comfortable life in Clearwater, Fla., where he had build an impressive estate on the shore of the Intercoastal Waterway. Then in his 30s, Donald didn’t need to work, but he did share his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s interest in mathematics and engineering.

In the late 1920s and earely 1930s, three powerful hurricanes struck Florida. Many people were injured and killed, and many other were left stranded for days and weeks because there was simply no way to reach them through the wreckage and the flooded ground. Donald Roebling read about all the hurricane-related carnage and decided to do something about it.

He had a modern, well-equipped machine shop built on the grounds of his estate; he hired a staff of workers; and he set about designing a vehicle that could travel on land was well as through water. Such a vehicle, he thought, could make it through deep water and over blow-downs, and could be used to rescue people should another hurricane come ashore in Florida.

The result was an ungainly-looking two-tracked vehicle with a large open compartment that could hold people or equipment. Roebling called it the “Alligator.”

Roebling thought the Alligator would make a dandy military vehicle, and he tried to sell that idea to the U.S. Government. Try as he might, however, he could not get anyone to listen to his story.

Finally, however, he did get a Life Magazine reporter to write about the Alligator, and that got things rolling.  Marine Corps officials saw the article and kicked the Life clipping up the ladder.  Before long, Marine Corps officials were in Clearwater, looking closely at Roebling’s creation.

They liked the Alligator and thought it would be great for transporting troops from ships onto beaches and then back again. The trouble was that the Marine Corps didn’t have any money that could be spent on research and development of equipment. That didn’t really bother the wealthy Roebling, however; he agreed to do the research at his own expense, and turn out a new version of the Alligator that might make a better application for military use.

Within a few months, Roebling’s newer design was approved, and Alligators were being manufactured in Lakeland for the Marine Corps. Not long afterwards, four factories were turning out thousands of the amphibious machines, which saw much action at Guadacanal and throughout the South Pacific during World War II. The machines also were used in Korea and Vietnam, and the modern military amphibious vehicle in use today trace their lineage directly back to Roebling’s original 1930s design.

Plaque commemorating the testing of Roebling's "Alligator"

Plaque commemorating the testing of Roebling's "Alligator"

Roebling never made any money from his invention, although he could have.  He turned the invention over to the government, refused all commissions and payments, and said he wanted the Alligator to be his contribution to the war effort. He received a number of commendations and awards for his invention, and was even personally decorated by President Truman after the war was over.

What does all this have to do with modern-day North Pinellas County and real estate?

There is a very nice older waterfront subdivision in Dunedin called Harbor View. It was in that area, just north of Cedar Creek, where Roebling and the U.S. Marine Corps tested Roebling’s machine starting in August of 1941.

The months spent testing the Alligator in that area of water, beach and woods is what perfected the machine and allowed it to make such a contribution during World War II, ferrying Marines into battle and carrying wounded Marines back to their ships.

The Marine Corps League and the Dunedin Historical Society have erected a small plaque at the entrance to Harbor View:



“In this area between Curlew and Cedar Creek, along

St. Joseph Sound during the month of August 1941,

the first Alligator, which was designed by

Donald Roebling and built in Dunedin,

was received and launched by elements

of the U.S. Marine Corps

Fourth Amphibian Tractor Battalions.”

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Fourth of July in Dunedin and Palm Harbor

two-boats-fourthPeople everywhere have their own favorite ways of celebrating the Fourth of July, just as they have special ways of observing every holiday. In Tampa Bay, we have parades and cookouts and fireworks displays like everywhere else, but people around here love to celebrate just about everything by getting on (or near) the water.

We spent a little time this morning poking around some of the favorite beach spots in Palm Harbor and Dunedin, just to see what people were doing.  Sure enough, the beachs were jammed with people, and the nearby waters were loaded with watercraft of all kinds.

Most of these picture were taken on the Dunedin Causeway, which runs from the mainland out to Honeymoon Island. There’s also a ferry that runs from Honeymoon fourth-of-july-fishermanbiggest-flagIsland out to Caladesi Island, which we wrote about recently as being the nation’s very best beach, at least in the opinion of at least one person who makes such nominations.

We also took a picture of what we believe is the largest American flag in all of Pinellas County — it flies over an auto dealership on US19. If you know of a flag bigger than this one, which is supposed to be just a little bit smaller than the size of a tennis court, we hope you will let us know.

We hope you are having a great Fourth of July, wherever you may be.



Flags at the entrance to Harbor View subdivision, Dunedin


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Home refinance program expanded

     We’ve written here in the past about tax credits and about government programs aimed at saving homes from foreclosure and making home payments more affordable. Now, it looks as though the Obama Administration wants to expand those programs to make them apply to more borrowers than before.


    Until now, those government programs have been available to people whose mortgage amounts are up to 105 percent of a home’s value. This week, the administration announced that it wants to raise that limit to 125 percent of value.
Here are some of the conditions that apply:

  • The mortgages in question must be owned or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • The applicants for new financing must be current on their mortgage payments.

     It is estimated that 30 percent of all mortgages are for amounts that exceed their homes’ values.
     The expansion of this federal home refinance program is an acknowledgement that the original program fell far short of expectations. When it was announced in March, the Obama Administration said it hoped that it would help 4-5 million homeowners who were upside-down on their mortgages. But in the middle of June, the administration admitted that only about 20,000 homeowners had applied to refinance their mortgages under the plan.
One problem has been rising interest rates. Current rates are around 5.5 percent, up from 4.84 percent in April. That rate increase has put a damper on refinances. The government hopes that the new expansion will encourage more homeowners to refinance their homes, and those refinances will make the homeowners less likely to default on their mortgages.
     Got a home in Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, or anywhere else in Pinellas County with a mortgage bigger than the home’s value? This expanded program may be for you.

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Fourth of July fireworks planned for Pinellas County

fireworksFireworks displays are planned this weekend all over Pinellas County. Here is a partial list:


• Clearwater Celebrates America, July 4, Coachman Park, 301 Drew St. A free celebration that includes the following: Mostly Pops Orchestra with John and Mary K. Wilson; craft show, and concessions. Gates open at 4 p.m., fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.

• Clearwater Marine Aquarium, July 4, 11 a.m. — 5 p.m. Food, music, dolphin shows. Admission: adults $11, seniors $9, kids $7.50.


• Dunedin Hometown USA, July 3 at Dunedin Stadium, 373 Douglas Ave. Gates open at 6 p.m., fireworks at 9:30 p.m. Free admission.


• Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive, July 4, 7 – 10 p.m., fireworks at 9 p.m.


• Day-long celebration July 4 including fishing derby, sandcastle building, car show and community parade. Celebration starts at 8 a.m., fireworks at 9 p.m.


• Fireworks display July 4 after dusk in the county park, 182nd Avenue and Gulf Boulevard.


• Fourth of July Constitution Boat Parade and Rally July 4 from noon to 6 p.m., at Gator’s Café on Kingfish Drive. Boat Parade will sail through John’s Pass between Madeira Beach and Treasure Island around 3 p.m.

• Beach Blast July 3 and 4 behind Bilmar Beach Resort, Treasure Island. Fireworks at 9 p.m. July 4.


• Freedom Fest July 3-4. England Brothers Band Shell, 5120 80th Ave. N. Fireworks after dusk Friday. Laser light show Saturday night.


• Fireworks along the Gulf of Mexico at dusk July 4.


• Rock ’n Wings concert July 4 at the Albert Whitted Airport, First Street and Fifth Avenue South. Gates open at 3 p.m. Music, classic cars, aircraft. Bring beach chairs or blankets. Admission $10 for adults, $5 for children aged 6 – 12. Children 5 and younger free. Parking $5, free for motorcycles.

• Fourth of July Extravaganza at 1 p.m. July 4 at The Pier, 800 Second Ave. N.E. Performance by the Cool Daddies from 1 to 4 p.m. Drum circle 4 – 5 p.m., Tampa Bay Rays “watch party” 8 p.m. Fireworks begin at 9 p.m. Free.


This information is believed to be accurate but is NOT guaranteed –check before you go.

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New data indicates declines in Tampa Bay home values may be slowing

Are we finally starting to see some stabilization in the value of homes in Pinellas County? According to Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the answer might be yes.

Scale 3According to Index data released yesterday, home prices in Tampa Bay fell 0.7 percent from April to May. That works out to an annual rate of 8.4 percent — the lowest rate in quite a while.  Just two months previously, the 30-day decline was 2.7 percent, which translates to an annual rateof decline of 32.4 percent.

The Index said the annual decline of home values from April 2008 to April 2009 was 21.3 percent, the seventh-worse performance among the 20 cities that the index tracks. The worst was Phoenix, which recorded a home value decline of 35.3 percent.

Here is why real estate agents and others are watching these statistics: What we have been seeing for some time now is a steady increase in the number of home sales in Tampa Bay, accompanied by an equally steady decline in sales prices. The increase in sales has contributed to a decline in the home inventory in the Multiple Listing Service, which is good; but home prices have been continually forced down, due in part to foreclosures and distressed sales.

These trends have made us wonder just where the bottom of the market is in terms of home values. These new figures from Case-Shiller may help us find that answer. Of course, it is only one month; and other variables such as higher mortgage interest rates could slow sales and depress home values all over again.

If you would like to see the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index data for yourself, go here.

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