Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for October, 2009

Looking to buy in Pinellas County? The tax credit is nearing an end

     What’s going to happen to the first time homebuyer tax credit?
     The tax credit, which was introduced back in February as part of the Obama Administration’s stimulus package, gives an income tax credit of up to $8,000 to all first time home buyers. The trouble is, the tax credit runs out at the end of November.
   house and money  The Congress is thinking about extending the credit, and some members would like to see it expanded to apply to all home buyers, not just first-timers. But other members say that making the credit last longer – and apply to more people – would be a budget-buster. They say any new tax credit version should be offset by tax increases, or at least some spending cuts.
     Some observers say they think there’s a pretty good chance that the tax credit will be extended, but they are not so optimistic that it will be enlarged to include new categories of home buyers. 
     Under the current rules, the tax credit applies to individuals making more than $75,000 per year, or couples making no more than a combined $150,000 per year. Some members of Congress say they would like to double those limits so more homebuyers would qualify. That’s a nice idea and would stimulate more home purchases, but it would cost an estimated $16.7 billion. 
     Meanwhile, I can tell you that buyers are increasing their home shopping activities, trying to get sales done before the current programs ends. I know that because I have been busy showing property.

New IRS form lets loan officers see your IRS income info — twice

     Are you going to be applying for a mortgage anytime soon?  Here’s something you need to know:
     Your loan officer may ask you to sign IRS Form 4506-T. If you do, you will authorize the loan officer to get IRS electronic transcripts of your federal income tax filings.
 IRS logo    This may not seem like anything terribly new — the IRS has been giving lenders tax-return info for years. In the past, however, that information wasn’t requested until settlement, and it usually was requested only in the case of people who were self-employed.
     What’s changed is that Fannie Mae is working harder to spot fraudulent claims of income, and to limit losses from bad loans. So… Fannie Mae now wants lenders to get two sets of electronic IRS transcripts for all borrowers, no matter what their sources of income are.
     One copy is pulled at the time of the application, while the other gets requested before the closing.
     All of this seems to be a response to the old “stated income” or “no-doc” loans, in which borrowers were asked to simply say what their incomes were without providing any evidence. Some people inflated their incomes, and a percentage of those loans went bad when the market deflated.
     Because of all that, Fannie Mae (and other lenders) are tightening up their requirements, and IRS Form  4506-T is one of the consequences. Lenders now want to verify those income claims — not once, but twice.
     Remember, you need to take this form seriously when the loan officer puts it in front of you. Make sure that the information you provide is accurate, and make sure the years you specify are the years you actually want the loan officer to see.
     You are going to see a request for a Form 4506-T request twice during the mortgage loan application process, so be ready for that, too.
     If you would like to see a copy of the form before the loan officer actually presents it to you, you can get one on the IRS Web site, which is

In Pinellas County we import our pumpkins

pumpkinspumpkinsFirst, the bad news: pumpkins don’t grow very well in Florida.

 Heat, sandy soil, rainy summer seasons, fungal and insect problems make it tough to grow pumpkins and other gourds.

But here’s the good news: Big trucks bring pumpkins to Florida from other places!

And if you go to a place that sells pumpkins, it looks for all the world like a farm stand that just brought a bunch of pumpkins in from the fields.

I wanted to buy a pumpkin this weekend amd I saw in the newspaper that the East Lake United Methodist Church was going to be selling pumpkins once again this year, just as they have done in past Octobers. So I drove over there around mid-day.

Sure enough, it looked like a real farmer’s pumpkin patch.

I bought a nice medium-sized pumpkin, and I’m thinking about going back in a few days and buying a few gourds to use in decorating the house.


Finding — and financing — the perfect Pinellas County home

Stephanie Henningsen

Stephanie Henningsen

I met Stephanie a while back, and she told me a story about how she was able to buy her own home, even though she was a single woman at the time living on one paycheck.  Not only was she able to buy the home, but she was also able to finance an extensive renovation that brought back a fine old home in St. Petersburg that deserved to be saved. I asked her if she would describe the process for my blog. Here is the first installment — there will be more coming.




I’ve always been attracted to older homes, the homes you find in historical neighborhoods immediately outside the downtown areas of municipalities around the country. It’s the details that draw me in – lots of windows, high ceilings, wood floors, crown molding.

Many of these remodeled homes come with a price tag that is way out of my range. However, I found a way to live in my dream home (complete with wood floors!) without going broke in the process.

A friend told me about the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), an advocacy program designed to help:

• Homeowners refinance mortgages
• Low-income families find an affordable home
• Turn over neighborhoods by offering mortgages that allow homeowners who make above a certain income to buy a run-down home and remodel it.

NACA helps potential buyers through the following steps to prepare them for homeownership.

Once I had completed these steps, I was ready for the next adventure – finding my dream home.

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Canada’s Campobello Island — a long trek from North Pinellas County

The view we saw every morning at Lupine Lodge on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. That bit of blue water you see is a bit of the Atlantic that separates Campobello from Eastport, Maine.

The view we saw every morning at Lupine Lodge on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. That bit of blue water you see is a bit of the Atlantic that separates Campobello from Eastport, Maine.

     I know, this doesn’t have much to do with real estate in Pinellas County, but it was a beautiful view that greeted us every morning on Campobello Island.
     Campobello is part of New Brunswick and is just off the coast of northern coastal Maine. It is best known as the summer residence of Franklin Roosevelt.
     We stayed there because we wanted the grandkids to get a little history lesson, but we also chose Campobello because we wanted to go to the annual Maine Blueberry Festival, which is in Machias, Maine in an area that offers very little in the way of hotel rooms.  We thought staying in Campobello would be a good and fun alternative, and it was.

One of the two guest buildings at Lupine Lodge

One of the two guest buildings at Lupine Lodge

     We stayed in a place called the Lupine Lodge, which was very nice but a little on the primitive side. No air conditioning, no television, no phones in the rooms. The place was clean but I don’t think it had been updated since the pre-1920s, when the place was built.
     There was a restaurant on site that was pretty good, but we decided to venture off and see what other food opportunities existed on the island. Not a great decision, as it turned out, because there was only one other restaurant on Campobello. We had some breakfast there, though, and we returned the next night for dinner and had some very good losbter stew and scallops. Emily had a good-looking lobster roll.
     We spent part of an afternoon at Roosevelt’s summer “cottage” — I’ll do a separate post on that.
     All in all it was a great visit. I lived the first 40 years of my life in Maine and never visited Campobello. The trip up there gave me a chance to go back to Jonesport, the coastal fishing and lobstering village where I spent summers as a kid.
     The worst part of the Campobello visit may have been the border crossings — we had to go back and forth every day for three days, and crossing the U.S. – Canada border isn’t the simple picnic it used to be. The Border Patrol people are courteous but very businesslike, and passports are now a necessity.
     I’ll do separate posts on our whale-watching trip and on the blueberry pie-eating contest back in Machias at the Blueberry Festival.    

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North Pinellas Historical Museum displays Palm Harbor’s past


Hartley home, which houses the North Pinellas Historical Museum

Alright, I know what you’re thinking: “Where the heck have you been?”

It’s a fair question. First, we took a vacation and took the grandchildren up to Campbello Island in New Brunswick, Canada (more on this later). Then we came back to a bunch of moving chores and other demands that couldn’t be put off.  So here we are.

So, without further excuses, here’s a quick report on what we did today — a visit to the North Pinellas Historical Museum in Palm Harbor.

The museum is one of those places you can’t miss, being on the busy corner of Belcher and Curlew roads. But I’ve driven past it a million times and never stopped in before.  Today I resolved to do something different.

Cracker house behind the North Pinellas Historical Museum

Cracker house behind the North Pinellas Historical Museum

The excuse was a yard sale on the grounds of the museum. There were a number of displays of all kinds of used stuff and we did a tour of the grounds before we went inside.  There were scores of people outside, either selling or buying stuff, but surprisingly there was no one inside the museum building excpet a couple of staffers. So we took our time moseying around inside.

The house itself was originally owned and built by the Hartley family, one of the early pioneer families of North Pinellas County.  A very nice museum volunteer told us how the house sat on the dirt road that was the main thoroughfare between Tampa and the Gulf many years ago, and she explained how people traveling over to the coast from Tampa would stop, water their horses, and perhaps use the Hartley’s outhouse.

The house ‘s exterior is made up of concrete blocks which had been cast on the site.  The original block casts, she said, had been purchased from Sears & Roebuck. The house was built between 1915 and 1919.

The museum's parlor

The museum's parlor

Out back is a classic small Florida Cracker house, a simple living structure that was popular a hundred years ago.  Our guide explained to us how the cracker housercame to be in the back yard: A few years ago, the house had to be moved from its original North Pinellas location.  It was decided to move the house south to Largo, where the Pinellas County Heritage Village is located.

Once on the road, however, word came that the 21-acre Heritage Village facility had no room for the cracker house.  So… hurried negotiations resulted in the house being diverted to the North Pinellas Historical Museum site.

There are many things to see at the museum and lots to learn about Palm Harbor’s early days. Drop by sometime — admission is free, although they won’t turn down a voluntary donation.