Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for December, 2009

Real estate and Palm Harbor: Is this the best market for buyers ever?

If I were to ask you to describe your income, would you use words like “reliable,” “dependable,” or “steady?”  Do you think there’s a very good chance that your job (or your business) will be around in a year, or two, or five?

If you took out some sort of loan tomorrow, would you worry about your ability to pay it back because of future income issues? Or would you be confident that your job would remain in place over the long term?

opportunitySome people have jobs that pay really well, but which probably won’t be around for long periods.  I’ll give you an example: I have a relative who is working right now as an electrical contractor in Iraq. He’s making REALLY good money, but he doesn’t expect (or want) the job to last forever. After a year or so, he’s going to want to shake the sand out of his jeans, come back to the States, and resume a more normal life.

My relative’s big but short-term income puts him in a great position to pay off debt and accumulate cash. However, it does NOT make him a great candidate for a 30-year mortgage or a five-year car loan.

But YOU, on the other hand, might be sitting on a bigger asset than you realize, if you have a steady and dependable job or other source of income.

Why? Because this may be the best time in the past, oh, 75 years or so, to buy a house.

Which brings me to my second question:

Do you know what the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices is? Okay, I’ll tell you – it is a monthly report that measures the residential housing market. It tracks home values in 20 metro markets in the U.S.

And the Case-Shiller report for October, released just this week, shows a couple of things: 1. Home values in October were flat, and 2. in spite of that, home values during 2009 have generally been in slow but steady recovery mode.

Case-Shiller reports that home values have fallen a full 30% since their peak in 2005. That drop has been stunning – nothing like it has been seen since the Depression, and perhaps even earlier than that. For people who need or want a new home, it is an opportunity of stunning proportions.

And there is even more good news; interest rates have dropped, too, If you wanted a 30-year fixed rate mortgage three years ago, it would have likely cost you around 6.4 percent. Apply for that same mortgage today, and you’ll pay more like 5 percent.

What that means is that median home prices are now about where they were in the mid-1990s, a time when just about every agrees was a really great time to buy. What makes the current conditions even more attractive than then, however, is the difference in mortgage rates – something like 5 percent now, more like 9 percent back then.   

The Wall Street JOURNAL recently did some numbers-crunching, and came up with this conclusion: Buy an average home now, finance it with a 5 percent 30-year mortgage, and the cost comes out to be around 19 times today’s average weekly earnings. Conditions haven’t been that favorable for homebuyers since the 1970s, according to the JOURNAL.

Still not good enough for you? Okay, fine – then throw in the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit, which is scheduled to run through the spring season.

Which brings us back to my original question: How would you characterize your income? Would you describe it as “reliable,” “dependable,” or “steady?”

If it is, and you can feel pretty good about relying on your income over the long term, this is probably the best time to buy a home that has come along during your entire lifetime, and probably your parents’ lifetime, and maybe even your grandparents’ lifetime as well.

The real question is the reliability of your income. These are uncertain economic times, and no one needs additional uncertainty in times like these. Unstable or unreliable income down the road could result in a foreclosure, no matter how attractive the selling price of the home is now.

But if income unreliability is not a major concern, unprecedented real estate opportunities await you.

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Pet cemetery in Clearwater is Bruiser’s final resting place

Bruiser the German Shepherd did not have what you may think of as an auspicious beginning. His first owner got rid of him because he bit somebody.

A dog who bites people would probably not be accepted today as a good police dog candidate.  But back in the early 1970s, things may have been a bit looser. The St. Petersburg Police Department wanted to start a canine unit, and Bruiser was available. So that’s what happened – Bruiser became the city’s very first canine officer in the early 1970s.

bruiser2Officer Bill Trappman became Bruiser’s handler, partner and friend. Together, they rescued a little girl in what was one of the decade’s biggest local crime stories.

In June of 1972, Trappman and Bruiser were called to a home near Booker Creek. An hysterical woman told Trappman that a man had broken into her home and kidnapped her two-year-old daughter.

Bruiser immediately picked up the trail, even though a recent rain had made tracking very difficult. In just a few minutes, Bruiser led Trappman to nearby Booker Creek, and Trappman’s flashlight beam picked up the sight of a man who was slamming the little girl against a tree trunk.

The man tossed the little girl in the creek and then jumped in himself. Trappman went after the girl, while Bruiser pursued the man. The girl survived the incident, and the man, a former convict who had recently been released from prison, went back to jail.
Trappman gave all the credit to Bruiser.

“He was everything,” Trappman said later in the St. Petersburg TIMES about his canine partner. “I was just the dummy on the end of the leash. He was the best partner I ever had and the best cop I ever knew.”

bruiser3Bruiser was eight years old when all that happened. Four years later, when he was 12, the pain in his legs and hips got so bad that Trappman realized the time had come. He carried Bruiser to the vet’s, and he was put to sleep.

According to Trappman, Bruiser sniffed out more than 14,000 pounds of narcotics during his career, and helped send 127 criminals to prison.


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On the day after Christmas, we decided to tour Green Mounds Pet Cemetery, a nearly forgotten pet cemetery behind Fletcher’s Harley-Davidson on US19 in Clearwater. The Fletcher family now owns and cares for the cemetery, having taken title to it when they bought a large tract of land behind their motorcycle dealership.

On the farthest corner of the cemetery, in the shade of a tree, we saw a statue of what looked like a German Shepherd dog. As we approached and then scraped the dirt from the closest grave marker, we saw the name “Bruiser.” Another line said, “St. Pete Canine Police.”

Bruiser’s grave is surrounded by a number of other St. Pete Police canines, perhaps 10 or so. They watch over a peaceful and well-cared-for tract that is the final resting place of several hundreds of pets, mostly dogs and cats but also a pony named Twinkles, who has her own fenced plot.

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Pinellas County is #57 when it comes to water quality

We’re Number 57! We’re Number 57!

Okay, I’m not really sure this is something to rejoice over, but Pinellas County was recently ranked 57th in terms of the quality of its drinking water.

Drinking Water Against SunsetLet me explain.

An organization called the Environmental Working Group recently looked at the quality of tap water in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. It measured all that water for such pollutants as herbicides, factory solvents, radium, arsenic, and cyanide — more than 300 substances in all.
Miami-Dade’s water utility was the best in Florida, ranked 46th on the nationwife list of 100; Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood and four other Broward County utilities logged only a few violations.

Pinellas County was ranked 57th, Hillsborough County 65th, Tampa Water Department 68th, and Orlando Utilities Commission was 81st.

Pensacola made the list, but was last at Number 100. 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says water users in Pensacola shouldn’t worry — overall, Florida has very high-quality drinking water.

Personally, I’d rank Florida very high when it comes to taste.  The worst water I’ve tasted was in Iowa, and the next-worst was in Southern California. In both places, you really don’t want to drink the water out of the tap.

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Guardian Angel places cats left homeless by foreclosure

Who are the victims of foreclosures? Well, families, of course. Children. Working people.

termiteBut what about pets?  Not much has been written about that. If a family loses their home to foreclosure, what happens to the pets they may own? Families can move into apartments, or even move in with friends or other family members.  But that doesn’t mean that the pets can come along.

Pet shelters and humane societies have been reporting that their facilities have been strained to the breaking point as families turn in their pets that they can no longer afford, or pets that cannot go along to smaller quarters.

One group on the west coast of Florida is trying to do something about that.  Guardian Angel Cat Rescue and Adoption is based in Hudson in Hernando County, but they serve all of Tampa Bay. Guardian Angel does not have a shelter, but instead places cats in foster homes until permanent homes can be found.

“Our goal is to help cats that are in danger of being euthanized or abandoned due to owners moving, foreclosure, job loss…” their flyer says.

We ran into representatives of Guardian Angel last weekend at the Palm Harbor Arts & Crafts Festival, where they were operating a small booth.  

The accompanying picture shows one of the cats, Termite, who is being being cared for by the Guradian Angel folks. If you’d like to see more, go to and search shelters for Guardian Angel Cat Rescue.  Or just e-mail them at [email protected], or call them at 727-859-2208.

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Two-Day Palm Harbor Arts & Crafts Festival draws crowds

palm harbor craft show 024The holiday season  really brings out the local arts & crafts shows, and this year has been no exception.  If you scroll back you’ll see that we visited a small arts show up in Tarpon Springs a week or two ago.

But the mother of all local arts shows is the Palm Harbor Arts & Crafts Festival, a show that has been a fixcture in Palm Harbor for the past 35 years.  Most of these shows have been held in the Olde Palm Harbior area right off Alt. 19, and that’s where the show was held again this year after a hiatus of several years during which the show was moved up to the St. petersburg College Tarpon Springs campus.

palm harbor craft show 014

A couple of art-loving Newfoundlands

This year was fun as always, athough it seemed to me that both the crowds and the number of vendors were down a bit from the average. that should be no big surprise, I guess, what with the slow economy and the general lack of disposable income rattling around in peoples’ pockets.  Several of the vendors told us that business was way down this year, and some mentioned that the past two or three years have been something less than great.

Bad weather on Saturday, rain and cold, really put a damper on things on the first day of the two-day show, although things seemed to have picked up a bit on Sunday.

One nice thing this year is that Sunday was Pet Day, a special featured done in cconjunction with the Humane Society of Pinellas. There was a pet parade on Sunday afternoon, and a special Santa was on hand so that proud pet owners could get their pets’ poctures taken with

Dogs love Santa, too...

Dogs love Santa, too...

Santa. There were also adoptable pets on hand, along with a whole street of pet-related vendors selling everything from pet food to leashes, collars and other pet accessories.

Aside from all the official pet stuff, one nice feature was that there quite a few pets simply being walked around by their owners. Not everyone loves animals, but we do, so we really enjoyed the different pets that were on hand.

We also ran into John Mascoll, a very talented wood worker who lives in Safety Harbor. John won the best of Showe award last year, and because of that we didn’t think it was likely that he would place thisyear, but he did — a big blue ribbon was hanging in his display.

The Palm Harbor arts how is a juried show, which is nice because ot attracts vendors who might not otherwise come. Even if an artist doesn’t sell a whole lot, he or she might win a prized worth bragging about.

This was the 35the annual Palm Harbor show. It started out pretty small, but it has become a major Palm Harbor event that local people really wait for.

Mortgage rates are lowest they’ve been in 38 years

Do you need another reason (besides the low prices and the big tax credit) to think about buying a new home? Okay, here it is: Mortgage rates came down again this week and are now at the lowest point IN THE PAST 38 YEARS!
Freddie Mac does a survey of mortgage rates every week, and this week’s survey shows that rates are at historic lows for 30-year fix rate mortgages.
The rates on 30-year (and 15-year) mortgages came down for the fifth week in a row, according to Freddie Mac. Rates on five-year adjustable rate mortgages came down to record levels a week earlier, and they stayed in that very low range during this most recent week.
Why the low rates? Well, demand for mortgages (and, of course, demand for housing) remains weak; also, foreclosures continue to be a factor.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate for the week was 4.71%, down from  4.78% during the previous week. A year ago, the average rate was 5.53%.

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Tarpon Springs Thanksgiving Weekend Craft Fest

farmer mkt 125Tarpon Springs hosted a nice little craft fair over the weekend that followed Thanksgiving.

Billed as the 19th annual Tarpon Springs Thanksgiving Weekend Craft Fest, the event was held right in the downtown area about a block north of the Post Office. A street was closed down to make room for the white craft tents, and there were all kinds of vendors — artisans of all kinds, food vendors, event a booth for the St. Petersburg TIMES.  

I didn’t buy anything, but I enjoyed poking around. Of course, the REALLY big local arts and crafts fair is coming up this next weekend, Dec. 5-6, in downtown Olde Palm Harbor. That event has been going on for the past 35 years and is (I think) the biggest arts & crafts show in the Tampa Bay area.

Farmers’ Market in Palm Harbor

Fruit and veggie vendor's stand at the Palm Harbor Farmers' market

Fruit and veggie vendor's stand at the Palm Harbor Farmers' market

If you are a fan of local farmers’ markets, you should know that Palm Harbor hosts a very nice little farmers’ market on the grounds of the  North Pinellas Historical Museum at the corner of Belcher and Curlew Road.

This area has a number of good farmers’ markets that are fun to attend.  The one in Dunedin is a good-sized market, and Clearwater has a somewhat smaller one.  I haven’t been to the farmers’ market in St. Petersburg, but it’s supposed to be terrific.

But anyway, back to the Palm Harbor market; it happens every Sunday at the museum, and vendors are on hand from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This past Sunday there farmer mkt 113was a fruit and vegetable stand, a fellow selling very good-looking fresh fish, a woman selling handmade hats, a could of sandwich vendors and several others.  I mostly just nosed around, but I did buy some bananas and some really nice-looking red grapes.

I’ve written about the Dunedin and Clearwater farmers’ markets in the past — you may want to scroll back a few pages and look those over.  It’s nice to have one in Palm Harbor, and you can combine your visit with a tour of the North Pinellas Historical Museum.

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