Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for August, 2011

Five things that can be done right now to stimulate Pinellas County real estate sales (and real estate sales everywhere)


We’re around five years into the recession, and the real estate market has been suffering all of that time. There were a lot of reasons for the downturn, just as there are lots of reasons for the slow recovery.

balancing houseWhile I don’t have a magic bullet to right the ship and make everything okay real estate-wise, I think there are some things that could be done right now to stimulate sales and make things better, here in Pinellas County and really everywhere. Nothing is going to make up for nine percent unemployment or for the under-employment of millions more people, but I think we could do a lot for the national and the Pinellas County real estate markets to make home ownership more possible for thousands of would-be home owners by taking a few simple steps.

Here they are:

  1. MAKE CREDIT STANDARDS MORE REASONABLE: Much of the problem in the first place resulted from very easy-going credit standards when it came to home mortgages – things such as incomes that didn’t have to be verified or 100 percent (and even 110-percent) financing. Lenders have reacted to those transgressions by tightening credit requirements to a ridiculous level. So let’s find a happy medium that works for buyers while protecting the interests of lenders.
  2. BRING BACK THE 90 PERCENT MORTGAGE:  Where we once saw no-money-down mortgages, we now see lenders who want 20 or 25 percent down. There are many very qualified buyers with good incomes who should be able to buy homes with 10 percent down. Let’s make that possible for the right buyers.
  3. STREAMLINE THE UNDERWRITING PROCESS:  Underwriting has become extremely tight and difficult, and it is not unusual for lenders to come back repeatedly for additional documentation. That takes extra time, and deals can fall apart during those long waits. Good, effective underwriting shouldn’t have to take weeks or months.
  4. GENERATE MORE JOBS: Probably the biggest impediment to a housing market recovery is a lack of good-paying jobs. If people can’t earn adequate incomes, they can’t afford to buy new homes. This is something the government can help with by instituting encouraging policies; the private sector can contribute to it by investing in themselves in ways that encourage job creation.
  5. CLEAR OUT THE FORECLOSURE INVENTORY: Banks have been slow to clear out the inventory of foreclosed homes. Short sales can take forever, and lenders seem to be in no hurry to get their foreclosed-upon properties off their books. Some observers even say that banks have withheld significant numbers of foreclosed properties in order to keep home values from falling even further.  If banks want to get back to the business of lending money for home purchases, they have to do their part, take the hit, and get that inventory back into the hands of private owners.

Got any ideas of your own? Send them along and I’ll post them on the blog.

In many ways, this is a great time to buy Pinellas County real estate, especially in certain market segments. Give me a call and we’ll discuss: 727-643-7100, or e-mail me at [email protected] .

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Tampa Bay, nation show some rallying in real estate prices

Every few months, people who are interested in the real estate market turn their attention to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the most reliable measurement of home prices in the nation. 

standard & poor 2That quarterly report came out today, and it contains some encouraging news – home prices were up in the second quarter of 2011. According to the Case-Shiller report, the U.S. National Home Price Index went up 3.6 per cent in the second quarter. In the previous quarter, the one ended at the end of March, the Home Price Index was down 4.1 percent. 

Any bad news in this report? Well, while the second quarter was up from the first quarter, it was down 5.9 percent when compared to the second quarter of 2010, one year ago. 

Nationally, home prices are about where they were in early 2003. 

Case-Shiller comes up with its national figures by keeping track of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas. One of those areas is Tampa Bay. Pinellas County real estate is not considered on its own, but the Tampa Bay real estate numbers should be very close to our own here in Pinellas County. 

Tampa Bay has taken a worse-than-average hit when it comes to home values for the quarter. Values are down seven per cent in this most recent quarter when compared to a year ago. That’s more than a percentage point more than the national average. 

Not as bad as such places as Minneapolis or Portland, Ore. or Phoenix, but worse than such cities as New York, Boston or Washington DC. 

“This month’s report showed mixed signals for recovery in home prices,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. “No cities made new lows in June 2011, and the majority of cities are seeing improved annual rates.” 

Blitzer said the numbers show that regional markets have to be considered as separate entities – the national housing market is not rising or falling as one. So don’t simply go by whatever national real estate figures you see in the newspaper — remember that values of Pinellas County real estate may be quite different.

You can see the Case-Shiller news release here.

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200 posts about Pinellas County real estate

I started this blog about Pinellas County real estate a little over five years ago. Lots of things have changed since then — I started the blog under a different blog name, and I used a different blog platform back then.

I mention all this because we just reached an important milestone — 200 blog posts, all of which relate in some way or other to Pinellas County real estate. The blog entry about three entries back, entitled “What’s the outlook for first-time homebuyers in the Pienllas County real estate market?”, was our 200th entry.

Just for fun, I scrolled all the way back to the beginning and took a look at our first blog entry, back on May 4, 2006. It’s about Strachan’s Ice Cream. (I think I may have posted a few before that one, but I seem to remember that a handful of blog entries didn’t survive the transfer of content from one blog platform to the other.)

Anyway, that’s a lot of stories just about real estate in Pinellas County, even though a few of them have strayed a little bit from that single subject.

Feel free to page back through the old entries. Most of them are still informative about homes and real estate in Pinellas County, or more specifically real estate in Palm Harbor, Clearwater, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Crystal Beach, Ozona, Oldsmar and Safety Harbor.

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Hurricanes don’t come ashore in Pinellas County very often, but if one does…

hurricane windsWe need to be prepared. So plan, plan, plan, and take measures that will minimize risk and damage.

 Below is a list of hurricane preparation tips. Have a tip of your own to share? Tell us below and help keep others safe.

 If you are evacuating your home:

  •  Turn the pilot light off on your water heater and furnace, then turn off the gas line valve near the appliance. Finally, turn off your gas at the meter. This will reduce the probability that a tree falling on the roof will break an active gas line and create the chance for a spark to cause a fire. Turning off valves working from the appliance to the meter will make it easier to reignite on your return by reversing the process.
  • Turn off your master water supply
  • Hurricane supplies

    Hurricane supplies

     While some would recommend leaving your master breaker on for your alarm and refrigerator function, if you are leaving the property due to the severity of the weather, chances are the power may be lost anyway. It’s really safest to shut it off. The reason is that if the power surges, as it does when the power company is trying to restore the down service or with blowing transformers, it can damage electronics including HVAC systems. Homes equipped with a generator must turn off the main breaker to avoid shifting power back out to the street, as this can be dangerous for utility company workers or if a line has broken from the property with the generator. If you are not going to be leaving the property you can, and should, keep the main breaker on until the power goes out.

  •  Unplug all fixtures or small appliances that can be accessed.
  •  Bring into the garage, or otherwise secure, all movable exterior items such as small plants in pots, lawn furniture and pool equipment.
  •  Fill all vehicle fuel tanks.
  •  If you have time, trim all branches or heavy bushes that could damage windows.
  •  Use wind shutters: either pull down your professionally installed hurricane shutters or install your own plywood panels.*

Take with you:

  •  Food and snacks for two days
  • Two gallons of water per individual
  • Clothing for one week
  • First aid kit
  • Medications for 30 days
  • Flashlights and spare batteries
  • Cash
  • Important documents (wills, insurance, licenses, medical and bank records as needed)
  • Pet care items
  • Tell a neighbor who is staying where you are going and how to contact you. Exchange numbers.

 If you are staying: (Highly discouraged if you are in a storm surge area or near the immediate path of the storm):

  • hurricane plywood Increase food supplies to 3-7 days—preferably non-perishable food items.
  •  Fill up your propane tank for your grill or buy two sacks of charcoal.
  • Make sure you have a functional fire extinguisher. ABC type will work on any fire.
  • Remember, with down trees and no reliable phone service, 911 may not be an option.
  •  Increase water supplies to one gallon per person per day.
  •  Adequate toiletries, diapers and special items to last at least one week
  •  One flashlight per individual and one spare set of batteries per light
  •  Increase cash on hand.
  •  Battery operated radio
  •  Toys books and games
  •  Tools
  •  Clean and fill the tub the night before land fall. This water will be used for pets and flushing toilets.
  •  Do all of your laundry before land fall. You may not have a chance for a week or so.
  •  Take digital pictures of your home and each room. This will support future insurance claims.
  •  Store your valuable papers in a waterproof container or bank vault
  •  Fill bags with ice from your ice machine
  • Back up your computer data and store it in a safe place

 Additional steps for family safety:

  • Discuss hazards that could affect your family (storm surge, rising water, down power lines).
  • Determine a safe escape route and two meeting points if you have to evacuate your house unexpectedly. Have a contact person out of the area that each family member can contact if you are separated.
  • Locate the safest room in your home. Pre-stock with pillows and blankets if room allows.
  • Plan for taking care of your pets.

*According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), “In past hurricanes, many homeowners upon returning have noticed their temporary plywood shutters blown off because they were not adequately fastened. If you have a wood-frame house, use adequate fasteners to attach the panels over the openings when a hurricane approaches. Have these temporary shutters stored and ready to use since building supply stores generally sell out of these materials quickly during a hurricane warning. If your home is made with concrete blocks, however, you will have to install anchoring devices well in advance.”

A map showing evacuation routes, county shelters, and emergency numbers can be see here.

(Thanks to for this article)



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Animal laws in Pinellas County

 Back in the old days, having a pet was a pretty simple matter. If your doggie wanted to go out, you let him out. You knew he wanted to come back in when he scratched on the door. Every evening you’d open a can of Alpo for him. End of story.

Pet ownership is a lot more complicated now. You can tell by all the people who walk, zombie-like, through your neighborhood at all hours of the day and night, leash in one hand and plastic poop bag in the other.

Pet ownership can be especially problematic if you own a pet and hope to move into a condo. Make sure you check the condo documents before you buy and read all the fine print if you hope to take your doggie along when you move.  Some condo developments restrict pets to a certain weight limit; others simply don’t allow pets at all.



If you want to buy a single-family home, restrictions like that don’t generally apply. However, you should make sure to check the homeowner association regulations just to double-check. Some may limit the number or type of pets you are allowed to have; others might impose restriction by weight. Almost all of them contain some language pertaining to animal waste and what you have to do to clean up after your pet.

Just for the fun of it, I thought I’d check on the laws in Pinellas County that apply to pets and other animals. Some of them are a little surprising. For example, I knew it was against the law to let your dog run free, but did you know it is equally unlawful to let your cat do the same thing?

Here are some other things you should know:

  • It’s illegal to leave food or garbage out where it can attract “cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes or other wildlife and thereby creates a public nuisance”
  • While it is illegal to let dogs run free, the law doesn’t apply to police dogs or to “any dog which is actually engaged in or being trained for the sport of hunting during a legal hunting season…” So if your dog is caught running free, tell the officer you’re training him to hunt squirrels.
  • If you have a dog or cat that is in heat, and you don’t keep her away from male dogs and cats, you’re breaking the law.
  • It is unlawful to “molest, harm, frighten, kill, net, trap, snare, hunt, chase or shoot” any animal, unless they are fish. So apparently you can molest all the fish you want without fear of prosecution. It’s also against the law to “capture or collect for any purpose any animal, nest or egg or any animal, whether dead or alive.” So forget about those yummy road kill buffets.
  • It’s illegal to “place, dump, abandon or leave” any animal on park property.
  • You can’t use gasoline or chemicals to drive off wildlife.
  • You can’t feed pelicans or sand hill cranes.
  • And I like this one a lot: You can’t shoot wildlife with remote-controlled guns “when that person is not physically present at the location of that gun.”

Now, just so you won’t think that I am above all this, I’ve included a picture of Bo, our year-old Puggle (that’s a dog that is half pug and half beagle) – 28 pounds of muscle and attitude.

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What’s the outlook for first-time homebuyers in the Pinellas County real estate market?

One bright spot in the recent residential real estate market has been the opportunities that first-time homebuyers have been able to enjoy. Falling home prices have made it possible for a lot of first-time homebuyers to finally enjoy the benefits of home ownership.

mortgage-loan-app-picThe Obama Administration’s first-time home buyer tax credit (remember that?) contributed to the opportunity, and quite a few people who had never owned a home before were able to buy. In the second quarter of 2010, 46 percent of homebuyers were first-timers.

So what’s happened?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Some colorful Downtown Dunedin real estate

Just found this picture of Dunedin's Blur nightclub, taken several months ago. Not sure what the special event was, but they draped the front of the building in this raspberry-colored fabric.

Just found this picture of Dunedin's Blur nightclub, taken several months ago. Not sure what the special event was, but they draped the front of the building in this raspberry-colored fabric.


Ready to buy some Pinellas County real estate? Mortgage rates are lowest in 20 years

If the sale of Pinellas County real estate was simply dependent on interest rates, we should be seeing a stampede of homebuyers, because rates are the lowest they have been in 20 years.

freddie-mac-pic-2221According to Freddie Mac, rates for 15-year fixed-rate home loans dropped last week from 3.66 percent to 3.54 percent, the lowest those rates have been since 1991.

Rates for other mortgage profits dropped as well. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 4.39 percent, the lowest rate for a 30-year mortgage this year.

Why are real estate mortgage interest rates so low in Pinellas County and elsewhere when there is so much economic uncertainty? Those uncertainties are part of the reason. Mortgage rates follow yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes. Weaknesses in the economy have led investors to take money out of the stock market and put it into Treasury bonds. That lowers the yield on the Treasury bonds, and that leads to lower mortgage interest rates.

Congress established Freddie Mac in 1970 to provide liquidity, stability and affordability to the nation’s residential mortgage markets. It provides mortgage capital to lenders.

Do those unbelieveably low interest rates make Pinellas County real estate ownership look more attractive to you? Why don’t you give me a call, and we’ll take a look what those rates can mean to you in terms of low monthly mortgage payments.

Call me anytime – 727-643-7100, or [email protected]

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Making the most of that Pinellas County open house

     There’s no doubt that the internet has made buying a home easier. You can look up all kinds of information about a given home or Pinellas County neighborhood, you can see what other nearby homes have sold for, you can even check to se if any sex offenders live nearby. 

openhouse     Still, there’s nothing that replaces the sight, smell and feel of an actual visit to the property. And one of the best opportunities for checking out that Pinellas County house for sale is to attend an open house.

    Open houses give you a chance to actually tour a Pinellas County home, look in all the nooks and crannies, and see if you can really picture yourself living there. 

     If you are going to tour a home that is for sale during an open house, make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity. Here are a few suggestions of things to do when you tour a home: 

  1. Before you even park your car and go inside, drive around the neighborhood a little and check things out. What do the neighbors’ homes look like? Are they kept up and painted? Are the lawns trimmed? Are there abandoned cars parked in the yards?
  2. What’s nearby? Is there an interstate highway a block away that’s going to generate noise and keep you awake at night? Are there any manufacturing plants or other commercial properties that will generate lots of noise or truck traffic? Here in North Pinellas County, we don’t have an interstate, but we certainly DO have some busy roads that can generate a fair amount of noise.
  3. Are there schools within walking distance? Grocery stores? Parks?
  4. How about the nearby neighbors? What do their homes look like?
  5. How the home’s exterior? Is it well-maintained outside? Does it look welcoming? Does the roof look old and worn? 
  6. Once inside, you may want to go through the home twice – once to get a general feeling for the layout and to get a good or bad first impression, then a more careful inspection. Notice the condition of the floors; look for signs of water damage; have the systems and appliances been updated?
  7. Look for things that seem out-of-place or strange. We looked at a home once and immediately noticed that the living room furniture was arranged strangely; it turned out that the living room floor had been damaged by a refinisher, and the furniture had been moved to hide the gouge marks.
  8. Have a talk with the agent on duty. If it is the listing agent, he or she should be able to tell you why the sellers are selling, how long the property has been on the market and if there have been any price reductions. If the home has been on the market for a long time, that may be an indication that it is priced too high. But it could also mean that the sellers are ready to listen to a more reasonable offer.

 Since open houses give you a chance to really see, feel and smell a home up close, the experience may allow you to have a strong feeling for the property. If that feeling is positive, maybe it’s the house for you. If the feeling is negative, well, move on to the next open house.

 What have YOU learned by going to open houses? I’d like to know – click on “Please leave a comment” up near the top of this post and share.

 And call me or e-mail me anytime – 727-643-7100, or [email protected]

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Five ways to recognize the perfect Pinellas County house

     My last posting was about five steps you can take to make sure you get that home that you really want.  But that got me to thinking – how will you know the perfect house when you find it?

 five 2    You may know just by the feeling that it gives you when you walk through it. But it may be a little more complicated than that.  The perfect house needs to measure up in a number of ways if it is really going to make you happy and fulfill your needs.

      So, since the last post was “Five Ways to Make Sure You Get the House you Really Want,” here are “Five Ways to Know the Perfect House When You See It”:

  1. IS IT PRICED RIGHT? There are lots of great houses out there that would probably make you happy, but not too may that can make you happy AND fit into your budget. If you set a price limit when started your home search, try to stay within that budget. You won’t be happy if your mortgage payments eat up too much of your income.
  2.  IS IT IN THE RIGHT PLACE? There’s nothing more important than location when you are looking for a new home. Is the house near your work, near your kids’ favored schools, near the places where you like to shop or go out to eat? The greatest house in the world won’t make you happy if its far away from everything and everyone you care about.
  3.  DOES IT HAVE WHAT YOU WANT? If you love to cook, you won’t be happy with a little galley kitchen. If you love to work on your classic car, you’ll need plenty of garage space. If you love to swim, you’ll need a pool. Don’t fall in love with a house that doesn’t have what you really want.
  4.  IS IT BIG ENOUGH? Does it have enough bedrooms, or a big enough family room, or enough storage space? You won’t be happy if you are cramped. (By the same token, you may want to ask, “Is it small enough?” If you live alone or your kids have left the nest, you may rattle around in even the most beautiful 3,000 square foot house).
  5.  IS IT IN GOOD SHAPE? The first house we owned was an architectural masterpiece that was on the National Register of Historic Places. But it was huge, and it needed virtually everything. We worked on it for 10 years and never got it finished. A more efficient home in excellent condition might have made a lot more sense for us.

When you’re looking for a house, follow your heart – but don’t let your heart overrule your head.

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