Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

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Pinellas County real estate: Demand UP, supply DOWN

If you are thinking about BUYING a home in Pinellas County, or if you are thinking about SELLING your home, here are a couple of very important things you need to know:

  • Sales are UP. A lot.
  • Listing inventory is DOWN.

Closed sales in April 2015 were 2,103, up almost 20 percent over April in 2014 (1756). At the same time, listing inventory for the same month was 7,566 units — DOWN 1.5 percent.

What does that mean? Well, it means a couple of things.  First, more buyers are chasing fewer available homes. And when demand exceeds supply like that, it pushes prices UP. And that’s exactly what’s happening in Pinellas County right now.

I have buyers right now who are frustrated because the houses they want to buy are simply not on the market.

So I have a couple of things to tell you: If you are a buyer, prices are going to be higher than they are right now. And if you are a seller, or a potential seller, this is a great time to get your home on the market. There’s a buyer out there right now who is ready to make you an offer.

 

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Road trip! – Bok Tower

Road trip rules: There’s lots of interesting places to go and things to see within easy driving distance to North Pinellas County, so find some time in your busy schedule and take them in!  Here are the rules: Road trip locations have to be within a couple of hours of North Pinellas County, and no more than 100 miles (okay, we may stretch it a little if it’s REALLY great). If there’s good food in the vicinity, we’ll provide a recommendation or two.

 

bok tower 239Bok Tower is a great spot with beautiful gardens, a large Koi pond and a gorgeous singing tower, a 60-bell carillon (the bells were specially cast in England). The location is in Lake Wales in Polk County, about 90 miles east of North Pinellas. The tower is located on the highest point in Florida (don’t worry, it is less than 300 feet above sea level – you won’t be needing an oxygen tank).

Bok Tower was opened to the public in 1929. It is considered to be a contemplative garden, so please keep noise to a minimum.

Admission is $12 for adults, $3 for kids. There’s a good restaurant on the grounds that provides good light fare, such as salads and sandwiches.

Learn more at http://boktowergardens.org/

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Come out and have some fun at the Dunedin Orange Festival

If you are looking for something to do this weekend – AFTER the fourth of July celebrations – think about coming by the Dunedin Orange Festival Saturday, June 6 in Dunedin’s Edgewater Waterfront Park, which is right next door to the Dunedin Marina in downtown Dunedin.

dunedin orange festival This should be a fun day, with music and entertaining events of all kinds taking place from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Various musical acts will be on stage continuously, and there will be plenty of activities for kids. The mojo cookoff will begin at 11:30 a.m. and will feature pork dishes of all kinds. Dunedin is a restaurant mecca, and a bunch of the town’s best will take part in the competition – Flanagan’s, Kelly’s, SeaSea Riders, Serendipity Café, The Livingroom Smokehouse, Margueritte’s and Broadway Deli.

The public will be the judge of the cookoff, in exchange for a $10 ticket.

There is lot’s more to see and do, so come on out! Check out all the details at http://dunedinorangefestival.com/festival-details-dunedin-orange-festival.htm

Waterfowl love living in Dunedin

As I’ve said before here, I love Florida’s birds — they are one of things that make living here so interesting.

crane in pondThere’s a pond a few steps from my back door, and it attracts all sorts of different birds. There’s a family of ducks that live there, and they are there every day, but other waterfowl pop in for vistits pretty regularly.

I was outside the other day when this big guy dropped in. I think it’s a heron of some sort, but I’m no expert and I couldn’t find a picture on the internet of a bird that exactly matched this fellow, so I’m not really sure what he is. If you recognize it, please post what you know.

What’s the point of bird pictures on a blog that specializes in Pinellas County real estate? Good question. But it’s my blog, and I like birds, so you can expect to see some photos of birds that I come across in Pinellas County. This particular guy is in Dunedin, a little south of Palm Harbor.

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Florida birds

one legged birdOne thing I really love about living in Florida is the many species of birds that you see all the time – everything from flamingos to pelicans to wild parrots. We saw this little guy a few days ago when we stopped in Hudson Beach (that’s in Pasco County) for lunch after a listing presentation. I loved how he had one leg tucked up underneath himself as he stood in the water.

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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Five ways to make sure you get that Palm Harbor house you really want

A real estate client of mine recently had a very disappointing experience – she made an offer on a home in Pinellas County she really wanted, only to lose out to another, higher offer.

fiveOf course, it wasn’t the first time that one of my clients was disappointed when a competing offer prevailed. But it did get me to thinking – how can you avoid the disappointment of losing out to another offer from some other home buyer when you find that one-in-a-million home that you just have to have?

So here are five ways to make sure that your offer is the one that the seller chooses:

  1. TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT: If you’re shopping for a bargain, go ahead a lowball your offer to your heart’s content. But if you find the perfect property and you have your heart set on it, make an offer that the seller can’t refuse. You’ll pay a premium price, but chances are you’ll get what you really want, and in a few short years the price you paid won’t matter to you.
  2. OFFER A SIGNIFICANT DOWN PAYMENT: A big down payment signals financial strength. That may communicate to the seller that financing won’t be a big problem for you, and the deal is likely to go through.
  3. PAY CASH: If a big down payment signals financial strength, a cash offer completely eliminates any questions about financing. Of course, not everyone can pay cash for a house. But if you can do it, a cash offer may help you get what you want. And you can always finance the property later.
  4.  OFFER PLENTY OF EARNEST MONEY: Putting a big pile of cash up front as earnest money says, “I am a serious buyer.” Making an offer that’s backed up by a small amount of earnest money conveys a number of messages, none of them very good. A seller may see a small amount of earnest money as a lack of seriousness on the part of the buyer, or a lack of financial soundness. Now isn’t the time to look cheap.
  5. AVOID CONTINGENCIES: Asking the seller to make repairs, upgrade systems or throw in that dandy bedroom set are all factors that can make the deal less palatable to the seller. If you really, really want that house, don’t muddy the waters.

If all you want is the deal of the century, pay no attention to these suggestions. But if you really, really want that one special house, make your offer irresistible.

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July home index leaves little to smile about

 

Every month, real estate people, financing professionals, homebuilders and many others wait with great anticipation for release of the monthly Case-Schiller home price index from Standard & Poor. 

 The index keeps track, on a month-by-month basis, of home prices across the country.

standard & PoorThe most recent index report was released this week. And while everyone was hoping for a healthy uptick in home sales, what they got instead was more of the same.

Home prices in May (measured in 20 major cities) were down 4.5 percent from the same month a year ago. When compared to the previous month of this year, April, home prices were virtually unchanged.

 So what we have is a market that continues to sort of limp along at the same slow pace. No big drops to indicate additional troubles in the area of home prices; but no indications of additional market recovery, either.

Taken market-by-market, prices were up a bit in nine cities, and down a bit in 11 others. Unfortunately for those of us in this part of the country, homes prices were down 1.5 percent in Tampa Bay.

Why aren’t we seeing more recovery after such a long period of market weakness? Here’s a few possible reasons:

  • The battle in Washington over raising the debt ceiling, and the inability of lawmakers to come up with some sort of strategy or plan – any plan – doesn’t do anything to inspire confidence.
  • Because so many problems result from lax lending standards, the current lending standards are much tighter than before, and that keeps some buyers (even qualified buyers) out of the market.
  • High unemployment rates (9.2 percent nationally) means thousands of people don’t have the incomes necessary for home purchases.
  • The bad economy prevents the formation of new households. People forming new households are people in need of new housing.

 I posted a story a few days ago about the increase in cancelled real estate sales contracts. There are a number of reasons for cancelled contracts (tighter credit standards, tougher appraisals, general nervousness in the market), but whatever the reason, fewer executed contracts obviously means fewer sales.

Were you hoping for a little more optimism in this month’s Case-Schiller home price index? Okay, here are a couple of bright spots: 

  • The inventory of homes for sale was 164,000 units, a little more than a six-month supply. That’s the lowest that home inventories have been in a long time. Once we fight through all this stagnant inventory of homes for sale, we’ll see a re-ignition of the new-home construction business, and that will mean new jobs and some good stimulation for the economy.
  • The median home sales price for the month of June was up 7.2% for new single-family homes. That could be an indication that homes in the higher price ranges are starting to sell.

If you are a glass-half-full kind of person, the new monthly index figures are a little encouraging. If you are more of a glass-half-empty sort, then the index just means more of the same.

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The Hacienda Hotel, once the jewel of New Port Richey, now slowly decays

The 1920s was a decade not unlike the last 10 years here in Florida; the economy was overheated, people (some people, anyway) had plenty of money, and the real estate market was going crazy. Investors were looking for new ways to make money. With all the people who were flooding into the state on vacation, the hotel business seemed like a pretty sure thing.

The Hacienda Hotel, once the jewel of downtown New Port Richey, Fla., now sits empty and forgotten

The Hacienda Hotel, once the jewel of downtown New Port Richey, Fla., now sits empty and forgotten

Hotels popped up all over the state, and some of them are still standing. One of those is the Hacienda Hotel in New Port Richey.

It seems a bit hard to believe now, but some people thought that Pasco County would be a likely spot for a sort of East Coast version of Hollywood. Some actors and movie producers of the day thought the west coast of Florida would be a natural movie-making site, and a number of silent movies were actually shot on location in the area.

Some of those Hollywood types joined with wealthy Pasco County people and hatched an idea for a swanky, Spanish–style, 100-room hotel in downtown New Port Richey, just a stone’s throw from the Pithlachascotee river.

Here is what the St. Petersburg TIMES said about the project in 1925:

The Hacienda's courtyard. That once-beautiful fountain has been seriously vandalized.

The Hacienda's courtyard. That once-beautiful fountain has been seriously vandalized.

“Plans have been set on foot at an enthusiastic meeting of New Port Richeyites for the construction of a 100-room fire-proof hotel. Within a few minutes after the meeting was called to order nearly the entire capital required was subscribed.

“The site selected is a tract overlooking the beautiful Pithlachascotee river, north of the Gulf high school building, and in the exact center of population. The site has the further advantage of being located within a short distance of the proposed station of the West Coast railway, now an assured fact.”

The article said the hotel would be of either Moorish or Spanish-style construction, and would cost about $150,000, pretty big bucks for the day.

A mural on the side of a downtown New Port Richey building depicts a 1920s party in the Hacienda's ballroom

A mural on the side of a downtown New Port Richey building depicts a 1920s party in the Hacienda's ballroom

James E. Meighan, one of the Hollywood types, donated the land. The final design called for a $250,000 building housing 50 rooms and including a steam-heating plant, an open-air dining room, and beams in the dining room and lobby. Ground was broken on Aug. 11, 1926, and the Hacienda’s first guests were welcomed 184 days later.

More than 800 people attended the grand opening on Feb. 5, 1927.

Some pretty famous folk visited or stayed at the Hacienda in those early years – Ring Lardner, Mrs. Arthur Hammerstein, attorney Clarence Darrow, and actress Gloria Swanson among them.

The hotel did reasonably well, and it managed to survive the Depression, which came along not too long after the Hacienda opened its doors. It changed hands a number of times over the years. By the time the 1950s came around, the hotel was being sold fairly regularly, and management changes were frequent. 

The Hacienda, from an old postcard

The Hacienda, from an old postcard

In 1985, the Hacienda was acquired by Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Inc., and the facility became what would be known today as a group home or assisted living center. Later, it became a home for elderly people with mental disabilities.

The city of New Port Richey acquired the property in 2003. It has been vacant since 2006.

The old hotel looks pretty sad today. It would make a great boutique hotel, but restoration costs would probably be very high. If you know of any plans to resurrect the old Hacienda, please let me know.

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