Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for the 'Market Trends' Category

North Anclote River Nature Park

One great benefit that we enjoy in Pinellas County is the large number of parks that are scattered around the county. Pinellas County is in charge of most of them, but there are also some local parks that are well worth visiting.
IMG_0173One of these locally-owned parks is the North Anclote River Nature Park, a slender 77-acre park that runs from a parking lot just of Old Dixie Highway to the banks of the Anclote River.
This park is located near our home and we visit there frequently. It’s a good place for a morning walk, and it’s dog-friendly. There is an observation deck that juts out over the Anclote River, and there is also a dandy fishing pier as well as a beach area that’s good for pulling your kayak or canoe ashore.
 IMG_0012    Also, there are rest room facilities as well as a playground for the kids near the parking lot.
The park has been in operation for nearly 20 years, having been purchased with grant money from the Florida Communities Trust. If you enjoy hiking or biking on the Pinellas Trail, you will find that the trail runs right through the middle of the park, and you can get off the trail and access the park’s trail system.
It’s open to the public from 7:30 a.m. until dusk.
I’m going to be writing on the blog about a number of the parks in the Pinellas County area, especially in North Pinellas County. This is the first in what I hope will be a series.

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Food truck fun in Safety Harbor

Food trucks line Main Street in Safety Harbor

Food trucks line Main Street in Safety Harbor

As I’ve said on this blog many times, there’s always something to do in North Pinellas County, or in all of Tampa Bay, for that matter.  Local residents love to get outside and enjoy the warm sunshine, and the local organizations and communities know that and plan all sorts of activities throughout the year.

This past weekend, Bill and I drove over the Safety Harbor to check out that town’s first-ever Food Truck Rally. About a dozen different food trucks were on hand, offering everything from barbecue to doughnuts to Korean food items.

truck lunches 1

Ordering up snacks at the Korean food truck

The city blocked off a couple of blocks on Main Street so folks could enjoy strolling from truck to truck without the danger of passing cars.

We sampled a number of items and really enjoyed it. We also enjoyed some live music.

This food truck idea has been held in a number of different local communities and they are pretty popular. There has been a little friction about some of these events – some local restauranteurs have objected to food trucks coming in and allegedly stealing away some business from local restaurants. But in this case, local Safety Harbor businesses were “in the loop” and helped with the planning of the events. If there were any objections, I didn’t hear about them.
“The idea is not to compete with our local restaurants, but to enhance our active community and get them downtown on a Saturday afternoon,” Joe Cooper, Special Events Supervisor for the city, said before the event. “We also hope to bring in new faces to the city that will come out and enjoy our shops, restaurants and pubs.”

These food truck events are becoming more popular. We’re looking forward to the next one.

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Don't know the story of this bike, but its color brightens up Main Street
Don’t know the story of this bike, but its color brightens up Main Street

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Pending home sales are UP in Pinellas County and elsewhere

  Here’s some good real estate news: the National Association of Realtors says that pending home sales rose 10.4 percent during the month of October. Pending sales are contracts on home purchases that have not yet closed.

 Pending sales now are running 9.4 percent above last year’s levels.

Here in the South, those numbers are strong as well, if a bit behind the national average. Pending sales in the South for October were up 8.6 percent.

NAR doesn’t break down those figures beyond regions, but it’s safe to say that real estate trends in Pinellas County roughly track the NAR’s regional analysis. Some if you are thinking about a real estate purchase in Pinellas County, this information should be a real plus as you consider your options.

realtor logoLawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said the increase may be due to the continuing affordability homes, and pent-up demand.

 “Home sales have been plodding along at a sub-par level while interest rates are hovering at record lows and there is a pent-up demand from buyers who normally would have entered the market in recent years,” he said. “We hope this is indicates more buyers are taking advantage of the excellent affordability conditions.”

 While the numbers are encouraging, there is a caution that must be remembered; not all contracts lead to closed transactions. In fact, these tough economic times have resulted in an increase in the number of contracts that never reach closing. Sometimes appraisals come in lower than agreed-upon sales prices and that can end deals; Also, buyers sometimes underestimate the new, more stringent credit score requirements.

 “Although contract signings are up, not all contracts lead to closings,” Yun said. “Many potential home buyers inadvertently hurt their credit scores and chances of getting a mortgage through easily averted actions, such as canceling an old credit line while taking on a new one. Such actions could unwittingly prevent buyers from obtaining a mortgage if their credit score is close to the margins of qualifying, or they might get a loan but with less favorable terms.”

 If you are wondering where you might stand in trying to buy a home in Pinellas County, you should give me a call. I have many years of experience in the mortgage field, both in Pinellas County and elsewhere, and I can offer you valuable advice about how to go forward in today’s real estate market.

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.

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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Tampa Bay ranks last when it comes to public transit

Tampa Bay scores again; Forbes Magazine took a look at the 60 major metro areas in the country and then rated their rapid transit systems. Tampa Bay made the list — in last place.

That should come as only a mild surprise to anyone who has had to drive to work on either side of Tampa Bay. Traffic here is a nightmare, and there are few alternatives to driving your own car to work. We do have a bus system, but there is no rapid transit system, no subway, no passenger rail.

A great light rail system opened a few months ago in Phoenix. So far, it's been very popular with local residents.

A great light rail system opened a few months ago in Phoenix. So far, it's been very popular with local residents.

Many of our major roadways started life as sleepy two-lanes.  US19N, the major north-south road that runs the length of Pinellas County, was once a rural two-lane road that passed through miles of orange groves, at least in the northern part of the county where I live. Someone recently told me that he remembered when there was just a flashing light at the intersection of 19 and Tampa Road, a busy major intersection today that serves six lanes of US19 and four of Tampa Road. 

If you want to cross the bay between Pinellas (Where St. Petersburg is located) and Hillsborough (Tampa), you have four choices: The Gandy bridge; the Howard Franklin Bridge; the Courtney Campbell Causeway; and Hillsborough Avenue, the only land route, located at the northern tip of Tampa Bay. If you attempt this crossing in rush hour, be prepared to sit.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know I am a fan of light rail, and we might — just might — have such a system in our sights.

A month or two ago, President Obama came to town and announced that the federal government would fund the majority share of a high-speed rail line between Tampa Bay and Orlando. That’s nice, because it would eliminate the drive on I-4, a really difficult bit of Interstate between those two cities.

But the real value of such a line would be the possibility of a light rail system at this end of it. The high-speed line could connect to a light-rail system that would circumnavigate Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and provide an alternative to the automobile.

We have something called the Tampa Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (TBARTA), which would like to build that system. Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who serves on the TBARTA board, spoke at St. Petersburg College recently about rapid transit in Tampa Bay, and said such a system is necessary both for current residents and to respond to companies that may consider locating facilities in Tampa Bay. 

All that said, I do have a bone or two to pick with Forbes about this ranking.  We used to live in Washington, DC,  and it would be hard to imagine a worse commuting city than that. before we lived in Florida we lived in Maine, and that meant the occasional drive to the biggest metro center in that neck of the woods, Boston. If you’ve never driven in Boston at rush hour, it is a breathtaking experience. Still, both those cities have good subway systems and buses that run frequently.

I think it is fair to say that Palm Harbor real estate, Dunedin real estate, or Pinellas County real estate in general would be more attractive if it was served by an efficient light rail system

Most toxic city? Hint: It’s not Tampa Bay

What’s the most toxic city in America? That is, the city with the worst environmental problems, judged on the basis of dirty air, unclean water and the rate of environmental hazards?

Atlanta skyline

Atlanta skyline

You may have thought Los Angeles with all of its smog, or you may have thought of a place like Chicago, with its reputation as an industrial center.

However, you would have been wrong on both counts, and on a number of other counts, as well.  Because, according to Forbes Magazine, the most toxic city in the U.S. is… Atlanta!

Yeah, I’m surprised, too.  We spent a very nice weekend in Atlanta a year or two ago, and I never had the sense that the city was unusually unclean or polluted. But according to Forbes, Atlanta is not only the most toxic city in the country, it has zoomed up to the Number One spot from Number 28 just a year before.

The next question from me is, so where does Tampa Bay rank on the Forbes list?

Tampa Bay is quite a ways down the list, at Number 16 (tied with the Miami area and St. Louis.) That’s not exactly great on a list with 40 positions, but it’s not terrible, either. Accortding to Forbes, Tampa Bay releases about 4 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment every year, a mere pittance compared to Atlanta’s 41 million pounds.

So what community occupies the final spot on Forbes’ 40-spot list?  According to the magazine, it’s Las Vegas.

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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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Tax credit money available UP FRONT — right here in Pinellas County

I’ve written on the blog several times about the $8,000 federal tax credit. Now, the federal government has tinkered with it to make that $8,000 more useable in the form of cash that can be used up-front for down payments.

The tax credit, which is available to first-time homebuyers through Nov. 30, provides up to $8,000. The money becomes available in the following year, when the buyer files his or her tax return.

And that has been the problem.  Most buyers need the $8,000 for the down payment or other up-front costs, but the money actually arrives later, not sooner.

Some states (including Florida) have taken the initiative to provide money that can be advanced or borrowed in time to use it for the down payment, then paid back later when the federal dollars actually arrive. The Florida Legislature just did that, providing a pool of a little more than $30 million that first-time homeowners can draw on in anticipation of the federal tax credit money.

Well, now the federal government has woken up to this issue. First time homebuyers who apply for financing that is insured by the Federal Housing Administration may be able to get cash advances or loans that will provide the tax credit money up front, in time to use for the down payment or closing costs.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan says the idea is to “monetize” the tax credit, meaning that the government policy will now change to turn the tax credit into immediate cash money. That’s important, because the government estimates that half of all first-time home buyers, and maybe more than that, don’t possess enough money to cover the down payment on their new home; making that money available up-front could double the number of people able to buy a new home, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Here is how the FHA plan will work:

Approved lenders (that is, those lenders who have been approved to do business with the FHA) get authorized by the FHA to provide bridge loans at closing. Those bridge loans are secured
only by the tax credit. And government agencies and nonprofits will be authorized to offer bridge loans or second mortgages, financing that is secured by the value in the property being purchased.

Visit the HUD site at www.hud.gov to learn more. And get in touch with me at 727-643-7100 or at [email protected] — I can provide good professional counsel and advice on how to get and leverage the tax credit to your best advantage.  It’s a good idea to stop back frequently at www.pinellasnewsboy.com, also — as new tax credit developments happen, I’ll post them here.

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Federal government offers mortgage help

 

making-home-affordable-pic-21-300x651

Okay, so you’ve been living in your home in Pinellas County and faithfully making your mortgage payments, but your home’s value has been steadily slipping and now you owe more than the place is worth. You keep reading about new government programs that are supposed to help, but you need to find out more.

Fear not – there’s a place you can go to find the help you need.

That place is www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov. It’s a website designed to describe the benefits of a federal program called, well, Making Home Affordable. It offers homeowners a number of opportunities to either refinance their mortgages, or modify the mortgages they already have.

The Making Home Affordable program is financed with $75 billion for loan servicers and borrowers. Its designers say that it should be able to offer mortgage help to four million homeowners who need to modify their loans to make them more affordable, or who need to negotiate short sales of their properties with their mortgage providers.

Officials say that the money will allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance up to five million loans they own (or guarantee). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have set up web sites and toll-free hotlines for borrowers who need to determine if their mortgages fall under Fannie or Freddie. Fannie Mae’s is www.fanniemae.com/homeaffordable (phone number (800) 732-6643); Freddie Mac’s is www.freddiemac.com/avoidforeclosure (phone number (800) 373-3343).

Some borrowers might prefer to get information first from their own mortgage servicer. To do that, go to www.HopeNow.com and fill out an application. That web site is operated by an alliance of mortgage servicers and nonprofit counselors. You can talk to them on the phone at (888) 995-4673.

No matter where you live in North Pinellas County – Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor, or anywhere else, for that matter – the information offered applies to you.

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