Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for the 'Tampa Bay' Category

That new Pinellas County home just got more affordable, thanks to historically low interest rates

     What is it with interest rates? They just seem to get lower and lower. Today’s rates are at historic lows. Is that stimulating home sales? It doesn’t seem so – not that much, anyway.
 intderest rate art    How low are interest rates? Right now they are as low as 3.90 percent, or even a bit lower. Last year at this time the average rates for a conventional 30-year mortgage loan were a little over 5 percent, and we thought that was breathtakingly low.
     It is the lowest that interest rates have ever been in this country.
     Just for comparison, rates four years ago were around 7 percent, and we thought that was pretty darn good.
     So, should you actually consider refinancing if you bought your house a year ago? Maybe so.
     Let’s say you bought your house last February, and you financed $200,000 at 5.05 percent. That would make your principal and interest payment $1,079.76.
     Refinance that same $200,000 amount now at 3.87 percent, and your principal and interest payment would drop to $939.90. That’s a monthly saving of $139.86, or 13 percent. Not bad.
     I spent many years in the mortgage business, before I returned to my first love, real estate sales. I know a lot about the ins and outs of home financing. If you have questions about your plans for buying and financing a home, get in touch and we’ll talk – 727-643-7100, or [email protected] .

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Pinellas County real estate: It’s not Silicon Valley

Real estate agents in two very different California markets are thinking that 2012 might be a banner year for high-end real estate sales. Even though these two markets are more than 200 miles apart, they are banking on the same circumstances to boost their high-end sales.

Silicon Valley, around the southern tip of San Francisco Bay

Silicon Valley, around the southern tip of San Francisco Bay

The two areas are San Francisco – or Silicon Valley, to be more specific – and Lake Tahoe, about 200 miles to the east. Real estate agents in both of those markets are thinking that economic developments in Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry might create a huge stimulus to high-end real estate sales in their areas.

A little history; the Lake Tahoe area has long been a favorite vacation spot for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Lots of high-tech CEOs and other highly compensated executives have long been drawn to the Lake Tahoe area on the California-Nevada border, just a four-hour drive from the San Francisco area.

One upcoming business event really has captured the attention of real estate agents both in Silicon Valley and in Lake Tahoe; the expected IPO of Facebook. That single event, if it takes place as expected, will create a new generation of Silicon Valley millionaires, many of them young adults with families.

Young, wealthy adults with families are a perfect fit for high-end lakefront properties in Tahoe.

The Tahoe market for million-dollar vacation properties has been depressed during the last few years, as you might expect. But the sales of premium Tahoe properties perked up during the third quarter of 2011, and observers of the market say Silicon Valley high-tech execs were right in the thick of those sales. Sales of those premium vacation properties stretched from a million dollars to four million or more.

Some buyers from the tech industry have snapped up vacation homes recently that run from $1 million to $4 million or more. Observers of the real estate scene in the Lake Tahoe area noted that one expensive lakefront development, Martis Camp, had 20 parcels bought up in the past year by executives for such high-tech companies as Google, Facebook and Apple, all based in Silicon Valley.

Facebook may be the biggest IPO player on the horizon, but it is not the only one. Ernst & Young says that 25 high-tech companies in the San Francisco Bay area are getting their Initial Public Offerings together.

“That’s all just great,” you may say. “But, really, what does all that have to do with real estate here in Tampa Bay? After all, Silicon Valley and Lake Tahoe couldn’t be much further away from here.”

True enough. But here is why I think this discussion is relevant:

Silicon Valley has Facebook, Google, Apple and literally hundreds of other high-tech companies. Most of them are doing really well. Somewhere around 25 of them are planning to go public very soon. When that happens, the high –end real estate markets in at least two separate geographic areas of California will boom. Sales of home in the middle price ranges should benefit, as well.

iStock_000016449443XSmallSo where is our Silicon Valley? Where are all the IPOs in Tampa Bay?

There isn’t one, and there aren’t any.

We don’t have a sluggish real estate market; we have a sluggish economy, with little in the way of good-paying jobs and bright financial futures.

I’m delighted for Silicon Valley and for the Lake Tahoe area. But their success may mean little to real estate’s big picture if we don’t find ways of igniting this country’s economy once again.

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New data indicates declines in Tampa Bay home values may be slowing

Are we finally starting to see some stabilization in the value of homes in Pinellas County? According to Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the answer might be yes.

Scale 3According to Index data released yesterday, home prices in Tampa Bay fell 0.7 percent from April to May. That works out to an annual rate of 8.4 percent — the lowest rate in quite a while.  Just two months previously, the 30-day decline was 2.7 percent, which translates to an annual rateof decline of 32.4 percent.

The Index said the annual decline of home values from April 2008 to April 2009 was 21.3 percent, the seventh-worse performance among the 20 cities that the index tracks. The worst was Phoenix, which recorded a home value decline of 35.3 percent.

Here is why real estate agents and others are watching these statistics: What we have been seeing for some time now is a steady increase in the number of home sales in Tampa Bay, accompanied by an equally steady decline in sales prices. The increase in sales has contributed to a decline in the home inventory in the Multiple Listing Service, which is good; but home prices have been continually forced down, due in part to foreclosures and distressed sales.

These trends have made us wonder just where the bottom of the market is in terms of home values. These new figures from Case-Shiller may help us find that answer. Of course, it is only one month; and other variables such as higher mortgage interest rates could slow sales and depress home values all over again.

If you would like to see the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index data for yourself, go here.

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Carl Cowden III is Tampa Bay’s premier painter of murals

Artist Carl Cowden III

Artist Carl Cowden III

In 1974, while still in high school, Carl Cowden III painted a 4 x 8 panel that was part of a temporary construction wall. That project, part of a contest for students, won him second place. Today, Cowden is Tampa Bay’s premier painter of murals.

He graduated from the University of Tampa in 1978 with a degree in fine arts and then got a job with the Community Design Center as a mural artist. The Community Design Center was a Tampa non-profit that developed building and restoration codes for historic neighborhoods. Between 1978 and 1980, he completed six large public murals.

During those early years, he was also known locally for his music.  His band, the Voodoo Idols, began performing in 1978 and continued until 1986.

Safety Harbor Fire Station mural

Safety Harbor Fire Station mural

While he doesn’t limit his work to murals, the murals may be what he is best known for, and he is proud of the contribution they make to the community.

“Public art adds to the quality of life and property,” Cowden said. “These are images that are enjoyed by generations for generations.”

Cowden’s murals can be found just about anywhere and everywhere in Tampa Bay, and all kinds of clients pay for his services. For example, after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, the team and the local Outdoor Arts Foundation decided to depict the victory on a 10-foot-by-28-foot oil tank at 39th Street and Adamo Drive. Cowden had to work 130 feet off the ground to get that project completed.

According to Cowden, the lifespan of any mural depend on a number of factors.

Oldsmar City Hall mural

Oldsmar City Hall mural

“Of ultimate importance is the condition of the wall before it is painted — the quality of the wall preparation as well as the paint and sealer used to complete the mural,” he said. “The wall must be sealed well, especially at the top. This keeps moisture from seeping behind the paint or substrate, which can destroy it from the inside out.”
A public mural’s value is largely determined by the community it serves as well as by the property owner, Cowden said, making the projects very site-specific. The process can be complicated somewhat by the fact that property owners may not live in the local community.

“When I begin a design, I like to speak to the local community and the individuals who will live with it,” he said. “In this way, it is more than just a pretty picture — it is something that has meaning and value to the community. When the people who live with a mural have no say in it, or it deteriorates, or the community loses its unity, its value is diminished and it is subject to vandalism and the owner’s needs.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Public art in Tampa Bay

tampa-street-artIt seems as though communities are becoming more aware of the fact that art can liven up and enhance any downtown area.

While walking down Franklin Street in downtown Tampa recently, I noticed several examples of original art along the sidewalk. This particular piece was a design in the shape of a harp, with actual wind chimes where the harp strings would be.

A sign identified the piece as “Harp Fountain,” and the artist as Marc DeWaele, who owns the Art Symphony Galleria at 2714 South MacDill Ave. in Tampa.

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Don: One of 23,952 vets at Pinellas County’s Bay Pines National Cemetery

This is my husband Bill’s story, so I’ll turn it over to him.


On Memorial Day, I visited my old friend, Don.

I had searched for Don on the Internet a number of times, but I never could find him. The last I heard, he was working as a reporter for the Bradenton Herald, but that was back in the 1970s – so long ago that no one at the newspaper had any memory of him. It was like he had sort of evaporated.

mcsheffrey-2-small1Then one day I tried something different on Google. Instead of searching for “Donald McSheffrey,” I tried a search for “McSheffrey, Donald.” And there he was – buried in Plot 55 45-10 at Bay Pines National Cemetery, right here in Pinellas County.
* * *

On Jan. 6, 1968, I started my first newspaper reporting job at the Holyoke (Mass.) Transcript-Telegram. After getting the tour of the building and meeting the other staff members, I was handed over to Don; he was the Transcript’s police reporter, and I was going to be handling his beat on his days off.

Soon we were walking through the cold January air to the Holyoke police station, where Don introduced me around. He showed me the booking sheet, introduced me to the right people, and explained how to get information from the cops without getting in their way.

I was 21; I never really knew how old Don was. His perennially red eyes and the broken blood vessels in his cheeks made it hard to tell. To me, he was a veteran newsman who knew his way around. To him, I was young and teachable. In spite of the difference in our ages, we became buddies.

We drank too much and had a hell of a time.

One day, sparks from a passing freight train set off a grass fire in town, and Don and I went to cover it. The fire had spread up a steep embankment and we couldn’t see whether it was endangering the houses that lined the road above us. We decided to climb the embankment and have a look.

The climb nearly killed us. By the time we got to the top we were so out of breath we couldn’t even speak, so we collapsed in the tall grass, gasping for air. Almost immediately, water started pouring on us, and I picked my head up to see where it was coming from. A woman had come out of her back door and was soaking the tall grass – and us — with a garden hose, and we were too breathless to yell at her to stop. So we just lay in the grass, wet, gasping and laughing our butts off

*  *  *

As well as I got to know Don, he wouldn’t tell me much about himself. I knew that he had two little girls, and I knew that his wife was dead. Other than that, he said little – he wouldn’t even tell me where he lived.

It wasn’t long before I heard the story from some of our co-workers, but I knew Don for several months before he told me about it himself. We were sitting in a bar one night, half-drunk, when he said, “It’s time I told you about it.”

Don and his wife had befriended a man who worked as a writer for a national news magazine. Don said he looked up to the guy, who was very successful and talented. Don and this man drank a lot of beer together. I knew from my own experience that if you knew Don, you were going to be drinking a lot of beer.

One day the man stopped by the McSheffrey apartment when Don wasn’t home. Don’s wife invited him inside and offered him a glass of iced tea. They went into the kitchen, and Mrs. McSheffrey turned toward the refrigerator. When she did, the man grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed her repeatedly. She fell to the floor and died.

Don came home that night and found her. The two babies were still in their cribs, unhurt. The police found the man sitting on a doorstep a block away, where he had been sitting since the murder. He told them that he had always wanted to stab a woman to death, but that he had always managed to fend off the urge and figured it would never actually happen.

*  *  *

About a year after I joined the Transcript, Don decided to quit and move to Florida. He got a job at the Bradenton Herald, and he said he was pleased that there was a bar just a few steps from the newspaper’s front door. He had already met the owner/bartender, who he said was a nice guy.

We promised to stay in touch, but we didn’t.

*  *  *


Don is one of 23,952 veterans buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery in mid-Pinellas County

There isn’t much to learn from Don’s gravestone at Bay Pines. He was born in 1934, which solved a small mystery – he was 34 when I met him. He died in 1990, which would have made him 56 years old.  I wonder if the alcohol got him, but I guess I’ll never know. I wonder if his daughters live close enough to visit his grave.

The gravestone also noted that he served in the Air Force, and was an Airman 2nd Class. I remember that he talked about that a little. I think he served in Korea as an airplane mechanic, and I seem to remember that he said he liked the military.

Standing by Don’s grave on Memorial Day, small American flags flutter next to each grave stone for as far as you can see. Besides Don’s, there are 23,952 of them at Bay Pines.

Each one of those stones represents a person who lived and breathed and served in the U.S. military. And there is a story to tell about each one of them.

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Pinellas homeowners: New program makes refinancing possible

making-home-affordableWould you like to refinance your home, but find that you can’t because the value of your property has declined? You may be able to refinance anyway under the federal government’s new Making Home Affordable program.

This is good for some homeowners in Pinellas County and in Tampa Bay, where foreclosures and declining values are among the highest in the nation.

Making Home Affordable has two parts – one allows for the modification of existing mortgages, while the other offers opportunities for home refinancing, if the home mortgage is owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

Let’s look at the refinancing function of Making Home Affordable:

• To qualify, borrowers must occupy their homes. The home may have up to four units, but the owner has to occupy one of them.

• Interest rates under Making Home Affordable are “market rates,” but it is a little unclear what that means exactly.

• Loan balances may be as much as 105 percent of the current value of the home. Otherwise, borrowers have to comply with all the other usual underwriting demands, things like all payments must be current, income has to be high enough to cover the new payment amounts, and there can’t be more than a single late payment during previous 12 months. 

• Mortgage insurance on the old loan will carry over to the new loan – a little unusual, because generally mortgage insurance policies end when the loan is paid off; then a new policy gets issued for the new mortgage.

• It’s okay to have a second mortgage on the property as long as the second mortgage holder has agreed to remain in the second position lien-wise.

• Cash cannot be withdrawn during the transaction, but closing costs can be included in the mortgage amount.

To learn more, visit

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Palm Harbor may incorporate

If you don’t live in Palm Harbor (or at least in North Pinellas County), you may not know this, but Palm Harbor is not an incorporated town, even though it is pretty much built out and is home to around 60,000 people.

All of its services – police, fire, public works and so forth – are provided by the county. It has always been that way.

Palm Harbor has a small historic district

Palm Harbor has a small historic district

But maybe not for too much longer.  

Bills have been filed in the state legislature that would allow Palm Harbor residents to vote on whether they want their community to become an actual town. If that ever happens, Palm Harbor will become Pinellas County’s 25 incorporated community.

As you might imagine, some residents think incorporation would be a fine idea. Others, of course, feel otherwise. At least some of those who like the idea are represented by the Palm Harbor Coalition. Some people who don’t think it’s a great idea are represented by the Crystal Beach Community Association.

Supporters generally feel that a new town government would be more responsive to the people who live here. Many opponents say they think taxes will go up if Palm Harbor incorporates.

Whether you like the idea or hate it, the people of Palm Harbor will ultimately make the decision. The measure will go on the 2010 ballot if the legislature passes the enabling legislation. And before the legislature can do that, it has to conduct a feasibility study to see if it makes sense fiscally to make Palm Harbor a real, official town or city.

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Don’t pack your bags just yet

Looking at those shiny new light rail cars in the previous post, you may be thinking that a move to that part of the world wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But before you start packing, consider this little tidbit.
Standard & Poor’s puts out a monthly report on home values through its Case/Shiller Home Price Indices, a fancy term for something that S&P calls “the leading measure of U.S. home prices.” It looks at home values in 20 different markets around the nation.
So guess which market has lost the most value during the past year? That’s right, Phoenix. Home prices in that area have slipped more than 32 per cent, more than anywhere else in the country.
Where is Tampa Bay in all of that? Homes in this area have dropped a little under 20 per cent — a good-sized drop, but well below the crash-and-burn experience in Phoenix. Or, for that matter, in Las Vegas, which was second on the S&P list at 31.7 per cent; or Miami, which lost 29 per cent of its real estate value (and led the Florida lost-value sweepstakes).
There’s more, if you’d like to look it over. Just visit


Phoenix’s new light rail system would look good here

Phoenix's light rail: A model for Tampa Bay?

I know what you’re thinking: Why on earth is Beth writing about a new light rail system in Phoenix, Ariz.?

Good question. Let me answer that question with another question: What is the single most obvious lack in the Tampa Bay region, which is the 19th largest metro area in the U.S.?

ANSWER: Light rail transportation.

There are lots of wonderful things to talk about when it comes to Tampa Bay – the beaches, the great airport, the Bucs and the Rays and the Lightning, to name just a few.

But one thing we don’t like to talk about very much is transportation. Getting around here can be tough – the roads are clogged with traffic, especially during the winter “Snow Bird” season. There are just three bridges (well, two bridges and a causeway) that connect the Pinellas side of the bay with the Tampa side.

What we need is some sort of light rail system. It will no doubt happen some day, but so far we have lacked the political will (and the financing) to get it done.

And that brings me to Phoenix.

Just like Tampa, Phoenix used to have street cars, but they went away sometime around 1950. Since then it has been cars, cars and more cars on the region’s streets. Like Tampa Bay, Phoenix has undergone huge growth in the past 50 or 60 years, and local transportation has failed to keep up with the demand.

Until now.

On Saturday (that’s Dec. 27, 2008) Phoenix unveiled its new light rail system with a big party that included everything from free train rides to live music (by, among others, Grand Funk Railroad). Nearly 100,000 residents turned out for the region-wide shindig.

The new system cost $1.4 billion and, for now, only runs the 20 miles between central Phoenix and Mesa. But the system will expand and grow to include many other areas in the coming years.

It took about 15 years to plan the system, and then another four years to build it. Financing it was tricky, just as it will be here if light rail ever comes to Tampa Bay. Still, the Phoenixites (Phoenixers? Phoenicians?) got it done with a special transportation tax along with federal grants and sales taxes.

Planners in Phoenix say the system should have a huge positive effect on downtown business, should lighten auto traffic significantly, and should encourage housing near the rail line and discourage sprawl. In other words, it will be more than just a transportation system; it should also change the face of the overall Phoenix community for the better.

Fares are $1.25 per ride, or you can get an all-day pass for $2.50.

If you compare the new Phoenix system with what could take place here in Tampa Bay, keep in mind the 20-mile range of the Phoenix light rail system; that’s about that same distance as downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa. That image may disappoint those of us who live in North Pinellas County. But if they built a St. Pete-to-Tampa track and started service there, it would be only a matter of time before the service reached north into our part of the county.

Imagine a big circular route from St. Pete over to Tampa, out through New Tampa and then west to North Pinellas or even South Pasco, then down to South Pinellas again. Wouldn’t that be great?

If you want to learn more about the Phoenix system, go to

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