Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for the 'Clearwater' Category

Pinellas County real estate becomes a sellers’ market



Here’s a recent development in real estate that I don’t think too many people would have predicted: In recent weeks, we’ve sort of quietly shifted from a buyers’ market to a seller’s market.

 That’s right, buyers are having to scramble to get good, solid, timely offers in on the homes they really want to buy. If they don’t, POOF! The house is gone to someone with quicker reflexes.

sold sign And this shift does not just apply to Pinellas County homes; it’s a phenomenon that’s being noticed across the country. The WALL STREET JOURNAL even wrote about it today.

 According to the JOURNAL, buyers are increasingly competing for homes, and even entering into bidding wars. I haven’t seen anything that I would describe as bidding wars locally, but I have had several buyers submitting offers above the asking price, knowing that the house of their dreams won’t stay on the market.

 According to the JOURNAL (and my own sense of what’s going on locally), this sellers’ market is not so much about increasing numbers of sales – it’s more about a lack of good, desirable properties on the market.

 It makes sense when you think about it. Sellers keep their homes off the market because of declining values. If someone owes $300,000 on a home that is now worth $200,000, why put it on the market if you don’t have to?

 And we are now about six years into the housing slump, which means a lot of homes that would have been sold in a more normal market have simply never been listed.

 And there’s another reason, too. Lenders have been extremely slow to put their foreclosed properties on the market. There’s plenty of foreclosed-upon, unoccupied homes out there, in this market and most others, but the lender-owners seem to fear more value declines if they put all those properties on the market.

 It’s a strange market, no doubt. But it is a market with many great opportunities, for buyers and sellers alike.

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Ducks living happily in the middle of Dunedin real estate

One of the things I love most about Florida is all the birds. Some of them are pretty exotic, such as the cranes and flamingoes and the flocks of wild parrots that you see in some places. Others, like these two ducks, are commonplace just about anywhere, but still neat to watch and to photograph.

ducks 2These two ducks live in a marshy pond that is on the edge of a golf course right next to our Dunedin condo. Taking this picture involved stepping out the back door and walking maybe 20 steps to the end of the water. These guys must see enough golfers every day that they hardly took any note of my presence at all.

Usually the Christmas holidays bring the real estate business in Pinellas County to pretty much of a halt. That hasn’t really been the case this year. My phone has been ringing steadily — people were calling to look at property on Christmas Eve, and then again on the day after Christmas. Also, the entire month of December has been pretty busy. I’m not sure if that means anything in terms of trends, but I’m always happy to see an active Pinellas County real estate market, whatever the reason.

I do think we can expect a pretty active real estate period starting right after the New Year. Are you thinking about buying or selling a home in Pinellas County in the next few weeks or months? Now is a good time to get the ball rolling. Give me a call anytime at 727-643-7100, or e-mail me at [email protected].

Builders more confident about the future



If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know we have been cautiously reporting some positive factors that seem to be contributing to a slowly-emerging, or improving, real estate market.

None of these things have been dramatic, but all of them have been positive – things like an improving employment picture, continuing low interest rates, and increases in the number of pending home sales.

Here’s one more thing to add to the list – an optimistic report from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

The NAHB reported this week that confidence among home builders is on the upswing when it comes to the construction of single-family homes.  The NAHB says it is the third consecutive month that builders have reported increased confidence in the future of single-family home construction.

 “While builder confidence remains low, the consistent gains registered over the past several months are an indication that pockets of recovery are slowly starting to emerge in scattered housing markets,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen.

Nielsen had something else to say, also; he noted that new single-family home sales might be even better if lenders were a little freer with their money. Builders and home buyers are both being negatively impacted by tight credit restrictions, he said.

nahb logoNAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said buyers are still cautious because of the large inventories of foreclosed properties in many markets, and they also worry about continuing high unemployment ands the challenges of selling their existing homes.

Even so, Crowe said, “builders are reporting more inquiries and more interest among potential buyers than they have seen in previous months.”

The area of the country where builders are expressing the biggest boosts in confidence levels? Right here in the South.

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Joblessness down, but not enough to inspire the price of Pinellas County real estate sales

Here’s some good news: The national unemployment rate in November was down to 8.6 percent, a nice drop from the 9 percent registered in the previous month. So, does that mean that we may see a corresponding modest increase in home prices?

If you want a one-word answer to that question, here it is: No.

iStock_000016449443XSmallStill, it’s good news for the overall economy, and the strength of the economy (or lack of it) is what will ultimately drive home prices up and stimulate the market. It’s all about confidence, and no one has an awful lot of that right now when it comes to the economy, or visions of the future.

Nationally, the unemployment rate peaked in October of 2009, at 10.1 percent (according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics). It’s been settling back downward at a snail’s pace ever since, keeping pace with an agonizingly slow economic recovery.

If the economy was really starting to boom, a .4 percent single-month drop in the unemployment rate might be cause for celebration – and for a mini-stampede of home buyers wanting to take advantage of low home prices and historically low interest rates.

Instead, we have an economic recovery that is just creeping along. It doesn’t inspire much confidence about the future, and confidence about the future is what drives home sales.

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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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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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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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.


*   *   *

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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