Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

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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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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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Finding — and financing — the perfect Pinellas County home

Stephanie Henningsen

Stephanie Henningsen

I met Stephanie a while back, and she told me a story about how she was able to buy her own home, even though she was a single woman at the time living on one paycheck.  Not only was she able to buy the home, but she was also able to finance an extensive renovation that brought back a fine old home in St. Petersburg that deserved to be saved. I asked her if she would describe the process for my blog. Here is the first installment — there will be more coming.




I’ve always been attracted to older homes, the homes you find in historical neighborhoods immediately outside the downtown areas of municipalities around the country. It’s the details that draw me in – lots of windows, high ceilings, wood floors, crown molding.

Many of these remodeled homes come with a price tag that is way out of my range. However, I found a way to live in my dream home (complete with wood floors!) without going broke in the process.

A friend told me about the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), an advocacy program designed to help:

• Homeowners refinance mortgages
• Low-income families find an affordable home
• Turn over neighborhoods by offering mortgages that allow homeowners who make above a certain income to buy a run-down home and remodel it.

NACA helps potential buyers through the following steps to prepare them for homeownership.

Once I had completed these steps, I was ready for the next adventure – finding my dream home.

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Fort De Soto is Pinellas County gem

North Beach, Fort DeSoto

North Beach, Fort DeSoto

Q — What is the very best beach in America, according to TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel community?

A — Fort DeSoto Park, right here in Pinellas County.

Fort De Soto is at the very southern tip of Pinellas County, within sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which connects Pinellas County with Manatee County (home of Sarasota) to the south.

And TripAdvisor isn’t the only outfit that thinks so. In 2005, Dr. Beach (who rates beaches around the country, too) named Fort De Soto’s North Beach the best beach in the U.S.

Pinellas County maintains a number of parks, and Fort De Soto is the largest by far. It is made up of five separate islands and covers 1,130 acres. It was first opened in 1962, and almost 3 million visitors come by every year to sunbathe, swim, boat, kayak and fish.

Shore birds at Fort De Soto

Shore birds at Fort De Soto

The county bought the property from the federal government for just $12,500 in 1938. But then war broke out a few years later, and the property was sold back to the federal government (for a profit — $18,404) which used it as a bombing and gunnery range during World War II. After the war ended, the federal government sold it once again to Pinellas County, this time for $26,500.

We had some free time on Sunday afternoon and we visited Fort De Soto with our two grand-daughters. A lot of people were there enjoying the day, but the sheer size of the park made it feel sparsely populated. There is a 35-cent toll on the road that leads to the park, but Fort De Soto itself is free — not even a parking charge. But that may change soon, so this summer is a great time to explore the park for free.

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Pinellas County’s brunch of brunches

Don Cesar Hotel

Don Cesar Hotel

There’s brunch, with a nice variety of food and a decent price tag, maybe put out by a good local eatery. And then there is brunch put on by the Don CeSar Hotel, one of the premier hotels in the Tampa Bay region. This brunch is a few steps, or many steps, above the average, with smoked salmon and mounds of the best fresh fruit and carving stations for prime rib, lamb, ham and pork, as well as a dizzying array of fancy homemade desserts.

The Don CeSar is where we had brunch this morning. It was truly memorable and worth describing to anyone thinking about moving to Pinellas County.

First, a little bit about the hotel. The Don CeSar overlooks the Gulf of Mexico in the south part of the county, just south of St. Pete Beach and just

Don CeSar Hotel entrance

Don CeSar Hotel entrance

north of Pass-A-Grille Beach. It is pretty old but beautifully kept in bright pink paint with white trim.  It was built in the 1920s. Then, just as now, it is a place for the well-known and the well-to-do.

It became a convelescent center for the U.S. Air Force during World War II and then fell into such disrepair that it was abandoned and almost torn down in the 1970s. But local people put up a ruckus to save the Don, and someone bought it and renovated it to its present glory. It has been an icon of the Tampa Bay region ever since.

But back to the brunch; it features more than 200 separate items as well as pasta and omelette stations . There’s a dessert staion for crepes and a sundae bar. If you like bubbles with your brunch, there’s even complementary champagne.

We’ve lived in Pinellas County since 1993, and this was our first brunch trip to the Don CeSar. At around $100 for two, we won’t be going back every weekend, but it’s a nice treat or special occasion.

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Like sports? Pinellas County has plenty

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

Last evening we journeyed down to St. Petersburg (that’s south Pinellas County as opposed to my home turf in North Pinellas County) to take in a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field. The trip included a flat tire and an hour-and-a-half at a St. Pete Tire Kingdowm store, but that’s another story.

A lot of people don’t like Tropicana Field because it’s a domed stadium with astroturf and it’s, well, ugly. But I like it just fine. The access off I-275 is easy and there’s plenty of parking (believe it or not, we found an on-street spot right on Central Avenue, a stone’s throw from the ballpark). There’s plenty of lot parking around the field that costs around $10.

The access into and out of the Trop is easy. Once inside, ushers and other workers are always nodding and smiling at you. Best of all, it is always 72 degrees inside, and it never rains. In west-central Florida it’s usually in the mid-90s at game time during the summer, and rain is pretty common in the late afternoon and early evening, so that dome over the stadium comes in handy, even if true baseball fans long for green grass and blue skies.

The Rays management floated an idea for a new outdoor stadium on the water on downtown St. Pete last year. But with no parking (fans would have had to use existing downtown parking garages and then walk several blocks to the stadium) and not very good access for traffic, the reaction was lukewarm at best.

Anyway… this part of Florida is a great place for sports fans. We have the Rays in St. Pete (remember, they went to the World Series last year) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play in Raymond James Stadium across the bay in Tampa and who always put a good team on the field. One doesn’t think immediately about hockey and Tampa Bay at the same time, but we have an NHL team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who play in a beautiful facility over in Tampa. We don’t have NBA basketball,  but you can still satisfy that urge if you don’t mind driving an hour and a half over to Orlando.

If you are a college football fan, Florida is heaven. The University of South Florida (in Tampa) has a great team, and you already know about the University of Florida and Florida State.

Want more? Spring training and Grapefruit League baseball, right here in North Pinellas County; great college baseball, too.

I took the picture at the top of this post from a box behind home plate. We had a great time, even though the Rays lost to the White Sox, and even in spite of the flat tire.

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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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Good news from Tampa Bay’s other airport

Everybody knows about Tampa International Airport, one of the most convenient and highly-praised big airports in the country. Everyone raves about the convenient access, the close-by parking and the big variety of flights to just about anywhere.

The downside of all that praise is that it tends to overshadow Tampa Bay’s other airport, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, which sits in Pinellas County on the other side of the bay at the western end of the Howard Franklin Bridge, in St. Pete.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater is no slouch when it comes to size — it sits on about 2,000 acres, is fully-certified and has three runways, including one 8,500-footer. It is also home to the most active Coast Guard station in the world.

Things were going really well for St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and the facility hosted 1.3 million passengers in 2004. But then, the airport losat its two biggest carriers, and that number has declined drastically, to about 400,000 passengers this year.

But now there’s good news for the airport. Allegiant Air, a discount airline that serves travelers mostly in the Midwest and East, has agreed to bring a number of new flights to St. Petersburg-Clearwater, starting in November. The first flights will come from Allantown, Pa., Lansing, Mich., and Rockford and Peoria, Ill. There will be more flights from other smaller cities after that.

The new Allegiant flights are expected to swell passenger numbers at the airport by about 250,000 flyers per year.


No tax cut in St. Pete?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve seen several stories about how rising property valuations have increased property taxes, and how some counties and municipalities have been at least thinking about cutting the mill rate to provide some property tax relief.

Of course, the trouble is that cuts in the mill rate are seldom (never?) substantial enough to get property taxes down to where they were before the property values began to rise. Some government jurisdictions find the prospect of “found money” just too tempting to ignore. It’s like getting a substantial tax increase without having to actually vote on raising taxes.

The latest story appeared today in the St. Petersburg TIMES, headlined “Rising fees may cancel tax cut.” St. Petersburg recently announced a 5 percent tax cut for 2007. But now the city is saying that increases in water, sewer and trash pickup fees will go up an average of $4.15 per month, and that will effectively wipe out any of the tax cut benefits.

The St. Petersburg City Council will consider the fee increases during their two meetings in September.

This has been a tough year for homeowners and prospective homeowners in Florida. As I write this, the latest tropical storm/hurricane (Ernesto) is heading our way, and all the hurricanes of the past couple of years has driven home insurance rates way up. Also, the hot real estate market of the past two years has pushed up property values, and that has led to great increases in property taxes.

Counties and municipalities need to have the political will to return a portion of that new-found money to the taxpayers. I read recently that Pinellas County will enjoy an additional $140+ million this year just because of new tax revenue resulting from higher property values.

I realize that the cost of running government goes up, and that someone has to pay for the services that we demand. Still, county and municipal commissioners shouldn’t look at all this additional revenue as “found money.” The people who pay these taxes are in serious need of some relief, and our elected officials need to deliver it.

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