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Leases help span slow housing market

Putting high-end houses up for rent, such as this one on Davis Islands, is increasingly an option for homeowners.

SHARON TUBBS | Times

Putting high-end houses up for rent, such as this one on Davis Islands, is increasingly an option for homeowners.

DAVIS ISLANDS — Eight years ago, Laura Farrell West built a beautiful Mediterranean-style house along Adalia Avenue in one of Tampa's most desirable residential neighborhoods. The islands are coveted for their pedestrian friendly streets, quaint, bustling business district and amazing water views including one along Seddon Channel that takes in both high-end Harbour Island real estate, as well as the Port of Tampa. Farrell West's two-story, 3,400-square-foot home was custom-built by Devonshire Homes in 2000. When she decided to sell in January, it was for good reason: She was getting married.

"I tried to sell it using a very good Realtor," says Farrell West, 48. The house was listed "in the low $900,000 range," she says.

By June, when her home still hadn't sold, she decided to take a different tack: leasing.

"The fact that the house wasn't selling had nothing to do with the Realtor," she said. "The market just wasn't there."

Farrell West is not alone. Other homeowners looking to sell their high-end houses in a slumping market have also become reluctant landlords.

Larry Pollin, a Realtor and leasing specialist with Smith and Associates, said that when the market first showed signs of decline, sellers hoped it would be temporary and rushed to lease their properties.

"I had two pages of inventory," recalled Pollin, one of the area's top leasing agents for luxury properties.

But who pays rent on a million-dollar home?

Typically clients who have had job transfers to the area or people who "were lucky enough to sell their home," but aren't ready to buy again just yet, Pollin said.

Professional athletes also account for a chunk of the market.

Last year he leased a condo in the Alagon along Bayshore Boulevard to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers player. "A lot of athletes live elsewhere and come to Tampa for the season. Once the season's up, they go back home," he says.

Jill and David Weinstein are looking to tap into that kind of market. The couple decided to lease their 3,400-square-foot waterfront Davis Islands home and moved to another property on the islands. "We see the long-term investment potential," Jill Weinstein said.

The three-bedroom, three-bath rental house has two fireplaces, sits on two waterfront lots and has views of Tampa Bay and Bayshore Boulevard.

Weinstein, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, declined to give the lease price but said the response has been "tremendous" since putting the property up for lease a few weeks ago. Mostly doctors from nearby Tampa General Hospital have inquired.

Farrell West, a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders and has a background in business (she's the former beauty accounts advertising manager for Sassy! Magazine) decided that it didn't make sense to let her house languish on the market.

Pollin helped her find the perfect tenant for the house — a family of three who had recently transferred to the Tampa area for career reasons. The one-year lease allowed Farrell West to move, worry free, down the street into her new husband's house where the couple has blended their families.

Of her new tenants, she says: "They're a very lovely family, and I think they're enjoying it. So far, it's been great," she says. (She wouldn't tell her rental fee either.)

According to the Sept. 1 posting at HousingTracker.net, which collects, interprets and disseminates real estate data from the Multiple Listing Service, the average price of single-family houses and condos in the Tampa Bay area is $194,990, down 18.7 percent from September 2007.

Currently, 42,465 single-family houses and condos are on the market in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area.

"People think the prices of two years ago are coming back, and they're not," Pollin says. "And that's for all homes, both higher and lower end. It's pretty slack right now."

As for Farrell West, she says that although her house had been custom-built, renting it to strangers wasn't a big deal.

"I'm not the kind of person who's that attached to stuff or material things," she says. And after her one-year lease is up, she hopes to put the house back on the market again.

Does that mean she sees some light at the end of the tunnel?

"I'm so busy with my work, family and new marriage," she says with a laugh, "that I haven't had any time to pay attention to what's going on in the real estate market."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.

Leases help span slow housing market 09/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 4:27pm]
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