In February, Crystal and Lugene Luckey sold their house in Gibsonton's Kings Lake community for $215,000 — or $90,000 more than they paid six years ago.
"We were definitely happy, '' Crystal Luckey says. "We sold it on the first showing.''
It's become a common story in Tampa Bay's hot real estate market but an especially satisfying one for sellers in Kings Lake, one of several communities in south Hillsborough County that were wracked by the housing crash and foreclosure crisis. Just a few years ago, sellers were practically begging for buyers.
Now, Kings Lake lies within a ZIP Code — 33534 — where sales soared nearly 130 percent in the first three months of this year, the second highest gain in the entire bay area.
ZIP Code areas, which in Tampa Bay average about 20,000 residents each, offer a way to zero in on smaller areas than are typically cited in real estate reports. To see which parts of the sprawling Tampa Bay region have fared best in the current real estate boom, the Tampa Bay Times looked at first-quarter sales in all 137 ZIPs in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
The findings: Prices rose in almost every one of them compared to a year earlier, but there were some standout — and surprising — pockets of activity.
Take Port Richey. The small west Pasco city doesn't get much notice, yet more houses sold in its 34668 ZIP in January, February and March then in any other bay area ZIP. The low median price — $90,000 — was a big reason why.
"With the price point in that area, there's definitely an opportunity to flip and we're still seeing a lot of that," says real estate agent Alissa Caputo, who sold a fixer-upper in March for $65,000. "Also, the beach is nearby, shopping is nearby, restaurants — all the things people want to have and not travel too far."
Prices there are rising as well.
"Two years ago, I had 35 houses in the first quarter and only four or five were over $50,000," says agent Chris Rattray. Now, much of what he handles is more than $100,000.
While new homes are going up in many parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough, there has been comparatively little new construction in west Pasco and in Hernando County. Last year, Hernando issued 553 permits for single family homes compared to 4,185 in the boom year of 2005.
But the shortage of new houses has spurred sales of existing ones: The 34609 ZIP in Hernando's Spring Hill had 210 sales in January, February and March, ranking it third among bay area ZIPs. Include Spring Hill's adjacent ZIP (34608) and the total number of sales came to nearly 400.
What's Spring Hill's appeal?
"We don't have the crazy traffic like Tampa and St. Pete, but we have the Suncoast Parkway, which gives 35- to 40-minute access so you can work in Tampa," Realtor Gail Spada says. "And you get better bang for your buck up here" — Hernando's median sale price in the first quarter rose nearly 20 percent but was still just $143,900.
Now that commercial construction is picking up — Wawa's and an Aldi grocery are new to the Hernando scene — residential will follow, Spada predicts.
"We don't want to see too much new construction too soon because that was the problem in 2005 and 2006 when the market just exploded," she says. "All these developers came in and built all these homes and investors were buying them thinking they were going to flip them and that didn't happen because they were buying at the peak of the market."
If there's one main takeaway from first-quarter sales in the Tampa Bay area, it's that buyers don't mind being further out from downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg if it means they can get a bigger house, a cheaper house — or both.
That's a factor driving the popularity of Gibsonton in south Hillsborough and Lutz at the north end of the county. Sales in Lutz's 33548 ZIP jumped 117 percent compared to the same period a year earlier, with many of the buyers ages 35 to 50 .
"There is quite a bit of new construction and that, pared with the (good) schools, has been a big boost for us," says Realtor Judith Quinn. "The other thing is, there's so much great industry moving into Tampa. I do a lot of relocation work, and every single person that comes with kids wants Lutz or Wesley Chapel. South Tampa has good schools, but it's just so expensive and between the flood insurance and price of homes it's just higher than people can go in that age range."
South Tampa is indeed expensive: Two of the five ZIPS with the highest median sale price in the first quarter were in Tampa south of Kennedy Boulevard. Rounding out the top five were the Tierra Verde, Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach.
Arguably, no part of the bay area has drawn more real estate attention in the past few years than St. Petersburg with its suddenly exciting downtown. That helped two ZIPs south of Central Avenue — 33711 and 33712 — record among the highest rates of price growth in Tampa Bay.
Covering Lakewood Estates and Pinellas Point, 33712 "was historically lower value but that's where people are shopping now because the rest of the ZIPS have increased in value so much," says agent Peter Chicouris. In the first three months of this year, the median sale price of a house in 33712 shot up 79 percent, to $172,000
As for 33711, which includes the waterfront community of Maximo Moorings and part of Gulfport, "there's that proximity to the interstate and the beaches and they have renovated a lot of those strip shopping centers," Chicouris says. "It makes it more desirable to live in those areas."
During the first quarter, the median sale price in 33711 soared 94 percent to $147,500.
Like all of the agents interviewed for this story, Chicouris sees no sign that Tampa Bay's real estate market is slowing down. Demand continues to outpace the supply of available homes. Newcomers continue to pour into the area, while many current residents are looking to upgrade, downsize, change scenery or move somewhere more convenient for what they want or need.
"It's definitely a seller's market," Chicouris says. "There's just not that many homes to sell."
Most sales of single-family homes January through March
|ZIP code||area||# of sales||median price|
|34655||New Port Richey||196||$234,525|
Biggest growth in single-family homes sales*
|ZIP code||Area||# of sales||Median price||Percentage change|
|33785||Indian Rocks Beach||21||$500,000||162.50%|
* 1st quarter 2017 over 1st quarter 2016
Highest median price for single-family homes
|ZIP code||Area||# of sales||Median price|
Biggest growth in median price for single-family homes*
|ZIP code||Area||# of sales||Median price||Percentage change|
*1st quarter 2017 over 1st quarter 2016