Tampa Bay's luxury market roared back to life in 2016 as an improving economy drove sales of high-end homes to a level not seen in years.
Of the 25 most expensive houses and condos sold last year, eight went for more than $6 million. In 2015, there wasn't a single sale higher than $4.9 million.
To be in the Top 25 last year, a house had to sell for at least $3.7 million. In 2015, a home that brought "only'' $2.65 million made the cut.
Though most home buyers will never be able to afford anything close to those prices, they reflect the appeal of an increasingly dynamic area that has much to offer residents of different ages, interests and backgrounds.
"Our area has become so much more vibrant,'' said Dania Perry, a Pinellas County Realtor who was involved in three of the Top 25 sales. "In our favor we have a very growing, vibrant downtown (St. Petersburg) and our beaches are just phenomenal. We have a lot of new construction along the beaches and improvement to our beach fronts.''
Last year, Tampa Bay had nearly three times as many $6-million-plus sales as Sarasota even though that county has long been considered much more of a luxury market. The bay area, however, boasts sizable advantages over its neighbors to the south, noted Realtor Jennifer Zales.
"Tampa has an international airport, corporate businesses and professional sports teams based here, which added to the buyer pool,'' said Zales, listing agent for two of the Top 25 homes last year. "Having some of the best and most affordable waterfront in a market convenient to an airport with international connections makes the Tampa Bay area very attractive to affluent buyers.''
As in 2015, several buyers of the most expensive homes in 2016 make their living from the nation's mammoth health are industry. Others have prospered in tech fields, insurance and employment services. High-end buyers in 2016 also included a star Tampa Bay Lightning player, the 26-year-old grandson of Publix supermarkets founder George Jenkins, and an Orlando man who spent time in federal prison for bribing a Jacksonville port director.
Other noteworthy nuggets about 2016's uber-luxury sales:
• Of the 25 buyers, 19 paid cash. In 2015, there were just nine cash buyers.
• Only two condos — both in downtown St. Petersburg's Ovation — were among the top 25 priciest homes sold last year. In 2015, five condos made the list.
• Once again, Tampa's waterfront Davis Islands had the most sales in the Top 25 with four. Among other areas with two or more sales were Tampa's Culbreath Isles, Belleair Shore in mid-Pinellas County, St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg's Snell Isle.
Realtor Bonnie Strickland, the listing agent on two Snell Isle homes in the Top 25, sees no slow-down in the bay area's luxury market despite rising interest rates and uncertainty over how President Donald J. Trump's polices might affect the financial and housing markets.
"'I've had the busiest January I've ever had in my life,'' said Strickland. a St. Petersburg native who's been in real estate for 30 years. "I think the Fed raising rates just a bit is getting people off the fence and thinking about buying now because they don't want to miss the opportunity.''
And do people who can afford a $4 million home really worry about a quarter- or half-point rise in rates?
"They're just like everybody else,'' Strickland said. "They like to take advantage of a lower rate.''
Times researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate