TAMPA — Dude, sell your Escalade.
That's all Blake Seo had to say, in this economy, to close a deal with a Tampa home buyer.
The buyer had enough cash for one home, but liked another one better. Seo, who has dabbled in real estate since he was a freshman in college, pointed him in the direction of a car lot.
"Now that's how you make a sale," he posted on Facebook hours later.
In a market where you can buy a house for $20,000 cash and a house with land for $56,000, some flippers such as the 39-year-old Seo are sitting pretty.
Others — homeowners in particular — have less to celebrate.
The average Hillsborough County home lost 13 percent of its value between 2009 and 2010, according to property appraiser's notices issued last month. In some Tampa neighborhoods, property values were halved.
So longtime residents of Town 'N Country are retiring in homes they had planned to leave once their children were grown. In New Tampa, professionals are paying dearly for the privilege of getting out.
"My house lost 25 grand. That's ridiculous," said Susan Edgerley of Westchase. "I was shocked. I was very upset. I was under $200,000. I've never been under $200,000 before."
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That values would drop at all surprises some homeowners still smarting from the free fall of 2008 and 2009.
Others have resigned themselves to the prospect that they might never move, much less make a killing.
"Most people are fixing up their homes in here," said Juli Milas, 69-year-old president of the Bay Crest Park civic association in northwest Hillsborough. "People are staying put."
Added Bill Browne, 63, of nearby Town 'N Country, "I have seen people my age put serious money into their homes."
Experts generally blame the stubbornly low values on foreclosures and short sales. They say the real estate recession is lasting this long — and will likely last longer — in part because of a shadow inventory of homes that the banks own but will not put on the market for fear of oversupply.
Forecasts vary as to when the tide will turn, with some experts anticipating as many as five more years of depressed prices, and many predicting the comeback will be slow.
"I do not expect the values to come up until I am long dead," said Rose Singleton, 67, who owns several rental properties in Tampa. She'd love to sell one, a two-bedroom house on North Boulevard. But she mortgaged it when prices were high, and it lost $20,000 in value this year.
Detailed data from the property appraiser's office suggest that more expensive homes held their value better in the past year.
In east Hillsborough's FishHawk Trails, where homes are typically appraised at more than $370,000, values increased by an average of 1.2 percent. The more moderately priced FishHawk West saw values drop by 7.1 percent. And in FishHawk East, where values are well below $200,000, there was an 18 percent decline.
A four-bedroom home within walking distance of FishHawk Creek Elementary School can be had for $139,900.
Developed as a nirvana for young families, FishHawk saw nearly 500 foreclosure filings during the real estate collapse, which dragged everyone's values down.
"We paid $500,000," said real estate agent and homeowner George Shea. "And it's probably worth $350,000 now."
A 41-year-old father of four still speaks highly of FishHawk. "It's almost too good to be true," he said. "The thing is, even though I'm upside down, it's my home."
While suburban communities are still losing value, the percentage losses are small compared to Tampa's inner-city neighborhoods, where values fell by as much as 50 percent this year.
That's not just because of the plethora of foreclosures, Seo said. It's also because conventional home buyers, who find it more difficult now to obtain financing, are being selective about where they buy and staying away from depressed neighborhoods such as Sulphur Springs.
Those bargain homes are being purchased largely by cash buyers. "People buy a house who don't have a car," Seo said. "They take a bus to my office. They take a bus to the title company."
At the higher end of the market, homeowners are struggling under mortgages that seem downright oppressive with appraised values so low.
Russ Perlowski, a Realtor in Carrollwood and New Tampa, said he sees three trends: owners who cannot afford to keep paying their mortgages, owners who become disgusted with the prospect of owing $300,000 on a $200,000 house; and owners who need to sell, but owe the bank more than the new buyers will pay them.
"I tell them, 'Fine, but come to the closing table with a checkbook,' " he said. "And they are just devastated."
He represented one physician who had to pay about $25,000 this summer to sell a house in one of the better neighborhoods in New Tampa. "He was highly unhappy," Perlowski said.
Glad to have equity
It's hard to find a homeowner today who doesn't remark, with the benefit of hindsight, on the extraordinary runup between 2003 and 2006.
"We bought for $50,000 in 1978, said Browne, a civic leader in Town 'N Country. At the peak of the market, "it went up to $250,000. Now it's closer to where it should be, around $150,000."
While the county considers Town 'N Country a target for federal neighborhood stabilization, Browne said the foreclosures have leveled off. He is encouraged to see an influx of stable, young families. "People are buying houses and seem to have change left over," he said.
Edgerley is similarly optimistic about Westchase, a manicured development with prestigious public schools.
Property-value notices do not consider hardwood floors, granite countertops or other improvements that add to a home's real value, she said.
And she's willing to wait out the recovery. "I'm still in my 40s, and realistically, I am not looking at retirement until 18 to 20 years," she said.
"I also have a rental house in Port Tampa that also went down more than I thought it would. Everything is cyclical."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 624-2739.