In southwest Pasco County's Beacon Square community, the housing decline is reflected in the roster of recent home sellers dumping properties for as little as $50,000: NovaStar Mortgage, Wachovia Bank, Bank of New York.
In Wesley Chapel's Seven Oaks community, on the edge of the bustling New Tampa suburbs, new-home sales are helping prop prices above $350,000. Bank foreclosure sales are comparatively scarce on the ground.
Since the housing boom ended in 2006, home prices have plunged 45 percent in Beacon Square, but only 9 percent in Seven Oaks. Beacon Square is the most depreciated community in Pasco County. Seven Oaks is the least.
"In central Pasco, you don't have as many people who bought investment properties. In west Pasco, there were an enormous number of people caught holding two houses when the housing downturn arrived,'' said Greg Armstrong, owner of Coldwell Banker F.I. Grey Residential and president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors.
In an analysis of 44,000 homes sales in 35 communities since 2005, not one area in Pasco escaped falling prices. From the peak in the first half of 2006 to the first half of 2008, prices fell off 34 percent across the board. Home sales were down 74 percent from the height of the boom. But not all neighborhoods took an equal beating.
The St. Petersburg Times discovered a gulf dividing west Pasco from east-central Pasco when it comes to housing sales prices. West Pasco communities fill the Top 10 list of the most-depreciated areas. Think Hudson, Holiday, Gulf Harbors and Shady Hills. East-central Pasco dominates the list of the least-depreciated areas. Think Zephyrhills, Dade City, Land O'Lakes and Quail Hollow.
Armstrong is unsurprised. Until 2006, he watched the Pasco coastal communities fall into the grip of a real estate fever.
As during the dot-com stock hunger of the 1990s, people borrowed against their houses to scoop up sure-thing investments. The older houses that cluster on both sides of U.S. 19 in west Pasco, many built cheaply for retirees in the 1960s and 1970s, became the main investment vehicles.
Take Holiday. Energized by furious flipping, the median home sales price peaked at $130,000 in early 2006. By the first half of this year, the median price had hunkered down at $75,000. That's a drop of 42 percent, one of the county's worst.
"It became investor heaven. Now it's turned into investor hell," Armstrong said. "People didn't want to be left out, but they got burned instead."
Central Pasco communities where investors ran rampant aren't exactly thriving, either. Meadow Pointe is a case in point. An island unto itself in the suburbs north of Tampa, Meadow Pointe has seen prices recede 32 percent. Even Land O'Lakes, nowhere near the worst afflicted, has seen home prices plunge by nearly a quarter.
Nearby Seven Oaks, off State Road 56, avoided much of Meadow Pointe's pain. Fewer entry-level homes there meant fewer fickle investors ready to bail at the first flicker of market trouble. Pricey sales of large homes have masked the handful of foreclosure sales.
"Most of our builders were good about not taking anybody who came along," said Terry McGinnis, marketing director for Seven Oaks developer Crown Community Development. "Everyone's gone down, but I think it's good that you can kind of hold your own.''
For those keen to wade into the west Pasco real estate morass, deals abound. In Beacon Square, Oldsmar investors Michael and Evelyn Otto recently snagged a 1,152-square-foot, 40-year-old house for $59,000 from Wachovia Bank. This in a community where a typical house sold for $133,400 just two years ago.
Michael Otto blames banks for the state of affairs. They should either have held the distressed properties, he said, or else helped owners avoid foreclosure. Huge property insurance premium hikes along the hurricane-prone coast didn't help the market either.
"They're selling the houses for $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000," Otto said. "We think they will go up in value. You just have to wait."