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Realtors check out peers' properties, even pink and purple ones, on tours


It's an ordinary Thursday in this Pinellas County beach community — except for the "Open House'' signs pointing crazily in all directions.

"This way, I think," real estate agent Julia Brazier says, steering her Lexus toward 176th Terrace and the first stop on her list, a three-bedroom, two-bath waterfront bungalow.

"It's purple!" Brazier exclaims.

Mermaids flank the baby pink front door, which opens into a fuchsia living room, which overlooks a large deck with bubble gum-pink railings.

"If this house was in the Old Northeast," Brazier says, referring to her own St. Petersburg neighborhood, "it wouldn't make it if it wasn't beige. On the beach, you can get away with it."

Brazier offers another opinion: With easy access to the Intracoastal Waterway, the 1,716-square-foot house is priced right at $450,000.

This is the first of four houses that Brazier, of Re/Max Metro, will visit this day in what has become a tradition in the Tampa Bay real estate industry — the brokers tour. Almost every Thursday, scores of homes that have just hit the market are thrown open to real estate agents so they can see what's new and give their opinions on pricing, curb appeal and general condition.

The tours provide feedback that can help a listing agent persuade the seller to lower the price or pack up the plastic sea horses. They let visiting agents like Brazier view multiple properties in a single afternoon, with no need for appointments.

And as the market rebounds, brokers tours are also drawing mortgage specialists, title agents and others in real estate-related fields looking to drum up business. Their role in this weekly ritual typically includes supplying lunch.

"We're all busy, and it's a little more relaxed way to meet people and introduce them to our services," says Erika Sheldahl, of Stewart Title, as she unwraps an enormous Greek salad from Publix.

"If you provide food, they will come," adds Becky Baron, one of Brazier's Re/Max colleagues.

Baron is hosting today's tour of the pink-purple house, which she tactfully describes as "very colorful." But it's clean and well maintained, making it far easier to show than a foreclosure or short sale.

"They can be in a bit of disarray," Baron says. "Like, where did the toilet go? Were there sinks in this house originally?"

After sampling the salad, Brazier moves on to the next open house, part of a multihome tour organized by Total Title Solutions of Clearwater. The title company contacted agents with active listings along 182nd Avenue in Redington Shores, drew up fliers (with lunch offerings) and "e-blasted" them to other Realtors.

Brazier's first impression of the 1,818-square-foot house is tainted by the rundown place across the street.

"You want to pay $400,000 and look at that?"

Now 59, Brazier used to sell corporate software systems in Washington, D.C., but decided to move to Florida after being stuck in a traffic jam for eight hours during an ice storm. She got her real estate license in 2001, and while she doesn't do as many brokers tours as she once did, she still relishes looking at other people's houses.

As she heads up a steep flight of stairs and into the big, airy rooms, she softens her opinion of this home. The walls are linen white and pale aqua, the bathrooms strikingly redone with glass tile and river rock. The ample deck in front and the big windows in back afford glimpses of the Intracoastal.

Those views won't last if, as is likely, McMansions rise between here and the water.

"This is a situation where it's overimproved for the neighborhood," Brazier says of the house. Her verdict: The $389,000 price is too high.

Next, it's down the street to an 875-square-foot, mustard-yellow cottage with a gravel back yard. To the untrained eye, it is somewhat of a dump, especially at $205,000.

However, a determined real estate agent can turn an ugly duckling into a veritable swan.

Agent Darlene Sheets quickly points out that the house is just steps from a 10-foot-wide public easement, where one could sit on the seawall and admire the Intracoastal (or put in a very small boat). Residents of this area also have access to the private Surfside Beach Club right on the Gulf of Mexico.

And that's not all, Sheets continues. The roof and air conditioning are relatively new, the electrical panel has been upgraded, and there's even a fireplace.

"Very key to the value of one of these homes is the rental restrictions," Brazier interjects.

"I don't think you can go less than three months," Sheets says.

In fact, the minimum in Redington Shores is six months. But that still could be a selling point for an investor, who after some remodeling might be able to get top dollar for the house as a short-term rental. The $205,000 price suddenly seems like more of a bargain and less of a delusion.

Sheets, of Future Home Realty, offers Brazier a Cuban sandwich and urges her to leave her business card for a chance to win a $25 gas card. Then it's on to the final house, a vacant, remodeled two-story house with huge decks overlooking Boca Ciega Bay.

(The lunch fare here: Caesar salad.)

Surprisingly, this home has been on the market for almost half a year despite a price cut from $799,000 to $760,000.

The listing agent, Madonna Steinlage of Century 21, blames the no-sale on problems showing the house while occupied, then the threat of sky-high flood insurance premiums, before Congress revised the Biggert-Waters Act this spring.

Brazier agrees that Biggert-Waters probably scared off potential buyers.

"Get a new insurance quote for owner-occupant," she suggests to Steinlage, "and attach that. I think people you may have lost will come back. They may have gotten a quote before of $12,000 and now it's $3,000."

Though from different firms, the two agents carry on a friendly chat that belies the sometimes cutthroat nature of the real estate business. Brokers tours, they say, are a great way to network, pick up tips and get the gossip on what's happening at other agencies.

They can also be invaluable for new agents like 34-year-old Sina Sabine Shannon.

Shannon, who arrives in a flowered sundress with spaghetti straps, emigrated from near Stuttgart, Germany, a few years back and has been an agent for two weeks. Her goal, she says, is to introduce more Germans to the bay area and find them vacation homes once they get here.

"You learn your inventory," Jerry Cleary, another Century 21 agent, advises her. "There wasn't a condo complex I hadn't been in. That how you do it — do what you're doing, going to broker open houses."

It's almost 2 p.m., the end of this day's tours. Brazier pronounces Shannon "darling" and predicts she'll do well in real estate.

And working this tour to maximum advantage, Brazier has some parting words for the veteran Realtors.

"You remember me," she says, "if you want to buy in downtown St. Pete."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Is the worst over for flood insurance?

From the Redington beaches to the streets of Shore Acres, the Great Flood Insurance Crisis has dramatically eased in hard-hit Pinellas County.

In the three months ended in June, sales of older homes in the highest-risk V zone — beach areas subject to wave action — were 30 percent higher than in the first quarter of the year, Property Appraiser Pam Dubov says. Sales of older homes in noncoastal but flood-prone A zones jumped by 57 percent.

"It looks to me like in A zones countywide, the sales have really rebounded to the level they were before the whole flood insurance thing started," Dubov said. "The increase was actually greater than in low-risk zones" that don't require insurance.

Sales of older homes prone to flooding nearly dried up in the fall after the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act sent some premiums soaring to unaffordable levels.

But in March, Congress softened the law's more draconian provisions. The emergence of private flood insurance options, including Lloyds of London, also helped stabilize premiums.

The relief has been especially welcome in what Dubov calls the "poster child'' of the flood insurance crisis: the Shore Acres community of northeast St. Petersburg.

In the last three months of 2013, two homes were sold in the area that includes Shore Acres. But there were 12 sales in the first quarter of this year, 19 in the second "and already in the third quarter, with half left, we have 15 sales," Dubov said. "The prices have been pretty healthy, too."

However, the long-term outlook is cloudy. Biggert Waters, designed to restore the national flood program to solvency, still allows rates on virtually all flood-prone properties to increase as much as 18 percent a year until they reach sound levels.

— Susan Taylor Martin

Realtors check out peers' properties, even pink and purple ones, on tours 08/15/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2014 7:00pm]
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