Kim Madl got bypassed by the housing boom.
In 1991, she and her husband built their three-bedroom, two bathroom house on property owned by her parents east of Zephyrhills, a stone's throw from the Polk County line. The address even carries a mailing address for the Polk community of Kathleen.
"There's really not much out there," said Madl, 45, who raised two kids, who are now 20 and 16. "Whenever they do an appraisal they have to go outside the area (to compare homes) because there's not a comparable home within a 5 to 10 mile radius."
The good news for Madl and for others who settled in the countryside: They also got bypassed by the housing bust.
Her home value went from $143,168 last year to $141,006 this year, a slide of about 1.5 percent. That's a sharp contrast against most of Pasco, where the average drop in housing values was 12.8 percent.
Figures from Pasco County Property Appraiser's Office show homes in all Pasco County ZIP codes lost value since last year. However, a few areas, mostly in rural spots, saw values that remained relatively steady. The lowest decrease, less than 1 percent, was reported in a pocket of northeast Pasco by the Withlacoochee State Forest. Most of those homes are buried in the woods, at the end of winding dirt roads, papered with "no trespassing" signs. A sliver of Land O'Lakes near the Pasco-Hillsborough line lost slightly more than 1 percent in value. Madl's ZIP code in southeast Pasco averaged a drop of 6.9 percent in home values.
The biggest losers? Tract homes in heavily populated areas where lots of for sale signs went up during the boom. The worst performer was an area of Holiday, where values plunged by more than 17 percent. Most areas saw drops ranging from 10 to 13 percent.
"The ones that have probably gone down the most over the last three or four years have been the neighborhoods most active four or five years ago," said housing analyst Marvin Rose. "Those sales were mostly fueled by investors and so they kind of bid the prices up artificially." He said other communities — such as Snell Isle in St. Petersburg, for instance — have fallen little because "there wasn't any overbuilding in those areas."
Slice of stability
One of those areas is a pie slice on the Pasco-Hillsborough line, hemmed by Dale Mabry Highway and U.S. 41. The area is less rural but is comprised mainly of higher end, custom-built homes that are not part of a national builder's master-planned community. It's also a small neighborhood with only 10 homes on one street, Rowland Pickert Lane.
"Most of us are older, with more stable finances," said John Rosario, 63, a retired sanitation director who worked in New York City, Norfolk, Va., and later Lakeland. He said he has seen few "for sale" signs and no distressed properties in the nearly 10 years he and his wife, Angela, have lived there.
The Rosarios built their 2,586 square foot, three-bedroom, two bath home on a half acre off County Line Road after thorough research. They settled on the area because it was removed from the congestion of the Wiregrass development but convenient to shopping there and traveling to and from the airport.
This year Rosario saw his home drop just $5,300 — about 2 percent — in value. It's now worth $265,119, according to the county appraiser.
"We're one of the best kept secrets," he said. "Like they say, 'location, location, location.' I guess that's one of the reasons we're holding tight."
At one time, Rosario had wanted to downsize, but tax laws would have meant he would pay more even more property tax on a smaller home. He'd also like to recoup the $300,000 it cost to build the one-story peach-colored stucco home in 2001.
"A young family could really use this house," he said.
Home for life
Across the county, young families are taking much of the hit from falling values.
"Holiday has been hit so enormously," said Greg Armstrong, past president of the West Pasco Association of Realtors. "Those were the front line workers; those were the first to lose their jobs (and go into foreclosure). Job loss has affected Holiday more than anything I've encountered in the entire county."
The area is comprised mainly of families who work at service-related jobs in Pinellas but can't afford to live there, Armstrong said. It boasted a lot of retirement homes that later become starter homes and magnets for investors.
"The joke used to be that it was for the newly wed and nearly dead, but now it's mostly the newly wed," Armstrong said. "If they got 100 percent loans, they're more than in serious trouble."
Jim Domino, 62, doesn't need to hear that from someone else. The special education teacher saw the value of his Holiday home plunge from $80,506 to $44,682 in one year.
The family, which still has two children living at home, paid $64,000 for the 1,542-square-foot home in 1998 when they moved from Tarpon Springs.
"We couldn't afford to buy a house in Pinellas," said Domino, whose wife manages an elementary school cafeteria in Pinellas County.
Now, with outstanding loans, he's under water.
"You try to ride out the storm and hope you don't get sucked down the tubes," he said. And right now that storm appears to have no end.
"I don't see anything getting better in the next five years," Domino said.
Officials at the property appraiser's office said the Dominos' steep drop was due to a poor economy and reported sinkhole activity on the site.
"They got the double whammy," said Wade Barber, the county's chief deputy appraiser.
As for Madl, she says she doesn't worry about values since she plans to leave the home to her children someday.
"Where I'm from, you buy a house and you live in it till you die," she said.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.