Drew Harwell, Times Staff Writer

Drew Harwell

Drew Harwell is a business reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, covering homes and real estate.

Newsroom: (727) 893-8252

Email: dharwell@tampabay.com

Twitter: @drewharwell

  1. Tampa Bay home sales rebound off weak spring, but challenges remain

    Real Estate

    Tampa Bay home sales rebounded last month after a disappointing spring, rising 3 percent over last June and renewing hopes that the housing recovery is back on track.

    About 3,400 single-family homes sold here in June, the second-busiest month for sales since the housing bubble burst, Realtor data show. The median home sold for $167,000, about 2 percent higher than at the same time last year as prices near a post-bust peak....

  2. 'Human props' stay in luxury homes but live like ghosts

    Real Estate


    When the Mueller family sits for dinner, the leftover broccoli and crepes are already wrapped in plastic, the kitchen is beyond spotless, and the rest of the home is so tucked-away tidy it looks like they just moved in. In a way, they have: Every inch of furnishing, every little trinket and votive candle, sits precisely as designers placed it five months ago. That would make them the most perfect suburban ideal, except for one catch: This isn't actually their home. Bob and Dareda Mueller and their three grown sons are, instead, part of an "elite group" of middle-class nomads who have agreed to an outlandish deal. They can live cheaply in this for-sale luxury home if it looks as if they never lived here at all....

    A view of the dining room of the home the Muellers manage for Showhomes. The Muellers are tasked with keeping the luxury homes they live in immaculate to the point of not looking lived-in at all.
  3. Tampa Bay's explosive vacation-rental growth sparks battles in neighborhoods

    Real Estate

    CRYSTAL BEACH — For Betsy Banks Saul, there is something addictive about giving strangers the keys to her family home. In the past few months she has rented to Massachusetts travelers, Midwestern honeymooners and a family in town for a funeral.

    Banks Saul, 46, loves her vacation rental so much that last week she offered up a second one, her sun-lit beach home across the street. In doubling up, her home became the millionth live listing on HomeAway, where people like her hand over their homes to paying travelers for days or weeks at a time....

Betsy Banks Saul’s gulffront home in Crystal Beach was the millionth live listing on the rental website HomeAway. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]

  4. Florida once again leads nation in abandoned 'zombie foreclosures'

    Real Estate

    Florida once again leads the nation in "zombie foreclosures," abandoned homes sitting for months as their foreclosures slog through court, new data from research firm RealtyTrac show.

    The Sunshine State accounts for 49,000 zombie homes, more than a third of the nation's total, according to data from the second quarter of this year. Homes here are left vacant for an average of 411 days before the foreclosure runs its course....

  5. Loft apartments with old-school charms set for Euclid area

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — This well-walked hallway where Jazz Age kids trudged off to learn math would, in developer Michael Mincberg's eyes, make a perfect one-bedroom apartment.

    The elementary school's bells and old chalkboards — one with a decades-old scribbled missive, "I will not talk!" — would become trinkets for the lobby of the building, where lofts would be "luxury, historically detailed."...

    Sight Real Estate president Michael Mincberg stands in a classroom at the old Euclid Elementary School. He has teamed up with Rays outfielder Matt Joyce to transform the school into luxury apartments with a historic twist.
  6. Luxury condos go from recession doom to boom

    Real Estate


    The fire sale of new condos at luxury high-rise Signature Place was a rare glittering spectacle during the darkest days of Tampa Bay's housing collapse.

    Hundreds of bargain hunters crowded a downtown ballroom to shout bids over platters of shrimp cocktail. Young women in skirts whisked winners to a closing room gleaming with flutes of champagne.

    When 51 condos in the 36-story sail-shaped skyscraper sold at deep discount — some of them at half-price — one auctioneer burst with joy: "Who said Florida's in trouble?"...

    SP_318581_LYTT_SIGNATURE_1 of 1 (02/09/2010 ST. PETERSBURG) Signature Place condos in St. Pete.
  7. Alfonso Soriano, Yankees All-Star, buys sprawling Tampa mansion for $2.7 million

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — New York Yankees All-Star Alfonso Soriano has a new home to relax in after spring training workouts at Steinbrenner Field, buying a sprawling mansion in Tampa's ritzy Avila country club for $2.7 million in cash.

    The 7,800-square-foot Mediterranean mansion, gated and guarded by lion statues, boasts seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a library and billiards room, "endless closets" and a 4,000-bottle wine room the size of a small apartment, a sales listing shows....

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25:  Alfonso Soriano #12 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out in the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 25, 2013 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
  8. Tampa Bay year-over-year home prices see first dip in 29 months

    Real Estate

    Tampa Bay home prices dropped year-over-year for the first time in 29 months as the spring selling season sputtered to a close, triggering fresh worries over a flattening housing rebound.

    Median home prices sagged to $162,000, down about 1 percent from the previous May, data from Realtors' multiple listing service show. The number of sales also dipped for the seventh time in the last eight months....

  9. Opulent condo tower, Bliss, planned for near downtown St. Petersburg's Beach Drive

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — A luxury condo skyscraper etched with greenery and capable of whisking Ferraris four floors up could soon rise next door to a former art gallery off downtown's tony Beach Drive.

    The 18-story tower, called Bliss, would have 30 ritzy condos selling for between $800,000 and $1.3 million, with sweeping views of the bayfront and walls of floor-to-ceiling glass, developers announced Friday....

    Plans for a 30-unit condo tower called Bliss are expected to be submitted to the city of St. Petersburg next week.
  10. Tampa Bay's midpriced home sales struggle while high-end sales soar

    Real Estate

    PINELLAS PARK — When house hunters Jim and Rhonda Bennett fell in love with a new home, they put in a good offer and stopped their search. Back in 2000, it had taken a week to buy their first home. How long could it take now?

    That was four months, seven rejections and 100 homes ago. Their search has become a slog. And all for a goal that has become surprisingly hard to find: an affordable family home....

    Jim Bennett and his daughter, Savanna, 7, in front of their Pinellas Park home. Middle-class buyers face challenges. 
  11. Power broker Bill Edwards wants $4.9 million for Treasure Island mansion

    Real Estate

    TREASURE ISLAND — St. Petersburg power broker Bill Edwards is looking to sell one of his half-dozen Tampa Bay homes, a tony Treasure Island mansion now on the market for $4.9 million.

    The 7,000-square-foot waterfront estate boasts marble floors, a deep-water boat lift and a chandelier by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. Edwards, who listed the Boca Ciega Bay home last week, bought it in 1998 for $735,000. ...

  12. Civic leader Al Austin, Tampa's 'Mr. Everything,' dies at age 85


    TAMPA — For longtime devoted residents, it's easy enough to identify the distinctive signs that make this city shine.

    One could point to Tampa International Airport, a significantly expanded University of Tampa, a bustling West Shore business district and a resilient MacDill Air Force Base — features that contributed to the Republican Party choosing Tampa to host its 2012 national convention....

    A plastic cutout of Al Austin with Newt Gingrich rests on Mr. Austin’s desk in his office in the Westshore area of Tampa.
  13. Mobile home park investors bet on older, poorer America

    Real Estate


    Sick of the cold, Una and Howard Kemper followed the warmth 1,000 miles south to a field of asphalt in the Florida pine flats, a mobile home park named CountryWood. They bought a double-wide a third the size of their Baltimore rancher — with a manicured palm out front, like they had seen on TV — and filled it with angel figurines. That was 24 years ago. Una is 76 now, a widow on a fixed income. But this will always be her home. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm in paradise," she said. "When I leave I want to leave the same way (Howard) did — not going anywhere else, except straight up."...

    Step 2: Cabinets and other barebones fixings are installed, and the home gets a roof.
  14. 'Ganjapreneuers' scramble for chance at Florida medical marijuana industry


    SARASOTA — When Cannabis-Rx bought a Super Walmart-sized boat plant here last month, the real estate investor said it was destined to become one of America's largest pot "cultivation parks."

    Only one problem: Florida's vote on legalizing medical marijuana is still six months away. And it could take twice that long before a patient lights the state's first legal joint.

    Regulators have said next to nothing about how medical marijuana in the Sunshine State would move from seed to sale. That hasn't slowed a rush of investors giddy for Florida's potentially vast legal-weed industry....

    “We want to be the moms who help other parents, because a lot of people are afraid,” says Renee Petro of Cannamoms, the business she started with two other mothers. Here Petro sits with her children, Branden, 12, and Rachel, 9.
  15. Tampa Bay home sales continue to fall

    Real Estate

    Has the Tampa Bay housing market's recovery lost momentum?

    Halfway through the traditionally booming spring selling season, home sales here have disappointed, dropping for the fourth month in a row, year-over-year listing data for April show.

    With investor activity slowing and short-sale bargains drying up, real estate agents said Tampa Bay housing's weaknesses are beginning to show through....