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. Home investment firms raise rents to build profits

    Real Estate

    RIVERVIEW — Flip-flops sit jumbled at the doorstep. Clothes lay scattered across the living room couch. A family portrait from Lewis and Lynn Mayos' vow renewal ceremony hangs proudly over the stairs.

    But the first of each month brings a reminder they only rent the house they've made their home. The problem is their landlord. The subsidiary of private-equity giant Blackstone Group surprised them recently by raising their rent $50, to $1,450 a month, and it has rejected their pleas to tame the jungle of weeds in their back yard....

                      Seven of the largest investors buying homes in the Tampa Bay area have in two years spent more than $1 billion, amassing 6,800 houses, a Tampa Bay Times analysis of property records, foreclosure auctions and Securities and Exchange Commission filings has found.
  2. Drones take flight as real estate tool, and much more

    Real Estate


    Buzzing into the warehouse, ascending gently through the light, the $1,000 DJI Phantom 2 drone looked every bit a blend of engineering and grace, the sleek embodiment of an increasingly ubiquitous technology, less hardware than work of art.

    Then it crashed.

    A curse could be heard. The drone scraped down 20 feet of concrete, landing with a cringe-inducing crack. But within a minute pilot Michael Blitch had reassembled his wounded drone, which chirped back to life with a playful robotic trill....

    Photographer Michael Blitch pilots his unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, as he demonstrates how he uses it to take videos and photos of a property at an industrial warehouse for rent in Tampa. Basically a radio-controlled helicopter with a GoPro, the drone is a new high-tech tool that allows real estate agents to present a better virtual tour of a property.
  3. Biggest new apartment building yet set for construction in downtown St. Petersburg

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — Builders will break ground soon on a downtown apartment building the size of a city block, adding to a flood of new rental construction in an area developers are betting is a gold mine of young urbanites.

    Allen Morris Residential said Wednesday it would start construction in July on eight stories of apartments planned for 700 First Ave. S, where the Coral Gables development firm just bought 2 acres for $5.25 million in cash....

    The Hermitage, an eight-story, 348-apartment complex the size of a city block, is expected to open by the end of 2015. The site is vacant and most recently has been used as a parking lot.
  4. Tampa Bay's No. 1 small top workplace: White Cloud Electronic Cigarettes



    White Cloud Electronic Cigarettes' sprawling new headquarters was, one might assume, designed by a teen with his mom's credit card. Nerf darts whistle among a stereo booming old-school hip-hop, an Xbox 360 and a game of ladder toss. Upstairs, executives convene for a meeting on beanbag chairs with their "head of legal," a parakeet. "We try to eschew the typical corporate persona," founder Matt Steingraber says, redundantly, after a recent company barbecue, while wearing owl-eyed Oakleys and a Cap'n Crunch T-shirt. "We don't want to come into work with people who hate us, or think we're a--holes, or unreasonable," he says, shifting atop his beanbag. "We're not overlords constantly injecting our own DNA into every little thing. Everyone has a say." Catching too many stoner vibes to take them seriously? Let this blow your mind: Whatever they're doing, it's working. Employees love White Cloud so much they voted it the best small business in the Tampa Bay Times' survey of Top Workplaces....

    White Cloud Electronic Cigarettes employee Cassandra Childress, of New Port Richey, center, dons a horse mask while goofing around with coworkers during a lunch gathering to celebrate the company’s new headquarters in Tarpon Springs.
  5. These Tampa Bay car dealers know how to create a top workplace


    CLEARWATER — If you're wondering, yes, car salespeople know many buyers think they're full of slime. The stereotype — that they're sly, shady and a few other words not fit for a family newspaper — is nearly as old as the automobile itself. It's a worry, too, for skeptics newly hired at a dealership. "When I first started here," said Crista Petruccelli, 45, an executive assistant at Dimmitt Automotive Group, "I thought it'd be a bunch of slick, y'know, salesman types." So it's perhaps a surprise that not one, not two, but three new car dealerships ranked high this year in the Tampa Bay Times' survey of Top Workplaces. Dimmitt, a Clearwater institution, finished in second place for midsize companies. Among the top 50 small businesses, Stingray Chevrolet in Plant City ranked No. 20, and Ed Morse Auto Plaza in Port Richey hit No. 32. So what's keeping employees at these car lots happy? It's not just the commissions from their small slice of 15 million cars and trucks sold across the country last year, though that has helped. Monthly vehicle sales have rebounded from a disastrous slowdown during the Great Recession, climbing 70 percent since a near-record low in 2009 and helping buoy once-struggling dealerships....

    John Nelson Jr., left, cooks lunch for Dimmitt employees, including Spencer Hyatt, right, of the service department. Once a month Nelson, also known as Sonny, drives in a large grill and cooks for the Clearwater employees.
  6. Tampa Bay homes sales sputter, but prices show steady climb

    Real Estate

    Fewer short sales and investor purchases led Tampa Bay home sales to sputter last month, but rising prices and a stabilizing housing market could fuel a strong spring selling season, new listing data show.

    About 2,900 homes here sold last month, down 7 percent from March 2013, extending a losing streak not seen here since 2007: Five of the past six months have seen sales drop lower than they were a year before....

  7. Sprawling Busch beachfront estate, fabled compound for rich and famous, on sale for $6.9 million

    Real Estate


    The fabled winter estate of Anheuser-Busch's silk-stocking pioneer, for decades a beachfront playground for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, splashed onto the market Tuesday with a $6.9 million price tag after years of legal strife.

    The opulent compound of late beer and baseball baron August A. Busch Jr. was one of Pass-a-Grille's most whispered-about estates, with three separate homes built in the early '50s on a coastal tract the size of a city block....

    The fabled winter estate of Anheuser-Busch’s wealthy pioneer is now being offered for sale at $6.9 million. Its expansive marina and docks have hosted many luxury yachts of the rich and famous.
  8. Tampa Bay home sales slow as prices grow, bouncing out short sellers and investors

    Real Estate

    Tampa Bay home buying slowed again last month as short sellers and investors continued their retreat, emboldening worries over a drooping housing market after a resurgent 2013.

    About 2,300 single-family homes sold here last month, 5 percent lower than February 2013, multiple listing service data show. Four of the last five months posted year-over-year sales slumps for the first time since 2010....

    About 2,300 single-family homes sold in the Tampa Bay area during February, while median home prices rose to $150,000.
  9. Settlement favors Duke Energy in tax dispute with Citrus County


    Citrus County has thrown in the towel in its multimillion-dollar tax dispute with Duke Energy, settling a 15-month battle over unpaid taxes that forced the county into a budget crisis.

    Duke, the rural county's largest taxpayer, will drop its lawsuits against the county in exchange for lower property appraisals and tax bills.

    Arguing Citrus had overvalued its power plant and other holdings, Duke paid only $41 million of its $96 million in county property taxes over the past two years. As part of a settlement, Duke will pay Citrus $7.5 million more....

  10. Big banks meet obligations of 'robo-signing' settlement, but homeowner relief falls short

    Real Estate

    Big banks are declaring victory over their obligations under the National Mortgage Settlement, but new reports show the multibillion-dollar "robo-signing" agreement has in many ways underwhelmed.

    Five banks accused of mortgage sins that helped worsen the housing crisis have officially offered more than $20 billion in credited relief, satisfying the terms of their 2012 settlement, an independent monitor announced Tuesday. ...

  11. From home sellers and agents, a sigh of relief over flood insurance overhaul move

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — When her daughter called with news of the Senate's flood-insurance overhaul this week, Keller Williams real estate agent Eve Sawicki decided she had to celebrate.

    Sawicki, a St. Petersburg agent who for months had watched sales of homes threatened by huge rate spikes go "dead in the water," popped a bottle of Korbel champagne.

    "What buyers have been very leery about is the uncertainty, this big black hole," Sawicki said. "What the Senate did for us … was remove that uncertainty from the market. Waterfront homes are once again going to sell."...

  12. Homeownership drops to historic low as renters abound

    Real Estate

    Tampa Bay homeownership, once so popular, continues to lose its appeal. The share of people here who own a home plunged last year to its lowest point since the U.S. Census Bureau started counting in 1986.

    Since peaking at 73 percent during the housing boom, homeownership here, or the rate of lived-in housing units that are owner-occupied, has fallen six straight years to 65 percent, lower than the Florida average....

    generic cutline about homes sales for web A sign advertises a pending residential real estate sale in Framingham, Mass., Thursday, April 26, 2012. The National Association of Realtors said the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy U.S. homes rose in March, the latest sign the battered housing market is slowly improving. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) MAWS101
  13. Bright House will unveil super-fast Internet line in Tampa Bay suburbs


    TAMPA — Bright House Networks will soon launch Florida's fastest home Internet connection in the Tampa Bay suburbs, offering a hyper-speed competitor to broadband powerhouses like Google Fiber, the cable company said Thursday.

    The ultrafast gigabit network, more than 10 times speedier than Bright House's top-line "Lightning" service, will debut this spring in model homes by Tampa subdivision developer Metro Development Group....

  14. Obama's push to expand overtime could mean big changes for Florida

    Working Life

    Florida's vast workforce of low-wage service workers and middle managers could see their paychecks swell because of President Barack Obama's directive this week to expand who can benefit from overtime pay.

    Employers can deny time-and-a-half pay to salaried workers logging more than 40 hours a week if they earn more than $455 a week, or as little as $24,000 a year, and are labeled administrative, executive or professional employees....

  15. The Wolf of Ulmerton Road: Largo securities seller becomes fugitive after losing hundreds of thousands in housing crash

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — A Largo mortgage broker who squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on risky and unlicensed securities has become a fugitive, after his failure to pay back devastated investors led a judge to order his arrest.

    John Steve Tsavaris, who attorneys say built his Home Saving Mortgage Corp. brokerage into a spurious investment mill that crumbled during the housing crash, was ordered in 2012 to pay back two small-time Florida investors who lost a total of more than $350,000....

    John Tsavaris still coached people to invest while his brokerage was in a death spiral.