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News on MacDill jars home sellers

Jack Rees, who has already lowered the asking price of his South Tampa home three times in a year, thinks maybe it's time to lower it again. News that a federal commission will study closing down the nearby MacDill Air Force Base makes Rees think his $15,000 reduction may not be enough.

"If they close MacDill down, then we better figure on staying here for a while," said the 61-year-old mechanic, who wants to retire.

While a possible closing is at least three years away, the uncertainty surrounding the base's future already seems to be affecting the local real estate markets.

Home sellers such as Rees, who are already enduring a sluggish market, said Saturday they were considering lowering their asking prices again. Some military personnel have put their homes on the market, trying to beat the rush. One seller recently increased the asking price of his home, anticipating that the base could become a park or a luxury-home development.

A military man stationed at the base, who had hoped to settle down in the area, recently locked himself into buying a home. He now wishes he hadn't.

"I think (home sellers) are in shock about the possibility of MacDill closing," said Norma Madeo, a Tampa real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential. "It's probably going to drive the prices down once we get a lot of homes on the market."

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission said Friday it will study a total shutdown of MacDill, a move that could cost the area 8,000 military and civilian jobs. In April, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney earmarked the base for only a partial closure.

Inside some area homes, especially those with For Sale signs out front, Friday's news brought fear, some panic and a lot of confusion.

"It's kind of scary," said Sgt. Walt Carlisle, an eight-year military veteran who recently put a deposit on a neighborhood home. "I can't get out of buying this house."

Closing down the base will bring an end to a decades-old rhythm in the MacDill neighborhoods, Carlisle said. Military personnel could buy a house and anticipate selling it at a profit to another new arrival.

"It's going to mess me up pretty bad," Carlisle said.

Homeowner Allan Jahmae was counting on the military market to sell his home. A retired Hillsborough County sheriff's officer, Jahmae said he can't afford his home anymore.

Jahmae said Saturday he would be talking with his real estate agent about lowering his asking price.

Sue Trenkle is a teacher who has been trying to sell her home for three months. Potential buyers have been scarce, especially since Cheney announced the original plans for the base.

The announcement of the study to close the base hasn't raised her hopes.

"We've all been pretty optimistic until yesterday," Trenkle said. "Now I don't expect anybody to look at it."

But like other home sellers, Trenkle still has hopes that the potential base closing could help transform her neighborhood. A developer could buy the land and build nice homes, she said. Without the jet noise, her property value would increase. New business could spring up in the area.

"I refuse to let all this to get me down," Trenkle said. "I just can't afford to."

Real estate agent Ordy Hendry said home sellers have been practicing a sort of group denial since Cheney's announcement in April.

"Dealing with it as a reality is rather difficult. It's such an integral part of the community," Hendry said. "It's a kind of like, you hope if you ignore it it will go away."