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PINELLAS-PASCO PARADE OF HOMES // Tampa Bay is becoming a blended housing market

The Parade of Homes that opens today is a first _ a joint Pinellas-Pasco showcase of new homes _ acknowledging what has become increasingly obvious in recent years: that the Tampa Bay area is one big market for residential real estate.

"When you drive up the corridor" along East Lake Road in North Pinellas, "you think you're in one market area, not two," said Marvin Rose, who tracks the local housing industry.

So why not erase the county line as an artificial boundary between markets? Buyers are doing it already, driving past the nearly sold-out and increasingly expensive subdivisions in North Pinellas and heading for more affordable, new developments in Pasco.

The same thing is happening in Hillsborough, where buyers who feel squeezed by home prices there are turning to subdivisions just across the Pasco line, in Wesley Chapel and Lutz and Land O'Lakes.

"We're seeing more and more working people from Tampa and Clearwater coming a little farther north," said Thelma Samuelsen of Samuelsen Builders, which has several models at Trinity, a 3,800-acre planned community just north of the Pinellas line in southwest Pasco. Those are buyers who feel priced out and built out of Hillsborough and North Pinellas, she said, and they believe "they get a little more for their money" in Pasco.

"The demographics are very much the same," said Bob Shelton, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Pasco County. "This year Pinellas and Pasco are combining, and we're looking to the possibility of combining with Hillsborough in the future."

Eighty homes will be on display through March 23 at sites around Pinellas and Pasco. See the box on Page XD for times and details.

In another first, this year the Remodelors Council of the Contractors & Builders Association of Pinellas will have a mini-parade. Next Sunday, March 16, seven private homes will be open from noon to 5 p.m. to showcase remodeling projects. The contractors and some of the homeowners will be on hand to answer questions. (The box on Page XD has details about this event as well.)

The remodeling parade, too, is a reflection of changing times. As the huge tracts of land in North Pinellas are built out, some builders will have to shift the focus of their work from new construction to remodeling.

"In five years, 20 percent of my business will be new construction and 80 percent will be renovation and remodeling," said James Rosenbluth of Shelter South, president of the Pinellas builders group. The percentages are now just the opposite, he said.

The step toward a joint parade may be just the beginning. Builders are considering a fall parade that will include Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough. Talks are under way that could lead to one tri-county contractors and builders association, Rosenbluth and others said. They believe one organization could provide economies of scale and better member service.

Why are buyers heading north? They point to these attractions:

Lower land prices in Pasco, and lower impact fees, which manifest themselves in lower home prices. The average new single-family home in Pinellas costs $220,000; in Hillsborough, $155,000; in Pasco, $125,000, according to Rose.

Lower taxes. Lower insurance costs.

Good schools. "The growth of the educational system and new facilities" in Pasco are strong draws for her customers, said Gina Debbs, a sales agent with Nohl Crest Homes at Trinity.

Less congestion on the roads. "The roads are better on the Pasco side because of the improvements Trinity itself has made," Rose remarked. Of course, as more people move to Pasco, the more crowded those roads will become.

"What they looked for here is gone, and they have to turn to Pasco to find it," Rosenbluth said. What he had in mind, he said, was lack of congestion and lower prices.

Said Randy Warner, who tracks the local housing market for Tampa-based American Metro/Study: "I think buyers are more and more saying it's acceptable to buy in Pasco as a location. I do expect that to continue since most of the Pinellas projects will be built out in the next few years."

The selection in Pinellas is becoming more and more limited, he said, and that shortage drives up prices. "So Pasco becomes more and more appealing due to its price or value," Warner said. Longtime Pinellas builders also will move across the line to offer their products in Pasco.

Rose, who produces Rose Residential Reports from his Tarpon Springs office, says the line between Pinellas and Pasco "has been erased for several years. The opening of Trinity erased that line." Eventually 10,000 homes will be built for 22,000 residents at Trinity, where retail, industrial, recreational and other development is planned by 2010.

"East Lake Woodlands is essentially sold out now, and Lansbrook has another two or three years left," Rose said, referring to two large planned communities on East Lake Road in North Pinellas. "The same with Ridgemoor and Crescent Oaks," two other developments in the same area. "Another two or three years and there will be very few new homes to buy on the Pinellas side of the line."

"A lot of the home-buying population in Central and West Pasco are Pinellas and Hillsborough move-up buyers," said Dan Aldridge, president of the Building Industry Association of Pasco and a developer of Trinity. "The current residents in either of those two counties are looking for more home at a lesser price and a little different of a lifestyle than they can find in Pinellas or Hillsborough, and they can find that in Pasco."

Years ago, he said, Pasco buyers were primarily concerned with price. Now, he said, Pasco is "hopefully growing up a little, and there is little to be sacrificed if people move out of Pinellas or Hillsborough to live in Pasco."

Pinellas-Pasco Parade of Homes

What: Joint parade of homes sponsored by the Contractors & Builders Association of Pinellas County and the Building Industry Association of Pasco County. Showcase of new construction featuring 80 homes at sites in both counties.

When: Today through March 23. Homes are open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Where: At sites around the two counties. Models are marked with blue-and-white signs.

What else: From noon to 5 p.m. March 16, seven remodeled homes will be open for tours. The remodelers and some of the homeowners will answer questions. Details on those homes appear in the Parade of Homes tabloid.

More information: Tabloids with maps and descriptions of the models will be distributed in editions of the Sunday Times in Pinellas and Pasco counties. They are also available at the models and from the builders associations in both counties. Call the Pinellas CBA at 545-5536, or the Pasco BIA at (813) 948-6688.

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