As CEO of Smith & Associates, Tampa Bay’s largest independent locally owned real estate brokerage, Bob Glaser has seen explosive growth in the market. His firm is known for luxury properties — it handled the $22.5 million sale of baseball star Derek Jeter’s Tampa home and has been the agent for most of the area’s major condo towers. Last year, Smith launched a foundation through which it awarded almost $250,000 in grants to community organizations, and it is now soliciting requests for this year’s donations. Glaser recently spoke with Bay. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe the overall state of Tamp Bay’s residential market now?
In most price ranges the ability to find a home in good condition that’s financeable, that meets insurance qualifications is not great. But even with a little less units, a little bit less activity, the volume and average price kept growing. 2021 was a high year but 2022 was an equally exciting year for everyone in real estate. Of course, home buyers, sellers and investors quieted down in the fall with rates rising, the elections and inflation concerns so it took a little longer to sell but December ticked up. As the new year began, we saw that pricing might be down slightly, maybe 3 to 5 percent in certain price ranges and areas.
How did Smith become so dominant in Tampa Bay’s condo market?
The company was founded in 1969 as an urban planning company so that was the nature of the brand, to be involved in a lot of subdivisions — Tampa Palms, Hunter’s Green, out at the beaches. There were very few condos in the ′70s in Tampa, where we specialized. One building at a time, we grew the market by converting rentals to condos. Then we got a foothold in St. Pete about 20 years ago. In that period we’ve represented 19 buildings, so we’ve built teams that specialized in bringing developments to market and have secured strong relations with equity lenders around the U.S. As Tampa Bay grew, it had to have more condos because there was limited land. You’ve got to go up.
What percentage of high-end condos today are purchased with cash?
It’s 70% cash. For buyers who financed, most locked in rates by February, March or April of ′22 so they were likely ahead of the swing of rising rates.
What percentage of condo buyers are from other states?
About 35%. It’s California, the Midwest, the New York corridor to Boston and a smaller amount moving down from the Southeast. It’s always been the Midwest but added to the mix is California. It’s not necessarily because of the politics in California, people just have better opportunities now to try new locations. Tampa Bay feels crowded to longtime residents but it’s nothing compared to other states. It’s still easier to live in Tampa Bay than in other cities its size.
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Are there many Latin American buyers?
Not necessarily but we have seen that Miami residents are locating to our area to escape that region’s traffic and hecticness.
Do many buyers flip units or move to newer condominiums as they are built?
There has been great price appreciation in all of the buildings. As ONE St. Petersburg came into play in 2018 it was the first true big tower and people who bought in experienced great appreciation. Because of that, they could move on to the next condo tower. Many moved on to Saltaire, which sold out and closed last year. Another thing that occurred — many people in large towers realized they like smaller buildings, which have more privacy. As a result, towers like The Altura and The Nolen garnered interest. In these smaller towers you pay more for the high-end amenities but there are fewer people to share them with.
As one with a fear of heights, I can’t image living 40 stories off the ground. Do many people really want to live that high?
Initially the center of the building is what sells first, that’s floors 15 to 20, but there are plenty of people wanting the penthouse or upper floors because they love the views, they love the entertaining factor of walking out on the balcony.
Didn’t you have the 34th-floor penthouse in Signature Place in St. Petersburg at one time?
My ears popped every time I went up there. I went from there to the 17th floor of Bliss, then during COVID I decided to go back to single family, in Hyde Park. Now I’m in the Old Northeast. I’ve tried all the best places.
Property insurance rates in Florida have soared, partly due to the collapse of a South Florida condominium. Will that hurt the condo market here?
Insurance rates are beginning to get high so older properties could suffer. That’s cause for people to move to new-construction buildings. Some of the Pinellas insurance hikes have led to relocations to the new buildings going up in downtown St. Pete.
Do you think downtown St. Pete is getting overbuilt with condo towers?
You’ve got a very big rental community in the St. Pete market so all the rental towers are tall. In downtown you’ve got only a few condos being built currently — Art House, The Nolen and 400 Central. It feels like a growth spurt but it’s calmed down. People are waiting to build until the redevelopment of Tropicana Field starts.