Anyone looking to buy a house near downtown Tampa or downtown St. Petersburg knows all too well that sale prices have soared in recent years. Some of the biggest increases recently, however, have been in places far removed, a Tampa Bay Times analysis shows.
"The main thing with the Tampa Bay area is we’re getting to the point where we’re pricing out first-time buyers in certain areas and they’re having to expand into areas they didn’t think of before,'' said Lennon Rarick, a Tampa real estate agent.
Now prices in those areas are climbing too.
The Times compared prices of single-family homes sold in April, May and June of 2018 to those sold in the same period this year (the most recent period for which figures are available). We looked at every ZIP code area in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties — all 167 of them — to identify the 10 ZIPs with the biggest price increases in each county.
Hardly surprising was that ZIPs that include the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa made the list. But so did ZIPs in Oldsmar, Plant City, Thonotosassa and north Ruskin.
The biggest jump of all — 107 percent — was in Crystal Beach, a tucked-away waterfront community in northern Pinellas.
"It’s certainly become a more affordable option as things in Belleair, Belleair Beach and Clearwater Beach increase,'' said broker Will Wiard. He sold a gulf-front house in Crystal Beach for $1.085 million in June although half of the houses bought between April and then went for less than $650,000.
The ZIPs including Belleair and Belleair Shore also made the list because they too seem affordable compared to certain other areas.
"We’re getting quite a few people leaving South Tampa because prices there have gotten a little out of control,'' Wiard said. "They realize they can get a lot more for their money and live a great lifestyle on the water so they’re willing to commute.''
A big draw, he added, has been the Pelican Golf Club, a former public course that the town of Belleair sold to a wealthy family two years ago. Now a posh private club, it offers the ambiance of Tampa’s Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club although it’s in an area with considerably lower prices than in Palma Ceia.
In Hillsborough, the biggest price jump was in the ZIP that includes Ybor City with its bars, restaurants and funky Latin charm. While prices soared 45 percent from last year, the median as of June was still only $159,950.
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"Ybor is on fire,'' said Rarick, who recently sold his own Ybor City home because the value had appreciated so much. "If you want to be remotely near downtown (Tampa), that’s the go-to neighborhood.''
A three-month sample of home sales is by nature limited, and one or two unusually large or small sales can skew prices, especially in an area with relatively few sales. To help account for that, the Times used median prices — median means that as many houses sold below that figure as above it.
The analysis found, however, that prices in Pinellas shot up more than those in Hillsborough — a finding consistent with monthly countywide sales figures released by Florida Realtors over the past year. Of the 45 Pinellas ZIPs with sales in the time periods under comparison, 15 recorded increases of 15 percent or more. In Hillsborough, just three of the 40 ZIPs hit that mark.
Among the biggest gainers were ZIP Code areas in eastern and southern Hillsborough, where buyers willing to endure often torturous commutes can get considerably more house for the money than they could in Tampa.
"South Shore,'' as the southern part of the county is now called, is also popular with hedge funds and huge real estate investment firms. They began snapping up foreclosed single-family homes after the 2008 housing crash and have continued to purchase houses to rent out.
"The biggest factor there are these institutional buyers,'' Wiard said of the Apollo Beach/north Ruskin area.. "They’re really driving the market.''
Hedge funds also are buying houses in Plant City, where one ZIP code area saw a 16.5 percent price jump in a year. First-time buyers and others who need mortgages often find they can’t compete against the funds, which pay in cash with no appraisal required.
"A seller is going to want cash offers over financing any day,'' said Trent Davis, a Hillsborough Realtor.
But for those individual buyers who can score a deal, eastern Hillsborough is one of the most affordable places in a metro area where more and more communities are getting priced out of range for the average wage earner.
"If you were to move 15 years ago, people would say, ‘Why did you move out to Plant City, it’s way out there,’ '' Davis said. "But the growth there has been pretty strong and you’re still in relative proximity to all the major things Tampa has to offer without paying the big price tag.''
Tampa Bay ZIP code areas with biggest price gains
Between April-June 2018 and April-June 2019*
34681: Crystal Beach — 107 percent
33701: Downtown St. Petersburg — 44 percent
33771: Largo — 28.7 percent
34677: Oldsmar, East Lake — 27.7 percent
33786: Belleair Shore — 22 percent
33703: St. Petersburg/Shore Acres — 20 percent
33702: North St. Petersburg/ Gandy Boulevard — 19 percent
33761: Clearwater/Countryside — 17 percent
33756: Belleair — 15.7 percent
33760: Clearwater —15.6 percent
33605: Tampa/Ybor City —- 45 percent
33602: Tampa Heights, downtown Tampa — 39 percent
33566: Plant City — 16.5 percent
33619: Clair-Mel — 14 percent
33527: Dover — 12.2 percent
33592: Thonotosassa —11.5 percent
33612: Tampa/ Busch Boulevard to Fletcher Avenue —11.3 percent
33625: Tampa/Carrollwood — 9.5 percent
33572: Apollo Beach/north Ruskin — 9.2 percent
33549: (tie) Lutz — 8.5 percent
33629: (tie) Tampa/Palma Ceia — 8.5 percent
* Single-family homes
Source: Florida Realtors