CLEARWATER — In 2005, lenders in the Tampa Bay area were handing out mortgage money to almost anyone who walked through the door. Prices hit their highest levels ever as buyers — many with 100 percent financing — jumped into a real estate market that seemed to have nowhere to go but up.
Within a few years, the folly of easy credit became apparent. The housing market crashed, the nation fell into recession, people lost their jobs and then their houses.
As Tampa Bay cycled through boom, bust and back to boom, 360 houses in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties sold at least five times between 2005 and this November, property appraiser records show. None tells the story of the bay area’s turbulent real estate market better than a certain house on Pineview Avenue in Clearwater.
Since 2005, the house has been flipped and foreclosed. It has had seven different owners, including a retired police chief, a Coast Guard family and a couple fleeing exorbitant home prices in California. It’s been the hook for a Craiglist scam.
Catherine Bishop was just nine months old in 1958 when her parents built the ranch-style house south of Druid Road and east of Missouri Avenue. With four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage, it was typical of the millions of houses built in the post-war era as the car became central to American life and families were swelling in size with the kids of the baby boom generation.
Bishop remembers that part of Clearwater as a wonderful place to grow up.
“It was full of orange groves and tangerine groves,” she said. “There were a lot of new houses going up and we used to play on the rafters as they were being built.”
The house stayed in the family for almost 30 years. After Bishop’s brother sold it in 1985, it changed hands ever more frequently as the bay area’s real estate market became a frenzy of buying and selling.
In 2004, a woman named Marie Pappas bought the house. She belonged to the BAJA Investment Group, a St. Petersburg investment club whose members had begun snapping up properties two years earlier. By then, the house was nearly a half century old, in foreclosure and in need of work. Pappas paid $156,900 for it.
Prices rocketed up over the next two years until they hit what would be their peak in mid-2006. Pappas put the house back on the market for $219,000. Judging from a few dark, blurry photos on the Multiple Listing Service, she hadn’t done much to it except replace the roof.
“HANDYMAN SPECIAL,” read the description. “4/2/2 pool home can be a true beauty...A diamond-in-the-rough just waiting to be polished to its true shine!”
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Pappas sold the house two months later for $227,000 — a gross profit of 45 percent. (She couldn’t be reached for comment but records show the investment club remained active until 2009.)
The new owners were a young couple with a toddler. He worked in telecommunications, she as a receptionist. They financed all but $1,000 of the purchase price with two loans from Fremont Investment and Loan, one of many “subprime” companies that specialized in lending to borrowers with shaky credit, no assets and even no income. Though risky, the loans could be bundled into securities and sold to investors eager for hefty returns.
Just three months after the couple bought the house in June 2006, prices nationwide dropped for the first time in 11 years. Demand had weakened and interest rates were going up. As prices continued to fall, people couldn’t sell their homes for what they owed nor could they afford the payments on high-interest loans. Banks and other investors were stuck with worthless mortgage-backed securities.
By Christmas 2007, the nation was in the throes of the Great Recession. Like thousands of other Tampa Bay borrowers, the owners of the Pineview house defaulted on their mortgage. The husband declared bankruptcy in 2009 to try to stave off foreclosure but the case was dismissed when he failed to make payments on a reorganization plan. The couple divorced, and the house went back on the market in April 2012 for $111,600 — less than half of what they had paid for it six years earlier.
"BANK OWNED PROPERTY SOLD AS IS WITHOUT REPAIR OR WARRANTY,'' read the description this time. “SELLING AND LISTING AGENT HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF PROPERTY HISTORY, NO DISCLOSURES SUPPLIED.”
Tampa Bay’s real estate market was still depressed. The house sat empty for four months until John Gonska bought it from the bank for $93,199.
Gonska had a background in finance, and his wife, Deb, is a real estate agent. Though the house was in what they called "pretty bad shape,'' they thought the neighborhood had potential.
“That one was our very first flip,” Gonska said. “We did a lot to it, we over-improved it.”
Six months later, in April 2013, they put the house back on the market for $239,000. Now with 19 professional-looking photos, the listing showed what seemed to be an entirely different house inside.
“WOW! This 4br 2b 2car garage with oversized yard and pool will leave you speechless. The brand new kitchen includes real wood cabinets, Whirlpool stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, a breakfast bar and pantry. The spacious bathrooms offer granite and travertine surfaces with wood cabinets ... A rare find so come and see for yourself before someone else falls in love!”
In less than two weeks, the Gonskas had a contract for $238,000. The buyers this time were Shannon Ryan, a registered nurse, and her husband, Chase, a boatswain in the Coast Guard. He was being transferred from New Jersey to Coast Guard Sector St. Pete but since he was at sea for months, Ryan flew down to look for a house. She couldn’t find anything but was unable to come back. Her Realtor, carrying on the hunt, called her about the house on Pineview.
"I said, “go look at it right now,'” Ryan recalled. "She went and sent me a video and I said, ‘make an offer.’ ''
Ryan never saw the house in person until the day before the family moved in. To announce the relocation, they sent photos of their 2-year son, Henry, in a kiddie car out front.
"I loved that house, I wish we were still there,'' Ryan said. "It was the first house we bought, and I have a special place in my heart for it.''
But the family had to leave for North Carolina, where her husband had been transferred. In 2016 they called Deb Gonska to help sell the house.
The Gonskas were surprised to see how much the area had changed in three years. Other houses had also been upgraded, their yards attractively landscaped.
“From the time we bought to the time they sold, the neighborhood was like, wow!” John Gonska said.
In what was now a very desirable though still relatively affordable area, the house was on the market just two days. Raina and Darryl Holliday got it for $277,000— $5,000 more than the asking price.
The Hollidays had met in St. Cloud, where he had served as police chief and she as a captain. After retirement, they spent a few years in North Carolina but decided to return to Florida.
“We liked the location, not too far from the beach,” Raina Holliday said of the Pineview house. “The neighborhood was quiet, a lot of older people, very friendly. What impressed us was that while the houses were older, everybody took care of their homes.”
The Hollidays added a spa, a dock and lush tropical foliage, creating a mini-resort.
“We wanted a complete beach outdoor experience — pool, sand, rocks, spa, and hammocks,” she said. " A retreat in our own back yard.''
In 2017, wanderlust struck and the Hollidays decided to tour the country by motorhome. They listed the house for $319,900. This time there were 25 photos showing its attributes.
“DON’T MISS THIS MAGNIFICENT, HIDDEN GEM THAT IS ONLY 10 MINUTES TO CLEARWATER BEACH AND EVEN CLOSER TO RESTAURANTS, SHOPPING CENTERS AND MUCH MORE ... PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING IN THIS HOME HAS BEEN UPDATED IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS."
At the time the house went back on the market, Mallory and Keith Lynch were living in San Francisco and realizing they couldn’t afford anything anywhere near there. Via the internet and real estate sites such as Zillow, she began investigating areas around the country, especially Florida since they had relatives in Spring Hill and Jupiter.
"I wasn’t a big fan of the East Coast because of hurricanes,'' she said. "I looked in Dunedin, it was a little too far north for my husband’s job, and Seminole was a little too far south.''
She finally settled on Clearwater: "The weather is good, the job market is good, there’s lots to do and there’s a good demographic of people.''
Lynch, who does data analysis for an advertising company, fell in love with the very first place she and her husband looked at — the house on Pineview. It was already under contract, but in a bit of serendipity, that deal fell through. In the fall of 2017, the Lynches bought the house for $320,000.
The couple liked that the place was move-in ready. They acquired patio furniture, a treadmill and other items from the Hollidays, who sold or gave away almost everything they owned before setting off in their motorhome. The street, a bit hilly, reminded Lynch of where she grew up in California.
Their neighbor in back turned out to be Cathy Bishop, whose parents built the house 61 years ago.
Last summer, the Lynches were startled by a call from their Realtor. He said someone had posted the house on Craiglist and had collected more than $1,000 from a woman who wanted to rent it. Unable to contact the person again, the woman looked online, found an ad from when the house was on the market and called the Realtor. That’s when she learned the house had been sold and that she had been scammed.
"July 4th would have been the move-in weekend,'' said Lynch, who was in Lake Tahoe then with her husband, a project manager for an electric company.
In the two years that the Lynches have been in the house, home prices have steadily risen. Between September of last year and this September, the 33756 ZIP code area, which includes their part of Clearwater, tallied among the biggest percentage increases of any ZIP in the Tampa Bay area.
Do the Lynches plan to sell and reap a profit? "No,'' she said. "We’re probably going to die in this house.''
Once again, the house on Pineview has become a home.