The house in Gulfport was just 1,100 square feet and needed major updating. The house in St. Petersburg had been remodeled and was near a waterfront park. The house in Seminole had a pool and a fireplace.
Although dissimilar in many ways, each house sold for $253,000 in May. That was exactly the median price of all 1,279 single-family homes sold in Pinellas County that month and is a good gauge of what buyers are willing — and able — to pay in a robust real estate market.
Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties had different median prices in May. But those, too, reflected price points attractive to buyers there, especially first-time buyers.
Pasco's $215,000 median, for example, "is kind of entry-level nowadays," said agent Mark Ross, who sold a house in booming Land O' Lakes for that amount in May. "A lot of houses I put on the market in this price range have multiple offers because at $215,000 and less, there really are almost no homes (in that area)."
"Median price" means that exactly half the homes in a county sell for more than that price and exactly half sell for less. Real estate experts say the median price is generally a better measure of the market than the average price, which can be skewed by a few very high or very low sales.
Since the Tampa Bay area began to recover from the housing crash, median prices have steadily risen. In May, the latest month for which figures are available, the median price for the four-county area as a whole reached $235,000. Hernando had the lowest median ($188,585) and Hillsborough the second highest ($251,245).
So if you're in the market for a house these days, what can you expect to get for around the median price? Based on sales in May, we found:
• Median-price houses in Pasco and Hernando generally are bigger and newer than those in Pinellas and Hillsborough.
• Median-price houses are almost non-existent along the Pinellas beaches and in neighborhoods close to downtowns, like Davis Islands in Tampa and the Old Northeast, Snell Isle and Crescent Lake areas of St. Petersburg.
• You need to move fast. Of the 14 houses in the bay area that sold for the median price or close to it in May, eight went under contract in less than two weeks.
A four-bedroom, two-bath house in New Tampa found a buyer in just three days at $252,000, slightly above Hillsborough's median price. Although the kitchen in the 18-year-old home needed updating, agent Barnett Walker said staging and professional photos helped draw buyers' attention away from a potential negative and focus it on the "really, big beautiful fenced yard'' and the "meticulously maintained'' interior.
"It being a seller's market and such low inventory, the fact it was so well-kept had a lot to do with it," Walker said. "In the first day, we had two full asking-price offers."
Also under contract for $252,000 in less than a week was a split- level house with roof deck near Tampa's Lowry Park. An investor bought it at a foreclosure sale in 2012, did what agent Chris Henry calls a "first-class rehab" and then flipped it.
"So this lady took excellent care of it and made a few important additions of her own, like a tin-roof porch all away across the back," Henry said. "That was kind of like the cherry on top. I ended up with five offers and three higher than the list price."
In Hernando, the smallest supply of houses in six years is driving up prices although they remain well below those elsewhere in the Tampa Bay area. A 2,035-square-foot house in Spring Hill sold in May for $188,000 — slightly under Hernando's median — even though it was the second-largest house among all those included in this survey.
"Hernando is very desirable," said agent Andrew Dickinson, "because if you compare the price per square foot, we are among the lowest in the state."
Like other agents who sold median-priced homes in May, Dickinson expects the median to keep climbing, even though rising interest rates could push some people out of the market.
"The inventory is low, and that's frustrating buyers," he said. "The median-price home is extremely competitive, so there usually are multiple offers."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabaycom or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.