Is Tampa Bay's real estate market Florida's best-kept secret?

Is Tampa Bay’s real estate market Florida’s best-kept secret? A recent real estate conference in Miami seemed to indicate it might be. Buyers might find St. Petersburg’s Glasshouse, called Tampa Bay’s most unique penthouse condo, fits the bill. Photo Courtesy Smith & Associates Real Estate .
Is Tampa Bay’s real estate market Florida’s best-kept secret? A recent real estate conference in Miami seemed to indicate it might be. Buyers might find St. Petersburg’s Glasshouse, called Tampa Bay’s most unique penthouse condo, fits the bill. Photo Courtesy Smith & Associates Real Estate .
Published July 10, 2015

MIAMI — Could Nashville be a major competitor to Tampa Bay? Will America's "historical" rent crisis affect bay area home sales? Will fewer Canadians be buying?

And does Tampa Bay have an identity crisis?

Those were among the questions that popped to mind when I and other journalists recently attended the annual conference of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, or NAREE, in Miami. We heard from dozens of real estate experts who offered opinions, forecasts and titillating tidbits about "uber-wealthy" home buyers.

One thing that jumped out at me while talking with the experts and fellow reporters: As a real estate market, Tampa Bay is both undervalued and relatively unknown.

Brian Bandell of the South Florida Business Journal said there are so many luxury home sales in his part of the state that he doesn't cover anything under $10 million. Tampa Bay hasn't had a sale anywhere near that price since 2012.

With their currencies dropping against the dollar, some foreign buyers no longer can afford those lofty South Florida prices and are turning to less expensive places. Asked to name what he called "under-the-radar markets," Frank Malpica of ERA didn't mention Tampa Bay, but instead offered the following: Amelia Island near Jacksonville; Lake Norman north of Charlotte, N.C. (a favorite of NASCAR drivers) and Chautauqua Lake in western New York.

Among larger metro areas, Nashville is popular because of its many universities and its "rich music history," Malpica noted.

He was joined on a panel by Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Miami Association of Realtors, who said all Florida markets are "really strong" when it comes to international buyers. But she didn't mention Tampa Bay, either; the only markets outside of South Florida she cited were Orlando and Sarasota.

Sarasota, she added, "is a higher price point than most on the West Coast."

Hey, bay area Realtors and chamber of commerce types, is there an opportunity here? Seems like Tampa Bay, with a marketing campaign of "Florida's best kept secret," could compete with any of those aforementioned areas.

(One bummer: Even Tampa Bay might be getting too expensive for Canadians, who make up its largest share of foreign buyers. With the Canadian dollar down 15 percent and housing prices up 10 percent, don't expect to see many of our Northern neighbors in the market this year).

• • •

Over the three days of the NAREE conference, it wasn't surprising to repeatedly hear the word "millennials."

Like other metro areas, Tampa Bay has plenty of them — well-educated, technologically savvy young people who will have a huge impact on the real estate industry in coming years.

For now, millennials seem content to stay in the rental complexes that property owners are rushing to build or upgrade with fitness centers, dog parks and other amenities to make up for the shortage of living space.

As they marry and start families, though, millennials will seek the same thing their parents did.

"We find that millennials have very conventional views," said Stan Humphries, chief economist for the online real estate site Zillow. "They want to own their own homes. They will be a very big source of demand."

But here's where desire bumps into what Humphries calls "the historical crisis in providing affordable rents."

As a result of the 2008 real estate crash, millions of Americans lost their homes and have been forced to rent. That has driven rents to their highest levels in years — $2,000 a month or more in some of Tampa Bay's newer complexes.

For millennials hoping to buy, "The biggest problem is the down payment," Humphries said. "It's a vicious cycle, the rents are so high they can't afford a down payment."

So, do developers keep building rental apartments? Or, as millennials get older, do developers find a way to build reasonably priced homes where millennials want to be — near downtown areas like those of Tampa and St. Petersburg?

Panelists didn't have good answers. But as Nela Richardson, chief economist for the online brokerage Redfin, put it, "That generation can have some profound effects on real estate."

Some other nuggets from the NAREE conference:

• Zillow, and other websites with millions of listings are also having a huge impact on the residential real estate business: 90 percent of home searches today start online. While panelists predicted Realtors will still play a role 10 years from now, their commissions likely will be less.

• Golf courses in residential communities no longer are the big draws they once were. With many younger people bored by a game that can take hours to play, hundreds of courses have been abandoned or built on. The exception: golf courses in luxury communities. "It's an ego-driven thing; people love saying, 'We've been on the course in Aspen or Nantucket,' " said John Klemish of West Virginia's fabled Greenbrier resort, with its five championship courses.

• Money can't buy everything. Many uber-wealthy buyers want move-in-ready homes complete with furnishings. "I find a lot of people don't have taste. They like things done for them," said Katrina Campins, a Trump International Realty broker whose clients include celebrities and professional athletes.

Campins, who appeared on the first season of The Apprentice hosted by Donald Trump, said the uber-wealthy are "very concerned about their cars," often requiring space for 10 or 15 vehicles. "We did a transaction where the buyers will have to build a parking garage and turn a guest house into parking," she said.

That tends to be a male thing, though.

Noted Campins: "The wife really doesn't care, as long as the house is nice inside and has a great view."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.