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What a millennial who sells homes to millennials thinks of Tampa Bay's housing market

While attending the University of South Florida, Ashley Christie worked at a title company and grew interested in real estate. She got her license, became active in the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors and in 2014 was named the organization's Rookie of the Year. The city of Tampa also selected her to be the exclusive listing agent for 11 affordable new homes built as part of a project to revitalize the Sulphur Springs area, once a popular resort but plagued by a high crime rate in recent years.

A Tampa native, Christie, 26, is one of the nation's 87 million millennials — young adults ages 18 to 34 — whose home-buying activities will be key to the future of the housing industry. In this interview with the Tampa Bay Times, she talks about selling to millennials, the Sulphur Springs project and hot Tampa neighborhoods like rapidly gentrifying Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

As a millennial yourself do you use social media to market to other millennials?

I use a Facebook page, I have a Twitter account. I probably should utilize them a little more. In this day and age, when people meet you, they are going to go on your social media accounts to see what you've done.

Studies have found that millennials dream of home ownership but are being held back because they have lower incomes than previous generations. Of the millennials who are ready to buy, what do they want?

Basically the ones that I work with are looking for homes in the range of $100,000 and $200,000, typically three-bedroom, two-bath. Some know that it will be their starter home, others are planning for the future. They want to be close to where they work.

But aren't homes that size and price in really short supply in the Tampa Bay area?

With the inventory how it is, it can make it difficult. Yes, there are those homes that come up in that price range but there might be multiple offers. Some of these properties are owned by investors and have been rehabbed and are now selling as retail properties so it depends on if the property needs a lot of work and if there's potential competition.

Are millennials willing to put the sweat into a fixer-upper?

Some buyers go for homes that are move-in ready. But with looking and not finding exactly what they want and the inventory being low, they've opened up to considering maybe financing with a rehab loan. My opinion is that move-in ready, though, is the preferred route to go.

One concern is that many millennials are paying so much in rent they can't afford a down payment. Do you see that?

Overall, getting through the financing process can be challenging. There are a lot of items required, but I think the biggest challenge is to come up with the down payment. There are FHA (mortgages) with 3 and a half percent down but on top of that they're going to have to have a few thousand for closing costs. And maybe if their income is not that high they'll get approved for a certain amount but now they're finding low inventory in that price range.

What I tell people is that the process can be frustrating but in the end you're going to own a home and settle down and it will all be worth it.

Do you own a home?

(Laughs) No, I'm still saving up for it but I'll be looking in, like, the Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights areas.

Those two areas close to downtown Tampa have become very trendy, what with their cute older homes, restaurants and galleries. Unfortunately for buyers, the prices are going up. Is that one reason the city is trying to revitalize Sulphur Springs (bounded by the Hillsborough River, I-275, Busch Boulevard and Rowlett Park Drive)?

The area doesn't have a good reputation and I know that there's a lot of energy and effort being put into the area to change that and this project really did help.

What did the project entail?

These were vacant properties that the city had acquired. They had builders involved and put out for contract 11 brand-new homes. There were income restrictions and the city offered down payment assistance, up to $14,999 for owner-occupants. It really made this an affordable option. All 11 homes sold quickly.

Given that the houses cost only $83,000 to $87,000, do they look like much?

They had front porches, like a bungalow but more modern. They were three-bedroom/two bath and four bedroom/two bath. Both models had a one-car garage and ranged from about 1,300 to a little over 1,400 square feet. Inside, they were really nice, with wood cabinets and tile and laminate floors. They were energy star certified so that will help with utility bills.

Who were the buyers?

Some had grown up in Sulphur Springs and moved out, and when this project came about they decided to move back. I had first-time buyers like one who had rented for 30 years. This opportunity came up and with down payment assistance and other assistance, her payments were very low. Most of the payments were under $800 a month (including taxes and insurance) when you know rent is just going up and up and up.

Has the project had any impact so far?

I know the goal was, let's put a new home here, get somebody taking care of it and hopefully that excitement will spread to neighbors. The homes are within a few blocks (of each other), the city tried to focus them around the school and library and resource center. (Sulphur Springs) had a higher crime rate but I know the city has put in more police officers, more code enforcement officers, installed street lights, so it is working to make it better.

What are the hottest real estate markets in Hillsborough County right now?

The areas close to downtown (Tampa) with all the excitement of development that has the potential for happening. Seminole Heights is definitely a hot area and will continue to stay that way. But really, the market in general in Hillsborough is just going up.

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