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  1. Business

Why some Tampa Bay homes sit on the market for years

Kids who finished kindergarten this year hadn't been born when the 6,500-square-foot home in northern Hillsborough County first hit the market.

As nearby properties changed hands, the Odessa house sat unsold through two presidential elections, a recession, a recovery and enough celebrity gossip to fill seven years of People magazine.

Finally, after 2,552 days with no buyer in sight, the listing expired in January.

"It's a very pretty house," real estate agent Robert Romano said, "but I'm letting it sleep for a while."

As Tampa Bay's housing market roars back to life, tales abound of homes that went under contract almost as soon as they were listed. These are the star quarterbacks, the homecoming queens, the popular kids of the real estate world.

Then there are those places that sit and sit and sit, their "For Sale" signs looking ever more faded and forlorn.

In the past six months, the listings on nearly 2,800 single-family homes in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties expired despite the best efforts of Realtors to find them new owners. They ranged from dumps whose lack of appeal is obvious to magnificent estates like that of former Tampa Bay Rays owner Vince Naimoli.

The estate, dubbed Villalenda De Avila after Naimoli's wife, Lenda, had dropped from $14 million in 2009 to $5.5 million before finally being pulled off the market in May.

Houses fail to sell for many reasons — uniqueness, outdated styles, bad locations, title issues, limited access for showings and, most of all, price.

That was the problem with the 3 1/2-acre Odessa estate, which by looks alone should have had many suitors. Among its attractive features: Italian Ocra stone throughout the interior, pecky cypress ceilings on the covered lanai, and a self-cleaning, heated pool. But at $2.65 million, the house was simply priced too high for property that abuts a conservation area but isn't right on Lake Keystone or one of the area's other lovely lakes.

"It's a nice parcel," Romano said, "but you can get waterfront for that price."

Another opulent place that didn't sell despite three years as an active listing is a four-bedroom, four-bath home on Redington Beach. It's as waterfront as you can get — 80 feet of frontage on the Gulf of Mexico — but while the sellers had offers, none matched the $3.59 million they were asking by the time the listing expired in March.

Though lowered from an initial $4.1 million two years ago, the house was still in that lofty price range where there are far more lookers than takers.

"For a while there, I think we had one gulffront sale over $3 million, so you're in a niche market," said Tammy Plummer, the Coldwell Banker agent who had the listing. "There's such a small segment of the market that can afford over $3 million."

Another factor that makes selling high-end homes more difficult is what Plummer calls "overcustomization." Even other rich folk may not want a two-story closet or an entire wing built to resemble a small-town Main Street.

The affluent "build very specific for their needs and tastes, so when they want to sell, it can be like looking for a needle in a haystack to find someone willing to pay," Plummer said.

A prime example: a $5 million-plus Tudor-style home that failed to sell on Tierra Verde, a waterfront area where most of the homes have a strong Mediterranean flavor.

"It was the only one that was Tudor style," Plummer said, "and people don't really think of Tudor when they think of Tierra Verde."

At the other end of the spectrum, even dirt-cheap homes sometimes go unsold. Such was the case with a two-bedroom, one-bath house on 13th Avenue S in St. Petersburg that was on the market for a full year with no takers at $19,900.

The seller, a company that paid $8,000 for the house four years ago, likely did just enough work to make it halfway presentable but not enough to attract a new buyer, said Kay Latimore, the New Market Realty listing agent.

"Lots of times, investors have a plan to buy a house and fix it and put it back on the market, but their expectation of what they can get for the property is not accurate," Latimore said. "They might get an offer, but oftentimes it doesn't cost them anything to reject that offer and just keep it for themselves (as a rental)."

In a typical transaction, the seller contracts with a real estate agent to list the property for six months. If it doesn't move within that time, the listing expires and the seller can go with another agent.

"That happens a lot, and it's really unfortunate," said Ann Rogers, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker. "The agent may have really done their job and more than likely they did exactly what the seller asked them to do, but what can you do when the seller says, 'I'm not taking a penny less'? "

Rogers still bristles at the thought of one home, located in a beach community, that the seller thought was worth a waterfront price even though it wasn't on the water. Rogers' team devoted an "enormous amount of time and energy" trying to sell the house, including watering the plants and holding open houses every weekend.

"It came down to the seller saying, 'We don't think you're doing all you can do,' so they got somebody else to list it and it's still on the market a year later," Rogers said. "It wasn't the agent, it was the seller's unrealistic expectations."

Like bread, unsold houses that sit too long become stale. Buyers tend to avoid them, assuming there's a problem. Once the original listing expires, though, and the house stays off the market for a few months, it can be resurrected as a "new'' listing that comes up first on search engines.

Charlie Bodine, a RE/MAX agent in Tampa, tried for almost a year and a half to sell a 1960s-era home in Pat Acres, a woodsy area of Town 'N County with large lots. Though the house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and nearly 2,600 square feet, it also has a quirky layout with a sunken family room.

"It was expanded over the years, so the flow of the home may not have been what some of the buyers in this day and age are looking for," Bodine said.

When the listing expired in December after 510 days, Bodine and the sellers decided to let the house "rest" before lowering the price from $219,000 to $209,000 and putting it back on the market in April.

"You wouldn't think that a few thousand dollars would make that much difference in four months, but it did," Bodine said. He immediately received multiple calls and had a contract for $220,000 in four days.

That deal closed June 1. The next day, the gulffront Redington Beach home whose listing had expired in March came back on the market as new.

This time it has another agent and a lower price — $3.495 million, down from $3.59 million.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642.

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