Lots of numbers have to be crunched when buying a home, including principal and interest, taxes, municipal and community fees. But there’s one other number that may matter the most for those commuting to work: drive times.
Jennifer Dobbs, a top agent with Mihara Real Estate, has says that number is a range between 45-60.
“They’re looking for a 45-minute to 1-hour drive,” said Dobbs. “If it falls within that range, they’re OK.”
Tampa being a major work center in the region, many who work there live there or in one of its surrounding suburbs. It’s more expensive than living in either Pasco or Hernando to the north, but for Tampa workers, it’s always been about being able to pull into the parking lot at work while steam is still billowing from the coffee in the travel mug that made the trip with them from home.
But increasingly, more Tampa residents are rethinking things. Lower home and land costs, lower property taxes, less crowding and traffic await just a few miles north across the county line in Pasco. For those who push farther into Hernando, the values get even better.
But what about that commute to Tampa?
Dobbs notes that over the past few years, more lanes have been added to major routes south like U.S. 41 and I-75. Along with the Suncoast Parkway toll road, more homebuyers have calculated that they can take advantage of the values and breathing room Pasco and Hernando offer and still get to work within that all-important 45-60 minute window, said Dobbs.
She said there was a time when it was good enough to just get across the county line and settle in Lutz, Land O’ Lakes or Odessa, but prices in those areas have ballooned in recent years, so buyers keep inching north. Where they’re stopping these days is in places like San Antonio and Dade City in Pasco. Others are opting for west Pasco, especially now that the new Ridge Road extension connects U.S. 19 in Port Richey to the Suncoast Parkway. Many settle along the U.S. 41 corridor south of Brooksville, or in Spring Hill. Still others are settling in west Hernando around Weeki Wachee, a full 45 miles from downtown Tampa.
Dobbs notes home and land prices can be considerably lower in Pasco and Hernando, as are property taxes. The savings mean working families that need an extra bedroom can afford it, along with a bigger lot and maybe even a pool. If building a new home, the upfront impact fees are lower, particularly in Hernando.
The game changer that made living so far from work centers to the south an option came two decades ago with the opening of the north-south Suncoast Parkway. The first stage connected State Road 50 in Hernando, through Pasco and to the Veterans Expressway in Hillsborough County. With a speed limit of 70 mph for the 25 miles from S.R. 50 to S.R. 54, it was a game-changer for commuters. It got better. In following years, new lanes were added to sections of U.S. 41, and that work continues today. Sections of I-75 north of Tampa were widened and work is underway around S.R. 56 in the Wesley Chapel area. Most recently, work is wrapping up now on the Ridge Road extension that connects U.S. 19 in Port Richey with the Suncoast Parkway.
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Dobbs said a lot of her buyers who commute to Tampa look to Pasco and Hernando for more than value. They want to break out of tight subdivisions with small lots and zero lot-lines.
“They aren’t looking for cookie-cutter homes (in subdivisions),” said Dobbs. “They want their space.”
Ann Gionta of the Gionta Realty Group has noticed the same trend, but not just from Hillsborough homeowners shifting north to Pasco and Hernando, but buyers shifting from northern U.S. states to Pasco and Hernando.
She’s seeing a lot of interest from buyers seeking more freedom from rules and mandates in states like Illinois and New York.
“I spoke to a mother whose daughter is on the softball team up north and had to wear a mask outside while playing softball,” Gionta said. “They’re tired of their kids wearing masks even outside; they’re coming here because we’re more open.”
These buyers want the most for the least, plenty of elbow room and at least a bit of countryside. Even if they work in Tampa or St. Pete, they’re OK with the drive, which means they can choose Pasco or Hernando, where $350,000 buys a larger family home on an oversized lot. Gionta estimates they would pay $450,000 for the same house in the Carrollwood area of Hillsborough, where the lot would likely be small and they would “pay higher taxes to boot.”
“Some work mostly from home, and even if they have to drive one or two days a week to an office (in Tampa), they don’t mind,” Gionta said, adding for those who must fly from time to time the drive to Tampa International Airport via the Suncoast Parkway is an easy one.
Gionta said the Wesley Chapel area of southeast Pasco is a hot destination for families and empty-nesters now. Most of what’s available is relatively new single-family homes and townhomes in new, upscale subdivisions. Prices come in above what buyers who travel a bit farther north find, but that’s because they are paying for the newer homes, a wealth of shopping, as well as the abundance of dining, recreation, entertainment options, not to mention very highly rated schools.
Still, there are some Wesley Chapel bargains that come up. Gionta just listed a 3/2.5/1 townhome with 1,634 square feet of living area. It was built last year by Lennar and has water views and backs up to a preserve in Haven and Meadow Pointe. It’s priced at $329,000.
Dobbs said she’s not so hesitant anymore to show buyers who work in Tampa homes that are well north of Wesley Chapel — places that in the past would be off the table because of their distance from the city.
She said even Royal Highlands near Weeki Wachee in west Hernando is OK with many. Larger, newer pre-owned homes on half-acre and larger lots are found there, and there are plenty of large parcels to build on. In east Hernando, Ridge Manor is similar to Royal Highlands, as it also has a lot of available land and is divided into large parcels.
Dobbs recently was showing homes along the State Road 54 corridor in Pasco to a working couple, but they ended up buying in Weeki Wachee, 25 miles farther north.
“They were perfectly OK with that,” Dobbs said.
For those on tight budgets, Tampa commuters are finding values in the New Port Richey area of Pasco. Dobbs had a client recently who had her eye on Lutz, but with a budget of around $250,000, that was not going to happen. Even an older small house on a small lot starts at around $400,000 in Lutz, said Dobbs.
“She was willing to go to New Port Richey,” said Dobbs, and the new Ridge Road extension to the Suncoast Parkway made the location all the more attractive.
Overall, Dobbs said she sees the push north of Tampa continuing. She’s seeing a lot of new interest in the wide-open spaces in places like the S.R. 52 corridor east of U.S. 41. San Antonio, St. Leo and Dade City offer relatively affordable countryside living that has been in demand since the start of the pandemic, Dobbs said. With ongoing additions and improvements to routes south, drive times are only getting better, and with fewer daily commutes to work, and sometimes none at all for those who work remotely from home, it’s a trend she expects to continue for some time.