House hunting around Tampa Bay can be mighty frustrating these days. Home prices are high, availability is low and a new listing in the morning can be under contract before lunch.
Take cleansing breaths, relax and maybe plan a little getaway, like attending the upcoming Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. Tony Baroni, who heads the Tony Baroni Team at Keller Williams Realty, says the 11-day happening with rides, attractions, livestock shows, music concerts by national recording artists and, of course, strawberry shortcake and other berry-delicious delights, is great fun. It runs March 3-13, and while in town, take a look around Plant City, the winter strawberry capitol of the world. It could also be fertile ground for house hunting.
A few miles east of Tampa out I-4 way, Plant City may be known for its rich soil and the sweet red berries, but it’s also getting popular among homebuyers, said Baroni, who added that many of his buyers discovered Plant City while in town for the festival.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “The Strawberry Festival put Plant City on the map; people come and that’s how they find out about Plant City.”
Baroni gets calls from buyers relocating to Tampa Bay for work, and they ask about Plant City homes because they remember it from a past visit to the festival, he said. He recommends anyone looking for a home who is coming to town for a day or two to take in the festival should squeeze in some time. Check out the historic downtown (currently an ongoing revitalization project of the city’s Main Street America affiliate) and the surrounding neighborhoods and countryside.
They’ll see older farm houses on acreage where cows and chickens are permitted, said Angel Miller, who along with partner Natalie Sweet head the Sweet Team with Keller Williams. If they look around downtown they’ll see restored vintage buildings housing quaint shops, restaurants and cafés. The residential areas surrounding downtown are made up of historic houses and restored craftsman-style bungalows from an age gone by. Range out from downtown a bit and they’ll see something Miller said has “all of us excited” — new-home communities like North Park Isle rising just north of I-4, or Lantana Groves on the south side of town.
“We’re excited about that because of the low inventory problem,” said Miller, adding the 2,000 new homes planned for North Park Isle are sorely needed to meet demand.
That demand has grown in recent months, according to Miller and Baroni, as more people discover the country charm and atmosphere of the Plant City area, which at the far eastern end of Hillsborough County can be a little off the radar.
Follow trends affecting the local economy
Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“It’s a growing place with lots of restaurants and things to do, but it still has that small-town feel,” said Baroni.
Many are looking for homes on oversized lots or acreage in the more rural areas, the Realtors noted, while others are happy with modern planned communities and lots with far less grass to mow. Plant City has both. Some are looking for something in between, like Walden Lake, a 30-year-old community just south of downtown.
Homes there range from small models on small lots to luxury executive homes on large parcels priced north of $1 million, said Baroni.
Miller said some of her Walden Lake buyers have been those who initially shopped in Valrico or Brandon, but pushed east to discover what Plant City has to offer. Some became enamored with the small-town vibe, friendly people and the great school district, she said.
Miller likes buyers to have a budget of $300,000 to $500,000 for single-family homes. A 1986 home she has listed now is a renovated 3/2/2 with 2,817 square feet and sits on a quarter acre lot. It’s priced at $575,000, a price that considers the oversized lot and waterfront.
Many of her buyers ask about Walden Lake. Villas there can start around $240,000, but inside the Polo Place “gated within a gated” community, large homes can be priced at $900,000 or more, she said, but there are lots of homes between those two price points.
That’s not to say there is lots of availability. Home inventory in Plant City on the whole is not much better than anywhere around Tampa Bay, said Baroni, who said current estimates are that Plant City has less than a one-month supply of homes. A healthy number is enough homes to supply demand for six months.
Miller and Baroni agree that means buyers need to be ready to make quick, competitive offers and have their finances worked out.
“The market demand is high and the supply is low,” said Miller. “We can get 12 to 13 offers on the first day (a home is listed).”
Baroni said competition is such that a totally new phenomenon has emerged — multiple offers on homes priced at $1-million or more.
“I’ve never seen it in my 16 years,” he said.
Baroni likes a budget of at least $300,000 for a single-family home in Plant City. For someone who wants a typical 3/2 home in the country on an acre or two, the number should be $400,000 to $500,000.