The Time To Sell Is Now!

 Across Tampa Bay, cities and counties enjoy rising tide of taxable property values

Tracey McManusTracey McManus, Times Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 10:59am

New homes rise in the Shetland Ridge neighborhood in Valrico off Lithia Pinecrest Road in Hillsborough County. Property Appraisers' Offices across the Tampa Bay region report that taxable property values have returned to healthy levels after the boom-turned-bust of the past decade. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]

After a debilitating illness and a prolonged recovery, Tampa Bay property values are finally healthy.

Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties are projected to enjoy their fourth consecutive years of rising taxable property values in 2016. Hernando County expects a third straight year of growth.

Those consistent increases in the counties’ tax rolls are a strong indicator that the bay-area real estate market has returned to normalcy after being thrashed by the Great Recession, said Greater Tampa Association of Realtors director Brad Monroe.

Property values are also growing at a safer pace, he said, instead of the dangerous double digit annual gains that led to the unsustainable housing peak in 2007. That’s when the bubble burst, setting the stage for the devastating crash that followed.

“I think we’re back on that normal (growth) in property values that over the last 100 years you probably saw more times than not,” Monroe said.

“That means it’s healthy. It gets people that were upside down back in the market and able to move without doing a short sale or foreclosure. It entices people to purchase that wouldn’t have otherwise purchased because they see values going up every year.”

That growth, in turn, will help tax rolls and give elected officials across Tampa Bay room to restore priority services without resorting to millage rate hikes.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said it’s a nice problem to have after several lean years of budget-cutting.

“Part of it is we are now, if not the highest, one of the highest growth areas in state,” he said. “Not just Hillsborough, but Tampa Bay.”

• • •

In Pinellas County this year, officials expect an increase of $4.6 billion to the tax rolls. That’s a 7.35 percent bump compared to last year, raising the county’s total value to $68.2 billion.

That rising tide can also be seen across the bay in Hillsborough County, where officials project an increase of $5.7 billion in taxable value in 2016. That 7.84 percent increase will see Hillsborough’s total values reach $79.2 billion.

Pasco County expects a healthy 6.84 percent boost in 2016. That will bring in an extra $1.5 billion over last year for a total value of $22.9 billion.

Hernando County should see its third straight increase after property values began a drastic nosedive in 2008. The $200 million added in taxable values this year is 2.8 percent higher than 2015. Hernando’s total values in 2016: $7.4 billion.

“I’ve been here a long time and this just felt like the first normal year since I’ve been in office,” Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said. “When I took office in 2009, we were in the early stages of the Great Recession and the market was crashing.

“This year literally every city in the county and the county as a whole have seen increases in value. That was not the case the first four, five years I was in office.”

Cities on both sides of the bay also saw steady increases in taxable values, which governments use to set tax rates and prepare budgets.

Madeira Beach saw the most growth in Pinellas County in 2016 with a 9.9 percent jump to $1.08 billion, followed by South Pasadena with a 9.81 percent jump to $550 million and a 9.75 percent jump in Indian Rocks Beach to $980 million.

The city of Tampa’s taxable value is expected to grow 7.92 percent this year to $28 billion while Temple Terrace had a more modest increase of almost 6 percent to $1.3 billion.

• • •

Officials attribute that growth to a decline of foreclosures on the market and a drop in the supply of homes for sale.

And with fewer homes on the market, it’s back to being a sellers game.

Markets strike a perfect equilibrium between buyers and sellers when there is a six-month supply of homes, experts say. But Pinellas County currently has about a three-month supply, said Charles Richardson, senior regional vice president of Coldwell Banker.

When buyers outpace sellers, prices creep up. But for the past few years, that demand didn’t drive prices as drastically because of the abundance of short sales from foreclosures, Richardson said. Asset managers had to keep prices low to move inventory quickly.

Now that’s changing.

While bank-owned properties made up 20 to 25 percent of the market a few years ago, Richardson said, the last six months have seen a dramatic drop to about 4 percent.

Even with the fewer active listings, property values are higher now because there’s no longer an abundance of foreclosures dragging prices down.

The future, Richardson says, lies in the age-old question of economic influences — whether this market can thrive in its healthy state without returning to the bloated pricing of the bubble era, prices that would be out of reach for the area’s wage earners.

“The Tampa Bay area is probably as healthy as any market in Florida,” Richardson said. “If you look at affordability studies, in Pinellas County we have some of the most affordable housing in all of Florida. As long as we stay within the range of what’s affordable, I think you’ll see price appreciation.

“When the market got in the bubble stage . . . we got prices that were beyond the affordability of the wage earners. There was inevitably going to be an adjustment to that market.”

Tim Wilmath, director of valuation for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office, said that slow, single-digit annual growth since 2012 has helped heal a housing market once flooded by foreclosures.

Now, he said, a more manageable number of homes are for sale, pulling down the supply, which also had positive effects. In May 2007, for example, Hillsborough had approximately 22,000 homes on the market. That’s a 14-month supply, making those homes a long-shot to sell.

Today there are about 5,000 homes on the market, a three- month supply. Wilmath called that “a normal market” that allows sellers to hold firm on their asking prices.

“All these things are tied together,” he said. “Buyers aren’t out there rapidly buying and flipping homes. The builders don’t see that demand. . . They’re building as needed. That’s what’s keeping these appreciation rates in check to a reasonable level.”

Contact Tracey McManus at or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

Across Tampa Bay, cities and counties enjoy rising tide of taxable property values 07/12/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2016 10:19pm]

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Tampa Bay tries to stand out in wave of lists and rankings

Top places to retire. Top party spots. Best beaches. Best cities for runners. Worst cities for runners. Top dining destinations. Best place to launch a business. Most romantic cities. Least romantic cities. Best cities to buy a home. Top cities for dogs. America’s sweatiest cities. (No joke; Tampa, by the way, is tops).

Lists and rankings are everywhere — our inboxes, our Facebook feeds, on nearly every website we visit.

They often include Tampa Bay cities. St. Petersburg is No. 1 for millennials in Florida. Tampa is the nation’s second-best beer town. Clearwater Beach has a bevy of “best beach” titles.

And on and on. Enough already, right?

“There’s a new list out every minute, it seems,” said Patrick Harrison, vice president of marketing and communication for Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism marketing arm of Hillsborough County. “Once the Internet took off, lists took over as the first true form of clickbait, but now you’re seeing them from lesser-known websites and media outlets.”

But here’s the thing: We read them. The people who spend time compiling them wouldn’t if we didn’t.

It’s not like BuzzFeed invented the “listicle.” The Top 10 list was hammered into the ground for nearly three decades by David Letterman. U.S. News &World Report and Consumer Reports developed business models based on lists. Power ranking lists have been on sports websites for years. And even local food critics have found a niche ranking the best bars and restaurants.

But this addiction to lists is something relatively modern — fueled by the ever-expanding Web culture, information overload and an opportunity for quick, easy reading.

Lists also provide a certain validation— satisfaction in reading something that endorses our own choices and shows off our local pride.

“In this consumer-driven era, people want to know what falls in line with how they already think,” said Susannah Costello, vice president of global brand for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

Researchers at Albany State University of New York think it’s easy to become disoriented while multitasking on the web. Lists are popular because they’re simpler to digest when we’re watching videos on Facebook and G-chatting with friends at the same time. Some psychologists say it’s because we think we’re too busy to sit down and read anything longer.

“Lists spark curiosity,” said Danny Markstien, a managing partner of Alabama-based digital marketing firm Markstein. “Most of the time, the content looks like it’s credible and well researched, even if that’s not the case. But that’s the perception, and that’s what matters.”

For people who make a living branding and marketing Tampa Bay, the surge in lists provides plenty of opportunity — who wouldn’t love their beach to make a Top 10 list that shows up when you Google “Florida beaches”?

But it also presents challenges. While there are legitimate rankings out there, they can get lost in the static of lists with less rigid standards or methodologies.

For instance, Clearwater Beach may be able to poke a sign in the sand saying a legitimate news outlet likeUSA Today named it America’s Best Beach Town. But if a lesser beach can do the same with a study from the relatively new and unknown website like Thrillist, how can tourism officials ensure consumers and travelers can separate the junk from the real thing?

“Because of the Internet, different websites are carving out their own niche with lists that speak to a specific audience,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Some of them are a little shady. You’ve got to take them with a grain of salt.”

The lists that hold the most weight come from reputable news sources like USA Today, Conde Nast andTravel + Leisure magazine. The more prestigious beach awards are given out by travel experts, like Dr. Beach (whose real name is Stephen Leatherman) of Florida International University, and Peter Greenberg, a CBS News travel editor. Some are generated by customer reviews from sites like TripAdvisor.

The problem is, once a beach or destination is ranked No. 1, like on Dr. Beach’s top lists, it can’t win it again. Clearwater Beach topped the list in 2008. Fort De Soto was No. 1 in 2005.

“These rankings come and go so fast,” Harrison said. “You want to be able to hang your hat on being ranked in the top 10 by some major independent organization that can set you apart from the mess that’s out there.”

Tourism agencies like Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater have logged hundreds of pages of rankings that cities, beaches, attractions and restaurants have made over the years. They promote the biggest ones on their websites, through social media and by circulating news releases.

“At its core, it’s just another engagement tool,” said David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County’s tourism agency. “With today’s news cycle, people move on so fast.”

Contact Justine Griffin at or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Inaccurate Zillow ‘Zestimates’ a source of conflict over home prices

en “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell asked the chief executive of Zillow recently about the accuracy of the website’s automated property value estimates — known as Zestimates — she touched on one of the most sensitive perception gaps in American real estate.

Zillow is the most popular online real estate information site, with 73 million unique visitors in December. Along with active listings of properties for sale, it also provides information on houses that are not on the market. You can enter the address or general location in a database of millions of homes and probably pull up key information — square footage, lot size, number of bedrooms and baths, photos, taxes — plus a Zestimate.

Shoppers, sellers and buyers routinely quote Zestimates to realty agents — and to one another — as gauges of market value. If a house for sale has a Zestimate of $350,000, a buyer might challenge the sellers’ list price of $425,000. Or a seller might demand to know from potential listing brokers why they say a property should sell for just $595,000 when Zillow has it at $685,000.



Disparities like these are daily occurrences and, in the words of one realty agent who posted on the industry blog ActiveRain, they are “the bane of my existence.” Consumers often take Zestimates “as gospel,” said Tim Freund, an agent with Dilbeck Real Estate in Westlake Village. If either the buyer or the seller won’t budge off Zillow’s estimated value, he told me, “that will kill a deal.”

Back to the question posed by O’Donnell: Are Zestimates accurate? And if they’re off the mark, how far off? Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff answered that they’re “a good starting point” but that nationwide Zestimates have a “median error rate” of about 8%.

Whoa. That sounds high. On a $500,000 house, that would be a $40,000 disparity — a lot of money on the table — and could create problems. But here’s something Rascoff was not asked about: Localized median error rates on Zestimates sometimes far exceed the national median, which raises the odds that sellers and buyers will have conflicts over pricing. Though it’s not prominently featured on the website, at the bottom of Zillow’s home page in small type is the word “Zestimates.” This section provides helpful background information along with valuation error rates by state and county — some of which are stunners.

Some real estate agents have done their own studies of accuracy levels of Zillow in their local markets.

Last July, Robert Earl, an agent with Choice Homes Team in the Charlottesville, Va., area, examined selling prices and Zestimates of all 21 homes sold that month in the nearby community of Lake Monticello. On 17 sales Zillow overestimated values, including two houses that sold for 61% below the Zestimate.

In Carlsbad, Calif., Jeff Dowler, an agent with Solutions Real Estate, did a similar analysis on sales in two ZIP Codes. He found that Zestimates came in below the selling price 70% of the time, with disparities ranging as high as $70,000. In 25% of the sales, Zestimates were higher than the contract price. In 95% of the cases, he said, “Zestimates were wrong. That does not inspire a lot of confidence, at least not for me.” In a second ZIP Code, Dowler found that 100% of Zestimates were inaccurate and that disparities were as large as $190,000.

So what do you do now that you’ve got the scoop on Zestimate accuracy? Most important, take Rascoff’s advice: Look at them as no more than starting points in pricing discussions with the real authorities on local real estate values — experienced agents and appraisers. Zestimates are hardly gospel — often far from it.

Distributed by Washington Post Writers Group.