Suzanne Kennedy, a two-time breast cancer survivor, has learned not to wait to do what she wants.
So when she and her husband Larry found the house they wanted in Gulfport, they didn’t think twice.
They plunked down their cash and bought it.
The old cliché about sleeping on a decision doesn’t work in this market, Kennedy said, standing happily in her new house on Tuesday, June 16.
“Sometimes if you sleep on stuff, it’s gone.”
That could well be the best advice for buying real estate in Gulfport in these days: “You snooze, you lose.” The other piece of advice: “Cash is king.”
As the real estate market heats up again throughout Florida and Pinellas County, sales in Gulfport are heating up as well. If you’re trying to sell a house in Gulfport, you’re probably in great shape. But if you’re trying to buy, maybe not so much.
According to the latest figures from the Pinellas Realtor Organization (PRO), combined sales for single family homes, condos and townhouses countywide this April were up almost 20 percent compared with the same month last year, besting a 10-year record set in March.
For single-family dwellings the median sales price was $205,000 in April, up five percent from $195,000 in April 2014, according to PRO statistics.
“The Pinellas County real estate story continues to be that it’s a seller’s market,” reads a statement on the PRO website. “Inventory is almost non-existent and homes are selling as quickly as they are listed in some areas.”
Low interest rates, an improving national economy, record-setting winters up north and baby boomers reaching retirement age have more and more people thinking about buying in Florida, real estate officials say.
Gulfport is particularly attractive owing to its diversity, small-town feel and convenient location between downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches. And although it’s near the water, it still has sectors outside the flood zone, which means owners aren’t saddled with costly flood insurance.
Interest in Gulfport has grown among locals and out-of-towners in the U.S. and abroad, Realtors say, and prices have risen steadily in the past couple of years following the real estate crash in the late 2000s.
“Gulfport has been coming back,” said Poul Hornsleth, principal broker at R.W. Caldwell, Inc., who has seen the city through many changes in his 40-plus years in the community. “It has recovered quite nicely. There’s activity at all price ranges, including the luxury market. I think the future is very strong.”
Realtor Mark Yorke, who is affiliated with Charles Rutenberg Realty, says the market for houses priced under $200,000 is especially competitive in Gulfport, with many going under contract within a day of being listed.
“People tell me they see a house on the market at work during their lunch break and by the time they get home for dinner it’s already under contract,” he said.
Yorke said he worked with a retirement-age couple from out of state for two years trying to find them a second home in Gulfport. After they lost out on bids for three houses, they recently bought a house in the neighboring St. Petersburg sector of Bear Creek.
“Desperate was the term they used,” Yorke said, describing how the couple felt about finding a home.
Marie Drew, a Realtor with ReMax All Star, did her own analysis of recent sales in Gulfport and found that properly priced homes lasted an average of 29 days on the market in May 2015, compared with 37 days in May 2014 and 49 days in May 2013. The median list price this May was $176,000, compared with $152,400 in May 2014, and $138,700 in May 2013.
She warned, however, that those selling their homes should not be too exuberant with their pricing.
“We all have to be reasonable,” she said. “We have increases here, but just be careful. That’s my mantra right now: Don’t overprice your home.”
According to the PRO, almost half of the sales countywide in April were in cash. Cash buyers can close more quickly than those depending on bank financing and can pay more since they don’t need to have a property appraised at a certain price to qualify for a loan.
Although that may put bank-financed buyers at a disadvantage when negotiating, cautious banks and their appraisers help keep prices from rising too quickly and unreasonably.
“I think the buyers are in good shape,” Drew said. “You don’t have to worry about paying too much for a home.”
As for cash buyers who may pay too much for distressed properties, she said, “It helps the neighborhood a little bit.”
Kennedy, 63, said she and her husband, who have lived in a condo in Redington Shores for 11 years, wanted to buy a house where they could build a pool and Larry could garden when he retires in two years. She said her experience with cancer had taught her to do what she wants now instead of delaying.
“I’m done postponing,” she said.
The couple chose Gulfport because “it’s a nice, eclectic community” and they liked the “vibe.”
After four houses they were interested in were snapped up before they could even make an offer, they decided to sell their condo so they could be in a stronger negotiating position. They sold the condo at a profit in only 13 days.
Armed with cash, they then bought the first house in Gulfport that fit their needs. The house, a 63-year-old unassuming 1500-sq-ft wood-frame bungalow on 27th Avenue S. and 50th Street, was listed for $239,900; they paid $229,000 and closed in mid-May.
Kennedy is thrilled with the couple’s purchase and looking forward to renovating it in their own style.
It was worth the wait, she said. “This is what we were looking for … I think we’re going to be happy here.”