Housing & Real Estate in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater
A reasonable cost of living, abundant sunshine and plentiful entertainment and cultural opportunities in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties contribute to a high quality of life. This region on Florida’s west coast is often referred to as “Tampa Bay,” where diverse communities come together to reflect the best Florida has to offer. Whether you prefer living downtown, in a quiet golf course community, on a waterfront or in a historic neighborhood, Tampa Bay has a broad mix of lifestyle options. The Tampa Bay community is supportive of MacDill but is not considered a military town. The cost of living is higher than in most cities in the South.
The counties’ communities give newcomers plenty of choices when selecting a home. Enlist the help of a reputable real estate agent to help you sort through the area’s home options. The Florida Association of Realtors is a central source of local real estate information and services. Visit www.floridarealtors.org to find expertise and professional services for those interested in purchasing a new home.
Midway along the west coast of Florida, Hillsborough County has 1,048 square miles of land and 24 square miles of inland water. More than 84 percent of the county is unincorporated. Tampa is the county seat and boasts a vibrant beachfront and a metropolis. The city is home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a large fishing fleet, exquisite dining and world-class entertainment.
Life in Tampa ranges from relaxed days basking in the sun to nights filled with live music, theater productions, fine dining and dance clubs moving to the rhythm of the people. Housing options vary widely, from condominiums and apartment complexes to beachfront properties and stately mansions.
There are 158 miles of shoreline on Tampa Bay. A narrow strip of Hillsborough County extends west to the Gulf of Mexico, roughly along the Tampa Port Shipping Channel. Hillsborough County, which takes its name from Wills Hill, British secretary of state to the colonies from 1768 to 1772, was first mapped and explored by the Spanish in the early 16th century.
About 10 miles east of Tampa is the Greater Brandon area, an unincorporated section of Hillsborough County. Brandon — named for founder and landowner John Brandon, who arrived in 1857 from Mississippi — has grown rapidly since the 1980s when Interstate 75 began to bring traffic through the area. The 2010 Census, the most recent official count, puts its population at 103,483.
The Lee Roy Selmon Expressway provides direct access to MacDill Air Force Base and downtown Tampa from Brandon. Parks and green spaces aplenty offer outdoor basketball and tennis courts, golf courses and skate parks.
Mean travel time to work is 26 minutes. Median rent in Brandon in 2014 was $1,083 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage were $1,350.
302 W. Reynolds St.
Plant City, FL 33563 813-659-4200
Plant City lies 25 miles east of Tampa on Interstate 4. According to local lore, the city was originally named Ichepucksassa after an Indian village, but confusion about the spelling and pronunciation eventually prompted the city’s postmaster to change the name to Cork, his hometown in Ireland. In 1885, the townsfolk honored Henry B. Plant a year after he extended the South Florida Railroad to what is now known as Plant City. And in keeping with the city’s theme, the commercial and residential downtown area has been designated as a U.S. historic district.
Citrus groves, farm land, pastures and strawberry fields surround the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.”
This residential community is 27 square miles with a population of 38,200, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Mean travel time to work is 24 minutes. Median rent in the city is $857 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,252.
306 E. Jackson St.
Tampa, FL 33602 813-274-8211
This is the seat of Hillsborough County and its largest city. Native Americans originally inhabited the area, including the Tocobaga and the Seminole. White settlers founded a village near the Fort Brooke U.S. Army outpost in the early 19th century, and in 1887 the Florida Legislature established the charter for the city of Tampa.
The city is now the 53rd largest in the United States and home to several billion-dollar companies’ corporate headquarters, including Wellcare Health Plans, OSI Restaurant Partners and Cott Corp.
Tampa is home to the 2003 Super Bowl XXXVII Champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning. Along with major sporting events, Hillsborough County offers many exciting attractions such as Busch Gardens and Adventure Island Water Park, Tampa Bay cruises and downtown Ybor City, nicknamed Florida’s Latin Quarter for its wrought-iron balconies, brick-lined walkways, colorful architecture of cigar factories, and fine shops and restaurants.
This city covers 113 square miles with a population of 377,165, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Mean travel time to work is 23 minutes. Median rent in the city is $960 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,489.
11250 N. 56th St.
Temple Terrace, FL 33617 813-506-6420
The residents of this city named for the “Temple” orange trees and the “Terraced” terrain live just northeast of Tampa at the confluence of three major interstates: I-4, I-75 and I-275. In 2008, the Arbor Day Foundation bestowed the crown of Tree City USA on the town. It is known for its rolling landscape, Hillsborough River views and majestic trees, including the most sand live oaks in Central Florida.
This city covers 7 square miles with a population of 26,515, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Mean travel time to work is 23 minutes. Median rent in the city is $750 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,460.
Pinellas County, on Florida’s west coast, is a 280-square-mile peninsula bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. The county is 38 miles long and 15 miles wide at its broadest point.
The name Pinellas is derived from the Spanish words “punta pinal” meaning “point of pines,” an accurate description when Panfilo de Narvaez arrived in 1528. Narvaez and 400 soldiers probably were the first Europeans in the area, primarily looking for gold and silver. Earliest inhabitants of Pinellas were Native Americans, and many large Indian shell mounds have been found throughout the county. One of these is at Pinellas County’s Philippe Park in Safety Harbor.
Pinellas, originally a part of Hillsborough County, became a separate county in 1912. When first formed, its population was 13,193. The 2015 Census estimates put Pinellas County’s year-round population at 949,827, making it the most densely populated county in the state.
Pinellas provides an ideal year-round climate. Cold winds are tempered in winter and warm breezes are cooled in summer as they blow over the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay.
The county enjoys a year-round reputation as a tourist destination with attractions appealing to singles, couples, retirees and families. Pinellas County’s top key business sectors are health services, tourism services, manufacturing and financial services.
The county is served by Interstate 4, which runs east and west and connects it with Florida’s east coast. I-75 and Highway U.S. 19 are the north and south connections.
112 S. Osceola Ave.
Clearwater, FL 33756 727-562-4090
The city stretches over more than half the Pinellas Peninsula as well as the barrier islands that make up Clearwater Beach. During World War II, it became a major training base for troops destined for Europe and the Pacific. These days the community is known for pristine white sand beaches, clear gulf waters, sunsets at the pier and plenty of hospitality.
Properties — condos, villas, town houses and waterfront property — offer a tropical atmosphere with an array of housing choices.
This residential community is 25.5 square miles with a population of 114,361, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Mean travel time to work is 23 minutes. Median rent in the city is $953 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,514.
201 Highland Ave.
Largo, FL 33770 727-587-6700
This once-rural farming community on Florida’s Gulf Coast has become the third-largest city in the state’s most densely populated county. It has also been a near-annual recipient of the National Arbor Day Tree City award during the past two decades.
Part of the Tampa Bay area, the city is 4 miles south of Clearwater, 17 miles northwest of St. Petersburg and 23 miles west of Tampa. Before the turn of the 20th century, Largo citrus was shipped by the barrel to enthusiastic customers in the North, earning it the name “Citrus City.”
This residential community is 17.6 square miles with a population of 83,065, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Mean travel time to work is 22 minutes. Median rent in the city is $903 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,237.
175 Fifth St. N
St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-7111
The Sunshine City ranks fourth among major cities with nearly 16 percent of the residents age 65 or older. Peter Demens, a Russian immigrant who built the Orange Belt Line railroad, named the tourist and retirement center after his beloved Russian city. In 1914, the St. Louis Browns moved their spring training camp to the fledgling resort and commenced a love affair between baseball fans and tourists that blossomed into a community of pelicans, porpoises, endless sunshine and sailboats.
This residential community is 62 square miles with a population of 261,000, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Mean travel time to work is 23 minutes. Median rent in the city is $934 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,376.
Planning Your Move
Relocating to a new home can be one of the most stressful situations in life. Whether moving across town or across the nation, preparation and organization make all the difference.
For military moves, visit www.move.mil for information about moving resources and to learn about the allowances and responsibilities of a military-sponsored move.
Decide whether or not to make your move a do-it-yourself operation.
For a DIY move, consider distance, labor help and the costs to rent the moving van, gas, lodging during the move and insurance. A transportable storage unit can bridge a professional and DIY move. When the unit is delivered to your residence, you load and secure it for transport and then unload it at your new residence.
Whatever the method, be sure to obtain as many quotes as possible from professional movers, as well as cost estimates for a DIY move. Next, compare the costs for each type of move, factoring in the stress and physical exertion involved. Ask any company you are interested in for references and use them to inquire about reliability and customer service.
Regardless of which method you choose, the first step should be to inventory your personal belongings. The list, with photographs of any valuables, will be important for both insurance purposes and to help keep you organized during transit.
Plan for one full day to pack each room — though the kitchen and garage may take longer. Make a rough estimate of your packing schedule and then add 50 percent more time. It always takes longer than predicted to pack. Toss or donate unused items to lighten your load. Visit www.goodwill.org, www.salvationarmyusa.org or www.clothingdonations.org for locations near you or to arrange a pickup.
Pack for success:
- Consider what you’re packing and control box weight. Books should go in small boxes while bedding can easily fill a larger box.
- Wrap fragile items with cardboard dividers, tissue paper or air bubble wrapping.
- Use bright colors when wrapping small items so they don’t get thrown out accidentally.
- Use crumpled paper or newspaper to line the top and bottom of boxes.
- Tape a copy of your inventory list to boxes to identify what’s inside and where it should go.
Buying vs. Renting
The decision to buy or rent is the most important step in your relocation process. Purchasing a home entails a long-term financial and emotional commitment with various pluses and minuses. Advantages include the possibility of building equity and the freedom to design and decorate your property or landscape. And don’t forget the tax benefits. Disadvantages include upkeep, property taxes and fluctuating property values.
Renting, on the other hand, makes moving easier and someone else maintains the property. Amenities such as laundry rooms, exercise rooms, swimming pools and tennis courts vary from one rental complex to another. The main disadvantage is loss of control over the residence. Some complexes, for example, restrict or prohibit pets and personal touches such as painting. And the landlord or property managers can also raise the rent with proper notice.
To determine your best choice, account for all of your needs, review your financial situation and research your options thoroughly.
Finding an Apartment
Be prepared when you meet with the leasing agent, property manager or owner. Bring a list of what you are looking for in a rental; it is important to be clear about your needs and to get all of your questions answered. You will also need to provide information and verification about your job, your income and your past rental history. Dress to make a good impression and treat the meeting like a job interview — be polite and arrive on time.
Before you sign a lease, inspect the apartment with the landlord. Look for the following problems:
- Cracks, holes or damage in the floor, walls or ceiling.
- Signs of leaking water, leaky fixtures or water damage.
- Any signs of mold or pests.
- Lack of hot water.
- Inadequate heating or air conditioning.
Use a written checklist with the landlord to document the condition of the rental before you move in, and keep a copy of the completed checklist to use when you move out.
The Florida PIRG Education Fund’s Renters’ Rights Handbook can be downloaded at http://cdn.publicinterestnetwork.org/assets/LeMrpgDx23ksuwsXJvUavw/Renters-Rights-2.1.pdf
Buying a Home
Buying a home is a complex process and, as the recent housing crisis demonstrated, requires a thorough education on the part of the buyer. First, fully understand your financial position — credit score, available savings, monthly income and expenditures. Subtracting your expenditures from your income, for instance, will yield the amount you can afford for housing.
Be sure to account for all insurance costs associated with owning a home, possible homeowner association fees and property taxes in your monthly expenditures. Overall, loan rules changed in 2015, but according to www.ginniemae.gov (Government National Mortgage Association) and www.homebuyinginstitute.com (the Home Buying Institute) loan programs continue to vary on the percentage of your income that can be used for housing-related expenses. Lenders balance debt against income to decide if an applicant will be able to repay a loan. Most conventional loans require borrowers to have no more than 43 percent total monthly debt versus their total monthly income, though there are exceptions, such as for those with significant savings. The Federal Housing Administration has a two-tier qualifying system: FHA sets its top thresholds at 31 percent front-end debt (housing expenses as a percentage of income) and 43 percent back-end debt (all debt as a percentage of income) for a 31/43 qualifying ratio. Like commercial lenders, Veterans Affairs combines front-end and back-end debt for a
41 percent limit against income.
Next, research the different types of home loans to determine the right fit for your financial situation and discuss your options with a lending professional. Lenders are diverse today, and not all homebuyers obtain their mortgage loans through their banks and credit unions. For example, you may choose to work with an internet lender, a mortgage broker, a homebuilder or a real estate agency lender. To determine which lender is best for you, get recommendations from friends and family members and check credentials as well as Better Business Bureau ratings.
A preapproved loan before starting your search for a home can determine your spending limits and signal any potential issues in the way of receiving a loan. For any home loan application, the mortgage company will order a credit report, so it would be good to get a free report in advance to determine your credit status and make sure the report contains no erroneous information.
To order your free annual report from one or all of the national consumer reporting companies: Visit www.annualcreditreport.com and complete and submit the request form online.
Home Loan Application
To complete a home loan application you’ll need: photo IDs (such as a driver’s license); Social Security numbers; residence addresses for the past two years with landlord contact information if you rented; names and addresses of your employers for the past two years; your current gross monthly income; recent financial institution statements with names, addresses, account numbers and balances on all checking, savings, CDs, money market, bonds and mutual funds accounts; recent financial institution statements with names, addresses, account numbers, balances and monthly payments on all open loans (including student loans) and credit cards; addresses and loan information of all other real estate owned; estimated value of furniture and personal property; W2s for the past two years and current paycheck stubs; copies of all divorce decrees, child support documents or any other court proceedings that affect your financial status; verification of any child support payments; and evidence of any retirement or pension benefits. VA or military forms include: DD 214 (veteran), Form 22 (National Guard), DD 1747, Off-base Housing Authority (active duty) and Certificate of Eligibility (active duty).
For more information, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans.
Knowing your monthly budget and the amount of your loan is invaluable during the next phase, especially finding the answers to questions before the hunt for a home begins.
First, determine your home preferences. Does a single-family house, condo, town house or duplex best fit your needs and budget? Do you prefer a new home, an existing home or to build one? Though new homes generally cost more, existing homes may come with maintenance issues and renovation costs. How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want an attached garage? Will you live in the city, a suburb or the country? How close to work, school, shopping or public transportation do you want to be? Answers to these questions will greatly assist your search and the next stage — hiring a real estate agent.
The ideal agent will help find your ideal home and guide you through the purchase process. First, interview potential candidates to ensure they understand your needs, know your homebuying and neighborhood preferences, and are readily accessible.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Florida provides housing programs and incentives to help residents with home ownership. For more information, visit http://portal.hud.gov and select “Florida” from the “State Info” drop-down menu.