How to Buy a House in Tampa: Hidden Costs, Hot Neighborhoods, and HOAs

Over the last decade, Tampa, Florida has seen population growth around 17% thanks to its warm and temperate climate and thriving businesses. It also boasts top-rated schools, bustling waterways, professional sports teams, and unique theme parks. Needless to say, opportunity awaits as you look to buy a house in this amazing city.

But as with any huge decision, you should expect to face some challenges before you can relax with keys at closing (and maybe a dinner celebration at the historic Columbia Restaurant the city is known for!).

In Tampa you’ll be dealing with older housing stock, a six-month-long hurricane season, and some of the highest homeowners insurance premiums and HOA fees in the nation. We’ve talked to Jason Pithers, a top-performing Tampa real estate agent and Legends Society Award Winner, and pored over 71 pages of data from the Tampa Association of Realtors to bring you this awesome guide for everything you need to buy a house in Tampa.

A laptop used to buy a house in Tampa.
Source: (Pixabay/ Pexels)

Figure out how much house you can afford in Tampa

No matter where you buy a house — whether it’s “The Big Guava” or the moon — step one is the same: determine how much house you can afford so you can set a reasonable price range for your search.

This will save you the time and angst of touring homes that you could never afford in the first place. You’ll need to think about how much money you bring in every month from various income streams, what your expenses will be, and your current debt load, including credit cards, student loans, and car payments.

Start with HomeLight’s home affordability calculator

To make things easier, HomeLight created a simple home affordability calculator that does all the hard work for you — just type in your city “Tampa, FL” at the top, fill in the rest of the fields, and let the calculator work its magic. With that ballpark range in mind, you can head into conversations with your lender well-informed about your own financial situation and start the process of getting pre-approved for a mortgage.

Though the market is prone to fluctuation, you can expect a median price for single-family homes in Tampa to be around $250,000 (as of November 2019, which is low compared to a nationwide $285,700), with average sales prices running around $306,000. Homes in Tampa are priced to sell — purchase prices tend to land at 97% of list prices — so you can expect to pay close to what a seller is asking.

Budget and plan for additional expenses: Maintenance and insurance

When you buy a house, you’ll need to think about ongoing expenses, such as maintenance and insurance, in addition to your upfront down payment and closing costs. This is doubly critical in Tampa where:

  1. Many homes have reached that important 20+ year milestone (especially in Central Tampa). This means you’ll want to ask whether sellers have performed necessary upgrades on big-ticket items like the roof, driveway, windows, seawall, and HVAC so you can properly budget for maintenance expenses.
  2. You’ll face some of the highest homeowners insurance premiums nationwide. According to Tampa Consumer Affairs, “The average premium nationally is $1,034 per year, but Florida’s average is 102% higher.” (Note that insurance coverage for older homes generally costs more.)

As you start to get serious about making an offer on any particular home or get under contract with a seller, now’s your opportunity to ask questions and gather up as much information you can about the home. Follow these steps to guide your price negotiations and keep your insurance costs to a minimum.

1. Find out the age of the roof and HVAC

As you search for homes in Tampa, your first two questions should always be:

* How old is the roof?

* How old is the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system?

Both the roof and the HVAC will be large expenses, so knowing the age of both elements plays a big role in price negotiations. If you’re interested in a home with an older A/C (8+ years) or roof (15+ years), you’ll want to find out if the seller is open to making physical updates, if they’ll make accommodations in the closing price, or if you’ll need to budget for renovations on your own.

“We’re looking for [the roof age] to be within 20 years,” says Robert Allison of Atlantic Insurance, a five star rated independent agency in Tampa. Anything older than that threshold and insurance agencies in Tampa are unable to underwrite the policy.

2. See if you can qualify for insurance discounts 

To help offset insurance costs, look for discounts. Homes that meet certain storm readiness standards may be eligible for discounts based on their wind mitigation inspection.

By the way: You’ll need a wind mitigation inspection (separate from the general home inspection), which costs around $100. The inspector will check for the following items and give you a certification to share with your insurance agent.

  • Roof shape (hip design is best)
  • Roof decking (reinforced is key)
  • Shingle attachment method (for example, counting the number of nails used)
  • Window storm protection (shutters or impact resistant)
  • Hurricane straps or clips
  • Other opening storm protection (doors and garage doors)

Depending on how well the home is prepared for high winds, home owners can expect to see discounts between $300 and $500 per year on their insurance costs.

3. Factor in flood insurance

Flood insurance may also be an expense to consider when buying in Tampa. The average flood insurance policy costs $700 per year, but that amount can vary widely based on elevation and home size.

“We think [flood insurance] is a good idea for everyone,” Allison says. “Different areas that are lower-lying will require flood insurance to get your mortgage.” Flood insurance won’t always be necessary, but it may be a good idea to consider nonetheless. Be sure to check with your agent regarding the flood zone of the home before you buy.

4. Don’t forget about homestead taxes

Buyers also need to be aware of Homestead Exemption laws in Florida, especially when relocating from out of state. Homestead Exemption helps to ease the property tax burden on permanent residents, but it resets every time there’s a change in ownership.

That means the current taxes listed for the property may be significantly different than what you’ll end up paying as a new owner. Pithers says those tax numbers on real estate listings can be deceiving. New owners may pay as much as double the listed tax price, depending upon how long the previous owner was in the home and how the property is valued by the tax assessor. You’ll want to consult with your agent about how the Homestead Exemption will affect your Tampa home purchase.

5. Find a great deal to offset extra costs

With so many costs to consider, Pithers says he encourages buyers to invest in a home that could use a little updating.

Since you’ll find lots of older homes in the hot spots closest to the city center, there’s a great opportunity to buy low and build equity in the heart of a terrific location.

“There’s a big premium for remodels,” Pithers says. But with a little imagination and forethought, the most savvy buyers can look past a few older or dated features and create their dream home in a locale that may otherwise be outside their price range.

A water tower in Tampa, where you can buy a house.
Source: (Drew Coffman/ Unsplash)

Shop the perfect Tampa neighborhood for you

From chic, luxury neighborhoods to affordable, new-build suburbs, Tampa has something to accommodate every taste and budget.

South Tampa

Pithers says that the South Tampa area is where most of his buyers want to be, due to its close downtown proximity. Places like River Walk and Water Street give easy access to great downtown entertainment options that South Tampa residents enjoy to the fullest. South Tampa is also known for its excellent schools, specifically the highly desirable Plant High School.

The South Tampa communities of Ballast Point, Bayshore Beautiful, Beach Park, and Hyde Park are hot right now, thanks in part to the addition of several trendy new restaurants and shopping areas, such as Hyde Park Village.

Because South Tampa is a peninsula, the opportunities for waterfront property ownership increase there as well, though inventory is limited. If you’re looking for waterfront property, be sure to budget for seawall inspections and possible repairs. Seawall replacement can run around $500 per linear foot, so it’s important to know if that major expense is necessary before making an offer on a waterfront home in Tampa.

Tampa suburbs

While South Tampa enjoys a great location and fantastic revitalization initiatives, the Tampa suburbs are the best place to find newer construction. Buyers who are looking for those brand new, move-in ready homes will need to look outside the city. That means the commute to downtown could be upwards of 45 to 90 minutes, depending upon traffic patterns. Pithers advises buyers to extend their search outside of Hillsborough County when new construction is a priority.

Source: (TDKvisuals/ Shutterstock)

What to expect from Tampa housing

Houses and neighborhoods in Tampa may look a little different than in other parts of the country. Coastal style and friendly neighborhoods reign supreme in the Tampa Bay area.

Neo-traditional style

Like most of Florida, stucco style homes line many of the streets of Tampa. However, many buyers are being drawn to neo-traditional style homes. Neo-traditional architecture draws inspiration from classic designs and features light-colored siding, varied rooflines, and rich stonework. It focuses on pristine curb appeal and manicured landscaping to create an overall sense of unity.

Pithers says that newer neo-traditional neighborhoods in Tampa revolve around the center square concept, much like a traditional village setup. Here a nostalgic atmosphere meets cohesive design. Smaller lot sizes and wrapped front porches — the kind that make you want to sip some lemonade in a wooden rocking chair — lead to a sense of neighborliness and hospitality.

Downtown condos

In the downtown area, new condo building construction is on the rise, especially in the luxury sector. Condo living offers a virtually maintenance-free lifestyle with resort-like amenities. A downtown location appeals to professionals who wish to shorten their commute. But when searching for a condo, parking should still be considered since public transportation is basically non-existent in Tampa.

Condo buyers should ask for the past 3-6 months of condo association minutes. Condo HOA dues typically go toward regular maintenance and upkeep for the property as a whole, but larger projects may require special assessments for all owners. Taking a look at the minutes helps you plan for any anticipated assessments.

Homeowners Associations (HOAs)

HOAs are commonplace throughout Florida, and Tampa has some of the highest HOA fees as a share of monthly housing costs in the nation. Though some homeowners find HOAs restrictive, Pithers estimates that 90%-95% of his buyers prefer the regulation that an HOA can offer to keep a neighborhood looking sharp. “They provide a sort of insurance policy over maintaining the integrity of your neighborhood,” he says.

When looking to buy in an HOA or deed-restricted community, ask for a copy of the bylaws. You’ll want to check to make sure you understand the rules and can abide by them in your particular situation. Some questions to ask might include:

  • What are the guidelines for RV/boat parking?
  • Are there any pet limitations?
  • What restrictions are in place for exterior features?
  • How does one go about getting changes approved?
  • Are there any storage/shed limitations?

Partner with a top Tampa agent to find your perfect home

Growing business districts, exemplary schools, exquisite waterways, and fabulous entertainment — Tampa has it all! Buying a home in the beautiful Tampa bay area could end up being the best move you’ll ever make.

If you’re looking to purchase a home, connect with a top Tampa real estate agent to kick things off.

A top agent can help guide you through the specific local nuances of insurance, inspections, budgeting, and neighborhoods with ease. An agent who has a sales record that’s four times higher than average can streamline the process of getting you into your dream home.

And since top agents negotiate purchases that are 32% lower in cost than their competitors, you can rest assured that you’ll be getting the best value in your Tampa home purchase.

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