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When Jenn Brubaker needed to buy a Tampa Bay home to accommodate her mother’s move to Florida, she knew she had a tough task in front of her.
It was the summer of 2020, and Tampa’s real estate market was having a bit of a moment, to put the situation mildly. A confluence of factors — including an influx of new residents and fewer houses on the market — converged to increase home prices and kick the competition into high gear.
Even though Brubaker’s finances were strong, she knew she’d be in for a fight. But she never could have predicted the rollercoaster ride she was in for — or what she’d have to sacrifice to win her dream home in the end.
Tampa’s real estate market, explained
As of December 2020, Tampa’s real estate market is strong, with home prices still climbing steadily.
At its core, the city is a military real estate market: MacDill Air Force Base is Tampa’s largest employer, so there’s always a built-in demand for homes.
Plus, Tampa has become increasingly popular among New Yorkers who are flocking to the Big Guava to take advantage of its warm weather, low taxes, reasonable cost of living, and beachside lifestyle.
All of this created a tight housing market in Tampa, with escalating bidding wars and homes flying off the market in days rather than months.
Tampa real estate market need-to-know stats
- Median home price: $290,000
- Median home price change from 2019: Up 15.6% — in 2019, the median home price was $250,895
- Average days on market: 10 days (down significantly from 28 days in 2019)
- Housing inventory availability: Down 47.2% since 2019, creating an inventory crunch for buyers
- Do sellers get their listing price? It’s very common to pay asking price; sellers get a median of 100% of their list price
- Seller’s or buyer’s market: Strong seller’s market
Tampa real estate market major trends
Top Tampa real estate agent Andrew Duncan, whose team worked with Brubaker, walked us through some important market trends the city is seeing as its star rises.
Here’s what buyers hitting the Tampa Bay real estate market need to know.
Home prices are steadily rising
“There isn’t enough resale inventory to support the demand,” Duncan explains.
“So it’s a very competitive market, and not as many listings as we saw a year ago. Considering we have more buyers and not as many listings, that obviously tells you that prices have been rising.”
How much are prices rising? In the last year alone, Tampa Bay home prices have shot up 15.6%.
Of course, that’s more growth than is typical. According to Duncan, the coronavirus has undoubtedly increased demand for new homes in the city and played a role in escalating prices.
New Yorkers are moving in
“Probably the most surprising thing that’s come from COVID is the number of people that we’re getting moving here from other parts of the country — like, specifically, in New York. They’re just moving here in droves,” Duncan reveals.
It’s made a big impact on the local Tampa market, which has been pretty steady over the years.
“I think that’s going to fuel our real estate market for a really long time — continuing with low supply and strong demand, with more and more people wanting to move and buy here,” he adds.
Bidding wars are now the norm
With increased demand and fewer houses for sale in Tampa, bidding wars have become the norm.
“We’re seeing bidding wars regularly in our mid- and even upper-level price ranges,” Duncan says. And that means buyers are having to get progressively more creative with their bidding strategies.
Home sale contingencies are a non-starter for many sellers
For example, some buyers are abandoning the home sale contingency (a stipulation included in your offer that your current home must sell before you can complete purchase of the new one) because many sellers simply won’t consider an offer that includes one.
Think about it this way: If a seller is getting multiple bids, wouldn’t they choose the offer that’s the quickest and surest thing? A home sale contingency can be a huge delay in the process — what if your buyer falls through, or their financing gets held up? — so it’s no wonder that sellers skip them whenever possible.
Still, forgoing the home sale contingency as Brubaker did (we’ll get to her story in a minute!) can be a risky move, so it pays to have a trusted real estate team around you to advise you.
Why Jenn Brubaker decided to upgrade her Tampa home
Brubaker’s decision to move to a new home in the midst of an unprecedented Tampa real estate market wasn’t driven by choice. Rather, she needed an upgrade when her mother decided to move in with her from Ohio.
Brubaker had just purchased her first Tampa home in 2018, but with her mother moving in, the smaller house wouldn’t meet their needs.
“My mom isn’t in the financial place to buy her own house, so I had to find a house that had a mother-in-law suite attached to it,” Brubaker shares.
That meant she needed to find a very specific home in an already tight market.
Finding an agent was a breeze…
Thankfully, one part of her search was super easy: Finding an agent.
She called in help from a friend of ten years who had made her way as a top agent on Duncan’s team.
“I know that she’s really good at her job, and that she would work really hard for me, so it was kind of a no-brainer” Brubaker says. “I didn’t have to go off recommendations. I just knew that I trusted her, so I got very lucky.”
Having someone she trusted by her side was important because she had a huge task ahead of her in finding a home.
…But she was in for a stressful, challenging home search
Tampa real estate inventory is already scant for buyers, but if you have specific needs (like an in-law suite), then only a fraction of homes will qualify. According to Brubaker, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
She had multiple listing apps at the ready with a range of search criteria. She trawled for listings that included the terms “mother-in-law suite,” “bonus room,” or anything that insinuated there might be an extra, private living space for her mother.
“Basically, every day I would be on those apps constantly seeing if anything new popped up, and looking at the pictures,” she recalls. “And if they had any sort of video or 3D home tour, that really helped because it allowed me to see the layout of the house.”
Anything that had potential extra living space was in consideration, which meant Brubaker looked at a lot of homes.
“I think one day we ended up seeing eight houses on a Saturday,” she laughs.
The almost-home that was not to be
Then, one Friday night while Brubaker was in Ohio helping her mom through surgery, she saw a home that really excited her.
She affectionately called it the “cabin,” thanks to its beautiful wood exterior. The home was nearly perfect for the family’s needs: The bottom floor had a one-bedroom apartment for her mom, while the top floor would function as a three-bedroom, two-bath for Brubaker.
She sent the listing to her agent, and they agreed to go see the home as soon as possible.
On Sunday, Brubaker flew back to Tampa to tour the home, and on Monday, she put in an offer.
The seller — bolstered by Tampa’s hot market — said they’d only consider her offer if her current home was under contract first.
Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, Brubaker decided to take a big risk and sell her home so she could put in a more competitive offer on the cabin.
But time was of the essence. The next day, listing photos were shot. By Friday, Brubaker’s home was being shown to buyers.
On Saturday — barely a week after first seeing the cabin’s listing — she already had an offer on her starter home.
Unfortunately, despite moving proverbial mountains to sell her home so she could win the cabin, the sellers ended up rejecting her offer to go with another bid.
Brubaker was gutted.
“I loved my little house,” she says. “It was my first home by myself, and there’s sentimental value to you outside of just someplace that you lived — at least for me; I’m very nostalgic like that.”
Also, because she’d moved so quickly on her sale, she’d taken a less-than-ideal offer.
And to add insult to injury, Brubaker was now dealing with an added layer of anxiety: She needed to find another suitable home to buy, and quickly. Her crunched timeline meant she wouldn’t have a lot of bargaining power with sellers.
How she changed her offer strategy to win
As luck would have it, a home she’d previously missed out on — which she calls the “treehouse” — became available again just as the cabin fell through.
But, she says, this time she wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way. Brubaker was ready to make the most competitive offer possible.
“In this market, you need to pay closing costs and give them their asking price in order to be competitive,” she explains. “Because of what I went through with the other house, and because I was in a time crunch, I offered a little over asking, and I’m paying closing costs.”
Another huge competitive advantage to her offer? With a buyer locked in for her starter home, Brubaker didn’t need to include a home sale contingency.
She recognizes she didn’t get the best deal, but in her situation, winning the right home was more important.
“That’s just the state of the market and it’s more of a seller’s market,” Brubaker admits. “I didn’t really get that benefit on my side, but because I had so much relying on the fact that I had to sell my house and move forward, I didn’t think I could play around with that too much.”
… And finally snagged her dream home
Her aggressive offer strategy paid off: Among the three offers for the home, Brubaker’s won out.
The treehouse is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom charmer nestled just outside Clearwater’s upscale Safety Harbor. She calls it the treehouse because it has a light-filled lofted lookout area surrounded by windows.
The home is well-located at the end of a cul-de-sac, with only one side adjoining neighbors; on all other sides, it’s surrounded by greenery and park lands.
Even better? One of the previous owners was a real estate agent, and they made beautiful renovations to the home.
“They basically renovated the whole inside, so all of the bathrooms and the two kitchens — there’s a kitchen on the bottom floor in my mom’s area — are all very neutral and very new,” Brubaker says.
The home, which includes unique architectural features and ample outdoor space, is everything Brubaker wanted and more.
“Between the location and the fact that pretty much everything is new in the house, I don’t think I could have found a better house,” she gushes.
In the end, Brubaker is glad she persevered
In Brubaker’s case, the second time was the charm. Her closing went relatively smoothly, and despite the stress, she felt grateful to have gone through the process.
“I was so distraught when the cabin fell through and I just thought, ‘I don’t know, maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this,’” she reveals. “But I just kept forging ahead, and I just thought ‘you’re already in this, there’s no going back now.’”
At least not without upsetting the person she’d lined up to buy her starter home.
“I’m so grateful I did it because the treehouse — I love it so much more than the other homes. So, I’m glad it worked out that way.”
Header Image Source: (Debby Hudson / Unsplash)