Monday, November 21, 2016

SEA TOWERS 55+ CONDOMINIUMS on the edge of Madeira Beach


Sea Towers high rise buildings

Sea Towers is a very large complex with 778 separate residences.  It consists primarily of nine medium and high-rise buildings (5 & 12 stories) situated on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. Although it carries a St. Petersburg postal address, Sea Towers is actually located in an unincorporated area ten miles from downtown St Pete. Sea Towers is situated just over the northeast boundary of the city of Madeira Beach.  Its especially appealing to those who always wanted to live close to a beautiful, warm, white sandy beach as Sea Towers is within easy bicycling or even walking distance to the Archibald Beach Park in Madeira Beach.  

A half mile from Sea Towers--
Beautiful Archibald Park at Madeira Beach
One downside for many prospective residents is the general Sea Towers rule that does not permit pets.

Sea Towers also features an extraordinary number of its own recreational facilities.  The high-rise buildings provide many of the condominiums with spectacular marine views that include both the inter-coastal and the Gulf of Mexico beyond.  What some may consider a somewhat stark and urban appearance of the buildings is mitigated by the green well-kept grounds, lagoon, and beautiful waterfront setting.  It is within walking distance to a beautiful new Publix supermarket, a waterfront smokehouse restaurant and tavern, a Japanese steak house, and a Walgreen's pharmacy.  Sea Towers is also just a mile or so from many other restaurants, the post office at Madeira Beach, a large new Wal-Mart, and the large Bill Young Veteran's Administration hospital complex.

Spectacular sunset over the Gulf at Archibald Park, Madeira Beach

The governance structure of Sea Towers actually consists of a federation encompassing eleven different buildings, each of which has its own budget and rules.  Nonetheless, all Sea Towers buildings the complex share many amenities such as swimming pools, a lagoon circled by a running trail, tennis courts, an impressive central club house that includes a performance auditorium, and even a fishing pier.  The landscaping, roads, and common areas of the complex are exceptionally well-kept.  Sea Towers affords quite a secure living environment as a gated community with a 24-hour guard service at its only entrance.

November 2016 list resale prices for individual units range from about $70,000 for a one bedroom without a view to $210,000 for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath renovated unit with spectacular water views located on the 9th floor of the Columbia Building.  Prices depend largely on size, condition, and views.  Monthly HOA fees vary depending on the specific building and size of the unit, but typically are in excess of $400 for 2 bedroom units.  For that the residents receive professional management services that provide superb maintenance of the grounds and facilities as well as basic cable, and both exterior building and flood insurance.

One of several swimming pool areas at Sea Towers

Video:  A Drive Around Sea Towers complex

Friday, July 31, 2015

FLORI DE LEON Apartments Co-op, Downtown St. Petesburg

Sign welcoming you to Flori-de-Leon Apartments Co-op

Flori-de-Leon Apartments, built in 1926, became the first cooperative residential building on Florida's West Coast.  Co-ops are actually more numerous in Manhattan than condos, but in St. Petersburg and most areas of the country there are far fewer than condominiums.  Briefly, how does a co-op form of ownership differ from a condominium?  If you posess a condominium, you actually have a deed to your own unit, as well as a certain specified percentage of the common areas such as outside walks, roof top garden, recreation facilities etc.  

A cooperative owner does not actually own his or own unit.  He or she owns shares in the coooperative association which as a corporate entity owns the entire building, individual units as well as the common areas.  In the Flori de Leon Apartments like most co-ops, all of the utilities--including electric, water, sewer, trash, maintenance of building, full-time manager,--are paid through the HOA dues.  These currently run from about $1515 to almost $3400 quarterly.  The HOA fees vary according to the size and location of the individual co-op apartment within the building.
Front courtyard off of 4th Ave N.

The HOA operating fees

MT. VERNON 55+CONDOMINIUMS, Downtown St. Petersburg

.Built in 1936, the Mt. Vernon Condominium is located in a relatively compact two compact two story plantation style residential in the heart of downtown St. Pete  Its location is prime for those who seek to live a very walkable urban lifestyle..  A two block stroll takes you to movie theaters, and the Gourmet Locale Market in the upscale Sundial complex. Then in another direction a few blocks takes you to the restaurants, gallaries, and museums of Beach Drive.  Mt. Vernon is not an age restricted community but I've included it as it is one of the few relatively affordable communities in downtown St. Pete. 

Built in 1936, the Mt. Vernon Condominium is located in a relatively compact two compact two story plantation style residential in the heart of downtown St. Pete  Its location is prime for those who seek to live a very walkable urban lifestyle..  A two block stroll takes you to movie theaters, and the Gourmet Locale Market in the upscale Sundial complex. Then in another direction a few blocks takes you to the restaurants, gallaries, and museums of Beach Drive.  Mt. Vernon is not an age restricted community but I've included it as it is one of the few relatively affordable communities in downtown St. Pete.  

One enters the good sized lobby-- which is also the major interior common area--to be greeted by a seating area highlighted by vintage furnishings and a grand piano.  There is relatively little turnover among the twenty units in the building.  The most recent sale as of this writing was in April 2015 of a 909 square foot 2 bedroom, 2 bath unit for $195,000.   The MLS indicates that the monthly HOA fee on this unit was $548.  This unit had an updated kitchen, but like most of the units have retained some or all of the original hardwood flooring, crown moldings, and baseboards.  This gives the entire building a peaceful and settled feeling of elegance of a bygone era. In spite of its urban location, there is a swimming pool and hot tub and small sitting areas outside in back.  The secure building also has its own small fitness center.

Advantages & Pitfalls of Community Living

Advantages & Pitfalls of Community Living

Many retirees will find that Florida's over-55 communities offer a lot of advantages for them. However, they are not the right living choice for everyone! Some retirees may not desire to live under the rules and regulations (often rigidly enforced!) that necessarily accompany such community living such as leasing or pet restrictions. Others may not like the age segregation, and desire to live with neighbors of all ages. It's true that over-55 communities are generally quieter than all-age condo or apartment communities, and they are often less expensive for similar space. During the past decade, the population of Pinellas County has actually gotten younger on average. That's probably why over-55 communities in the current Pinellas County real estate market often offer more value for the money than non age-restricted condominiums. Many retiring baby boomers will doubtless be attracted to the St Petersburg area as a retirement destination, and I suspect this situation will change during the next decade.

Many retirees just moving to Florida desire the "built-in" sense of community that many complexes offer. You are likely to be living with people from similar backgrounds and interests as you. Many seniors want to be free of yard work and exterior maintenance at this stage in their lives, but they still want the advantages and sense of security of owning their own residence. What's more, Florida's generally balmy weather induces many to desire such outdoor features as swimming pools, tennis courts, shuffleboard courts,broad green lawns, and even docks. Most of our local over-55 communities offer all or most of these amenities without the expense and maintenance required for those who live in an individual single family residence.

External Amenities & Parking

The existence of desirable recreational amenities is only one among many considerations when a prospective buyer is comparing communities. What about the parking situation? How important is under-roof parking such a carport or garage to you. Keep in mind that the hot Florida sun and sudden torrential downpours can make a mess of automobile finishes. Is there sufficient space for guest parking? Is there a club house and/or organized group activities that interest you? How well maintained are the grounds and community areas? Even though most local active over-55 communities are four or five decades old, the great majority are very well maintained. Also, they were constructed when land in this area was far cheaper, and so often have far more green space per unit than communities constructed more recently even in less urban areas.
Lower Priced multi-story condo buildings often offer under roof
parking like this at Five Towns.

Legal & Association Governance Considerations

Equally important are the less visible aspects of the particular community you are considering. These include the legal and ownership structure. Is the community governed by a Homeowners Association or a Condominium Board? Does it hire a professional management company for day to day management and accounting? Is the underlying land leased or owned? What do the condominium documents, rules and regulations, stipulate about such important topics as pets, the right to lease your unit to others, and age restrictions on owners, occupants, and guests. What specific interior and exterior changes can an owner make to a unit without HOA approval?

Finances of the Homeowners Association (HOA)

Another vital consideration is the financial health of the building and/or complex. As the current Treasurer on the Board of my Homeowners Association, I've learned a lot about the financial and legal aspects of associations that govern such communities. These are critical. Let me repeat: Over-55 communities aren't necessarily the right choice for every retiree. Remember you are not simply purchasing your own unit but you are buying into an association--both its assets and its potential liabilities. As a resident you should pay close attention to your HOA and be prepared to volunteer as a participant.

Community tennis courts at Long Bayou

What do the Home Owners Association's financial statements say about the community's income, expenses, and reserves? Are too many of owners behind in their HOA payments? Under Florida law, the prospective buyer of a condominium or town home governed by a homeowner's association must be provided a copy of the latest financial statements as well as the governing documents for the community. The buyer then has three days to review them and, if they are not satisfactory to the buyer, he or she can back out of the transaction. One community may appear to offer the "advantage" of lower monthly HOA payments, but a diligent review of its finances could show that it is not building up sufficient reserves for expensive items such as road and parking space repairs, exterior building painting, and replacing the roof. Lower monthly HOA fees are hardly a plus if you will face an unplanned $6000 roof replacement assessment in the future!

A prospective buyer also needs to consider what utilities and insurance are included with the monthly HOA payment. Water, Trash, and county or municipal sewer charges are normally included as well as exterior maintenance. Basic cable TV service is often included as well. Exterior building insurance (which generally is comparatively costly in Florida) is almost always included. In areas deemed FEMA flood risk zones, this may also include building flood insurance. .

Buyer Due Diligence

This was just a cursory overview of a few important considerations that prospective buyers should keep in mind about any community association. Again, it is imperative that a prospective buyer needs to read the condominium documents and the rules and regulations very carefully. Most communities require that future residents meet with members of the Board for an interview and review of rules and regulations etc. Be sure at this point to raise any specific questions you may have about the condo docs and rules. In addition, I always recommend that my clients try to speak informally to residents they encounter when viewing the property.
You will find that most people are happy to speak to prospective residents about what life is like in that particular community. Below I've attached a link to an article about this very subject--"Seven Questions to Ask Your Future Florida Neighbors" on the Florida for Boomers website:

Tony Branch
Earnest Realty, Inc.
3136 3rd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
727-460-7887 direct line
727-323-1706 office

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Patriot Square is a middle sized over- 55 community (about 200 units) situated in the southwestern part of St Petersburg.  Located near the boat docks of Maximo Moorings, it is convenient to the Bay Way and St Pete Beach on the Gulf.  Patriot Square is an easy three mile drive from the heart of Gulfport and about equally distant from Historic Kenwood and the Grand Central districts of St. Petersburg.  The well-built two story red brick exterior buildings remind me of an apartment house in which I once lived in Columbus, Ohio, built in the early 1970's, about the time Patriot Square was built.  Of course, the ample grounds with attractive, mature landscaping softens the traditional red brick exteriors.

Patriot Square is in the 2 areas above bordered in red.

All the residential buildings in Patriot Square have two floors.  The individual units range from one bedroom and two bedroom condominiums on one level to townhomes on two levels. In addition, there are some three and four bedroom units of up to 1600+ square feet.   Prices in July 2016 are beginning to rise, but run from about $40-$80,000 depending on size and specific location.   There is a much higher demand for first floor units which often sell quickly and at higher prices. Virtually all second floor units have screened in decks while the first floor units have screened in porches. The Clubhouse and principal swimming pool is the dividing line between the two principal sections (or Phases) of the community.   There is a calendar of social activities which gets busiest during the winter and early spring when the many "snow bird" residents are present.

As with many other over-55 communities, HOA fees are based partly on the relative size of the individual unit.  They run from about $300 a month for one bedrooms in Phase One to $460 a month for four bedroom units.   HOA fees in Phase Two (the southern part of the complex) are relatively higher primarily because Phase Two is located just over the line in an area that requires flood insurance for the buildings.

Mature Landscaping at Patriot Square

A large proportion of Patriot Square's inhabitants are part year residents who typically come from the Northeastern states as well as Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada.  There are a lot of social activities available for those who want to.   Patriot Square is a well kept up and well governed community and conveniently located.  There are two potential drawbacks that should be mentioned:  There are no elevators between the first and second floors so that units on the second floor are only accessible by concrete stairs.   Also, there are assigned parking spaces and ample parking also for guests.  However, none of it is covered parking. 

Tony Branch
Earnest Realty, Inc.
3136 3rd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
727-460-7887 direct line
727-323-1706 office

Monday, July 27, 2015


Front of Chalet on the Lake

Chalet-on-the Lake is one of the few all-age communities I've included in this blog.  That's because its great location in the north central area of St Petersburg and the tremendous value it offers. 

First, the location of this well established community is quite good for those who want easy access to all the urban amenities that St. Petersburg offers yet live in a tranquil semi-suburban immedate neighborhood.  Located directly north across Library Lake from the recently renovated and spacious city Main Library,  most Chalet-on-the Lake condominiums have great waterviews. Considering its very convenient in-town location in a desirable neighborhood, I think there is exceptional value in the moderate prices (one bedroom, 880 square feet units priced in the low 40's and two bedroom 1240-1305 square feet units from $60-75,000).  The monthly HOA fees are relatively modest (about $260 a month in mid 2015) that includes trash, water, covered parking, and basic cable.  That modest HOA fee probably related to the fact that this complex is located in one of the highest elevation areas of St Petersburg.  Chalet-on-the Lake is located in a non-evacuation zone that does not require flood insurance.

As one might expect with its location in-town, the grounds are fairly modest in size.  However, most of the units have great views of greenery and the Library Lake out their back windows.  There is a community swimming pool on site as well.

Covered parking lot area of Chalet on the Lake

There are only about four dozen condominium units in Chalet-on-the Lake.  Moreover, there is a very modest turnover so you may have to wait awhile to find one on the market.

Swimming Pool area at Chalet-on-the Lake

Tony Branch
Earnest Realty, Inc.
3136 3rd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
727-460-7887 direct line
727-323-1706 office

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Winston Park NE Location

Winston Park Northeast Condominiums were built from 1971-1979.   It consists of nine separate three-story buildings governed by four separate condominium associations.  The individual units range in size from one bedrooms to two bedrooms and two baths.

If the first law of real estate is "location, location!", then Winston Park has a lot going for it.  It is situated on a large parcel of land (purchased at 1971 prices) in what is becoming the increasingly upscale Northeast section of St. Petersburg.  It is located just four blocks east of the 4th street corridor with a wealth of restaurants and fast food outlets (many "healthy") as well as gourmet and specialty markets like Trader Joe's & Fresh Market. Moreover, just a few blocks east are some of St. Petersburg's nicest single family residential neighborhoods.

Back of one of the condo buildings

 The condominium buildings surround a very large green area with a courtyard effect.   Yet, condos in this community are surprising in their modest price, ranging from about $40,000 to $70,000 as of this writing in mid-2015.  What's more, monthly HOA fees average about $300 or less which is modest considering the recreational facililties, green space, and both building and flood insurance they cover in addition to trash and water.   Moreover, over the years Winston Park NE has been able to put aside healthy financial reserves.

Unusually spacious green space in the center of the complex
The only pets permitted by most of the associations are cats under 15 lbs.   Winston Park NE with its very nice recreational facilities, and club house has many opportunities for an active social life, especially during the winter and spring when "snow birds" are also in residence.

Swimming Pool in back  of Club House Building

Tony Branch
Earnest Realty, Inc.
3136 3rd Avenue North
St. Petersburg, Florida 33713
727-460-7887 direct line
727-323-1706 office