Orders to MacDill AFB? Consider Saint Petersburg!

It seems that most folks that are moving here to work at MacDill AFB end up buying homes to the east of the base. I haven’t quite figured out why they all seem to end up in Brandon or Riverview, or even further east in Lithia, Valrico, Seffner, or Fishhawk Ranch.

Why aren’t folks looking just west to Saint Petersburg and all it has to offer? My guess is that the bridges across Tampa Bay are too intimidating. I would counter that the jam-packed commute from the popular Fishhawk Ranch area is a longer drive, in both distance and time, as well as aggravation.

Saint Petersburg has all the best that living in Florida has to offer! Gorgeous beaches, sailing, fishing, boating, and lots of sunshine! Downtown St Pete has a beautiful, accessible waterfront in addition to a terrific nighlife, restaurants, arts & crafts galleries, museums, Albert Whitted Airport and too many activities to count. For the sports enthusiast, Al Lang Field is home to the Rowdies professional soccer team as well as Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Waterfront or waterview properties are affordable, and many are ready for you to arrive with your boat and take advantage of Florida living!


Flood Insurance Update

DISCLAIMER: I am certainly not an expert or an insurance agent, but these are my personal take-a-ways from community meetings, handouts and online research. For specific information regarding your home, you should contact your insurance agent.

This is an update to my blogs “The Bottom Line on Flood Insurance” and “What to Do About Flood Insurance”

Most of you know by now that the “Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act” was passed and signed on March 21, 2014. This is a big relief to many of us who live in FEMA flood zones.

Bottom line (as I can figure it from the FEMA overview):

– Primary homeowners will see a maximum of 18% rate increases each year (unless it is a severe repetitive-loss property and certain pre-FIRM buildings)

– Buyers will be able to assume the sellers’ flood insurance policies at the same rate (at least until FEMA “develops guidelines”

– All primary residence policies will see a $25 surcharge ($250 for all other policies) to assist with FEMA’s “financial sustainability goals”.

– Guidelines set for grandfathering when new maps are written (too confusing for me to summarize so you’ll need to figure it out yourself if it applies to you.)

– Refunds for those who overpaid based on the law change.

– Increase in maximum deductible to $10,000, which may lower your premium.

– Non-primary homeowners and businesses get no relief from passing of this Act (will still see 25% increases each year until achieving “non-subsidized” rate)

If you’re not sure if or how this affects you, contact your insurance agent! He/she is the expert on this topic!

What to Do About Flood Insurance

Due to the signing of the “Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act” on March 21, 2014, some of the content of this blogpost has changed. Please refer to my post “Flood Insurance Update

DISCLAIMER: I am certainly not an expert or an insurance agent, but these are my personal take-a-ways from community meetings, handouts and online research. For specific information regarding your home, you should contact your insurance agent.  

This post was initially written for my neighborhood association, so there are specific references to my city and county, but the concepts still apply wherever you live.  

If you haven’t read it yet, please read The Bottom Line on Flood Insurance before continuing here.  

What many don’t understand is that the repercussions of the Biggert-Waters Act will affect everyone in some way. Those not in a flood zone today might be in one tomorrow if FEMA re-draws their FIRM map!  It doesn’t really matter if your home or neighborhood has ever flooded or not.  My neighborhood was built 40 years ago and has never, ever flooded, yet we will see our flood insurance rates rise.  


(1) Write your representatives.  In addition to the US Senators, this needs to come to the attention of our US Congressmen, and our state representatives that can influence them, including the Governor.  Your Mayor should be advocating for you.  It is more effective to contact your representatives directly.     

(2) Tell your friends.  You may have many friends or acquaintances who live in flood zones.  They may not even know about this, or how it will affect them, and they need to write/email/call their representatives as well.  And not just my friends in St Petersburg!  Remember Pinellas County will be the most impacted county in the country.  No kidding.  Ahead of Lousiana!  This will affect your friends in flood zones around the state and the US.   

(3) Get an Elevation Certificate, if you don’t have one.  First contact the company that did your latest survey and see how much they will charge, or pull out the phone book.  Your flood insurance company will want a copy (along with a recent picture of the front and back of your house), and the Pinellas County Property Appraiser wants a copy too (she should have information on how to send it to her on her website).  

ELEVATION CERTIFICATE: The two important numbers you need off the EC are the “BFE” (Base Flood Elevation) which is how high FEMA thinks it will flood at your house (mine is 11′) and the “top of bottom floor” which is the floor inside your house on slab (mine is 8′).  This means I am a “minus 3” and this number will determine the new flood insurance rate for a new owner.  The crazy flood insurance rates that are being quoted on the news have been from the beaches where they are probably -5 or -6 (Treasure Island, at least)  Obviously raising your house at or above the BFE will get you the best rate.  

FLOOD ZONES: You should also know what flood zone your are in.  Most of my neighborhood is Flood Zone “AE” which is the other important thing an agent needs to know, but the homes directly along Boca Ciega Bay are “VE” (think “V”=velocity, meaning wind-driven flooding) and some of the non-waterfront homes towards the northeast corner might be “X” (not a flood zone) (Pinellas residents can check the flood zone maps online to be sure.  

Note: Flood Zone is not the same as Evacuation Zone which is stated on the Pinellas Property Appraisers website  

If you are non-subsidized (categories 1, 3 or 4 from previous blog) then your EC may actually bring your rates down, so it’s definitely worth getting and your insurance company is going to require it soon anyway.  Also they should be checked for accuracy – people have found discrepancies in zoning or BFE from the maps and argued their way into better rates.   

I hope these blog posts have educated you enough to have a better understand of how flood insurance works and the impact of the Biggert-Waters Act.  If you have additional questions you should contact your insurance agent ASAP.

The Bottom Line on Flood Insurance

Due to the signing of the “Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act” on March 21, 2014, some of the content of this blogpost has changed. Please refer to my post “Flood Insurance Update

DISCLAIMER: I am certainly not an expert or an insurance agent, but these are my personal take-a-ways from community meetings, handouts and online research. For specific information regarding your home, you should contact your insurance agent.



Pinellas County is the most affected county in the COUNTRY, and where I happen to live, so the information is targeted here.  But the rules are the same – you just need to find out if your home is pre-FIRM or post-FIRM to see how the new rules apply to you.


Remember, flood insurance is required if you have a mortgage on your home and the home is located in a flood zone (there may be exceptions to this, but this is the norm).  The vast majority of flood policies are through various insurance companies that administer the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).


– FYI: You can go online to determine the date of the most recent FIRM map for your home. Most of the houses in my neighborhood, and many, many in Pinellas County are “pre-FIRM” meaning that they were built before the flood maps were in place (in the late 60’s/early 70’s) and their flood insurance with the NFIP has been grandfathered all along.


– Homeowners will generally fall into one of these 4 categories:



In general, post-FIRM houses are raised homes built to code based on the most recent map, and they have never been subsidized, so they should only see the routine annual raises in flood insurance rates (up to 20%, plus an extra 5% to fund a reserve fund mandated by the Biggert-Waters Act.)



(a) If you have a pre-FIRM home (built on slab, before community flood maps – call your agent to be sure), and

(b) it is your primary residence (meaning 85% occupancy according to one speaker – but check with your agent), and

(c) you have had NFIP insurance on your home continuously since before the Act was signed on July 6th, 2012 (switching companies does not mean a new NFIP policy – check with your agent if you’re not sure)


You will remain grandfathered until:

– the property is sold (new rates will be charged to the next owner), or

– a new policy is purchased, or

– you property suffers severe, repeated flood losses (which applies to many properties in the Shore Acres area of St Petersburg, for example), or

– policy lapses

(**DO NOT let your policy lapse accidentally. If your flood insurance payment is escrowed through your mortgagee, you are still responsible to have it paid on time, even if that means paying it cash yourself and taking it up with your mortgage company later.  It is very important to track this because you will lose your subsidized flood insurance rate even if it’s the mortgagee’s fault**)



If you fit (a) and (b) above, but your flood insurance policy was effective after July 6th, 2012, then beginning October 1st, 2013, your next renewal will be at the unsubsidized rates. 

You will get a letter from your insurer to obtain an Elevation Certificate which will determine your new rate if you haven’t already submitted one.



If your home is a non-primary residence (2nd homes, investments, rentals, etc), a business, or a severe repetitive loss property, you will see an immediate 25% increase in your rate, and it will go up each year until your rate equals the unsubsidized rate.


If you are #2, you can breathe a sigh of relief, but please understand that this law still affect you!  

– You may not be able to sell your home because a new buyer may not be able to afford the new flood insurance premiums, which may result in decreasing home values.  And your neighbors’ decreasing home values have a negative affect on your home value!

– Your friends and neighbors may be #3s or #4s and they may not be able to afford the increases, which may include rent increases, and we may possibly see another round of foreclosures.

– Many of the local businesses where we are trying to encourage growth are in the flood zone and will pass their increases onto us customers if they can afford to. (One example from the TI community meeting was a business whose insurance will be going up to $3000 per month.)



That’s a topic for my next blog post!

What exactly is “deep water”?

That’s a very good question and exactly the reason that I chose my real estate specialty, because “deep water” is a regional definition. Boat owners look for deep water properties to keep their boats in their waterfront “backyard”.
When I owned my first 26′ Hunter sailboat in Maryland, “deep water” was generally considered to be 6′ MLW (Mean Low Water is basically the average low tide level). Creeks and rivers off the Chesapeake tend to have steep banks so deep draft boats can anchor or tie-up pretty close to shore. This is why you’ll see large sailboats in abundance on the Chesapeake Bay and concentrated around the sailing mecca of Annapolis.
A few years later and having upsized to a larger family sailboat, we considered relocating to the sailing capital of North Carolina – the small friendly town of Oriental. Unfortunately, “deep water” around Pamlico Sound means anything deeper than 3′ MLW, and that often means building a long pier through the marsh to reach that “deep water”. The area is also affected by wind tides that drive even more water out. It seems that about the only place to keep a large sailboat is in one of the marinas.
Florida has been a completely different experience. Most locals say “deep water” is around 4′ to 5′ MLW. But many St Pete residents are transplants from around the country, so you’ll get a lot of different answers, and you’ll hear 6′ pretty often. It’s pretty much personal opinion, so you’re likely to see anything in an MLS listing.  Occasionally, you’ll see a property labeled with “sailboat water” which stands a much better chance of meeting your personal definition of “deep water”.
My job as a Buyer’s Agent is make sure that my buyer’s “deep water” property will be deep enough for their boats, whether sail or power.  While some may dismiss the value of a “local agent”, when it comes to knowing boating property, only an active boat owner will be able to advise a boating buyer properly.

Structure “C” Update in the News

The Saint Petersburg Times, a fantastic newspaper, featured the controversial construction of the fixed bridge on the Pinellas Bayway in this morning’s paper.  Known to sailors as “Structure C”, the plan to replace the drawbridge that links the mainland to St Pete Beach has been in works for years.

How does this affect sailors?  “Structure C” is the main route to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico from Boca Ciega Bay and its waterfront neighborhoods such as Broadwater and the city of Gulfport.  Right now, the bridge opens on demand on the hour, :20 and :40 after during normal daytime boating hours.   As long as a sailboat’s mast is standard intracoastal height, or 65′ or less, the sailboat should be able to pass clear underneath unless the tide is exceptionally high.  Most of the bridges have clearance markers that display the actual clearance before venturing under.

How does this affect drivers?  Fewer delays due to drawbridge openings.  This can be a big factor on the weekends, with lots of boaters on the water and lots of folks heading to the beach.

How does this affect bicyclists?  If you’ve ever biked on this portion of the Bayway, you should be relieved.  Crossing any drawbridge in this area is a harrowing experience, but this section of road includes about 1/4 mile of raised causeway with no shoulder and no passing lane.  This is where I tend to pedal at my fastest speed to avoid being hit or bullied by drivers trying to get by.  The proposed fixed bridge appears to have nice bike lanes in both directions – woo hoo!

Here’s a link to the full St Petersburg Times article:  http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTM2NzgyNDA=

Villas on Point Brittany – a Bayway Gem

When I mention the Villas on Point Brittany, most locals assume that I’m talking about one of the high-rise condos situated on the west and south edges of the Point on the south side of the Pinellas Bayway. While these condos are quite nice and feature spectacular views, they are designated “over-55” and obviously have a limited buyer audience. The Villas, on the other hand, are located along the east and south edges of the Point and include residents of all ages, older and younger, that enjoy the waterfront amenities such as the resort-sized geothermal-heated pool and the fishing pier with cleaning station.
The Villas on Point Brittany is a gated community of 80 condos clustered in 8- or 12-unit two-story buildings. Most of the condos are waterfront on Cat’s Point Channel, have detached oversized one-car garages, and/or deeded deep-water boat slips between 28′ and 50′ long. The common areas are beautifully maintained under the oversight of various committees that report to the Board of Directors, such as the Garden Committee and the Dock Committee.
Probably the best thing about the Villas is the location on the Pinellas Bayway. By car it has quick access to the freeway for an easy drive downtown, north to Tampa or TIA, or south across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to Sarasota – all within a 30-40 minute drive. Yet the Villas are only 15 minutes to famous beaches, including Fort de Soto and Pass-a-Grille. By boat, minutes to Boca Ciega Bay, the city of Gulfport or the Intracoastal Waterway to the north, or Tampa Bay and Gulf access to the south.
Intrigued? There is more to come…..

Broadwater – Gateway to the Gulf

Surprisingly, you’ll find that many ‘Burgers don’t have a clue where the waterfront neighborhood of Broadwater is located in their city. I often have to explain, even to long-time Saint Petersburg residents, that it’s “behind Maximo”. It is no secret, though, that Broadwater is one of the most affordable and accessible sailboat-friendly canal neighborhoods in Pinellas County.
Intrigued? More to come…..