Preliminary numbers released Monday showed a 5.7 percent rise in total values for the city of Tampa, about 3 percent for Plant City and 1.5 percent for Temple Terrace. Countywide, values rose about 5.4 percent to a total $69.5 billion. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO
TAMPA - Thanks in part to rising home sales, property values are up across Hillsborough County for the first time in five years, according to Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez.
Preliminary numbers released Monday showed a 5.7 percent rise in total values for the city of Tampa, about 3 percent for Plant City and 1.5 percent for Temple Terrace. Countywide, values rose about 5.4 percent to a total $69.5 billion.
"We never anticipated the rate of increase would be this significant," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.
Monday's numbers supported Henriquez's announcement in March that values would likely rebound this year after falling for the first time since the housing bubble burst in 2008.
"The numbers aren't huge, but they're making that turnaround," said Pat Alesandrini, the county's director of valuation.
Henriquez released the estimates as municipal governments bear down on their budget planning for 2014. Those budgets will take effect Oct. 1, and a larger tax base takes pressure off governments to raise tax rates.
"There are clear signs that the local economy is on the mend," County Administrator Mike Merrill wrote in his budget briefing for county commissioners last week.
The uptick in property values comes even as Tampa budget officials are expecting a $20 million deficit for 2014. Rising values will soften that deficit, though most of the reductions will come from city operations, Buckhorn said.
State law limits the amount taxes can rise on homesteaded residential property each year.
The bump in values has been driven largely by an increase in residential home sales over the last year. Many of those sales have been to deep-pocketed investors like the Blackstone Group, which has mopped up hundreds of foreclosed homes in the area with plans to hold them as rentals, making it the county's largest residential property owner.
The scale of investor purchases has tightened the real estate market, particularly at the lower end of the spectrum, and pushed up prices overall, Alesandrini said.
The improving economy is also encouraging first-time buyers and retirees to get back into the housing market, said Tim Becker, director of the Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Florida.
That, in turn, is encouraging builders to start construction on new homes again -- a promising situation for next year, Alesandrini said.
In parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties, flatbed trucks loaded with building materials are returning to the roads after a long absence. Building permits across the state are still running about half their long-term average, however, Becker said.
The changes now moving through the housing market are the first signs of improvement after years of decline. But the market still has a long way to go to recover, Becker said.
"You still have individuals that are upside down on their properties," Alesandrini said. "But they see the market turning and it gives them hope."