ST. PETERSBURG - Tony Vicari and his wife have spent 13 years in their Dunedin house, but now that they've found some extra money, the two are looking for ways to make a comfortable home for their 1- and 4-year-old daughters.
The 600 vendors at the Home Show at Tropicana Field, the largest in Florida's west coast, gave the couple plenty to think about.
"There are definitely some homes being bought and sold in our neighborhood, but its hard to tell if it'll last. It's not stagnant, its not dead, but its just trickling right now," Vicari said. "I don't see us moving any time soon, so we're starting to look at options to make our house nicer."
Every booth at the Home Show was filled as some 24,000 visitors filtered through the Trop from Friday to Sunday. The expo, which has been held three times a year for nine years, usually generates big crowds, but the noticeable difference this year is that people are starting to open their wallets again, organizers said.
Property values across Pinellas County have risen by an average of 3 percent after a five-year slump, and the assessed value of property county-wide increased by about $1.5 billion from last year, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office. Prices in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area rose by 20 percent in April compared to the same month in 2012, with a median home price of $144,049, according to the Florida Realtors trade group.
March also saw more than 3,100 homes sell in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and parts of Hernando counties, the busiest month since May 2006, according to My Florida Regional Multiple Listing Service.
Jim and Sharon Detrick are one of the many families willing to take the plunge back into the Tampa Bay housing market. The couple just retired and spent the weekend gathering ideas for their new home in Sun City Center before they move from Fort Lauderdale Thursday. Most of the homes they looked at in Hillsborough County were older and in need of modern updates, Jim Detrick said. The couple booked several vendors to come to the home to plan everything from counter tops, flooring and paint.
"The prices are good, the timing is good and we saw so many fantastic options we didn't know we had," Jim Detrick said. "Seeing the parking lot so full really shows that there has to be an upswing in the economy here, and lots of people were waiting for the right time, like we were."
The big sellers at the home show: windows, flooring and kitchen remodeling.
With tons of window vendors to compete with, first-time Home Show vendor Home Performance Alliances Premium Windows and Doors, which has locations in Clearwater and Tampa, added some extra incentive for potential customers -the chance to win $50 on a slot machine.
"Most of the homes we're booking are people who have lived there for years and really need new windows or doors, so I think the economy is getting there but we're not at the peak," said Netty Rodriguez, who does promotions for the company. "I think a lot of the purchases I've seen people make are just for safety reasons."
But Larissa Berendsen, a designer and planner with S and W Kitchens in Palm Harbor, said personal enjoyment was a huge factor in her sales this weekend. Most of the people stopping by S and W, which does full kitchen, bath and flooring renovations, weren't just there to browse as in years past, but to follow through with free home estimates, she said. Instead of looking to do small upgrades, customers are requesting large-scale renovations, and when they spend that much money to improve their homes, they usually stay, she said.
"I've probably been to 10 of the Home Shows here, and we're doing incredibly well this time around," Berendsen said. "This shows me that the economy is doing pretty well, and I think a lot of that has to do with more people deciding to stay in their homes and update them instead of selling them."
But since the housing market is just starting to gain momentum, many Pinellas and Hillsborough residents may not have any other choice, said president of Tommy Todd Landscape and Design Thomas Todd.
Tommy Todd Landscape and Design, located in St. Petersburg has participated in the Home Show since it started, and uses the events to generate about 40 percent of its business for the year, Todd said. The crowd was noticeably larger, Todd said, and were looking to spend more money on vanity purchases like fire pits, outdoor kitchens and pools. The company usually caters to northerners who have just bought a home in the area, taking advantage of low interest rates, and have no knowledge of what to grow in their yards. But now, more and more local residents are looking to invest back into their properties, Todd said.
"They're stuck in their houses like a lot of us are right now," Todd said. "The market is better, but it's not back and I think people are deciding that the stock market isn't a sure thing and they're putting that money back into their property knowing they can get a return on investment. That works out well for us."