ST. PETERSBURG — To house hunters searching online, the home for sale in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood couldn't have looked more appealing — fully renovated and shaded by the leafy canopy of a magnificent ficus benjamini tree.
"Immaculate 3 bedroom, 2 bath interior on a beautifully landscaped corner lot," gushed the Multiple Listing Service description.
Then Hurricane Irma came along and — boom! — the 30-foot tree crashed onto the lawn and owner Brett Schroder saw his hopes for a sale likely gone with the wind.
"I was disappointed," he said. "I couldn't believe that tree didn't have a better root base."
Living as they do in a low-lying area next to Tampa Bay, Shore Acres homeowners are accustomed to flooding. The fear of a catastrophic storm surge led almost everyone to evacuate, only to return and find it was high winds, not high water, that left much of the neighborhood looking bedraggled.
But while Irma toppled hundreds of trees in the bay area, Schroder is among the relatively small number of owners who had one fall in such a way as to dramatically alter the looks of a place they were trying to sell.
The huge ficus missed the house and "For Sale" sign. But with the tree more horizontal than vertical now, the house is directly exposed to the hot rays of the morning sun.
Schroder, a real estate investor, bought the home at the corner of Alabama Avenue and Overlook Drive for $189,000 in May. The kitchen and a bathroom had been updated but he did some other work and put the house back on the market in late June for $269,900. The price had been cut to $235,000 when Irma hit nearly two weeks ago.
Ficus benjaminas, native to Asia and Australia, can grow to nearly 100 feet in height and are impressive with their glossy, drooping leaves. But arborists often advise removing them before they get very tall because of their shallow root system. Along with oaks, ficus were among Irma's main casualties.
Schroder has been getting estimates to remove the tree, with bids so far coming in at $1,400 and less. The house has been on the market long enough he had considered making it a rental even before Irma starkly altered its visual appeal to buyers.
"First, we've got to get (the tree) cut down and removed and then we'll start thinking about how to soften the landscape," he said.
As of Thursday, the listing was still active with pre-Irma photos. Agent Jennifer Brockman showed up shortly after 11 a.m. with a client, Bryce Clark. Both were surprised to see the huge mound of dead leaves and shattered branches but went inside nonetheless.
"That's unbelievable," Brockman said, peering through a bedroom window. The tree's enormous root ball completely filled the view.
Clark, whose fiance had spotted the three-bedroom, two-bath house before the storm, seemed more concerned about the boxy interior.
"It's kind of cool," he said, ''but I don't know what I'd do with the layout."
As they left, Brockman carefully locked up. A flyer hung on the door knob.
"24-hour hazardous tree removal," it said. "Don't wait until a tree falls on your house."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected]ampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate