Bargain hunters get $1 million homes for lot less
NEW TAMPA - Milan and Jennifer Gupta always wanted their "million-dollar dream home" but didn't want to pay the price. Turns out, they didn't have to. In April 2009, the couple paid $680,000 for a six-bedroom, 6 1/2-bathroom home in an exclusive section of Cory Lake Isles, the upscale gated community with entrances off Cross Creek Boulevard and Morris Bridge Road. Four years earlier, the house on Cache Isles Drive sold for $1.8 million.The Guptas bought the sprawling home, which was structurally sound, as a pre-foreclosure property from Countywide Financial, Jennifer Gupta said. "It was a year of going back and forth," she said. "We got a deal because we knew we weren't in a hurry. We were willing to wait." The Guptas, who lived in London at the time, spotted the house in 2008, while visiting friends at Cory Lakes Isles, and decided to make a move. "I love the warm weather," Gupta said. All across New Tampa, homeowners are buying houses previously valued at $1 million or more for thousands of dollars less, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office records show. The Guptas' bargain price for their "million-dollar home" has become more common in northeast Tampa. Property values for homes assessed at $1 million or more in New Tampa began to take a nosedive in 2007 and have yet to recover, county records show. At the time, Florida's economy and real estate market also were in a tailspin. In 2006, the number of homes assessed by the county property appraiser's office at $1 million or more in New Tampa, including Tampa Palms, peaked at 130. Two years later the number fell to 59. Last year, there were 25. Seventeen of the houses assessed at $1 million or more are in Tampa Palms' premier enclave, The Reserve. Inside the attendant-guarded village, 13 of the area's most expensive homes, including one assessed at $2.2 million, are on Maclaurin Drive, a U-shaped street that runs throughout the tony community. The eight remaining homes in northeast Tampa assessed at $1 million or more are sprinkled through Tampa Palms Area 2, Hunter's Green and Cory Lake Isles, county records show. Unlike in South Tampa and on Davis Islands, where multimillion-dollar homes are peppered along public streets, or on Harbour Island, which is lined with waterfront mansions, the most valuable homes in New Tampa are tucked behind private gates, away from public view. Yet homebuyers such as the Guptas are finding bargains in some of the area's most exclusive neighborhoods. Take Burniston Drive in Tampa Palms North, for example. Some houses that sold for $1 million or more five years ago are selling for mid- to high-six figures now. A house purchased in the 16300 block of Burniston Drive for $1.3 million in 2007 sold for $800,000 two years later, county records show. However, sellers are not giving up entirely on trying salvaging as much value as possible for their homes. For example, a house in the 14400 block of Burniston Drive that sold for $1.4 million in 2007 is back on the market for $1.2 million. Burniston Drive is typical of streets in lots of expensive neighborhoods, where home prices tumbled because of the state's slumping economy and sluggish housing market, said Michael Ceparano, a short-sale specialist in New Tampa. Houses priced at more than $1 million in 2005, 2006, and part of 2007 are selling for slightly more than half the price now, he said. The big losers are people who bought at the peak of the real estate boom, said Ceparano, owner of BuyandSellTampa.com. They've seen the greatest loss of value. Many houses sold in Hillsborough County since the burst of the real estate bubble have been bank-owned or preforeclosure properties that sold for less than the borrowers owed on their mortgages, he said. Three year later, Gupta is still happy with her Cory Lake Isles bargain. Even though they bought the house, "as is," it's structurally sound and has had no problems, she said.
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