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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Homebuyers in the greater Tampa Bay region are forced to compete with investors

A man stands in a T-shirt and a baseball cap in front of his home. A work truck, with Pinellas County written on its side, sits in the front lawn.
Gabriella Paul
Troy Bielicki, 25, is a new homeowner in Pasco County. Before purchasing the starter home for his family, he said investors beat them to the punch for several properties in Pinellas County.

Corporate investors don’t yet represent a large market share of single family homes. Experts say that could change.

Troy Bielicki has dreamed about owning a home since he was a teenager growing up in St. Petersburg.

At 25, he’s achieved that dream. Though it looks different than he imagined.

“It definitely felt very, very intimidating at first,” Bielicki said.

He started his search near St. Petersburg in 2022. His wife was pregnant with their first child, and they were looking for a place to raise a family.

Their budget was $200,000. But the homes they were seeing were double that.

Median home prices in Pinellas County had climbed to more than $400,000. That was up from an average price of around $250,000 in 2019.

Home prices were appreciating in nearby counties across the greater Tampa Bay region, too.

Bielicki works full-time for the Pinellas County stormwater division and earns a modest pay servicing storm drains. Their household income is about $50,000, or nearly 80% of the area’s median income.

The homes they could afford in Pinellas County were few and far between. The handful that were available at that price point needed a considerable amount of work.

“I had to consider other ZIP codes just because of the minimum price when you sort … on Zillow,” he said. “So, we just had to keep moving further and further out.”

They looked as far north as Tarpon Springs and as far south as Sarasota.

A fighting chance

After weeks of searching, their hearts were set on one home in Largo.

“We both saw it. We both really wanted it,” he said. “It had a little bit of a smaller backyard, but, you know, it's a good starter home for a family.”

They received $10,000 in down-payment assistance through a first-time homebuyer program. And they got approval from their bank for a $190,000 loan.

Bielicki left work early to tour the home. He made a full-price offer on site.

The next morning, their agent called with bad news.

They were edged out by about $7,000 from a competing buyer associated with an LLC.

“And I think what's unfortunate is they really weren't able to consider who the buyers were – like he had this young family trying to move out versus somebody who just slapped a new coat of paint on it, and now it's a rental in Largo,” Bielicki said.

Cash buyers have the upper hand over buyers with conventional or government-backed loans, said Tampa Bay area realtor Kristin Washington.

“There's a pecking order,” Washington said. “So if you're in that lower register, you can't compete with cash. So, unfortunately, buyers were experiencing multiple offers and multiple rejections.”

Realtor Kristin Washington primarily works with first-time homebuyers in the Tampa Bay region. She said while the dream of homeownership is becoming more unaffordable, there are financial resources available. She pointed to the Dare To Own The Dream (DARE) program that the City of Tampa is rolling out that safeguards certain homes from investor purchase to give low-to moderate-income hombuyers a fighting chance.

To give her clients a fighting chance, Washington said she's had to change her strategy. She works to educate individual buyers in the region on how to optimize all of the local, state and federal homebuying programs and financial assistance that are available.

Unfortunately, she said that the bidding wars in Tampa Bay’s housing market in recent years caused many hopeful homeowners to give up altogether.

Bielicki and his wife suspect they lost several homes to investors over the course of their year-long search.

The roots of corporate influence

Data shows investors are buying more single-family homes across the U.S. in recent years. The share of homes purchased jumped from 16% to 24% in 2021, according to a CoreLogic report.

The trend was most acute across the Sun Belt region, including Florida, where median home prices have skyrocketed since 2019.

While the practice is not new, the rise of corporate ownership in the single-family housing market has garnered renewed concerns over the impact on prospective homeowners and renters. Investment in the single-family market has its roots in the fallout from the financial crisis of 2008.

While corporate investors don’t yet represent a large market share of single family homes, experts say that could change.

One forecast by MetLife Investment Management estimates that institutional investors could own more than 40% of all single family homes by 2030.

The new influx of institutional investors has gained attention nationally, and in Florida.

The rise of corporate investors

Researcher and graduate student Renz Torres has been investigating this topic at the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.

Uncovering the full scope of corporate-owned homes in a given housing market can be difficult, Torres said.

The identity of parent companies is often obscured in ownership records and business registry data by the use of limited liability companies, which are often nested within complex corporate structures, according to Torres' recently published research.

“There's increased demand between corporate owners and owner-occupiers ... which may lead to driving up prices, and some people getting displaced from the metro."
Renz Torres, researcher with UF Shimberg Center for Housing Studies

“One of the toughest problems … is that these big investors will use a bunch of different LLCs ... to structure the ownership of all these homes,” they said. “It could be tens, it could be hundreds and there's no way of knowing offhand.”

To regroup the corporate entities, Torres aggregated multiple data sources and cross-referenced ownership records with company addresses.

Their data analysis reveals that the total market share of corporate ownership ranges from 0% to 18% in some ZIP codes across the region.

Single-family homes owned by corporate investors in the greater Tampa Bay region, 2023

The data shows the percent of single-family homes that are owned by corporate investors, by ZIP code, in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk and Pinellas counties.

Chart by: Renz Torres at the UF Shimberg Center for Housing Studies
Data notes: The analysis was completed using property appraiser records, business registry filings and tax parcel data from the Florida Department of Revenue. Corporate investors in this dataset are defined as limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations (Inc.), limited partnerships (LPs), joint ventures, realty firms, and other similar business entities. It does not include second homes, vacation homes, or investment properties owned outright by individuals.

There's also neighborhoods with higher concentrations of investors. The hotbeds are in south St. Petersburg, the Ybor City area, and parts of west Pasco and south Hillsborough counties.

In Hillsborough County, it’s estimated that 8.5% of all homes are investor-owned. In Pasco County, the market share is 8%, and in Pinellas County it's 6.5%, according to an analysis of 2023 data.

Compared to owner-occupied homes, properties that are bought by investors often reappear on the market as single family rentals or are renovated and relisted at a higher sale price.

While experts disagree on the degree to which real-estate investors impact home price appreciation, Torres said it’s clear that added competition by investors is hard on first-time homebuyers.

“So there's increased demand between corporate owners and owner-occupiers and prospective owner occupiers which may lead to driving up prices, and some people getting displaced from the metro,” Torres said.

In the Tampa metro, where wages have not kept up with housing inflation, many are buying homes farther away from the urban core. That means they could work in Tampa or St. Petersburg and live in Pasco, Polk or Hernando counties.

Achieving the dream of homeownership, at a cost

That was the case for Bielicki.

His Pinellas County work truck is parked in the driveway of his west Pasco County home.

"I feel like I've achieved the best thing I could for my family in the circumstances," he said. "And it takes a long time to realize a dream, so to speak."

He bought much farther from where he wanted to raise his family in St. Petersburg, and the home he purchased needs a lot of work. Bielicki said he’s considering taking out a construction loan to finance the needed projects around his house.

Still, Bielicki said he’s grateful he bought a home when he did.

A man sits at a computer that displays pins on a map of real-estate website.
Gabriella Paul
Troy Bielicki filters listings on Zillow to show available homes under $250,000 in Pinellas County. He's underwhelmed by the results.

Sitting at his kitchen table, he pulls up a map of the available homes that he could afford today in Pinellas County.

“Wow, there is not a single thing in that whole area where I was looking and that was only two years ago,” he said. “This is kind of a shock looking at it now.”

Once in a while, Bielicki said he drives by the house he hoped to buy in Largo.

It has a fresh coat of white paint and different cars that rotate through the driveway every few months.

His best guess is that renters are living in the house he hoped to raise his family in.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a  Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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