TAMPA, Fla. — Over a year into the pandemic, Tampa Bay's housing market is selling at a head-spinning pace.
Not since the bubble of the early 2000s have we seen prices increase this much, this fast. A wave of people escaping higher taxes and tighter COVID restrictions are moving to the Sunshine State, where the water's always warm and the cost of living low.
"It's a little bit crazy and daunting," says Real Estate Agent Sarah Clark with My Tampa Agent.
"Home are selling incredibly quickly," she says.
It's no wonder why — the Bay, the beaches, the weather and a low-stress lifestyle during a high-stress pandemic.
Clark, who works with buyers of all budgets, says the market is so hot in Tampa right now that house hunters often don't have time to negotiate.
"We're talking days, hours, sometimes even minutes," Clark says. "Typically, what we are seeing is a home will come on the market Thursday or Friday, we'll have showings or an open house through the weekend, and by Sunday night you've got multiple offers."
"So typically, you're looking at a property in the morning, and you've got to make an offer in a few hours, if not on the spot sometimes," she says.
The competition is so fierce some people are skipping inspections and buying property "sight unseen."
So what's driving this housing boom?
"We are seeing a massive influx of cash buyers, particularly from other markets from out of state, which is, in turn, driving up our prices at an incredible rate," says Clark.
For sellers like Randy Renz in the new Bexley community of Lutz, the hot market is both an opportunity and a challenge.
"The difficult thing is, it's great to sell when the market is going up and is high, but you also have to at the same time buy somewhere else," says Renz.
Tampa Real Estate Agent Vincent Arcuri is one of the most well-known agents in Tampa.
He's seen it all, from the bust to the boom.
"We always see these cycles in real estate, and I think we're in a bubble right now 100 %," says Arcuri. "What comes up must come down."
"What we're seeing is a mass movement here," Arcuri says.
Arcuri says people from up north are selling their homes for more money then they're coming to Florida with more to spend and outbidding the locals.
The crush of cash buyers from out of state is pushing local families to the sidelines.
James and Cassie Jones are pre-approved and ready to buy, but they don't trust a market where everything feels rushed.
"Being approved to buy a home, it's just really tough right now knowing what you are getting yourself into. It's pretty much a free fall on people purchasing homes," says James.
"It's sad that you go and find a house that you like and then immediately someone has put an offer on it. Not enough time to do an inspection, basically there's 10 people trying to buy one house," says Cassie.
And they're now feeling it on both ends because rent prices are also going up in Tampa Bay.
According to Realtor.com, the median rent increased 6.9% compared to this time last year at the beginning of the pandemic.
"You can't move yourself up right because prices are so high right now with renting or buying," says Cassie.
So how do you navigate through these Fast Times in Florida?
Well, if you're buying, Clark says, "You need to make sure that you are well represented. You have to be receiving proper guidance right now."
If your selling, Arcuri says the strategy is really simple.
"Price the home as high as you possibly can and get the maximum number that a home comps out at, and then we just list it at that and let the bidding wars begin," he says.
And if you're on the fence, take a time out but don't give up.
"From what we've experienced so far, now is not the time to buy. We would be better off holding off, and waiting," says James.
If you don't want to wait, here are a couple of things to consider if you want to compete with cash buyers who are willing to pay above the asking price.
You want to get all your loan information done ahead of time.
Go into the home ready to make an offer, knowing you are not only pre-approved, but you can close fast.
If you are pre-approved and you are ready to move right now and can close faster than the person who's claiming they have cash, but they need a few days to "put it together, " the seller may not want to deal with that and may accept your offer instead.
Speed in this market sells and buys.
Another strategy, make what's known as a "backup offer." It's an agreement with the seller that they will accept your offer if the primary offer falls through.
But whatever course you take, it's worth working with an agent who knows the landscape and can guide you through the pitfalls of a fast and furious market.