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Moving mansions: The upper crust of Tampa Bay’s housing market is on an upswing

In the last 12 months, there’s been a pronounced shift in mindset among the high-end homebuyers seeking Jennifer Zales’ real estate services.

“Nobody’s asking anymore, ‘Do you think the market’s going to crash?’” said Zales, a luxury property specialist with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Tampa.

A recovery in Tampa Bay’s luxury housing market — properties priced above

$1 million — began to take hold as early as 2012, real estate agents say. But the difference in the last several months is more than a good mood among buyers — it’s backed by numbers that show sales of properties more than $1 million have been 10 percent to 20 percent higher on a monthly basis than in 2013 in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, said Charles Richardson, regional senior vice president for Coldwell Banker.

An economic recovery that feels like it has finally taken root has bolstered confidence among buyers, some of whom are purchasing properties to diversify their investment portfolio, agents say. The spike is also driven by a very favorable lending environment for luxury homes. Interest rates on jumbo mortgages — home loans greater than $417,000 that have stricter requirements than traditional mortgages — have been at historic lows for most of 2014.

In Hillsborough and Pinellas specifically, a boom at the southern edge of the Bay area is driving interest. Zales said in the last six to eight months, she’s received several phone calls from buyers who were originally looking at Sarasota and Bradenton.

“Especially with a budget of $1 million, they’re not able to find what they’re looking for,” she said, “and they’re heading north.”

Big-city amenities, coastal lifestyle

Activity in Sarasota is driven by the region’s effort to better market itself, said Michael Saunders, owner of Sarasota-based brokerage Michael Saunders & Co. The region’s tourism marketing arm, Visit Sarasota, has started promoting the area’s arts and culture scene, in addition to the traditional beaches-and-golf spin most of Florida offers.

That diversity draws buyers from outside the area and just down the coast. Saunders said her firm is seeing more buyers who live in Naples and are now eyeing Sarasota, drawn there by the buzz around the area.