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Permit numbers analyzed

Single-family home permits are up 47 percent from the same period last year, but some say that reflects a rush to avoid new fees and codes.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002


Hernando County issued more permits for single-family homes during the first six months of 2002 than during the first half of any year for at least the past decade.

However, some local builders say the numbers are skewed.

The number of new single-family home permits issued from Jan. 1 through June 30 -- 906 -- was 47 percent higher than the 616 permits issued in the same period last year.

But that number reflects a large number of "rushed" permits, as contractors aimed to qualify under older, less stringent state building codes that changed March 1. Some also pushed permits through to avoid an increase in county impact fees that went into effect June 1.

In many of those cases, contractors did not plan to begin building immediately.

"That number has to be skewed somewhat," said Allen Sher, design coordinator for Lindhorst Construction Inc. of Spring Hill. "The market continues to be strong, although not as strong as it was 12 months ago."

Building permits in Hernando County had plateaued through most of the 1990s. During the first half of 2000, they decreased by 3.7 percent from 1999 levels; in 2001, the number of permits increased by 7 percent over the previous year.

The number of permits issued in 2002 is still fewer than the record numbers of permits that were being issued during Hernando's construction boom in the 1980s, said Jodi Singer, the operations coordinator for the county Development Department.

Stuart Glover, the president of Palmwood Builders in Spring Hill, said he thought the building code changes explained about all of the increase in permits this year.

"There may have been some builders who prepaid a whole bunch of fees for permits because they felt like it was a good investment," Sher said, referring to builders who construct houses on speculation before they have found a purchaser. "Small builders, like us, are in no position to do spec homes."

Not everyone thinks that the jump in permits is a false indicator.

Bob Eaton of Artistic Homes Enterprises Inc. in Spring Hill concedes that some builders rushed through permits. But he also pointed to a continuing demand for new housing in the county, due in part to low mortgage rates and the opening of the Suncoast Parkway in 2001 .

"Mortgage rates haven't been this low for so long; people can borrow at the best rates," Eaton said. "And the bottom line is housing in this county is a bargain."

Because of the low interest rates and the parkway, experts have been expecting better activity in the local housing market over the past few years.

And if the national outlook is any indicator, that may be happening. May housing starts rose nationally by an unexpected 11.6 percent, the largest increase in nearly seven years, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Yet, in Hernando County, some builders predict that the numbers of permits issued during the rest of 2002 will decline, with so many builders already having gotten their permits.

"Whenever you're trying to hurry up and beat something, eventually it all catches up," Eaton said.

Rick Pearson, the president of Proud Pelican Construction of Brooksville, acknowledged that a lot of builders, including him, tried to rush permits through in order to beat the effective date for the new state building codes.

"As long as you had the permit applied for by March 1, you didn't have to comply," Pearson said.

He said it was more cost-effective to apply for the permits early rather than wait and be forced to re-engineer drawings to meet the stricter codes.

The new building codes are intended to better equip buildings to withstand hurricanes and storms and to make houses more energy efficient.

The higher impact fees that took effect in June pushed the price of a new home up by about $2,000.

-- Jennifer Liberto covers business and development in Hernando County. She can be reached at 848-1434. Send e-mail to liberto@sptimes.com.

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