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Business 2005

Housing: Developers bank on unfaltering buying boom

"It's almost a frenzy," one real estate expert says of the sale of lots.

Published February 13, 2005

Len Tria was a county commissioner when Hernando County went through the most explosive spurt in its history.

During the 1986-87 fiscal year, the county, which had about half as many residents as it does now, issued 3,007 building permits. The county almost matched that total in 2004, when it issued 2,756.

It will almost certainly break that record this year, Tria said.

"Let's face it. The growth is galloping up from the south," he said.

Among the main beneficiaries of the market have been real estate agents, said Jeanne Gavish, who works for Exit Success Realty in Spring Hill and is the government affairs chairwoman for the Hernando County Association of Realtors.

"It's almost a frenzy," Gavish said of the sale of lots. Houses put on the market for resale, she said, are snapped up almost instantly: "For every house, there were buyers waiting."

Most of the new houses in the past few years have been built in older developments and communities, especially 38-year-old Spring Hill. But that is certain to change this year because of a collection of new developments that are selling houses or preparing to.

The growth will accelerate not only because of the large number of lots available, but also because many of the new developers are large, out-of-town firms with enough money for lavish marketing campaigns, Tria said.

"The big difference is when you have national builders come to Hernando County," he said. "That is something that accelerates growth."

Witness the response to the opening of Southern Hills Plantation, a 999-home golf community being built on the south side of Brooksville by LandMar Group LLC of Jacksonville. The developer, which is a subsidiary of Duke Energy, bought numerous full-page newspaper advertisements and billboards along Interstate 75.

On its first day of sales, last June, it signed contracts for 213 lots. About 200 of the sales have since closed, Walt Davis, the development's sales director, said in December.

Some of the other large communities include:

-- Hernando Oaks, off U.S. 41, south of Brooksville. This 975-lot development was approved in 1999 and began selling lots in 2003. The pace of sales there has picked up rapidly after a slow start.

-- Sterling Hill, on Elgin Boulevard, on the east edge of Spring Hill. Its owner, Devco Development Corp. in Tampa, is so confident of consumer demand that it has offered all the subdivision's 1,250 lots for sale immediately rather than in phases.

-- Majestic Oaks, off Mondon Hill Road, east of Brooksville. This project, approved for 650 houses by the county last year, recently annexed into the city of Brooksville and was amended to allow 600 houses and 100,000 square feet of retail space.

-- Trillium, on County Line Road near the Suncoast Parkway, is the first venture in Hernando by Pulte Homes, which is by some measures the largest home builder in the country. Pulte received rezoning in late 2003 to allow more than 800 homes on the site.

--/ Another industry giant, Levitt & Sons, which helped establish the postwar model of tract housing, plans to build about 900 homes on land it has bought from LandMar east of U.S. 41 and north of Powell Road. That sale was finalized late last year, Davis said.

In some new developments, Gavish said, buyers are purchasing houses before builders have even erected model homes.

"They put up their portable office and hang out their shingle, and people are buying lots and contracting to build," Gavish said.

She, of course, was referring to developments that have been approved. Proposed projects - even bigger than the ones opening now - seem to guarantee there will be no future shortage of houses and lots.

In January, a Tampa developer proposed building a 4,600-unit development on the east side of Interstate 75 and south of State Road 50. Last summer, Robert Thomas, owner of the 2,800-acre Two Rivers Ranch in Spring Lake, said he planned to build two golf courses and 1,600 houses on the property.

The Two Rivers plans have not been submitted to the county, but they did generate the strongest opposition to the spread of growth: a new organization called the Hernando Alliance for Open Lands Conservation.

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 16:43:07]

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