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Castles on parade

Checking out the high-end homes showcased in Manatee-Sarasota? If you're tempted, better bring a really big check.

Published February 26, 2005

[Photos courtesy of Arthur Rutenberg Homes]
Could this castle be your home? The living room of the Bellagio II by Arthur Rutenberg Homes offers 28-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and cast-stone detail at the fireplace and along the walls.
The circular staircase (one of two in the Bellagio II) leads to a secluded reading nook above the paneled den.   photo

The Bellagio II backs up onto the King’s Dunes Golf Course at Lakewood Ranch in Bradenton.

What may be the most expensive model ever entered in the Manatee-Sarasota Parade of Homes is among 108 entries in the two-week showcase of new construction that opens this morning.

If you'd like to start writing that check now, make it out for $5.25-million.

The house is the Bellagio II by Arthur Rutenberg Homes: four bedrooms, six full baths and two powder rooms in 7,300 air-conditioned square feet. Among its features: a soaring 28-foot ceiling in the living room, an exercise room, a 774-bottle wine cellar, a pool, spa, fire ring, outdoor kitchen, two spiral staircases and a grand stairwell, and lofts, overlooks and balconies, all with a view of the King's Dunes Golf Course at Lakewood Ranch on University Parkway in Bradenton.

Plus the hand-painted faux-finishes and ceiling details; the hand-chipped tile on the first floor, the onyx countertops in the bar, master bath and outdoor kitchen; and the pecky-cypress composite on the garage doors, balcony and lanai ceilings, and the exterior trim.

Oh, and did we mention the outdoor pizza oven? What's the point of having your very own palace if you have to wait for the delivery guy from Domino's to talk his way past the gate guard?

The Bellagio is not the only castle on the block. Three other builders - Anchor, Pruett and John Cannon - are showing models on the same street, Teal Creek Glen, all at prices exceeding $3-million.

Who buys these places?

"You'd be surprised," said Lucy Lapides, a sales agent at Anchor's Santa Barbara model (6,072 square feet, four bedrooms, 51/2 baths, a home theater with padded leather doors and reclining suede seats in which, she said, a visitor actually fell asleep recently).

"It's about falling in love," Lapides said. Buyers in this price range are people who "retire with a bundle of cash." There are dot-com millionaires and movie people. Some buyers will live here full-time; for some, this is a second home. Some want a place big enough so one or both of them can work from home. Some people want a lavish home but don't want to live through the building process and are happy to buy the finished, furnished model with "no muss, no fuss," Lapides said. Many of them are cash buyers.

Others buy these homes at today's prices; lease them back to the builder for 12 or 18 months to use as a model; then sell the house at a profit at lease's end. Prices in the country-club areas of Lakewood Ranch have been increasing at a rate of almost 14 percent a year, so this can look like money in the bank, assuming the trend continues. The leaseback arrangement is common, especially among builders like Anchor, which builds fewer than 15 homes a year.

At the John Cannon model, the Temora (5,224 square feet under air, five bedrooms, four baths, outdoor fireplace, pool and spa), it's the 19- by 29-foot upstairs game room that gets the nod from male visitors. There are three overhead TV screens and one big Samsung screen, perfect for an afternoon of televised sports. "The guys say, "I'll take it, this is my space,' " sales agent Deb Robison said.

Down the street at Pruett Builders' Villa Solivita (five bedrooms and 51/2 baths in 6,586 square feet under air, outdoor fireplaces on the lanai and the second-story balcony), Emmanuel and Irene Rousonelos were house-shopping on a visit from Oak Brook, Ill., outside Chicago.

At 46 and 37 years of age, respectively, they've retired young from their vegetable-growing business ("Eighteen different varieties, some of which ended up down here," Emmanuel said). "And I want to live someplace warm," Irene said. "It's snowing at home."

Irene, who loves classical architecture, liked the columns and stonework above the fireplace. But what attracted the couple when they searched for homes online before leaving Illinois was Pruett's market niche: extremely energy-efficient homes that promote good indoor air quality. "I have asthma and chemical sensitivities," Irene said. "Usually, I can smell someone smoking a cigarette across the street. In most model homes I can't stay there, I have to run out. But I've been sitting in this house for two hours and I have no issues. Here, I'm fine."

The 108 entries in this year's Parade of Homes is down from last year's 147. "Our builders have had good sales; they've sold their product out and have no models available," said Alan Atchley, the parade chairman.

The good times are expected to continue in the Bradenton-Sarasota area, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the state (2.7 percent; the statewide average is 4.7) and added 7,000 new jobs last year. There were 7,969 new home starts last year, an increase of 11.2 percent over the year before.

- Judy Stark can be reached at 727 893-8446 or

The top 10

With 748 starts last year, Lakewood Ranch is the top-selling community in the Sarasota-Bradenton market, which continues to attract buyers from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties who are drawn by an easy commute and lower prices. Other communities in the top 10 in that market:

Rotonda (Charlotte) ................. 515

Tara Golf & Country Club (Manatee) .. 353

Palmer Ranch (Sarasota) ............. 295

Heritage Harbour (Manatee) .......... 273

Venetian Golf & River Club (Sarasota) 246

University Place (Manatee) .......... 232

Greyhawk Landing (Manatee) .......... 227

Woodhaven (Sarasota) .................209

Burnt Store (Charlotte) ............. 202

Source: Tampa office of Metrostudy

Manatee-Sarasota Parade of Homes

What: Parade of Homes in Manatee and Sarasota Counties, showcase of 108 models, sponsored by the Home Builders Associations of each county.

Price range: From the low $200,000s to more than $5-million.

When: Today Through March 13. Models are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: At sites around the two counties. A magazine with pictures, information and maps is available at the models. The same information is online at the Web site of the Manatee Home Builders Association,

Information: During weekday business hours, call the Home Builders Association of Manatee County, (941) 749-7035.

Besides sheer square footage, what does $5.2-million buy at the Bellagio II?

* Base price of the home: $1.7-million to $2-million.

* Homesite: $600,000 to $1-million

* Pool and spa package: $325,000

* Landscaping: $200,000

* Electronics: $100,000

* Furnishings: $500,000

* Cast-stone detail: $150,000

Source: Rutenberg sales agent Joe Dweck

[Last modified February 25, 2005, 09:20:07]

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