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National builder packing up tools to leave Florida market
By Lisa Buie, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008
Experts said it would happen, that the housing slowdown would push builders out of the Florida market, just like in the 1990s.
Last week, Illinois-based Kimball Hill Homes became one of the first to leave. The privately held company, which has communities in Wesley Chapel, Trinity, Sarasota and Fort Myers, announced Feb. 27 that it was bidding the Sunshine State goodbye.
The company promised that all homes now under construction would be completed and warranties would be honored. It would not disclose the number of homes affected at its communities in Ashton Oaks in eastern Wesley Chapel and Sawgrass Creek in the Trinity area.
"Over the course of the next 10 months, we will be winding down our Florida homebuilding operations in an orderly manner and fulfilling all our obligations," chief executive Ken Love said in a news release, that announced the company would lay off 75 employees at its corporate office. "These are not decisions we made lightly."
Love noted that Florida has been among the hardest hit states in the housing slump as well as being negatively affected by the credit crunch and mortgage meltdown. The company will continue building in Illinois, Texas, Nevada and California.
Housing analyst Marvin Rose said Kimball Hill's is the first departure announcement he's heard from a major builder.
"I can't say that surprises me," he said, adding that the company arrived six or seven years ago during the housing boom but never generated substantial sales. "I'm just not sure they brought their A-game to Tampa."
Rose predicted in November that the slowdown would claim some casualties. Tousa and Leavitt & Son recently filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. Kimball Hill has no plans to follow suit, a company spokesman said Wednesday.
Kimball Hill, founded in 1969, bills itself as one of the largest privately owned homebuilders and one of the 30 largest homebuilders in the United States, as measured by home deliveries and revenues. It designs, builds and markets single-family homes, townhomes and condos. The company says it has delivered more than 48,000 homes. Its Web site indicated it had planned to open two new communities in the Tampa Bay area: Putter's Pointe in Hudson and Stone Creek in Brandon.
It wasn't clear Wednesday what would happen to those properties or to the land within existing communities.
Rose said Kimball Hill customers with homes under construction should feel confident that the company will not leave them in the lurch.