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Tour coincides with competitive mortgage rates

By JUDY STARK, Times Homes Editor

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 13, 2001

Forty-five model homes, from Tierra Verde to Lutz, are on display today through Oct. 28 in the fall Gallery of Homes sponsored by the Contractors & Builders Association of Pinellas.

"It's something to give a little boost to what's typically a little slower time of year," said Mark Maconi, whose Bel Aire V model at Wentworth, a golf-course development in Tarpon Springs, is the showcase home for this year's gallery. "We want to get some people out looking at houses."

A magazine with maps and descriptions of the houses will appear Sunday in editions of the St. Petersburg Times that circulate in most of Pinellas County and part of Pasco County. An ad inside this section includes a map showing the models, which are marked by blue-and-white signs. The models are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

The models include waterfront condominiums and single-family homes in a wide range of prices. Some are completed, furnished models. Others are still under construction, like the Corsica townhomes at Feather Sound by SunKetch Construction. At the Villas del Verde in Gulfport the clubhouse is completed, but the models are still under construction.

A dozen of the models are in Pasco County and two are in Manatee County, evidence that the market is moving north and south as the big subdivisions in Pinellas build out.

Others are in small infill projects. David Weekley Homes has carved out 44 homesites on Oakhurst Road in Seminole for its Traditions development of neotraditional homes with front porches and alley-access garages.

Maconi's showcase home has four bedrooms, four baths, a den, computer room, media room and second-floor bonus room in 4,156 square feet. It has a "northern traditional-style" stacked-stone exterior, steeply pitched roof with dormers, and a paver driveway and pool deck, and is priced at $591,000 plus homesite, Maconi said.

The gallery opens at an opportune time for buyers, with 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages at around 6.49 percent. President Bush and other leaders have urged Americans to live their lives normally and spend money to shore up the sagging economy. But times of international uncertainty such as this one are traditionally times when buyers retreat to the sidelines to wait and see. What will they do this fall?

Maconi said he has noticed no nervousness in the market as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"I think during the first week" after the attacks, "a couple of people laid back a bit, but since that time they've come back into the market" and have signed contracts for houses, Maconi said. "We've got quite a few buyers we're working with, and none seem too held back" by the events of recent weeks.

Maconi said he recently talked with another builder active in the Hillsborough market who reported the same thing: not much business the week of the attack, "then people came back and he signed four deals last week."

"We sure haven't felt any nervousness," said Steve McAuliffe, the gallery chair. He is vice president of JMC Communities, which builds luxury condos, such as the Florencia in downtown St. Petersburg and the high-rise Mandalay Beach Club, now under construction on Clearwater Beach.

"The very day of the event" -- Sept. 11 -- "we had people come in and complete their transactions," he said. "People really deep down want to get on with things."

The low interest rates "make it a perfect time" to buy, he said. "Everything is in place to go ahead and make the move."

Builder Maconi quipped: "Everybody needs to buy at least two" houses to give the economy a patriotic boost.

McAuliffe went him one better: "Instead of two chickens in every pot, how about two homes in every portfolio?"

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