Builders Vie For Prime Positions

Dated: 12/14/2017

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With Central Florida’s mounting appetite for new homes, builders head into 2018 searching further from the Orlando core market for affordable Acreage with both entitlements and an address.

Along with a 6 percent increase in anuChampionsGateal housing starts during the third quarter for Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties comes a renewed scramble to find where to build next. Vacant, developed lots dwindled by more than 8 percent for the region during the third quarter from a year earlier, according to a new report by MetroStudy.

“The pace of new lot development has slowed some in Orlando although most builders remain in search of lot replacements for 2018, and all are actively searching for 2019 delivery lots,” said Anthony Crocco, director for MetroStudy in Central and North Florida.

While new housing starts edged down in South Orange County and held steady in the Leesburg-Mount Dora area, southwest Orange County saw the annual pace of construction increase more than 8 percent in the third quarter. The momentum was greater when Polk County factored in, the research analytics group found.

Whether builders pay a premium for lots in Winter Park, Windermere or other select areas, buyers will pay at least 8 percent more for the right address.

Castle & Cottage Realty Owner Katherine Bordelone estimated prices increase of 8-10 percent for houses that have a Windermere address, even if they're not in the lake-threaded town known for its estates. When people relocate to Orlando, she said, they have a list of cities where they are willing to look and are quick to cross off those they do not want..

"In Windermere it seems to be a really big deal," she said, adding that buyers seek not just Winter Park but the 32789 postal code that makes up the historic area.

Outside Windermere town limits, communities sprout up paying homage to the Windermere name: Wesmere, Windsor Landing, and Winder Oaks. Last year, Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn was among those objecting to naming a high school for the town when the school was outside Windermere.

Southwest of Orlando, buyer Ilia Gonzalez said she hoped to live in Osceola County’s ChampionsGate, with its golf course vistas and resort-style clubhouse. But when she learned her address would be Davenport, she tried to reclaim her $1,000 deposit from Lennar last month ChampionsGate, she learned, was synonymous with Davenport in the eyes of the postal service.

“In the file was a page detailing homeowner association fees and, on the back it said the post office, police department and fire department were all in Davenport,” said Gonzalez, a retired schoolteacher who is renting in Celebration. “And the post office was a 32-mile round trip.”

SweetwaterLennar Homes had no comment regarding Gonzalez’s deposit or on the confusion that can come with living in what is loosely known as the Four Corners area, where Osceola, Polk, Orange and Lake counties converge.

The power of address has long swayed buyers throughout Central Florida and beyond.

In Seminole County, the late developer Everette Huskey wrote the Longwood postmaster in 1989 requesting a Longwood address for Sweetwater neighborhoods, which were mostly in Apopka. He cited both convenience and a “psychological barrier which adversely affects real estate.” The Longwood area was known for estates in gated communities along Markham Woods Road while Apopka was known more its historic ferneries and wide range of residential neighborhoods.

Huskey’s son, Premier Sotheby’s International Realty President Budge Huskey, said his father’s request was about more than a postal address. Sweetwater buyers wanted a choice school district and prospects for strong resale value.

“Oftentimes the desirability is factored into market values and, therefore, list prices between the two,” Huskey said.

In Osceola County, Gonzalez said her resale value could be affected if buyers confused ChampionsGate with Davenport. While ChampionsGate is a master-planned community with resort-style amenities, Davenport has a wide range of varied communities. The midpoint price is $193,800 in Championsgate and $177,900 in Davenport, although the prices per square foot are comparable, according to Zillow's Home Value Index. Those prices are generally less for larger houses.

Gonzalez said she came to appreciate the importance of having clearly defined boundaries when she lived in a San Bernardino,  Calif., house with the county line behind her back fence. When a fire came up the hillside behind her home, the emergency responders for that county did not respond. She said she’s not looking for a repeat of that experience.

Colliers International’s Orlando Managing Director Trevor Hall said builders are trying to meet buyer demand by purchasing land in walking distance to entertainment options.

"The trend I see is that they want to be around community activities. They want to be around nightlife. They want a municipality and address with food, entertainment and stuff to do."

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Tim Morgan