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New home construction built up again in 2012 in Collier, Lee counties

By LAURA LAYDEN | Monday, January 14, 2013

NAPLES — Lee and Collier counties saw a flurry of building permit activity last year, driven by a growing demand for new single-family homes.

“It’s the best year we’ve seen in a long time, in a very long time for our company throughout Florida. We have seen a rebound in all of our communities, whether that was in Tampa, Palm Beach, Collier or Lee counties,” said Patty Campbell, president of G.L. Homes’ Southwest Florida division.

In Southwest Florida, the builder’s communities include Botanica Lakes in Fort Myers and Marbella Lakes, which is nearly sold out off Livingston Road in Collier County. At Riverstone, G.L.’s newest community off Immokalee Road in North Naples, 200 homes have sold in the past year.

“We are not the only bright spot,” Campbell said, pointing to other national builders such as Lennar, Pulte and Naples-based Stock Development that all saw a jump in activity in their communities across Southwest Florida in 2012.

Seeing her competitors do well gives her more confidence in the recovery of the local real estate market from the Great Recession, she said.

More affordable prices, lower interest rates, shrinking home inventories and improved consumer confidence are among the factors boosting new home construction in Southwest Florida, area builders say.

“It’s very encouraging to see that people are coming out and looking at homes and buying homes, despite the fact that the economy is still looking shaky,” said Brad Hunt, a chief economist for Metrostudy, a housing market research firm. “Part of what is going on is that people had delayed a home purchase for a year or more, waiting for the economy to turn around or more importantly waiting for home prices to turn around and now that home prices are starting to go back up again, buyers are feeling much more confident about buying a home.”

While home-building has picked up in both counties, Collier has come back stronger in the single-family home market.

In unincorporated Collier, which doesn’t include the cities of Naples and Marco Island, contractors pulled 1,243 single-family permits in 2012, up more than 35 percent from 913 in 2011. Permits for multifamily homes, which includes condos and townhouses, rose only slightly over the year with 51 pulled in 2012, up from 41 in 2011.

In Collier, some of the more active communities include Treviso Bay off U.S. 41 East, Fiddler’s Creek along Collier Boulevard near Marco Island, and TwinEagles off Immokalee Road in North Naples. Interest from home buyers has also picked up in the town of Ave Maria, 17 miles east of Naples, county permit records show.

In Naples, the city tracks permit activity by applications, not issued permits. There were 141 applications filed for single-family permits last year. That compares to 80 in 2011 and 66 in 2010.

“Single-family was up last year, but the other permits (multifamily and commercial) were down slightly, not that they were that much before,” said Sue Monroe, the city’s land management coordinator.

In Lee County, contractors pulled 556 single-family permits in 2012 worth $126.6 million in the unincorporated area, which excludes cities. That was up nearly 50 percent from 2011 and up 68 percent from 2009, when home building hit a historic low, according to a report by the county’s Department of Community Development.

As a comparison, the county issued 373 single-family permits in 2011, valued at $86 million.

Last year, permitting for multifamily homes also picked up in Lee. Contractors pulled 189 of those permits in 2012, up 35 percent from 2011 and up 141 percent from 2009.

Lennar is building homes in 15 communities in Lee and Collier counties, including Hawthorne in Bonita Springs, Emerson Park at Ave Maria, and a revamped Treviso Bay, which it acquired in 2011 after the development fell into foreclosure.

“We had a definite increase in sales in 2012. We also had a lot of new communities that we brought on. So that is obviously going to increase your sales pace as well,” said Matt Devereaux, vice president for sales and marketing for Lennar in Southwest Florida.

The company continues to look for more opportunities to grow its footprint in Southwest Florida.

“We want to make sure we position our company right and that we make sure we have the right offering for people in the market looking for a home,” Devereaux said.

Jennie Gasperson owns Nolen’s Permitting Service in Naples, a company that pulls commercial and residential permits for its customers, which include contractors and homeowners. She said her business last year was definitely stronger than in 2011, though “not as good as it was back in the glory days” of the building boom that abruptly ended in 2006. She’s also noticed more owners pulling permits for renovations and additions.

“There is just more money now,” she said.

The competition among builders continues to grow, as more new ones enter the market and others come back as it recovers.

Neal Communities is one of the new homebuilders in Lee and Collier counties. The company has built more than 8,000 homes in Sarasota and Manatee counties. It started acquiring land here in 2012 and now is building in several communities including Verandah in Fort Myers and Villa Palmeras in Estero, where sales will begin in February. The builder will launch another new community off Collier Boulevard this summer.

“We are very bullish about the market down here. We entered the market in a significant uptrend,” said Michael Greenberg, vice president of Neal Communities.

The building trend is expected to continue. Much of the demand is coming from second-home buyers, but builders say they’ve also seen more young families wanting to move up and new year-round residents wanting to buy.

“People are finally moving on with life,” said Hunter with Metrostudy. “They were delaying home purchases because they were afraid of falling home prices and afraid of losing their jobs. Now those things are turning around.”

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