LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Homebuilder Neal Communities is looking for land to develop in Hillsborough County, and is already setting up to vie for growing home demand among families moving into the south Tampa Bay area.
Company President Pat Neal confirmed his company has reached an agreement under which Neal Communities will be one of seven homebuilders constructing houses on property in Hillsborough County. The homes will be aimed at working families with children, a departure from Neal's longtime focus on building homes almost exclusively for active adults and retirees.
Neal was not specific about the location of the property, but said the deal is the start of a more extensive incursion into Hillsborough County. The company is eyeing four more unnamed properties as possible sites for future master-planned communities. He expects to be selling homes in the county by 2015.
"Our goal is to expand into markets where we're not present," Neal said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We're playing the recovery and taking land positions."
The demand and recovery do exist in Neal's new market. According to statistics kept by the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, the supply of single family homes in Hillsborough County dropped every quarter between mid-2010 and the first quarter of 2013, bottoming at just over 4,000.
During roughly the same period, median home prices spiked from a low of $120,000 to $190,000 currently.
Brad Monroe, a past president of the association, said Neal will be going head-to-head with big homebuilders such as D.R. Horton, Westbay, and Lennar, all of which are already building in the county. But, he predicts, homes will sell as quickly as they're built.
"New homes have been doing pretty well," he said.
Neal did not say whether his company will take the lead in developing the other four properties it is pursuing. However, he said
his company's land acquisition team is actively looking for property in Hillsborough County.
Neal said Michael Storey, the company's president of building, will head the Hillsborough effort. Prior to being hired by Neal Communities in 2010, Storey worked in the Tampa area as a regional vice president for Taylor Morrison Homes.
Neal has built 76 communities in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Neal Communities and its related companies usually serve as both developer and builder.
The homebuilding market north of the Manatee River and south of Tampa Bay is not entirely new to Neal. The company is trying to get 1,200 acres it owns on Moccasin Wallow Road in Parrish rezoned for a 1,999-home community. The first village to be built there will be named Fieldstone.
Planned to also feature commercial buildings, Fieldstone would be just south of a 1-million square-foot distribution center being built in Ruskin by online retailer Amazon.
Neal has inked deals with two homebuilders that would bring them into the development to build on a combined 668 home sites. The community is needed, he said, as businesses expand south of Tampa Bay.
"We're trying to find land near where the jobs are," he said.
While Fieldstone is expected to feature homes for a mix of retirees and working families, Neal said his company will primarily bring family home floor plans to Hillsborough. Those homes will have "a higher room count" and will be two stories in many cases, he said.
The company's expansion north comes on the heels of its best year for home sales. It sold 826 new homes in 2013, according to a press release put out by the company this week.
This year, Neal plans to open eight new communities across Manatee, Sarasota, and Lee counties.
Neal said his companies employ about 149 people, and showed a combined 2013 revenue of about $220 million.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.