BRADENTON -- If a spate of recent sales at one gated, riverside housing development in Bradenton is any indication, the city's high-end real estate market is coming back strong post recession.
The Inlets, a master-planned community at the intersection of the Braden and Manatee rivers, is drawing interest from local builders as homes and home sites sell at a rate similar to pre-recession times. Real estate professionals have noted increased building activity.
"There's no question the last two years have been more active," said Joe Foster, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co., who has been selling properties in The Inlets for more than a decade.
This week, Neal Communities and Medallion Homes spent about $3 million buying 42 lots in the canal-rich boating community. Medallion had previously purchased $5.3 million in lots in the development over the past two years, according to Manatee County records. Those investments have paid off: The Bradenton builder has sold $13.3 million out of its three Inlet communities, The Reserve, Bella Sole, and Harbor Walk, according to records.
The buying and selling in the community might be construed as a sign that the high-end new home market is back, especially at that bend in the river. When hammers and saws went nearly silent in The Inlets after the housing industry crash, hundreds of platted lots sat empty until 2012. That's when Medallion began buying lots and building homes.
"It opened up dramatically," said Greg Glasser, a sales and marketing director with Medallion Home.
Medallion has notched
32 home sales among the 131 home sites it is developing in The Inlets. Sale prices have ranged from $455,000 at the low end to a high of $1.95 million. One current listing, Glasser said, is priced at about $3 million.
The company's most recent sale, on Feb. 10, was for $816,500 to Mark Ariello and Judy Lefkowitzas of Walnut Creek, Calif.
Ken Keating building again
The surge in sales has helped revive the fortunes and profile of the area's current developer, Ken Keating. Keating, who purchased more than 800 lots across 300 acres in The Inlets in 1993, is building homes in the area for the first time since 2002.
The neighborhood is unique in Bradenton. Platted as River Isles by David Altman in 1957, it features more than 20 canals connected to the Manatee River where residents can moor their boats. It is the highest concentration of canals in any riverfront neighborhood.
The Inlets also feature a 13-acre man-made riverside wetland. Keating excavated the wetland and planted about 100,000 mangrove trees in it in 2002 as he developed building lots in an existing wetland that acts as neighborhood amenity, and as a buffer between some of the community's homes and Interstate 75. The interstate runs within 300 feet of the northeast tip of The Inlets.
"That was a real fun project for us," said Keating, who counts his wife, Brenda, as his business partner. "We bought about 80 percent of the mangrove population in the state."
The work paid off. Keating's construction company, Camlin Homes, sold about 500 houses in the Inlets through about 2002. That year, he retired from homebuilding. Until his recent return to the industry, he has made money in The Inlets by selling lots.
Neal joins Inlets crowd
Neal Communities, the most recent builder to make an entry into The Inlets, is making good on a decades-long promise to build there. Pat Neal, the company's president, has tried to buy into or purchase the entire development since the 1960s. His recent lot buy includes riverfront and canal properties.
"I've wanted to be in the Inlets forever," Neal said.
Medallion's buy-in at The Inlets hearkens to a $1.4 million, 200-acre purchase it made in the Cross Creek development in Parrish after the Cross Creek Development District went into default a few years ago. While the land at The Inlets cost considerably more than that at Cross Creek, Medallion has still been able to purchase some lots for about $58,000 each.
The return on investment is considerable. According to Medallion's website, the company is building homes in three neighborhoods in The Inlets. The Reserve, located on the banks of the Manatee River, is the most expensive, with home prices starting at $700,000.
The other two neighborhoods, Bella Sole and Harbour Walk, offer homes starting in the mid to high $400,000 range.
For one longtime resident, Linda Melnick, the increased building activity is an encouraging sign. Melnick, a Realtor with Wagner Realty, has lived on Shark Dr. for 19 years. She said the community offers "affordable waterfront property" for people who are avid boaters.
Seeing homes going up along the river and on the interstate side of The Inlets is an indication of the value of the homes there, she said.
"The whole community is thriving now," she said. "I'm really happy to see the builders are back at it."
New home construction is expected to continue for some time, although none of the builders at The Inlets could predict when ground will be broken on the last home site. Medallion's Glasser said his company has plans to continue purchasing lots as long as they are available.
Keating, who controls the supply of the remaining lots, said knowing how long the development will be in the building phase is a "million dollar question." He predicts construction will end in three years at current market conditions.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.