Lakewood Ranch a healthy market for rental homes

srocco@bradenton.comMarch 22, 2014 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- As the real estate market recovers, and even as home prices rise, investors -- local and out of state -- are snatching up homes in Lakewood Ranch, all of which will become moneymaking machines.

Investors, some from as far as New York and Arizona, have seized more than 500 homes in the Country Club, Greenbrook, Summerfield and Riverwalk villages, according to Town Hall records. Country Club East and West have close to 30 rental properties.

And why not? The master-planned community, surrounded by shopping, golf courses and reputable schools and colleges, naturally attracts families who want to live in clean neighborhoods, retirees who want golf in their backyard and renters who would rather not invest in buying their own home.

Investment giants are joined by smaller, local investors in the quest for rent

al property in Lakewood Ranch. Blackstone Group, Colony American Homes and Beazer Pre-Owned Homes are the biggest large-scale players with property in the area.

"They're buying wherever they can get a good deal," said Laurie Rastovski, a property manager with Michael Saunders & Company.

Invitation Homes, a subsidiary of New York-based Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm, owns about 30 rental properties in Lakewood Ranch and will continue to expand in the area.

"Invitation Homes has seen a lot of interest in our homes in this community, and we continue to see healthy leasing activity," said spokesman Andrew Gallina.

But Lakewood Ranch rentals come at steep prices. Consider the 40 rental homes now listed on Prices range from $1,350 to $4,800 per month, with most homes in the $2,000s.

"Prices are higher because there's all the infrastructure. There's shopping, it's convenient to get onto I-75 which, in turn, makes it convenient to get to the airport, downtown (Sarasota). That whole corridor is very vibrant and thriving," said Randy Huberty, a property manager with RE/MAX.

A three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Lakewood Ranch starts at around $1,500, whereas something comparable in Ellenton or Parrish will start at $1,300, Huberty said.

"There's probably a 10 to 15 percent price differential because there isn't a lot of infrastructure up there," he added. "They're not far from anything, but they're not close to anything."

The first village built in Lakewood Ranch, Summerfield, has seen the biggest increase in rental homes in the last three years due to lower home prices than surrounding, newer neighborhoods, experts say.

"FOR RENT" signs often crowd the neighborhood -- until maintenance crews come around to pull up signs non-compliant with association rules.

Residents generally welcome renters -- as long as they follow the rules, said CDD 1 board member Gil Pearce at a meeting Tuesday. Board members complained that Summerfield renters were breaking rules: parking on the street overnight, not picking up dog waste or having more than two pets.

"The HOA rules are not necessarily passed along to the people that rent these properties," said board member June Stroup on Thursday.

"I have no objection to people buying houses and renting them out. That's fine," Pearce said. "But what happens is these landlords don't care. And the renters, what do they care?"

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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