LAKEWOOD RANCH -- On the advice of local real estate agents and potential home buyers, Canada's largest home builder will make some changes to the homes it plans to build in Lakewood Ranch this year.
Mattamy Homes plans to build 675 homes on 235 acres it purchased from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch in December. The development, named Harmony at Lakewood Ranch, got a semi-public airing last week in a series of four focus groups that invited real estate professionals and members of the home-buying public to voice their housing preferences.
So what do buyers want in a new home? For Florida living, great room plans are better than formal living rooms. Storage is important. Master bedrooms on the first floor are usually a must. And don't even bother putting in small, uncovered patios.
"It's Florida, we don't live up in New York City," said Judy Aarnes, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker's Lakewood Ranch office who attended one of the open houses held at the Palm-Aire Country Club.
Located between Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and White
Eagle Boulevard south of Neal Communities' Central Park neighborhood, Harmony at Lakewood Ranch will bring affordable family housing to Lakewood Ranch, said Mattamy's Tampa-Sarasota division president Ed Suchora. The open houses are something the company does in its other markets. Last year, Mattamy built more than 3,900 homes in the U.S. and Canada and reported revenues of $1.5 billion.
Harmony is Mattamy's first community in Lakewood Ranch. The company's sale strategy emphasizes aiming for a lower price point than seen in other areas of the master-planned development.
"Both Mattamy and SMR saw a need for a more affordable product," Suchora said. "Everything has gotten pretty expensive in the Ranch."
The prices for the homes are expected to appeal to a wide demographic, Suchora said. Homes in the development will start in the low $180,000 range. The highest-priced will reach a base price of about $270,000.
Mattamy plans to break ground this summer. The first homes would go on the market in the spring of 2015.
The company will be bringing in some of the home designs it has used in 18 communities it has built or started in Jacksonville and Orlando. It will also be building from new designs. Suchora said all will be influenced by comments gathered in the focus groups.
At the lowest price point, the company will build 20-foot-wide townhomes with single-car garages and two bedrooms. It will also offer 30-foot-wide townhomes and 40-foot-wide single family homes. Square footage will range between 1,300 and almost 3,000 across the three types of homes.
Greg Sheller, a real estate agent with ReMax Alliance Group, also attended a Mattamy open house. His group was asked to sort through design options and pick those that would sell best. He said he liked designs from Mattamy that avoided the Mediterranean look so prevalent in Lakewood Ranch.
"They want to make sure they are giving the consumer what they are looking for," he said.
Sheller said he expects the community to sell out quickly, provided Mattamy is able to build its lower-priced homes estimated near a projected $120 per square foot. This, he said, is much lower than the $160 average he typically sees in the homes he sells in Lakewood Ranch.
Just having more homes on the market will benefit both agents and buyers, Sheller said. A bigger inventory should slow the rise in home prices, stimulating both the new and resale home markets.
"We could be building a lot more homes at this point, and I think they would be absorbed," he said.
Aarnes said the best part of the focus group experience was being included in planning a new community.
"Here is a big company from Canada actually asking real estate professionals what they think," she said.
Mattamy is keeping the identities of the potential homebuyers who attended the focus groups confidential.
The privately owned company is "actively pursuing other properties in the Bradenton market, Manatee and Sarasota counties," Suchora said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.