Nationally, there was bad news in the housing market as pre-owned home sales fell 3.8 percent in May, the National Association of Realtors reported this week.
Given the lingering drag on the market from the subprime mess that led to the bursting of the housing bubble in 2006, it might seem counter-intuitive that Lakewood Ranch would be enjoying a home building rally.
But there are about 150 new homes in various stages of construction at Lakewood Ranch, and developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch projects there will be 420 new homes sold in 2011.
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That would be the best sales year at the Ranch since 2006, when 650 homes were sold.
There has been plenty of pain at Lakewood Ranch since the landmark year of 2004, when 750 new homes were sold.
Compare that to 2009 after the meltdown when only 120 were sold, and pawn shops filled with the tools of the trade from out-of-work craftsmen.
No wonder Milt Flinn, president of LWR Communities, was in a celebratory mood this week with the rebound.
“It’s wonderful,” Flinn said, noting that the 13 homes sold in Country Club East in January surpass the 11 sold in all of 2008.
“Early 2008 was the worst after the big financial meltdown,” he said.
Buyers couldn’t get financing and Lakewood Ranch had 835 homes on the market in 2008, said Jimmy Stewart, director of sales/project management at LWR Communities LLC.
Since January, SMR reports 16,000 people have visited its information center and models.
“That’s a 50 percent increase over last year. It’s incredible traffic,” Flinn said.
One reason new homes are selling once again at Lakewood Ranch is that the over-abundance of homes available for resale in 2008 has been drastically reduced. Now, out of 6,672 homes in the community, only about 150 are on the resale market.
Credit might still be tight, but a majority of those buying homes at Lakewood Ranch are cash customers, Stewart said.
A visitor to Lakewood Ranch on any given day will see plenty of workers at home sites, troweling plaster, setting block, putting in plumbing, finishing off roofs, prepping lots with heavy machinery.
“About $150 million worth of housing will be sold in Lakewood Ranch this year. That’s a lot of jobs,” Flinn said.
It also represents a lot of flat-screen TVs, washers and dryers, refrigerators, and furniture that will go into the new houses.
“It trickles down and goes on and on,” Flinn said.
The 45-square-mile Lakewood Ranch, an area that could easily hold the cities of Bradenton, Sarasota and Palmetto, is projected to eventually have 25,000 or more homes.
One of the largest construction hot spots is Neal Community’s 380-acre Central Park development located midway between State Road 64 and State Road 70, where home prices start well under $200,000.
Other Neal projects include Edenmore, Greystone, Silverwood and Miramar in The Country Club and Belleisle in Country Club East.
Also under construction is the 272-unit Lost Creek Apartment complex opposite Lakewood Ranch High School.
Expect more apartment complexes to be built at the Ranch in the future, Flinn said.
Planned for launch later this year is Taylor Morrison’s 450-unit single-family home community Esplanade to be located north of Center Ice Parkway and east of Pope Road.
Lakewood Ranch’s highest end community, The Lake Club, also seems to be prospering with about a dozen homes under construction, Flinn said.
David Hunihan, sales director for Neal Communities, says his company is having a record year with 123 homes sold in Lakewood Ranch so far in 2011.
But Neal Communities wasn’t immune to the financial pain of a Great Recession, either.
Neal weathered the storm by downsizing staff, better controlling its costs, and changing its business plan to include simpler, smaller, more affordable houses, Hunihan said.
Owner Pat Neal also transfused millions of dollars of his own money into the company to keep it going during the darkest days.
Working smarter and with a multi-tasking, smaller staff is “called lean-thinking,” Hunihan said.
Eighteen months ago, Alan Anderson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association Manatee-Sarasota, said his office was getting calls from hard-pressed builders wondering where they could place their workers.
Now, when the same builders call, it is more likely that they are looking for workers for their construction sites, Anderson said.
“There seems there are a lot of cash buyers in the market and a lot of pent-up demand right now,” he said.
Paradise Homes, one of 19 builders doing business at Lakewood Ranch, has enjoyed the upswing in business and hired 25 more staff members in the past 12 months, said CEO and President Jim Butler.
“We had a dry spell in 2007 and there was no construction through 2009,” Butler said.
The company builds in The Lake Club, The Country Club and Country Club East.
Paradise sold 40 homes in 2010 and 24 already this year, he said. “We’re having an incredible year.”
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.