BRADENTON -- Homebuilders get excited when they think about opening new housing developments. Especially these days.
The housing real estate market is hot in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Effective inventories have dropped to under 3 percent for the first time in years. Want a visual of that? Bring up a local neighborhood on the listing map maintained by Realtor.com and just try to find a neighborhood where half the listings don't say "pending." This is good news for home builders.
Dwindling inventories and a growing desire among homebuyers for move-in-ready homes has the market hungry for anything that smells like fresh paint and carpet.
Last month, Florida builders registered little more than 5,500 new housing starts, according to U.S. Census data. This is what the new housing market looks like just as it's getting started. The last time housing starts were comparable was in the early 1990s. By comparison, at the height of the housing boom in August 2005, more than 20,000 Florida homes broke ground that month. The market bottomed at 1,694 starts in January 2009.
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One builder riding the wave of high demand and low inventories is Marshall Gobuty. About 10 years ago, Gobuty purchased the shuttered golf course that once was centerpiece of the Village Green subdivision in West Bradenton. In March, after waiting years for the housing market to recover,
he broke ground on a 160-home community to be built on the course.
This week, he's opening the first models at Mirabella. Built as attached twin villas, the homes in Mirabella seem to be selling quickly, with the first eight homes scheduled for construction going in 23 days. Priced between $227,000 and $230,000, the 1,524-square foot homes compare in size and price to similar units built by other Manatee County developers, including Neal Communities.
Like some of those other developers, Gobuty has the luxury of only building homes he has already sold. He's not doing spec homes and he said he's refused a number of offers from investors wanting to buy multiple units in the gated, 55-plus community. He is building Mirabella in sections, starting a new section only when another sells out.
"We only build when they're sold," Gobuty said. "I want real sales."
Gobuty's approach reflects the abundance of caution home builders are bringing to market. Some builders engaged in a mini land rush last year and the early months of 2015, but have since settled into the business of construction. Others, including Whitfield-based Medallion Home, have finally been able to sell out communities where sales slowed in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
During the past two weeks, Neal luxury division Neal Signature Homes and Cardel Homes closed two modest deals, snapping up a total of 17 home sites in Collingtree neighborhood of Country Club East in Lakewood Ranch for a little over $2.55 million.
Rob King, a sales manager with Neal Signature, said the houses to be built on those lots will likely sell while the ground is bare. Base priced in the $400,000 to $600,000 range, the homes to be built there will largely appeal to buyers who want a hand in designing them.
"Our niche is the semi custom," King said. "To our customers, new means something."
That's also true at the macro scale. Pat Neal, Neal Communities chairman, said his company is 32 sales ahead of its 2015 sales goal. The Lakewood Ranch-based company expanded its geographical range into Hillsborough County this year and is building in multiple developments around Bradenton, Sarasota and Fort Myers.
Neal expects 2015 to eclipse a company record of more than 825 sales set last year. A big share of those sales will be in that 55-and-over segment.
"This is a result of a great new product in a growing market," he said.
That growth is key for builders. This time around, builders say they're not taking it for granted. Neal said last year his company will likely tail off its construction activity in about 2021 as the last of the baby boomer generation retires. At Mirabella, Gobuty has chosen to already compete hard on quality, offering to customize most anything in his otherwise identical homes.
Florida housing starts have been on an upward trend since the start of the year, with the only slackening showing in a slight drop in May.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.