Make us your home page
Instagram

Can developers breathe life into zombie subdivisions?

Around Tampa Bay, zombies show signs of life. They were new subdivisions, conceived by housing boom excess, that died before they were ever born. Vistas of flat land broken only by remnants of permit boxes and lonely streetlights mark their remains. Trash litters desolate, overgrown streets that lead to nowhere — except to memories of the go-go days. But now, builders see all this as ground zero for a bay area housing renaissance, and they are buying up lots by the thousands. They have yet to start much building. But they think they will soon.

"They're anticipating in 2013 that we'll get into a full-blown recovery," said Tony Polito, a housing consultant with Tampa's Metrostudy, a national company that tracks the construction industry.

For a region long accustomed to nothing but bad financial news, Polito knows the burst of lot-buying seems hard to comprehend.

"It seems odd to talk about replacing developed lots in the midst of the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression," he said.

"But we are at a point in the market where builders and developers are beginning to do exactly that."

Some housing and real estate experts believe the lots will be gone in 18 months.

"The pickings are slim," said Bill "The Dirt Dog" Eshenbaugh, owner of the Eshenbaugh Land Co. "There's a lot of demand for these. The builders are in a little bit of a sweat right now."

Lennar Homes has bought about 2,000 lots in the bay area in the past 24 months. The firm is building in more than 25 communities; home prices range from $90,000 to $400,000. The 2,000 lots will last Lennar about two years, based on closings on about 1,000 deals last year.

Mark Metheny, president of Lennar's Central Florida Division, said cleaning the developed land is cheaper than developing raw land, adding: "The price makes sense. They're fairly complete."

Lennar's busiest areas are New Tampa, southern Hillsborough and central Pasco. Although lenders tightened mortgage standards, Metheny is seeing an uptick in consumer confidence.

"We're getting a lot of demand," he said.

Triple Creek, a development in eastern Hillsborough County, is showing signs of life again.

The market tanked as roads and signs went up on the 1,000-acre Riverview site. Developers defaulted on a $37 million loan in 2008. A few homes, barely finished and then vandalized, sat on the development until the county ordered them demolished.

A Realtor blogged about the land in 2008, calling it a ghost town. She posted a slide show of photos — overgrown grass, toppled trees and broken windows — accompanied by Chopin's Funeral March.

MI Homes bought the property last year for $15 million and started clearing the land last month.

Still, lot sales have yet to translate into much building activity.

As of June 2011, 338 active subdivisions had not started a single home in the prior year in Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, according to an October Metrostudy report.

But the supply of new, unsold homes in those 338 subdivision had fallen from 664 homes in June 2007 to 122 units in June 2011.

"Cleaning up the standing inventory is a major factor in moving forward in a housing recovery," Polito's report said. "At the current pace, the standing inventory in these subdivisions should be cleaned out by mid 2013."

Builders started construction on 995 homes in the bay area in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 19.4 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2010.

The vacant subdivisions farthest from the urban areas and those having high debt on community development district bonds will take longer to sell, experts say. Price and location are the drivers of sales.

To survive the Great Recession, many builders designed smaller, lower-priced houses to attract a bigger pool of buyers. Some builders shuttered their land divisions after the housing crash, but many have restarted the operations.

Taylor Morrison Homes builds homes from Pasco County to Naples, priced from $85,000 to $700,000. The firm has bought more than 1,500 lots in the past six months and plans to bring them to life through 2014.

The firm is seeing a decline in development opportunities on Florida's West Coast, said spokeswoman Katy Walker. She described the land buys as "very strategic, that can come to market quickly."

Large swaths of land aren't the only areas gaining interest.

St. Petersburg lacks large tracts of open land, but Walker said the firm is scouring the city for property after successfully selling its Sun Ketch Townhomes in the Old Northeast neighborhood.

The community opened in October 2011; only 10 of 42 units remain unsold, she said. Prices are above $200,000.

"People want to be close to downtown," Walker said. "It's close to everything."

At the end of 2011, Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties had 14,400 developed lots ready for building, down from 17,900 at the end of 2007.

Polito stressed that job growth and the proper pricing of unsold, new homes will be the driving forces behind more lot sales and home building.

"It's a good thing that we're working our way through these developed lots," he said.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Can developers breathe life into zombie subdivisions? 01/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 10:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Appointments at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and World of Beer highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers

    Business

    Non-profits

    Tampa Bay Watch, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary, has announced two new employees. Pamela Arbisi is the new development director. Her responsibilities include …

    Scott Bendert has joined the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay as the non-profit organization's Chief Financial Officer. [Company handout]
  2. Tampa's Homeowners Choice seeks to offer flood insurance in other states

    Banking

    Tampa-based insurance company HCI Group Inc.'s subsidiaries are trying to expand their flood insurance offerings beyond Florida. HCI has filed with regulators to offer flood coverage in Arkansas, California, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

    Tampa-based HCI Group is trying to expand its flood insurance offerings to other states. Pictured is Paresh Patel, CEO of HCI Group. | [Courtesy of HCI Group]
  3. Home of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman hits market at $3.45 million

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is back on the market for $3.45 million after a brief hiatus.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is on the market for $3.45 million. [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  4. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where condominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]