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End is near for luxury builder Nohl Crest Homes

OLDSMAR — Nohl Crest Homes, the Tampa Bay area semicustom home builder founded in 1985, is close to going out of business.

Sales are only a fifth of what they were two years ago, and the Oldsmar-based builder has laid off 90 percent of its employees.

With banks pressing it to repay loans on some of its 100 building lots, the company likely won't survive the year, Nohl Crest co-founder and president Kenneth Emery said Wednesday.

"Will we be here a year from today? I don't think so. That's not going to happen," Emery said.

Emery and business partner Peter Tibma created Nohl Crest 23 years ago to serve the luxury market now filled by the likes of Arthur Rutenberg Homes and Hannah Bartoletta Homes.

Since that time, it's built close to 2,300 houses in such midscale to upscale neighborhoods as Hunter's Green and Ladera in Hillsborough County, Lansbrook and Winslow Park in Pinellas County and Plantation Palms and Seven Oaks in Pasco County.

Nohl Crest was slammed by the general downturn in the market that has cut housing construction in half the past year. Its higher-than-average prices made it extra vulnerable when banks clamped down on mortgage lending.

As late as 2006, Nohl Crest employed 68 people. Only a half-dozen executives and salespeople remain, Emery said.

"We can't sell homes for $500,000, $600,000 and $700,000," Emery said. "People just don't qualify for those sorts of homes anymore."

Nohl Crest is the third locally active builder to declare bankruptcy or signal its anticipated closing. Levitt & Sons filed for Chapter 11 in November. Tousa filed in January. Nohl Crest isn't publicly traded like the others.

"They are a private company, so they don't have the deep pockets like a national builder does," Tampa Bay area housing consultant Marvin Rose said. "When they lose money, it comes out of the owners' pockets."

Even though the Nohl Crest name will probably disappear, Emery said, he plans to stay in the building business. The company said it will honor commitments to remaining customers.

Annual sales have plummeted to 30 from about 150 two years ago.

Shrinking field

How the housing meltdown has hit other Florida builders:

Kimball Hill Homes: Relatively new to the Tampa area, the Illinois company announced in February that it's leaving the region.

Levitt & Sons: The longtime builder, active in Hernando County and best known for New York's Levittown, declared bankruptcy in November.

Tousa: The Florida builder, parent company of Engle Homes, declared bankruptcy in January.

WCI: The developer of Sun City Center staved off bankruptcy with a last-minute cash infusion in January.

End is near for luxury builder Nohl Crest Homes 03/19/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 1:38pm]

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