If there's one hopeful sign that the residential construction industry is creeping back in Hernando County, it would be this year's Parade of Homes of the Nature Coast, hosted by the Hernando Builders Association.
The association has not sponsored the event, which runs through April 13, since 2009.
Last year saw 239 permits issued for single-family homes in Hernando. And while that may pale in comparison to the record 4,185 permits issued in 2005, the number was the highest it has been since 2008.
While Hernando's figures are no match for more populated counties to the south, Hernando Builders Association executive director Brenda McDaniel is a believer that the county is slowly waking from its economic slumber.
"The last time we hosted a Parade of Homes in Hernando, things were pretty bleak," McDaniel said. "We're not where we would all like to see it, but it's encouraging."
The fact that local builders are confident enough to sink their time and money into a two-week residential showcase means that they too are betting that things will continue to improve as well-off baby boomers plan for their retirement years.
It also means that the glut of foreclosures that stalled the real estate industry for nearly a half-dozen years has leveled off.
McDaniel said that Hernando County's aesthetic appeal to newcomers looking to settle in the Sunshine State never went away during the recession. But other factors did. Although builders got breaks on impact fees and low interest rates from lenders provided an additional incentive, the largest hurdle to coaxing the construction industry back to life has been the sluggish job market. McDaniel said that a lack of higher-paying jobs has kept most younger buyers out of the marketplace.
"Attracting better-paying jobs is something that will need to be addressed before the new housing market can ever get back to a level that could be considered normal," she said.
For now, the residential housing industry remains mainly in the hands of national builders such as Pulte Homes, Adams Homes, Artistic Homes and other companies that specialize in building mid-range-priced homes in established communities such as Trillium, Southern Hills Plantation Club and Sterling Hills. However, even small builders say they have benefited from the upturn, said Chris Glover, president of Palmwood Construction in Spring Hill.
"Right now, we're encouraged by what we're seeing, and that's good for everyone, whether you're building 50 homes a year or five," Glover said. "The smaller builders will tell you they're happy to see any improvement at all. That's how bad things had gotten."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.