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In bay area, 31,900 vacant home sites wait for buyers

In its quest for financial health, the Tampa Bay area home building industry is grappling with a giant scab on the landscape: 31,900 vacant home sites waiting for buyers.

New-home closings in the region fell 42.6 percent this spring vs. the same time last year. But that's nothing compared to the glut of vacant lots, enough home sites to last builders 51/2 years at current sales rates.

Hillsborough County's supply is 49.6 months, or more than four years. Pasco and Pinellas counties have nearly five-year supplies. And Hernando County's lot supply is 136 months, or 11 years.

It gets worse: Citrus County has a 508-month supply. At current sales, it would take 42 years to burn off all its finished home sites.

Citrus' new-home market has fallen off a cliff, with only 95 homes starts in the past year amid a surplus of 4,018 developed home sites.

"It's too far a commute and the retirees are more nervous as a group, so they're not coming to buy in Citrus," said Tony Polito, who compiled the new-home report for housing consultant Metrostudy.

In a glimmer of good news on the lot front, developers have largely ceased paving former cow pastures, orange groves and forests. The industry delivered 915 lots in the second quarter of this year that ended June 30, far below the 3,813 lots delivered in the same period a year earlier.

"Hillsborough finally stopped adding lots this quarter," said Polito, who explained that a balanced market has an 18- to 24-month supply. "The other counties stopped adding lots months before that."

Builders also continue to suffer from declining year-over-year sales. New-home closings nosedived 42.6 percent, from 3,085 in the second quarter of 2007 to 1,772 in the second quarter of this year.

Local builders began construction on 1,401 houses in the quarter ending June 30. That's 28.7 percent below last year's pace of 1,965 housing starts. In many neighborhoods builders compete for sales against investors desperate to unload hardly lived-in homes bought during the boom.

Typical is Meadow Pointe in Pasco. Two years ago builders closed on 596 homes. Last year closings slumped to 349 and settled at 190 this year.

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com.

In bay area, 31,900 vacant home sites wait for buyers 07/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 3:21pm]

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