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James Thorner: It's still all about location

If you live in coastal Pinellas County, New Tampa or much of southern Pasco County, congratulate yourself for residing in an "A" location.

Spring Hill, Hernando County, Hudson? You've been relegated to "B" or "C" status.

This alphabet soup is the shorthand builders use to evaluate home sale prospects for the foreseeable future.

In the orgy of sales that ended in 2006, location played less of a role. Speculators were glad to grab a house in Brooksville if they could buy it for $30,000 less than the home closer to Tampa.

But in the chastened market of today, location looms larger. Builders figure home buyers, given the choice, won't tolerate commutes to Tampa much longer than 30 minutes. The recently abated oil shock gave everyone a lesson in the value of living close to work.

If you need a visual aid, imagine the dividing line running roughly parallel with State Road 52 in Pasco. South of that line you fall within the orbit of Tampa and St. Petersburg. North of that line it's pretty much deep space.

Based on this geographic hierarchy, builders must decide how to grapple with a glut of 31,500 vacant lots. The lots dot the terrain from Hills­borough to Citrus counties. At today's sales, that's enough ready-to-build home sites to last six years. And that number doesn't include tens of thousands of prospective lots on farms and ranches.

At a sit down with journalists Thursday, Tampa builders said their desire to shed marginal sites has been stymied by low-balling investors who want lots for 20 to 40 cents on the dollar.

As Charley Hannah, head of luxury builder Hannah-Bartoletta Homes colorfully put it: "They want to feed you so full of pus and negatives and corruption that you throw in the towel."

But don't expect a complete withdrawal from points far north. Lower prices will still draw buyers to places like Hernando. As Hannah reiterated, if you can get a little piece of heaven in Spring Hill, who cares about the drive?

James Thorner: It's still all about location 11/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 12:03am]
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