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Pasco County sees lowest level of housing permits since at least 2002

A lone house sits between two vacant lots in Connerton on Friday. It’s a common sight in some newer subdivisions.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

A lone house sits between two vacant lots in Connerton on Friday. It’s a common sight in some newer subdivisions.

In Oak Creek, a 550-home community between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills, new buyers can get free pest control, lawn service and quarterly routine maintenance the first year, plus three years of free home security monitoring.

It's called the Extended Commitment program, and is available at other properties owned by Inland Homes and its franchises.

"We are showing the value that comes with a new home as opposed to a foreclosure," said John Weston, president of IH of Central Florida, an independent franchise of Inland.

Traffic has been picking up the past couple of months at Weston's properties across Pasco, with about three permits a month at Oak Creek, and similar increases in other communities.

It's a stark contrast to the overall picture countywide.

Pasco officials issued just 492 permits for the first half of 2009, the lowest number for that six-month period since at least 2002 and a more than 23 percent drop from the same time last year.

"The market is down significantly," said Marvin Rose, a longtime tracker of the local home industry. Compare that with what he saw a few years ago when two couples in a sales office battled over a $700,000 home in Seven Oaks.

"Neither one had seen the house, but they were about to get into a fist fight," he said.

He said Pasco's glut of foreclosures and its greater distance from corporate centers in Hillsborough and Pinellas will make it slower to recover than its southern neighbors.

Pasco used to offer buyers a significant savings that made up for the longer commute, but now the overall price plunge, plus the increased cost of gasoline, make homes in Hillsborough and Pinellas more attractive.

Pasco's impact fees, which run about $20,000, remain the highest in the Tampa Bay area. That needs to change for Pasco's sales to become more robust, said Rose, who cautioned that the peak year, 2005, was not typical.

"It will never be like 2005 again. Normal is about like 2002."

Rose said new homes that do sell in Pasco tend to be the starter variety as first-time buyers take advantage of a federal tax credit. Neighborhoods with higher-end homes have experienced slower sales, especially if they are closer to State Road 52.

He expects sales of those properties to pick up as the economy recovers and if traffic problems continue to plague SR 54 east of Interstate 75.

"It's easier to drive the extra 6 miles up the interstate to State Road 52," he said. "No doubt the development pressure will move up there with the Suncoast Parkway and I-75."

Tony Polito, who tracks home construction for the Tampa office of Metrostudy, a housing consulting firm, measures home construction by slabs that have been poured, but had figures that were not far off those of the county permitting office.

His show that construction began on 431 homes in Pasco in the first half of 2009.

The figures for the second quarter of the year showed a total of 224, a 37 percent drop from the same quarter a year ago.

"We're in an incredibly slow period due to job loss," he said, noting that the area has lost 55,400 jobs in the past year.

When jobs do come back, residents will want to work closer to home, said Jennifer Doerfel, executive vice president for the Tampa Bay Builders Association, which includes Pasco among its members. Count on them to take advantage of the lower prices in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

To be competitive, she said, Pasco County government needs to lower the fees it charges for new development.

"It's like the 800-pound gorilla in the room," she said. "You can build the same home in Pasco County and Hillsborough County and it's cheaper in Hillsborough County."

Doerfel, however, thinks better times will ultimately return to the entire bay area.

"I think in the long run we'll be fine."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Fast facts

Pasco housing

by the numbers

Pasco County reported the lowest number of permits for new single-family homes during the first six months of the year since at least 2002. Here's a year-by-year look at the first half of each year.

Year Permits

2002 2,432

2003 2,918

2004 3,690

2005 3,525

2006 3,420

2007 1,124

2008 641

2009 492

Source: Pasco County Central Permitting Department

Pasco County sees lowest level of housing permits since at least 2002 07/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 25, 2009 1:16pm]
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