New home construction hasn't been on the increase since before the recession. And there hasn't been significant speculative residential building on Snell Isle in even longer.
But real estate wonders never cease. Houston-based David Weekley Homes is building nine houses on a collection of Snell Isle lots it acquired for $1.7 million late last year.
None are sold but interest is high.
"People always want new construction if they can find it. It's just that St. Petersburg is built out," said Judy Anderson, a real estate agent with Re/Max Action First who was pleased to hear about the mini housing boom. She's been showing one client new homes in Safety Harbor but thinks one of these houses might be the perfect fit.
"Everybody still wants to be close to downtown St. Petersburg, and our prime neighborhoods, Snell Isle, Old Northeast are built out," she added.
Weekley plans to complete the first homes by June and will start selling in May. There are several floor plans with 2,600 to 3,400 square feet that are priced between $600,000 and $1 million. They are on streets such as Snell Isle Boulevard NE, Monterey Circle NE and Lido Way NE, but none is on the waterfront.
"Snell Isle is a very desirable location with limited opportunities to own a new home. We wanted to take advantage of the chance to offer our unique products to home buyers there," said Mark Thomas, president of Weekley's Tampa division. It acquired all the properties from one owner, who has been assembling a portfolio of Snell Isle properties since the late 1990s.
David Weekley constructs homes in 16 markets around the country and started building spec homes on infill lots in South Tampa a few years ago. Demand for new product in older neighborhoods has been strong there and should be on the west side of the bay as well.
"We have received a very good response from the Realtors and potential buyers looking to live in Snell Isle, many of whom wanted a new home in the area but were unable to find one before," Thomas said.
And when a "For Sale" sign does go up on the rare vacant lot, that's not as appealing to the home buyer who isn't up for waiting a year to build a custom house.
An economist with the National Association of Home Builders was intrigued to hear of nine spec houses going up in St. Petersburg.
"I think in some of the hottest markets there is still some spec building going on but I would suspect it's a pretty small percentage of the industry," said Stephen Melman from the association's Washington, D.C. office. "For most part builders have been pretty conservative."
In other words, they aren't building homes without buyers set in stone. The percentage of new home contracts tanking is just below 20 percent, or fewer than one in five, Melman said. In 2007 and 2008 the percentage of people who walked away from a new home they said they would buy was 40 percent.
He was surprised, but not skeptical, of the Weekley homes in St. Petersburg.
"David Weekley is a good builder. They are prudent and not going to go out on a limb," Melman observed. "They are an excellent builder who has survived many a cycle."
The company started in 1976 and is the third-largest privately held home builder in the country according to its website.
"New home builders are finally seeing the daylight," said David Greenlees, Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate 66th Street N office. "They were competing against existing home sales and foreclosures. In Pinellas County we have the lowest available inventory in the last 10 years of new listings. That's good news for builders who want to get in and buy property they can build on."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8785.