Sunday, April 22, 2018
Business

When it comes to Hernando's housing market, thank goodness for cold-weather 'wimps'

Nothing irritates me more than the average Floridian's complete inability to put up with cold weather.

Thursday morning on Mariner Boulevard, the thermometer in my car read 56 degrees, and I passed school crossing guards bundled up like Green Bay Packer fans.

With the pleasantly brisk (in my opinion) front blowing through this weekend, I expect to see the usual whining Facebook posts — "It's FREEZING!" and "Brrrr!!!!"

Last week, my son's outdoor sports practices were canceled, as though it would kill kids to exercise in temperatures low enough to see their breath. The previous two winters, when we really did have some cold mornings, normally bustling shopping centers were deserted to the point of looking downright post-apocalyptic.

Then on those freakish January days such as the ones earlier this week — when the haze in the air and gentle sweat raised by walking across a parking lot actually bring to mind the word "muggy" — all I heard about was the "beautiful weather" we're having.

This lack of cold-hardiness always seemed tied to an inability to withstand discomfort of any kind, a general wimpiness.

Now, though, I'm starting to see the upside.

It's no secret that this state's great draw, along with cheap living, has always been warm winters. This naturally attracts people for whom scraping ice off a windshield is not just unpleasant, but a dreaded task like helping teenagers with algebra homework.

That plenty of people feel this way is good for us and for the prospects of economic recovery.

Remember when moving companies started reported more vans leaving Florida, historically one of the country's leading destination states, than arriving?

Some people worried this was a permanent trend.

It wasn't.

In 2011, for the first time in five years, Atlas Van Lines moved more people into the state than out of it — 5,636 compared to 5,269.

Also, newly released numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau showed a surprisingly large population gain in Florida — 256,231 — between April 1, 2010 and July 1 of last year. That means we're growing twice as fast as state experts forecast at a population estimating conference just a month and a half ago, said the county's demographic planner, David Miles.

"That got my attention because there was considerably more growth than I expected," Miles said of the new census numbers. "If even a trickle of that is coming to Hernando, that's better than it was before."

Maybe a trickle is coming out here in the exurbs.

As reported previously, the number of permits for new homes issued in Hernando in 2011 was lowest in decades. And two common tools to estimate population — public school enrollment and the number of residential electricity customers — showed zero gains in Hernando in the past year.

These measures aren't foolproof, mind you. If the county has finally started drawing baby boomer retirees, they likely haven't brought any school-age children with them. Most homes are on the grid even when vacant, meaning no added utility accounts when they fill up.

Some numbers indicate that's probably starting to happen.

The inventory of unsold homes is way down from its peak of 4,000 in 2007. And the number of sales is up, at least compared with the worst years of 2007 and 2008.

"We're busy," said Brooksville Realtor Gary Schraut. It's certainly helped, he added, that plummeting home values have helped Florida regain its "cheap-living" credentials.

Chris Glover, CEO of Palmwood Builders and president of the Hernando Builders Association, said his company isn't building many new homes, but has landed jobs refurbishing empty houses.

He takes that as a sign the glut is being absorbed and that we may be on our way to a return to moderate demand for new homes, which is what he says he wants, not the boom-time frenzy.

And, though I suspect our definitions of "moderate" might differ, that's what I want, too.

So when I looked in the paper Thursday and saw reports of snow and real cold moving through the Midwest, I thought hopefully how that might be the last straw for a few retirees who never want to deal with that kind of discomfort again.

The wimps.

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