Let's start with the recent report from the National Association of Realtors: With the expiration of tax breaks that had been propping up the market, home sales plunged 27 percent between June and July, the steepest one-month drop on record.
This is bad news not only because local sales dropped at even a faster rate, but also because if those baby boomer retirees really are going to start moving here from New York and Ohio — which reported some of the sharpest declines — they're going to have to sell their houses first.
Now, look at the inventory of unsold houses.
In Hernando, it's down to 2,534 from a peak of more than 4,000 in 2007, which would seem to be a good sign. But just as people quit looking for work, they quit trying to sell homes. Any Realtor will tell you there's also a hidden inventory of houses kept off the market by discouraged sellers.
Remember, this has always been a county where people come to buy, not rent. In 2000, when the U.S. Census found Hernando was tied for the highest rate of home ownership in the state, 79 percent of households claimed a homeowner's exemption.
That number is now down to 70 percent and far lower in new subdivisions that were especially attractive to speculators — 44 percent in Sterling Hill, 52 percent in Southern Hills and 61 percent in Avalon and Hernando Oaks. That means thousands of vacant or rental houses "that will flood the market for years to come,'' said veteran Spring Hill Realtor Vladimir Hucko.
Many of these same subdivisions have plenty of vacant lots and not that many homes — 82 in Southern Hills, for example, and only 288 in Hernando Oaks, both of which were approved for nearly 1,000. There's an even larger bounty of lots in the county's many approved-but-unbuilt subdivisions — four of them big enough to be called developments of regional impact.
Altogether, if the Hernando County Commission gives final approval Tuesday for the Quarry Preserve and its 5,800 residential units, Hernando will have enough residential land for 78,446 houses and apartments. That's more than three times as many as we need to accommodate the expected population growth in the next 15 years — a number that should stop all other discussion about this city planned for an old mining pit 6 miles north of Brooksville.
On the very slim chance building starts in the near future, it will just add to the glut. More likely, judging from the sluggish demand and overabundance of lots and homes, nothing will happen at the Quarry for a long while — not just for years, as the mining company that owns this land would have us believe, but decades.
By the time the market is ready for the Quarry, the progressive-sounding plan for this so-called "new town'' could be as obsolete as Spring Hill is now.
Certainly the economic strategy it represents — building thousands of houses miles from any population center — already is.
Really, there isn't much nuance to this vote.
Commissioners who say "yes'' won't be looking out for the public. They'll be doing a favor for a landowner who wants to unload a nearly worthless piece of property and for the powerful people who are still pushing a destructive, wasteful, sorry excuse for economic development.