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Luxury homes find buyers in Hernando

The houses in Spring Hill will probably never rival the mansions ofPinellas County's Tierra Verde, but Hernando's real estate market is beginning to target wealthy retirees.

New subdivisions featuring homes priced close to $200,000 are starting to sprout up along Spring Hill Drive, and the few upscale subdivisions that were already open in Hernando County are seeing increased sales.

The most recent entry into Hernando's expanding luxury home market is Pristine Place, which is being developed near the Hernando County Airport by St. Petersburg-based Park Avenue Communities.

The homes in Pristine Place will be set on lots larger than those typically found in the area. With the increased size will go an increased lot cost - and ultimately homes priced from a little under $90,000 to $150,000.

Bruce Baynard, president of Park Avenue Communities, said recently that the homes will be marketed to wealthy retirees and to Tampa Bay residents either interested in commuting to work or retiring to a more peaceful setting.

"We think there is a local market here that hasn't really been tapped," Baynard said. "By that I mean retirees throughout Tampa Bay who may be interested in a little more upscale lifestyle."

To find those people, Park Avenue plans to advertise extensively in newspapers and run some television advertisements.

But while the company expects to persuade some people to move from areas like Sun City in Hillsborough County to nicer accommodations in Pristine Place, marketers are also hedging their bets.

"With Pristine Place we took the unusual step of registering (the company) in the state of New York," Baynard said. "We normally wouldn't do that, but it gives us the opportunity to work in that area."

Pristine Place is Park Avenue's second foray into the Hernando County market. The company still is selling lots in East Linden Estates, where homes in the $200,000 range have sold quickly.

In both cases, Park Avenue has offered larger-than-usual lots to attract homebuyers looking for a more isolated area. And while the two subdivisions sit just a few miles from the heart of Spring Hill, the communities feature many more trees and amenities than some other subdivisions.

Still, the influx of luxury homebuilders surprises some Spring Hill real estate veterans.

Pat Fleck, who has been active in the market for much of her career, said recently that she is surprised that the subdivisions sell as well as they appear to.

"Maybe one in 1,000 people that I deal with in this market are looking for something in that range," Ms. Fleck said. "They must really know their target markets and how to find them, because (broad-based) shotgun marketing won't work for that kind of product."

Derrill McAteer hasn't had too much trouble finding the wealthy for the upscale development he has along the Weeki Wachee River. The Waters opened in 1986 and has steadily sold 10 to 15 homes a year in the $300,000 range.

"We do sell to a lot of wealthy retirees, but you're starting to get a mixed bag of retirees and younger, professional people who are moving here," McAteer said. "They're buying security and they're buying value."

To find his buyers, McAteer advertises only in local newspapers.

Traffic is generated by people who come south to find a retirement home and then see the ads directing the wealthy to the Waters.

McAteer has never done any marketing in the North, but acknowledges "that might be a mistake."

Baynard attributes the success to his company's policy of dealing only with established builders. As a result, Park Avenue Communities does little marketing and leaves the job to the people who build the homes.

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