GIBSONTON — As the first houses started going up in the Kings Lake community 15 years ago, there wasn't much else in Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River.
No Amazon distribution center. No St. Joseph's Hospital. No Publix within 10 miles.
Now there's all that and more, including a huge master-planned community, Waterset, directly across Big Bend Road from Kings Lake.
Southern Hillsborough — or SouthShore, as it has been rebranded — has seen an explosion in new home construction since the real estate crash sent one of every five houses in Kings Lake into foreclosure. In the 12 months ended in June, work began on nearly 3,000 SouthShore homes — more than a third of all housing starts in the entire Tampa Bay area.
And the building boom comes as Kings Lake and other communities developed before the crash have yet to fully recover.
"We're not back to our peak value yet, I can tell you that,'' says broker Craig Beggins, whose Century 21 Beggins has handled hundreds of SouthShore transactions. "We're probably 20 percent off the peak.''
One reason: People trying to sell older homes face increasing competition from new ones in attractive, sprawling communities like Waterset. It is so large that the entrance on Big Bend Road is three miles from the "walking tour'' of lavishly furnished model homes by major builders including CalAtlantic, West Bay and Lennar, which built many of the houses in Kings Lake.
Unlike Kings Lake, though, Waterset can boast of two pools, a splash park, a dog park, a fitness trail, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts and a community center with a café. Prices including lot run from the high $100,000s — competitive with Kings Lake prices — to more than $500,000. Most builders also offer generous incentives to help with down payment and closing costs.
Today, with 87 homes sold in a single three-month period this year, Waterset is the fastest-growing new-home community in Tampa Bay. When finished it could potentially have as many as 5,000 single-family homes. That's in addition to the hundreds of houses going up in other parts of south Hillsborough.
Is the area in danger of being overbuilt? Consultant Tony Polito thinks not.
"You could argue that prices may be at a point where we will not see as much price appreciation, but there are two big factors to consider,'' said Polito, who tracks housing starts for the research firm Metro Study. "First is the supply: There's 20 months worth of lots in Hillsborough and that's a very low level. Then you look at jobs. So long as that number keeps going up and you couple that with the fact that the supply (of lots) is pretty low, it's going to create a demand for housing.''
But Ron Balseiro, a veteran appraiser familiar with SouthShore, sees a potential downside to buying a new home in one of the many new communities that are springing up.
"If the builder is still building and if you need to sell in a year or two, what people don't understand is that it's hard to sell your house because you are competing with the builder,'' he said. "It's okay now because values are still going up but if interest rates go up, builders will be forced to lower their prices.''
Balseiro also notes that interest rates are not the only factor people consider when deciding if they can afford a home. A significant rise in gas prices could also make houses in SouthShore less attractive to buyers facing long commutes to Tampa.
With scores of new restaurants, stores and other amenities, south Hillsborough is in many ways a much more desirable place to live than it was when Kings Lake was developed more than a decade ago. But whether in new homes or older ones, residents share a common gripe: traffic problems that will only get worse as the area grows.
"The traffic on Big Bend is crazy,'' says Gail Sisouphone, who rents a house in Kings Lake. "It takes 20 minutes to get to here from the interstate.''
That's a distance of less than a mile.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate. Contact Jeff Harrington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8244. Follow @ jeffmharrington