BROOKSVILLE – Southern Hills Plantation Club debuted in Brooksville in 2006 to much fanfare.
The upscale community was envisioned as a residential shining star for the city of Brooksville, and developers touted its proximity to the Suncoast Parkway as a major selling point.
The concept: People could work in Tampa and escape to the rural tranquility, rolling hills and woods of Southern Hills.
Months later the housing boom crashed and new-home construction began the downward spiral that continues to this day.
But something is happening at Southern Hills that indicates all is not doom and gloom.
Construction has started to pick up at this 1,600-acre planned golf community just south of Booksville’s city limits off U.S. 41. Roger Postlethwaite, president of GreenPointe Homes, said he is building at least two homes per month there and agrees the subdivision is experiencing a new growth, as is the market in general.
“It is a resurgence,” he said of the housing market. “It’s not a big resurgence yet but it’s the start of what I think is going to be a very good housing market.”
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Since the start of the 2013-14 fiscal year, county-issued permits for new construction have fluctuated. There were 17 in October, 26 in November, 20 in December, 25 in January, 18 in February and 20 in March.
Year-over-year statistics show home permits edging upward.
There were 245 permits issued in 2013, the highest since 2008.
In 2012, there were 174 permits issued; 124 in 2011; 188 in 2010 and 159 in 2009.
Still, the permits are not close to the boom years of the early to mid-2000s when they reached a record 4,209 in 2005.
Postlethwaite said Southern Hills was a stagnant community when GreenPointe opted to join the builder ranks around 2010. Other builders there include Arthur Rutenberg Homes, Bayfair and Gallery Custom Homes.
Like other planned subdivisions, Southern Hills fell victim to the national housing collapse, he said.
“When it was initially developed, it was a successful lot sale program,” he said. “They sold to investors and buyers, and the market disappeared when the market collapsed.”
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GreenPointe introduced three models tailored to various budgets and Postlethwaite thinks that choice has enabled the community to grow.
For example, the cottage series offers homes on smaller lots ranging from the low- to mid- $200,000s. The manor series are larger homes, some on the golf course, in the mid-$200,000 to low-$300,000 range. The larger estates homes start in the high-$200,000 range and go up to $400,000.
Seeing the increase in home construction creates a buzz in the community and that’s good for all of Southern Hills, he said.
“People who have owned those lots for some time or who bought lots during the downturn are now starting to build,” he said.
Postlethwaite said there is tremendous pent-up demand from people who either have been sitting on their lots for years or from new owners waiting for more affordable prices.
“Pricing is much more affordable than at the height of the market,” he said. “People are wanting to buy now because they know prices will go up again.”
It doesn’t hurt, he said, to have a golf course designed by famed golfer Pete Dye in many homeowners’ backyards.
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The home-building at Southern Hills is indicative of a nationwide trend, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
“Builder confidence has been in a holding pattern the past three months,” said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly. “Looking ahead, as the spring home-buying season gets into full swing and demand increases, builders are expecting sales prospects to improve in the months ahead.”
NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said job growth is proceeding at a solid pace, mortgage interest rates remain low and home prices are affordable.
“While these factors point to a gradual improvement in housing demand, headwinds that are holding up a more robust recovery include ongoing tight credit conditions for home buyers and the fact that builders in many markets are facing a limited availability of lots and labor,” Crowe stated in a news release.
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In related news, existing home sales and median home prices continued inching up in March, according to Hernando County Association of Realtors statistics.
There were 306 existing home sales that closed in March, up from 236 in February and 260 one year ago. The median sales price for March was $93,750, up from $91,150 in February and $89,000 one year ago.
“We’re all optimistic that things will continue to go up,” said Ana Trinque, president of the Realtors group.
Trinque said real estate agents have told her they are fielding calls from people who attended the recent Hernando County Fair and Blueberry Festival and are considering living here.
“I think having a lot of people come here has helped,” Trinque said.
Marisa Brewer, broker-owner of Preferred Property Associates, said weather also is driving sales.
“After this long, cold winter in most of the country I have noticed an increase in buyers looking to relocate to sunny Florida, and Hernando County still has some of the best prices per square foot in all of Central Florida,” Brewer said.
“While we do still get some inquiries from potential second home or seasonal buyers, most of the people still need to sell their existing home up North before they can purchase and relocate to this area,” she said.
Brewer said she thinks home sales will go up “just as soon as these potential buyers can get their homes listed and sold in other parts of the country.”