On Sunday, Neal Communities’ Central Park at Lakewood Ranch will celebrate its one-year anniversary, during which it has become one of if not the best-selling residential community in Florida. The builder’s owner and CEO, Pat Neal, tells BUILDER that Central Park should hit close to 140 sales in its inaugural year. “That’s as good as we anticipated, and much better than just about any other property in the state.” Tony Polito of the market research and consulting firm Metrostudy says that Neal Communities accounts for about 30% of the new-home starts in Florida's Manatee County, and that Central Park alone accounts for 13%.
Neal Communities just opened its seventh and largest neighborhood in Central Park, called Longview Lake Park, whose 136 homesites bring to 826 the number of lots within Central Park Neal Communities plans to build out.
Neal attributes his company’s success here to the “reorientation” of his company back in 2007 to smaller and more affordable homes. Central Park currently has five price positions, ranging from its 1,052-square-foot Moonbeam model that starts at $129,000, to its Harmony model, at nearly 3,000 square feet with three bedrooms, two baths, and a bonus room, which starts at $299,700.
The average base price of houses at Central Park is $218,000, and the average for “fully dressed homes,” says Neal, is $280,000. The house plans range from a 30-foot plan on a 45-foot lot to a 40-foot plan on a 52-foot lot and a 45-foot plan on a 57-foot lot.
Neal Communities has brought in two custom builders—Lee Wetherington Homes and the Tampa, Fla., division of Canada’s Cardel Homes—to build at Longview Lake Park. Cardel’s model is called Docetto, with four bedrooms, a den and three baths within 3,233 square feet, selling in the high $300s. Lee Wetherington’s Springfield II model measures 2,945 square feet with four different house plans.
Right now, Central Park—which is distinguished by two lakes, a 10-acre park with a splash fountain, dog parks, a pavilion, and other recreational facilities—accounts for about half of the home sales at Lakewood Ranch, the 8,500-acre, green-certified master-planned community that Neal calls “the center of the universe” because it is reputedly the best-selling development in the state. The property—owned by the Uihlein family, heirs to the Schlitz Brewing Co.—is comprised of seven villages of single-family and town houses to custom estates, along with schools, stores, restaurants, and offices. Lakewood Ranch also has another 22,000 acres of mostly undeveloped land that has some commercial construction on it and is also likely to include more residential down the road. “Our relationship with Lakewood Ranch and the Uihlein family has been very important to us,” says Neal.
Despite his company’s success at Central Park, Neal says Neal Communities is still a ways from matching its best sales year in 2005. However, he is buoyed by the fact that demand in his markets is strengthening and the number of unsold homes he’s competing against is receding. The inventory of unsold homes in Manatee-Sarasota is about 7.5 months worth, and considerably less for new homes. “So we’re at a reasonable equilibrium.”
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine. Guy Sheetz, a regional manager with Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, contributed reporting for this article.