Stock Development has found surprisingly safe “passage” through Fort Myers, Fla., which during the recession has held the dubious distinction of being one of the worst housing markets in the United States. Stock, a developer and builder based in Naples, Fla., through early April had sold 259 of its 279 flats, townhouses, casitas, and single-family homes in the first phase of Paseo (which means “passage” in Spanish), its stylish neighborhood located in South Fort Myers. Since the beginning of this year more than 2,000 prospects have visited Paseo, and in the past 15 months alone Stock has sold more than 140 units there, according to Tim Clark, the community’s vice president of sales.
Claudine Leger-Wetzel, Stock’s vice president of sales and marketing, attributes Paseo’s success to her company’s philosophy “to continuously market and brand itself and its products.” At a time when other builders were tripping over each other to get out of Fort Myers, Stock Development was offering “a very lifestyle-oriented” community with all of its amenities delivered, including a 5,000-square-foot fitness center, pool, and restaurants.
Wetzel says Paseo, whose first phase features 18 model homes, has been drawing between 125 and 150 registered prospects per week. Stock stoked interest in this community by hosting a Parade of Homes there, as well as monthly music festivals (which it does at its two other communities as well.) Paseo also offers breathtaking vistas of nearly lakes and the Six Mile Cypress Slough.
But Paseo’s main attraction, Wetzel freely admits, is the community’s “aggressive” pricing: Prices for flats and townhomes, which range from 1,227 square feet to 2,084 square feet, start at $169,000. The neighborhood offers two-story and courtyard-style single family homes as large as 3,000 square feet. One such house—its Montessa model, at 2,293 square feet with three bathrooms—fetched $444,990 in a recent sale.
“We’re not making a ton of margin at Paseo, but we are selling product,” says Wetzel. Stock has released several models for Phase II of Paseo, where it plans to build 172 units. Further evidence that Florida’s housing market is coming out of its coma are found at Neal Communities, a Lakewood Ranch, Fla.-based developer and builder that, through the first three months of this year, sold 109 homes, its best quarter in three years, confirms Leisa Weintraub, its vice president of marketing.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick,” Weintraub tells BUILDER, which she attributes to several factors. First and foremost, “the prices are right.” Its 182-unit River Sound, a gated community with lots of amenities in Bradenton, Fla., that Neal opened on February 21, has made hay with a series of detached two- and three-bedroom cottages—ranging from 947 square feet to 1,648 square feet, alley loaded, and 20-feet wide on 27-foot-wide lots—that start at $109,600. “That [price] brought a lot of people in the door,” says Weintraub, a good number of whom were first-time buyers who didn’t have to worry about selling their existing houses.
At River Sound, Neal has a lender on site to prequalify borrowers. “We’re seeing a lot of people who are willing to buy to-be-builts as opposed to specs, which we see as a positive sign,” says Weintraub. Neal Communities promoted River Sound with the tagline: “Everyone’s talking about change. We’re doing it.” It also did a lot of public relations, including a press conference that local dignitaries attended and three TV stations covered. The company reached out to local realtors, who are a focus of Neal’s marketing strategy. (Weintraub says that nearly half of the company’s sales this year have been through real estate agents, which is actually low by historical measures because there have been so many walk-ins at River Sound.)
Both Stock and Neal are optimistic about their future growth, based on the activity they’re seeing at other communities.
Through mid April Stock has sold more houses at Vivante, its waterfront community in Punta Gordo, Fla., than it did in that community all of last year. The listed prices for homes there range from $149,900 to $400,000, and have been “heavily discounted,” says Weintraub, who notes that the vast majority of buyers are paying in cash. Stock’s largest community—the 3,000-acre Lely Resort in Naples—sold 50 homes in March alone, at prices ranging from $180,000 to $1 million.
Neal is currently selling from 10 communities that include country-club and golf-course neighborhoods. It is currently building an 800-unit community, to be called Central Park, which Weintraub says should be ready for sale in early 2011.
John Caulfield is senior editor at BUILDER magazine.