Sarasota, Florida, skyline.
Adobe Stock Sarasota, Florida, skyline.

Much attention has been focused on migration trends to the Sun Belt over the last several years, especially during and post-pandemic. Residents from the Northeast, Midwest, and even the West flocked to Florida. According to recent U.S. Census data, Jacksonville, Tampa, and Orlando are in the top five large metro areas for net migration.

While most of the national news has been focused on these large Florida cities, including West Palm Beach (the now infamously dubbed "Wall Street South") and Miami, smaller markets throughout the state are gaining even more residents. As a result, it presents solid opportunities for future housing development.

Take, for example, the Sarasota metro area. Zonda's proprietary data tracks 37,000 future lots under development in Manatee and Sarasota counties, significantly more than the 22,000 we monitor throughout the Tampa metro.

And that supply is needed; the Sarasota metro area was No. 10 for net domestic migration, regardless of population, according to the U.S. Census. Sarasota is not just a retiree destination anymore; residents of all ages are enjoying the region's strong economy and enviable lifestyle.

The North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota metro area is second across the entire country for millennial homeownership, according to a recent analysis from RentCafe. Sarasota is home to the best-selling multigenerational community across the country—Lakewood Ranch—and West Villages, another rapidly expanding master plan in south Sarasota.

Other small markets in Florida are also experiencing phenomenal growth—both from within the state and throughout the country. Smaller markets in Florida comprise eight of the top 15 markets for net domestic migration over the last year.

I am closely watching Punta Gorda, which is also synonymous with Charlotte County and is part of the Southwest Florida region. As Naples and Fort Myers continue to expand, much of the attainably priced housing is being developed farther north in Charlotte County. Babcock Ranch, the first solar-powered town that will have 19,500 residences upon build-out, has also been rapidly expanding over the last several years.

Additionally, the town gained notoriety during Hurricane Ian for never losing power.

Charlotte County also has more of a dwindling commodity in Florida: land. Future growth prospects for this region are strong, and we are tracking 3,600 lots under development in the area but, even more important, more than 17,000 future lots.

Another region that will continue to experience strong growth over the next several years is the Lakeland MSA, which is between Tampa and Orlando and offers reasonable commute times to both employment centers. Domestic net migration to Lakeland increased nearly 4% over the last year, partly due to the drive for affordability. Zonda is tracking about 14,000 lots under development in Lakeland, but even more notable are the 85,000 future lots in our database.

As growth continues throughout Florida, taking advantage of the opportunities in some of these smaller, less publicized markets is imperative. They have strong economies, all with lower employment rates than the national average. Additionally, they often offer more affordable housing options and a quieter way of life.

For now.