Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Creating a dream home still feasible in Southwest Florida

This Gulf Cove home in Charlotte County is one of Your Home’s more recently completed products.

This Gulf Cove home in Charlotte County is one of Your Home’s more recently completed products.

The August analysis by 24/7 Wall St. of home building in the United States listed the top 10 states where homes were not being built.

Florida did not make the top 10 in the piece by the Delaware corporation, a financial news and opinion operation that shares its content online. The absence of Florida — California, too — on the list was noted in the article as surprising because the media typically reports the Sunshine State as having the worst of housing markets.

According to the 24/7 Wall St. study, residential building has slowed the most in Rhode Island, West Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, Maine and Pennsylvania.

August data prepared by the Economics Department of the National Association of Home Builders suggests that housing starts in the Northeast, where the majority of building inactivity is present, significantly trail those in other regions. From July 2010 to July 2011, the Southeast easily led the Northeast, Midwest and West in privately owned housing starts, including one-unit structures, every month. The Southwest’s figures typically were at least triple what the totals were for the Northeast.

Sounds about right, according to area home builders and real estate agents.

Family business Cantin Builders in Port Charlotte is among area home construction companies building in multiple areas, notably the less developed waterfront community of South Gulf Cove. Your Home of Charlotte and Maronda Homes are others building in South Gulf Cove.

Beth Cantin, vice president and part owner of Cantin Builders, said Charlotte County was “hit with the double whammy of the boom along with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley.”

“The report is really at least a couple months behind reality,” she said about the 24/7 analysis. “I can tell you across the board every contractor and subcontractor I know are picking up more business right now. I am very optimistic.”

The higher cost of housing in the Northeast has much to do with diminished new construction there, real estate agents and building executives said. Though incomes in the North are high, it is difficult for working couples with children to afford new construction.

Bill Perrault, Coldwell Banker Morris Realty manager/associate broker, visited New England in August. “The economy is moving faster and there are more jobs with better pay, but it is relative to many other factors,” he said.

Mr. Perrault described a 16-unit new home development started after the boom years in Massachusetts. The project featured 16 homes, five of which were completed and three of which were occupied.

“They were typical two-story homes, not particularly extravagant, and access was directly off of a three-lane, very busy highway,” he said. “The available lots started at $200,000, and a completed new home inclusive of the lot, started at the $800,000 range. There were no further homes under construction there. Even though there are good paying jobs, starter prices in the 800,000 range are pretty tough.”

“Here in Florida, particularly in the Port Charlotte area, you could build six very nice houses for the same $800,000, inclusive of land,” he noted.

Realtor Karen Rolland of Keller Williams Realty Peace River Partners in Punta Gorda cites other variables.

“No doubt the high cost of living is a factor, but that combined with the high unemployment rates and the excess inventory of secondary market homes in those areas is what is creating the problem for those areas,” she wrote in an e-mail. “When there is such a supply of used homes, people are able to find what they want for less than building new. Once demand increases and the supply dwindles, building starts to pick up again.”

She said supply is low when the absorption rate is between one and four months and high when the rate is seven months and longer. She said there is more new construction when the absorption rate is lower because there is smaller inventory from which to choose.

“With many of the older buyers, they purchased lots years ago with the intent of building when they were ready to retire, so some of what we are seeing is that situation,” Mrs. Rolland said. “They already have the land, so purchasing an existing home on another lot can actually be much more expensive for them than building on land they already own and have paid for.”

Home seekers who don’t already own a lot on which to build may find existing construction to be a better deal financially than new construction. But the pre-retirees and retirees who have been able to build their finances opt for new construction often enough, builders said.

Most of the people having Your Home single-family residences built are preretirees or retirees, said Christin Cupp, Your Home owner. Many come here from the North or Midwest, where privately owned housing starts ranked not much better than those in the North, according to the August NAHB data.

Cantin Builders also has been a draw for seniors. “For a retiree on a fixed income, Florida is attractive,” Ms. Cantin said, adding that the lower cost of living and better climate are reasons older people relocate here.

Some of those favoring new construction are having a home built for the first time. Mr. Perrault said frequently the people are having a dream home built.

John Skorski of New Jersey is having Your Home build his first home, on a canal lot in South Gulf Cove. The single-story home with three-car garage will have a pool added later. The retiree looked at new construction for at least two years. He made an offer on a short sale residence, he said, but the first interested buyer got the property.

“Some of them didn’t have the right floor plan or the garage,” he said. “I just couldn’t get what I wanted.”

The homes he saw were either older than what he wanted or in areas more crowded than he desired. “Punta Gorda was a little out of my price range, except for the very, very old houses,” said Mr. Skorski, who has retired friends living in Rotonda, Venice and Marco Island.

Mr. Skorski said he decided to have Your Home build the home after visiting the company’s office more than two years ago. He stopped by the office the next year, too. “I just like the way they seemed to do business,” he said.

He was in the area in March before construction started, and returned for a week in July, when the concrete had been poured and the walls were going up. He returns this month to see the latest progress.

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