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Buying a Bit of Celebration, Fla., Is Getting Easier

A movie projector was once mounted there, but the last owners took it with them as a way to salvage something, said Donna McGrath, the real estate agent showing the house that day and, like Buoncervello, one of the first residents to move into Celebration. Their daughters grew up together, walking along streets at night, unafraid because they knew everyone who lived along their route. After all, this is a place where, true to the Disney fantasy of small-town America, there's a lemonade party when someone new moves in.

"This is definitely a relationship community," said Buoncervello, the town's unofficial mayor, a title that adorns the license plate on his electric car. "When I moved here 13 years ago, I moved three miles. So how much could your life change in three miles?"

When tree limbs fall, they get trimmed within hours. When children act out, parents call to apologize, Buoncervello said. When he lived three miles away, his daughter was allowed to stay overnight at three houses; within six months in Celebration, he gave her permission to stay at more than 50.

"It'd be impossible to figure out if it was my daughter Angela's, my wife's or my life that changed the most," Buoncervello said.

He and other real estate agents have watched as the recession has relaxed a once-tight market, as it has given and taken away. Where a lottery system was once needed to determine who would get a chance to move in, now about 10 percent of Celebration's single-family houses are on the market.

The upside is that "you've got people who never thought they could live here, now coming over here to see the possibilities," McGrath said. "It's so unusual for a community like this to have this situation. For most people, this was a dream. . . . It wasn't an investment."

The downside of the same situation: "You'll see a house that you know people planned on using for the rest of their lives and they just had to walk away," Buoncervello added.

Take the house that a Louisiana builder bought, lived in for 11 nights with his family and then was forced to put up for sale, complete with furniture and the BMW in the garage.

"Everything stays, the electronics, everything," Buoncervello said. "Everything stays, except their personal pictures."

Hints of the family's life remain behind, ready for another family to keep or toss: A framed baby photo, tickets to a college sports game, hand-painted wine glasses, umbrellas still wrapped in plastic.

The asking price for the house is $749,500, with owner financing available. Already, offers have been made.

Most houses, especially those under $400,000, don't linger long on the market here, said Kathy Yeasted, an agent at Imagination Realty on Celebration Avenue.

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