Frugal Fla. home builders now snatching up land

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

MANATEE, FLA. -- Residential developers and homebuilders who survived the housing bust now are feasting on the remains of those who didn't.

In Florida, one of the states hardest hit by the housing bust, they have been on a buying spree, using cash savings to acquire finished but unbuilt lots and subdivisions that have been stalled or lost to foreclosure or bankruptcy. They're paying up to 75 percent off peak land prices during the housing boom and planning to succeed where others have struggled or failed.

"It's survival of the fittest among the developer set," said Jack McCabe, a real-estate analyst and consultant in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Observers say it is happening throughout the state but especially in regions where raw land generally is less expensive and in greater supply.

In Manatee County, D.R. Horton Homes, Medallion Homes and Minto Communities have been among the most active buyers.

Horton, a national homebuilder from Fort Worth has purchased 170 lots and has contracts or options on 110 more in several developments. Local builder Medallion has paid $9.3 million for finished lots in four subdivisions. And Minto, a subsidiary of a private Canadian firm, has bought an undeveloped condominium project on Perico Island and several lots in Lakewood Ranch's Country Club area.

All say that discounted land prices attracted them but that was the local housing market's long-term potential that sealed the deal.

"We wanted to expand our presence in Florida and take advantage of the lower land costs," said Mike Belmont, executive vice president of Minto's West Central Florida region. "Plus, it's a great place to establish a new market."

Horton entered the Manatee market in September, when it paid $165,000 for four lots in the GreyHawk Landing development in East Manatee.

Since then, it has bought about 170 lots, and between pending contracts and options to buy more lots, that number could exceed 270. Those purchases have cost at least $3.4 million, according to public records.

All are being marketed, and Horton is about to close on two more deals for an additional 130 or so lots.

The builder had been eyeing Manatee for a long time, said Darren Saltzberg, sales and marketing vice president for the company's Tampa-Sarasota region.


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