By JOSH SALMAN- Sarasota Herald-Tribune
SARASOTA - John Cannon Homes Inc. is among a growing list of local builders that recorded post-recession high sales last year, the result of heightened demand from out-of-state buyers.
The Lakewood Ranch-based custom home builder said Thursday it sold 27 new homes in the fourth quarter valued at $23.3 million -- the most of any three-month period dating back to the mid-2000s real estate boom.
Although the company's year-end sales tally of 65 was up only 5 percent from 2011, its $46.8 million in total sales represented an increase of 20 percent over the year before -- a sign buyers were willing to spend more on amenities they eschewed during the Great Recession, said John Cannon, the company's president and CEO.
"It has just been a tremendous uptick," Cannon said. "People make buying decisions based on how they feel. Looking at it from a macro level, everyone is feeling better about the economy. My sales pipeline is full right now."
Cannon's rebound comes as other regional builders, including Neal Communities, John Neal Homes and London Bay Homes, have also posted their strongest sales figures in years.
Most attribute the gains to a low inventory of existing homes for sale, amid rising prices that have nudged more buyers toward new construction.
Cannon said the majority of his buyers are from out of the state, with plans to retire in Florida.
He said he expects the fourth-quarter momentum to spill over into 2013 as well, as the first waves of some 78 million baby boomers begin retiring.
Most of Cannon's homes built in 2012 were either located in Lakewood Ranch or on vacant lots or as replacement homes in developed areas of Sarasota. The company's home prices last year ranged from $400,000 to $2 million.
Cannon said the year was the company's best since the region's housing market began sagging in 2006, but it still paled in comparison to some of the boom years.
In 2004, for instance, a year when Southwest Florida's housing market neared an unprecedented peak, the company sold 127 luxury homes.
For 2013, Cannon plans to add three new models to its lineup, one each in The Links at Rosedale, The Concession and Legends Bay at IMG.
Regionally, the company is also building in The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch, Rive Isle, Riviera Dunes, The Founders Club and Spice Bay on Siesta Key, together with Tierra Verde in Pinellas County and MiraBay and Stonelake Ranch, in Hillsborough County.
"On the custom side, you're working with customers for more than a year, planning and pricing everything from the beginning," Cannon said. "To see this many follow through with purchases is encouraging."