By HAROLD BUBIL - Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Nothing speaks to the health of the home-building industry like a few mounds of dirt.
Lovely piles of dark soil guard the soon-to-be entrance to Phase 3 at Rosedale, a 650-home golf-and- country-club community on State Road 70 in Manatee County that was developed starting in 1993. Phase 2 came along in prompt fashion, but after buying the land for Phase 3 in 2003, closing the deal in 2005, The Hunt Group's Newton Development sat on it while the housing market crashed.
Signs of improvement are everywhere now. The National Association of Home Builders reported a 15 percent gain in housing starts in September, and even the chief of JPMorgan, Jamie Dimon, said in the Oct. 13 Financial Times that the U.S. housing market was in recovery, as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo reported record profits from soaring mortgage demand.
Locally, sales are up from last year, and prices are firming, as bidding wars are breaking out over well-priced and well-maintained homes.
Rosedale's braintrust, led by Hunt Group vice president Pat Hogan, anticipated the recovery well in advance. They watched for market indicators, among them increased traffic in the sales center. And they paid attention to the big boys, particularly Neal Communities, which at the time was buying land and keeping the company alive by selling smaller houses to "downsizing" buyers.
So, two years ago, Hogan and company started the lengthy permitting process for Rosedale's Phase 3. When the new plat is recorded in late November, they will be ready to start signing purchase contracts with home buyers in time for what is shaping up to be a stellar winter and spring selling season.
The new phase will have 450 home sites — site work is coming to a close — with a main entrance on 44th Street, north of S.R. 70. Residents also will be able to reach the 22,000-square-foot golf clubhouse by driving into Phase 2, where the mounds of dirt are now.
The developmental delay caused by the market crash turned out to be serendipitous in one way for Rosedale's developers, because the original Phase 3 plan called for 306 homesites and a nine-hole golf course to supplement the existing 18-hole layout. But golf courses are struggling right now; many buyers and developers just do not want to be burdened with them, Hogan said.
"We thought it would be a few years — not as many as it was" for the market to start a rebound, he said. "So we went about drawing up plans with 306 homes and nine holes of golf.
"As the years went by, it became clear that was not a good idea. Golf — people weren't paying for it as much, so we thought more units would be a better idea, because once the market got going again, more buyers would be out in this market."
So now Phase 3 will more houses and no golf.
The three models are built on lots that were held back from sales when Phase 2 was developed. One of the two other lots, now storing those mounds of dirt, will be used for a road to connect the two phases. Serendipity, indeed. More like forward thinking.
Newton Development and John Cannon Homes will be the builders in Phase 3, with the possibility of one or two more builders joining the lineup. Hogan said he even will build two spec houses — remember those? — for buyers who are in a hurry.
"Not every buyer wants to build," he said. "Some just want to hang their clothes in the closet."
The three models range in size from 1,790 square feet to 2,365 square feet and in price from $298,000 and $387,000 on standard lots (worth about $80,000, excluding pools).
The models are slightly smaller than older Rosedale houses, said sales director Matt Bornstein, who lives in Rosedale and has worked there for 17 years.
Rosedale was developed by Robert Hunt of The Hunt Group in 1993. The richly landscaped community was noted for a high quality of construction, with Pella windows, and its large clubhouse, which is owned by the developer.
Owners like the fact they do not get any surprise assessments, should a major repair issue come up.
Unlike the neighboring Lakewood Ranch, Rosedale's semi-private amenities — clubhouse, pool, golf course, tennis and sports courts — were not funded with community development district (CDD) bonds. CDDs help ensure the completion of infrastructure and amenities but amount to a second property tax for home buyers until the bonds are paid off in perhaps 20 years.
"Semi-private" means the public may play Rosedale's golf course and eat at the country club. A difference in Phase 3 is that buyers will be required to purchase a social membership in the country club for $1,200.
The new houses will not have Pella windows, as Hunt no longer is in the fenestration business, but they will have Universal impact-resistant windows for 24/7/365 passive windstorm protection.