Well-maintained landscapes are the norm in The Hammocks in Sarasota.
Located east of Interstate 75 at the end of Bee Ridge Road, just before it turns south, The Hammocks is one of Sarasota's most attractive inland neighborhoods. Gated and deed-restricted, it is a heavily wooded community with winding roads, scenic ponds — some with fountains — and dense nature preserves.
The community was planned in the early 2000s with 194 home sites. Originally, there were four custom builders — John Cannon Homes, Pruett Builders, Coachman Homes and Tivoli Homes, but construction stopped for the most part when the economic recession hit. Tivoli began offering homes again in 2010; 13 empty sites still are available.
The lots — anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 square feet — have lakes, preserves and the nearby Laurel Oak golf course as backdrops. Homes must be a minimum of 2,500 feet under air, but most are considerably larger, running as large as 5,600 square feet for a five-bedroom, four-bath home.
Most of the houses have Mediterranean or "recent Florida" architecture, with tile roofs, paver brick driveways and three- or even four-car garages. The interiors are all about custom flair and elegance — granite kitchen counter tops, stainless-steel appliances, coffered ceilings and crown moldings, master suites with his-and-hers closets, double sinks and whirlpool baths.
Many of the homes have large pool and lanai areas, some even with outdoor gas fireplaces. Landscaping is attractive and well-maintained throughout the neighborhood. Deed restrictions require new homeowners to plant a minimum of four large trees on their property.
The homeowners association takes care of the private roads, ponds and the two entrances — the main gate off Bee Ridge Road and a second ingress off Iona Road. Mandatory annual fees are $1,090.
Wendy Ross, a Realtor with RE/MAX Alliance Group, has lived in The Hammocks since 2007, when she and her husband built a home with Tivoli. She has had a number of sales there, and currently lists several properties, including a home on Megan Hammock Way for $489,000, and vacant lots for building.
"This has always been one of my favorite neighborhoods," she said. "I like the trees, the windy roads and the size of the community.
"The wildlife is amazing," she said. She has seen deer, foxes and otters coming out the wetland preserve in back of her home. Just the other day, a bobcat walked right across her property. "I knew it wasn't a kitty cat," she said, laughing.
She loves the amenities, such as the Publix across the street.
"I don't have to do a full grocery shopping. I can go in and buy fresh all the time," she said. Other stores and restaurants along Cattlemen Road, as well as Doctors Hospital, are just five minutes away by car.
For those interested in an active lifestyle, Rothenbach Park and its manmade hills are in easy walking or biking distance. There are a plethora of golf courses to choose from nearby, too, including Laurel Oak next door, Gator Creek, Misty Creek, Bent Tree and Heritage Oaks.
According to Ross, The Hammocks' residents are a mix of retirees — some of them snowbirds — young professionals and families. School buses from Pine View School, Sarasota High School, Tatum Ridge Elementary and McIntosh Middle pick up and drop off students at the main gate.
Much of the attraction of The Hammocks is its quiet, secluded atmosphere.
"You're not in the country, but there is almost a country feel," Ross said.
At the same time, you don't have to travel any great distance to get anywhere.
"I can hop on the Interstate and be in Lakewood Ranch in 10 minutes," she said.
The beaches are less than 25 minutes away in the off season, as is downtown Sarasota — although Ross has done it in 15 minutes. A former television broadcaster, she fills in as a weather reporter for a local television station when the regulars go on vacation. "The traffic lights on Bee Ridge are green all the way," she said. "Of course, you have to travel at 4 in the morning to do that."
Sale prices in The Hammocks average $500,000, which puts them in the category that has been slowest to recover since the housing crash, when properties lost 50 percent of their value. "Some of the homes have been on the market for a while," Ross acknowledged. She also mentioned a home that had been appraised at $1.3 million but that ended up selling for $670,000.
Currently, nine homes ore listed, ranging in price from $358,000 to $749,000. Two of them are short sales. Two vacant lots are for sale, for $119,400 and $139,000.
There are signs that the market is recovering, however. Tivoli has started to build a new home, and Ross recently put a vacant piece of property under contract.
"We're getting people who want to build again. They don't want existing — they want to do it their way," she said.