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Tampa Bay area housing market poised to rebuild

TAMPA - The once decrepit new-housing market is showing signs of life. On Friday, giant homebuilder Standard Pacific Homes said it had purchased 675 acres in Wesley Chapel and plans to build 1,200 luxury homes. It's the latest in a series of newly planned subdivisions or stalled projects that are being dusted off and launched anew, breathing new life into the local economy. Standard Pacific paid nearly $25 million for the land, which was purchased from an affiliate of Tampa's Sierra Properties.
That's a substantial price and reflects the improved real estate market, said Bill Eshenbaugh, a local land broker. However, it's by no means a record. It comes to about $21,000 a housing unit, where land was fetching as much as $50,000 a unit in the mid-2000s. Standard Pacific plans 1,180 single-family homes in four neighborhoods inside the community, which doesn't yet have a name. The company is shooting for an upscale feel with Mediterranean styles, homes in the 1,800-square-foot to 5,000-square-foot range and a community clubhouse, pools and tennis courts. Prices could start at $300,000 and top out about $600,000, said David Pelletz, Southeast regional president for Standard Pacific. The company hopes to start building homes by early 2014. The company is one of several that are bidding up land prices for new housing developments after a long slumber. Elsewhere in Pasco, developers are planning a massive 5,050-unit housing development on the Starkey Ranch property along State Road 54 in Odessa. Just down the street from Standard Pacific's Wiregrass project, Taylor Morrison homes has announced a 260-home community called Arbor Woods along State 56 near I-75. Standard Pacific may be targeting the high end of the housing market because there's less competition nowadays, Eshenbaugh said. "There's a vacuum in the market, because a lot of the builders that were in the market at that price point are gone," Eshenbaugh said. He called land in the New Tampa-Wesley Chapel area "ground zero" for homebuilders because of the growth and attractive incomes of residents there. The area is home to a relatively young mall, the Shops at Wiregrass, and the new Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel. At one time, Pulte Home Corp. owned the land that Standard Pacific purchased last week and had planned its own major housing project. However, it walked away from the project in 2008 when the market went bust. "These types of opportunities are very rare in the marketplace," Pelletz said of his company's new purchase. "The A locations are becoming more and more scarce, and the prices from the downside of the market are higher than they were then." The housing project should provide an economic jolt for construction crews and real estate agents in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, even as local economic development officials try to diversify the economy beyond real estate. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that each new single-family home helps create three jobs in real estate, manufacturing and the construction trades. One problem that Standard Pacific and other builders may face is finding enough skilled labor to meet their aggressive schedules. In the fall, local homebuilders and construction subcontractors told the Tribune the Tampa Bay area faces a growing labor shortage. Too many workers have left the state or dropped out of the industry, and, for now, homebuilders have been reluctant to raise pay rates high enough to bring them back. Pelletz said he shares some of those concerns, but said Standard Pacific has strong enough ties to its contractors to meet its construction goals.

msasso@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7865 Twitter: @msasso

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