Local builder says home sales are way up

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SARASOTA COUNTY - There have been increased news reports about the continual recovery of the housing market.  In Sarasota County alone, more than 1,000 homes sold in December of 2012, and according to a local builder, 2013 is off to a strong start.

Grand Palm in Venice is slated for just under 2,000 homes. They obviously have a long way to go, but its developer, Pat Neal, says the stars are aligning and they are seeing the initial signs of a strong recovery.

Neal says his company, Neal Communities, sold 71 homes in the 12 neighborhoods they are building in January alone. "I've been building here since 1968. We've never had 71 sales in a January."

There are 9 at the Grand Palm in Venice, 8 in Arlington Cove in Englewood, and construction has kicked off and sales underway at the Grand Royale in Englewood, from 2 million-dollar homes to those under $200,000. "There seems to be an economic rebound in all of those sectors."

Roofs and prices are also going up.  US Home prices jumped by the most in 6 1/2 years in December. Real estate reports out Tuesday say prices rose more than 13% in Sarasota and Manatee counties from the previous year’s December.

Neal says a lack of supply of older homes for sale is helping. "About half the supply that there should be in the used home business. We just can't keep up with the demand."

Interest rates are below 4% and steady job gains are also pushing those prices up. Construction companies have added 98,000 jobs in the past four months nationally. It’s the best hiring spree since the bubble burst in 2006. Neal says though more have been hired the lack of skilled workers is also driving prices upward. "We used to have 23,000 people employed in our region in the construction business. Now we have 9, 10, or 11 thousand."

Something he says the industry needs to address, because he doesn't predict a slow down any time soon. "All you have to do is get a weather report for Indianapolis of Minneapolis and you will see it is a different place. 1/6 of all Americans live part of some of their retirement here in Florida."

December marked 10 consecutive months of growth in the industry nationally. Florida and the Suncoast is outpacing the national average. "It is a good time to buy while the industry recovers. Over time it will get to be a much stronger housing economy. I hope it doesn't overheat as it did in 2005."

Neal says they've already sold 19 homes in just the first few days of February. They are also taking steps to prevent any overbuilding.