July 23, 2020

Pandemic fails to slow Southwest Florida’s master-planned communities

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Lakewood Ranch, Wellen Park among top sellers nationwide….

July 7, 2020

Despite the challenges of the coronavirus-induced economic downturn, two master-planned communities in Southwest Florida again ranked among the fastest sellers in the nation.

Lakewood Ranch finished second and Wellen Park landed in third place in the midyear 2020 home sales scorecard from real estate consultant RCLCO.

Lakewood Ranch, which sprawls across the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties, retained its position from one year ago and from year-end 2019. The 33,000-acre community, developed by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, reported 838 sales as of June 30, up by 2% over the year.

Wellen Park, the south Sarasota County project previously known as West Villages, moved up one spot from six months ago. It reported 683 sales at midyear, a 1% annual increase. That 9,650-acre community is being developed by Mattamy Homes.

“Total new home sales among those communities tracked in both our 2019 midyear survey and 2020 midyear survey are up over 16%, despite the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gregg Logan, managing director at RCLCO.

Lakewood Ranch, with 41,000 residents, has now ranked among the top-selling master-planned communities for nine straight years.

It also was the No. 1 multi-generational community in the country.

Ranch executives say that despite the uncertainty from COVID-19, low interest rates for mortgages and demand from millennials and baby boomers continue to drive sales at all price points.

“No question the outbreak has prompted a flight to quality,” said Laura Cole, senior vice president at LWR Communities LLC. “Buyers across the demographic and geographic spectrum have, in many cases, accelerated their decision to purchase a home in Lakewood Ranch because it has all the qualities and conveniences of an established town with the added benefit of resort-level amenities in their neighborhood.”

Wellen Park is planned for about 22,000 homes and 3 million square feet of commercial space. It is also home to CoolToday Park, the new spring training facility of the Atlanta Braves.

It now has 7,500 residents, and at full build-out will have more than 60,000 residents and 22,000 homes.

“We’re very pleased that our development plans for this amazing master-planned community have been so well received and resulted in increasing demand from future residents who are looking for a place to call home that has everything they need,” Rick Severance, president of Wellen Park, said in a statement about the RCLCO ranking. “It’s clear that despite the impact of the pandemic, the unique vision and amenities that Wellen Park offers homeowners is appealing.”

Florida dominated the “Top 50” list, with the top three communities and four among the top 10.

The Villages in central Florida was the leader with 1,000 in estimated mid-year sales. The developer only releases year-end sales, RCLCO said. Nocatee in Ponte Vedra finished eighth with 439 sales, down 18%.

Making its debut appearance on the Top 50 list was Babcock Ranch, the nation’s first solar-powered development that spans southeastern Charlotte County and northeastern Lee County.

It ranked 39th among master-planned communities with 230 mid-year sales. Babcock Ranch began marketing new homes in 2017, and the first residents moved came in January 2018.

“We are looking forward to a strong second half of the year as well, with our new, growing neighborhoods and a selection of available homes from our team of preferred builders,” said Syd Kitson, chairman/CEO of developer Kitson & Partners.

Texas and Florida combined accounted for 61% of sales among the 50 top-selling communities.

“Builders, developers and salespeople are adapting to new technology solutions as consumers remain wary of returning to business as usual,” Logan said. “We are seeing that those organizations that are adopting new technologies, such as accommodating self-showings and online transactions, are attractive to consumers for their safety as well as their simplicity and ease of use.”

Most master-planned community developers are “generally optimstic” about the rest of the year, he said. Those communities have historically performed better than other new residential developments during times of economic hardship.

During the run-up to the Great Recession, the largest master-planned communities saw their market share fall due to over-supply. But as that recession severely impacted overall new home sales, the top MPCs saw their market share increase.

“We believe this is a ‘flight to quality’ and perhaps a ‘flight to safety’ wherein MPCs are perceived as a better, safer investment as well as place to live,” Logan said.

Sales at MPCs nationwide were strong in January and into February. But March sales fell about 13%, and the slide continued into April until the second half of the month, when developers reported their sales pace had recovered.

At Lakewood Ranch, active adults have accounted for a large percentage of home sales, and young couples showed the biggest increase of any consumer profile, rising 38% year-over-year. It also attracts families and empty nesters.

“The Northeast remained the largest feeder market for buyers from out of state, with increases in Midwest buyers, as well as those from the Maryland-D.C. area,” the ranch said.