How The Treasure Coast's Housing Market Recovered, And Why It's Still Going Strong
After serving as the frontlines of the housing boom and bust, withstanding the Great Recession, achieving the unenviable ranking as the No. 1 state in the nation for foreclosures, and waiting—patiently, cautiously, hopefully, even doubtfully—for concrete evidence of an economic recovery, we finally have it.
And it involves actual concrete.
New home inventory is coming to Martin and St. Lucie counties. In the size, scope and style reflective of the sensibilities of each county, such developments—previously approved but long dormant due to the downturn and subsequent associated delays—have endured long enough to find fresh oxygen from the nationally surging economy, low unemployment and rising wages.
With hundreds of homes emerging now and thousands in total planned for the years ahead, key communities include Langford Landing in Jensen Beach, Banyan Bay in Stuart, LakePark at Tradition, Del Webb Tradition, Veranda Gardens and Valencia Cay Riverland in Port St. Lucie; and Riverbend, Creekside in unincorporated St. Lucie County and Celebration Pointe in Fort Pierce.
“The principles behind these projects had to take a lot of timely steps during very difficult economic conditions to hang on to their approvals and to hang on to their dreams of eventually seeing these communities become a reality,” says John Gonzalez, president of the Martin County REALTORS of the Treasure Coast and licensed partner of Engel & Völkers Stuart. “It’s very encouraging to see them finally start coming to fruition because consumer demand for new homes is undoubtedly very high.”
Once owned by celebrated singer, actress and local philanthropist Frances Langford, the 53-acre Rio site known as Langford Landing will feature 60 single-family homes. With construction by Meritage Homes, prices start at $739,990, although the average is closer to $1.1 million, says Justin Cook, South Florida division vice president for Meritage Homes.
With 10 sold so far and five under construction, Cook anticipates building one to two per month.
“Stuart is in itself a unique and popular town,” Cook says. “This parcel on Jensen Beach has been a coveted parcel for a lot of homebuilders. There’s not a lot of locations where you can still get riverfront property—especially that close to the Atlantic Ocean.”
In addition to offering a boat slip with every lot, Meritage Homes appeals to new home buyers’ desires for energy-efficient features.
“Every single house has spray foam insulation in the attic space,” Cook says. “Our ‘April Air’ system for our HVAC units takes and runs air in the home through three different filters to remove pollens and toxins. And every window and door frame is sealed up to keep the air exchange in and out of the home limited.”
After years when the only sign of life was a vacant guard gate at Kanner Highway and Pomeroy Street, Banyan Bay in Stuart is under construction by Ryan Homes. Delayed not only by the recession but also an eminent domain action of nearly 2 acres by the Florida Department of Transportation for stormwater runoff area, developer requests for extensions also cited algal blooms and Hurricane Matthew. Now, the community looks forward to 185 single-family homes, 48 duplexes and 72 multifamily units in the next five years.
“Bayan Bay attempted a couple of times to come forward,” says Ted Astolfi, executive director of the Economic Council of Martin County. “It’s a sign of economic well-being that it’s actually coming out of the ground. It’s a good indicator that our economy is doing well. These, along with Langford Landing, are the types of developments that are able to pay for the services they demand.”
Size-wise, both communities meet Martin County’s modest appetite for growth, says H.B. Warren, immediate past president of the Martin County REALTORS of the Treasure Coast and a broker with The Keyes Company.
“I was recently visiting family in South Florida, and coming out of that traffic I’m again reminded that we have a great place to live here in Martin County,” Warren says. “Although we’re careful about our pace of growth, there’s still a high demand among Martin County residents for new-home inventory, so it’s nice to see good projects like these come online. They fit our community well and are not the high-density developments we see further south.”
New housing options complement efforts to attract new businesses or assist in the expansion of existing ones, says Tim Dougher, executive director of the Business Development Board of Martin County.
“Companies are looking for opportunities like these,” Dougher says. “When they’re looking at locating here—or even expanding here—these days, their No. 1 concern is employees. ‘Will we have enough? And once we bring them in, if relocating, will they have a place to live?’”
Banyan Bay is starting at just under $400,000, which could work for employees in targeted job sectors, Dougher says.
“Even in our existing targeted markets—aviation, manufacturing and marine—these opportunities could be viable options,” he says.
AMONG THE MOST DESIRABLE PLACES IN THE COUNTRY
In Port St. Lucie, Tradition is hosting residential additions with Lake Park bringing on 212 single-family units and 418 paired villas and Del Webb adding 550 single-family units.
“Something like 2,000 to 2,500 single-family units will be constructed this year,” says Russ Blackburn, city manager of Port St. Lucie. “Riverland already has sales documents for over 150 units.”
A master-planned community by GL Homes, Riverland spans 4,000 acres with dedications for four parks, a fire station, school sites and civic and commercial spaces. It’s approved for up to 11,700 residential units.
The first neighborhood to open in Riverland was Valencia Cay—a 55-and-older resort community planning 1,071 single-family homes. Amenities include a 34,000-square-foot clubhouse with a resort-style pool, a fire-pit lounge, a large lawn for special events and acreage for an art and cultural center.
During its opening day on Aug. 10, a VIP lot selection produced 51 sales.
“The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Ryan Courson, vice president of GL Homes’ St. Lucie division. “The east coast of South Florida continues to be one of the most desirable places in the country to live, and developable land in Broward and Palm Beach counties is becoming harder and harder to find. Port St. Lucie is located within the natural path of future growth with existing amenities that are very attractive to our homebuyers.”
Along Becker Road in Port St. Lucie, Veranda Gardens is unfolding in multiple phases and will eventually include four communities and a total of 2,000 single-family homes with some multifamily units.
Constructed by DiVosta Homes, Veranda Gardens West is nearing completion with prices starting around $250,000. Veranda Gardens East is starting soon with 342 units expected in the next three to four years, says Austin Burr, South Florida assistant project manager/financial analyst for GreenPointe Communities, master developer.
“Veranda Gardens West is doing eight to 10 homes per month,” Burr says. “We want people to feel at home. This isn’t a second home for people. It’s where they’ll live, thrive and create a sense of community—that’s something that’s important to us.”
Three additional communities will eventually join Veranda Gardens: Veranda Estates, Veranda Oaks and Veranda Preserves, which is for ages 55 and older. A beautification of Becker Road will include oak trees, sidewalks on both sides of the street and public art, Burr says.
Alongside activity from large national home builders, Blackburn (Port St. Lucie city manager) notes that nearly half the number of new permits pulled originate in traditional family neighborhoods.
“Those blocks with vacant lots, those lots are now houses being built on those lots,” he says. “There’s very good activity, which shows confidence that people really appreciate life in Port St. Lucie and people are making an investment here.”
HOUSING FOLLOWS JOBS
Annexed into the City of Fort Pierce, Celebration Pointe—a 147-acre parcel—was approved for 755 units, including 318 single-family homes, 145 townhouses and 292 villas. Also in St. Lucie County, Lennar is building Riverbend near Floridian Yacht and Harbour Ridge in Palm City and D.R. Horton is constructing Creekside.
Such activity makes room for the 6,000 new residents who arrive annually in St. Lucie County, many attracted by the region’s job growth, says Howard Tipton, county administrator.
“We’re creating more jobs at a record’s pace,” he says. “The housing just follows.”
Tipton’s examples include City Electric Supply breaking ground on a 400,000-square-foot facility in Tradition that brings 300 new jobs to the area; Maverick Boat Group adding 106,000 square feet of manufacturing, creating 100 new jobs; Pursuit Boats adding 14,000 square feet, retaining nearly 400 jobs and adding several more; Natalie’s Juice expanding in Fort Pierce and adding 50 jobs; Treasure Coast International Airport’s existing 1,400 jobs and $55 to $60 million payroll of private sector positions in manufacturing and aircraft maintenance and rehabilitation; and Port of Fort Pierce going into mega-yacht repair and renovation to create an anticipated 800 to 900 jobs.
“The manufacturing component in particular is seen as a real takeoff in growth,” Tipton says, “because you’re importing wealth into the community and you’re exporting goods and services around the world. We’re seeing quality jobs paying $25 an hour, $30 an hour.”
Such housing is sustainable, says Pete Tesch, president of the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County, thanks to the groundwork of economic growth and the fast-filling pipeline of future employment opportunities.
“There’s the strong resurgence of national homebuilders in the area coupled with the strong jobs corridor—1,220 acres under the control of the City of Port St. Lucie with industrial and commercial property,” Tesch says. “I’m excited that we have the opportunity for rooftops and the ability for people to come into that jobs corridor.”
Forged in the early 2000s, such efforts—widely criticized when the market fizzled—look prescient today.
“That’s the original vision that the city had,” Blackburn says, “partnering with the private sector, diversifying the workforce and increasing the average wage leads to all this housing.”