Downtown Orlando new-home starts and closings rise

Downtown Orlando new-home starts and closings rise

Even in a real estate market defined by distress sales in recent years, buyers’ appetite for new homes was up sharply last year.

Builders started work on an average of 18 houses a day in the four-county Orlando metropolitan area during the fourth quarter. Those 1,643 single-family home starts constituted a 47 percent increase from a year earlier. Housing starts for the whole year were up even more sharply — 53 percent — from 2011, as work started on 6,297 houses in 2012.

Matthew Orosz, co-president of Orlando-based Royal Oak Homes, said buyers who remained on the sidelines previously are now making offers. Royal Palm had one Orlando community when it entered the local market in mid-2011. It now has 10. And it had more closings last month than it did during all of 2011.

Material and labor costs have gone up, Orosz noted, which has pushed up prices by 10 percent to 15 percent from a year ago.

New-home closings also showed a significant increase last year compared with 2011. During the fourth quarter alone, sales were completed on 1,588 houses, up 47 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011. For all of 2012, closings in Metro Orlando totaled 5,762, or 38 percent more than the year before.

“While quarterly starts slowed from third quarter, they are above closings and indicate sales activity remains strong,” said Anthony Crocco, Metrostudy’s Central Florida division director. “We anticipate starts will increase again in the first quarter.”

The supply of finished-but-unsold homes in the Orlando metro area — Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties — shrank by several hundred houses at the end of 2012 from a year earlier, with 1,192 houses completed but vacant.

Another turning point for Orlando’s new-home market: the number of building lots hitting the market — 1,020 during the fourth quarter compared with 845 lots during the final three months of 2011. Metrostudy estimated that the metro area now has a five-year supply of empty lots, down sharply from the eight-year supply saturating the market last year.

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