Builders in South Florida started work on more homes in the first quarter than they did a year ago, according to the Metrostudy research firm.
Broward County had 257 housing starts from January through March, up 67 percent from a year ago. In Palm Beach County, there were 255 home starts in the quarter, a 22 percent increase from a year earlier.
“There are a handful of projects in a handful of submarkets that are doing well,” said Brad Hunter, South Florida director for Metrostudy in Palm Beach Gardens. “There needs to be about five times as many to get back to a healthy market. “But I’m encouraged,” Hunter said. “Anybody who buys a house in today’s market, whether it’s new or used, is picking a good time to do it.”
The pace of construction fell from the fourth quarter, and starts remain far below what they were during the housing boom, when each of the counties had 2,000 to 3,000 starts a quarter. The Metrostudy figures include homes and townhomes but not condominiums.
Housing prices started falling in 2006, and builders were hit hard by rising cancellations, the credit crunch and lost revenue. The housing bust devastated many builders, including Levitt & Sons, the Fort Lauderdale-based company known for the iconic Levittown project on Long Island in 1949.
After several years of scant construction across South Florida, home starts bottomed in 2009, according to Metrostudy. Some builders, including Minto Communities and WCI Communities Inc., have started to raise prices. That’s a clear indication that demand is increasing, Hunter said.
“We’ve been open 16 months, and it’s getting better every month,” said Jim McDade, an executive with Toll Brothers, which is building about 400 homes at Parkland Golf & Country Club.
The Monterra development in Cooper City accounts for most of the new homes being built in Broward. It’s on pace to be completed in 2013, about two years ahead of schedule. The project features 850 single-family homes from $325,000 to $700,000. The builder, CC Devco, is raising prices by $5,000 this week.
The Centra development in Boca Raton is nearing completion, with 20 of 198 townhomes left to sell, said Harry Posin, a longtime builder working on Centra with Stiles Corp. as a joint venture. The townhomes range from $245,000 to $360,000. The average price has increased 2 percent to 3 percent since the project was launched two years ago, Posin said.
“The buyer psychology is so far different than it was 18 months ago,” said Posin, president of Label & Co. Developments Inc. in Fort Lauderdale. “There was that uncertainty about whether prices would keep dropping. Now people are aware the market has turned.”