For example, custom home builder ABD Development Co. says 2002 sales were 15% higher than in 2001 -- and that the average home price rose to nearly $545,000 from $426,000. At Vizcaya, an ABD community in the Dr. Phillips area, the average home price climbed to nearly $600,000 in the fourth quarter of 2002. Since opening in April 2000, Vizcaya's average home price has been $497,000. Two other ABD communities also reported average home sales exceeding $559,000 last year.
In Celebration, 53 homes sold for more than $500,000 last year. Of those, the average price was more than $753,000. In January alone, six houses sold for more than $1 million, according to Celebration's director of real estate, Eric Emerson.
"Clearly people see an opportunity," Emerson says. "Rising real estate values throughout the market, along with some of the mortgage instruments out there, mean that they can take the equity out of their current home and basically get an upgrade to a new home with all the bells and whistles for free."
Orange County tax rolls show how the growth of housing is eclipsing industrial development. In 1999, residential properties accounted for 47.6% of the taxable value of properties. By 2002, that figure had climbed to 51.7%.
At Baldwin Park, a neo-traditional "village" being built on the site of the former Naval Training Center near downtown Orlando, custom homes priced at $700,000 and up and manor homes at $500,000 to $700,000 are forecast to account for 20 to 30 of the 600 to 700 homes sold per year over the next few years, says David Pace, managing director of the Baldwin Park Development Co.
"There's been some breakdown emotionally in the last couple of years in the $1-million-plus market," Pace says. "It's a very robust market in that price range -- surprisingly so."
While rising real estate values are pinned somewhat to buyers seeking a better investment than stocks or 2% returns in money markets, the high-end housing market isn't likely to see a tech stock-style meltdown any time soon, Pace says.
"There is absolutely some bubble potential in the housing market in some areas nationally, but I don't think that's a concern in this market," he says. "We're still catching up."
IN THE NEWS
Cape Canaveral -- Shuttle Columbia's debris is being reassembled at Kennedy Space Center, where the orbiter was prepared for launch. Engineers there will try to determine the cause of the Feb. 1 disaster. KSC workers did the same with the Challenger after it exploded in 1986.
Daytona Beach -- BellSouth plans to test wireless broadband technology in Daytona Beach by providing high-speed broadband connections from fixed wireless base stations scattered through the trial area. The test will include about 100 participants in an area covering about 150 square miles.
Insurer Brown & Brown (NYSE-BRO) has bought Coleman Co. Insurance Services in San Antonio for an undisclosed amount. Coleman has annual revenue of about $3 million and is a retail commercial property and casualty insurance agency.
Maitland -- GoCo-op Inc. lost a key contract and laid off all but a core staff of 10. The e-commerce company employed 200 two years ago.
Mount Dora -- Ottoman Treasures has opened a 90,000-sq.-ft. showroom inside a former citrus packinghouse where it will sell furniture and decorative accessories. Until now, its pieces were available only through interior designers and wholesalers.
Orlando -- A group of Orlando investors headed by John Walker and Rachid Choufani has purchased the 12-restaurant e.brands Group, a division of Dallas-based Carlson Restaurants Worldwide Inc. The restaurants include the Samba Room and Timpano Italian Chophouse in Orlando, as well as restaurants in Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas.
Los Angeles-based Zero-G received $18,000 in city incentives to launch a thrill ride that allows customers to experience simulated weightlessness. The company plans to use stripped-down Boeing 727s to take 25 customers at a time on a series of parabolic flights that expose the passengers to free fall for about 20 seconds at a time. The ride, similar to flights NASA uses to train astronauts, will cost "several thousand dollars" per customer, the company says.
Textbook publisher Harcourt Education will lay off 270 nationwide and 90 locally.
A special master for the Value Adjustment Board has upheld an agricultural exemption for International Drive hotels that claim vacant land deserves an agricultural designation, slashing the hotels' property taxes by an aggregate $4.4 million. Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan argued that the lots, populated by scrub pine and thousands of just-planted foot-high pine saplings, should not be considered forestry operations. The ruling affects land owned by Hyatt, Hilton, Vivendi Universal, SeaWorld of Florida, Busch Properties of Florida, Sierra Florida Properties and RH Resorts.
Planet Hollywood (OTC-PHWDQ.PK) may soon be in the high-stakes casino game in Las Vegas. Published reports in Nevada say Planet Hollywood co-founder and CEO Robert Earl is putting together a deal to buy the bankrupt Aladdin, a 2,567-room resort and casino. The resort would be rebranded to carry the Planet Hollywood name and would be operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
Florida Digital Network is planning to buy the Southeast operations of Mpower Communications, one of its largest competitors, nearly doubling its size. FDN says the acquisition would add 77,000 voice and data lines to the 100,000 lines it already maintains and allow the company to expand into Atlanta and St. Petersburg/Clearwater.
Universal Studios Orlando plans to replace the closed Kongfrontation ride with an indoor roller coaster based on the two movies The Mummy and The Mummy Returns.
Orange County -- The Orange County Convention Center will host the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association trade show for a three-year run starting next year. The show will feature 70,000 delegates and carry an economic punch of $82 million, making it the largest trade show ever in Orange County.
Osceola County -- The American Farm Bureau Federation will sponsor an exhibit on modern agriculture at Epcot, taking the place of the exhibit that has been sponsored by Monsanto Co.
TWO ENTER CITRUS HALL OF FAME
WINTER HAVEN -- The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has inducted Mohamed A. Ismail, senior research scientist for the Florida Department of Citrus, and the late Sam H. Killebrew Sr.
Ismail, of Lake Alfred, is noted for his automated citrus-peeling machine, which has expanded the market for fresh-cut fruit. He also was instru-mental in helping to reduce worker exposure to fumigants and helped maintain the flow of Florida grapefruit to Japan during a crucial market crisis. Today, Japan imports more than 10 million cartons of Florida grapefruit annually.
Killebrew, of Auburndale, was best known for inventing a fertilizer trailer in 1952 that completely eliminated the manual handling of fertilizer, including bagging, opening and dumping the fertilizer into spreaders.