Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

High-End Home Boom

The bucolic image of Lake County as a rural retreat is under siege with the pending development of more than $1 billion in luxury housing. While some owners may consider their homes retreats, the influx of money will likely bring with it restaurants, shopping, service businesses and the traffic many Lake County residents have been trying to escape.

Leading the charge is Bella Collina, a Ginn Co. development on Lake Apopka that is to include golf courses, equestrian centers, the amenities of a world-class resort -- and more than 800 high-end houses.

How much interest is there? When Ginn announced plans to begin sales last March, it quoted lot prices of "$275,000 to more than $800,000." In April, it said it had sold "nearly 400 home sites, ranging from $300,000 to $1.3 million" during a four-hour period the first day of sales. Total take that day: $174 million.

Street of Dreams Inc. selected Bella Collina to host the 2006 Orlando Street of Dreams. Eight builders will construct showpieces at the site that will carry price tags of $3 million to $5 million each.

Home construction began last month at Bella Collina, and buyers have two to four years from the time they buy their lot to build a home. At buildout, Bella Collina will pump about $8.2 million into Lake County coffers just from property taxes.

In December, construction began in Heathrow Country Estates, with three custom builders putting up $1.5-million model homes. The 420-home development will feature about 120 production homes in the $500,000 to $800,000 range and 300 custom homes that will average more than $1 million each.

This high-end market is a new phenomenon in Lake County. The Orlando Regional Realtor Association reports that only a half-dozen million-dollar homes have sold in each of the past two years. The high-priced houses currently on the market in Lake County tend to be expensive because they come with 20 to 50 acres.

The kinds of buyers are also evolving. The companies creating the new developments say their buyers tend to be more entrepreneurial and will likely build or invest in local companies once they move here. More than half come from outside central Florida, and more than 10% are from foreign countries.

"At every successful community, you arrive at a balance," says Randy Lyon, CEO of the central Florida region for Ginn Co.

That balance has less to do with money than it does with such things as the community involvement, services and property taxes that affluent neighborhoods typically generate. But the money doesn't hurt -- as long as it's spent wisely.

"You have to look at whether it's being done in a well-planned manner," says Frank Pizzica, owner of Brentwood Custom Homes, a builder in Heathrow Country Estates. "Well-planned neighborhoods allow people to live, shop and be employed all within a few miles of their homes."