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Homes selling fast in Jupiter, Gardens

By Kimberly Miller - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer



In 2006, with real estate still raging, mega developer Toll Brothers staked its claim west of Florida’s Turnpike with the 545-home Jupiter Country Club.

Median home values in west Jupiter were reaching heights of upwards of $475,200 when the Pennsylvania-based builder started selling at a June grand opening. But what no one knew at the time; housing values had peaked three months earlier.

From there, they would plummet 50 percent in the 33478 Zip code before hitting bottom in August 2011, according to analysts at the housing research firm Zillow.

“If you were trying to time the market, you wouldn’t have started in 2006,” said Jim McDade, Florida east coast division president for Toll Brothers.

On a sunny day in January, surrounded by piles of cinderblocks soon to be homes and busy workers tilling ground for cable lines, McDade can look back on the ill-timed launch date with less anxiety.

Like most of Palm Beach County, Jupiter Country Club began its rebound in early 2012 and has since sold about 25 percent of its inventory. Values in the 33478 Zip have rebounded 17 percent from the bottom and Toll Brothers has been able to raise prices.

“Today, a salesperson can’t tell a buyer if the lot they want will be available next week,” McDade said. “Homes are selling that fast.”

From modest communities of 1970’s-era ranch homes to the exclusive Frenchman’s Harbor where multi-million-dollar mansions have their own deep-water docks, home values and sales in northern Palm Beach County rocketed through 2013 and are expected to climb another 8 percent in some areas this year.

Countywide, values are expected to gain 5.8 percent in 2014.

A special report from Zillow for The Palm Beach Post that analyzed north county Zip codes found that areas with the biggest dips in values during the real estate bust, such as Lake Park’s 65 percent descent, have also experienced the fastest turnaround. Investors picking up quick flips or longer-term rentals have helped Lake Park’s median value increase 43 percent from the bottom. It is predicted by Zillow to grow 7.8 percent this year.

Other areas with meaty increases include homes in the 33410 Zip code of Palm Beach Gardens, where values fell 49 percent from the peak, but have since regained 29 percent. The diverse area east of I-95 along PGA Boulevard includes both the working class Cabana Colony and tony Frenchman’s Creek. Values in 33410 are expected to grow 5.7 percent in 2014.

“Nothing is lasting 45 days on the market,” said Marc Shafler, a Lang Realty Realtor based in Palm Beach Gardens.

To be clear, few, if any, homes are back to boom-time highs and about 28 percent of Palm Beach County mortgage holders remained underwater as of the third quarter of 2013.

How foreclosures enter the market for resale is also a wildcard — too many at once could temporarily sink values.

But the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index showed November prices in South Florida at mid-2004 levels as home-buying plans mothballed during the recession are resurrected.

“There has been pent up demand for new homes and what we’re seeing is positive job growth throughout South Florida,” said David Cobb, South Florida regional director for the Royal Palm Beach-based housing analysis firm MetroStudy. “Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, just about that whole northern Palm Beach County area is doing well.”

Marie and Marc Rubenstein moved to Palm Beach County last year from Miami-Dade. The couple, with two young children, decided to rent until they could get familiar with the area. With their lease expiring in May, they’re in the market to buy and realize that prices are rising.

“I feel like there are not that many options and that’s why I’m a little scared,” said Marie during a recent tour of homes in sprawling PGA National. “We regret not buying when we moved here a year ago.”

In the 33418 Zip code where the Rubensteins are looking, home values fell 44 percent from the peak of the market to an October 2011 low of $249,000. As of December, they had rebounded 22 percent to $302,800 and are expected to increase 4.1 percent this year.

Marie wants a gated community in Palm Beach Gardens near PGA Boulevard and its shops, restaurants and grocery stores. A country club with golf for her husband and activities for her children is also a must.

“I love PGA. It’s so central and has everything you need,” she said.

In Palm Beach Gardens, 2013 marked the highest level of building permit activity since 2008. The city issued 7,560 permits last year, for $293.7 million worth of construction, including for the 192-townhome community of Hampton Cay on the northeast corner of PGA and Central boulevards.

The city is projected to grow 23 percent over the next two decades to 61,000 residents, but that prediction only includes development that’s allowed now, not future projects. Jupiter is expected to grow 17 percent, according to county planners.

As prices rise on homes in established communities, Cobb said more buyers are looking at new construction.

“The focus becomes, if they can’t steal a foreclosure, they may as well own a new home that has the latest technology features and design,” Cobb said.

And developers are scrambling to respond.

Cobb points to three jumbo deals that closed in the past 14 months.

• Avenir: A 4,700-acre parcel formerly known as Vavrus Ranch west of Beeline Highway and bordered to the south by Northlake Boulevard was purchased by Landstar Development group in 2012 for $20 million. The group is pitching 7,600 homes, a hotel and a university.

• Minto West: The 3,800-acre tract along Seminole Pratt Whitney Road that Minto Communities bought from Callery-Judge Groves in September for $51 million is approved for 2,996 homes. Minto is pushing for 6,500.

• Briger Tract: Bought by the Kolter Group in December for $127.5 million is south of Donald Ross Road along I-95. The land is approved for 600 single-family homes, 1,400 multi-family homes, 700 apartments, a hotel and space for biotech, retail and offices.

Not everyone is thrilled with the rapid-fire growth.

Palm Beach Gardens resident Alan Lasch called Avenir “nothing more than urban sprawl fancied up with slick writing, empty promises and wishful thinking,” in a November letter to The Palm Beach Post.

In 2011, one of the last large undeveloped parcels of land in Jupiter was scooped up by Jupiter 19 Park LLC for $6 million. Builders want to put 286 homes on the 260 acres north of the Jupiter Country Club. The project, called Lakewood, is being pushed by Otto “Buz” DiVosta.

But even his weighty influence wasn’t able to get a quick green light from the town council. Plans for the Lakewood have been whittled down over the past year and will go before the town council March 18.

William Harris, who lives in Jupiter Country Club, has spoken against the plans, fearing traffic snarls and dangerous intersections.

“I don’t think it is well thought out when you consider the size of what Jupiter Country Club is ultimately going to be,” Harris said about Lakewood. “I’m absolutely not anti-growth, but this will clearly be a bottleneck.”

Harris is on his second home in Jupiter Country Club after originally buying smaller and deciding to size-up.

The diverse collection of new construction at the country club community has attracted families with children to Baby Boomers looking for a second home or to downsize. A key sign of a rebound — Toll Brothers is finishing construction on its promised 23,000-square-foot clubhouse to accompany its Greg Norman signature course.

Still, the builder had to remain nimble through the recession, changing home designs to meet consumer demand, such as building more single-story homes, and rewriting membership requirements to eliminate pricey equity memberships.

Jupiter Country Club homeowners must buy a $3,500 social membership, but not the $10,000 golf membership. Golf memberships are also available to people who don’t live within the community.

McDade said Toll Brothers didn’t “panic” and didn’t “fire sale” its inventory, relying instead on the community’s location, amenities and weather to attract buyers.

And Toll Brothers, like other developers is shopping for land. Its most recent purchase was made in December when it paid $83.5 million for a 124-acre former polo field in Boca Raton. Called Royal Palm Polo, the community will open for sales in May.

“I think everybody learned a tremendous amount during the downturn,” said Scott Mairn, vice president of sales and marketing for Pulte Group, which builds under the brand DiVosta Homes. “It was very competitive, you had to offer a lot of incentives and we revamped and realigned ourselves.”

The Pulte Group, which bought out DiVosta in 1998, is focusing now on its two Palm Beach County communities of Windsor Park at Abacoa in Jupiter and Castellina in Wellington.

Mairn said Windsor Park is the last neighborhood in Abacoa with open lots. When it debuted in February 2012, people camped out for primo spaces.

“That’s when we started to see the shift,” Mairn said.

The 33458 Zip code, which includes Abacoa off Donald Ross Road and I-95, saw median home values plummet 47 percent during the real estate crash. They hit bottom in November 2011 at $194,200, but have since crept up 23 percent. A 4.6 percent gain is expected through December.

Mairn said Pulte buyers are interested in northern Palm Beach County because it’s less “hustle bustle” and people are willing to commute if they can buy new.

In response to customer input, the newest models at Windsor Park veer from traditional Mediterranean style to what Mairn calls “euro-country” with lots of stone, flat tile roofs, open indoor spaces and elevated lots.

“We revamped and realigned ourselves,” Mairn said. “We said we are going to build homes that are life-tested and consumer-inspired.”


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