Boynton booms from coast to glades

Drive far enough west on Boynton Beach Boulevard and the domination of developer giant GL Homes becomes evident.

Billboards begin just before Jog Road advertising hit GL communities such as Valencia Canyon, Valencia Reserve and the newest neighborhood from the Sunrise-based builder, Valencia Cove — an 823-home Disneyland for “active adults” age 55 and older.

Since 1996, GL Homes has planted 12 communities — some 7,200 homes — in the area west of Jog Road and bordered by Boynton Beach Boulevard to the north and Lake Ida Road to the south. Seven of the strongholds, often fronted by impressive faux waterfalls and babbling brooks, are age-restricted.

“What we are really selling here is a lifestyle,” said Marcie DePlaza, division president for GL Homes, about the Valencia 55-plus communities. “We keep people really busy, and they love it.”

But it’s not just GL Homes and the suburban areas of Boynton Beach that have experienced a real estate comeback. New, but mostly empty, coastal condominiums and economically depressed areas lining Interstate 95 have one thing in common with their western neighbors — values are all on the rise.

The 33473 ZIP code, which includes GL Homes communities west of Florida’s Turnpike, has seen the biggest value surge since the real estate bust with a 27 percent gain through October, according to an analysis by the Seattle-based real estate firm Zillow. The median value for homes in the 33473 ZIP code was $433,800 in October.

The downtown Boynton Beach area has seen values increase 22 percent to a median of $86,800 from the bottom of the market.

“We’re rebounding as equally as fast as we went down,” said Diane Giafaglione, a Realtor with Hudson Realty in Boynton Beach. “The location here is awesome, minutes from everything, and between downtown West Palm Beach and Delray Beach.”

Land abandoned as the real estate market collapsed has attracted renewed interest from developers. A long-suffering 4.7-acre parcel at the southwest corner of Federal Highway and Ocean Avenue is under contract to be sold to the LeCesse Development Corp. of Altamonte Springs.

Vivian Brooks, executive director of the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, said LeCesse is proposing a 345-unit apartment project that will also include about 15,000 square feet of retail space.

The land was previously slated for a $105 million project of 378 condominiums and 40,596 feet of retail space.

Another sign of the downtown rebound is the Casa Costa, a 14-story, twin-tower complex at Boynton Beach Boulevard and Federal Highway. Miami’s Related Group bought the property — formerly known as the Promenade condo — before a foreclosure auction last year. The original developer had sold just 72 of 318 units.

Since Related took over, it has sold 160 units.

And in December, Aventura-based Pordes Residential Sales and Peninsula Boynton Property LLC, paid $22.5 million for a luxury waterfront project built on Boynton Beach’s Intracoastal during the downturn. Plans are to convert the rental units to condominiums with prices from $390,000 to the high $700,000’s.

“The amount of available, standing new inventory is almost nonexistent,” said Mark Pordes, CEO of Pordes Residential Sales, about why he thinks the project will be successful.

Between the coast and the GL Homes, ZIP code 33436 has seen home values increase at a slower pace, growing 19 percent since their pricing low-point.

But it could be the area’s range of modest- to million-dollar homes that account for the lower rebound. High-value properties in such communities as the Hunters Run and Cypress Creek country clubs suffered less severe value drops, said Lang Realty Realtor Richard Ralston, who has an office in the Hunters Run Country Club.

“Country clubs are a different animal,” said Ralston, noting that many buyers are Northeasterners accustomed to a country club environment that they want replicated in South Florida. “Even when the market was at its worst, we were still getting buyers.”

During the downturn, Hunters Run had a vacancy rate of about 9 percent. Today’s it’s 7.5 percent.

On a sunny December day, the community of 1,650 residences was busy with zipping golf carts and full tennis courts. Ralston said the 1980s-built Hunters Run, which has a $40,600 required equity membership and a $10,000 one-time initiation fee, was more insulated from real estate’s roller-coaster ride.

In 2011, when home price indexes show Palm Beach County hitting bottom, Ralston had a $10 million year, winning himself a coveted Ruby sales award from Lang.

But not all of Hunters Run’s 23 subdivisions were left unscathed.

There are a handful of 1,500-square-foot condominiums in Hunters Run listed at just $5,000 — leftovers from early baby boomers who have moved onto posher digs and can’t unload their old units. Despite their bargain-basement price tags, the units still carry the $40,600 membership expense.

DePlaza, of GL Homes, said her company’s 55-plus communities are an alternative to country club living, offering similar amenities — no golf courses — but without the membership cost.

That’s what attracted 65-year-old Valencia Reserve resident Mark Englander, who bought into the community pre-construction more than three years ago. His “Victoria” model home cost about $293,000 with monthly maintenance fees of $300.

“I was very attracted to the lifestyle, and I wanted to live somewhere where I would fit in age-wise,” Englander said.

Valencia Reserve, which opened in 2010, caters to retirees, offering classes in cooking and pottery, and activities from billiards to Zumba. There is a Flakowitz Deli in the 30,000-square-foot clubhouse, three pools and three card rooms. There are more than 100 clubs, including a sewing group called “Stitch and Bitch.”

“Builders are targeting baby boomers because that’s where the numbers are,” said Nikki Buckelew, CEO and founder of the Austin-based Seniors Real Estate Institute. “They want amenities, but they also want the social interaction that they lose when they stop working.”

According to Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic research, people 65 and older make up about 17 percent of the state’s population.

By 2040, nearly a quarter of Florida residents — 24.4 percent — will be 65 or older.

Palm Beach County is expected to see an even higher influx of seniors. While people 65 and older make up about 22 percent of the county’s population today, that will grow to 25 percent by 2025 and 27 percent by 2040.

Statewide, between 2010 and 2020, the population of 65-plus will increase 32.5 percent, making, by far, the greatest leap of any age group during that time period.

Buckelew said she believes builders will become even more focused on creating senior communities for niche groups. They may try to cater to retired professors, techies, artists or target certain regions of the country.

Englander, who most recently lived in Bayside, N.Y., said 70 percent of his neighbors in Valencia Reserve are from one of New York’s five boroughs.

“GL has a very good reputation, and the price was right,” Englander said.

The popularity of the Valencia brand was evident in April during the grand opening for pre-construction sales at Valencia Cove. A line of buyers competed lottery-style for premier lots, snatching up 73 homes in the first two hours for total of about $35 million. The project’s model homes opened Jan. 11, selling 36 homes over the weekend.

In the past year, GL Homes sold about 1,200 homes. During the recession, sales were more in the 400-a-year range.

“We were really in survival mode,” DePlaza said. “After what happened with the downturn, we’re trying not to get too excited. We know it can all change on a dime.”

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Alexandra Clough contributed to this story.

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