Instead of bustling neighborhoods, some folks live in lonely subdivisions

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel


Published November 17, 2008


Todd Vandre keeps his lawn neatly manicured, but the clipped grass alongside the driveway seems out of place in his quiet Mount Dora subdivision.

Most lots here, including those next to and across from Vandre's property in Lake County, sit vacant and overgrown with weeds. There's little prospect of new homes being built nearby anytime soon. Even so, Vandre remains hopeful.


"Eventually, we'll have more neighbors," he said. But for now, scenes such as Vandre's are increasingly common across Central Florida. Neighborhoods that were supposed to be filled with families and homes instead have one house or two amid a barren landscape.

A couple hundred unfinished housing developments pockmark the region with empty lots and paved roads leading to nowhere. The construction crews and their trucks are gone. The collapsed housing and credit markets have left few new-home buyers.

County property appraisers in Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Volusia and Lake reported 155,835 vacant residential lots this year. Most are lots in new 

Residents live in incomplete subdivisions such as Grand Island Reserve.

subdivisions approved during the peak of the housing boom in late 2005 and early 2006.
"Right now there is a glut of vacant lots on the market," said Frank Royce, Lake's deputy county property appraiser. "I think there are enough lots platted out there that we would not, in my opinion, see them all developed within our lifetimes."

Anthony Crocco, Central Florida director for MetroStudy, a Texas real-estate research and consulting company, said the Metro Orlando area has at least an 82-month backlog of vacant residential lots.

"The problem is that there is so much inventory -- including resale and foreclosure -- of homes," Crocco said. "The buyers stopped suddenly in late 2005, but the developers and the builders just couldn't cut the [construction] process quick enough."

Like 'Jurassic Park'

When Vandre moved in to his spacious two-story home in early 2007, construction workers were busy building other homes in the subdivision, one of several off State Road 46 in Lake. Vandre figured it would be a short time before his quiet street was filled with children riding their bikes, neighbors holding block parties and folks waving as they walked their dogs. )

Today, 69 of the subdivision's 571 planned single-family residences and town homes have been finished.

"Right now, I'm willing to wait [for more new homes]," he said. "But what happens when we want to move? . . . So far it's not so bad. It's quiet and we have more privacy. . . . But I worry about the resale value sometimes, if I ever do decide to sell."

Vandre's concerns are shared by new homeowners across the area -- residents who can handle their mortgages but are indirect victims of the real-estate and credit crises nonetheless.

Kerri Day and her husband, Robert Walker, live about 45 miles south in Osceola County's Turtle Creek subdivision, where they bought a home last year. Their house is among 53 completed out of 456 lots in the subdivision.

However, only about 17 houses in Turtle Creek are occupied. The builder, Levitt and Sons, stopped new-home construction and filed for bankruptcy protection a year ago, citing falling prices and an overabundance of new homes.

Now Day's new home is surrounded by grassy lots and empty streets.

"I hate it here," she said. "We have no neighbors. . . . It's like we're living in Jurassic Park. . . . It's very weird."

Day fears if she puts her house on the market now, it would not sell for near the $450,000 she paid.

Backlog in Lake, Osceola

Nancy Miller and her husband, Jimmy, moved into their home in an almost-empty Orange County subdivision near Apopka last spring.

Like Day and Vandre, Miller said she purchased the house "with the anticipation that other people would soon move in."

But today, only about 20 homes are completed out of 56 approved lots.

Miller admits "it feels odd" to live in a subdivision with so many empty lots and a few homes scattered on a circular road. Even so, her neighborhood sits near a busy intersection and several other built-out subdivisions, including Sweetwater Oaks.

"So it's not like we're completely out in the middle of nowhere," she said.

The backlog of vacant lots is especially evident in more rural counties, such as Lake and Osceola, where developers rushed in during the housing boom and secured approvals to build on huge tracts of inexpensive land.

Since the start of 2006, Lake County approved 5,398 new homes in its unincorporated area, but just fewer than 400 houses -- or about 7 percent of the total approved -- have been built since then, according to county planning officials.

Osceola County has a backlog of 30,806 vacant residential properties, according to the county Property Appraiser's Office. That includes the Reunion subdivision, where 1,626 lots were approved and platted, but only 579, or 33 percent, of the homes have been built in seven subdivisions.

Loving the privacy

Not everyone living in the solitary subdivisions finds it lonely.

Jim Myers and his wife, Laura, moved into their two-story Grand Island Reserve home in Lake County soon after it was completed in December. But construction at the 269-unit subdivision has since stopped. Today, about 40 homes have been completed. Their home sits on a hill like a ship in a sea of empty lots.

"We certainly anticipated that it [the subdivision] was going to be finished," Myers said. "But otherwise we love it. It's the privacy."

But Myers does have some concerns.

"When the market does come back and when they start building again, I would like to see something comparable in value to what has been started here," he said.

With Lake Eustis visible from his front windows, Myers asked the builder, Ryland Homes, whether he could purchase nearby lots to prevent another two-story home from spoiling his view.

His request was denied.