Hernando a red-hot destination for homebuyers

It’s not just single-family homes being built in Hernando County, and apartment projects like the Promenade at Grande Park in Weeki Wachee are among new housing options arriving. Located just north of Cortez Boulevard on Commercial Way, a crew is seen here working on the exterior of the clubhouse at the complex of 134 two- and three-bedroom apartments.

In the year of COVID-19 and with so many new residents fleeing big cities to take up residence in sunny Florida, Hernando County is proving itself a winner among the state’s 67 counties.

While places like Tampa, St. Petersburg, Miami and Orlando get most of the attention when people think of Florida, crowding, traffic, and higher home prices and higher property taxes are making those places a little too much like the crowded, pricey cities around the country many are trying to get away from.

Comparatively, land is more affordable in Hernando. Impact fees for new homes and taxes are lower. Traffic snarls common in Pinellas and Hillsborough, and even neighboring Pasco County, are virtually non-existent. In a red-hot real estate market where everything listed sells in short order, it’s selling even faster in Hernando and builders are struggling to keep up.

But they’re doing what they can, as fast as they can and builders and real estate pros predict big things for Hernando in the way of larger residential development.

“They’re already here,” said Walter “Buddy” Selph, broker/owner of Brooksville-based Tommie Dawson Realty, referring to national builders like D.R. Horton, M/I Homes, Adams Homes and Lennar Homes. “We’re going to see more builders leaving places like Hillsborough (County) to come to Hernando.”

There are a “combination of reasons” Hernando is becoming so attractive to buyers and builders, said Selph, but price is the biggest among them.

“The same house at State Road 54 in Pasco is $100,000 more than the exact same house in Brooksville,” said Selph. “It (building) just keeps marching north for lower costs.”

Selph said large Hernando residential projects in the offing include a 200-acre parcel under contract near the Hernando County Fairgrounds. Another is 65 acres just off Commercial Way north of Weeki Wachee near Centralia. Nearby is Lake Hideaway, an 850-acre residential community zoned under a Development of Regional Impact designation 3.5 miles north of Cortez fronting Commercial Way at Royal Highlands.

It’s lower land and impact fees that allow builders to offer homes for less, said Bob Eaton, owner and founder of Artistic Homes, which has been building in Hernando for four decades. At a time when the available home inventory is at a record low in the region, he and other builders are working hard to keep up with demand.

Areas of the county with the most potential for home building include Royal Highlands, said Eaton, who’s built several homes there.

“There are literally thousands of lots there,” he said. Residents there approved having road paving added to their annual property tax bills, which has made the mostly undeveloped area more attractive as lime rock roads are replaced with fresh blacktop.

There’s plenty of room to grow in Ridge Manor, east of Brooksville, said Eaton. It also has a number of unpaved roads and a paving plan like the one implemented in Royal Highlands is all that’s needed to “make it take off.”

One of the more ambitious projects on the drawing boards is a proposed master-planned community designated Spring Center. If it happens, a 450-acre tract of woodlands extending north from Northcliffe Boulevard and bounded on the east by Mariner and the west by Deltona boulevards would bring 3,000 new homes to Spring Hill. A unique feature would be a “downtown” area with shops and restaurants. Traffic studies, compliance with environmental regulations and compliance agreements between developers and the county will be needed, according the county planning department.

Selph said much depends on how hot the housing market will remain going into 2021. But with inventory of homes so low, he suspects builders are going to be busy for some time.

“We normally have six months of inventory on hand but now it’s only a month,” he said, adding there’s a lot of catching up to do to meet demand.