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Unicorp’s luxury Carmel community near Dr. Phillips was a great risk, and not so great return

A rendering of a prototypical home within the luxury Carmel community.
A rendering of a prototypical home within the luxury Carmel community. (Jones Clayton Construction)

It didn’t happen instantly, but Unicorp National Developments’ luxury residential community Carmel is finally realizing its return on investment, though even its own developer admits the numbers didn’t make too much sense.

“It was not a very profitable deal, but it was a deal done out of passion and love for the property,” Unicorp’s Chuck Whittall told GrowthSpotter in an email inquiring about the numbers. “It will be a special place to live,” he wrote.

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Whittall is in the midst of building out his own abode in the community — a 20,000-square-foot two-story mansion on the largest lot at Carmel, spanning a total of five acres with panoramic views of Lake Tibet. The transitional-style home will contain seven bedrooms, 11.5 bathrooms, a large pool and dock, once complete.

Redeveloping the 18-acre property has been a personal mission for the developer, having spent more than 15 years pursuing the land at 9000 Hubbard Pl. and dishing out $18 million to purchase it in 2019 from the family of Francis Evans Hubbard, who founded Hubbard Construction based in Winter Park.

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The deal is still considered one of the highest prices paid for a residential property in Central Florida, according to Stellar MLS data collected by Orlando Regional Realtor Association.

The developer is planning a new estate home community — and future place of residence — where home prices range between $3 million to $15 million.

Prior to purchasing the lakefront land, the deal was made complicated when it became apparent the property contained a Native American burial mound. The developer had to work with state officials, cataloging agencies, representatives of Native American tribes and a state archaeologist to carefully excavate any possible leftover remains and cultural items.

Initial remains found in the site by early settlers and any newly discovered artifacts were safely repatriated and cataloged.

The remains were buried on-site after the initial lot count went down from 13 to 11.

In March, the last available lot up for purchase sold for $950,000 to Park Square Homes co-CEO Vishaal Gupta and his wife Dr. Jyoti Rani Gupta. The former president and CEO of Hard Rock International, Hamish Dodds, also bought into the community.

Lakefront lots fetched around $2 million, while interior lots sold for a little less than $1 million. The highest price paid for a pad within Carmel amounted to $2.05 million, according to Orange County records.

All 11 lots within the upscale community, which juts into the waters of the Butler Chain of Lake, are spoken for and will feature custom homes by Jones Clayton Construction and Phil Kean Design Group, with the exception of Lot 2 where Whittall is teaming up with TJ Davila of Davila Custom Homes to build a house on spec that will be put on the market for $3.3 million, Whittall said.

When added together, nine out of the 11 lots sold for a total of $14.9 million, but Whittall said the total sell-out of the community reached $23 million. Stockworth Realty Group’s Julie Bettosini handled sales.

In an email response to GrowthSpotter, she said the first lots closed in April 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic with the last lot closing in March 2021.

“To close out a community in less than a year during a global pandemic is unprecedented and truly remarkable,” Bettosini said.

Whittall and Bettosini did not respond to multiple attempts to explain where the additional $8.1 million came from, but Whittall claims he did make money off his investment.

“We always make a profit,” he said, without disclosing any details as to how, if not from the nine lots.

According to a market report by Stockworth Realty, opportunities to buy a new luxury lakefront home are becoming rarer. Data stated in the report found annual median year-over-year inventory of luxury product (priced $1M and up) in Orange County is down, while overall sale volume and transactions are up.

Last year’s luxury residential sale volume jumped to $962 million across 560 transactions, up from $796 million in sales volume across 476 transactions in 2019. Year-over-year inventory went down from 421 units in 2019 to 353 units in 2020.

Chuck Whittall is building a 20,000-square foot mansion on the largest lot within the 11-lot Carmel community.
Chuck Whittall is building a 20,000-square foot mansion on the largest lot within the 11-lot Carmel community. (carmelorlando.com)

Gupta and his wife were looking for a new home for over a year before realizing Carmel was available. The couple bought the last remaining pad, paying $950,000 for an interior lot within the community.

“It’s hard to find a vacant lot in the Dr. Phillips area, period,” he said. Lot owners in the market are holding on to their investment, and only willing to sell for hiked-up prices.

At one point during his search, Gupta said he encountered a property owner in the Cypress Point gated community in Dr. Phillips only willing to sell their lakefront lot for $3 million.

As a comparison, lakefront lots in Carmel captured around $2 million. Gupta believes that number is more true to market value. “Chuck priced it to market,” he said.

The community is nestled within the gates of the Tibet Pointe section of Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge. A brick road surrounded by tall oak trees and lush landscaping greets and guides residents and visitors inside and through the community.

Carmel features panoramic sunset lake views and sandy beaches. Even residents with interior lots have boat dock access and the Isleworth Golf & Country Club is just a boat ride away.

“If [Chuck is] going to live in the community, he’s going to make it nice,” Gupta said.

Unicorp is doing a similar project just north of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Orlando hotels.

Located southwest of the intersection between Central Florida Parkway and the South John Young Parkway, the Ritz-Carlton Residences is a 37-lot luxury residential subdivision developed by the company. Unicorp paid $3 million for the 11-acre property in 2017.

As of late April, at least nine homes within the community are complete or under construction, Whittall said. The luxury clubhouse and resort-style swimming pool were completed last year.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-5427, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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