Consider you’re buying a new home in Central Florida. Now consider the decisions that need to be made: Do you want a house with a yard? What’s your budget? And how are the schools?
Will Lake Nona’s futuristic amenities lure you with its self-driving shuttles? Or will the rural nature of Lake County’s small-scale boom towns offer lower prices and a higher quality of life?
Buyers flock to homes unequally, for many factors. Short supply and high demand merged with a pandemic-driven housing frenzy jolted the consumption for new residential homes in specific areas throughout Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties.
An analysis done by GrowthSpotter looks at single-family home and townhome building permits, county tax records and closings recorded over the past three years to pinpoint where the most new houses are being built and sold across the region.
The numbers show that homebuyers, induced by a red-hot housing market, are consistently drawn to a number of attractive new neighborhoods throughout Central Florida, including Lake Nona, ChampionsGate, Sawgrass Bay in Clermont and Riverbend in Seminole County.
In Orange County, new home sales are taking place primarily in Orlando’s Lake Nona area as well as the Horizon West master-planned community, which stretches across more than 20,700 acres behind the Disney World resort.
Tavistock Development Company’s Laureate Park in Lake Nona saw the largest number of new homes built between the beginning of 2019 and the end of 2020. According to the data, the neighborhood saw an additional 600 rooftops between the time frame, cementing its place as Orange County’s fastest-growing single residential neighborhood.
Tavistock spokeswoman Karlee Kunkle confirmed 727 contracts for new homes in Laureate Park have been signed between 2019 and 2020. The company said 219 homes in Laureate Park have sold so far this year through the end of July.
“We’re not trying to sell as many homes as fast as we can,” Rob Adams, Tavistock’s vice president of residential development, said about the volume of sales per year. “We want to try to sell at a good pace and at a good price, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Adams has been involved in designing Laureate Park since the beginning — when most of the region was mainly farmland and fields and the economy was emerging from the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
He said while other new, traditionally designed neighborhoods like Celebration and Baldwin Park were filling up, the VA Medical Center and Nemours Children’s Hospital were under construction in Lake Nona and the UCF College of Medicine was announcing its 2010 opening date.
Adams said traditionally designed neighborhoods were not the norm back then, but neither was installing every house with fiber-optic internet or prioritizing energy efficiency. “We invested in things you didn’t see in other places,” he said, adding that the company’s futuristic outlook attracted partnerships with homebuilders willing to push the envelope and buyers that saw value in a future-focused neighborhood.
The company is still preparing for the future. Tavistock is blanketing Lake Nona with 5G technology capabilities that would allow different smart devices to connect to fast internet services on a widespread level.
Free autonomous shuttles connect passengers to and from the Nemours Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House to the Lake Nona Town Center. Last year, Germany-based Lilium GmbH announced its partnership with Tavistock, promising to build an air taxi facility, or vertiport, in Lake Nona with the help of over $800,000 in city-approved tax incentives over 10 years.
“We view [Lake Nona] as a lab. We have to be able to try things like that,” Adams said. “I think it’s what makes us a different kind of developer, that future look.”
Laureate Park continues to grow. According to Adams, Tavistock is preparing to activate a new phase, south of the original Lake Nona Development of Regional Impact, that will add 200 lots to the community.
Homebuilders in Laureate Park include Ashton Woods, David Weekley Homes, Craft Homes, Pulte Homes and Toll Brothers, which is currently building out model homes for its latest Laureate Park community, Laurel Pointe. The Toll Brothers development will include 124 single-family estate homes. Sales are expected to start in early 2022.
The velocity of new home construction beats other neighborhoods throughout Orange County, but only by a hair.
Right behind Laureate Park is D.R. Horton’s master-planned Waterleigh community, which is approved for 3,600 dwelling units. The single homebuilder completed building 594 homes in the community between 2019 and 2020.
Between the tax years of 2019 and 2021, four separate Waterleigh subdivisions were created and collectively promised to introduce more than 850 lots to the area.
Waterleigh is one of many new residential communities under development in Horizon West. County data shows almost half of the county’s single-family residential growth is occurring in the master-planned community. Last year, 47% of the 2,803 single-family residential permits pulled in Orange were in Horizon West.
Behind Waterleigh is Lennar Homes’ Storey Park community near the Lake Nona area, which saw 589 new homes built between 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, Mattamy Homes’ Hawksmoor community in Horizon West provided 331 new homes to the area.
Max Perlman, VP of land acquisition at PulteGroup, said as long as there’s strong demand for housing, homebuilders will continue to target previously undeveloped areas where there are commitments and initiatives to build substantial road networks and infrastructure.
“One of the special things about [Metro Orlando] is there’s so much of that going on in so many different areas,” he said. Perlman mentions the Brightline high-speed rail system, planned to make its way from South Florida to eventually Orlando and Tampa, and the I-4 Ultimate project as examples.
“Between the job creation happening in Lake Nona, businesses coming to the Lake Mary and Heathrow area, and the road projects in Apopka ... All these areas are marked by their availability of land and have their own attractive aspects.”
Osceola County is unique within the region because a significant percentage of new home sales on the county’s west side are short-term rentals. Over the past three years, Lennar Homes has built and sold more vacation homes in Osceola than any other resort developer. Both ChampionsGate and Storey Lake averaged over 450 new home sales per year between 2018 to 2020.
Brock Nicholas, Orlando Division President for Lennar, said consistent demand for both residential and vacation homes at those locations prompted the builder to expand well beyond the original resort boundaries. “In both cases, the original land purchase is sold out and we are well into later phases/land purchases,” he said.
Two other vacation home resorts, Margaritaville and Reunion, also made the county’s top 10 list for new home sales. Last year alone, 223 new homes were sold in Reunion.
Still, the bulk of new home sales in Osceola County are traditional residential homes. Large, master-planned communities such as D.R. Horton’s Kindred and Mattamy’s Tapestry rank among the highest-selling communities. But collectively, the dozens of smaller subdivisions in the Narcoossee area have made the bigger impact and will continue to do so. Over the past three years, the Narcoossee area averaged over 800 new home sales per year.
Donnie Martinez, President of the Osceola County Realtors Association, said the corridor is almost unrecognizable from how it looked a decade ago.
“Location is driving new development to certain areas like Narcoossee,” he said. “That’s had the biggest increase since 2020, and the reason why is because of Lake Nona – all the building they’ve got going on in Lake Nona, Narcoossee is adapting to that.”
Homebuilders are blowing through their inventory, Martinez said. “Builders used to offer incentives,” he said. “There’s none of that going on right now. It’s more like we build it, they buy it. It’s more of a question of if you can build the inventory.”
Ryan Homes’ gated Creekside subdivision on Boggy Creek Road has benefitted from its amenities and proximity to Lake Nona. The builder sold out of its second phase “earlier than expected” and released the third phase earlier this summer.
The same trend is moving south of St. Cloud, as Narcoossee Road crosses U.S. 192 and becomes Hickory Tree Road. Over the same time period, homebuilders have sold about 1,200 new homes on the corridor in neighborhoods like Twin Lakes, Gramercy Farms and Hanover Lakes. Each year, the number of sales has progressively increased.
While Osceola is unique for its explosive vacation home growth, Lake County stands alone in the region as a hub for retirees. The Villages’ expansion into Fruitland Park completely sold out, and Arlington Ridge in Leesburg opened a new phase of development, making it one of the top-selling communities in the county with more than 400 new homes sold over the last 18 months.
Taylor Morrison’s Highland Ranch Esplanade in Clermont, which sold over 320 new homes during the same period, is another top-selling active adult community.
Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker said the county draws retirees from both out of state and other parts of Florida.
“There’s folks that are still moving out of the Miami, Palm Beach, Broward Area. We get folks that originally moved to maybe Sarasota, Lee County, those places, and then they decided that wasn’t for them, and they’re moving up here,” he said. “So we do have a considerable number of those folks, sort of intrastate movements of more retiree-type folks.”
In terms of sheer volume, the Clermont submarket is outpacing the rest of the county. Baker said the South Lake community already has delivered 1,228 new-built homes this year. And most of those buyers are young families who are priced out of Orlando. “That’s a matter of, in my opinion, just geography — people driving over from Orange County and you’re going to hit Clermont first.”
The Sawgrass Bay master-planned community, which includes Serenoa, has neighborhoods built by Lennar, D.R. Horton, Ashton Woods, Taylor Morrison, Ryan Homes and Park Square Homes. Combined, they have sold 406 new homes so far this year.
Laurie Tarver, VP of Sales for Park Square Homes, said the community is popular because it has great amenities, a future toll road connection to Orange County, making for a quick trip to Disney, and a variety of offerings at different price points among the neighborhoods. Park Square Homes was in a section with David Weekley Homes, and both sold out of their inventory at Serenoa this year.
“What it did for us, when we felt the demand in Serenoa, we immediately started looking at other Lake County properties,” Tarver said. “And so we have several communities that are going to open up within the next 12 months in Lake County, because we saw the demand was evident by what by how quickly we sold out in Serenoa.”
In Leesburg, sales at Lake Denham Estates helped make that the second-fastest-growing submarket in Lake County. The 569-lot subdivision was developed by Geosam in 2019 and sold to D.R. Horton, Meritage Homes and Avex Homes. More than 400 homes have been sold there since January 2020, according to public records.
New home sales are picking up in Minneola, thanks largely to communities like Hills of Minneola and Ardmore Reserve. Hanover Family Builders Co-President Matt Orozs told GrowthSpotter the 674-lot Ardmore Reserve has been one its top-selling communities with an average of eight to 10 sales per month.
“It is a unique area that has rolling hills with beautiful lakes in the background along with a unique amenity center that is perfectly suited for the target consumer,” he said, adding that development has a long waiting list for lots in its final phase.
Homebuyers have long been scooping up homes in Seminole County— and as the population swells, builders are heading east to hurl out more inventory.
Certificates of Occupancy issued between 2019 and mid-2021 in Seminole County show the most single-family home and townhome construction took place in the Riverbend community east of Sanford and west of the St. Johns River connector between Lake Monroe and Lake Jessup.
There D.R. Horton is in the middle of building out Riverbend, a multiphased neighborhood approved for 433 homes, and is near selling out its 150-lot active-adult Rosecrest community, while Ryan Homes is actively selling in Riverside Reserve. The three communities combined to generate 530 completed homes.
Project Finance & Development, led by Dwight Saathoff, first began assembling the property, southwest of the East Lake Mary Boulevard and Celery Avenue intersection, around 2004. He landed a deal with D.R. Horton in 2017.
“We had contracted to do a three-phase takedown schedule with D.R. Horton and they had accelerated that by two years, so they ended up closing everything in four years instead of six,” Saathoff said. “I think that was sort of a springboard, once builders saw that Horton was succeeding out there everyone else decided that this was the place they needed to be.”
Since then, other homebuilders have built homes in the area, including Toll Brothers with its expanded 185-lot Riverside Oaks subdivision and American Homes 4 Rent, which recently opened its 37-lot single-family rental home community Celery Cove, directly across D.R. Horton’s Rosecrest community. Directly south, on 28 acres along S.R. 46, KB Homes is building out its 194-lot Landings at Riverbend subdivision.
“The place has absolutely come alive,” Saathoff said.
Further south, nearly a matched amount of construction of new homes is taking place in the Hawks Crest community south of Lake Howell near Winter Park.
Hawks Crest, formerly the San Pedro Center owned by the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, consists of 270 acres on Howell Branch Road, between S.R. 436 and Dike Road. After purchasing the property in 2017, Meritage Homes entered into a development agreement with Taylor Morrison to build out the community, which includes a mix of single-family homes and townhomes, separated across five subdivisions totaling roughly 750 lots.
Adam Schott, land development manager for Meritage Orlando, said the homebuilder closed out sales for homes on 50-foot-wide lots last year. Homes on 70-foot lots sold out by June and over the last 12 months, 81 townhomes have sold within Hawks Crest.
Data collected by GrowthSpotter shows between 2019 and mid-2021, about 500 COs were issued.
”It’s been a landmark property for us over the last few years,” Schott said. He adds homebuilders who know the area are attracted to Seminole County’s A-rated school district and its natural springs, recreational trails and lakes.
“Seminole County has always been a great place for homebuilding and buying a home,” Schott said. “We’re selling more houses than we can actually keep up with.”
Other large subdivisions created within the past three years in Seminole County include Lennar’s Tuskawilla Crossings subdivision, with 424 approved lots in Winter Springs and Ryan Homes’ 394-lot Kensington Reserve community, located south of the Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story misstated Lennar’s Storey Grove community as the third fastest-selling community behind D.R. Horton’s Waterleigh community. It is Lennar’s Storey Park community near Lake Nona.