Local News

A building boom?

SEBRING - Around Thanksgiving, SY Moseley Jr. was inspecting the site a new house, which had become a rare thing in Highlands County during the Great Recession.

He asked the subcontactor, "'Are you going to pour the foundation tomorrow?' And he said, 'No, I'm pouring one now, and another one tomorrow. I won't pour the one where we're at until Wednesday or Thursday of next week.'"

That was a signal that a minor building boom had started again.

In 2006, the height of the pre-recession boom, 1,752 permits were issued for single family homes, duplexes, apartments and mobile homes. The value of all building permits - commercial structures, swimming pools, fences and the like - totaled more than $374 million.

The bottom of the bust came in 2012, when only 30 single family homes were built. No apartments, no multi-family structures at all. Total permits declined to $26 million in 2011.

But in November, builders applied for both commercial and single family home permits. Why?

"If I knew, I would probably be making more money than I'm making right now," said Moseley, who is Highlands County's building official. "I think they've realized the economy has reached the bottom, and it's going to bubble back. I think this is a correction in the reverse direction."

From Nov. 1 to Jan. 29, builders applied for 19 permits to build new houses: four in Avon Park, three in Lake Placid, one in Lorida, and 11 in Sebring zip codes. Values ranges from $160,000 to $455,000. Eleven of the 19 totaled more than $200,000.

"There seems to be more high-end buyers," said Steve Fruit, an agent for RE/MAX Realty II in Lake Placid.

Last year, Fruit calculated an 18-month inventory of existing homes in Highlands County. Now, if a buyer wants a home under $100,000, there's a six-month stock. A longer list remains for $150,000 or more homes.

Buyers of homes with $400,000+ price tags are more likely to build exactly what they want, Fruit said. "They want this bedroom over there and the wine cellar here."

Hammers are pounding across the nation. Forbes reported building booms last year in New York, Dallas and Houston. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated 974,700 new housing starts in 2013 - 17.5 percent the 2012 figure.

Newsome is building a new eye surgery clinic at 4211 U.S. 27 South. A groundbreaking is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 11. Cost: $3.8 million.

Family Dollar is building a new location in downtown Sebring at 620 N. Ridgewood Dr. A slab has already been poured. It will occupy most of the block along Sebring Parkway. Cost: $506,000.

Last year, McDonald's totally remodeled two restaurants in South Sebring and Avon Park. Ditto for Wendy's in Avon Park. Burger King razed its south old Sebring location and built a new bistro beside it.

What else is new?

The old Sherwin Williams paint store at U.S. 27 North and Thunderbird Road in Sebring was demolished, and a new Aspen Dental Clinic is going in. Cost: $523,050.

Ministerio Internacional Church is building a sanctuary, bath house, bunk house, dorm, kitchen and dining area at 850 CR 731 in Venus. Cost: $4.67 million.

O'Reilly Automotive is building a new 7,500 square foot store at 501 U.S. 27 in Avon Park.

Lake Placid Assoc. Reformed is adding new facilities at 218 E. Belleville St. in Lake Placid. Cost: $3 million.

Edward Koornneef is building an interior play center for children in the old Badcock's building at 381 E. Interlake Blvd. Cost: $80,000.

C&M Marine Products Inc. is constructing a new metal warehouse and a covered loading area at 332 Tobler Terrace NW. Cost, $58,000.

The Humane Society of Highlands County is building a new headquarters and kennels on Haywood Taylor Boulevard.

The Highlands County commissioners plan to build a new sheriff's office, across from the current office. The cost could total more than $9 million.

Moseley laid off more than half his staff during the bust. "We're supposed to be losing another man who will retire in May. But if this keeps up, I may have to nudge somebody higher up and get somebody trained."