Investors want out of the once red-hot Venice neighborhood.
VENICE -- US Home's master-planned community Stoneybrook at Venice was red hot when it was unveiled in late 2004.
The 900-home, family-friendly development, nestled among approximately 35 small lakes and large tracts of trees, was trying to offer a refreshing change from over-55, no kids-allowed retirement communities.
In November 2004, when the first Stoneybrook homes were sold to "lucky" lottery-winning buyers, it was standing-room-only, recalled Re/Max Realtor Greg Sheller.
Getting a Stoneybrook homesite then felt "like winning the Lotto," he said.
The day the music stopped was about eight months ago, and now some investor/owners are scrambling for a chair.
The "For Sale" and "For Rent" signs are out in force on Dancing River Drive, in the Oak Manor subdivision of Stoneybrook.
The completed neighborhoods sit amid acres and acres of upturned dirt awaiting construction of newer neighborhoods.
Many homes appear uninhabited, few cars are evident and the traffic is light.
The investors, now would-be flippers, are expressing their confidence and staying power with a blizzard of for sale signs at home after home.
Flippers are increasingly being forced into becoming reluctant landlords.
The rental market is where the action is now, says Re/Max Realtor Chris Tritschler. So many flippers got pinched in a situation where they could not sell profitably, or at all, for the time being.
Meanwhile the mortgage payments come due month after month.
A half dozen for-sale-by-owner signs are visible in a short stretch of Dancing River Drive, as are another half dozen or so offered by several Re/Max and Coldwell Banker agents.
There are issues with Stoneybrook, Realtors say.
One is that Miami-based Lennar/US Home has been aggressively discounting sales prices in many of its developments, including Stoneybrook.
A property that US Home sold last year for $440,000 or substantially more can now be bought for about $390,000.
The discounting is the worst thing that the developer can do, homeowners and Realtors maintain, because it creates a lack of confidence in the project.
The development has taken longer than envisioned, and as a result, it has put people on the wrong side of the market, some say.
Rob Allegra, US Home division president in the Southwest Florida market, denies there has been any delay.
Only about 250 of the planned 900 homes are built so far, and on a recent weekday afternoon, the Lennar and US Home welcome centers were quiet.
A visitor to a Lennar sales center on Puma Path was greeted by a note on the unlocked model door "back in 15 minutes, make yourself comfortable."
During the wait, visitors are greeted with tomb-like silence -- no phones ringing, no foot traffic, no buzz at all.
Across Puma Path in the US Home sales center, things were a bit more lively.
A saleswoman, Lisa Van Dillen, was in the model home, but referred inquiries to area sales manager Paul Brunette.
"US Home will keep the sales pace, keep the start pace and keep construction going," Allegra said, adding that he thinks that is the best thing for homeowners.
The "10-20 percent price cuts" are simply an intelligent and timely reaction to market predictions, he said.
Sales have been chugging along at about 13 each month, and US Home continues to add as many as 16 new homes each month, Allegra said.
If Lennar's results are added in, the picture looks even better because the sister companies operate as separate profit centers.
Homeowners who would like to sell are upset to have to compete with US Home, but Allegra counters that US Homes discouraged flippers by requesting that all owners sign agreements "indicating their willingness" not to sell for at least one year.
Jennifer Roemer, a Re/Max Properties agent who has two homes listed on Dancing River Drive, says her sellers would be happy to get out at $359,000 for homes they bought for about $315,000 in the first auction in 2004.
Roemer remembers the initial auction for Stoneybrook sites, saying that US Home "knew they were jam-packed with investors."
"My people are extremely upset," says Roemer, noting that "nothing has turned over" other than what US Home is selling.
"I have not had anything else like Stoneybrook."
Kim and Chris Tritschler, husband-and-wife Re/Max Effort agents, represent two Stoneybrook homeowners who are looking to rent so they can pay their mortgages.
"A homeowner is in no position to compete with a developer" with hundreds of properties to sell, Chris Tritschler said. http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060529/BUSINESS/605290473/-1/GOOGLE01