There is a new wave of single-family homes being built on Fort Myers Beach so far this fiscal year, providing a good indication of positive economic growth on the seven-mile barrier island.
From Oct. 1, 2011 to Aug. 23, 2012, the Town of Fort Myers Beach has issued 13 single-family home permits. While that number may not jump out at you, consider there have been only 20 such permits in all issued since April 2008. That means only seven single-family home permits were handed out in 3-1/2 years prior compared to the 13 in less than 11 months. Times are improving.
"That is a huge indicator of what is happening in our market," said Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel.
Building contractor Bob Moore stands in front one of his latest projects, a 2,700-square foot single-family home with four bedrooms and four bathrooms. The home, which is on Ohio Street, will be built roughly five months after the permit was issued.
Town Building Safety Services Coordinator Ken Miller said there are at least four more in the plan review that will probably be issued before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Of the 13 permits already issued, only four have been for vacant lots, leaving the majority for redevelopment projects -knocking down an existing building on a property and replacing it with a brand new structure.
"When somebody can buy a house and advertise the cost of that house in land back into the land and put a new house in on top of it, it tells you your market is doing pretty good," said Fleugel.
State-certified general contractor Bob Moore has been busy with single-family home permits lately, many on the redevelopment side. He currently has two under construction (one on Ohio Avenue and Donora Boulevard), one in permitting (Miramar Street), a completed set of plans (Miramar Street), one with plans in the works (Delmar Avenue) and yet another under purchase (Pearl Street).
"The Beach is seeing a mini-building boom," he said. "A lot of these properties had houses on them until right after Hurricane Charley. The problem is there is a big price variation between building new and buying existing. That makes some of these little cottages that are outdated and really small worth more than they should be. The redevelopments are really hard because people don't want to sell you the little cottages for what you can afford to pay for a piece a ground. You have to tear a house down."
For example, if a vacant lot costs $100,000 and someone buys the same size lot with an old "cracker box" house on it for $200,000 and knocks the house down, that person is absorbing that additional $100,000 into their land basis on top of what they are building new.
"The cottage is not adding $100,000 value to the land, but that seems to be the price people want to ask for," said Moore.
The Fort Myers native went from a busy homebuilder in "boom time" to a distressed property buyer and repairman during the down economy years back into the home building business. He has built hundreds of homes since the mid-1980s, he says. He partners with his wife, Rhonda, and own Woodwind Contracting.
Demolition permits are needed to tear down existing structures
"If I want to take a building down, I have to get FPL to remove the power from it, get the utilities removed from it and apply for a demolition permit," said Moore, who also stated there may be six to eight houses going up on Palermo Circle in the next year.
He cited Realtor Joe Orlandini of Sand Castle Realty Group, Inc., a Beach resident on Palermo.
"He knows a lot about the redevelopment on the island, and is probably the busiest Realtor on the island," Moore said.
Since most of the latest permits are for redevelopment projects, Fluegel says the Beach is clearly into replacement cycle when it comes to home building. Two components factor into a home's life.
"Buildings have a physical lifespan and an economic lifespan, which means how many years is it before the design of the building is economically obsolete," he said. "We are seeing both."
There are benefits to building from the ground up.
'If somebody like Bob Moore buys a house spec and knows he is going to tear down that house, that house is probably both physically and economically obsolete because he has made the decision to tear a 1,200-suare foot house and build back a 2,500-square foot house. But, that is a new house that meets current building codes, current hurricane standards and FEMA standards.
The latest Florida Building Code went into effect March 15, 2012.
Miller said Gary Lau, another contractor working on the Beach, has been busy with applying for permits as well. Lau submitted one just last week.
"Activity is really picking up," Miller said. "New home construction is changing the face of the Beach."
While overall building permits may have increased slightly this fiscal year, the increase percentage-wise has seen a greater increase in reviewable permits.
"The percent increase in total permits is maybe 5 to 10 percent. However, the number of reviews for each permit has gone up by 34 percent," said Fluegel. 'That 34 percent is reflective of the types of permits that are coming in. They are more complex permits.
"Where it has changed is the complexity of the reviews of the permits. We have gotten more of these single-family permits, which are more complex to review because there are more disciplines involved," said Fluegel. "It is a very different dynamic."