Kyle and Melody Marks fit in nicely with the demographics that are driving residential growth in Pasco County.
And, these young professionals are clear on the lifestyle they want for themselves and their two children, Amelia, age 5, and Brody, age 7.
In six months, they plan to move from a starter home to a new and larger home in Connerton, a master-planned community off Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, also known as U.S. 41.
Connerton is one of Pasco’s up-and-coming neighborhoods attracting eager buyers who want bang for their buck, a touch of the rural, and the amenities of big city life.
The Marks are saying goodbye to the temptation to cross the county line into Hillsborough or Pinellas, in search of a good restaurant or a shopping excursion.
“There is no more traveling back to Tampa for everything,” said Melody Marks.
The Marks set their sights on Connerton months ago, and became the first buyers of a Lennar-built home in the community.
Lennar is the newest homebuilder to offer homes at Connerton.
The Marks are part of an overall resurgence of home buying in Pasco County, which is recovering from the disastrous economic downturn in 2008.
Back then, new home construction constricted.
And, many residents saw their existing housing values plummet.
Some are still underwater, with mortgages that are higher than their property values.
But, that is changing, said Jeff Morin, vice president of sales for Lennar Homes.
“People wouldn’t sell before, because they were upside down,” he said. “This uptick has allowed people to be more comfortable that they can break even or make a little money.”
Developers are building more rooftops, and a growing population has hit critical mass and pay dirt for retail.
Tampa Premium Outlets is the most visible tip of an explosion of new shops, restaurants, hotels and offices that are here or on their way.
“We do everything over here,” Melody Marks reiterated.
When the Marks signed their contract, it wasn’t just for the shops and restaurants or because Kyle Marks’ parents already live in Connerton.
“It’s a lot more affordable here,” said Kyle Marks.
Statistics bear that out.
The year-to-date median price of a home in Hillsborough and Pinellas is about $218,000, while Pasco’s median price is about $154,000, according to data from My Florida Regional MLS.
Connerton’s housing prices generally begin in the low $200,000s, said Stew Gibbons, president and chief executive officer of Gibbons Group.
That price falls into the sweet spot for Pasco housing sales of between $140,000 and $250,000, again based on data from My Florida Regional MLS.
More than 350 families live in Connerton.
Connerton’s new home sales have averaged 100 or more annually in the past two years, and Gibbons anticipates that will increase by 50 percent in the next year.
Gibbons pioneered living in Connerton when he bought a home in 2006. He and a few other residents waited out the recovery.
“We knew ultimately it’s cyclical, even though this is one of the worst cycles ever seen and the worst downturn the nation has seen.” Gibbons said.
But, he said now, “That’s created pent up demand. It’s growing as confidence grows.”
For a time, the economic downturn turned the master-planned community into a poster child for a stalled future.
New construction of roads and streetlights stuck out in a neighborhood of blank spaces where hundreds of homes should be.
The future is much rosier now.
Plans for a town center and shops are back in the picture, likely to happen within two to five years, Gibbons said.
Pasco County owns about 20 acres that is set aside for a government center.
Connerton Elementary School is open, and Sanders Memorial Elementary STEAM School, an elementary magnet school, is located to the south, off U.S. 41.
Residents currently can enjoy about two miles of nature trails.
Connerton is unique in pegging its housing numbers to job creation, as part of a state incentive program.
At 2,000 homes, for instance, 500 jobs must be documented within a one-mile radius.
More houses, shops, offices and hotels are on the way.
“Pasco should be pretty robust,” said Gibbons. “The number of rooftops relates to retail that can be supported. They withheld until the market returned. It’s rising everywhere.”
At the height of the housing bubble, 6,000 homes were selling annually. Gibbons said it hit a low of about 1,000 homes a year, but has risen to about 2,500 this year.
There is potential within five years to reach between 6,000 and 7,000 housing sales a year, he said.
Gibbons remains sold on Pasco’s economy, and Connerton, in particular.
“It’s easy to meet people. I’m still here. I still love it,” Gibbons said.
Published December 30, 2015