Mary ShanklinContact ReporterOrlando Sentinel
The hot spot driving the greatest share of home sales in the core Orlando market sits atop former citrus groves nestled between historic Winter Garden and Disney theme parks, new data shows.
Winter Garden, with its century-old downtown buildings and bike trail, had 40 percent more sales last year than any other ZIP code within an area of mostly Orange and Seminole counties, according to data from the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. The trend has been fueled with new Horizon West communities such as Hamlin and Independence, brokers say.
Other top-selling pockets include Oviedo in east Seminole County, Waterford Lakes in east Orange and Windermere in southwest Orange County, according to an analysis of last year’s Orlando-area home sales by ZIP code. Each of those three areas had more than 1,000 sales by association members last year. The allure may be a combination of affordability and avoidance of Interstate 4 construction, said Lou Nimkoff, president of the real estate association. Oviedo, near the University of Central Florida, has benefited from a rebirth of its downtown hub, he added.
"I think that Winter Garden and Oviedo are both a little bit more in the fringe, and we're seeing prices in the core area skyrocket and people are starting to look at some of those outlying areas," said Nimkoff, principal at the real estate investment group Brio Companies. "And a lot of exciting things are going on in Winter Garden. They just continue to grow. A lot revolves around transportation and being able to get where you need to go easily."
The Orlando area’s heavyweight of residential sales — with more than 1,800 last year — is the Winter Garden area extending from Lake Apopka south toward Osceola County. The sandy, rolling terrain is quickly being redefined with new houses, apartments, dozens of eateries, a luxury cinema and big-box retailers designed to look historic.
“I work with a lot of out-of-town buyers,” said longtime Winter Garden real estate broker Mark Hide, of Clock Tower Realty. “For me during the last four or five years, two-thirds of my business has been new home sales. And over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of buyers interested in the development of Hamlin.”
Many buyers, he said, are seeking homes near tourism-related businesses and services.
Former Connecticut resident Tom Steeves, a director at IT Solutions Inc., said he moved his family to the Orlando area in November 2016 to help better position his tech-related company. The Steeves family rented for a few months and scouted houses from Kissimmee to Windermere before selecting the traditional-style Independence community for its location and public-school district.
"Our son just rides his bike to school," Steeves said. "It was very easy for my wife and I to transition here."
Daryl Spradley, senior vice president for Charles Wayne Consulting real estate research group, said Central Florida's growth is spreading southeast and southwest largely because of the availability of land with development approvals.
"That's where so much of the future growth will be in the next few decades," said Spradley.
Hamlin stands out in the new mix, he added, for designing shopping and entertainment with a Florida vernacular theme. Located off State Road 429, Hamlin’s Lakewalk apartment community is being built with one of the most "spectacular" clubs in Central Florida, Spradley said. With about 9,000 square feet, its design is "respectful" of the area's citrus heritage, he added.
The real estate association also tracks prices, although that data is based on average sales — and a few lakefront mansion purchases can skew a region’s picture. In Winter Park, with sales as high as $11 million for estates on its chain of lakes, the average price for the fourth quarter’s 125 sales reached $867,264 — more than three times greater than the price for the core Orlando market.
Even though averages are skewed, the price information showed some appreciating areas such as Washington Shores west of John Young Parkway near downtown, where prices were up by about 28 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier with an average of $111,808.
Overall affordability remains a challenge throughout Orange and Seminole counties. Using salaries and price data, the Orlando real estate association determined a typical starter house in Orlando was $195,200 in December. Postal codes considered affordable by those terms included Altamonte Springs, Metrowest, Alafaya, Williamsburg, Pine Hills, Lockhart and Azalea Park.
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