Condos on the rise

Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 2:22 a.m.
Ease of maintenance, amenities such as a pool or clubhouse and physical security - not to mention having a solid real estate investment - are why many people choose to live in a community association such as a condominium, according to a recent survey conducted by Florida's Community Association Leadership Lobby (CALL), an advocacy group.
The survey of 750 mostly condominium residents, while not random and not including any North Central Florida respondents, still mirrors the reasons why people buy into mid-rise and high-rise housing units, according to managers and real estate agents who manage and sell the units in Gainesville.
It's difficult to count the number of condominium homes being built in the Gainesville area, and more difficult to put an analytical finger on the trend, but it appears mid- to high-rise condos are on the upswing.
Buddy McGhin, plan examiner with the city of Gainesville's department of building permits and inspections, said it was nearly impossible to differentiate between permits for apartments and condominiums, since both follow the same building codes. However, he estimated that currently inside the city limits, there are 124 dwelling units identified as condominiums that are under construction "or real close to having a permit" and another 15 that have received the OK for occupancy.
The Alachua County Property Appraiser's Web site lists no fewer than 30 residential condominium complexes on the rolls this year.
The Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors' (GACAR) Web site lists 145 condominium dwelling units for sale, with prices ranging from less than $60,000 up to $365,000. Many are attached and townhome units.
GACAR Multiple Listing statistics over the past year show 776 condominiums/townhouses were sold during 2004, with a value of more than $87,072,760. The average price over the year was $112,649 per unit. Fifty nine of the units sold for more than $160,000; one sold for between $300,000 and $400,000; and one sold in March for more than $500,000.
The busiest month of 2004 was August, with 140 condos and townhomes sold; next came June with 105 and July with 98. The slowest month was November, with only 34 condos or townhomes changing hands.
The properties were routinely sold for 97 to 99 percent of the asking price.
A hidden treasure The term "condominium" conjures up visions of soaring structures of concrete and glass lining the coastal waterfront, but many Gainesville area condos are, in general, less intrusive and almost hidden behind trees.
Gaineswood, one of the town's earliest condominium projects, is a case in point. It was developed in 1972 by the son of artist Robert Little, a resident who formerly worked as head of the cartoon division of Paramount Pictures. The two six-story triangular buildings sit on eight acres acres at 1719 NW 23rd Ave., next to Hogtown Creek, and are almost invisible from Glen Springs Road. Gaineswood has enjoyed almost full occupancy since its beginning, almost exclusively by owners; there is currently only one rental.
Vaughn Littrup, who has managed Gaineswood for 24 years, is also a licensed real estate salesman with Trend Realty and a licensed building contractor. He said there are approximately 100 people living in the complex. He said there were six sales in 2004, with prices ranging from less than $100,000 to $190,000, and there is a waiting list.
"I get calls all the time asking about us. The most important part of someone buying into a condo, though, is understanding the community. This will work to their benefit. The last thing we want is someone to come in and not be happy. We have a lot of inquiries that never get past the door. For instance, it's not fair for two students to be living in a condo filled with professionals and retirees." He said he has noticed a "significant increase" in condominiums in the Gainesville area over the past several years.
Ed Singley has lived in Gaineswood for 28 years, and is the original owner of his top-floor unit. He said he and his wife, June, are very happy with the choice to live condo-style. When he first moved to Gainesville, Singley said, he traveled a lot, and his family didn't want to live too close to campus, so he moved his wife and two daughters to the condo.
"This is an incredibly well-built building, with reinforced concrete and steel," he said.
New and in demand One of the most visible new condos in town is a few blocks away, on NW 16th Terrace. It also has full ownership, and it isn't even completed yet.
Brooke Bass, a Bosshardt Realty associate and sales agent for Charleston Place, said the 36 units sold out over the course of three days last March, before construction had even begun.
But she wouldn't divulge exactly how she did it. "That's my secret," she said. Closings on the units are scheduled to begin this week.
Preconstruction prices ranged from $129,000 to $150,000 for the two-bedroom/two-bath and three-bedroom/three-bath units; the few that came back onto the market immediately resold for $155,000 and $175,000 respectively, Bass said.
All units have appliances and "very nice features" in the kitchens and baths, as well as a storage room. There are two master suites in each unit. One of the three-story buildings has an elevator, she said, adding that there is no covered parking because not enough people signed up for it initially.
The trend in high-rise condominiums seems to be in flats, rather than multiple-story units, she said, "because it appeals to more age groups. Some people are averse to walking stairs. Plus there is more livable space; you waste space with stairs."
Owners are a diverse cross section, she said. "We have newlyweds, young professionals, retirees, university professors and older post-grad students who don't want to live near the undergrad students."
The property, located right behind the former Wometco Plaza Theater, was owned by Dick Candler, who is associated with Coca-Cola of Atlanta and "a fellow Gator" with developers Roy and Rick Dye of Winter Park, Bass said. Dye Companies and Bel-Aire Homes are building the condominiums.
Another condominium project by the Dye Companies is Southbrooke at Haile Plantation, which will be under construction shortly.
Downtown destination Craig Wilson is a Bosshardt Realty associate and sales agent for Regents Park, an upscale residential condominium project behind the Commerce Center in downtown Gainesville.
Buyers are coming from other areas of the state and country to buy a place to stay during Gator events, he said, as well as for children who are students at UF, even though those latter units are generally the smaller one-bedroom homes that sell starting at $160,000. Others are being sold to grad students and professionals such as attorneys and doctors who prefer a downtown location.
Sales are relatively brisk, he said. The complex was completed last year, and only seven of the 26 units are still for sale. Remaining are the higher-end ones, priced at $280,000 to $365,000.
Gaining steam Rick Medina, who formed Alachua Management Associations in 1984, manages several commercial and residential condominiums, including Woods Edge on NW 55th Street, behind Greenery Square, and the new Charleston Place.
He said the rise in the number of condominiums is gaining steam. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were just a handful, Medina recalls, including Bivens North, which was built in the early 1970s and is still a viable condo. Concordia, on NW 39th Road, also existed.
Medina - who also oversees the day-to-day operations of the Haile Plantation Homeowners Association - said the rising popularity of condominiums is partly due to the low lending interest rate, which makes home ownership affordable to more people.
He's also seen a trend toward conversions from apartments to condominiums.
"What happens is the owners see a way to get more money (selling the building as a condo) than they could as an apartment complex," he said.
'Kiddie condos'
Medina noted that the "kiddie condos" - units purchased by parents to house their children while they attend schools here, and which yield somewhat of a tax break - are primarily located near the UF campus.
Casablanca East was built in 1981 and Oakbrook on SW 16th Avenue was built in 1985. Oakbrook Walk off SW 13th Street and 16th Avenue was built a few years later.
The popularity of condos for students 15 to 20 years ago resulted in overbuilding, bringing the prices down, he recalled. But it's now cycling back again because of low interest rates, and "it's interesting to see it all turn around again.
"Besides, these are great for infill, and for shopping and schools."
There must still be a market for comfortable, if not downright fancy, accommodations for students near campus. Cozy condominiums within walking distance of UF are in the works for August 2005.
Destiny is being built on about an acre of land squeezed behind the vacant lot owned by the University of Florida Foundation at the zero block of SW 13th Street. The land, 1220 SW 1st Ave., is currently used as a parking lot directly behind Mellow Mushroom restaurant.
Destiny will have 24 one-bedroom, one-bath units, most of them 458 square feet, but two ground-floor handicapped-accessible units have 480 square feet of space. They include clothes dryer and washer, range, oven and refrigerator, breakfast bar, and tile and carpet flooring.
The building will be three stories tall, and feature 16 covered parking spaces. Asking prices range from $125,000 for interior units, $130,000 for end units, and $135,000 for the handicapped-accessible units.
According to Davonda Brown - who with Edwin Dix and Avalon Coleman are on the Destiny sales team for Bosshardt Realty - six of the units have already been reserved, mostly by parents of students coming to UF.
"We expect most of the owners to be students," she said, adding the new building will fit in well with the "more upscale appearance brought on by the University Corners project."
Construction of the Destiny complex is set to begin this month. The designer is Ricardo Cavallino of Gainesville, and the contractor is Joyner Construction.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or

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