EAST COUNTY — Neal Communities celebrated its 9,000th milestone by breaking ground — not to build a new home, but to plant a tree.
At a ceremony July 3, Neal Communities, a Lakewood Ranch-based homebuilder, planted a tree in the backyard of a home in its Woodbrook community, off Lockwood Ridge Road.
The tree was dedicated to Dane and Stephanie Martinez, their daughter, Eva, and a second child due July 9. They live in the home — the 9,000th Neal Communities has completed since it opened in the 1970s.
“Every milestone in our organization is important, and this one just shows our commitment to our customers,” said Michael Storey, president of Neal’s building division. “The housing market the last 12 months has been better than the past six years, and the success of this community helps show that we’re clearly in a boom.”
The Martinez family closed on its dream home in March.
Dane Martinez is a fireman with the Sarasota Fire Department. Stephanie Martinez just completed certification to become a teacher.
They only found out their home represented the 9,000th one Neal has built when a company representative informed them two weeks before the tree was planted.
“The tree is something permanent our kids can hold on to,” Dane Martinez said. “We will watch them grow up with it.”
Neal Communities CEO Pat Neal said he got the idea to celebrate each thousandth home from fellow homebuilders Paul and Stanley Paver.
“The milestone celebrations show we know what we’re doing and we’re good at it,” Neal said. “We also want our customers to have a happy and good life.”
The Woodbrook community, which includes a cottage-home series priced in the mid-to-high $100,000s and low $200,000s, fits nicely into the story of Neal Communities’ approach to the housing crisis.
The homes, surrounded by amenities such as playgrounds and a pool with a spa, are geared toward young professionals, families and active adults.
In 2009, Neal led a rush to build smaller, cottage-style homes to accommodate tighter budgets. Neal owned the Woodbrook property for nine years before construction began on it in fall 2011, Storey said.
Neal now worries limited supply and pent-up demand could price families out of houses, as builders face labor shortages and increased land costs.
In response to the labor shortage and to control growth, Neal caps home sales in Woodbrook’s Celebration series, like the one the Martinez family purchased, to three per month.
Since Woodbrook opened, Neal has sold 132 homes in the community. Construction on new homes will continue for another year. The community will contain 229 homes when it’s completed.
Neal hopes the demand for homes continues to grow.
He says buyers sitting on cash seek “jewels” again — higher-end homes with more living space.
Neal Communities will close on 670 homes this year, he says.
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
Neal Communities celebrated its 6,000th homeowner in mid-2005; its 7,000th homeowner in April 2008; and its 8,000th homeowner in March 2011.