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Take a ride on Lakewood Ranch's bullish bus

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Potential homeowners check out a model in the Lake Club's Lake View Estates neighborhood.
Potential homeowners check out a model in the Lake Club's Lake View Estates neighborhood.
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I was riding roads to seemingly nowhere, and they were going in every direction.

Lisa Barnott, the director of marketing and communications for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, was kind enough to provide a tour of Lakewood Ranch last week for myself along with Business Observer Managing Editor Mark Gordon.

Our short bus was being driven by Frank Verdel, whose title as community ambassador just doesn't do him justice. Not only did Verdel know the landmarks, he often pulled over to chat with multiple residents ... greeting them by name. Perhaps he could teach me that one.

Verdel kept driving along what eventually will serve as an extension of The Masters Avenue. He would point out the left of the van and tell us about the luxury homes coming soon. Then he would look to the right, and tells about the neighborhood that would spring up shortly as well.

Jay Heater
Jay Heater

Gordon kept shifting our eyes to the left and the right. Oh, you have to envision this one.

Those roads, lined and perfect, are not yet open to the public. Anyone who listened to Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO and President Rex Jensen speak has heard SMR's philosophy of building roads far in advance of developments. I was getting further proof.

Verdel obviously knows access points to these roads, and he also noted that some of them are perfect for cyclists, since they aren't open to cars at this point. It's real quiet.

If you look at SMR's most recent map of Lakewood Ranch, you will see all the dotted lines (representing unfinished, or not yet open, roads). You will see extensions of The Masters Avenue, Uihlein Road, 44th Avenue East and Rangeland Parkway. The future Bournside Raod, which runs along the eastern edges of Lakewood National, Del Webb and The Isles, will provide another north-south connector as it runs from State Road 64 through University Parkway.

To the south, more dots tell us Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Deer Drive will give us driving options within a year.

The nation's second-best selling, master-planned community is not blinking in its optimism for the future.

That's interesting when you read housing market forecasts for the next couple of years. Combing the internet, I would say the gloom slightly outweighs the boom as forecasters believe the real estate market might cool a bit.

I asked Barnott if she could give me the heads up on some news in Lakewood Ranch, and she replied "you can tell people how great we are doing selling homes."

It's corporate-wide optimism that is hard to argue against.

Lakewood Ranch sold 1,213 new homes in 2017 and Verdel said sales are approaching that amount with six weeks left in the calendar year and appear likely to set a new record. If the nation expects to slow down, Lakewood Ranch doesn't.

If you believe that is foolhardy, you might read an article by Bill Connerly for Forbes.

Connerly states, "This national picture may not apply to your neighborhood at all. Real estate is local, so look at your community. Begin with population data. (Household data are harder to find at the local level.) Understand your own community by looking at historic data on housing units permitted per 100 new residents. Don’t be too swayed by local gossip. Instead, begin with demographics."

If you agree with the evaluation and you aren't swayed by the threat of a national recession, or you aren't concerned with a "bubble" or aren't particularly worried about a trade war with China, then you can board SMR's bus. Personally, I see the steady stream of new residents continuing to flood Manatee and Sarasota counties, although I am basing my expert analysis on my minor in economics from the University of Arizona.

As Gordon so aptly noted, if people in the Midwest are having trouble selling their homes, it will be tough for them to move to Florida.

Gord Collins, another expert who studies the housing market, writes that part of the problem the Tampa Bay and Sarasota markets will face will be lofty ambitions. Everything is rolling along at such a great level, a little blip could cause a scare. Nevertheless, he predicts those markets to have another big year in 2019. His study suggests our local housing market will continue to surge over the next five years.

It's hard to argue when you go to the Lake Club and see people streaming through the Lake View Estates models. If you happened to attend the grand opening of The Isles, you would have seen a packed house, all day, as visitors wanted to check out Lakewood Ranch's newest community.

With Waterside under development, Del Webb and Lakewood National quickly expanding and another Esplanade coming just east of Lorraine Road to spark that northeast quadrant, new home buyers are going to have more choices than ever.

It appears I boarded the right bus.



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