Luxury homes still a building market in Naples during economic struggle PHOTOS

Upon completion, the 32,000 square foot house at 779 Gulf Shore Blvd. N. will be the largest single family home in Collier County. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Upon completion, the 32,000 square foot house at 779 Gulf Shore Blvd. N. will be the largest single family home in Collier County. David Albers/Staff

— Randy Kurtz is one builder who hasn't had any layoffs since the housing market collapsed in 2006.

He builds mega-homes, mostly in Port Royal and on the waterfront, ranging from $5 million to more than $20 million. He works on three or four custom homes at a time. At their size – usually stretching more than 8,000 square feet – they take 15 months or longer to finish.

"We are starting homes now," said Kurtz, the owner of Kurtz Homes in Naples. "We have been for a long time."

High-end real estate has taken a hit in recent years, but it hasn't suffered nearly as much as the bottom of the market. Multimillion-dollar homes continue to be built in the Naples area, especially near the waterfront.

"It's just unbelievable. People are spending $5 million to $10 million for a lot, to tear down an older home and level it. This is in a so-called recession," said Phil Wood, president and CEO of John R. Wood Realtors in Naples.

Wealthy buyers don't have to fret as much about a bad economy and it's a better time for them to buy: They can find better deals on real estate and labor, while construction costs have fallen since the housing boom in 2004 and 2005.

In these tough times, Kurtz Homes has picked up good employees from other builders who couldn't survive the housing bust, or who had layoffs.

His custom-built mansions – often used as vacation homes – typically cost buyers $500 to $1,000 per square foot to build.

"Our most recent Port Royal jobs are all tear-down homes," Kurtz said, adding that the tear-downs range from seven years old to more than 50.

During the past few years, Kurtz has had a few repeat customers who built their "dream home," then decided they wanted something "a little bit bigger."

"I see a growing confidence, or recognition that now is a good time to buy," Kurtz said. "There has been a little more activity lately."

* * * * *

In the last year alone, many of the best available lots have sold in the well-to-do Port Royal neighborhood between Naples Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, making way for new mansions, said Realtor Tim Savage, owner at Gulf Coast International Properties in Naples.

In December 2010, an older house at 3940 Rum Row in Port Royal went for nearly $5.3 million. A few months later – after the house was torn down – the property resold for $6.3 million and a new multimillion-dollar estate will soon rise there, Savage said.

In December 2010, an older house at 3940 Rum Row in Port Royal went for nearly $5.3 million. A few months later – after the house was torn down – the property resold for $6.3 million and a new multimillion-dollar estate will soon rise there.

"The view was amazing and that's what they wanted and that is what they got," he said of the new owners.

In July 2010, a 4,466-square-foot home at 4000 Gordon Drive built in 1962 sold for $9 million.

"It's a total tear-down," Savage said, adding that permits are in the works for a new beach-front mansion.

A "remastered" West Indies-style estate at 70 Seventh Avenue South – one house away from the beach – recently fetched more than $6.7 million.

"It's the highest price per square foot for a non-beachfront new home in Old Naples," said Brad Johnson, a Realtor with Gulf Coast International Properties and one of the listing agents.

The new mansion, with six bedrooms and six bathrooms, replaced a smaller home built in 1968. Virtually everything was torn down, with the exception of some of the concrete.

Some of Collier County's biggest homes have been built in the past four years. The biggest – at 32,000 square feet – is at 779 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., just south of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. It's owned by Neil Whitesell, a successful corporate CEO. The city issued a permit in 2007 valued at $10 million, but local Realtors put the value at closer to $40 million once complete.

* * * * *

In their 40s, Kelly and Steve Prue, business owners from Michigan, tore down a house on 16th Avenue South in Aqualane Shores to build their five-bedroom-plus den dream home, which they'll live in most of the year.

With construction costs falling, Kelly Prue, 44, said it "seemed like a good value investment to build ourselves, and that way we get exactly what we wanted."

"We had never done it before," she said. "So it seemed like it would be an adventure."

A 1,200-pound bathtub cut from a single slab of marble and imported from Italy sits in the bathroom of Steve and Kelly Prue on 16th Avenue South in Naples on Friday, Oct. 25, 2011. Tristan Spinski/Staff

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

A 1,200-pound bathtub cut from a single slab of marble and imported from Italy sits in the bathroom of Steve and Kelly Prue on 16th Avenue South in Naples on Friday, Oct. 25, 2011. Tristan Spinski/Staff

There are custom features throughout, including wood floors, mouldings, high-end cabinets and hand-cut marble. There's an elevator, a fireplace and an expansive pool, with a spa overlooking Naples Bay.

The two-story home cost the couple about $3 million, including the investment in their waterfront lot. The Prues hired Warren Owen Custom Homes, a father-son luxury builder based in Naples. The company, founded in 1987, builds about three homes a year.

Though the home is big, "we are doing everything we can green," Kelly Prue said.

She describes her new home, which spans 5,300 square feet under air, as a "good family house," one with enough room for her two teenage boys and her niece, who lives with the family.

The estate includes a recreation room on the second floor for the kids.

"We have a third-floor balcony," Prue said. "They are all vying to be up there."

There's an outdoor living room, too."It feels like you're inside when you are outside, which we thought would be nice with our wonderful weather," Prue said.

The home overshadows a modest one-story house next door, built decades ago and valued at about $151,000.

* * * * *

When it comes to luxury dream homes, there's a greater focus on the budget than in the past and buyers can get more for their money than they did two or three years ago, said Steve Miller, vice president and director at London Bay Homes, another Naples-based custom builder.

London Bay's business dipped with the economy, but has picked up noticeably in the past six months, he said.

In Southwest Florida, London Bay builds in such upscale communities as Mediterra, Quail West and Grey Oaks. Most of its homes exceed 6,000 square feet.

"Downtown Naples, Port Royal, the beach-front areas, Aqualane Shores, those are all doing quite well now, in terms of the number of jobs sites," Miller said. "You can just see it driving around."

London Bay's homes are priced from $750,000 to more than $3 million.

"One of the factors driving the improvement in sales is the newfound affordability of the market," said Mark Wilson, London Bay's president. "Prices in the luxury market are down about 30 percent from their peak, and that has lured a lot of value shoppers into the market. Their purchases are driving the luxury inventory down, and that in turn generates new buildings."

* * * * *

Despite a bad economy, multimillion-dollar mansions continue to go up at the Estuary at Grey Oaks, a luxury golf community off Airport-Pulling Road in Naples.

Ed Civera, a successful entrepreneur, and his wife, Judy, who are over 55, recently built a $3 million-plus vacation home in the private gated community. Their estate – stretching more than 7,250 square feet inside – was finished in August. The lanai adds another 3,500 square feet of outdoor living.

"I thought about this in 2005," he said. "I was ready to do it. It was just a question of when and getting the right lot and the right house design."

As they searched for their perfect lot, building costs dropped.

Jose Chavez, of Stahlman Landscaping in Naples, heads to the backyard to transplant a palm tree at  Steve and Kelly Prue's new home on 16th Avenue South in Naples on Friday, Oct. 25, 2011. Tristan Spinski/Staff

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

Jose Chavez, of Stahlman Landscaping in Naples, heads to the backyard to transplant a palm tree at Steve and Kelly Prue's new home on 16th Avenue South in Naples on Friday, Oct. 25, 2011. Tristan Spinski/Staff

"I thought it was a great time to build a new home," Civera said. "All the people that worked on the house, including the finish carpenters, the people that made the cabinets, they were anxious to work on a custom home."

The couple bought their lot in 2009 from London Bay, then used the company as its builder.

"It was a fun, interesting project," Civera said.

* * * * *

In the Estuary, the Civeras chose a lot that overlooks a golf course, a lake and a nature preserve, which can never be developed.

Their four-bedroom home estate, which took about 18 months to build, has three master suites on the second floor, each with their own bathroom, making it convenient for their grown children to visit.

The master bedroom suite on the first floor overlooks the pool and a waterfall.

"We have a his and her master bath to preserve our marital status," Ed Civera joked. "We don't share the same bathroom."

"We have a his and her master bath to preserve our marital status," Ed Civera joked. "We don't share the same bathroom."

His wife guided the interior design of the home and chose the furnishings, which are all American-made, something important to both of them. The home has a West Indies style, with black doors and shutters and a black roof. The stairs are outside the house in a glass tower. At the top of the house, there's a lighted cupola.

For Ed Civera, the vacation home is a reward for a successful career.

At the end of the year, he will retire as chairman of Catalyst Health Solutions Inc., a fast-growing, publicly traded pharmacy benefits management company that he co-founded 15 years ago.

He said building a vacation home in these times is "somewhat embarrassing," when so many others are worried about losing their first homes.

He's worked hard, but he said he's also been very lucky.

"It's not like winning the lottery," he said. "But it's close."

Click here for list of Collier County's 10 biggest homes by square footage in living space

__ Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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