Single-family home permits in part of Lee up nearly 50 percent in 2012

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Contractors work to complete construction of The Terraces at Bonita Springs. The facility is located at 26401 S. Tamiami Trail in Bonita Springs.

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Scott McIntyre/Staff Contractors work to complete construction of The Terraces at Bonita Springs. The facility is located at 26401 S. Tamiami Trail in Bonita Springs.

Lee County saw new single-family home permits grow by nearly 50 percent in 2012, a good sign the housing industry is rebounding from the Great Recession.

Last year, contractors pulled 556 of those permits — worth $126.6 million — in the unincorporated area, which excludes cities. That was up 49 percent from 2011 and up 68 percent from 2009, when home building hit a historic low, according to a report released by the Lee County Department of Community Development on Wednesday.

As a comparison, the county issued 373 single-family permits in 2011, valued at $86 million.

Last year, permitting for multifamily homes, which includes condos and duplexes, also picked up in Lee. Contractors pulled 189 of those permits, up 35 percent from 2011 and up 141 percent from 2009. In 2011, there were 140 permits issued.

In Collier County, a similar year-end analysis of permits was not immediately available. But permits have been trending up.

"There is no greater stimulus for our economy than a building permit being pulled because the trickle down effect ripples through almost every segment of our economy," said Denny Grimes, a Realtor with Denny Grimes & Co. at Royal Shell Real Estate in Fort Myers.

"The bottom line is there could be no better news for our local economy than to see builders start to work again."

National builders, such as Lennar, G.L. Homes and D.R. Horton, are the primary drivers of the trend. Much of the building is going on in larger communities where builders continue to push their unsold lots, Grimes said.

"It has not translated necessarily down to spot lots in Lehigh Acres or dry lots in Cape Coral," he said. "That was the bulk of the building activity when we hit our bubble."

New homes are becoming more competitive with prices for resales climbing, Grimes said.

"People love the smell of a new home, like that of a new car," he said.

In December, contractors pulled 57 permits for single-family homes, valued at more than $9.8 million in unincorporated Lee. That was up from 44 permits in November and six a year ago.

Last month, there were 15 multi-family units permitted, down slightly from 20 in November, but up from six in December of last year.

"We are encouraged to see a continuing — although modest — trend toward growth," said Mary Gibbs, director of Lee County's Community Development Department, in a statement.

The rising permit numbers show the real estate market is past its bottom and reflect the slowing of foreclosure activity, said Joan LaGuardia, a Lee County spokeswoman.

Still, she noted, there is a large inventory of unsold homes in Lee and that won't vanish as long as the national economy remains sluggish.

Though there were more commercial permits issued in the unincorporated area last year than there were in 2011, their value was down 49 percent over the year reflecting a spike seen from the construction of JetBlue Park, a spring training stadium for the Boston Red Sox, and Park Royal Hospital, a mental health hospital in Fort Myers, in 2011.

Commercial permitting last year was up 46 percent from 2010, based on value.

In December, commercial activity was valued at $517,636, down from $3.7 million in November and more than $7 million a year ago.

Last month, the county issued 2,263 permits of all kinds for a total of 32,261 in 2012 — up 10 percent from 2011.

"The commercial building and the desirability of doing commercial building is lagging residential because there is still a lot of empty stuff out there," Grimes said.

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