SEBRING — During all of 2013, Ken LeBlanc built four new homes in the Covered Bridge subdivision southwest of Sebring.
This year, LeBlanc said he has built or will begin construction on four homes in just the first six months and hopes to build more by the end of the year.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I feel like the buyers are coming back to the market.”
In fact, construction numbers are up slightly for both residential and commercial construction in Highlands County and Sebring when compared with the first half of 2013. Highlands County handles building permits for Avon Park and Lake Placid, while Sebring has its own building department.
In Highlands County since Jan. 1, there have been six permits issued for commercial construction and 44 for new homes. That compares with 28 new homes and four new businesses during the first half of 2013, according to the Highlands County Building Department.
In Sebring, the city issued permits for four commercial buildings and four homes since Jan. 1. Last year during the first six months, it was one new business building and one new house.
Mark Gose, a Sebring builder, has predicted in the next couple of years, the increase in construction in Florida that started near the coasts, will make it to Highlands County, at least to some extent.
In the meantime, though, he said, local construction is slowly heading in the right direction.
Recently, he said, he built a house on Hawthorne Drive in Sebring on a spec basis — meaning no-one had committed buying it before construction. He sold it within 18 days, he said.
Gose expects to finalize the sale of a second spec home shortly and plans to build another after that.
He has also been involved with plans for a new apartment complex in Sebring. He said he expects that project will move forward.
As for the single-family homes, Gose believes the improvement stems from the reduction in the inventory of older homes.
And some people are realizing that buying a new home compares favorably with paying $80,000 for an older home and then investing $20,000 in it, he said.
“And you still have a 10-year-old home,” Gose said.
He said his recent sales were to a young couple and a retired couple.
In Covered Bridge, the development is restricted to people 55 years and older. LeBlanc said he has had retirees from up north buy homes, but also people from this area. Because of the increased interest, he said, by the end of the summer he expects to begin work on paving a road for a second phase of the housing development.
He said he’s completing construction of two homes and plans work on two others in the near future in Covered Bridge.
And, he said, he’s bought other land for more developments in the Lake Placid area.
“Every year it’s getting better,” he said.