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VOL. 123 | NO. 126 | Friday, June 27, 2008

Lakeland Developers Hopeful Despite Decreasing Home Sales

By Eric Smith

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EYE CANDY: The Preserve at Lakeland finally has homes on site,with this one slated for completion in the next 30-45 days. The Preserve’s developers hope the new activity will kick start sales. -- PHOTO BY ERIC SMITH

The Preserve at Lakeland for many months was tucked away in the woods without a single home built for passersby to see. So despite its proximity to Interstate 40, the area suffered from visibility problems.

Now that the 37.21 acre, 36-lot, secluded subdivision has five houses under construction, The Preserve’s developer – Anderson-Suber Development Co. LLC – is expecting the phone to start ringing at last.

“We’re hoping that with construction finally starting in there that things are going to pick up, and folks will see some activity,” said company partner Neil Suber. “It’s been so long getting through the development phase that it looked the same for so long. Now there’s houses being built and we’re hoping that will spark a little interest.”

Identity crisis

Interest in Lakeland has waned recently. May saw just 61 home sales in the 38002 ZIP code of Arlington/Lakeland, a 34.4 percent decline from the 93 homes sold in May 2007. That was worse than the Shelby County average of a 30.2 percent dropoff in the month compared to last year. The month’s numbers were even down 15.3 percent from April’s total of 72 sales.

And the year-to-date figures reveal a 39.2 percent decrease in the ZIP. Just 305 homes sold in Arlington/Lakeland from January through May, down from the 502 that sold in the same period of 2007.

The only positive has been average home values for area sales. At $253,368 for the year, they were off only 2.3 percent from 2007’s average of $259,276. That’s not nearly as disastrous as the 11.9 percent price difference homes have seen countywide.

Lakeland Mayor Scott Carmichael said the community’s recent sales woe is no different from other communities, and that despite the recent downturn, Lakeland’s growth has been “absolutely phenomenal.” After all, the city’s population has quadrupled in the past decade from 2,500 to 11,000, according to a special census.

But that doesn’t mean the relatively young city, founded in 1977 as an amusement park, is immune to other problems.

“What we’ve been struggling with is how to do this growth and still maintain our atmosphere,” Carmichael said. “We’re really struggling with our identity. Who are we and what are we going to be when we grow up?

“If it slows down now, that’s fine,” Carmichael added. “I’m not in any great hurry to have people move in just to move in.”

Hot to trot

Suber and other developers, of course, are ready to see things turn around quickly.

“Lakeland has slowed down, I would say, but it still seems pretty good,” Suber said. “There’s still sales happening. We hope that it’s going to pick up here before too long.”

Suber is so confident in The Preserve’s future that his construction company is starting a house there.

SAS Construction LLC recently bought a lot in The Preserve for $155,000 from Anderson-Suber Development (Suber is partner with both firms) and also filed a construction loan on the property for $647,600 through the Bank of Fayette County, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

The company also has its eye on additional lots in the gated neighborhood, which backs up to Garner Lake. The Preserve features large lots ranging from three-quarters of an acre to an acre and a half and starting around $150,000, and homes built there must be at least 4,000 square feet, Suber said.

“We’re going to start this one and as soon as we get it moved, we’ll turn loose on a couple more, depending on what’s left,” Suber said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Suber said he believes Lakeland offers the best of both worlds for many people – the seclusion of a gated community on a lake with the benefit of being a short drive from Exit 20 of I-40, which is the Canada Road interchange.

“It’s outside of the Memphis city limits, but it’s one exit from Wolfchase and everything else, so it’s real convenient,” Suber said. “There’s a great elementary school in the subdivision right across the street in Oakwood. It’s a good place to be, and it’s been a hot area for several years for good reason.”

PROPERTY SALES 51 180 16,377
MORTGAGES 21 57 10,144
BUILDING PERMITS 103 665 39,209
BANKRUPTCIES 31 107 7,704