Luxury apartments? In this economy?
Joel Altman laughs at the question.
With small jobs popping up in local industrial parks and the rusty gears of the economy slowly turning again, this is proving to be a time to rent, said Altman, chairman of Altman Companies of Boca Raton, a developer that has built units from Michigan to Miami.
These apartments are touted for their posh amenities: an expansive clubhouse with a billiards table and fitness center. A resort-style pool and private sunning deck. An outdoor lounge area with adjoining fireplace. Luxury.
Young workers now are looking for living situations in the middle, Altman says: They have too much income for small college-type housing and they're not ready to buy a house.
In recent years they have flocked to North New Tampa and Pasco. Altman has working to develop the Pasco site since the tail end of the recession and before that, built three communities in northern Hillsborough County.
Last month, Altman Companies broke ground on 60 acres along Livingston Road between Wesley Chapel and Lutz, just inside the Pasco County Line. Altis at Grand Cypress will be a gated community with 258 units of three types in 17 buildings.
One-bedroom apartments up to 753 square feet will rent for $862 a month, two-bedroom apartments up to 1,083 square feet are $1,080 a month, and three-bedroom units up to 1,334 square are $1,390 a month.
The work is financed by an $18.4 million loan from City National Bank of Florida.
One reason apartment builders are getting busy is a recent monthly decline of 0.2 percent in vacancy rates, the first drop in two years, according to reports from Reis, a real estate analysis company.
Apartments, new Census data shows, are driving residential construction nationwide.
Construction began on 629,000 houses in June, 14.6 percent more than in May. Apartment construction was double that, increasing 30 percent.
Among the attractions of renting over owning is that it's simpler and allows more flexibility, said Byron Moger, executive director at Cushman & Wakefield real estate consulting.
Paying first and last month's rent plus utilities is more appealing to young workers than applying for a loan that takes decades to pay off, Moger said. It also leaves them freer to take advantage of new job opportunities popping up in other parts of the country.
What's more, the collapse of the housing market tarnished the image of home ownership as an investment.
"It makes a lot more sense for people to sign a one-year lease," Moger said, particularly north of Tampa and into Pasco County.
Pasco, seventh-fastest growing of Florida's 67 counties, is expected to add two-thirds of its current population during the next 30 years, according to the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The population would total 772,400.
New schools are popping up, business parks line the Interstate 75 corridor at most exits, and the commute to work in downtown Tampa is within reach.
Leasing made sense to Kathleen Turnbull, 54. She lives at one of Altman's North Tampa developments, Vista Grande at Tampa Palms.
Contract jobs come and go fast for her husband John, also 54, so the couple lives by short leases. Turnbull was in the apartment complex's leasing office one day to talk about tacking on six more months to her stay.
Vista Grande is midway between their jobs, hers as a middle school teacher in Hernando County and his as a contracted statistician for Citibank in Tampa.
"We're just sort of following the money as opposed to being in a stable place to raise children," she said.
They have a grown daughter in New York, and own homes in Virginioa and North Carolina that they rent out to pay the mortgages.
"We would just rather sit and wait and rent."