Orlando homes' hottest spots? Look east and west
A west Orange County
area rooted in orange groves and an east Orange community hit by foreclosures during the downturn ranked as Central Florida's best-selling spots in 2015 for home sales.
The postal codes for Winter Garden
and Waterford Lakes outsold all other ZIP codes in Orange and Seminole counties last year, according to an analysis of primarily existing home sales reported by the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. Other hotspots for the year: Oviedo, Rio Pinar and Lake Mary. And among those with the biggest boost in primarily sales from a year earlier — Wedgefield and Apopka.
New transportation options far from Interstate 4's six-year overhaul have helped draw buyers, agents say. Also, Central Florida's overall flat wages have forced buyers further out in order to afford a mortgage.
Between Winter Garden's shopping and slice of the West Orange Trail and Waterford Lakes' proximity to athletics and classes at the University of Central Florida, both areas offer attractive ways to spend your time without spending too much money, said John Lazenby, an agent for Colony Realty Group Inc. and president of the real estate association.
"We want to live but we want to really live where we can do things," Lazenby said.
Six years ago, high downtown Orlando home prices drove Tara Moore and her family from Thornton Park to a historic neighborhood near downtown Winter Garden. She started selling real estate in West Orange a few years later and, by last year, the area had become so popular that she averaged a sale every five days.
"I think when I started selling, a lot of it was people moving around in this area — people who were ingrained in the community," said Moore, who now sells to families, young professionals and also retirees from Washington, D.C., Atlanta and elsewhere. "Now Winter Garden is really on the map because it has something for everyone."
The average sales price for the Winter Garden ZIP code last year was $293,021, higher than the average price of $235,182 for Orange and Seminole counties last year — but more affordable than the $299,034 average price in downtown Orlando, according to the data. Prices include houses and condos.
Two drivers for that west Orange area: new shops and dining in both Winter Garden Village at Fowler's Grove and downtown Winter Garden, and expanding road networks that have opened up as a result of State Road 429, Moore said.
When Crescent Communities bought Winter Garden's languishing Oakland Park development three years ago, 12 houses had been built in the historical-style community. Last year alone, it sold 100 lots and about 50 houses. While about a quarter of the buyers are from West Orange, the rest are from Orlando, elsewhere in Florida and other states, said Thom Cunningham, vice president for Crescent.
"I think the biggest surprise for us was the growing numbers relocating from Celebration," he said."We're excited about that because Celebration has such a good brand and strong record."
On the opposite side of Orlando, longtime real estate broker Steve Farah said that just a few years ago he was busy flipping foreclosures in east Orange County. At the time, about three dozen foreclosed houses from Waterford Lakes, Eastbrook, Stoneybrook East and elsewhere hit the auction block weekly. Now, he added, it's just a trickle of them.
"I would say its fully recovered," Farah said.
Sales prices in the Waterford Lakes ZIP code last year averaged $365,374.
The eastern side of Orlando now draws more young buyers and families interested good schools than the area attracted years ago, he added, even though relatively little has changed there.
Farther to the east of Waterford Lakes, the vast supply of affordable land in Wedgefield has started attracting buyers looking for both new and existing homes. Sales in that postal code more than tripled from a year earlier to reach 743 last year.
The big change there: Innovation Way opened in recent years and residents of Wedgefield can now get to Avalon Park's shops and eateries in about 10 minutes, said Farah, who has several listings in the area that was long known as Rocket City for its proximity to the Space Coast.
"When you're going to Wedgefield, you're not as far east as you think," he said.
Central Florida Expressway Authority will consider extending State Road 408 about 20 miles into east Orange County — to S.R. 520 by the Brevard County line.
Of course the other draw, Farah added, is more affordable prices farther out. The average sales price there last year was $235,182.
Central Florida communities have come a long way in a few years, said the real estate broker and flipper. But, he added, unstable international markets and mounting debt could set the stage for another downturn around the corner.