New urbanism drives real estate recovery

Strict design principles put Florida town in high demand

Jean Ann Brock was kind enough to show her Rosemary Beach, Fla., house, which had just gone on the market for $6.45 million. It was good timing. The housing collapse and recession had hit the Florida Panhandle Gulf Coast like a hurricane, dismantling housing prices by more than 50 percent.

The coastline between Rosemary Beach westward along Scenic Route 30A to the town of Seaside was littered with for-sale signs and new developments that were more sand than structures. Pensacola, the big city in the region, saw prices drop 12.5 percent in April as compared to the year before, with the average home price standing at $93,000, according to Zillow.com.

The story Brock told me was personal, about having one child left to bring up and having one vacation home too many. But Brock, who attained a kind of notoriety in the planned community of Rosemary Beach with the first tear-down (remove the existing home and erect bigger and better) was from a homebuilding family, Highland Homes in Dallas, and certainly knew how to time markets. And the Rosemary Beach market had in the spring of 2011 begun to stabilize.

In 2010, Rosemary Beach had sales of $49.7 million, up 111 percent from 2009, according to Linda Miller, a broker with Rosemary Beach Realty. The rush of activity left the Rosemary Beach firm with 25 percent less inventory than the year before, a far cry from what was going on outside the community.