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Orchid Island building boom bringing new generation of members to the club

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS (Week of December 22, 2022)

A building boom is underway at the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club, where real estate prices are up 65 percent since before covid and demand for homes has never been stronger.

Westmark, builder/developer of Palm Island Plantation, is the main player in the current Orchid building boom, with six new homes going up on one street near the front gate and three more underway elsewhere in the community.

Banov, a Vero Beach architectural and building firm, Croom Construction, and other companies also have homes under construction or in the planning and permitting stage.

The new homes, mostly valued between $1.6 million and $2.5 million, have all been sold, so they won’t bolster the island’s anemic inventory, but they are bringing new life and energy to the ocean-to-river development, which was built along the Atlantic shore and around an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.

“When you drive around the community and see all the new construction and extensive renovations, you can feel a sense of vibrancy and excitement in the air,” said Orchid Island Realty broker Anne Torline.

“The club started in the early 1990s and you can get by for a couple of decades without major renovations, but we are getting to that point where the houses really need to be upgraded and so many of our members are doing that,” said Torline.

She said more than 20 percent of the homes and lots in Orchid have changed hands in the past several years and many renovations are being done by new owners fixing up dated homes to suit their modern lifestyles.

In other cases, some residents who might have sold and moved for a variety of reasons, but who “couldn’t find a place to go,” are taking the plunge and redoing their homes for the long haul.

It’s all part of what Club Manager Rob Tench describes as a natural shift and turnover that occurs when a community is 25 or 30 years old and original residents decide to downsize to assisted living or move closer to family members and a new generation of buyers arrives.

The extent of the turnover jumps out on the Property Appraiser website, which shows color-coded sales by year. Six of 11 direct riverfront homes and on Grove Place changed hands in the past three years, for instance, while 12 of 21 on Caribe Way have sold, and other streets have seen a similar infusion of new neighbors moving in from the Northeast, South Florida, the western U.S. and Canada.

Demand and sales at the club “exploded” during the pandemic, with annual sales tripling at the peak of the boom, according to Torline.

“We aren’t as well-known as some of the larger clubs on the island,” Torline added. “But we were discovered during the pandemic when so many people started looking for homes in Florida. Once they found us and came here and looked around, they couldn’t believe how beautiful it is and were eager to buy.”

Westmark Enterprises vice president Steve Owen told Vero Beach 32963 that buyers of his lot/home packages have been attracted “first and foremost by the quality of the community. They are buying a lifestyle, not just shelter. They’re looking for the great golf, tennis, beach club and everything else that is offered here. Once they see all that, it is just a matter of finding a home that fits their needs – which is where we come in.”

Owen was searching for buildable lots on the island back in 2020 – and is still actively looking today – because Palm Island Plantation, Westmark’s signature island community, is very nearly built out with just a lot or two left.

When he heard about the lots in Orchid, he went up and took a look and liked what he saw.

“It is a high-end community that is very well done. It was a perfect match for us in price and quality, and there are a lot of well-qualified people coming into Orchid to look for a home,” Owen said.

He put six lots on Island Place under contract in 2020 and proceeded to design the houses and get them approved by the club and the town of Orchid.

“It took us almost a year to get through architectural review and get everything approved. Once I had the approved plans, I gave those to Orchid Island Realty to sell as lot home packages. When they had a prospective buyer, they sent them to me to go over the floor plans and customize them if people wanted changes.”

Property records show that Westmark closed on the lots in May 2021 and almost immediately resold them to buyers purchasing lot/home packages.

“The lot/home packages went like that,” Torline said, snapping her fingers. “I think I sold four in one weekend.”

When Owen saw the hunger for Westmark’s product on Island Place, he snapped up three more lots on other streets in Orchid.

As they sold out, lot prices tripled or close to it, according to Torline.

“Before the pandemic, there were lots listed for under $100,000 and they didn’t sell,” she said. “The one we just put under contract was listed for $295,000.”

Westmark broke ground on its first home in Orchid in the summer of 2021 with the expectation it would take 12-14 months to complete, but pandemic supply chain issues pushed that timeframe back.

“Prior to covid, we built homes in 10 to 12 months and we thought the extra two months would be sufficient to deal with shortages, but there are still things that are hard to get that have slowed us down,” Owen said. “We are thinking 14 to 16 months now, but it is hard to say for sure.”

Owen cited the metal boxes electric meters fit into as an example of a critical shortage. The boxes are a key component because interior finish work can’t be started until the homes are dried in and there is electricity to run the air conditioning.

“It is frustrating, having one little item like that hold us up,” Owen said.

Westmark offered its new home packages at a fixed price, which turned out to be a costly decision.

“We have always sold homes on a fixed-price basis,” Owen said. “And we sold these the same way. If we would have known what was coming, we would have done it on a cost-plus basis.

“We’ve have eaten a lot of price increases but so have a lot of other people. There was no way to anticipate all the problems covid was going to cause, but we will live through it. It’s still been a been a good project for us.”