Market snapshot: The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch



The aptly named Forest at Hi Hat Ranch is a densely wooded neighborhood of luxury country estates.

Located five miles east of Interstate 75 on Clark Road on 270 of the ranch’s 12,000 acres, the community has a magical atmosphere. It’s like walking into Old Florida of 100 years ago, the closest thing to actually living in Myakka State Park.

Building regulations require homes to be set back a minimum of 100 feet from the front and 50 feet from any side. A certain number of the century-old trees must be saved. The 54 home sites vary in size from three to six acres.

hihatoneAs a result, you’re not likely to see your neighbors’ homes from your backyard.

Sugarbowl Development Co., whose principals are all members of the Turner family that owns the ranch, followed low- impact development guidelines during the early building phase and managed to retain 90 percent of the existing native vegetation.

As a result, many of the lots contain virgin pine flatwoods and mesic hammocks — closed canopy evergreen forests on relatively dry soil — with century old oaks, palms, pines an myrtles. Wildlife abounds, including bobcat, deer, red tail hawks and bald eagles. Two large lakes, good for kayaking and fishing, and a large wetland preserve add to the natural surroundings.

“The Turner family has been stewards for this property for years. They have been proud to maintain its pristine look from day one,” said Brian Wood, a Realtor with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty, the exclusive representative for The Forest.

Wood has seen the community develop from its earliest days, when it had only three custom builders — he was on the sales team for one of them. Now a real estate agent, he sells existing homes and vacant properties there.

He remembers when the market crash put a halt to the early development, when model homes and a number of residences were under construction. While waiting for the recovery, Sugarbowl Development instituted some changes to re-ignite interest that are benefitting sales, now that the market for larger, custom-built homes is taking off again.

“One of the first things we did was to include new builders,” Wood said. The approved list now includes John Cannon, Todd Johnston, Arthur Rutenberg, John Neal Homes and Anchor Builders.

hihatetwoAnother change was to lower the minimum required square footage for new homes from 4,000 to 2,800 under air in order to attract a wider spectrum of buyers. The strategy seems to be working.

Twenty-five of the lots have been sold, and one of the builders is set to buy seven more. A total of 11 homes have been completed, two are under construction and two more went under contract before the end of the year.

Because of a no-repeat architectural rule, no two homes can be the same. Building styles have been contemporary Mediterranean, but recently some flagstone facades and other visual elements have cropped up. An architectural review board has to approve all final designs.

“That process has really been collaborative,” Wood said. “The board is not telling new owners what they should do, but trying to improve the design and, more often than not, that has been the case.”

Residents, mostly year-round, are a mix of retirees and practicing doctors and business owners, including some families with children.

“We have folks from the U.K and Italy, as well as people who used to live on the keys but got tired of the bridges and thought it was a good time to move to a more private setting,” Wood said.

“There is a good sense of community here. A lot of the residents are friends. Several families get together to exercise.”

The Forest is a deed-restricted community. The neighborhood association has annual dues of $2,250.

The community is gated at night.

When potential buyers express concern about being too far off the beaten track, Wood points out the many amenities located within 10-minute drives. There are 50 restaurants, seven golf courses, major public parks and the Twin Lakes sports complex, not to mention banks, retail stores, Doctors Hospital, fitness centers and grocery and drug stores.

Even going to the beach takes only a half-hour drive since Clark Road was upgraded with wider car lanes and designated bicycle lanes in both directions.

An active market indicates growing interest in the area.

Last year, there were two resales, for $1.3 million and $1.55 million. Currently, three residences are for sale, priced at $1.2 million, $1.6 million and $3.9 million.

Single and double lots also are available. Builder packages for lots and homes start in the upper $700,000s.

“This is a place where kids can have zip lines and tree forts in the yard. With many other gated communities, you just don’t have that opportunity,” Wood said.


Last modified: January 17, 2014
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