Grand Oaks, a recently developed, gated community in Venice, is just about sold out. Only two lots are left in the 15-acre enclave located on the south side of East Venice Avenue, less than a half-mile west of the big roundabout at the intersection with Jacaranda Boulevard.
An attractive island with three royal palms separates the median strip at the entrance to the community. Most of the homes are grouped around Nolen Drive, an oblong ring road that surrounds a picturesque lake with a central island accessible by a scenic wooden bridge. It is named for John Nolen, the urban planner who designed Venice in the 1920s.
There is extensive tropical landscaping throughout the neighborhood, and a small, elegant clubhouse with a heated community swimming pool.
The residences all display Mediterranean Revival architectural design with a Tuscan touch. High ceilings, sun patios and high-end finishes throughout add to the charm.
The 55-home community was created by Heritage Builders, a family owned, local company that focuses on developing small upscale neighborhoods in Sarasota County and constructing custom, luxury waterfront and off-water homes. It was founded by Tom Brown, who started out building communities on the east coast of Florida, moved into the condominium market — Beau Ciel and the Orchid Beach Club on Lido Key — and developed The Founders Club in Sarasota.
While he continues to be actively involved at the strategic planning level, the company is now run on a day-to-day basis by his son Steve. Personable and energetic, he came aboard in 2005 and experienced the full force of the housing recession.
After the recovery, he and his father caught the trend of new, well-built homes early. “We saw a demand for the upscale middle market that had been decimated during the downturn,” Steve explains. “People wanted custom cabinets again, high-end finishes and smaller homes.”
He adds, “We try to bring a lot of the quality and design of our luxury homes west of the Trail to lower, more attainably priced communities.”
At Grand Oak, many of the customers were retirees and empty nesters who wanted to downsize from 3,000- and 4,000-square-foot homes up north. “They just wanted maybe three bedrooms and a den,” Steve says.
Marianne LeBar, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co., got involved as the selling agent at Grand Oaks when there were only 10 lots left, and has since moved on as the on-site sales manager to Heritage Builders’ other new community, Ashton Oaks on McIntosh Road in Sarasota.
“Venice is known for cash buyers,” she says. “The demographic is low-debt, ‘don’t buy anything beyond our means.’ ”
She continues, “The buyers in Grand Oaks were very value-driven and recognized the quality. Many of them owned luxury homes in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Some were in transition already — they had a small condo here on the beach or nearby — but it was not for them. They liked quiet at night and having a 2-car garage.”
The snowbird in Grand Oaks also liked the low-maintenance aspect. In Grand Oaks, the homeowners association arranges for the care of all landscaping. “It allows them to leave their homes after season and not have to worry about the outside while they’re gone,” says LeBar.
Venice island, with its historic district, restaurants, hospital and theaters, is 3.3 miles to the west. Interstand 75 is just minutes away in the other direction. A Publix supermarket, local coffee shop and other stores on the roundabout are an easy bike ride or stroll away.
It turns out that many Grand Oaks residents are avid golfers who appreciate that their neighborhood is near several championship courses. That way they can pursue their love of the game without having to pay CDD fees, membership dues or food and beverage minimums at the clubhouses. “They have control over their golf game,” says LeBar. “They’re only paying for what they’re using.”
With 38 houses occupied, six being built and nine pending sales, Heritage Builders is in the process of turning Grand Oaks over to its homeowners.
The initial home sales, depending on upgrades and customization, ranged from $302,450 to $436,970. There has been one resale — the model that was used as the sales center. The closing is in mid-May.
The two remaining lots are shown by appointment only.