The Villages began with the dream Harold Schwartz had for retirees. That dream has spread far and wide, and now the developers are going back to the beginning to bring history into the present.
Story: Chris Gerbasi
After an aging house was removed last year from a lot on Roseapple Avenue, a new home was built on the spot in 65 days, sold in September to Connecticut snowbirds, and occupied by December.
Just that quickly, the developer of The Villages is transforming the historic side of the community by buying dozens of manufactured homes —standing since the 1980s and ’90s—and replacing them with brand-new site-built houses.
The neighborhoods east of U.S. Highway 27/441 represent the origins of The Villages, which mushroomed out of businessman Harold Schwartz’s mobile home park. Today, cleared lots and new rising structures dot the streets in the villages of Silver Lake and Orange Blossom Gardens.
Residents appear to love the rebuilding movement, with some saying new homes help raise property values, and put a fresh coat of paint on the aesthetics of the community.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened around here,” says Norman Narum, who has lived for nearly 25 years in a house built onsite by a contractor working for Schwartz, appropriately, on East Schwartz Boulevard.
Of course, the developer is not making improvements out of pure altruism. For example, The Villages of Lake-Sumter Inc. bought the Roseapple Avenue lot and its 1980 manufactured home for $70,000. The Connecticut snowbirds, Dan and Helen Tuccillo, paid about $235,500 for the new house, Lake County property records show.
But the Tuccillos apparently didn’t mind the price tag.
“Dollar for dollar, compared to the north, it’s much better here for housing,” Dan says.
They lived for several years in a doublewide manufactured home a few streets away from Roseapple. However, their real estate agent advised them to sell that house and buy a larger lot where they could have a new home built.
“A lot of doublewides are super nice and there are so many that are so great, but it was a little cramped for company,” Dan says. “So we decided to spend a little of the kids’ inheritance.”
The payoff was a house with three bedrooms, two baths, plenty of space for visiting family and Dan’s favorite spot, a 25-by-25-foot garage better known as his “toy room.” He’s a member of The Villages Goldwing Club, and the toy room is where he parks his large Goldwing motorcycle.
Their residence had that fresh “new-house smell” as they moved in, and Helen was “having a lot of fun spending money to furnish it,” Dan says. The semi-retired couple formerly lived part time in Pompano Beach, but found the pace of The Villages more to their liking.
“This is nice, to me,” Dan says as he surveys his street. “It’s relaxing, laid back. It’s a great little place. You can sit in your driveway and have a beer or go out and do anything you want.”
The ongoing housing construction represents a changing of the guard on the historic side, says Maureen Connelly. She and her husband Bob have lived part time on Heathrow Avenue since 2005.
“I think the neighborhood is turning over,” Maureen says. “This was the original starting point, and a lot of original owners are still here. Unfortunately, they’re dying, and their kids don’t want this. They just want to sell for any price. From what I hear, The Villages is paying good money for their homes.”
The Connellys live just down the street from a vacant lot ready for building that backs up to the Orange Blossom Hills Golf Course. Orange Blossom Gardens has had its share of site-built houses all along, there are just more of them now, Maureen says.
As for the couple’s own doublewide manufactured home, she says it’s in fairly good condition and she doesn’t know if they will sell it someday. But they’re both in favor of the developer’s housing swap.
“I think it’s great,” Maureen says. “It doesn’t do anything but raise our [property] values. I think it will be awhile before the whole neighborhood is site-built. It probably will take 15 to 20 years before they’re all finished. I think all the singlewides will go, and I’m all for that. They couldn’t get out fast enough.”
Over in Silver Lake, Carl Ittner spoke in front of his house on Tarrson Boulevard as workers at a nearby lot poured cement for the foundation of a new house. Just two weeks later, the framework of the new house was in place, and two other new houses on his street were near completion.
“They don’t take that long to put them up,” Carl says. “They’re occupied right away, too. One wasn’t even vacant for a month and boom! They moved in.”
The construction on his street doesn’t bother Carl. Replacing the old with the new is good for the neighborhood, he says.
“They’re getting rid of a lot of trailers that are really in rundown shape,” Carl says. “Eventually, you won’t see many trailers here. It’ll all be houses.”
Well, almost all. Carl and his wife have no plans to sell their 1985 manufactured home, where they’ve lived for almost nine years. They like their house, plus, property taxes are lower on mobile homes than houses, he says.
Roland Busser also lives near a lot that was recently cleared of an old mobile home at the corner of Mark Avenue and Kelsea Court. Across the street from Roland, one of the first “replacement homes” in the neighborhood was built in 2014.
“That’s what they do,” Roland says. “They come in and buy it, evidently, take it out and move it.”
The housing transition has pros and cons, he says.
“The new ones will bring the value of the neighborhood up, but as the manufactured homes get old, they’re harder to insure,” Roland says. “A lot of people don’t carry insurance anymore.”
Roland, who’s lived in Silver Lake for 12 years, estimates his manufactured home is worth $140,000 and it’s not going any higher, “but I’m not in it for the money,” he says. The developer sold the new house across the street for about $180,000.
Roland has concerns that other areas of The Villages are becoming too pricey. His parents moved to The Villages in 1989, when the now-historic side still was known as a haven for blue-collar workers and World War II veterans, he says.
“This was an affordable lifestyle,” he said. “It’s still an affordable lifestyle, but some million-dollar homes are going in [elsewhere in The Villages].”
Things change. Norman Narum, the longtime resident on East Schwartz Boulevard, enjoyed watching his neighborhood one afternoon from the comfort of a chair in his driveway. He’s seen a lot of changes from his vantage point, but he still loves the area today.
“I have no complaints,” Norman says. “I can’t think of very much negative to say. Everybody keeps their place up good.”
Norman’s not going anywhere, either. He’s done a lot of remodeling over the years, as have many neighbors, and he figures houses that once cost less than $100,000 now are worth $200,000.
“We put in a lot of money, but it’s worth it,” he says.
Now, residents feel they are getting some new bang for their buck through the developer’s revitalization effort. The historic side of The Villages, which also includes the Village of Country Club Hills, has rooftops numbering in the thousands. So, rebuilding could last many more years.
Recreational funds also have been used in recent years for renovations at several rec centers and athletic facilities, as well as additions to Paradise Park on Paradise Drive, giving the whole community a lively vibe.
Across the street from the park sits yet another cleared lot, just waiting for another new house.