If space has always been important in real estate, in the last year since the onset of COVID-19, it has become everything and more. Nowhere is this truer than in Collier County, where access to downtown Naples competes with elbow room—private elbow room, meaning that there has been a turning away from gated communities, where things can get a little close.
Jose Cintron, president of Cintron Custom Builders, has seen the shift firsthand. “For my tastes, there are three places: Pine Ridge, Livingston Woods and the Oakes Estates,” he says. This trio of non-gated luxury communities—which Cintron notes in descending order of location desirability—are hotter than ever due to their high acreage and lack of shared space. At the highest level—Pine Ridge—one acre of land sells for $1 million, maybe $1.2 million; at Livingston Woods, 2.5 acres for $500,000 to $800,000. Oakes Estates brings up the rear: under $500,000 for 2.5 acres.
Cintron is happy to break it down further: A Pine Ridge home can command nearly $900 per square foot; Livingston Woods, $666 per square foot; and Oakes Estates, $550 per square foot. These communities represent the new Collier paradise. Cintron’s wife Flower, who is involved in the business, says that vacant land is growing scarce in these high-acreage communities. “A lot of people are leaving the gated communities because of all the restrictions,” adds Cintron, who has completed homes in Livingston Woods and Oakes Estates. He notes that Oakes Estates is close to everything—“10 minutes from Vanderbilt Beach, malls, shopping areas. And here you can build a nice massive home with a workshop, or a guest house. There’s so much you can do on this acreage. People are getting tired of the HOA fees.”
What he doesn’t say are what those association fees help to fund: amenities—in many cases, quite nice amenities—that are shared. To many, that’s not appealing during the COVID-19 pandemic, when features like pools and gyms have been shuttered at times anyway. In the last several months, discussions about South Florida real estate have been inseparable from discussions about COVID-19.
The pandemic was top of mind for a family who bought a $4 million Cintron home in Oakes Estates. If no one has yet coined the phrase “pandemic architecture,” they likely will due to properties like this. On a 2.5-acre, perfectly squared lot, Cintron Custom Builders not only constructed a four-bedroom main house, but also a guest cabana—with its own bedroom and kitchen—on the opposite side of the property, so guests can be safely separated. There’s also a fitness room and lap pool. “Our clients, professionals with a family, wanted to be self-sufficient with everything on their premises,” Cintron explains. The master bedroom’s French doors open up to a private garden for yoga, privacy and peace. The new homeowners moved in in November and haven’t been heard from since.
Cintron Custom Builders set a record for building and selling the highest-priced home in Livingston Woods for a family that was particularly COVID-19-focused. “The husband requested a 3,000-square-foot man cave so he doesn’t have to leave his home,” Cintron says. “There’s a little guesthouse in there as well, and a workshop with a gym on the second floor—and a golf simulator.” The clients felt that COVID-19 isn’t going to be the last pandemic and they want to be prepared. In total, the home sprawls over 8,500 square feet, with five bedrooms, a wine room, and a custom laundry room with two washers and two dryers. “The house is pretty much a resort,” Cintron says, adding that the property has a $400,000 pool and $200,000 invested in lush landscaping topped by royal and coconut palms. He notes that families tend to gravitate toward Livingston Woods because the Community School of Naples is right across the street.
Likewise, Domenic Costantini of Costantini Construction, Inc. built a stunner on a 2.5-acre Livingston Woods property. “We took that backyard, had a landscape architect come in and create a water feature, where we licensed people to go into the Everglades to source plants,” he says. “We created something like an estuary.” The ultramodern home, which was designed by architect David Poorman and is augmented by solar panels, also features an elaborate pool with a spa, an outdoor kitchen and an air-conditioned garage outfitted with Tesla charger packs.
The experience of Matt Sellick, president of Stock Custom Homes, cleanly illustrates the ways in which different communities gentrify as they are positioned further from downtown Naples and the beaches. “Pine Ridge, the closest to the water, is where everyone wants to be, just east of 41,” he says. He’s built nine houses there, from $3 million and up, with four others under construction in the $4 million range. Due to COVID-19, clients want larger floor plans with bigger kitchens and interior bar spaces—and semi-detached casitas. “If one of the family members becomes infected, they can stay isolated,” he explains.
But he’s sitting on property in Livingston Woods, 10 minutes away—he calls the community “a little bit of a sleeper”—waiting for interest to build. “It’s going to come around as the prices in Pine Ridge keep going up,” he says. Livingston Woods, he observes, still contains raw land, compared to Pine Ridge’s teardown market, where 1,800-square-foot ranches are razed to make way for 4,000-square-foot Florida-style, British West Indies, transitional and contemporary homes. “They’re getting bigger by the day,” he adds.
Rob Herscoe, who created the award-winning firm Herscoe Hajjar Architects with his partner Michael Hajjar in 2003, has watched the stigma of North Naples evaporate over the last 20 years. Once upon a time, the area was considered too far from the city center, with little more than The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, hotel to recommend it. He says the homes were small and the area undeveloped. Even clients who required large homes were hesitant of “going out there.” But in recent years the remoteness has proved desirable. Closer to town, for the most part, large homes have to be accommodated into small lots, but in Pine Ridge, where his firm is working on its seventh project in 15 years, home sites have the room to become carefully planned estates. He says that it was about eight years ago that renovations of modest Pine Ridge homes gave way to teardowns. “People wanted to start from scratch,” he says, building large homes without worrying about the property value of the small home next door. The value, they understood, was in the generous acreage itself. And Herscoe, like the Cintrons and Sellick, sees home design requests and purchasing trends as pandemic-related: “Clients are planning for home schooling and tennis courts and basketball courts—a lot of things where people would go somewhere to use are now on the property. Kids have playrooms and ample outdoor space to build treehouses. And people are building home gyms, knowing they’re not going to use their memberships.”
Pools have grown bigger, and pool houses have been added. Lacking the architectural guidelines of gated communities, Pine Ridge homeowners enjoy considerable aesthetic freedom. Herscoe notes that because the homes are not abutting each other in low-density Pine Ridge, there are no jarring juxtapositions in facade style—and no disapproving neighbors peering over the hedges.
That encapsulates the pandemic-era of homebuilding, where location, location, location meets distance, distance, distance.