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First-Time Buyers Driving New Home Sales

Shawn Merritt liked the idea of a newly built home. No repairs. Less hassle. Better energy efficiency. And, as he found out, the price is right, too. "It feels like a dream," he said. "It's the first home I've ever bought. It was the right time to buy." Thousands of new home buyers in the United States would agree.

In Tampa Bay, housing and mortgage experts say new home sales are being driven by people like Merritt in their 20s and early 30s, and baby boomers once again flocking to Florida for retirement after a significant slowdown brought on by the Great Recession. New home starts jumped nearly 27 percent in the first quarter in the bay area. Another boost to the new home market: Buyers who lost homes in the first foreclosure wave four or five years ago are looking to buy again after mending their credit ratings and renting for several years. Builders are counting on a steady flow of first-time buyers, especially people born after 1980, experts say. "We expect to see a big demand moving forward," said Tony Polito of Tampa's Metrostudy, a national company that tracks the construction industry. "We expect first-time buyers to be a growing portion of the market."

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Polito expects Florida to gain more than 250,000 new residents in 2013. Over the next 15 to 18 years, as the majority of the baby boomers retire, the state should capture many more home buyers from northern states looking to relocate to a sunny climate. Builders are ready and have started stockpiling land for future housing communities. To survive the Great Recession, many builders designed smaller, lower-priced houses to attract a bigger pool of buyers. The hottest price category for new homes in Tampa Bay is between $160,000 and $230,000.

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