ALEDO -- The nation's housing market is on the cusp of a turnaround, and one example is in this bedroom community of about 2,700 people just west of Fort Worth.On Wednesday, Fort Worth developer James R. Harris Partners will host a groundbreaking ceremony for the $120 million Parks of Aledo, a 100-acre development that will bring 296 new homes to a section of the Bailey Ranch near Aledo High School. Construction on the first phase is to begin early next year, with houses expected to be priced from $250,000 to $500,000.There's high hope that the development, which will be the largest single-family home community Aledo has seen, is signaling an end to the six-year downturn in the area's housing market. Although Dallas-Fort Worth fared better than the rest of the nation after the housing bubble burst, it was not spared completely. Home sales and construction plummeted. But this year, activity has picked up.Existing home sales have increased for 13 straight months. And new home starts just recorded a fifth consecutive quarter of gains, topping 5,000 in North Texas for the first time since 2008, said David Brown, director of MetroStudy, a provider of housing market data.Demand in the marketHigh demand for its schools and a lack of new homes in Aledo led Harris to pursue the market, even if it meant paying a lot for the land, said Justin Welborn, managing partner of the Parks of Aledo project and a partner in James R. Harris Partners. Financial details of the development are not being disclosed."There is very little if no inventory for the kind of product we're delivering," Welborn said. "It was expensive, but I don't have three or four builders across the street to compete with. I've got a product I believe in and it made sense to pay for the land."City Manager Ken Pfeifer said the development fits nicely into Aledo's 2010 master plan and comes at a time when the city is prepared for growth. The last new-home development was in 2006 and had about 80 homes. Aledo has about 850 single-family homes."We want the growth and welcome any new families," Pfeifer said. "It's been a while."The development will include an unprecedented 17 acres of parks and open space, as well as crushed limestone trails. The first phase of construction will include 68 homes, and all will have city water and sewer, and natural gas. Clarity Homes, HD Homes and Village Homes have been selected to build there.Crews are building streets and doing other infrastructure work related to lot development. That should be completed by the end of January, when builders will begin construction, Welborn said."This project will sell through in five years," Welborn said.There are others, tooAlthough it's one of the larger projects starting up, Parks of Aledo is not nearly the only new-housing development moving forward in the western half of the Metroplex.Dallas-based Huffines Communities has started Viridian in north Arlington and plans 3,500 single-family homes within 10 to 15 years. And home building continues in Southlake, Keller and Roanoke and on the Edwards Ranch in Fort Worth and at the Lakes of River Trails in east Fort Worth. Bloomfield Homes recently bought 42.3 acres on South Main Street in Mansfield for a single-family development.Custom home builders and the publicly held production builders are all in the game."The traction is here," MetroStudy's Brown said. "It's real. Inventory of houses is very, very low, resale and new homes. Today, if a builder wants to sell a home, they're going to have to build it."Builders are on track to build close to 16,500 homes this year, still only about a third of the number built at the market's peak in 2006, when 48,129 were built, according to local market studies. In 2011, builders started 13,985 homes, according to the Residential Strategies consulting firm."We could end up close to 17,000 starts this year," said Ted Wilson, a partner in Residential Strategies. "The builders sold their spec units in the spring and the backlog of to-be-built homes for customers keeps piling up. It's a sign of the times.""Only a few options"Welborn said conversations with the Bailey family began in the summer of 2011 and the land was put under contract in late December. The deal closed in May."We were looking for some property out here in the Aledo school district with good visibility, and access to schools and utilities," Welborn said. "When that's your criteria, there's only a few options."The tract sold to Harris is the largest sale out of the Bailey Ranch, said Fred Disney, president of Westbrook Development Corp. in Fort Worth, who represented the seller, the Bailey Ranch Partnership. A sale of almost the same size was made in 1998 to the school district for its high school and other facilities.After the high school was built, Disney said, it became apparent to the Bailey family that land use for some parts of the ranch would shift towards development.In 2007, a similar deal with another developer fell through, Disney said. That was shortly after the recession set in, when real estate financing came to a halt. Until now."Developers are looking at the future," he said.The property's historyThe Bailey Ranch was established in 1955 by Dr. Noel R. Bailey of Fort Worth and his wife, Elaine, who bought the land from Charles Harris, founder of Harris Hospital in Fort Worth. The Baileys grew the ranch from 777 acres to about 2,000 acres that are owned and leased."Bailey Ranch is pleased to be a part of the growth and development of the city of Aledo," Barbara Bailey McNeal, the Baileys' daughter, said in a statement. "We appreciate the thoughtful planning by James R. Harris partners to produce quality neighborhoods."The Baileys have also sold 10 acres to Faith Presbyterian Church and to a couple of small businesses.Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST
New home starts in North Texas have plummeted since the housing bubble burst in 2007. The only up year was 2010, when a federal tax credit for first-time home buyers stoked sales.
2010: 15,036 (fueled by federal tax credit)
Source: Residential Strategies