Local Home Building Remains Sluggish
Bill Huckabee takes pride in the fact that he paid all of his business bills before filing for personal bankruptcy in the wake of the downturn in the Moore County housing market.
“We have been completely wiped out,” Huckabee said. “But the only creditor affected by our bankruptcy was the lender. No supplier and no subcontractor were affected in any way. We left none of them with a receivable.
“Every asset we owned was committed, or converted to cash, in order to meet our obligations.”
Huckabee, owner of Huckabee Construction Co., said he is essentially starting over at age 76.
“The bank left me no choice,” he said. “All you can do is smile and move forward.”
Meredith Sledz, executive officer of the Moore County Home Builders Association (MCHBA), said Huckabee’s can-do attitude is typical of MCHBA members.
“Their morale amazes me and humbles me,” Sledz said.
Densel Williams, a former MCHBA president who is regional vice president for the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA), said the industry has seen “some nice upticks” in recent months.
“Things are a little better, but they are not great,” Williams said. “We’re hurting.”
The numbers are sobering.
In fiscal 2006-2007, Moore County issued 369 permits for single-family homes worth a collective $72 million, compared with 210 permits worth $31.4 million in fiscal 2011-2012.
Since the new fiscal year began last July 1, 49 permits have been issued worth $11.1 million.
“We’re still in the tubes,” Williams said.
U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican who represents Moore County, told MCHBA members at their monthly meeting Monday that Congress has “a lot of work to do” to help turn the economy around.
“I feel optimistic about what we’re doing,” Ellmers said. “I promise to work with you on every issue to get you back to work.”
The stakes are high, because the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates that for every new single-family home built, three new jobs are created.
Jobs are generated in the industries where lumber, concrete, lighting fixtures, heating and cooling equipment, and other products that go into a home are produced. More jobs are created when real estate agents, lawyers and brokers provide services to home builders and home buyers.
“The home-building industry in Moore County was the second-largest employer behind FirstHealth of the Carolinas in 2006,” Williams said. “Today, we may be third behind the hospital and the Moore County public school system.”
Williams said the industry remains hampered by inaccurate appraisals, a tough lending environment, and regional builders entering the Moore County market and underselling local builders.
“The regional builders use economies of scale to construct new homes that sell for 20 percent to 30 percent less than what we’re selling them for,” he said. “It’s setting a new paradigm in Moore County because regional builders have never been successful in our market in the past.”
Williams noted that inaccurate appraisals are a nationwide issue.
“We’re seeing a lot of appraisals that are barely above the cost to build a home, much less provide a profit to the home builder,” he said. “The appraisals are all over the board. It’s been a problem for quite some time.”
Williams said the dearth of new home construction has prompted many builders to rely on renovation projects.
In Pinehurst, for example, new construction in September was $1.1 million, compared with $2 million for the same month last year. However, renovations jumped from $233,000 in September 2011 to almost $1.2 million this year.
“That’s pretty much a statewide and nationwide trend as well,” Williams said.
The most recent figures from HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau show that the pace of new-home sales held virtually unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000 units in August.
“Looking at the big picture, sales have been trending gradually upward since the middle of last year as favorable interest rates and prices have driven more consumers to get back in the market for a newly built home,” said Barry Rutenberg, chairman of NAHB.
NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe predicted that the third quarter of 2012 is going to be “well ahead” of the second quarter.
“That said, the razor-thin inventory of new homes for sale is very concerning because it indicates that builders aren’t able to access the credit they need to build new homes as the demand for them improves,” Crowe said.
Crowe added that the share of new homes sold in the higher price ranges — $400,000 and above — rose significantly in August.
“This reflects the fact that people who are able to buy homes right now are those in higher-income ranges who have cash and equity on hand, while first-time buyers are having a tougher time getting qualified for a mortgage,” he said.
Regionally, new home sales gained in all but one area of the country in August, with the Northeast, Midwest and West posting increases of 20 percent, 1.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. The South was the only region to post a decline, of 4.9 percent.
Meanwhile, the inventory of new homes for sale held at a historic low of just 141,000 units in August, which is a four-and-a-half month supply at the current sales pace.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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