Fresh off one of their best years in a while, Western New York homebuilders say they’re expecting yet another great 12 months in 2014, as a combination of low interest rates, increased confidence and pent-up demand combine to drive consumers into model homes.
From base-level houses for less than $200,000 to the high-end luxury homes of $500,000 or more, new construction has been selling at a brisk pace, with no signs of a let-up.
“I’m expecting a good year,” said David Burke, owner of Burke Homes, which built 38 homes last year. “It’s consistent with what happened last year.”
In fact, new building permits are up, and several builders said they expect a further increase in sales for 2014 over the already-elevated figures from last year. Through November, permits for new single-family construction last year rose 15 percent to 728 units in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area, compared with the same 11-month period in 2012, according to Census figures. And that’s up 39 percent from the first 11 months of 2011 – though it’s still half what it was in 2004, when 1,503 permits were issued.
“Things are looking very bright,” said David Capretto, president of luxury builder Forbes-Capretto Homes, which put up 55 homes in 2013, with an average price of $500,000. “We would expect probably close to a 50 percent increase in closings for 2014 versus 2013.”
That’s in part because for the first time in many years, local builders are starting the year working through a backlog of sales that carried over from December. Essex Homes of Western New York, for example, has 13 “carryover” deals that were sold in 2013 but won’t be completed until this year. A year ago, it had only four pending deals.
“It was a great year. I would project it to continue in that way,” said Philip J. Nanula, president of the company, which employs 15 and plans to hire three this year. “I was nervous in the beginning part of 2013 because we only had the four carry-overs. But it came on in gangbusters after the first of the year. We ran out. We replenished virtually every one we had.”
Marrano/Marc Equity Corp., one of the region’s busiest builders, signed 20 sales contracts just in December, “which is unheard of,” and already had 55 houses with construction orders carrying into 2014. “And it’s only Jan. 9,” said John Manns, vice president of sales and marketing for the home builder, in an interview early this month. Marrano sales were up 30 percent last year, and Manns said officials expect another 17 percent gain this year.
As a result, builders say, both they and their subcontractors are adding jobs – a stark change from the cutbacks that started in 2009. Nationwide, a report from the Associated General Contractors of America found that residential building contractors added the most jobs of any part of the construction field in December, with 4,800 positions across the country.
“We’re very busy in the hunt and search for talent. We’ve got 50 houses to deliver, so we have to have the workforce,” said Manns of Marrano, whose firm has 35 employees and is interviewing for project managers, framers, drywall installers and other skilled professionals.
“What we’re seeing is cautious optimism from consumers,” said David Stapleton, owner of David Homes and David Communities. “We’re going to see probably a little bit of an uptick.”
The specter of rising interest rates is also playing a role. The increase of one percentage point was enough to spur many potential home buyers to jump off the fence or risk losing out on the boom times, builders said.
And the changed dynamics of the existing home market – a low supply of homes for sale and higher prices amid stiff competition – has people looking at new homes than before.
“It’s turned from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market,” Nanula said. “We had people right now who are signing contracts before they list their home for sale, because they’re nervous that their home will sell too quickly. We haven’t had that level of confidence in the marketplace in years.”
The activity is happening across the board, by geography, by product type and by price. Projects include a mixture of single-family free-standing homes, townhomes, patio homes and villas.
For example, Amherst had issued 68 permits for single-family homes by the end of November, up from 52 in the same period a year earlier, Census figures show. In Clarence, 139 permits were issued, up from 97 a year earlier. Hamburg and Orchard Park had 125 and 57, respectively, compared with 106 and 22 a year ago.
“I don’t have a soft market right now. All my markets are strong,” said Manns, whose company is operating in 18 different parts of the region.
In the City of Buffalo, Burke Homes is mostly finished with its first phase of the new Colvin Estates subdivision. The last of 24 homes is under construction, though all have been sold, and the company is starting sales and site development for the next 30, on the way to a total of 105 to 110 homes.
Similarly, Essex Homes is now embarking on a 108-unit patio home project called Essex Greens at Waterford in Clarence after purchasing land for more than $3 million. The developer is still waiting for approval from the state because the project entails condo status, but Essex already has 20 reservations for the first 34 lots.
Buyers continue to seek nicer amenities and upgrades, such as hardwood or ceramic floors, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, which have almost become the “norm”. Tile master-bathroom showers are also still in demand.
“Where before a lower-priced home might have had laminate countertops, now they want granite,” Nanula said.