This past Saturday, the Statesboro Home Builders Association held its annual Parade of Homes and Home Show. With the real estate market as slow as it has been in probably a decade, I went to the vendor part of event held at the association's headquarters with a keen sense of curiosity.
How are my building "buddies" doing? How are those serving the home building industry doing? I am glad to say, better than I thought. The feeling was much more upbeat than I had anticipated, and there was a steady stream of people coming through.
Keely Fennell serves as president of the organization and is a partner in Nesmith Construction, a local construction and real estate development firm. Both Fennell and Jamey Cartee, owner of St. Andrews Builders, agreed that the conditions for building a home right now are the best that they have been in years.
"I guess as an industry, we have not done a very good job of getting that message out," Fennell said. "But the reality is the costs of most of the materials used in building are down and interest rates are very low."
"I'll give you an example," Cartee said. "Sheets of plywood are selling for about $4.75 a piece. In the last few years, I have seen the price as high as $15 a sheet. Sheet rock prices were down as much as 30 percent. They have crept up a little, but are still well below where they were at the height of the building boom."
Fennell said it is difficult to say how much downward impact the lower material prices will have on the cost of building a home now, because the building code for this area has changed.
"As of last July, we have had to build to a higher wind load standard, which means more material is required to build a home than before that time," she said. "That pushed the cost of building up, but then that increase has been offset by lower material costs. It just depends on what you put into the home that will determine the ultimate cost. But, it is still a very good time to build, and frankly, builders have more time to spend with their clients, because the crazy, busy times are behind us now."
I asked Fennell if there had been any attrition in the building "ranks" given the slower real estate economy.
"What I would refer to as 'part-time' builders are gone," she said. "And, we have had some 'full-time' builders get out of the business. There were some builders that did not want to go through the licensing process to become state certified general contractors which is new requirement. I would say the builders that are left, are busy and seem to be in good shape."
And the real estate market itself? "I would say the thing that is hurting us the most right now is that people are trying to sell their homes in other communities so that they can move here and buy a house," she said. "They are not able to sell their homes. What is happening elsewhere is having a huge impact on us."