Housing market builds in area

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Suffolk’s housing market experienced a slight boom in the past few months, which local builders are attributing to a variety of causes.

Increased confidence in the housing market and a valuable homebuyers’ tax credit spurred an 83-percent increase in building permits in the first quarter of 2010, compared to the same period last year, developers agree.

“I absolutely think that the surge in new home activity has to do with the tax credit and the fact that it was expiring,” said Ginny Cross, sales and marketing manager for Ashdon Builders, which is developing the Orchard Cove community near Interstate 664. “We saw surges to meet that deadline.”

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According to a market report prepared by Suffolk-based Residential DataBank, 119 building permits were issued in the first three months of 2010, compared to 65 for the same period in 2009. Sales were also up slightly, to 101 in 2010 from 92 in 2009. Closings, however, went down, to 47 this year from 65 last year.

The homebuyer tax credits, $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for repeat homebuyers, have now expired, except for buyers who were under contract by April 30. Still, builders began working months in advance to ensure they had inventory to sell to people looking to take advantage of the credit, said Sindy Clifton, senior vice president with Lawson Homes, which is developing October at Fairdowns in Suffolk.

“Certainly, we’ve started more homes in the last quarter than we had in the quarter previously because of the tax credit situation,” Clifton said. “We wanted to ensure we meet any demand that might occur because of that.”

The decline in closings also could be attributed to the tax credit, said Terry Gearhart, vice president for sales and marketing of Terry Peterson Residential Companies, the developer of the King’s Fork Farm community.

Because the tax credit initially was supposed to end Nov. 30 and did not get expanded until very near that date, Gearhart speculated that many buyers who would have entered the market this year did so last year, instead.

“We pulled a lot of people forward in the market,” Gearhart said. “They thought, ‘Why not buy now?’ What happened following that, largely predictable, is that we saw a pretty good relaxation in the market.”

Gearhart also noted the time of year has plenty to do with new home starts.

“There are two major seasons for home sales — in the spring and the fall,” Gearhart said. Three or four months before the season begins, he said, the number of residential building permits typically rises.

The tax credit and other factors influencing builders were a welcome break after several hard years, Gearhart said.

“For three years, our mantra has been ‘Live to fight another day,’” Gearhart said, noting that the typical housing market cycle is three years down and five years up. “This particular downturn has exceeded that … but I think we have turned the corner, and we’re seeing small signs of a modest recovery now.”

The market now has slowed down for a while, Clifton said, but it should pick back up soon.

“Traffic historically drops off this time of year,” she said. “Everyone gets busy with school concerts, winding the school year down. That’s a function of the time of year more than anything. Hopefully, we’re going to have a great June.”