Originally posted by the Santa Maria Times on April 26th, 2012
Most home builders have been on extended leave — or found other professions — since the housing market collapsed four years ago. But a few are strapping on their tool belts again this summer as at least one local builder begins building again.
The Towbes Group, developers of the gated community of Lavigna on the west side of Santa Maria, is beginning two new phases this year which will include 20 homes. A dozen will be started next month, according to Courtney Seeple, project manager for Towbes Group.
It’s a sign that’s promising for the Santa Maria housing market, and one that’s bucking the trend for new home construction throughout the country.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, sales of newly built, single-family homes dropped 7.1 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted rate of 328,000 units. That drop followed strong February sales which many experts attributed to mild winter weather across the country.
“Construction is continuing in the commercial and industrial sectors, but we are now seeing renewed interest in housing construction,” noted Santa Maria Community Development Director Larry Appel. “We have met with a number of local builders who are ready to resume construction in town.”
The Towbes Group has adjusted its new offerings at Lavigna to fit the still recovering housing market.
“Because of the times and our perception of the market, we have downsized these homes,” Seeple said. “We’re finding now that our smaller houses are some of our better houses.”
In its early phase, the development’s most popular designs were 1,800-square-feet and larger. The current phase is matching customer demand with models beginning around 1,200 square feet.
Three-car garages are among the most sought-after amenities, too.
Lavigna sales manager Teresa Shoneff said nine homes have been sold since the beginning of the year, and she believes the development’s new models and lower prices — smaller models start around $250,000 — are driving those sales.
“We’re seeing an end of some of the credit problems people had over the past few years,” Shoneff said. “We already have a waiting list for our next phase.”
Seeple said they aren’t seeing many people from outside the Santa Maria Valley among their buyers. He also said historically low interest rates on home loans are also driving the buyers.
“Our buyers are working Santa Maria people. Two jobs, working people,” he said.
While any residential construction is a good sign for the city and the industry, the Towbes Group might have the market cornered in Santa Maria. It was responsible for 22 of the 28 residential building permits issued by the city Community Development Department since Jan. 1, 2011.
In Santa Barbara County, 58 building permits have been issued for single-family homes so far in 2012 compared to 60 last year. The majority of those — 33 — have been in the unincorporated areas, with 10 in Lompoc.
In San Luis Obispo County 55 permits have been issued for single-family homes this year compared to 50 through the same time period in 2011.
“We’re seeing minor signs of an up-tick in activity. Certainly nothing to jump up and down about,” said Jerry Bunin, governmental affairs director for the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast. “It’s a minor step in the right direction.”