Real Estate Round-Up
Home remodeling is out of style: In down economy, remodelers deal with the "yearof the small job"
Houstonians arenâ€™t building as many new houses as they used to. So wouldnâ€™t it make sense if they stayed put and fixed up their existing home? Wouldnâ€™t a nice remodeling job make it a little more livable for the long run?
Well, itâ€™s not happening that way.
Homeowners arenâ€™t tackling many major remodeling projects. And when they do call a remodeler, the homeowner is spending conservatively.
Remodelers say 2011 is pretty much like 2010 â€” the year of the small job. For the most part, remodelers try to eke out a living with simple bathroom and kitchen re-dos. Forget about the elaborate whole-house remodels and room additions with price tags of more than $300,000.
The days of insisting on high-end Viking stoves, Kohler sinks or Hansgrohe faucets are gone.
â€śPeople are being very, very cautious,â€ť says Houston remodeler Dan Bawden, owner of Legal Eagle Contractors. â€śA lot of homeowners have money, but they are just really reluctant to spend it right now. Everybody is holding it close to the vest. â€ś
Bawden, former president of the Greater Houston Builders Association, says he was hearing the same downbeat theme as he met with other Texas remodelers in late October at the Sunbelt Builders Show in Austin.
Homeowners and spending less for remodeling, and when they do â€” they spend conservatively.
The days of insisting on high-end Viking stoves, Kohler sinks or Hansgrohe faucets are gone, for most homeowners, Bawden says. Having a sexy brand-name kitchen sink isnâ€™t so important when youâ€™re worried about a double-dip recession.
â€śPeople are being more careful for what they pick for fixtures. itâ€™s really interesting,â€ť Bawden says. â€śThey are seeking out less expensive materials all across the board â€” tile, plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures â€” in order to keep the project cost down as much as possible."
The outlook for an immediate turnaround is not good. The Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University predicts the nationâ€™s remodeling business will be soft until mid-year 2012, at least. The sluggish national economy and realty market will dampen any recovery move in remodeling, the Harvard study says.
â€śHomeowners are continuing to undertake smaller jobs, but are still nervous about larger discretionary projects,â€ť says Kermit Baker, director of the Harvard program.
In the meantime, remodelers are placing hope in any trendlet they can find, such as seniors housing.
Baby Boomers have been remodeling homes in order to make a place for their aging parents, i.e. the mother-in-law suite. And other remodeling jobs that adapt homes so that seniors can stay in their houses as they age have been a popular thing.
A couple of years ago when the housing market crashed, remodeling registered an uptick because people decided remodel and stay put. But that trend has played out, Bawden says.
The Houston housing market continues to sail away from the doldrums.
The Houston Association of Realtors reported 4,635 single-family home sales in September, up 17 percent from September of last year. Itâ€™s the fourth month in a row that sales volume has increased. And the inventory of homes for sale has been declining â€” a true indicator of an improving market.
The HAR reported 47,812 properties were listed for sale in September, an 11.5 percent decline from a year ago.
Home prices have been rising a bit, too. The median single-family home price is up 1.7 percent over September of last year.
Itâ€™s true that the local home market was awful in 2010. So when you make comparisons to last year, you are making comparisons against some very dark days. But the realty market is definitely brighter in 2011 and the recovery has some sustained traction.
Signs of Confidence
Houston real estate companies have been adding new offices, an indicator that residential sales and getting better and realtors are gaining more confidence in the economy.
Intero Real Estate Services, a major residential brokerage firm in the Silicon Valley, recently opened an office in the West Ave development. Katie Maxwell, whoâ€™s heading up the Intero office, said the firm is hyper-focused on the Inner Loop for now, but look for additional Intero offices to be unveiled soon.
Heritage Texas Properties just opened its 13th office. The newest Heritage outlet is in Katy in the Icon Bank building on Cinco Ranch Boulevard.
Weichert Realtors â€“ Wayne Murray Properties recently opened a new office in The Woodlands. And Martha Turner, the namesake of Martha Turner Properties, says there are several communities in the Houston metropolitan area that she wants to penetrate with new offices.
These expansions are being conducted by smart operators with a track record of knowing how to make money by selling houses.
Listen up: Martha Turner, Wayne Murray and Heritage owner Robin Mueck have been around the block a few times. And when the battle-hardened veterans of Houston real estate are planning to open new offices, it means the real estate rebound canâ€™t be far off.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is founding editor of RealtyNewsReport.com.