Jun 30, 2009

Where Are the Healthiest Housing Markets in the Country in 2009? And Yes There Are Some

Builder Magazine, in conjunction with Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, debuts its metric for determining markets with the best and least potential. Virtually every housing market was down last year. But a close look at the numbers reveals that some markets have outperformed others during the last four years and are likely to continue to do so this year.

When the housing market begins to recover, it will be the healthy markets that lead the parade. While the healthiest markets have many things in common, the one single thing that the healthiest of healthy markets all have in common – at least the item of commonality I most like – all of the top markets are in Texas.

The list below is reprinted from Builder Magazine Online. To compile these lists, we analyzed the top 75 housing markets in the country. We ranked them based on population trends and job growth, perennial drivers of housing demand. We also examined what’s happened with home prices; many of the healthiest markets have managed to hold the line on home values. And finally, we considered the rate building permits, which may be the single best ongoing indicator of builder confidence in a market. We combined all these metrics to produce a score for each market. Here are the top 5, in reverse order.

#5 Dallas, Texas

2008 total building permits: 26,145

In a year when building permits declined by 35% nationally, the Dallas market only experienced a 9 percent drop. With a Metroplex population of more than 6.3 million, Dallas was the third largest home building market last year, as measured in permits pulled. Employers in Dallas, a popular place for corporate relocation and expansion, added 42,000 jobs last year, a growth rate of 2 percent. Existing-home prices have held steady, falling a paltry 3.4 percent in the last year. Interestingly, the face of residential construction has changed dramatically in Dallas in recent years; 58 percent of the activity last year was in multifamily, compared to a five-year average of 23 percent. The relative stability of the market, though, wasn’t enough to prevent Wall Homes from filing for bankruptcy earlier this year. On the other hand, former Meritage co-CEO John Landon recently started a new Dallas-based home building company. Present market conditions aside, outstanding buying opportunities are available in the Dallas and Plano housing markets, like Lexington Park at Rice Field a new urban community in Plano being developed by Lexington Luxury Builders.

#4 San Antonio, Texas

2008 total building permits: 10,261

San Antonio is another Texas market that is still adding jobs, about 18,000 last year. A city of more than 2 million people now, its population is also growing, at a 2.8 percent annual clip through last year. Existing-home prices are barely declining in San Antonio, down less than 1 percent in the last year, to an affordable median price of $152,800, 25 percent below the national average of $200,500, according to the National Association of Realtors. The upper end of the housing market was hurt recently when AT&T announced it would be moving its corporate headquarters to Dallas.

#3 Fort Worth, Texas

2008 Total Building Permits: 10,388

Fort Worth, always operating in the shadow of higher profile Dallas, nevertheless can currently claim to have a slightly healthier housing market, based on its employment growth, relatively strong permit activity, and inexpensive housing. Now the 14th largest home building market in the country, Ft. Worth’s builders pulled 10,388 permits last year, roughly two-thirds of them single-family. That may be half as many as 2005, but many other major markets showed much sharper drop-offs. The relative strength of the Fort Worth market in recent years stems from its ties to the oil and gas industries, which has fueled above-average job growth. The metro area added 17,300 jobs last year.

#2 Austin, Texas

2008 Total Building Permits: 14,250

Nine years ago, during the tech bust, some builders felt that Austin was too crowded and left. The bloom is back on Austin’s yellow rose now; it moved up the leader board to become the sixth largest home building market last year. Job creation explains the move. While other markets lost employment, Austin added 17,400 jobs last year, 2.3 percent growth rate. It helps that Austin is home to both a major university, The University of Texas, and the state capital. Existing homes cost a little bit more in Austin than other Texas markets, roughly $188,600, but that’s still below the national average. Also, Austin is one of the few metro areas in the country where median prices actually rose in 2008--2.7 percent. Amazingly, Austin now generates more home building activity than Chicago, which has six times more people.

#1 Houston, Texas

2008 Total Building Permits: 42,697

They like to do things big in Houston. Now the metro area, home to more than 5.8 million people, can lay claim to being the largest home building market in the country, with 42,697 building permits. The market is still benefiting from an influx of population and jobs and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Employment was up 2.5 percent last year, representing the addition of an incredible 65,000 jobs. Home building activity in Houston has only fallen 31 percent since 2005. Also, existing-home prices rose in Houston through the first three quarters of last year. They finished the year at a median of $151,600, even with the previous year. Roughly one-third of the home building action is in Harris County, followed by Houston proper and Fort Bend County. One of Houston’s largest builders, Royce Homes, shut down last year, and Kimball Hill, one of the biggest builders in Texas, closed its doors this year after it failed to find a buyer.

It’s a wonderful list…if you’re in Texas.

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Jun 25, 2009

Will Green-Built Homes of the Future Solve Our Energy Problems, What Will They Look Like? It Appears That Most Are Destined to be Very Unusual, While Some Look… Downright Traditional

What will the energy-efficient house of the future look like? The Wall Street Journal recently ran an extensive article which speculates about this very subject, much of which is repeated below. While it is an excellent piece, some of the ideas discussed in the article as possibilities ran to the absurd, note some of the examples.
imageFuturistic homes may have gardens on their walls or ponds stocked with fish for dinner. They might mimic trees, turning sunlight into energy and carbon dioxide into oxygen. Or perhaps they will be more like chameleons, changing color to suit the weather and healing itself when damaged.
Those are a handful of the possibilities that emerged from an exercise in futurism, in which the Wall Street Journal asked four architects to each design an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable house without regard to cost, technology, aesthetics or the way we are used to living. This mission, of course, ignores many of the responsibilities typically borne by architects.
They didn’t want to design anything impossible or unlikely, thus limiting what would likely have been more extreme design examples. Instead, the architects were asked to project technology that might be possible in the next few decades. The participating architects came up with houses that are edible and others which mimic trees. So much for eliminating the unlikely.
image A fresh look at the way homes are designed is overdue, especially when you consider the impact houses have on the environment. Buildings use tremendous amounts of energy, approximately 40% of the energy used in the country along with generating 40% of the green house gasses,according to the US Energy Department. They also cause the equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions.
That people are beginning to understand this impact goes a long way to explaining why the green building trend is exploding; even as the economy struggles and home-building is the weakest its been in generations. So, green building is trending up, but will green homes help solve the energy puzzle? The WSJ article provides a gander into the future.

Out on a Limb

home-grown"I'd love to build a house like a tree," says architect William McDonough of the Charlottesville, Virginia firm William McDonough + Partners. And that's what he set out to do here.
The surface of his house, like a leaf, contains a photosynthetic layer that captures sunlight. Unlike today's solar panels, which are often pasted above a roofline, these are woven into the fabric of the exterior. They heat water and generate electricity for the home -- and create oxygen for the atmosphere, to offset carbon produced in other areas of the home.
The appeal of ultrathin, integrated solar panels goes beyond convenience. Solar is plain ugly and off-putting to many homeowners, something McDonough calls the "potpourri of miscellany stuck on our roofs." Unseen solar arrays, especially ones that create hot water, will be a "breakthrough from aesthetic perspective, which is a huge issue," he says.
As for the rest of the design, McDonough envisions a sleek, curved roof with generous eaves to provide shade, which lowers the heat load in summer, thereby reducing the need for energy-hogging air conditioning. The roof also insulates and provides an outdoor garden. More details are contained in the WSJ article.

The Reptile House

connecting-people-natureIf the previous house is a tree, this one is a lizard, whose skin is among its most important features for survival. Cook + Fox's house has a "biomorphic" skin that reacts to the weather, turning dark in the bright sun to insulate the house from heat and turning clear on dark days to absorb as much light and heat as possible.
The façade also captures rain and condensation to fill the home’s water needs much like a desert-dwelling lizard rolls drops of dew from its nose to its mouth. The house of the future will look toward nature's way of solving problems as much as it looks to technology, a concept called biomimicry. "You need to view a house as a surface area for life, as opposed to a thing to be power-washed," he says.
What's more, toilets and washrooms are separated, serving more people with less space. Making a house that's more conducive to work is important for energy efficiency because it eliminates driving -- and thus reduces energy consumption. Refer to the WSJ article for additional details.

Meals at Home

cook-fox-houseRios Clementi Hale Studios cheekily calls their concept the "Incredible Edible House." Come on. Really? This somewhat fantastical design seems to be as much about the future of food production as architecture. The façade is slathered in a vertical garden that includes chickpeas, tomatoes, arugula and green tea. Step outside in the morning and harvest your meals. The plants both nourish the inhabitants and provide shade and cooling, absorbing heat better than a wall made of wood, brick, stucco or glass.
Los Angeles based Rios Clementi Hale has a reputation for innovative designs. Its best-known works include the angular red, ochre and green-striped campus of the California Endowment in downtown Los Angeles.
But the plants aren't the only striking feature of the design. At three stories, the edible house is also more vertical than the typical suburban home, a nod to the importance of building dense, urban-style houses in order to reduce energy use. A rooftop reservoir collects water and keeps the building cool; rooftop windmills generate energy.
The house is also put together in an intriguing way: It's made of three prefabricated containers stacked on top of each other that can be moved on a trailer if the mood fits. This method exists today, but it's not used very much, since homeowners associate prefabrication with lower-end homes. But the benefits for lowering energy use are substantial. The standardized construction in prefabricated homes reduces defects that can hamper energy conservation. And it's easier to ship prefabricated parts, which means reduced fuel use for deliveries. Read more in the WSJ article.

Learning From the Past

Looking to the future isn't the only way to be innovative. The house from architect Steve Mouzon, of Mouzon Design in Miami Beach, Florida, uses tomorrow's technologies while mining ancient techniques to reduce energy use.
For instance, solar paneling built directly into the roof and façade provides electricity and hot water. But the house also employs a "breeze chimney," an architectural tool used by the ancients, as a kind of old-school air conditioning. The difference between the air pressure in the chimney and outside causes hot air to flow out of the chimney stack and cooler air to enter through windows and doors.
"It must make sense first," says Mouzon, a so-called New Urbanist architect who believes in traditional designs that emphasize pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. His house "isn't trying to do wild and wacky things with roof shapes or wall shapes but a good sensible building that is highly lovable. It is inventive where it needs to be."
Like Rios Clementi Hale, Mouzon sees the house as a source of food. He would add "melon cradles," an invention he says he thought up for this project, to allow heavy melons and other vegetables to grow vertically up the sides of his house.
Another of his innovative ideas would require Americans to do more than just feed the goldfish bowl: He would install tilapia pools in a "kitchen garden" to provide fresh fish to the homeowner. It's among the most energy-efficient ways to raise animal protein, Mouzon says.
But the most important order for Mouzon is to make the house compact. "The smaller thing you can create, the more sustainable it is." In fact, that's something that all four of our architects agree on: Americans need to learn to live in smaller spaces if we are going to make an impact on the environment. Now we know at the very least that these particular architects have no intention of fostering classical designs.

Classical, Traditional Homes Offered in the Alternative

As an alternative to these rather extreme designs, Dallas homebuilder Lexington Luxury Builders has conceived and built Lexington Park at Rice Field a new urban neighborhood of Green Built Homes in Downtown Plano Texas.
Lexington Park at Rice Field by Lexington Luxury Builders
I have a slightly different angle on the future of green building and sustainable design, and mine is decidedly simpler than any of those mentioned above. I’m going to build sustainably designed, green-built homes that look precisely like any other home in the marketplace. I think that Americans absolutely love the idea of buying energy efficient, green built homes, but they are horribly afraid of those homes looking…unusual. Or even downright funky. Green built homes don’t have to look funky or unusual. In fact, they needn’t look any different than any other home, and I believe that the green building movement will meet much wider acceptance when designers and builders reach this conclusion. This is what our green built homes look like. Visit Lexington Park at Rice Field to learn more. The Heritage Townhomes at Lexington Park are now available for purchase from $249,000 and for lease with rental rates ranging from $1,350 to $1,995 per month.
Scott Schaefer, CEO of Dallas homebuilder Lexington Luxury Builders is a Certified Green Building Professional
Excerpts from The Green House of the Future - WSJ.com by Alex Frangos

Jun 1, 2009

New-Home Inventory Falls Further in March | Lexington Luxury Blog

The number of newly built, single-family homes on the market declined for a 23rd consecutive month in March as builders focused on working through the inventory of unsold homes, according to new-home sales data reported by the US Commerce Department.


The inventory shrank to 311,000 units, which is a 10.7-month supply at the current sales pace.

“Builders are doing a great job of thinning the supply of unsold homes and positioning themselves for a slow but steady housing recovery,” noted NAHB Chairman Joe Robson. “The March numbers are a welcome sign that the market is stabilizing as some of the best home buying conditions in a lifetime are drawing consumers off the fence and back into the market.”

The latest government data indicated that new-home sales in March remained virtually on pace with a relatively strong, upwardly revised figure from the previous month. Sales were reported at a seasonally adjusted, annual rate of 356,000 units, which was off just 0.6% from February.

Things are even better in the Dallas Fort Worth market. DFW ranks second in the nation in new home sales and starts.

“In line with NAHB’s forecasts, we continue to see evidence that the new-home sales market is bottoming out as historically low mortgage rates, attractive home prices and incentives like the newly created $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit spur more interest among consumers,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe.

“That’s particularly true in the West,” he said, “where a 15% gain in March can be attributed in part to California’s implementation of an up-to-$10,000 tax credit for buyers of newly built homes — which, when combined with the federal first-time buyer credit, creates a sizable inducement to purchase.”

Regionally, new-home sales activity was somewhat mixed in March, with the two largest markets posting the best results. The West registered a 15.1% gain, while the South held even with the previous month’s improved sales pace, the Midwest posted a 7.8% drop and the Northeast experienced a 32% decline.

Story Excerpts from: New-Home Inventory Falls Further in March | Lexington Luxury Blog, New-Home Inventory Whittled Down Further in March