Builders Conference feels rebound in market


The National Association of Realtors index of Home Sales Agreements now reads 101.1 -- one point more than what's considered healthy for the first time in two years.

The recession and associated mortgage debacle gutted the homebuilder industry.

"Three-quarters of our business went away," said Meritage Homes CEO Steven Hilton.

"For a while I would tell you we had a perfect train wreck of everything that could have gone wrong did," said Taylor Morrison CEO Sheryl Palmer.

At the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco, homebuilders say things are looking up. McGraw-Hill Construction projects US construction starts will be up 2 percent this year, to $445 billion -- up from $434 billion last year, but new home sales taken alone will be bigger.

"Oh, much bigger number than that. I think sales for a lot of builders are up, at least a lot of the larger public buildings are up 30, 40 percent. In some cases more. Lennar came out today, their orders were up 41 percent," said Hilton.

Hilton says the turnaround just happened, thanks in large part to a low inventory of existing homes for sale.

"Just started earlier this year. I think February was sort of a sea change for the industry and the last four or five months have been strong for new home activity, particularly in Northern California," said Hilton.

"Being cautiously optimistic. At least we're putting 'optimistic' into our terminology," said Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co. president Peter Orser.

Orser and Taylor Morrison Homes ECO Sheryl Palmer joined Hilton on a panel at the conference, taking about the "new normal" for builders and buyers. They all say buyers are coming out of the woodwork with pent-up demand, though housing growth still depends on job growth.

"Location driven, location, location, location, the first rule of real estate," said Orser.

"There's a lot of good indicators that say that we're on the road to recovery and there's just not really ever been a better time to buy a new home," said Palmer.

What can buyers expect in this "new normal?" Well for one thing, there will be more opportunities to personalize a new home with builders more eager than ever to make the sale.

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