Indy-area builders see surge in single-family building permits

Indy-area builders see surge in single-family building permits

John Lazaro begs the patience of folks trying to reach him. Business for the co-owner of highly rated J.R. Lazaro Builders in Avon is good right now; really good. Don’t fret, though. Lazaro happily returns his messages.

“There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand due to the dismal economy of the last five to six years,” Lazaro says. “Customers are selling their existing homes very quickly since the housing inventory is low. So, there are a lot of requests for new homes and remodeling.”

Those new home requests in the Indianapolis area combined to create a 25 percent increase through August of this year over the same period in 2012 for single-family building permits, according to the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis. The area breakdown looks like this: Indianapolis issued the most permits in the metro area for August — 68 — bringing the city’s annual total so far to 456. Planners in Hamilton County’s ever-growing town of Fishers received 61 permit requests, making that area’s total 451 for the first eight months of 2013. Other cities’ permits totals for August include: Carmel, 43; Noblesville and Westfield, 34; Greenwood, 32; Avon, 23; Zionsville, 17; and Brownsburg, 15. In all, through August, just over 3,500 permits have been issued this year in the metro area.

Steve Lains, CEO of BAGI says the continued strength of permit numbers speaks well of the local marketplace. “Characteristically, August numbers tend to dip from June and July,” Lains says in a press release issued by BAGI. “Seeing our numbers continue to rise is a strong indicator of a stable economy in the greater Indianapolis area.”

The increase in Central Indiana plays out on the national level as well. Experts at the National Association of Home Builders say that the number of U.S. single-family housing starts in 2013 is predicted to be 629,000, an increase of some 17 percent over last year. And NAHB administrators believe those numbers will continue to climb, with single-family housing start predictions for 2014 and 2015 of 826,000 and more than 1 million, respectively.

While those numbers aren’t yet at pre-recession rates, Robert Denk, NAHB’s assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis says things are moving in the right direction.

Nationwide housing starts will reach 71 percent of normal levels by the fourth quarter of 2014, and 93 percent of normal levels by the end of 2015, he says in a press release issued by NAHB.

That’s good news for builders like Lazaro and Kent Shaffer, owner of highly rated Kent Shaffer Builders in Zionsville. “We have managed to stay very busy,” Shaffer says. “Hopefully [it’s] a sign that the market is coming back.” He says today’s buyers are doing their homework before choosing a builder. “We find that our clients are more price conscious and instead of going with the first builder they speak to, are now getting three to five bids from different builders before making a decision.”

Still, sometimes even after making that decision, things change. Looming retirement and a job transfer to Indianapolis forced the hands of Angie's List members Jim and Judy Leslie when they built their new home two years ago on the city’s Far Northwestside near Lafayette Road. But conflict with their first builder led them to Shaffer, who came highly recommended, Jim says. “After several months of discussing plans and making some headway, [the first builder] stopped responding to my calls and emails,” he says. So the couple turned to Shaffer after checking references and discussing the project with him. “While there was little incentive for building our ‘dream home’ [at that time], it was time for me to retire and for us to be nearer our children. What worked in our favor was skilled tradesmen were available, resulting in no delays due to manpower or material.”

The Leslies’ $600,000 dream home features amenities such as a first floor master suite, complete with a closet boasting a large center island dresser and chest of drawers. Other special touches include window seats with storage in the upstairs bedrooms and a wine closet just off the recreation room.

Building was the furthest thing from Noblesville Angie's List member Joy Whalin’s mind when she and her daughter stopped on a whim to view a model house built by highly rated Silverthorne Homes. But the two almost instantly fell in love with the look, feel and features of the model, and so after talking with the saleswoman, Whalin decided to go for it. She’s happy she did. “We were able to get it just as we wanted it, adding all of the extras,” Whalin says. “We are very proud and pleased.”

The Whalins’ new $380,000 home in the Essex of Noblesville neighborhood closely resembles the model and “sits on an absolutely gorgeous lot. There’s a pond behind us and a woods behind that,” she says, adding that inside, it has a strong ‘wow’ factor. “There’s a sunken family room that has 20-foot-high ceilings. The upstairs, rather than having all the bedrooms right in a row, is curved so everything overlooks the family room.”

Whalin’s master suite includes a 12-foot-long closet, she says, and a master bath that’s as big as a bedroom. This home is one the family intends to stay in, she says, adding, after three years, they have no regrets. “We’ve never been unhappy, never had that thought that, ‘Oh, we should not have done this.’ I am retired. We’ll stay here until my granddaughter, who is 10, is out of school I’m sure,” Whalin says.

Lazaro says now is a good time to build, but he cautions clients considering new construction to not wait too long. “The big issues coming forth will be land availability, since it takes two years or so to put in a new subdivision from conception to reality, and there have been very few subdivisions put in the ground in the last five years.”

What’s more, Lazaro says a shortage of skilled tradespeople — an issue Angie’s List reported on in February — is starting to get critical. “There were many people that left the industry [during the downturn] and the youth of today need to realize that there are a lot of well-paying jobs available, if they are willing to learn a trade and work in the skilled-labor field.”

First-time homebuyers, like Indianapolis AL member Jesse Kurth and his family, benefited from those skilled laborers. Kurth built his home in 2011 as part of a neighborhood growth program backed by the Near North Development Corporation, a nonprofit with a mission of stabilizing the neighborhoods from New York Street to 38th Street between I-65 and Pennsylvania Street. Kurth says the family turned to building when existing inventory did little to spark their imaginations. “My wife and I had walked through about 40 existing homes in Indy in our price range and didn’t find anything that would work for us,” Kurth says. In older, established neighborhoods, they say the homes didn’t include their wish list for modern amenities such as large closets. Then the Kurths learned of the NNDC and hired highly rated Carley Custom Builders, headquartered on East 46th Street near Gardner Park, utilizing the program’s grant dollars to take the cost of the $170,000 home down to just under $100,000.

“We started with about a half dozen example floor plans of other homes [Carley] built with the square footage in our price range,” Kurth says. “We picked one that was close to what we wanted and customized from there.”

For instance, the home’s plan called for a back porch that the Kurths converted into a mudroom/laundry room area. The family split the space slated to house the original laundry room, utilizing some of that square footage for the master bathroom and the rest for a Jack and Jill bathroom.

“They were fantastic to work with and we love our home,” Kurth says. “It’s been the perfect arrangement for us and our young family.”

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Who buys the first house he looks at? Turns out, Doug Curran did just that.

Admittedly, however, the Franklin Angie’s List member counts himself lucky that the house he now calls home was still available roughly six months after his first tour. “It was move-in ready,” Curran says. “But because it was the house we looked at first, we just kept looking.”

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