14-year low number of homes built

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Neighboring homes are for sale in Franklin. A flood of homes on the market has slowed home construction. EMILY COLLINS | TIDEWATER NEWS

COURTLAND—In an average year, Franklin contractor Jim Hart constructs five to six custom-built homes.

In 2010, the owner of Hart Construction Co. built three.

“I’ll be very lucky and will feel very fortunate to have two houses to build this year,” he said.

Contractors like Hart are feeling the pinch, and the numbers support it. Southampton County supervisors during their recent meeting learned that new housing starts for 2010 were at a 14-year low. Construction was started on 44 homes — which included stick and modular construction valued at a total of $10 million.

Since 1997, new home starts peaked in 2005 with 164. One year earlier, there were 111. In 2006, the number fell to 137 and 112 in 2007. New homes tumbled to 52 in 2008 and 49 in 2009.

County Administrator Mike Johnson said the housing slump is a sign of the impact of the national recession and the state economy.

“There’s a lot of inventory on the market,” Johnson said.

According to the Real Estate Information Network, there are 128 active listings in the City of Franklin, 12 of which are pending sales.

Southampton County has 134 active listings and 24 pending sales, while Isle of Wight has 193 active listings and 30 pending sales.

The flooded housing market has impacted Franklin contractor Bobby Tyler’s business. The owner of R.W. Tyler Associates built three new homes in 2010, but as many as 25 to 30 in 2007 and 2008.

“For 2011, I see us building probably no houses, or one or two,” Tyler said. “Until we remove some of the homes that are for sale, I don’t see that happening. Housing prices have dropped terribly to a historic low.”

Tyler began building homes 35 years ago; he said 2010 was his worst year.

“There’s nothing you can do about it. Absolutely nothing,” he said. “We don’t have any control over this — the regulations and banking industry essentially created this. Builders respond to demand. Those regulations created that demand, and now we’re stuck with what occurred. You can’t borrow money now.”

Hart feels fortunate to have a number of additions, garages and remodeling jobs.

“Right now, that’s what’s keeping us busy,” he said. “That’s all we’re dong right now. We have jobs in Suffolk, and we’ve extended our area. I know one contractor who is working in Norfolk.”

Diversification is the key to surviving in a poor economy, Hart noted.

“Luckily, we’ve doing that all along,” he said.