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Veteran homebuilders: Market has seen better days

Developers seeking a real estate rebound in coming months

Ben Bulkeley

With the sounds of hammers, drills and saws buzzing in the background, and employees busy, the home construction project Behrman Construction was working on May 28 in the Pine Ridge subdivision was well in hand.

“Things have been good, actually, for the last several years,” company owner V.W. “Lop” Behrman said.

However, that doesn’t necessarily include this year, said the veteran homebuilder with about 40 years experience in residential and commercial construction.

The home that his company was building in Pine Ridge – a 2,000 square foot home featuring four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a three-car garage – is a build job, meaning the home has already sold. It has a price tag of about $400,000.

After the job is finished, Behrman isn’t sure where his construction crew will head next. The home building market, he added, seems a bit shaky right now.

“The peak time was probably the last two years,” he said. “Now, that has tapered off. Right now, it’s really slow. This is the only house we have. Last year, I think we built four of them.

“It’s got to be pretty slow all around because we have people every day who come by wanting a job, so there’s got to be quite a bit of unemployment.”

Behrman, like other experienced homebuilders in Moffat County, traces the trouble his industry is having back to the overall uncertainty of the national economy.

Things are difficult now, he said, but that might not be the case when the economy turns, or at least when people regain confidence in the economy.

“Until they figure out what’s going on and release some money, a lot of people aren’t able to finance,” Behrman said. “I think it’s more like everybody’s scared right now because of the economy.

“Maybe the economy isn’t as bad as we think it is. Maybe it’s just that everybody’s a little bit nervous.”

Kruse Builders has been in the residential construction business for 10 years.

Jake Kruse said he also has seen a change in the market.

“It’s definitely slowed down,” he said. “The last three years, all the houses were pre-sold, and we were as busy as we wanted to be.”

Kruse said the slower market has changed how his company builds houses.

“Now, we have more spec houses,” he said. “Houses we build, and hope to sell. In the slow times, we advertise more and do more remodels.”

When business was good, Kruse and his crew were kept busy.

“During normal times, we’ll have three or four houses under construction at once,” Kruse said. “We have two right now.”

Most years, Kruse and his crew can expect to build as many as 11 houses. This year, they expect to build seven.

“It had been a steady climb up until the end of 2006,” Kruse said. “I would even say 2008 was an alright year, but this year has been slow.”

All the houses Kruse Builders are working on this year are spec homes. To keep busy now, the crew does all facets of construction.

“We’ve been saving a lot of the work for ourselves,” Kruse said. “Normally, we sub out the dry-walling and roofing, but we’re doing that ourselves.”

Kruse said he would know when the housing market has taken off.

“When someone has to wait to have their house built,” he explained.

“It’s unpredictable. We’re hoping with summer more people will be looking to buy. Right now is the best time to buy, with low interest rates, new incentives and the USDA loans.”

Kruse said houses that are selling are more expensive than what he is building.

“Bankers have said the houses in the $200,000 range are selling,” Kruse said. “It’s harder to build in that range because of construction and material costs and the cost of land.”

APH Construction, which has eight employees, started 30 years ago with a focus on homes.

Since then, more emphasis has been placed on commercial developments, president David Griffith said.

“We’ve kind of gotten away from the residential and moved toward commercial building,” Griffith said. “But, we still build houses.”

APH Construction’s work around town includes the new Yampa Valley Bank building on Mack Lane, which was built last year.

“This summer, we’ll have a lot of commercial work,” he said. “We’re staying busy – we’re booked through the summer.”

Griffith said commercial building shouldn’t taper off.

“I don’t see it slowing down, and I don’t think we’ll have any trouble,” he said. “This town is steady Eddie.”

But, Griffith said, the housing market is a different story.

“It’s definitely slowed down on the residential side,” Griffith said. “We’re seeing a lot more spec houses.”

Griffith said his company has been able to withstand most building slumps because of the type of work they perform.

“When we started in 1979, everybody was specialized,” Griffith said. “You had to contract out for concrete, sheetrock and framing. I think one of the ways guys stay in business here is if they can do all of these things.

“We’ll have guys pouring concrete one day and doing fine trim work the next. Sometimes, even on the same day.”


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