The Business Journal: "Amid Slow-But-Steady Recovery, Valley Builders Waiting To Shift Into Higher Gear"


Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That seems to be the sentiment lately among Valley homebuilders as many appear hesitant to shift into a higher gear construction-wise, especially after getting burned holding neighborhoods of excess inventory less than a decade ago during the Great Recession.

After the Valley’s housing market peaked in 2005 — and then was hit by the fallout caused by the financial crisis, the median sales price of residential real estate fell by nearly 50 percent.

A slow, but steady recovery that took hold beginning in 2012 has re-inflated the market to some degree, but as of the beginning of Q4 2016, Valley housing prices remain about 21 percent below their pre-recession peak.

The pace of the recovery has encouraged many area homebuilders to take a “go slow” approach to ramping up new home construction activity, especially in the so-called “starter home” category.

But that doesn’t mean builders have idled their equipment and crews for the season. In Madera, McCaffrey Homes has broken ground on its new 2,000-acre, master planned community along the Highway 41 corridor. The company is well underway on construction on new model homes for the first two neighborhoods at Riverstone.

Granville Homes remains very active in the Fresno area market, with new developments completed or well underway at Sunnyside, La Ventana and Copper River Ranch.

In the South Valley, San Joaquin Homes continues to be among the most active builders, with its newest 84-home development in Dinuba — Viscaya — scheduled to hold a grand opening Nov. 12. Viscaya is SJV Homes’ seventh Tulare County development and tenth joint venture with Presidio Residential Capital, a San Diego-based firm.

SJV Homes is also building a 144-home subdivision in Visalia called Pine River Estates that is scheduled to open in December.

“San Joaquin Valley Homes has grown by 100 homes per year since 2013,” said Joe Leal, the Visalia-based company’s president, who said this week that he believes the market is “continuing to recover from a long period of inactivity. “

“[New] home buyers are careful shoppers,” Leal added. “They will always gravitate to beautiful homes in well-located neighborhoods where their children can attend excellent schools.”

According to the Construction Monitor, Lennar has been the most active Valley homebuilder in 2016, building 453 new homes valued at more than $119 million.

Woodside Homes has been the second most active Fresno area homebuilder, completing 257 new homes so far this year.

Wilson Homes (239 new homes), Granville (150 new homes), Bonadelle (138 new homes), San Joaquin Valley (233 new homes), Benchmark (141 new homes), Wathen Castanos (172 new homes) McCaffrey (138 new homes) and Gleneagles (37 new homes) round out the top ten of most active area homebuilders in 2016.

“There has been some talk lately about increasing inventory but builders don’t want to get too far ahead of the curve,” said Mike Prandini, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Fresno/Madera Counties. “Right now we’re only building a few thousand units a year in Fresno County. I know the demand is higher than that.”

Andy Nazaroff, CEO of Guarantee Real Estate, the area’s largest residential real estate company, said the Fresno market has “an inventory” problem.

Nazaroff said that the majority of recent sales — about 75 percent — have taken place at the sub-$300,000 level. “There is a real shortage of inventory in the first-time buyer and seller category,” Nazaroff said, adding that in today’s market, first-time sellers are hesitant to list their properties “because they are afraid they won’t be able to buy anything to replace their homes with because they still don’t have enough equity” to move up.

In the South Valley, both Kings and Tulare counties are on track for solid years in terms of new home construction in the high $200,000 to high $300,000 price range.

Mike Lane, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Tulare and Kings Counties, expects about 1,200 new homes to be built in Tulare in 2016 and about 600 in Kings County.

“In terms of permits, we’re at about the same pace as last year,” Lane said. “We’re holding our own but clearly not trending upward yet. One of my guys told me recently that he’s not doing any spec construction. He’s only building if the project is pre-sold.”

Darcy Staberg, owner of DS Realty in Exeter and the current president of the Tulare County Realtors Association, said she expects the new home “starter market” in Tulare County to remain tight because of the lack of available land for development.

“There are plenty of affordable homes in Tulare County,” Staberg said. “They’re just not new.”

Staberg said that only a couple of active Tulare County homebuilders are offering new homes in the $230,000 to $250,000 price range.

“Most of the new homes going up in our area right now are priced in the high $200,000 to low $300,000 range,” Staberg said. “But as long as they don’t have to have a brand new home, first time homebuyers in places like Visalia and Tulare have plenty of inventory to choose from in the $100,000 to $150,000 range” — a price point that, given today’s higher land acquisition and construction costs, is virtually impossible for new homebuilders in the Valley to compete with.

Lisa Walker