Less than a decade ago, builders pounded out 234 new homes in the Tri-Cities area in just one year (2003). That number slumped to 22 in 2009 when the real estate market tanked.
This year, a county official projects 80 new homes will be finished by the time the New Year ball descends.
At 1,300 square feet, the Fulton Avenue home is smaller than many structures built before the economic collapse. The owner went through several banks and many months of frustration to obtain financing for it.
But the new Grand Haven home flashes a spark of hope, a residential rebel rising from the weight of blight, stagnant property values and the cold reality of nearby foreclosures.
Local builder Jim Twa hasn't built a new home in five years. He's been building two — the Fulton Avenue home that's replacing a blighted home that was razed and another one in Muskegon — in the past three months.
Is it coincidence or is it the sign of an improving economy? It may be too early to tell. Many homeowners are opting to fix up their current digs rather than excavate into the unknown.
“Remodeling is still king,” Twa said. “Basement, bathroom and kitchen remodels are what I'm mostly seeing. Just in the last three months, I landed these two brand new houses. Both of them are small. That's definitely a trend I'm seeing — downsizing.”
In his quarter-century in business, Twa said he's endured cyclical ups and downs in the market, but nothing like the stall of recent years.
“I've never seen it this severe,” he said. “I've talked to some old-time builders and they've never seen this in their lifetime.”
Twa said the construction slump has caused many builders to leave the industry. He figures he's bidding on more projects now because there aren't as many builders to choose from.
Twa noted that, in the past few years, regulations have tightened to require builders to have stellar credit ratings to manage construction loans.
“Builders have to qualify nowadays and have to have good credit to manage the money that's coming from the bank," he said. "It's a new way of doing business.”
To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.