By Jason M. Reynolds
Chattanooga home builders erected half a billion dollars worth of new residences in Hamilton County in 2006, the second best year ever, data show.
"Townhouses are attracting baby boomers and are doing very well," said Thom Carmichael, president of the Home Builders Association of Southern Tennessee. "Single-family homes are attracting both first-time buyers and high-end owners."
Mr. Carmichael defined "high-end" owners as those with $700,000-plus homes.
The estimated retail value of all new houses built in Hamilton County last year was nearly $516 million, said Dale Akins, president of The Market Edge Inc., a home construction research firm. A total of 1,988 residential building permits were issued in the county in 2006, a 10.9 percent drop from 2005.
As strong as 2006 was, according to The Market Edge, it's second to 2005 and that year's $544 million in new home starts, Mr. Akins said.
Mr. Carmichael said Chattanooga didn't have an excess of new homes on the market last year, although some builders "may have been a little out of balance."
"I don't know that we had an excess," he said. "Some builders had a poor mix of homes, because it's hard to figure out who wants what. If there was a scare, it's over. Whatever adjustments in inventory were needed (have) been done. It'll be a good spring."
areas of growth
The eastern half of Hamilton County led the way in growth with Ooltewah, Collegedale and East Brainerd accounting for 39 percent of all home starts, according to The Market Edge. With 106 housing starts, Hamilton on Hunter was the fastest-growing subdivision, a position the neighborhood has held for the last six years. Hamilton on Hunter last year accounted for more than $13 million in new homes.
Georgetown Landing, Meadow Stream and Sunset Ridge, all in Ooltewah, also were in the top subdivisions for growth.
Stonewall Farms in Hixson came in second among subdivisions with 60 housing starts, according to The Market Edge. Bell Development Co. is the developer of Hamilton on Hunter and Stonewall Farms, and it was listed by The Market Edge as the county's top builder in 2006.
Last year was Bell Development's best in its 30-year history, President Jay Bell said, and 2007 should be just as good. The company sold more than $12.8 million in new homes, according to The Market Edge. Mr. Bell estimated that hurricane evacuees from the Gulf Coast accounted for 10 percent of his sales last year. The next largest block of buyers was local people buying townhouses for their smaller size and low maintenance, Mr. Bell said.
Hamilton on Hunter, the company's flagship development, should have homes under construction for another five years, he said, eventually reaching about 1,400 homes. The subdivision is appealing to families with school-age children because they're zoned for "excellent schools," Mr. Bell said.
HOUSING HOPES HIGH
Mr. Akins said any talk of home sales declining is a media "obsession." He predicted building permits nationally will drop 10 percent this year because of fears over a housing bubble, although locally permits will be off by only 5 percent. This quarter should be slow, he said, but activity will resume in the spring.
A gain in jobs is one factor driving Hamilton County's housing growth, Mr. Akins said. There were an average of 457 jobs added per month in Hamilton County during 2005 and 2006, he said. During the same period, 4,220 houses were started. That does not include retirees moving here from other areas, he said.
Linda and Harold "Sonny" Trepagnier are retirees who moved here last May from New Orleans. The couple bought a house in Soddy-Daisy but have paid a deposit to buy a townhouse under construction in Stonewall Farms, she said. The Trepagniers left the north shore of Lake Pontchatrain because, while most of the homes in their area survived Hurricane Katrina, evacuees flooded the community looking for somewhere to live, she said.
"We had visited a friend in this area before and liked Chattanooga," Mrs. Trepagnier said. "There's not as much traffic, and mountains are all around."
Mr. Akins said a recent report on housing demand for the next few years also is promising. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University has estimated there will be an additional 10 million homeowners by 2013, with minorities creating about half the demand.
E-mail Jason M. Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org