What: 47th Tri-State Home Show
When: February 22-24; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Chattanooga Convention Center
Source: Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga
It smells like sawdust, epoxy and diesel exhaust in Chattanooga's biggest convention hall.
For the contractors setting up booths at the 2013 Tri-State Home Show, that smell equals money, jobs and prosperity -- all of which have been in short supply these last few years.
"This year has been odd," said Jerem Collis, head of NWGP, an outdoor landscaping company based in Calhoun, Ga. "It just doesn't seem like we ever slowed down."
On Thursday, a chorus of circular saws whined in unison as trucks rumbled past with stacks of boards, stones and fixtures. Throughout the afternoon, builders worked to construct more than 470 sets of rock gardens, tree houses and faux living rooms in preparation for the region's biggest home show, which starts at 10 a.m. today.
Adam Coffey, general contractor for Dare Remodeling & Construction Services, abandoned his career as a new home builder during the recession. But now he says he's open again to doing more new construction as the market heats up.
"At least for us, business is booming right now," he said. "I don't see any glaring reason why 2013 won't be even better."
Last year, more than 13,000 consumers attended the three-day event to find the perfect flooring contractor, garage repairman, or gardener. This year will be even bigger, as homeowners pull the trigger on long-postponed building projects or even shop for a new home, said Teresa Groves, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Chattanooga.
"What I'm hearing from people is, they haven't done anything for the last several years, and now they're getting ready to do it," she said.
While some shoppers will be looking for the perfect terra cotta tile for a new kitchen backsplash, many will be looking for a new residence entirely.
Kaye Ivey, a sales representative for Bell Development, said the company sold 15 houses at the show in 2012, and expects to sell 20 to 25 this weekend.
"We actually got two booths this year instead of one," she said.
New home starts show that the regional housing market surged ahead in 2012, drawing on stocks of unsold lots and sending prices heading back up. Impossibly low interest rates and pent-up demand will combine in 2013 to drive even more growth, said Edsel Charles, founder of MarketGraphics Research Group.
"We are long past the bottom," Charles said. "In the early part of '12, we were really turning the corner, and I'd say we're doing really well now."
After a dismal 2010 in which only 1,420 building permits were issued for the Chattanooga region, the total fell again in 2011 to a low of just 1,276 permits, according to MarketGraphics.
But In 2012 the market bounced back. Builders pulled 1,721 permits, including 1,065 in Hamilton County alone, Charles' figures show. Charles predicts almost 2,000 home starts in the region this year, which he calls a "conservative estimate." In 2014, he predicts almost 2,300 new home starts.
"There is not a chance in a million years that it won't happen," he said. "That is a bare-bones estimate."
The net effect will be a building boom throughout the entire region, which is filled with manufacturers, contractors and laborers who depend on remodeling and new home construction for their livelihood, Charles said.
"People are going to start ordering carpet, and the mills are going to start hiring people, adding an extra shift, and that's going to bring people back to Dalton, for instance," he said.
In fact, the only obstacle to growth now is a lack of developed lots, he said. After the housing crash, builders and developers all over the region went out of business. Although they left behind thousands of empty lots, that supply is almost used up and banks have not yet begun to lend sufficient money to build new ones.
"It's going to drive up prices on land and developed lots," he said.
Developer Tim McClure said he isn't worried.
"I've got a lot of lots, and we've got lots being developed in a hurry," he said. "I think 2013 is going to be one of the best years I've ever had."