Jay Bell was accepted and ready to start at the University of Tennessee Law School in 1991 when his father asked him to work the summer helping out with the family's home-building business.
"By the end of the summer, I had six or seven houses going so I asked for a one-year deferment on law school," the younger Bell recalled.
That one-year deferment has turned into a 27-year home building career with his father's original Bell Development. Since the death of his father, Julian Bell, last year, the younger Jay started his own company, Bell Home Builders, which has 19 employees But the 50-year-old home builder has carried on the family legacy of his father and two brothers by becoming the 2018 president of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga.
"There's a great deal of satisfaction in coming up with a vision on a raw piece of property and seeing it through from the design phase to the final construction and sale of a home to a family," says Bell, who began hammering nails and running a bulldozer for his father's business while sill in high school. "Home ownership is still a vital part of the American dream for most families and I don't see that changing."
Over the past three decades, Bell's family has developed more than a dozen subdivisions across Hamilton County with more than 3,500 residential lots, including the first project Jay Bell worked on at Hamilton on Hunter in East Brainerd. That development still has several hundred more lots to ultimately be developed, Bell said.
Despite the prospect of climbing interest rates and less readily-available land for development, Bell is optimistic that 2018 will show continued growth for local home builders. The inventory of homes for sale, as measured by the number of days a house is listed for sale, is approaching record lows in Chattanooga. At the same time, a growing number of people are moving to Chattanooga or starting families and are looking to buy a new home, Bell said.
"I think home building is going to be extremely strong — the demand is solid, the economy is growing and the inventory of homes, both new and existing homes, is low," Bell says. "It's very difficult right now in Hamilton County to find pieces of land that can be developed and we have a shortage of lots in the community. "
Bell said HBAGC will continue working to ensure that property can be developed and home building permitted at reasonable costs.