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Construction leader sees momentum building

The Horizons Home Show, the premier event of the Buffalo Niagara Builders Association, is back on the calendar this year from Aug. 4 to 19, after a year's hiatus. The association's executive vice president, Joseph W. McIvor Jr., said the show's return coincides with improving business conditions for the region's home builders:

Q: How is Horizons coming along?

A:It's shaping up to be one of the larger shows that we've done. We think we'll have over 10 houses for the public to view. And it will be a unique event, because it's all in one new community called Spaulding Green in Clarence. Ultimately, when the subdivision is built out there will be over 400, close to 450 lots. So these are the first builders in the new Spaulding Green subdivision. One area will have patio homes, one area will have what they call quad-unit condominiums, which are attached condominiums. Then there will be single-family homes in the probably $400,000 range, and then single-family homes probably approaching $750,000 range.

Q: What are the local market conditions like for new home construction?

A: I would say most of my builders are finding that traffic is better than it's been in the last couple of years and interest is very high. I think that from the existing real estate market, their sales are up, and if people can sell their existing home, it creates the opportunity for them to now build their dream house.

Q: What style of homes are being built now? Are patio homes popular?

A: I think patio homes have increased to be a fairly substantial piece of what's being built in Erie County. We are an aging community, and a number of people are taking their houses in Spaulding Lake, for example, and it's now they're empty nesters, they're downsizing and they're looking at patio homes as a real nice (alternative) to leaving the area. ... At the same time, we're finding that the menu of housing styles that are now available in Western New York has changed substantially from when I first came here. In the '80s, you had interest rates that were at 16 to 18 percent, and all that were being built were mini-mansions or affordable housing that was subsidized in some way by the government. The midmarket housing for a family was almost not happening.

Q: What other features do customers want in new homes?

A: I think energy efficiency has been one of the things people are looking at, and the technological advances of the automated house are all things that people are looking at. You can't just take a 20-year or 30-year-old home and bring that up to speed very easily. And I think you're seeing a number of people that are working out of their houses, so high-speed Internet becomes important, and the entertainment things that can be coordinated into a house are things that people are looking at.

Q: How does the Buffalo Niagara housing market compare to other parts of the country?

A:I think our market really did not suffer such as Florida, Arizona, Nevada, many of those markets where there was a lot of speculation. But I'd say that in Western New York, consumer confidence, just by all the national news sound bites, it really did hurt. And the banks were struggling and the mortgage industry was struggling, but most of that has settled down. And I think the banks are hungry for new home mortgages, although it may be a little bit more difficult to qualify. But people that are looking at new construction, that is usually not the problem.

Q: What is the relationship between the existing home and new-home markets?

A: I think what we are finding is that with the interest rates being where they are is, just talking to John Leonardi (of the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors) that they're finding traffic is back, houses are selling. And therefore somebody that wants to sell their existing home and now re-evaluate what their shelter needs are – maybe they've got a growing family, they want bigger, [or] they want smaller – all of those things are available. ... Just as we've seen an uptick in our industry – I think we're up 10 percent from last year, and I think when the year finishes out, it may even exceed that – we have seen that our members that are doing remodeling and additions that all of that is improving, and I think it's all consumer confidence returning to the market.

Q: Building moratoriums were an issue a few years ago. What about now?

A:It's totally disappeared, some because of the new leadership that's in different communities. But when new construction goes into a community, you expand your tax base. You can do so much more for your residents.

Q: What made you choose Spaulding Green for the Horizons show?

A: We have a Horizons committee, and we seek sites from developers who'd like to be the host location. And then we go to our builders who would be in some cases building spec houses and make sure that we'd have an area that the builders would support. And our committee chose Spaulding Green as being a new subdivision, where you're not going to be such an infringement on an existing community. And Clarence has been a good market for builders.

Q: Horizons was not held last year. Are you worried about losing momentum after a year off?

A:There was concern, but I think that the market conditions, availability of developed lots that could offer a good location for us, all of those things worked against us last year. And it was almost like the perfect storm, whereby builders who had their own land banks were choosing to try and build on their own properties. And we did not have a good [host] site that was available.

Q: What's the benefit of Horizons to suppliers and decorators?

A:For our decorators, for the landscapers, people who have the sexy backyard decks, now you have the outdoor fireplaces or fire pits, you have the portable gas heaters that are there. People are making their houses an entertainment facility, not just a place to go and sleep. It's always something that people look at even if they're not looking to buy a home.