Houston Housing Market Continues to Break Records

Nationwide home construction has fallen 28.5 percent below year ago-levels--the slowest pace in more than nine years, according to the commerce department. Sales of new homes have dropped more than 16.5 percent, to the lowest level in nearly seven years. But sales in the Houston area continue to break records. There's been record job growth, but other factors appear to be helping fuel the city's home building industry, as we hear from Houston Public Radio's Ed Mayberry.

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"Hi John, Eric here with Trendmaker Homes. Hi Julie, nice to meet you both. Welcome to our lovely model home! Very important--what you see is largely what you get..."

Realtor Eric Vera shows off a massive two-story $400,000 model home to a couple. It's one of several for sale at TelFair--a subdivision's worth of model homes from several homebuilders.

"We get a lot of move-up buyers and we get a lot of people from other parts of the country where housing has become not affordable any more. You know, traditionally we've had a lot of land--it's a big city, and there's a lot of room to grow here."

Unlike a lot of other big cities that are hemmed in by geography or hampered by economic problems, the Houston area is in the midst of a building boom. Inner Loop neighborhoods are being revitalized, new housing tracts are appearing on the city's edges, according to Rob Cook with the Houston Association of Realtors.

"We're not landlocked, and that's a big help for us. We've expanded in every direction--a lot of land, old farms, ranches and things like that that people are taking and converting and developing into single-family residences."

This housing surge is also due, in part, because Houston added 100,000 jobs last year. Nationwide, the Commerce Department says the median sales price of a single-family residence is $250,000. In Houston, it's just $146,000. That can mean mortgage payments of under $900.

Mayor Bill White says it's all down to the city's quality of life.

"I know some of us may complain about the weather in August but, you know, this is a city that has one of the largest amount of parks per capita. We have good schools and schools that are improving, we haven't given up on the urban schools. Houston right now is on a roll."

Besides land availability and job growth, a lack of government regulations also fuels Houston's real estate boom. Joe Zimmerman with KB Home says for one thing, there are no zoning laws.

"You have a very well-networked transportation system, and parcels available off those major highways, and it makes it pretty easy to pick up land at an affordable level so that you can build a subdivision."

Houston has made the process easier for developers by expediting building permitting so that it only takes a year and a half, instead of up to four years like in some parts of the country. Walt Mahoney with the National Association of Realtors says Houston also benefits from lower labor costs.

"Houston has gone through dramatic changes over the last few decades. You look back in the 80's and the oil bust, the fact that the local economy has diversified is Houston's strength in today's market."

Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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