Columbia County officials say that a slowdown in new home construction appears to be temporary lull and anticipate building to pick up the in second half of 2014.
Despite an improving economy, new home construction has been lagging in recent months, with the number of building permits being issued falling below 2013 numbers.
“We are a little behind where we were last year, but it’s has been increasing recently,” said Paul Scarbary, Columbia County’s director of the Development Services Division. “I really project (permit numbers) being up higher than last year.”
According to reports from Columbia County, new home building permits are down almost 5 percent from the previous 12 months. Building started off strong in January and February, with almost 20 more new home permits being issued. Since then, however, permits dropped off to about 84 percent of last year’s numbers, through June.
John Zunker, division president of Wilson Parker Homes, said he was aware that the number of building permits had fallen, but attributes that to a number of issues, the biggest one being the rainy spring the area has experienced this year.
The wet weather has put the Atlanta-based company about two months behind in developing its newest neighborhood, Southwind Village, off of Hereford Farm Road. Zunker said they had originally planned to be building homes in July or August.
“We are hoping the weather is going to get better and we’ll begin to pull permits in September or October,” he said.
Work in the new development began early this year. When complete, it will have 96 lots with houses ranging from 2,600 to 5,000 square feet.
Zunker said he thought there were other reasons for the slow building year, such as some of the older neighborhoods being near completion, with fewer lots available.
New inventory should be available in the near future, however.
County planning officials have approved at least 12 new subdivisions already this year, with almost 300 new lots planned.
Also, on the national level, builder confidence in the market reached an important milestone this month, according to National Association of Home Builders.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) rose to 53, the highest level in months. Whenever the index rises above 50, it means more home builders’ outlook on new home sales is “good” rather than “poor.”
The HMI is derived from a survey the NAHB has been conducting for the past 30 years.
“This is the first time that builder confidence has been above 50 since January and an important sign that it is strengthening as pent-up demand brings more buyers into the marketplace,” NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly said in a press release.
Locally, some of that confidence could be bouyed by news of the coming expansion at Fort Gordon.
In December, the U.S. Army announced that it will relocate its Cyber Command to the nearby miltary post, which will eventually boost the post’s workforce by 2,600 military, 900 civilian and 200 contractor jobs. The five-year project, which is scheduled for completion in 2019, will include construction of a Cyber Command headquarters, creation of a Cyber Center of Excellence and formation of a Cyber Mission Unit.
Zunker said area builders are already seeing some of these miltary families looking at potential neighborhoods.
“Most of them are just here for a first visit,” he said. “