With many areas of the country facing a faltering housing market, the number of building permits being issued in Columbia County might surprise some.
Through March, the county has issued more single-family residential building permits this year -- 208 -- than the 179 issued through the same period in 2008, according to the county's Development Services Division.
The number of commercial building permits has held steady: 17 have been issued through March; 18 were issued in the same period last year.
These numbers can be attributed to several factors, said Richard Harmon, the director of the county's Development Services Division. He listed low interest rates, a high quality of life in the county and a decrease in home values.
"This is probably where (homeowners) wanted to be. They just haven't been able to get there yet, and this is their opportunity to do that," he said.
Since 2005, home construction in the county has started to fan out into more rural areas, Harmon said.
In 2008, the region surrounding Columbia and Chamblin roads was the county's fastest-growing area with 138 new units permitted for residential construction, followed by Washington Road at Cumberland Drive near Riverwood Plantation with 56, according to a map prepared by Harmon's department.
Harmon said areas near Chamblin Road, such as the High Meadows subdivision, continue to be among the county's fastest-growing regions.
"That's where the majority of our permits are being issued now, in that area," he said.
The number of permits doesn't necessarily reflect construction. A permit becomes null and void if construction hasn't started within 180 days. Once work begins, the permit remains valid indefinitely, Harmon said.
If officials think the project has been abandoned, building inspectors have the authority to revoke the permit, but such instances are rare, Harmon said. No one is going to make money off an unfinished home, he added.
Mark Herbert, the CEO of Herbert Homes, said his company is constructing homes in the Grove Landing subdivision inside Grovetown and the Arlington subdivision in Appling.
"Business is good," he said. "It's a little sluggish from the years we were all spoiled."
Herbert Homes also has commercially developed North Belair Office Square off Evans Town Center Boulevard.
Though business is slightly down from last year, Herbert said the area hasn't suffered much because builders have kept home costs reasonable.
"Permits are holding pretty good in our area," he said. "The big reason for that is our area didn't inflate the prices like a lot of other parts of the country did."
Jake Ivey, the president of J.W. Ivey and Associates, said his business is operating at the same pace or ahead of last year's rate.
"I think people in the custom home market are finding that prices are good and interest rates are good. It's a good time to build a house," he said.
His construction projects include subdivisions at River Island, Riverwood Plantation and Canterbury Farms near Grovetown.
Ivey said there appears to be a steady demand for homes priced $250,000 or less.
Many homes currently under construction fall in the $200,000 to $230,000 range, Harmon said.
"What we do in life is market-driven, and the market is driving a lot of this," he said. "That's the houses that are being built in Columbia County now and it meets the (market's needs)."
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