'Back to that cautiously optimistic stage' - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

'Back to that cautiously optimistic stage'

Rise in permits give builders hope

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Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:19 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Business at Barry Stearns' home construction company certainly isn't back at the housing boom success, he said.

But the company's contract work has at least stabilized, Stearns said.

"For us as a company, we're coming into the year with four contracts and two more coming up, which is twice as much as last year," said Stearns of Timbered Ridge Homes, also the new president of the North Idaho Building Contractors Association. "We're back to that cautiously optimistic stage."

He's not alone in that chary yet cheery outlook.

Officials and contractors agree that the building industry shows signs of perking up across Kootenai County.

The number of building permits issued in Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene climbed in 2012. Plus, there is more interest in the Parade of Homes this year, Stearns said, and builders are reporting more contract work.

"Most of our members seem to be getting busier, having more contract opportunities out there," Stearns said of NIBCA members.

He attributes the hike in business to hungry potential home builders.

"We have such a pent-up demand for new homes," Stearns said. "And people are realizing the interest rates are at one of the low points they're going to be at, and are trying to take advantage of that."

Home building has picked up in Coeur d'Alene, said Ed Wagner, city building services director.

"We issued 10 (residential permits) last month, and 20 the month before," Wagner said. "Based on projects that are now coming in, (this year) should be even better than last year."

The city also reported 423 new structure permits in 2012, more than double the 199 in 2011.

Of those, Coeur d'Alene issued 183 permits for single family homes last year, compared to 116 the year before.

The city did tally that commercial permits dropped from 23 in 2011 to 10 last year.

But commercial projects in the city are getting bigger, Wagner said.

For example - the proposed high rise downtown, he said. There is a big push for apartment projects, he added.

"In the past, it's been the smaller, interior remodels and fixing what they have," he said. "Now we're getting some discussions about projects like the new McDonalds, and the potential high rise, and a Cracker Barrel."

Maybe it's a sign that the economy is improving, he said. But this also follows typical swings of the market, he added.

"It surges. There are commercial booms and residential sloughs off, and then it flips to where residential booms and commercial slows," Wagner said. "It's just a continual pattern."

The city of Post Falls issued a total of 812 building and mechanical permits in 2012, up from 655 in 2011.

New single family residences escalated from 87 in 2011 to 167 in 2012, though commercial projects dipped from 21 to 15.

Kootenai County didn't tally a dramatic difference in issued permits over the past year, said Scott Clark, community development director.

The total building permit numbers hiccuped from 1,254 in 2011 to 1,261 in 2012.

Clark is encouraged, however, that total valuations of work increased by 5.7 percent, from $61.8 million in 2011 to $65.5 million in 2012.

"I think that suggests there is more investment in the homes," Clark said. "Maybe a little bigger, a little nicer."

Regional Economist Alivia Metts reported that total new, privately owned housing units in Kootenai County jumped from 502 in 2011 to 816 in 2012, a 62.5 percent increase.

"I anticipate the activity in construction will carry on, as the housing market continues to recover," stated Metts, who works for the Idaho Department of Labor.

But it isn't all good news.

Construction employment isn't following the same trend, Metts noted.

"Overall construction employment is down, indicating that contractors are doing more with less," she stated.

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