Designer Digs From a Factory
"Prefab Modern" author Jill Herber says homes built in factories and assembled onsite account for one of every six new dwellings. These dwellings generally are cheaper than conventional houses due to speedy assembly, lower labor costs and factory discounts; but owners could end up shelling out more than they anticipated on the land purchase, installation and customized features. While stick-built housing take months to erect, prefabricated houses are completed in a matter of weeks — a fact that pleases neighbors who do not want to deal with the traffic and noise associated with construction projects. Still, the word prefab continues to conjure up images of low-income trailers, unattractive tract homes and poor construction quality. In an attempt to gain support from local authorities and nearby residents, Live Modern CEO Marshall May urges buyers to "approach housing associations by saying it's a traditionally built home with all of its materials and methods, it just happens to be built in a factory." In fact, more than 50% of conventional dwellings include factory-built panels or modules. (www.cbs.marketwatch.com)
CBSMarketWatch.com (06/09/04) Cohen, Jackie
Condominiums and Apartments Are Heating Up for Builders
Research by NAHB reveals that building activity in the condominium and apartment sectors —particularly at the high end — remains robust due to low interest rates, the strengthening job market, steady appreciation and the need for cheaper alternatives to single-family dwellings. According to NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders, "Since job creation often leads to new household formations — and new households often tend to be renters or first-time condo buyers — it looks like there are better days ahead for the multifamily segment of the housing market." The apartment market should hold up at least during the next six months, most industry insiders concur. However, many markets continue to experience supply-and-demand imbalances. (www.copleynews.com)
Copley News Service (06/07/04) Woodard, James M.
Builders Divided on Tariff Reduction
An international trade panel has ordered the Commerce Department to recalculate U.S. tariffs on imported Canadian lumber. Commerce officials are suggesting lowering the duties from 27% to 13% by the end of the year in an attempt to reduce prices and stop steep hikes in material costs. Some builders believe that eliminating the tariffs will boost supply and encourage competitive pricing, while others simply accept that lumber prices fluctuate because they are based on supply and demand. Random Lengths reports that framing lumber soared from about $279 per 1,000 board feet to $455 during the year-over-year period ended in May. NAHB expects single-family home prices to jump $5,000-$7,000 due to higher wood and metal prices. The trade group believes the government must scrap tariffs altogether to avoid pricing buyers out of the new-home market. (www.bradenton.com)
Bradenton Herald (06/08/04) P. 1; Joseph, R.P.
Senior-Friendly Builders Now Earn Designation
The latest remodeling trend involves modifying homes so that seniors can stay put as they age. In response, NAHB now offers the "Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist" (CAPS) designation to remodelers, general contractors, designers, architects and health-care consultants to equip them with the knowledge they need to help seniors make these changes. They must complete a three-day program that enables them to effectively communicate with seniors and informs them of codes, standards, challenges and solutions they will encounter. Once they have earned the designation, they can suggest shower grab bars, ramps and other modifications that will keep older home owners both safe and independent in their existing residence. (www.sun-sentinel.com)
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (06/07/04) P. 14; Friedman, Robyn A.
Phones Ring Off Hook at Remodeling Firms
Residential remodeling firms continue to report high demand for their services from home owners nationwide, but a Harvard University study notes that the record-setting growth rate of the remodeling industry in recent years is showing signs of braking as mortgage rates start to rise above 6%. According to Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, "home owners remodeled less at the end of 2003 than they had in recent years" and "that trend seems to be continuing" this year. Spending on remodeling increased by a rate of 10.4% during the last quarter of 2002 but has decelerated to a rate of 2.5% in the first three months of 2004. Still, NAHB says the outlook for this year looks good, based on phone interviews it has conducted with about 550 contractors nationwide. Contractors say they are having trouble matching high demand from home owners looking to make improvements and repairs to older properties and those damaged by bad weather. (www.baltimoresun.com)
Baltimore Sun (06/06/04) P. L1; Henslee, Anne Lauren
Home Under Construction May Be Vulnerable to Thefts
Thieves have gone beyond lifting tools and materials from construction sites to stealing appliances, electronics, light fixtures and even entire plumbing systems. Production home builders generally carry insurance that protects the structure until it changes hands, but custom buyers need to ensure that their builder has liability and theft coverage as well as obtain a policy on their own to cover any extras and anything that has been moved in already. To deter thieves, builders should erect a temporary fence; lock all windows and doors; install motion-activated lights; and put in a permanent security system as soon as the windows and doors are in place. Home owners would also be wise to change the locks soon after closing. Fire prevention is also important; and builders should clean the site daily, properly store combustible materials and install a telephone as soon as possible to make it easy for firefighters to locate the site. Home owners might even want to include a contract clause that keeps builders from smoking on the job. (www.chicagotribune.com)
Chicago Tribune (06/05/04) P. 2; Mann, Leslie
Boomers Sure to Keep Housing Booming
A number of home builders are focusing on so-called "active adult" communities as the baby boomer population ages. Experts believe the high incomes and desire for activity among members of this population segment will help fuel the housing market, along with low interest rates and demand from immigrants. Though research reveals that more and more boomers are retiring near their families and friends; builders continue to cater to those who prefer the warm climates of Florida, Arizona, Nevada and other traditional retirement havens while also building in destinations such as Philadelphia and throughout New Jersey and Maryland. Builders expect much of the demand from baby boomers to be for second homes, sales of which have soared from 300,000 annually in the 1990s to 400,000 per year today. A survey by the National Association of Realtors® found that more than three-quarters of second-home buyers will use their dwellings as vacation retreats, while 18% plan to retire there. Many are taking advantage of the Tax Relief Act of 1997 to downsize and use the sale profits, a portion of which are exempt from capital-gains taxes, to purchase a secondary home. However, Standard & Poor's Rating Services Chief Economist David Wyss believes that as baby boomers opt for two smaller houses over a single sprawling one, the number of suburban buyers left to purchase the homes they vacate could fall. (www.startribune.com)
Minneapolis Star Tribune (06/05/04) Crane, Agnes T.
Building Your Dream Home
Low interest rates have prompted many new-home buyers to spend thousands on upgrades. According to a recent poll by NAHB, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, Jacuzzis, ceramic tile, glass-enclosed showers, kitchen islands, lofty ceilings and linen closets are the most popular add-ons. Rather than splurge on wine cellars and other personalized features, experts urge buyers to focus on finished basements, additional bedrooms and bathrooms, media rooms and home offices and other projects that add more square footage. Though buyers often forego top-quality roofing, windows and siding in exchange for better countertops, experts insist that structural integrity should be a priority. Moreover, buyers should zero in on projects that boost resale value — such as decks, attic bedrooms, modern kitchens and bathrooms, master suites and replacement siding and windows. Experts caution against spending more than 10%-15% of the home value on upgrades, however, considering that a future job loss could push mortgage payments out of reach. Buyers also should avoid overbuilding — going above and beyond the features in neighboring homes — which lessens their return on investment. (www.smartmoney.com)
Smart Money (05/04) Vol. 13, No. 5, P. 59; Taylor, Chris
Text Messaging Could Explode as Voice Systems Grow
Though Verizon Wireless customers send over 23 million text messages through their cell phones every day, that figure still lags considerably behind the 2 billion text messages sent monthly in Europe and East Asia. Many users find text messaging to be a time-consuming task, considering that a single word could involve hitting a dozen or so keys on the standard 12-character keyboard. However, the technology could gain popularity now that Voice Signal Technologies Inc. plans to roll out speech-recognition software that would allow users to express as many as 160 characters verbally and transmit the message by simply speaking the word "send." The technology could even eliminate phone keypads and screens altogether, ultimately slashing cell phone prices and allowing the devices to be built into jewelry, pens and other such items. The first of these speech-recognition-equipped cell phones will be unveiled by Samsung, Motorola, Panasonic and other manufacturers in late 2004. Though the technology will simplify text messaging, International Data Corp. analyst David Linsalata says some users may not approve because they prefer to quietly send text messages during meetings or while on public transit. (www.boston.com/globe)
Boston Globe (06/07/04) Howe, Peter J.
Power to Go
Good Technology's GoodLink 3.0 mobile business messaging and e-mail software targets Palm OS and PocketPC smartphone users who wish their devices had the power of laptop computers. The software, compatible with Microsoft Exchange Server, comes with an annual price tag of $330 per user. Among other features, GoodLink 3.0 supports Adobe Acrobat, PowerPoint and Word files; comes with Web-based monitoring tools; and allows users to easily move among applications. (www.entrepreneur.com)
Entrepreneur (06/04) P. 48; Kooser, Amanda C.