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Tidewater Builders Paint a Brighter Picture of Their Housing Market

The Tidewater Builders Association recently discovered that a little face time with local news media executives was all it took to set the record straight about the state of the local housing market.

Housing has been holding up fairly well in Virginia’s Tidewater area — the southeastern portion of the state, including Hampton Roads — due to a strong local economy and the continuous arrival of new residents to a region with the largest concentration of military bases and facilities anywhere in the world.

The relatively good health of the local housing market, however, was obscured by the negative headlines in The Virginian-Pilot, the area’s primary newspaper.

“The local newspaper was consistently running national housing headlines without putting the local market into perspective,” said Channing Pfeiffer, chief executive officer of the builders association. “When they did run anything about the local market, it was basically a comparison of sales volume from the overheated years to the current slower market.”

An industry group — which included representatives from the Tidewater Builders Association, the Hampton Roads Realtors® Association, Rose & Womble Realty Co., William E. Woods and Associates Realtors® and the Real Estate Information Network (a local Multiple Listing Service) — was formed to set the record straight.

Last fall, the group contacted the publisher of The Virginian-Pilot and asked him to discuss the concerns of the industry. He was open to the idea, and lined up all of the major editors of the paper for a meeting.

The discussion focused on how Tidewater is stronger than the national housing market because of its diverse economy, low unemployment and limited land availability. Also stressed was the unrealistic comparison of current housing figures to unsustainable numbers recorded at the height of the housing boom.

“Our builders are mostly small, family-owned companies that did not create the massive inventory of spec homes that are now flooding the markets in the harder-hit cities,” explained Ed Sadler, the association’s president. “Our new home sales are off some, but not that much compared to what people might conclude from reading the newspaper headlines. Some of our builders are having a good year.”

Working the Local Angle

While the newspaper staff said that their coverage was fair and accurate, they conceded that they could do more for their readers by adding local information to national housing news story coverage.

“Although we had a good discussion at the initial meeting, we believe its real value was that it set the stage for ongoing regular follow-up communications between industry leaders and the editors of the newspaper that continues to this day,” said Sadler.

As a result of the meeting, the newspaper agreed to provide free advertising space three times a week for the industry to provide facts and figures to make their case, as well as editorial space for industry leaders to submit columns to be featured prominently in the Sunday edition. When national articles are reported, they now include sidebars that show average local sales prices — which have increased in some of the communities — and quotes from local analysts that support the idea that the housing correction is not as dramatic for the region as it is nationally. A headline in March read, “Region spared a bit of pain during housing slowdown.”

Just recently, the business section of The Virginian-Pilot invited industry leaders to a roundtable discussion of the local real estate market, which will be featured prominently in the April 27 Sunday edition.

“As a result of our dialogue, there has been a visible effort on their part to accurately represent the local market,” said Sadler. “We also appreciate their taking the time and resources to bring together representatives from the new home, real estate and mortgage communities for the upcoming business feature. It shows they are serious about helping us get our message out.”

NAHB provides information on 360 markets — including comprehensive home price, permit, population and employment figures — that can be used to combat unfair media headlines. Click here to find information on your area.

To access Myth Buster Resources developed by NAHB to help members and local associations communicate accurate information about their local housing market and reassure hesitant consumers, click here.

For more information on the Myth Buster Resources, e-mail Gwyn Donohue at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8447.

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