Originally created 05/26/98

Raining on their parade



With record low interest rates and robust economic conditions, Columbia County's leading industry, home building, was set to experience its best year ever. That was before the rain came.

Four months of wet weather has created a game of "catch-up" in what should be the peak season for new home sales.

"I was not able to build the inventory for spring that I normally would have had on the ground. Instead of building speculative home inventory, I'm building the pre-sales that I would have already built," said Earnie Blackburn, president of E. Blackburn Construction Company, Inc.

Home buyers may find a shortage of new home inventory, prolonging the buying season, said Hugh Hollar vice president of construction lending for Prime Lending, a local mortgage company.

"Builders that had inventory completed in the winter months probably have an advantage in the spring selling season that we're in now," said Mr. Hollar. "The inventory that would normally be coming on line is being delayed into the summer months, so I think the selling season will probably be stretched back a little later in the year than in years past."

With new home construction delayed by rains, Mr. Blackburn is just beginning to build homes in The Village at Jones Creek, a new subdivision off Furry's Ferry Road which was slated for construction in January.

Not only has the rain delayed construction, but he said it has also caused him to loose several pre-sells he had in the subdivision.

"We're a good, solid four months behind on getting the subdivision in. We had anticipated a date for getting it in and had taken pre-sales based on that date. As a result, I've lost four or five pre-sales. These people had already sold their homes and had to get into other houses," Mr. Blackburn said.

Developers, contractors, home builders and other complimentary businesses have all felt the economic impact.

"This is the worst winter that we've every had," said contractor Mickey Lonergan of Lonergan & Son, Inc., Harlem, whose company grades, paves, installs utilities and curb and gutter in subdivisions. "We had a lot of projects ready to pave when the wet weather hit. We're two or three months behind on everything we're doing. We've had to turn down a lot of good work in the past few weeks because we can't take on anything else until we finish something."

Because of the weather, builders may have missed out on the economic boom created by low interest rates and low building supply prices.

"Times were awfully good in the building business. If interest rates were to shoot up and the cycle were to turn down, we have, as the result of the weather, lost the opportunity to take advantage of the upturn in the economy. That may not happen, and if it doesn't, we've dodged the bullet. But if it does happen, I've basically got a million dollars worth of lots out there that are going to move a lot slower, I'm not going to be making as much profit and I'm going to be paying interest on all of that," said Mr. Blackburn.

" We just weren't able to capitalize on the really good times that we've had over the last few months."