(02/21/13) - It's been a rough several years for the housing market.
Some people lost their homes to foreclosure, others ended up underwater in the mortgage. Builders were hardly building anything.
But now, many believe the worst may be over.
Despite the cold weather they're working in, construction workers in Saginaw Township say home construction is really heating up.
"I'm still averaging about 10 homes a year," said Jeff Nicklyn, of Nicklyn Builders.
Nicklyn says that's a solid year, but it's still far less than the roughly 25 homes a year his team was building between 2000 and 2005.
Building the American dream has been scaled down.
"The new construction is more affordable living, it's not those mini-mansions that we were experiencing," said Audra Davis, executive officer with the Home Builders Association of Saginaw. "They want the economy to come back, but they don't want it to come back so fast and furious that it bottoms out again."
Davis says builders really started to take notice of the housing rebound at last year's 'Spring Parade of Homes'. For the first time since 2007, 25 homes were on display. During the worst year, there were only nine.
"I think we're at, we're at the bottom now, we're just slowly climbing out of this, and you know, might have a few bumps in the road yet, but I think we're out of the worst," Nicklyn said.
Davis says part of the problem was that builders were too afraid to build spec homes to put in the show and to have on-hand to showcase their work. They worried they wouldn't be able to sell them.
"There's actually a few builders in town that are building spec homes again. We haven't seen spec homes in four years," said Dave Wieland, with the Saginaw Board of Realtors.
Nicklyn has taken notice, too. He said he never gave up on spec homes, but many of his competitors did. Now he's seeing more pop up, and that's a good thing for everyone.
"It keeps everybody working, right from lumber to toilets, paint, drywall, I mean, home furnishings, it covers everything," he said.
Also helping boost construction is existing home sales.
"The market out there, there's not much on inventory for existing homes right now, so that kind of helps us too," Nicklyn said.
One example - in Saginaw County, there were 5 percent fewer homes for sale to choose from this January compared to last year. With mortgage rates at all-time lows, a lot of new people want a home - but can't find the perfect fit. Getting the financing to build instead of buy is still tough.
"Our challenges are getting those comps for new construction to spec out, so that the qualified buyer and builder can get that new build to meet what the bank, and appraisers are looking at for numbers," Davis said.
Even with the 'challenges', Nicklyn is happy with what the HBA describes as a slow and steady rebound in the home construction market.
"I'm feeling pretty good, pretty confident for the next year coming up here so, just have to wait and see," he said.
Right now, there are fewer builders to compete with.
Nicklyn estimates at least half of all-builders who were in business before the housing crash, hung up their hammer and tried to find work elsewhere.
Those who stuck it out tell us they survived by doing remodeling projects, and apartment or group-home construction.
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