By Walt Frank
lmost a thousand fewer building permits were issued across the state for the first part of the year compared to the same time frame last year, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Kyle Brown of Hollidaysburg works on a new home being constructed by Metz Builders Inc. of Duncansville on Stonehedge Road on Thursday.
Statistics show 6,797 building permits as of May, compared to 7,736 at the same time last year.
Despite the statewide decrease, some local builders have seen an increase in business.
"We have had more new home activity by the middle of the year than all of last year. It is not a record number, but it has improved over last year for us. We have seven new homes and 16 apartment units under contract to build," said Drew Swope, president of Keystone Custom Homes and Development Inc., Hollidaysburg. "A lot of other guys have gone to the renovation side, but that is not our niche."
Mark Metz, president and owner of Metz Builders Inc., Duncansville, said despite the recession, his business hasn't slowed down.
"We are busy now," Metz said. "We have three large homes under construction. I had more work under contract at the start of the year than I ever had and have more work lined up."
Metz said he has moved into building what he calls "higher end" homes. He said while he builds all sizes of homes, he has built several that cost about $900,000.
"Those people in that price range are secure enough that the economy hasn't slowed them down," Metz said. "We do about three or four homes in that range a year. Three homes of that size equal eight to 10 smaller ones."
Donald Delozier, president of Donald C. Delozier Inc., Altoona, said while he isn't building any single family homes right now, he is busier than ever as the contractor for the 11-townhouse Chatham Mews project on Lexington Avenue.
On the other side of the spectrum, Greg Dempsie, owner of Greg Dempsie Custom Homes, Altoona, admits he has been "super slow."
"We have probably done about five [new homes] in the last two years, normally that would be about 15 or 16," Dempsie said. "We are bidding on about two and doing some remodeling. We have never been big on remodeling."
Jim Brown, president of J.R. Brown Construction Inc., Hollidaysburg, said, however, that remodeling and commercial work are keeping his business going. He said he has not been busy with new construction. He noted that his company has not built a new home since 2009.
He said he sees several reasons for the drop in new construction.
"I attribute it to the national media. People are tired of hearing all of the negativity," Brown said. "Another problem may be gas prices. People are spending more money on gas, and they don't know where the price of gas is going. They don't want to increase their spending and are hesitant."
The recent construction of senior complexes has led to more people putting their existing homes on the market, leading to less demand for new construction.
Dempsie said existing home prices are going down while the costs for building materials is going up.
"The price of shingles and siding are going through the roof. Lumber jumps up and down - it fluctuates," Brown said.
Even though the price of some supplies is up, Metz said it is a good time to build.
"Hard costs for building supplies are down - lumber, plywood, and drywall - and the interest rates are good," Swope said. "My customers are aware it is the best time to consider building a new home. The interest rates are under 5 percent."