After Down Year, Homebuilders Optimistic for '07

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Amid blowing snow and the cold temperatures that come with the season, some home builders like Dave Schertzing say business is slowly warming.

"We're having a phenomenal amount of traffic in the homes, the models," Schertzing said.

Contrast that to a tough 2006 for builders: Although his condo sales grew, sales of new, single-family homes for Schertzing were down 40 percent. He wasn't alone.

"Housing starts were down about 30 percent in the Lansing region," said Doug Carr, president and CEO of the Greater Lansing Home Builders Association.

Carr says last year's slowdown left a glut of lots on the open market. That should bring their cost down.

"I think there's a lot of people looking for good prices because maybe the market right now is down a bit," Jay Wartella said.

But Wartella, who's building a home on land he owns in Leslie, isn't making a decision based on the market.

"I'm retiring this year," he said, adding that his wife retired last year. "It's time to build a home."

Builders will count on people like Wartella.

There is, however, another factor that builders hope will amount to more new homes: workers at General Motors' Lansing Delta Township plant.

"A lot of those people are living in rented apartments right now," Carr said. "And we expect that those people are going to be moving out into permament housing come spring."

Even if it's a less-than-perfect year for homebuilders, there could be economic benefit for the region. That's because a bad year for builders can be a good year for home remodelers.

"When people can't build the new home they want they remodel what they have," Jim Magnotta said.

This year, builders hope to reverse that.

"I think Michigan has gone through its correction," Schertzing said. "GM is back and running. There's no reason to look out the window with your hands in your pocket despairing."

"It's psychological," he said.

That is, Schertzing claims the market is more about mindset than the pocketbook.

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