US home builders using new data analysis to decide where and what to build

Taylor Scott International News

A proliferation of data and new data analysis methods are changing the way builders in the United States buy, sell and develop vacant land, according to experts. Builders are cautiously optimistic that easier credit and more flexibility will help the new homes market rebound in 2015, according to experts at a building and building products symposium in New York. The state of the land market, a key factor in determining what kinds of housing gets built, where and at what price, was a common theme throughout the various discussions. ‘The real opportunity of land goes beyond the land itself. Builders are looking at land as much more than a piece of dirt now,’ said Steve Benson, chief executive officer of Phoenix based land banking and advisory firm Community Development Capital Group. Landowners and buyers alike are using multiple data sources to examine what is being built in other areas, which designs work best for certain parcels and which builders are best suited to maximize certain features of a given piece of land, Benson explained. Rather than building a certain set of homes on a given piece of land, developers today may be more apt to sell their land to a different type of developer rather than undergo a project themselves, or choose to build a different type of home than they normally would, based on data, he pointed out. ‘Real estate has always been about location, location, location. But with land especially, it’s future location, future location, future location. Today, data helps inform that equation for builders much more than in the past,’ he added. High land costs, and perhaps unrealistic value assessments by landowners, are a big reason why developers are having difficulty developing more entry level, lower cost communities and homes, according to Greg Vogel, chief executive officer of the Land Advisors Organization, an Arizona based land brokerage. Developable tracts of land appreciated very quickly in value during 2012 and 2013 in anticipation of a building boom in 2014 that largely has yet to materialise, he explained, adding that strong recent years have convinced today’s land owners that their land may be worth more than it is. As a result, builders are increasingly forced to put higher prices homes on developments they do control in order to recoup their higher land acquisition costs. This will create challenges for larger builders looking to cater to lower end and first time buyers, who are expected to enter the market in higher numbers in coming years. ‘Most observers agreed that it’s just a question of time until we see millennial demand pick up. If the entry level buyer does come back, I’m not sure there will be a lot of opportunities to develop those kinds of communities right away,’ Vogel said. Beyond the kinds of large, multi acre sites on the edge of cities and towns favoured by big, publicly traded home building companies, smaller lots located in downtowns and established communities also represent… Continue reading →

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