Friday, February 15, 2008

NAHB: More Than Just A Touch Off

by Tanta on 2/15/2008 07:39:00 AM

Washington Post sends a reporter to a home builders' trade show.

ORLANDO -- The cavernous convention center, the site of this week's International Builders Show, is lined row after row with slick display booths and polished sales reps peddling retro-style ovens, state-of-the-art foam insulation and a vegetable-oil-based product that plugs leaky ponds.

But the crowd is a bit thinner than in the past, and the mood among the gathered home builders is noticeably different as their industry drags through the worst market in years.

"A few years ago, everyone was very happy and smiley," said Douglas Jones of Keystone Builders in Richmond. "Last year it was a touch off. This year it's a little more serious. It's perceptible."

With housing sales foundering, inventory way up and the future of the industry hazy, the show, with 1,900 exhibitors and nearly 100,000 attendees, is more angst-ridden as builders look for ways to stay afloat until there's a turnaround. Attendance is expected to be down about 5 percent.

"There's a deep sense of concern about the market right now," said David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, after sitting on a panel of experts who delivered a sobering talk on the state of the industry.

"This time last year, it looked like the demand side of the market was stabilizing. Our forecasts were that, yeah, 2007 will be a down year but it won't be that bad," he said.

"Then the entire subprime debacle hit, other shocks to the financial system hit. A lot of builders are frankly bewildered as to what in the world has happened. I can't go 15 feet without being grabbed by somebody trying to talk about it."

Seiders now predicts a turnaround in the latter half of this year, but other less-optimistic economists see no improvement until 2009 or later.
Frankly bewildered, huh? Wait til they're stunned and surprised. It'll be perceptible.