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FROM THE TAILGATE
Sage advice from the trenches
By Ron Jones
Best Laid Plans
This issue of Green Builder, dedicated to home designs, got me thinking about housing plans in a larger sense and how the home ownership dreams of millions of individuals and families have been radically altered these past few years by major shifts in the economic landscape.


The roles that banks and other financial institutions play in owning a home—not to mention the rules of lending, and regulations regarding tax incentives to promote ownership—are all very much in flux, perhaps bringing about the disappearance of the mortgage interest deduction, long considered sacred and virtually untouchable by the housing industry, and maybe even the 30-year mortgage itself.


Of course, the intentions of aspiring homeowners are not the only ones that have become, at best, uncertain in recent months. Many of our fellow citizens who had already realized the sweet taste of owning a home of their own discovered their equity eroding as the value of millions of homes seemingly evaporated into thin air, almost as quickly as they could say it. Foreclosures have become a huge fact of life and affect practically the entire national housing market, despite frantic efforts from multiple quarters, public and private, to stem the destructive tide.


Eventually, the optimists among us (and if you have ever had the privilege of building homes in America you have to be at least part optimist) will be rewarded by sunnier skies, a stronger economic platform on which to operate, and a renewed confidence on the part of people everywhere who want to have a place to call their own.


But I don’t believe for a minute that builders, bankers, home buyers, or anyone else will simply return to the “business as usual” model that preceded, and many say helped to create, the current sorry state of affairs in housing. First off , and I know many will not like hearing this, we simply don’t need the shelter. Declines in the rate of population growth, consolidations of households in many families, and the overabundance of every type of housing in almost every region of the country (plus all those aforementioned foreclosures) combine to assure that for at least the immediate future we are going to plod along in anything but a seller’s market. It is simple supply and demand. Which means that those who survive, perhaps even thrive, in the new reality of housing are going to be only those who are willing to let go of their stubborn attachment to the “price is king” model of the past and abandon the dollars-per-square-foot metric once and for all, forsaking the outdated thinking of the last century and embracing new technologies, new products, new thinking, and most important, new ways of determining the value of what we build.


I’d say it’s a great time to start making some new plans based on new ideas. The future is coming our way, ready or not.


72
04.2011

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