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With construction down, Haywood Home Builder’s struggle to stay viable

While the construction industry, the Haywood Home Builders’ Association is giving itself a makeover, one it hopes can keep them afloat and the doors open.

With home building still flagging, membership has been steadily declining, and instead of waiting on the ship to right itself, they’re beginning to realize that if the economic paradigm has shifted, maybe it’s time to shift with it.

“We have no choice,” Home Builder’s President Jim Howell said frankly. “We’re going to have to change and think outside the box.”

For the home builders, it’s a particularly salient lesson. In a bust that centered around real estate, the folks who build that real estate are going to take a pretty hefty hit.

If you’re looking at unemployment numbers, said Howell, go ahead and double them, and that’s what kind of unemployment you’ll find in the construction sector.

So, unsurprisingly, their membership has dropped — from just more than 200 at the height of the building boom to only 130 members now. The Haywood County Board of Realtors has likewise seen a drop in membership — from 430 Realtors in the county in 2006 to only 261 today.

Given the decline, the Haywood County Homebuilder’s Association isn’t certain it can keep its doors open.

“That’s something that could happen,” said Howell, when asked about the prospect of shuttering the association. “With the current loss of members, it’s very realistic. It could happen in the next year very easily.”

Howell is trying to change the body’s course while he’s at the helm.

They’re focusing efforts not only on how to maintain viability with a smaller membership, but also how to retain those members and give them the services they need in a changing market.

“We’re trying to change the format of our meetings, turn them into social events,” said Howell. “When you are in a business-style format, it’s pretty restricted.”

They’re also looking to other fundraising options, like an iPad raffle they’re holding and a shootout fundraiser planned for the summer.

They’re trying to get more involved in the community, as well, joining with groups like the Board of Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce to bring in more support, better networking connections and hopefully share the burden of a diminishing economy.

And they’re not the only ones who are looking towards changing their tactics.

The Haywood County Board of Realtors has been discussing a merger since last year with the Board of Realtors in Asheville, Henderson and Transylvania. The merger would help lessen the blow of a deflated real estate market by creating one large umbrella board that would help spread costs and consolidate benefits.

When the proposal was first floated to Realtors earlier this year, Lisa Brown, the board’s executive, said they were open to what was best for members, and with such a slip in membership, it’s hard not to see banding together as an enticing option.

“We saw strength in numbers, we could give more services to our members,” said Brown. “So let’s sit at the grown up table, let’s hear the proposal let’s see what’s in it for the association.”

The downside may be less of a local focus in Haywood, however.

Readjusting to a new kind of real estate economy isn’t going to be easy for organizations like Brown’s and Howell’s. But Howell believes that now, more than ever, they can offer their members connections and support that they’ll desperately need going forward.

Recognizing the new and different needs of the county’s homebuilders in today’s climate will be the key to any future success.

“I don’t think the building boom will be as big as it was,” said Howell. “I think we outgrew what we could afford to do, not only as an industry but as a nation. We were too busy living the American dream to sit down and figure out what we could afford.”

In a report released this week, the National Association of Home Builders noted a slip in builder confidence for the month of April. Every month, they do an assessment of home builders across the country, polling them both on the work they have and their confidence in future prospects.

While some parts of the country showed upticks in both jobs and confidence, the South went down.

However, in Haywood County, the construction industry is showing signs of a rebound, albeit a slight one. At the very least, things are leveling off, based on the number of building permits being issued.

And that would be good new for the entire county.

“Anything that happens in the building industry affects every business in this area,” said Howell. “If we’re not working, a lot of people are not buying hamburgers.”


By the numbers: Haywood construction permits

The construction industry has been on the decline witnessed by the decrease in all building permits issued in Haywood County. These numbers includes all permits for residential, commercial, new construction and additions.

2006    753

2007    772

2008    499

2009    388

2010    416

* These numbers do not include Waynesville and Canton, which issue their own permits. Building permits for Maggie Valley are included for 2010, but not previous years. Maggie quit administering its own building permits due to a decline in volume with the recession.

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