Home buyers have edge now

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – The slowdown in the housing market couldn’t be more apparent than a look at the number of new residential building permits issued in St. John Parish for 2007.

After steady growth, including an unbelievable record number of new permits in 2006, there was an amazing dropoff in ’07 as all aspects of the housing market slowed down.

The year of 2007 showed only 57 new home permits issued for St. John Parish, after a total of 418 set the all-time record in ’06.

Of course the ’06 figure is skewed since many top builders had a mad rush in December of that year to pull building permits, to avoid a new state law in ’07 that required complete inspections of new construction. There were 148 permits just for December.

But even in taking out most of those permits issued in December, it still would have left St. John on the pace they had been showing for seven years previously when they never had less than 208 permits in any one year.

All of this adds up to what top local builder Joey Scontrino, owner of Landcraft Homes, sees as a good time to buy for people who might be considering a move.

“In all honesty, this is now getting to be a good time for buyers,” he said. “The prices are coming down since the Katrina affect is over, and builders have realized where they need to put their prices to move the houses. Even in the existing home market, prices have come down, and that makes us pull our prices down to stay competitive.”

Even with the slowdown in 2007, Scontrino said his company still had its best year ever with 170 property closings. However, he expects the market to slow in the new year, and is projecting approximately 130 sales for ’08.

“There is no mad rush for people to move to St. John, despite what a lot of folks keep saying is a huge amount of growth that is coming here,” Scontrino said. “But I do see the same steady growth that has existed here for years.”

Scontrino says he sees nothing economically that will generate a huge new demand for homes.

“The best thing that could be done here is for the school system to improve, but they’ve been talking about that for years,” he noted. “Otherwise you’d have to see even more industry expansion than what we are seeing right now for some big numbers to want to move into this area.”

While many local builders hit on hard times in ’08, Scontrino said he survived by looking ahead and trying to be prepared.

“The home market has always been cyclical, and even though there was good money to be made for a while, you have to be prepared for things slowing down. I think we’ve been cautious since mid-’07, and I think things will remain slow for at least two years.”

Scontrino said he reduced his staff by about 30 percent last year to try and help compensate for the slowdown in sales.

One of the other top builders in the region, Ray Leach, was hit hard by the slowdown and sold out his interest in The Grove subdivision just off Airline Highway in LaPlace.

Michael St. Martin, who was the only other builder there with St. Martin Homes, is now partnering with Regal Construction to continue building in the region. The Grove is now owned exclusively by Ray Leach’s father Bruce Leach, and another relative, according to St. Martin.