Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Are Home Prices Coming Down? Probably Not, but Future Construction May Be More Affordable

If you are in the market for a big, beautiful home with all the upgrades you can imagine, now is a good time to start some serious shopping. There is a glut of expensive homes available, especially in Bentonville, but also throughout all of Northwest Arkansas.

In the first quarter of 2006, there were 2,084 complete but unoccupied new houses in Benton County. That’s an increase of 160 percent in available complete inventory from the first quarter of 2005, with a 63 percent increase in the most recent quarter alone. Washington County experienced a smaller inventory increase of 71 percent over the past year – still a sizable increase.

Excluding the completed homes, there were 19,206 lots in the 269 active subdivisions in NW Arkansas in the first quarter of 2006. Using the most recent annual absorption rate implies that the supply of remaining lots in NW Arkansas active subdivisions is sufficient for 35.9 months (or 3 years). There were an additional 19,200 residential lots that have been at least preliminarily approved in NW Arkansas communities.

For too long now, builders seemed willing to pay exorbitant prices for land to build new homes, and land speculators did their part to see that prices went consistently up. Hopefully those days are over, at least for the time being.

Builders use a general rule-of-thumb that says the cost of the land should be approximately 20% of the price of the new home. If the builder pays $75,000 for a lot, he will probably build a $350,000 house on it. Thus the asking price will be $425,000. That is a lot of money – far more than the average family can afford.

If the builder can’t sell his new homes in a timely manner, he can easily find himself in financial difficulties. He must continue paying his construction loans whether the homes are selling or not. It doesn’t require a crystal ball to see that the price of lots will have to come down or the homes built on them will stay on the market longer than many builders can tolerate financially. It is also possible that some builders will be forced out of business.

The average homebuyer in this area can easily qualify for a $100,000 home – but there are few available. Even if he qualifies for a $150,000 home, the selection is extremely limited, mostly older re-sale homes. Smaller, more affordable homes sell more quickly. The American dream of owning your own home is not yet dead, but it is seriously ill in NW Arkansas. Builders must cut back on 3,000 sq. ft. homes with every amenity a person can think of and start building what people can afford to buy. And there is some evidence that this trend might be starting.

In looking at the various reports and accompanying statistics that cross my desk every week, I’m beginning to see some signs that cut back may be beginning. One of these indicators is a -1.7% change in building permit values. While economists might see this as a "negative", I see this as a positive thing. With the glut of expensive homes on the market, a negative value here could possibly reflect the necessary adjustment for building more modestly priced homes in the near future.

Another indicator shows that construction employment in the area increased by 1.1%, which might indicate more construction is under way. Taken together, these statistics tell me that construction is increasing, but the value of what is being built is less—not altogether a bad thing from the point of view of affordability.

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