Business

Monday, Feb 17 2014 09:00 PM

Local homebuilding continues to rise

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Dozens of Lennar homes are under construction in southwest Bakersfield near Old River and Harris roads in this file photo.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield's home construction industry is building on a post-recession rebound, a trend that bodes well for the overall health of the local real estate market.

The number of single-family home construction permits issued by the city has more than tripled since 2011 to 1,307 at the end of last year. Though well below 2005's peak of 5,216 homebuilding permits, 2013's total is the highest since 2007.

Bakersfield homebuilder Greg Gibbons, co-owner of Gibbons & Wheelan, credited an increase in business to growing confidence in the economy, low interest rates on home mortgages and rising demand by oilfield workers and other employees of relatively modest means.

He said some customers buying now are people who lost their homes to foreclosure in the housing bust. And while home construction costs may soon rise as builders run out of developed lots, the outlook appears strong.

"In 2006, 2007, 2008, we did nothing. It was horrible," he said Friday. "Last year we finally had a good year."

"It's good. We're pretty positive about the future. We don't know how long it's going to hold up, but it's been a good year or two. And we think this year will be a good year. But you just never know in this business."

Expansion of Bakersfield's inventory of single-family homes has come at a time of climbing home values and what local Realtors say had been a frustrating shortage of homes to sell.

The median price of a home sold in the city grew by 8 percent in 2012 -- then soared 30.5 percent last year to $185,925, according to data provided by Bakersfield home appraiser Gary Crabtree.

While more homes on the market does not put upward pressure on prices, it does provide greater selection for homebuyers -- and more business for Realtors.

Bakersfield real estate broker Scott Tobias, owner of Prudential Tobias Realtors, stated in an email that new construction is "definitely one of the bright spots in the real estate market."

The growth in local construction has outpaced countywide employment gains, according to data supplied by the president and CEO of Kern Economic Development Corp., Richard Chapman.

He noted that employment in Kern County's construction industry increased by almost 8 percent last year to 17,700, compared with only 2 percent growth in all industries.

These jobs tend to pay better than the average position in the county. Chapman referred to U.S. Bureau of Labor figures showing that Kern jobs in the category of construction and extraction paid an average of $47,690, or about 8 percent more than the county average.

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