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The new home

Robert Downes - February 23rd, 2009
There’s a rare sight in my neighborhood these days: teams of contractors are working to finish a new home.
It’s the completion of a saga that began about five years ago. An older home was torn down to make way for the newcomer. Then, the owner‘s personal problems intervened and the project was abandoned, lingering half-finished for several years. In some places, the roof hadn’t been completely shingled, and the unsided walls were left exposed to the wind, rain and snow.
When it was begun, the new home looked to be in the $400,000 range -- a far cry from the homes in our neighborhood which total half that amount on the average. But as the years rolled by without a buyer for the “as is” home,
the price drifted down to an affordable level and
was sold.
Of course, everyone in the neighborhood was relieved to see this wreck-in-the-making transformed into a handsome showcase. The new home can’t help but raise property values in our neighborhood (yeah, and maybe taxes too at some point).
But beyond that, it gives your heart a lift to see a half-dozen trucks in front of the property each morning, with carpenters, plumbers, roofers, siders and electricians working hard to get the place up to snuff. It’s become something of a wonder in our neighborhood -- a work of art -- and each day my wife and I walk past and comment on what’s new.
Scenes of builders hard at work were a common sight just a few years ago, barely worth commenting on. But now, many contractors have headed south or west in search of new opportunities.
Speaking of opportunities, if you tune out the constant blare of fear broadcast daily, you can observe some optimistic signs in the housing market that don‘t seem to make the news.
For one thing, home ownership is again becoming an affordable option for young people, thanks to the collapse of the artificial real estate bubble.
When I bought a home in 1990 as a single man, I wondered how I’d ever begin to afford the whopping sum of $60,000? Well, that old farmhouse has been extensively remodeled since then, and last I heard, it sold for more than $375,000 at the height of the bubble.
The point is, under the wild price increases of the real estate bubble, young people were being denied a chance to afford starter homes, given that the median home in Traverse City was heading past $170,000 in the mid 2000s. Particularly since wages had not risen all that much from when I bought a home in 1990.
So, it’s cheering to know that more people in their 20s are starting to look at home ownership as an affordable option, thanks to the drop in artificially-inflated home prices. One local estimate is that a median home in Traverse City is now $124,600. Perhaps with President Obama’s aggressive mortgage and
banking reforms, we’ll see a flood of new home buyers in the coming year.
Meanwhile, remodeling has become the order of the day in the building trades. The price of lumber is down, thanks to a drop in demand, and bidding is fiercely competitive. It’s a good time to remodel.
Consider also the many new energy-saving products that are going into production, thanks to the federal stimulus package. The new stimulus plan allocates $54 billion to energize America‘s solar and wind-power industries. The alternative energy industry will further encourage the remodeling and retrofitting of our nation’s homes.
Recently, I met a couple who own a heating and cooling business on the east coast. The wife was worried sick about how things are going in the building trades. Her face was pinched with anxiety. But when I expressed the opinion that we’re on the verge of a revolution in green energy that will transform the world with a revitalized economy, new jobs and a cleaner, healthier planet, her face lit up and her fear melted away.
Who knows? Perhaps a brighter outlook and some new ideas will give their business a boost.
The other day on the radio, I heard a panicked financial advisor claim that we’re in the “worst crisis in centuries.”
Guy, take a Prozac and calm down.
Our world is simply reinventing itself, that’s all. If you turn the bad news upside down and look at the flip side, you’ll find that we’re rapidly addressing ways to deal with global warming, our dependence on foreign oil, and the capture of clean energy from the sun and the wind. All of which will most likely create jobs and spur our economy out of its ditch.
That‘s why, closer to home, the sound of hammers in our neighborhood is music to my ears. I expect to hear more of it in the years to come.
 
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