Springfield Business Journal HBA Research Column

Springfield Business Journal

Guest Column: Research data answers common housing questions

In an uncertain housing market, perhaps the most common questions I hear are: “How’s the housing market?” and “What does the future hold?”

Our residential construction market was a moving target in 2007. In 2008, new challenges (and opportunities) for area home builders have presented themselves.

In today’s market, many builders are liberated to innovate. Rather than giving masses of buyers no reason not to buy, builders in certain price range are seeking ways to differentiate their homes from the others on the block. The goal is no longer universality; it is distinction. In a buyer’s market, spec builders must capture the imagination of that one particular buyer who has looked at too many homes that appear too alike. And the builders I talk to relish the challenge.

But how do they determine which innovative concepts are worth the gamble? What choices can these builders make with greatest confidence they will appeal to their next buyer?

While considerable national research exists regarding consumer confidence, home buying trends and home building niches, precious little local data is available. Yet we know that every local housing market is unique, with its own distinctive characteristics and dynamics. That is why the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield this year contracted to gather, analyze and distribute an unprecedented level of highly relevant local market information to HBA members. This comprehensive research project (findings are being released publicly for the first time in this issue of SBJ, see page 11) included two quantitative opinion poll/surveys of the local housing market, and a series of demographically specific focus groups.

We are gaining valuable insight into the consumer preferences, trends, obstacles, and motivators that affect the housing decisions made right here in the Springfield-Branson region. Our findings give those in the housing industry a better opportunity to make wise business decisions and help guide HBA marketing and public education decisions as the voice of the residential construction and remodeling industries. This project helps us answer questions about what the future holds.

But what about that other question about the state of the housing market?

The best source of information on the subject today is tracked and maintained by the Greater Springfield Board of Realtors. The board is the authority on sales and listing information, and they have done a remarkable job. But aside from their exceptional work, little useful information exists on our economy’s housing and construction sectors.

It is remarkable that no regional, area-wide clearinghouse of construction data exists. Select municipalities and counties track housing starts and permits, but most do not. In most of the region, building permits aren’t even issued, much less counted and tracked. In those areas that do track such information, there is little consistency in methodology.

The HBA is partnering with the Ozarks Regional Economic Partnership to conduct an areawide comprehensive construction economic data research project. Data is being gathered, sorted and analyzed, providing valuable market tracking for housing starts, commercial building permits, remodeling permits, approved rezoning applications, etc. for our entire 10-county service area: Polk, Dallas, Dade, Lawrence, Greene, Webster, Christian, Stone, Taney and Barry counties.

This is an enormous undertaking, but once completed, this research project will allow our members and others to analyze what parts of the Ozarks have been experiencing the largest building booms and where construction has slowed.

We will fill an important information void in the region’s economic development landscape. Builders and developers can use this information (when paired with the Board of Realtors’ established housing sales and inventory data) to forecast where the next attractive business opportunity lies.

Matt Morrow is executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield. He can be reached at mmorrow@springfieldhba.com.

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