Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Home Builders Construct Record Year; Steady Demand for Houses on First Coast

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Home Builders Construct Record Year; Steady Demand for Houses on First Coast

Article excerpt

Byline: EARL DANIELS, The Times-Union

The sister-brother team of Karen Culler and John Hasty recently moved their cabinet-making company, Canac Kitchens of Jacksonville, into a larger facility.

They outgrew an existing building and needed the extra space to keep up with the brisk orders from area builders wanting cabinets for houses. They hired four new employees this year to handle the growth in their 15-person business.

"If the builders are doing good, then everybody associated with the housing construction industry is doing good," Culler said.

Home builders are doing better than ever. In fact, they set a record.

With December's number of single-family home building permits left to tally, area home builders have been issued 11,492 permits in Duval, St. Johns, Clay and Nassau counties. That figure is the most ever, exceeding last year's 10,600 permits and the 2001 figure of 9,637, according to the Northeast Florida Builders Association.

Home builders continue to hammer away at supplying houses in a steady and well-rounded market that includes first-time home buyers, the move-up market and an emerging group of empty-nesters. Jacksonville's diverse economy has played a key role in supporting a housing construction market.

The increase in home construction mirrors the construction of industrial and office space, which reached a record level of $2.41 billion, an increase of 3 percent from 2002.

"Jacksonville is in a little better position than other cities in the country because when other cities were not seeing any job gains, Jacksonville was seeing some gains," said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, N.C. So far this year, Jacksonville gained 5,500 jobs compared with 700 jobs lost in 2002, according to statistics provided by Wachovia.

"We are seeing a large move out of rental property and into home ownership, and it has been increasing in every segment of the market," Vitner said. Home buyers have been afforded the opportunity to buy a house because of relatively low interest rates that remain near 40-year-record levels and new down-payment assistance and outreach programs, he said. …

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