New Home Starts Best Since 2008


As described in this article from (, new home construction jumped nearly 23% last month. This, coupled with builders reporting stronger financials, tells us the market may finally be settling down and adjusted to new pricing and lending environments. Many analysts take this as yet another sign that the housing recovery is strong. We think so, but it also shows that folks who really want to build their dream home will work tirelessly until they are able to. They’re not just buying a house, they’re building a dream.

December 19, 2013 |

A growing market for custom-built homes


Many of us have a clear idea of what a “dream home” is, and existing available homes seldom fit the bill and may not be close enough to the ideal to customize to the ideal. In these instances only building your own custom home will do. During the last several years, custom home construction has gone down dramatically because of the economy, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As the economy improves, more people are choosing to build their own custom homes, as demonstrated by this article from the Philadelphia Enquirer:

Kara and Scott Bourdreau were searching for their fourth home in 10 years, and they wanted it to be their last. They viewed both resales and new developments, walking through about 10 houses in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.

“I didn’t even go upstairs in some of the houses,” Kara Bourdreau said. “We had envisioned this big, open space, and we couldn’t find it.”

So they decided to make their vision a reality with a custom home.

They moved into their approximately 4,000-square-foot West Chester house in May, about eight months after Blanton Custom Homes broke ground.

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In the last year, the Glen Mills-based builder secured six agreements of sale, matching its 2005 numbers and tripling its average yearly rate from 2006 to 2012, said president Warren Blanton.

“A tremendous amount of small custom builders are simply on fire,” said Michael Kent, a loan officer with the Villanova office of Santander Bank N.A. “I have done more transactions for construction since March than I did in the last three years.”

Nationally, the custom-home sector remained consistent between 2009 and 2012, with about 130,000 such houses built each year, according to Stephen Melman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

But other builders, such as Rotelle Development Co., are noticing a growing demand locally, too.

Barto, Pa.-based Rotelle, which also constructs home communities, has expanded the custom-building side of its business dramatically in the last year.

Custom homes made up 50 percent of Rotelle’s business in 2013, compared with 18 percent last year and only 5 percent in 2005, said Peter Rotelle, company president.

A new corporate office and design center, which will focus primarily on guiding custom-home buyers through the land acquisition, financing and construction processes, is set to open at Routes 100 and 23 in South Coventry by the end of March, he said.

“Today’s buyer wants to be unique and individualized, and we want to provide that for them,” said Rotelle, who added that his custom homes are typically priced similarly to tract homes in the same communities.

Sarah Kalman relocated to the Philadelphia suburbs from Marietta, Ga., when her husband, Steve, changed jobs.

“There was always just one thing about a home that wasn’t what we wanted,” Kalman said. “Even some over our budget, we’d still need to change the kitchen or floors.”

The Bourdreaus’ experience was similar. Some newly constructed properties had the desired amenities, but the prices were typically $200,000 more than custom, said the mother of two.

Said Sara Gillespie, who hired Blanton to build her family’s 2,850-square-foot West Chester home: “We were thinking resale right now because you’d get better value.”

Gillespie considered three other houses seriously before deciding on custom, adding, “This was the best affordable quality option that we could find.”

Recently, Blanton’s custom houses have ranged from about $600,000 to $700,000, the builder said.

Rotelle said $125 per square foot is his firm’s “sweet spot,” although prices can go above $200.

Aside from comparable costs, buyers say open floor plans, modern kitchens, and large family rooms are driving them to custom builders.

“The sight lines are open, and you can see everything from the kitchen,” said Gillespie, who can keep an eye on her three children while cooking or entertain guests easily with the layout. “You can have a pulse on everything in the house.”

The ability to touch and feel a custom home, instead of imagining it from blueprints, also is encouraging buyers, said Rotelle, who erected custom dwellings at several of his company’s suburban developments.

Blanton uses his own custom-built home, which he has lived in since July 2012, as a model for prospective buyers. Six of the seven people who viewed it went custom, he said; the seventh couldn’t obtain financing.


November 20, 2013 |
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