TRAVERSE CITY — Antrim County residential builder Ed Porter would like to erase one year in particular from his memory.
“I hope I never go through another winter like 2009,” said Porter, owner of Porter Builders, which typically specializes in homes on Torch Lake. “It was very slow.”
So, for that matter, was 2010, and a good part of 2011.
“Trying to keep our guys working, that was something,” Porter said. “We’ve got 24 employees, all W2 employees.
“So we did anything. We were building whatever, and doing additions, remodels, whatever it took to wait for the market to turn.”
It finally seems to be. Home builders from around the region report brisk, growing business. And right now, Porter is a happy camper, after being forced at one point to lay off the equivalent of five positions and rotating layoffs among his workforce of two dozen.
“We’re very busy, thank God,” he said. “It’s been picking up gradually since, I guess, the end of 2011. We’ve had a tremendous increase this year. In fact, we just started three new homes.”
Porter’s experience reflects state and national trends. The Home Builders Association of Michigan recently conducted a statewide survey that shows a strong surge in optimism among home builders and remodelers. Not only are builders seeing an increase in the number of consumers looking to construct homes in the $200,000 to $500,000 category, there’s also been a slight uptick in interest in the $500,000 to $800,000 range. That contrasts the stretch during the economic downturn, when most of the homes that sold were under $200,000.
Nationwide, U.S. home builders broke the 1 million mark in March for the first time since June 2008 – an increase of 7 percent in home starts from February, according to Commerce Department statistics. March’s pace of homes started was almost 46 percent higher than in the same month in 2012.