1996–2006: The Big Boom

The last 10 years were all good years for the American housing industry. The unprecedented national housing market expansion that began in 1993 ended abruptly in the fall of 2005, but that 12-year housing boom made many builders wealthy. It also made a lot of home building companies large, especially at the top of PB's Giant 400.

By By Bill Lurz, Senior Editor | December 31, 2006

 

Sidebars:
Prices Rise Before the Plunge
Decade at A Glance
Professional Builder's Builders of the Year (1997–2006)

The last 10 years were all good years for the American housing industry. The unprecedented national housing market expansion that began in 1993 ended abruptly in the fall of 2005, but that 12-year housing boom made many builders wealthy.

It also made a lot of home building companies large, especially at the top of PB's Giant 400. By 1996, public home builders, as well as the largest private production builders, had completely recovered from the recession of the early 1990s. They were ready to flex muscle, but no one could have predicted the prodigious growth curve ahead.

 

In 1996, Bloomington Hills, Mich.-based Pulte Corp. was the largest residential builder in America with 14,673 closings for revenues of $2.33 billion. In 2005, Pulte was again the big dog, but it took 45,630 closings for $14.37 billion in revenue to stay ahead of No. 2, D.R. Horton, which had $13.72 billion in revenue and became the first builder to top 50,000 closings in a single year (51,383).

In 1996, Horton ranked No. 22 in the Giant 400, with 3,284 closings for $546 million, but the Texas firm was already a shooting star, using a growth-by-acquisition model that other public builders would emulate in these go-go years. Big mergers and acquisitions marked this era. The largest were Lennar Corp.'s acquisition of U.S. Home in 2000 and Pulte's merger with Del Webb Corp. in 2001. U.S. Home and Del Webb both ranked in the top 15 before those deals pushed Lennar and Pulte into the stratosphere. In 1996, there were nine builders with revenues above $1 billion; in 2006, 31.

However, it wasn't just public builders growing fast. For instance, Walnut, Calif.-based Shea Homes (PB's 2007 Builder of the Year), used an organic growth model to jump from No. 19 in 1996 ($595.8 million on 2,673 closings) to No. 13 in 2005 ($3.06 billion, 6,901 closings). Except for those in a few markets troubled by economic stagnation, production builders of all sizes grew, even without a commitment to do so. Tempe, Ariz., builder Tom Lewis has often stated his goal of stabilized production at a perceived sweet spot of 300 units a year. T.W. Lewis Co. closed 287 homes in 1996 for $62 million in revenue; in 2005, Lewis closed 355 homes for $199 million.

What caused the boom? Certainly, steady population and economic growth set the stage. The migratory movement of people and jobs to the South and West fueled Sun Belt markets. And historically low and stable mortgage interest rates helped. In 1996, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 7.81 percent and adjustables 5.67 percent, compared with 10.13 percent and 8.36 percent in 1990. And by 2005, those averages were down to 5.87 percent for fixed and 4.49 percent for adjustables. We think this stability was a key factor favoring large home building companies. It allowed them to load up for big production runs. Battleships build a lot of steam if they don't have to slow down or change directions.

9 Number of builders in 1996 with revenues above $1 billion.

 

70th Anniversary Article Series

 

  • 1936-1945 Depression and War
  • 1946-1955 Driving Toward Profit
  • 1956-1965 Baby Boom
  • 1966-1975 A Revolution
  • 1976-1985 Low Energy
  • 1986-1995 Clearing the Fog
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  • 1996-2006 The Big Boom
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    Prices Rise Before the Plunge

    Check the revenue numbers for Giant 400 builders in 2005 compared with those for 1996 and you'll see it wasn't just closings going up the last decade: home prices went up even faster, especially in the two years before the merry-go-round stopped at 2005's end.

    Average square footage of a new single-family home climbed from 2,120 to 2,434 between 1996 and 2005, but home prices increased even more dramatically. Peruse the chart below and you can see the impact of speculative home buyers driving prices to unsustainable levels, portending the sales dip that killed the boom at the end of 2005.

    New single-familyhomes, 1996–2005, average price ($000)

    1996: $166.4

    1997: $176.2

    1998: $181.9

    1999: $195.6

    2000: $207.0

    2001: $213.2

    2002: $228.7

    2003: $246.3

    2004: $274.5

    2005: $297.0

    Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, C-25, compiled by NAHB Economics.

    Decade at A Glance

    Total home closings

    1996: 1.41 million

    1997: 1.40 million

    1998: 1.47 million

    1999: 1.60 million

    2000: 1.57 million

    2001: 1.57 million

    2002: 1.65 million

    2003: 1.68 million

    2004: 1.84 million

    2005: 1.93 million

    Source: NAHB

    Average square footage, new single-family homes

    1996: 2,120

    1997: 2,150

    1998: 2,190

    1999: 2,223

    2000: 2,266

    2001: 2,321

    2002: 2,320

    2003: 2,330

    2004: 2,349

    2005: 2,434

    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, C-25, compiled by NAHB Economics.

    Professional Builder's Builders of the Year (1997–2006)

    1997 Sarah Peck

    1998 Tim Eller

    1999 D.R. Horton Inc. (first corporate award)

    2000 The Olson Co.

    2001 Pulte Homes

    2003 Hedgewood Properties

    2004 WL Homes (aka John Laing Homes)

    2005 Bigelow Homes

    2006 Simonini Builders

    2007 Shea Homes

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