Into the Breach—Again

The economic impacts of COVID-19 were a gut-punch to a housing industry on the cusp of a full recovery, but we'll come back from this, too

May 26, 2020
Man struggling to pushing a rock uphill
The housing industry has been in crisis before, and always recovers | Illustration: KNUT/stock.adobe.com

Pro Builder has been publishing its list of Housing Giants for more than 50 years and, in doing so, has chronicled housing’s ups and downs. For an industry generally looked upon as staid and conservative, the last half century has been a wild ride, especially the last two decades. After scaling previously unthinkable peaks in 2005 and then falling to its depths in 2012, home building fought its way back to what looked to be a sustainable and profitable undertaking.

During those long, hard years, builders did everything they could to stay solvent. They cut staff, streamlined building processes, reconfigured land deals, embraced software and data systems, expanded product offerings to appeal to new and different types of buyers, and looked to other areas for fresh opportunities. Although beating the recession took a great deal of hard work and a very long time in business-years, it seemed that the industry finally was poised on the brink of achieving what used to be the norm. 

There’s no time for resting on laurels or for regrets: Take those lessons learned and focus on this next challenge.

At long last, housing data started showing the fruits of the industry’s labors. In December 2019, annual housing starts reached a remarkable 1.626 million units, the largest number of starts in 13 years. In January, starts increased 21.4% year over year. Total permits, single- and multifamily, rose by 9.2% to 1.551 million—the highest since March 2007. At the beginning of March 2020, when February’s numbers came out, housing continued to look strong, the good news continuing with the eighth consecutive month of increasing home sales, to 6.7% year over year nationally.

But by that time the coronavirus had taken hold, and on March 13 the U.S. declared a national emergency. While home building was deemed an essential business in most states, the effects of stay-at-home orders, the number of businesses closing, and the ensuing job losses kept many Americans from shopping for a new home. Once again, home building stats fell off a cliff.

I mention this not to mourn what could have been or to bemoan the bad luck that’s befallen us, but rather to call out the fact that the industry forged a comeback from the recession and it can do so again. Sadly, there’s no time for resting on laurels or for regrets: Take those lessons learned and focus on this next challenge. And if you’re in need of inspiration, check out the articles from senior editor Mike Beirne and contributing editor Scott Sedam

 

A Change of Pace

With this issue, Pro Builder’s print edition temporarily transitions to a bi-monthly schedule. We’re still producing as much content as ever, but more of it will be posted to our website. Bookmark our site, probuilder.com, subscribe to the Daily Feed e-newsletter, and check back frequently to take advantage of our daily articles to stay apprised of news you need to know.

 

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Access a PDF of this article in Pro Builder's May/June 2020 digital edition

 

editorial director

Denise Dersin, editorial director of Professional Builder, Custom Builder, PRODUCTS, NKBA Innovation+Inspiration, and co-editor of Multifamily Design+Construction, has been in publishing as an editor and writer for 30 years and has worked in the housing industry for much of that time.

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