Polk County new house building permits plummet 45 percent in 2008

Published 2:34 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

The 2008 total was the lowest number of permits issued for new single family homes in Polk County in more than 10 years. Over the previous 9 years, Polk County averaged 162 permits a year.

Steve Jones, director of the Polk County Building Inspection office, says he thinks some people who were thinking of buying lots or building homes have been deterred by the current economic news. But he says he thinks new house permits may increase later this year.

&dquo;I think it will start picking back up, probably in the spring,&dquo; says Jones. &dquo;We always kind of drop off in the winter because most people don&squo;t like to start building in the winter.&dquo;

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Polk County began to see a significant decline in new home construction in the second half of 2007. The county issued 85 permits in the first half of 2007, and 65 in the second half, including just seven in December of 2007.

The county averaged only slightly more than seven permits for month through 2008. It startper with a high of 11 permits issued in January and issued between six and nine each month through October. Home construction really tapered off in the last two months of 2008 with just four permits issued in November and three issued in December.

The steep decline in home construction has left many contractors searching for work across the region.

Jones says home construction represents a major area of employment for the county. He says he hears from some contractors who don&squo;t have any work currently, and others who &dquo;are covered up.&dquo; He says the current economy poses a hardship for contractors, but some have kept busy with service work, completing renovations and doing service work.

In fact, Jones says the building inspection office had a steady workload through 2008, providing permits for electrical, plumbing, HVAC and other services.&bsp; The county issued a total of 572 permits in 2008, down from 717 in 2007.

Prior to the downturn, Jones says his office had been overloaded with work over the past six to eight years. In 2003, the busiest year this decade, the county issued 218 permits for new houses and 788 total permits.

Jones says he regularly hears at industry seminars that long-term prospects for real estate and housing are positive in the Carolinas. He says experts forecast that the region will continue to be targeted for growth over the next 20 years as baby-boomers continue to migrate here from the north and from Florida for retirement.

He says it&squo;s just unclear how soon the market may bounce back, particularly for second home construction, which fueled a sizable portion of the growth here in recent years.

Commercial construction also was relatively minimal in Polk County in 2008. The county issued nine permits for new commercial buildings with a total value of $523,608. Columbus had some larger commercial projects, issuing three permits for new commercial buildings valued at $1,549,000 and six permits for major &dquo;interior upfits&dquo; in commercial buildings valued at $839,000. The work included upfits at Dunn&squo;s Columbus Commons.