Harford housing market midyear

Workers take a quick break for a drink as they frame a house in the heat Thursday in the Kelly Glen subdivision on Route 1 in Bel Air, one of the developments where sales are said to be strong of late. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead / July 5, 2012)

Permits to built new single-family homes have been on the rise in Harford County this year, although the numbers are still much lower than they were during the last housing boom in the early 2000s, according to the county's planning and zoning department and local builders.

Daniel Whitehurst, president of Clark Turner Homes in Belcamp, said he has seen an increase in new housing construction, but again pointed out those numbers are relative.

"It's still not at the level that we saw in the boom [years] or in a normal market, but certainly better than in the last two years," Whitehurst said. "For us to be excited about an increase – I mean, it's an increase from the bottom."

The market overall, he said, "is just coming out a little," and people "have a little more confidence."

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Whitehurst said he has seen homes staying on the market for fewer days, as well as the number of homes for sale going up.

Bob Ward, chief executive officer of the Edgewood-based Bob Ward Companies, said he has also seen some improvement and is cautiously confident.

"Our sales have certainly picked up, I guess really starting in January and February," Ward said. "Prices have been flat, so we have not seen much price appreciation."

The company is only finishing up some projects in which they were already building, namely Richardson's Legacy in Bel Air, which Ward said has been selling well.

"They have seen really good sales success," he said.

"I am cautiously optimistic, but I am glad to hear the permit numbers are up. But I am also concerned the economy just seems to be limping along," Ward said.

Numbers only part of story

Total building permits for new dwelling units issued by the county in the first half of 2012 are off slightly compared to last year; however, permit activity has been higher than in 2010, according to the county's latest cumulative reports.

The county approved 129 permits for single-family homes and single family modular homes between Jan. 1 and June 30, compared with 107 in the first six months of 2011 and 87 in the first six months of 2010, according to cumulative permit reports.

In all, the county has approved permits for 271 new housing units this year, including 134 townhouses and 12 condo units.

Last year from January through June, 422 permits were approved, a figure that included 212 rental apartment units, 84 townhouses and 12 condo units. There have been no new rental apartment units approved so far this year, nor were any approved in the first half of 2010, when 181 total new housing units were approved.

None of the above figures includes construction in the municipalities of Bel Air, Aberdeen in Havre de Grace. Of the three, Havre de Grace has two active developments where homes are being built; Aberdeen is reviewing plans for two to three new developments and Bel Air has a couple of condo communities where new units are being built.

Since few builders can afford to build on speculation in the current economy, a permit approved nearly always means a unit that a new single family home is going to be built and immediately occupied. In addition, most townhouse builders won't build a group unless at least 60 percent of the units are under contract of sale; the same holds true for condo buildings.

"It is markedly up from two years ago," Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said of the housing construction activity in the county this year.

The numbers also continue to rise overall from the start of the economic downturn, Gutwald said.

"It looks like it's on an uptick from that year," he said.