After more than three years of a Depression-era like performance, home building in Harford County is slowly showing some signs of revival.
Midway through 2011, more permits have been issued to construct new single family homes than at a similar point in either of the previous three years, according to the June permit report from the county government.
In addition, the county has issued permits for more new housing units of all types in six months than it did in all of 2010.
The latest county report shows permits issued through June for 107 single family homes, 81 townhouses, 212 rental apartment units and 12 condo units, 412 in all. During the 12 months of 2010, the county issued 378 permits in all categories.
While this year's total is inflated somewhat by the apartment construction permits that were issued in June alone, single family home construction activity is typically considered the best gauge of the local industry's health because those homes sell for more and hold the most potential for profit for both developers and builders, as well as the most potential for rising resale value.
Harford's single family permit activity in the first six months of this year compares favorably to 2009 and 2010, when 81 and 87 permits, respectively, had been issued in six months. Those figures do not include the municipalities of Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace which issue their own permits.
Though the gain in single family home construction activity is still relatively modest, there are indications the long hoped for BRAC boom is starting to finally take hold in the local home building industry.
Anecdotal evidence from developers and builders suggests, as one said, that the 21014 ZIP Code — Bel Air, Emmorton, Rock Spring, Fountain Green, North Bel Air — is hot and is attracting BRAC buyers moving to the county.
Other hot areas are the 21015 ZIP which includes the middle Route 24 corridor in Abingdon and 21001 along Route 7 between Riverside and Beechtree Estates just west of Aberdeen.
At Richardson's Legacy off Tollgate Road near West Ring Factory Road near Bel Air, builder Richmond American Homes has sold about half of the units in the 42-lot first section, developer Mike Euler said recently. The three-, four- and five-bedroom units start in the mid-400s.
Euler said his development is seeing BRAC buyers coming from northern New Jersey who, he said, want the Bel Air area schools and proximity to shopping, eating out and medical services. And, he added, they also want homes with public water and sewer services.
While Harford's single family home building industry isn't likely to return to its record setting months of the late 1980s or even the early 2000s, any increase in activity over what has happened since 2007 will be a welcome sign for the overall local economy. Single family buyers tend to have more disposable income and the units themselves tend to generate more local tax revenue.
Like everywhere else in the United States, the home building industry in Harford County has been hurt by the recession, which has flooded the market with foreclosed homes, depressing prices in its wake. At the same time, developers were having difficulty securing reasonable financing for new projects.
Over the past nine months, however, the county government has seen a pickup in the number of new housing developments it is reviewing, with most of them being in the GreaterBel Air area.
There are still plenty of foreclosures on the market, according to current multiple listings for Harford County.
Meanwhile, the so-called age targeted communities that offer mainly condos or attached villas and cater to people age 55 and older also are still seeing brisk sales across the price spectrum, again with the most activity in the center of the county.
InBel Air, where land for new development is essentially nonexistent, Legacy at Gateway developer Mike Jones said recently that his builder Ryan Homes is going ahead with more buildings in the over-55 condo community where units start in the 160's.
In another age-targeted community, Tollgate Village just outside theBel Air town limits, builder Toll Brothers is nearing the end of sales for villas that typically go for $500,000 and up and appear to be holding their value based on resales data.
Sales are also ramping up at Fallston Commons off Route 1 near Walmart where Ryan Homes is offering villas in the 55-and-over community starting in the 270's, according to its website.
According to its website, Bob Ward Companies is closing out sales on its "executive townhomes" at the local builder/developer's Vale Meadows community off Vale Road, also just outside theBel Air town limits, where units start in the mid-300's.