Builders' hopes fade with war, economic gloom

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Homebuilders have been hoping that lower interest rates and a resurgence of consumer confidence would pull their business out of the doldrums later this year.

But with America at war and the economic outlook up for grabs, builders are resigned to another year of decline in 1991.


"The oil that drives our engine is consumer confidence," said Martin Perlman, a Houston builder who is president of the National Association of Home Builders. "There was a lack of consumer confidence before the war. If this war ends quickly, I think consumer confidence will come back very quickly."

The homebuilders held their annual industry gathering in Atlanta last weekend. But analysts at the builders show are forecasting another year of double-digit declines for America's housing market.


"The pace of home building continues to weaken," Mr. Perlman said."We've ended the year with just under 1.2 million starts -- that's the lowest level since 1982."

And in 1991, the NAHB is predicting, nationwide housing starts will drop another 11 percent to about 1.05 million new homes.

"We are still betting that the housing downswing will hit bottom in this quarter," said David Seiders, NAHB chief economist. "We got about a 13 percent decline in housing starts last year from 1989 -- quite a bit different than we expected.

"But it's not as bad as the early 1980s or the late 1970s. Not quite," he said.

Homebuilders from many parts of the country say they would have a hard time imagining a tougher time for business.

"Nothing prepared me for what I have been through in 1990," said Gary Garzynski, with Virginia-based Long Signature Homes. "In the Washington area right now we are in a very deep recession-depression.