A total of 192 building permits were issued by Cobb County and its six cities during April. That’s up from 114 in March and up from 126 in April of last year. Smyrna led the way among cities, issuing 25 residential building permits.
It was also the fourth month in a row in which the number of building permits in Cobb eclipsed the 100 mark.
The housing market is bouncing back even stronger than many Realtors imagined it would back when the market scraped bottom about three years ago, said Wendy Bunch, president of Cobb Association of Realtors.
“The good thing about seeing all these permits, it’s a great sign, because that’s a sign of recovery,” Bunch said. “You have all those permits and it means carpet layers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, are going back to work.”
It also means stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and your neighborhood appliance or furniture store are probably doing better than they were a year or two ago.
Home Depot, for example, announced Tuesday its first quarter net income rose 18 percent. It cited a recovery in the housing market as the primary reason for the increase.
“People that buy new houses have to buy lawn equipment and fertilizers, furniture, appliances, cabinets, blinds, and it also employs our utility people with more gas sales, more Internet connections, more cable TV,” Bunch said. “Housing drives the employment of so many people. It’s bringing money back into our economy.”
The last time Cobb County saw this many new housing permits in a single month was before the recession hit in late 2007, according to figures published monthly in the MDJ.
Builders have been noticing a pickup since the second half of last year and it has gathered steam this spring.
Bunch said builders are having trouble keeping up with demand, as buyers who were on the fence are taking advantage of historically low interest rates.
The first projects to benefit from this uptick in demand were subdivisions that started but stalled when the recession hit and were left with empty lots and overgrown common areas. Most of those properties have now been scooped up out of foreclosure by builders who are filling the vacant lots with new houses.
But in Cobb County, those situations are becoming harder to find, Bunch said.
“We don’t have as many; we’ve almost depleted that,” she said. “Cherokee and Paulding counties are coming around, too. Slowly but surely.”
That means even developers of raw land are thinking about cranking back up.
Developer Richard Duncan of Kennesaw is one who’s recently taken the plunge.
He’s a small residential developer who specializes in east Cobb land deals and just got approved Tuesday for a small subdivision off Wesley Chapel Road near Sandy Plains Road in which he plans to develop nine home sites on 4.65 acres.
“This is my first project I’ve been able to start putting on the ground since 2007, because we haven’t had any activity,” Duncan said. “The last project I did was Cheshire Manor and I sold that in 2006 and since then I haven’t really done anything. But I saw a movement in the market so we picked this one up.”
Even with the spike in new home sales, Duncan said Cobb County is working with only about 15 percent of the development capacity that it enjoyed during the heyday of 1995 through 2006.
“We’re 15 percent of the capacity of where we were when it crashed,” he said. “Compared to doing nothing, this feels like we’re in a boom but it’s only 15 percent of what we used to have.”
In east Cobb, Duncan said the Walton, Lassiter and Pope school districts all seem to be selling well.
“There wasn’t as many vacant lots left over in east Cobb so it has started picking up quicker,” he said. “There were some, in Sprayberry, and even in Walton, but not near what there was in other counties and even in other areas of Cobb.”
Duncan says he’s being very careful as he cranks his business back up this time.
“I used to sub everything out but now I’ve actually got a company where I’m doing the work myself,” he said. “I used to have eight subs, but now I’m using three to four employees and then I’ll have three to five subs also.”