Refrigerators and race cars were the more interesting parts of an interview discussion Tuesday (Oct. 4) at the 2011 Showcase Home presented by the Greater Fort Smith Association of Home Builders.
The home, located at 6307 Red Cedar Circle in Fort Smith and built by Charles Mock, is the 25th home the association has featured since 1987. A private VIP party at the Showcase home held today (Oct. 6) is part of the overall Parade of Homes that begins Oct. 8 and ends Oct. 16. The association also conducts a Parade of Homes in the Spring.
“We’re the only association, that I’m aware of, that does two parades ... along with this,” said association Executive Director Dave Hughes, pointing to the Showcase Home. “This also keeps the local housing market moving ... because we show the public several times a year what we have to offer.”
It’s no secret that the national housing market — sales and construction — has tanked in recent years. And while the Fort Smith metro area avoided much of the decline because it also avoided some of the bubble, the local sector has slowed.
Home sales in Crawford, Franklin and Sebastian counties during August were up more than 28% compared to August 2010, but sales in the three counties are down almost 5% for the first eight months of the year.
The construction sector, which includes mining and logging, has seen regional employment decline from a high of 9,100 between August and October 2008, to an August 2011 estimate of 7,900 jobs.
The value of residential construction permits during 2010 marked a three-year decline in Van Buren. In 2010, the city issued $5.583 million in residential permits, down 20.3% from 2009 and down more than 77% compared to the peak of $24.621 million in 2007.
However, residential construction decline has moderated in Fort Smith, thanks in large part to subdivision growth in and near Chaffee Crossing. New home construction permit values between May and December of 2010 totaled $26.52 million, up 53% over the $17.325 million during the same period in 2009. Permit activity in 2011 has remained steady. For example, during the third quarter of 2011, new home permit values issued on 45 homes in Fort Smith totaled $8.949 million, compared to permits for 56 homes in the 2010 period with permit values totaling $8.237 million.
Mock said there have been a few area builder bankruptcies, but “conservative bankers” and a building community “that knows how to balance” demand have helped keep the regional sector active.
“But you have to be cautious. You have to be real careful, because you can’t afford to stretch out too far,” Mock said.
Hughes said builders “have to keep moving,” and balancing inventory with demand. He also said there is an old maxim, “You can’t sell out of an empty wagon"
"So Charles (Mock) and other builders have to have homes to sell, because the demand is there. People are still buying new homes," Hughes said.
Also, Hughes and Mock said when the national and regional economies do become more dynamic, a builder with just a few homes in inventory may not be able to gear up in time to capture the growth in home sales. Hughes likened the current economy to a NASCAR race in which the drivers are stuck behind the pace car waiting to hit the throttle.
“In the caution, when the caution flag is out, those cars are bundled up back behind the (pace) car and are moving and working their strategy so that when that pace car veers off into the pits, they are ready to speed forward. Well, that’s we’re doing in the housing industry ... just trying to keep moving, because when that caution flag lifts, it’s Katy bar the door,” Hughes said.
When the economy does return to a more decent and consistent level of GDP growth, Mock is hopeful that Whirlpool will still produce refrigerators and other appliances at their Fort Smith plant.
The plant, which now employs less than 1,000, is under review by officials at Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool. The global appliance maker could close the large facility, and union officials have met with Gov. Mike Beebe and Fort Smith officials to help convince company execs to keep the plant open.
Whirlpool made production cuts and layoffs causing employment in Fort Smith to drop from about 4,600 in early 2006 to less than 1,000 today.
Many years ago, a Whirlpool salesman asked Mock why he was using GE appliances in the new homes he built. Mock, not knowing the man was a Whirlpool salesman, said GE appliances cost less.
“Every year after that, their (Whirlpool) appliances were less expensive here than GE,” Mock said.
And Mock is loyal. He uses Whirlpool appliances in all his spec homes, and in the 2011 Showcase Home.
“We’re pushing that angle (use Whirlpool) this year to show our support for the company,” Mock said. “They are a big part of this community and we want to support them and let them know we have these (Whirlpool appliances) in our Showcase Home.”
SHOWCASE HOME, PARADE
The 2011 Showcase Home is the second for Mock, and was decorated by his wife, Theresa. His first Showcase Home, built in 1991, was bought by the late philanthropist Jennings Osborne, who wanted the home for his mother.
The focus with the 2011 home is energy efficiency — as it has been in recent years with the Showcase Home — to include a special energy-saving window produced by Fort Smith-based Harry G. Barr.
“Yes, there are some higher upfront costs,” Mock said of the energy efficiency products, “but in seven or 10 years, depending on how you use your home, you’ll easily get that back in lower (utility) costs.”
Features of the Showcase Home include (link here for complete details on the home):
• 2,271 square feet, two story plan with 4 Bedrooms, 3 baths;
• 19-foot high stone natural gas fireplace in living area;
• Open living area with a wrought iron staircase rail overlook;
• Covered patio with natural gas grill, outdoor kitchen, refrigerator & sink;
• 3 car tandem garage with stained concrete floor;
• High efficiency Whirlpool kitchen appliances with gas range & double oven;
• Gas hybrid circulating hot water system; and,
• Fully landscaped lawn.
Also, the homes in the Parade of Homes will be open from Noon until 6 p.m. each day of the Parade (Oct. 8-16). The Parade features 13 entries priced from $122,900 to $314,900, and are situated in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Barling, Lavaca, Bonanza, and Hackett.
“Many of these brand new homes feature the latest in green building technology along with the newest fashion in home design. Most homes will have the builder or a Realtor on hand during showing hours,” noted a statement from the association.