Starter Home Barriers

Builder Magazine Cover - March '15As a way to track my thoughts and findings on Affordable Housing, I plan to continue posts here under the tags of “Affordable Housing” and “Sand Hill Farm“.  This will include my thoughts and recollections from Culver’s Affordable Housing Task Force meetings.  That way anyone interested in my take can follow along.

In that vein, I just read an article in Builder magazine titled:  “Are New Starter Homes History?”  I found some interesting take-aways from the article.  Two of the biggest are that they consider a home under $200,000 a starter home and that the general rule for starter homes is 2.5 time median household income, which according to our last Affordable Housing Task Force meeting puts a starter home in Culver at $113,000.  That’s not happening by any stretch of the imagination without serious subsidizing.  Here are some other take-aways from the article:

  1. Making a $200,000 home work is Junior-high-level math.  Solving for 20% profit – Land and building direct costs cannot exceed $160,000.
  2. The lowest build cost is around $50 a foot. To be competitive with existing stock, you need a 2000 sf home which gives you $100,000 for bricks and sticks and $60,000 for the lot.  (That is a price for a developed lot with all the infrastructure, e.g., water, sewer, storm, streets, sidewalks, street lights, etc.)
  3. Metrostudy guidelines say estimated price per bulk lots has gone up from around $50,000 in the recession to over $80.000.
  4. Even if land can be secured at a reasonable cost, cash-thirsty localities heap fees upon fees that weigh more and more heavily on the final home price.
  5. Residential material costs have risen 45% in the last decade.
  6. One way to reduce per lot land costs is to increase density.
  7. Value engineering can bring down costs at the expense of amenities, i.e. build a no frills box.
  8. One question is does today’s starter-home buyer – a millennial adult more often than not  –  want to move into a boxy, no-frills home with Formica and vinyl after living in high-tech student housing and ritzy apartments.  The expectation of what a customer thinks an entry level house is can be crazy.  They want granite countertops, tile backsplash and stainless steel appliances.
  9. There are political ramifications to introducing lower-income citizens into established communities.  Entry-level buyers new to the neighborhood take the not-in-my-backyard hit.

A lot of these are tainted by location.  The commentary about millennials as the target may not be the same here, but when we target starting teachers, we may run into that mindset.  Some of the expectations for the subsidized housing that Culver Academies provides gives credence to this mindset.

Home Image Source:  Duane Sala Construction

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