Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The (Not So) Secret Lives of Developers

In a new book architecture professor, Witold Rybczynski, illustrates the ups and downs of real estate development. Not the Donald Trump variety -- the development of regular neighborhoods for regular people.

From the
Newsweek review of Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-first Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway:

"The book falls into the established genre of the construction narrative. In the early 1980s, Tracy Kidder followed along as a Massachusetts couple, their architect and construction crew built a custom home, a journey he portrayed in "House." In the late 1980s, NEWSWEEK’s own Jerry Adler tagged along as a Manhattan developer toiled to create a midtown office tower, a story he told in "High Rise: How 1,000 Men and Women Worked Round the Clock for Five Years and Lost $200 Million Building a Skyscraper." Unlike Kidder or Adler, Rybczynski isn’t a reporter, but his account benefits from the fact that relatively few Americans live in either high-rises or custom-built homes; instead, the majority of us live in developments more or less like the one whose creation he’s captured.

The town and the developer squabble over just how many houses can fit on Mrs. Wrigley’s old farm; over how to dispose of residents’ sewage, and whether picket fences should be made of wood or vinyl. Much of this drama is decidedly quiet (one chapter is entitled “More Meetings”), and the result is a story unlikely to be optioned for a big-screen popcorn movie.

The bad news is that nearly two years after the U.S. housing boom began to ebb, it’s not clear when the real-estate market may return to full speed. While the sluggishness affects anyone thinking of selling their home, it’s especially hard for builders and developers."

The current sluggishness being experienced by developers is good for home buyers, however. Some builders in the Portland area have discounted their houses by 30%, and we're not even experiencing a housing slump to the degree many areas are. We're benefiting from the large number of people who are migrating here (who doesn't want to live in Portland?), keeping our market comparatively strong.

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