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Wisconsin housing market apparently on the mend

After several years of weakness in the home construction industry, activity among Wisconsin builders is finally picking up.

That was the message delivered by Wisconsin Builders Association President Craig Rakowski and Bill Derrick, president of Derrick Companies in New Richmond, last week during a media tour of the region.

Thanks to a proclamation from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declaring April as New Homes Month, home construction and remodeling professionals are using the optimistic start to 2013 as a way to further promote the industry.

"Our industry has been so hard hit for four or five years," Derrick said. "But home building is coming back."

Rakowski said the improvement in the housing industry is good news for the U.S. economy in general. He said the home construction and remodeling industry makes up about 17 percent of the nation's economy, so what's good for home builders is good for the U.S. and the state.

About 12,000 new homes were constructed in Wisconsin last year, he reported. Projections for 2013 indicate that upwards of 14,000 homes will be built.

That's a far cry from Wisconsin's average year of 27,000 new homes, or the peak year when 40,000 were constructed, but Rakowski said at least the numbers are headed in the right direction again.

Rakowski said home builders are urging potential customers to take the leap in 2013, as interest rates remain low, home values have risen and building materials continue to be affordable.

"It's the perfect time to build right now," he said. "Don't put it off. The message is that the 'wave' is here - you want to catch the wave."

Rakowski noted that, for every 1,000 homes built in Wisconsin each year, about 3,000 jobs are created. More new homes also mean that sales for such things as furniture and appliances climb, helping the economy even more.

Derrick said the local building scene is also seeing an increase in interest in recent months, which bodes well for the approaching construction season. At one of Derrick Companies' housing developments, sales people received three building lot reservations in one day alone.

Derrick said it's been a long time since the western Wisconsin region has seen that kind of activity.

"We're feeling like there's a light at the end of the tunnel ... and it's not a train coming at us," Derrick joked. "We're happy because things are a lot better than what they have been."

Rakowski said the optimism for 2013 is shared by builders all across the state.

"We've got pent up demand," Rakowski said. "People have been sitting on their hands for three or four years, waiting for more stability. But if people have been putting it off, they really should go out and do something now."

Derrick said builders are "holding the line" in terms of price increases to help families build their new homes, but the interest rates and building material prices won't stay low forever.

"Let's make hay while the sun is shining," he said.