Fernando Pagés has been build-ing homes for 30 years, and this current housing downturn is the first he can recall that has dampened demand for affordable housing. “I’ve got $120,000 homes that are just sitting there, and others that have $60,000 in down-payment assistance available,” says Pagés, president of Brighton Construction in Lincoln, Neb., which will build 40 homes this year but probably sell only half that number.
Tighter credit restrictions make it tougher for buyers to qualify for a loan, particularly lower-income buyers, who are Brighton’s primary customers. In fact, the builder is attracting more buyers who are moving down from the $300,000 house they own to a $150,000 house “they can buy free and clear,” says Pagés.
He’s reluctant to predict when the downturn might subside, especially when one of his potential buyers in Sheridan, Wyo., was trying to sell his house in this market, which has a 36-month supply of homes in the same price range. But he anticipates greater demand for quality at an affordable price. “People will not buy something unless it’s a great deal, so builders have to find new ways to build economically.”
In Sheridan, he’s developing a second version of Liberty Village, Brighton’s affordable, green, infill community in Lincoln with 16 single-family homes and four townhouses, priced from $120,000 to $135,000. Its two customizable models target Lincoln’s immigrant populations, including Vietnamese and Sudanese owners whose use of living spaces varies markedly from Westerners’. For example, Muslims observe a strict separation between areas for bathing and waste disposal, so one of Brighton’s house plans includes a room with a shower, sink, and bidet but no toilet.