LIKE THE BIG RIVER THAT RUNS in front of the landmark Gateway Arch, the St. Louis housing market maintains a steady, seemingly slow-moving course. “There are no big ups and downs here,” says Greg Whittaker, president of Whittaker Homes, the third-largest builder in town with more than 500 starts in 2004.

Whittaker, for one, will see that trend continue. The company is nearly two years into a 750-acre, 5,700-unit traditional neighborhood in St. Charles County, the market's growth area northwest of St. Louis, that he expects will keep him busy for another dozen years. “It used to be a bedroom community [for St. Louis], but now it's attracting employers and business on its own,” he says of St. Charles County, which ranks among the nation's leaders in job growth.

Overall, builders and developers are heading off any drop-offs by keeping inventories trim, while local governments pursue other means than impact fees and regulations to pay for growth. “We're not saddled with negatives that can dampen a market,” says Patrick Sullivan, executive officer of the HBA of Greater St. Louis.

St. Louis still baffles people, including a Hanley Wood Market Intelligence report that the Gateway City is likely at a crossroads after great strides in 2004.

That analysis is somewhat due to St. Louis' low demand-supply ratio and job growth, at .86 and 1.1 percent, respectively, the lowest among the four markets featured here. But its affordability numbers are staggering: 69 percent of the homes sold are to buyers at or below the nation's median income. Says Sullivan, “We may not be as hot as Vegas or Atlanta, but for us, times are good.”

†SOURCE: NAHB/WELLS FARGO HOUSING OPPORTUNITY INDEX

Hotness Ranking: 58 (of 75 markets)
Hotness Ranking: 58 (of 75 markets)
TOWN FOOLERY: These condo/townhome mansions from Whittaker Homes are designed to look like stately single-family homes that have been subdivided over the years.
TOWN FOOLERY: These condo/townhome mansions from Whittaker Homes are designed to look like stately single-family homes that have been subdivided over the years.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: St. Louis, MO.