Money tends to get all the blame for why builders and developers find it so difficult to profitably offer new homes that cost what normal, everyday people can pay.
Rightfully so, for the most part, but there's more.
The expense of spiraling local, county, state, and national regulatory fees heaps atop already-high lot costs. Labor's gotten very tricky to model across a subdivision due to lumpy and choppy capacity. Materials costs have mostly cooperated, but only because oil prices have been so low and distributing them to job sites these days is getting a break from lower gas prices. Borrowing costs remain low, but the offsets on regulatory fees, code compliance, development charges, local impact fees, utility hook-ups, and other taxes amount to a new residential community development penalty that many builders can't afford not to pass on to home buyers.
And then there's time.
There's the time value of money, and it's opposite, the lost value of money when it's put in place and then gathers only costs. Carrying costs of insurance, interest payments, holding fees, etc.
Here, Wall Street Journal staffer Chris Kirkham looks at research forthcoming from Trulia that maps the consequential relationship between prolonged zoning and permitting processes in certain localities, and builders and residential developers' hesitance to hang in and do what they do in those places.
Kirkham's key take-away is here:
Single-family housing starts across the U.S. remain nearly 30% below the previous 30-year average, and Trulia’s study found that the rate of home building relative to demand is also below historical averages. But the rate at which builders are bringing supply to the market as prices go up varies widely across the country.
Places such as Las Vegas, Raleigh, N.C., and Atlanta have been able to meet rising demand with additional housing units over the past 20 years, the study found, while the new housing supply in markets such as Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco was much less responsive to rising prices over time.
Why the 8-, 12-, 24-month or even longer delays in some localities? The reasons are plentiful. But how reasonable those reasons are is questionable.
NIMBY-ism, BANANA-ism (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), inadequate local agency staffing, draconian local zoning laws and rules, a shortage of residential development engineers, federal agency overreach, etc.
As builders and developers model their land investments, they've got to look across time--in many cases over a 24- or 36- or 48-month period--to determine whether the lots will meet internal rates of return hurdles through the investment timeline. If some fair amount of that timeline is used up while they struggle with localities to obtain all the necessary permits, the fuse burns too far, and they'll miss part of the demand cycle it takes to return their investment.
So, they balk at putting money into place in those localities at all, and instead look for places where they can invest in more predictable timelines. Who can blame them? But that's why there's a vicious circle of inventory constraint and high prices in some of the areas where job growth should be stoking demand for housing at the entry-level price tiers.
The answers may be in the hands of people who live in those places and pay taxes there already. They vote; they make laws; they often decide whether there's room or not for more people.
The American Dream--is it only for those who've already dreamt it? Or can it include those who'd dare to dream it today?