2017-01-26 / Front Page

Building jumps 23.5%

Remarkably, home sales rise by same rate
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

ELMWOOD TOWNSHIP builder Joe Francetic operates a crane at a construction project off M-22. ELMWOOD TOWNSHIP builder Joe Francetic operates a crane at a construction project off M-22. The value of building permits issued by the county jumped 23.5 percent last year, keeping workers in the construction trades hopping and business owners on the lookout for more help.

According to the county Construction Code Authority’s (CCA) year-end report, the estimated value of projects for which permits were issued totaled $57,247,890 — just $192,719 short of the all-time high recorded in 2000.

The figure, however, is somewhat skewed because of changes made in 2007 in how permits are tallied. A graph on Page 2 shows that construction has not yet returned to the levels leading up to the housing crunch that started in 2008.

Still, builders have been happy — especially when their crews are full.

Jon Stimson of Good Harbor Builders was busy last year with small-scale projects — like decks, dormers and small additions. He was hindered from taking on bigger projects because the construction labor pool is small.

FRANCETIC HOME Builders is remodeling this home on M-22 in Elmwood Township.FRANCETIC HOME Builders is remodeling this home on M-22 in Elmwood Township.“I haven’t taken on new work (because of the labor shortage),” Stimson said. “It’s not fair to my clients.”

About one quarter of last year’s permits — some 139 — were for new single-family dwellings. It marked the third-straight year of growth since the Enterprise began tracking new home starts in 2014. That year, permits for single-family dwellings totaled just 99.

New home construction, needed to keep up with demand for homes in Leelanau County, represented about 67 percent of the total value of permitted projects.

That demand for home building projects prompted a subcontractor working in Leelanau County to become a general contractor.

Joe Francetic ran a 26-member framing crew out of Elmwood Township until three years ago, when he made the move from subcontractor to contractor. With 16 years of experience in the building trades, he’s now owner of Francetic Home Builders and working on his client’s building projects from conception to completion.

“If you’re not busy, there is something going on,” Francetic said of the strong construction trades market. “The hardest part is finding good people. Many of my people have gone out on their own, and I can’t blame them for that.”

Francetic said he never considered abandoning his steady work in a subcontractor role in the years immediately following the housing collapse.

“It would be too scary,” he said.

The project he was working on last week off M-22 in Elmwood Township exemplified the type of demand that kept contractors humming in 2016. He was working for a couple who owned and rented out the home for years. With retirement looming, they are selling their home near Lansing and plan to live full-time in the county.

As their extended family expands, they need more room — and their home needs a facelift. Francetic is turning a one-story ranch to a bayside, two-story home complete with a “mancave” covered bar overlooking West Grand Traverse Bay.

There were no new home starts last year for Steve and Jackie Cuson of Sweetwater Contracting in Leelanau Township. But they were still busy.

“It was more like the year of the kitchen,” Jackie Cuson said. “This winter going on into 2017, interest spilled over into bathrooms.”

She is optimistic about the year to come.

“Our phone has been ringing and we’ve had a lot of interest on the website.”

Laura and Thomas Cavendish of Lord & Lady Construction are as busy as they’ve ever been. The couple started their business in 2008 at the onset of the housing crash and have slowly built their work load to include everything from repairs to single-family homes.

“We have a whole home-build ready to go any day as soon as the permits are issued,” Laura Cavendish said.

Like other contractors, Lord and Lady has been challenged by a lack of crew members. When the house-building market tanked in 2009, so did the financial outlook for those in the skilled building trades. Many left the area or changed their occupation altogether.

“We have some good guys working for us but it’s hard to find people,” Cavendish said. “McDonalds pays $11 an hour for a lot less physical work. Construction is hard work.”

Less than a month into the new year, the contractor’s calendar is filling up fast. In addition to the pending new home project, they have remodels scheduled and another single-family residence appears to be in the works for later this year.

“There’s a lot of work and not enough people to do it,” she said.

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