Housing boom back in St. George

Posted at 2:22 PM, Jan 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-07 01:00:19-05

ST. GEORGE -- After years of tough economic conditions brought on by the collapse of the housing market, there are finally some strong signs of recovery here.

New home construction is under way in the St. George area, one of the hardest hit cities in Utah when the housing bubble burst. For years, Washington County enjoyed flush times with neighborhoods popping up in the desert.

"It just dropped. There was nothing. It was a sad thing," Carol Sapp of the Southern Utah Home Builders Association told FOX 13 of the bubble bursting.

In 2005, at the height of the building boom, Sapp said contractors in the area had more than 3,500 projects going. In 2009, that number plummeted to 561. That same year, St. George city officials said they only issued 38 home building permits.

But now, the St. George area is enjoying a building boom again. In 2011, the city issued 265 home building permits. In 2012, that number climbed to 455. Sapp said the Southern Utah Home Builders Association logged nearly 1,200 projects in 2012, up from 793 in 2011.

"In '07, '08, '09, 2010, we were not building homes like this," said Austin Anderson, the president of AJ Construction Inc. "So it's definitely a good sign to see it coming back."

Anderson said he is happy to be building again -- and hiring again. When the bubble burst, he said he went from 33 employees to four. Now he puts his workforce in "the mid 20s."

"It's just nice to be swamped again," contractor Joel Moody said as he worked on a home Anderson's company is building.

Moody said during the economic recession, he was lucky to find any job he could. Where they would show up the next day for a job, many contractors are now scheduling themselves out -- another sign of increasing work.

In neighborhoods between Washington City and St. George, home construction had picked back up. FOX 13 toured several ranging from starter homes priced in the low $200,000 range to a $1.7 million mansion.

For the past six months, St. George has been listed on an emerging market index, another sign of economic recovery. St. George, Provo, Salt Lake City are listed on the National Association of Home Builders' Improving Market Index. On Monday, the group is adding Ogden to that list.

"The short sales and foreclosures are finally gone, and we're seeing people start to take advantage of the low interest rates," Anderson said.

Despite the sunny outlook, no one appears eager to return to the carefree days before the housing market collapsed on itself.

"There's no argument that it was an overheated market," Sapp said of the boom before the collapse. "It's estimated that 15 percent of the market was driven by speculators and we don't want to see that happen again."

Sapp said she believes the home construction recovery the St. George area is seeing could be a positive sign for the rest of Utah.

"We are coming back," she said. "We're coming back strong. Utah as a whole is coming back strong."