Sunday, May 17, 2009

Please see my new blog site!

I have moved my blogging effort to Please click thru and "follow" that blog. Sorry for any inconvenience, but I think this will serve us all better in the long run. Thanks for your interest in First Street Builders.

Monday, May 4, 2009

NAR says sales are up -- Especially in the South!

Pending home sales were up in March, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The pending home sales index rose 3.2 percent to 84.6 from 83.7 in March 2008. The index was also up from February’s index reading of 82.

In the South, the index rose even higher, up 7.7 percent from March 2008 to 93.2. The South's index for March was also up 8.5 percent from February.

It should take a few months for the market to gain momentum, said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, in a statement.

“This increase could be the leading edge of first-time buyers responding to very favorable affordability conditions and an $8,000 tax credit, which increases buying power even more in areas where special programs allow buyers to use it as a downpayment,” he said. “We need several months of sustained growth to demonstrate a recovery in housing, which is necessary for the overall economy to turn around.”

A pending home sales index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined as well as the first of five consecutive record years for existing-home sales, according to NAR.

NAR also released its housing affordability index figure, which fell from February but is still 30.8 percentage points higher than a year ago. The housing affordability index was 166.7 in March, compared to 174.4 in February.

The March figure was still near a record high for NAR’s housing affordability index, which has been published monthly since 1981.

An index reading of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced existing single-family home.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Does your dream home improvement project have you scared to death? Don't know where to start? I'd like to help with a little FREE advice.

Where do I begin? I'd like to re-do the kitchen and add that additional bedroom and office, but I don't think I can afford a contractor. Can I do it myself? Yeah, I think so, but where do I start? I'd like to do some of the work myself, but I can't do the electrical. Do I need a permit? How do I get it? From whom? What will it cost? What do I need to submit? Where do I get plans? How am I going to find subcontractors? How do I keep from getting ripped off? Do I need a bunch of bids? How many? How do I get a loan? Do I need a lawyer? Any halfway sane person thinking about a remodel is asking themselves all these questions and many many more.

The idea of undertaking a renovation on your own is overwhelming. Who's gonna do the work? Who does what in what order? And on and on and on.

I think I can help. Times are tough, and people need help getting remodels and renovations done, so I offer you my help -- free for nothing. What!??! I'm Pat Morgan of First Street Builders and want to give you the benefit of my experience. But why is an experienced builder going to help me do my project and not get paid, you ask. That's an excellent question.

There are a number of reasons:
  1. It keeps me off the streets. You may have heard -- the building business is in the toilet. New projects for a builder/remodeler are few and far between. I'd like to use this time to be helping you with your project vs. sitting at home watching Oprah.
  2. I'll share my contacts and subcontractors with you. If you choose to use any of them, you're helping me keep them in business through this tough time so they'll be around to help me when the market recovers.
  3. I believe that I'm more likely to pick up jobs of my own if I'm busy in the industry. Activity begets activity. It keeps me in the mix and positioned for the next opportunity.
  4. Maybe it's corny, but I like to help people. It's the old karma thing about what goes around, comes around. God didn't put us here to be selfish and self-absorbed.
So, check me out. Look at my website and my profile. And call me or email about your dreams and your project so we can discuss it. I'd like to hear from you. Really.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Built to code means everything is OK, right? Not!

There are building codes and municipal inspectors to enforce them throughout our fair land that supposedly protect the public from shoddy construction and homes that might collapse at any given moment. And I guess when properly enforced, they do serve that purpose. But what's required by code, and what we are easily able to do to create a much better home are two very very different things. This is changing, thank goodness, as consumers become better educated and more aware of features, methods, and techniques readily available in residential construction to make for a more energy efficient, more comfortable, quieter, and healthier home, but many folks are oblivious to these things and continue to be satisfied with the worst the building industry has to offer -- a house built to code, and no more.

In large part, that's because many of the things that actually improve the home are not visible. So someone out looking at new homes doesn't see a lot of what makes the home better, and so if not informed, doesn't take it into account. Take insulation for example. One of the best innovations in recent years is sprayed in foam, the best known of which is probably Icynene ( The great thing about these products is that they seal up every crevice and crack, nook and cranny, inherent in traditional residential stick-built construction. So there is nearly zero leakage and infiltration of undesired hot or cold unfiltered air. In builder parlance, the house is "tighter".

In the photo, that stuff up in the roof rafters is Icynene we put in a recently constructed home. (The walls are John Manville's Spider fiberglass insulation, also sprayed in, but not a foam product, which we can discuss another time. If you were to ask many builders -- probably most -- they'd say that using this product will cost about three times what conventional batt insulation would cost. But I heard an argument from Carl Seville, a well known Atlanta green building consultant, that using Icynene in the roof actually can save construction dollars. We at First Street Builders have been doing it under the assumption that it was costing us money, but doing it nonetheless because it is truly a better method. But here's Carl's argument that takes us back to the title of this post. We can do attic insulation to code, or we can do it "right" (use and protect the batt insulation correctly, caulk all leakage to and from the attic space, insulate all the ducts adequately and carefully, etc), or we can do it "really right" with foam. As it turns out, "really right" foam is actually less expensive than "right" with batts. It's quicker, and better in virtually every respect than the old ways -- even when done conscientiously and as effectively as possible.

And this "better but hidden" idea applies to so many things in a house. Did you know you can get a guarantee for the lifetime of the house against floor squeaks from iLevel by Weyerhaeuser ( But the buyer can't see the iLevel floor joists (except maybe in the basement, and even then probably doesn't know what he's looking at). High efficiency HVAC systems look pretty much like low efficiency systems. Ditto for water efficient fixtures. Ditto for power saving light fixtures. The list goes on and on.

If you are a builder, a home buyer, a home owner, or a real estate broker, I invite you to dive into this new world of GREEN building and be an informed participant in the single family construction game. The green playing field is changing every day, so there's a lot to keep up with. For those of us in the business, it's an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from the pack, and a way for us to truly serve our home buyer clientele.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Nation's Building News says retrofits essential to energy equation.

In the search for energy savings and reduction of green house gases and global warming, this is a fact often overlooked -- that we get the biggest bang for the buck improving the energy efficiency of older structures, not the newest ones. Read this interesting article below. -- Pat

Home Remodels, Retrofits Key to Energy Efficiency in Housing

As the nation's home builders embrace green building in growing numbers, industry research indicates that even the most aggressive efficiency goals for new homes won't make a dent in overall energy consumption.

Instead, remodeling and retrofitting the nation's older homes is by far the more efficient solution, industry experts said at a Jan. 21 press conference at the International Builders' Show (IBS) in Las Vegas.

The panelists spoke as NAHB commemorated Green Day, drawing attention to the green education and certification programs offered by the association and the many green products, supplies and materials on display at IBS, the world's largest home building industry show.

The home building industry can combat the potential effects of global climate change by providing additional training to its members and by encouraging home owners to alter some of their habits and make energy-efficient improvements to their homes, the panelists said.

Federal energy officials estimate that Americans consume about 21% of the energy produced each year to operate and maintain their homes — for heating, cooling and electrical appliances, from stoves and refrigerators to televisions, computers and hair dryers. "By just making thoughtful choices, we can reduce that impact," said Ray Tonjes, chair of the NAHB Green Building Subcommittee and a green home builder in Austin, Texas.

"Energy efficiency is absolutely key to our nation's continued security and to our economy,” Tonjes said. “Additionally, we know that building with energy conservation in mind is practical and profitable. My industry has stepped up to the plate to prevent the effects of global warming — but we call it responding to market demand," he said.

The greatest energy savings can be achieved by making changes to existing housing, which is less energy-efficient than today's new homes, Tonjes said. "We obviously can't solve the problem by tearing down all our inefficient housing stock and replacing it with new. We need to make some significant improvements to our existing homes," he said.

Referring to the results of a study his company conducted for the California Homebuilding Foundation last fall, Mike Hodgson, president of the California energy consulting company ConSol Energy, said that 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to single-family envelope energy consumption can be attributed to homes built before 1983.

Further, the study demonstrated that spending $10,000 retrofitting a 1960s home could save 8.5 tons of carbon, at a cost of $588 to $1,176 per ton depending on tax credits and incentives. On the other hand, increasing the energy efficiency of a new home by 35% over current state requirements would cost about $5,000 and would reduce emissions by 1.1 tons at a cost of $4,545 per ton.

"Simple arithmetic demonstrates how retrofitting existing homes with energy-efficient features is four to eight times more carbon- and cost-efficient than adding further energy-efficiency requirements to new housing," Hodgson said.

Remodeler Devon Hartman of HartmanBaldwin, a Claremont, Calif design/build firm, said his customers are heeding the call. By adding insulation and sealing and tightening the duct system in one recent large home renovation project, Hartman was able to replace four older heating and air conditioning units totaling 16 tons with a new six-ton system. "We're no longer talking about just putting on sweaters or lowering the thermostat. We're talking about creating energy through efficiency measures," he said.

As more people turn to retrofitting and remodeling, demand will increase for so-called green jobs in which skilled employees either manufacture or install components in the energy-efficient homes of the future.

Fred Humphreys, president and CEO of the Home Builders Institute, the workforce development arm of NAHB, discussed new initiatives to prepare and train these workers, including major revisions of popular industry textbooks and other training materials to reflect today's improved knowledge of building science and green technology.

For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.