The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 15, 2013

Home show opens with elevated mood

By Wally Kennedy

JOPLIN, Mo. — It is likely that by the end of this month the city of Joplin will have issued nearly $800 million in building permits since the May 22, 2011, tornado.

In the 21 months from June 2011 to February 2013, city records show that building permits for new homes and commercial properties, and repair and renovation projects have totaled $791 million in construction value.

That compares with an average of $94.8 million per year for the 10 years previous to 2011, according to city records.

In all, insurance companies have paid out $1.6 billion in property claims associated with the tornado, state records show. That figure does not include losses associated with workers’ compensation, medical costs, life insurance and disability.

The rebuilding of Joplin has boosted the local home building and home products market, and that contributed to an upbeat mood Friday at the Home Builders’ Association Home Show 2013 at the Joplin Holiday Inn Convention Center, 3615 S. Range Line Road.

More than 100 exhibitors have booths at the show, which continues through Sunday.

A display of playground equipment caught the eye of Alice Swindle, of Carthage.

“That would be awesome for my grandchildren,’’ she said. “It’s got everything — a picnic table, swings and a slide. It would be just like a park in our backyard.’’

Nearby, Ron and Joanne West, of Joplin, were checking out a storm shelter. The show has seven vendors of storm shelters each featuring a different approach. The Wests, who purchased a storm shelter for their home last year, were checking out the latest features on the newest models.

“These are designed with doors that swing in,’’ said Ron West, pointing to a model offered by Family Safe, of Republic. “The door on our shelter swings out. If something were to blow up next to our door, we would not be able to get out.’’

When the Wests were asked whether they ever imagined that they would become experts on storm shelters, they declared in unison: “No.’’

Said Joanne West: “We crawled under our house when the tornado hit. We never thought about it until the tornado.’’

Dennis Durham, with Closetworks in Webb City, offers a storm shelter manufactured by DuPont that includes a layer of Kevlar in its design. Sales of storm shelters surged last year as post-tornado home building kicked into high gear, Durham said.

“Home building surged early last year and then it kind of fell apart,’’ he said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty out there. We’re just hoping it will surge again this year.’’

The city issued 15 permits for new homes in January and 25 in February. So far, more than 1,900 permits for new homes have been issued since the tornado.

“We think there will be growth, but slow growth in new homes now,’’ said Steve Cope, the city’s building inspector. “People are still waiting to see how things will develop in certain areas.’’

He noted that some “spec’’ homes constructed last year are still on the market.

Crystal Harrington, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Missouri, said local builders are optimistic about new home construction in the Joplin area.

“The numbers nationwide are showing that housing is really increasing and that unemployment is going down,’’ she said. “Clearly, a lot of those jobs are attached to the housing industry.’’

Harrington said a recent meeting of the home builders illustrates the point.

“One builder said he had talked to more people about custom homes in the last two weeks than he has in the last three years,’’ she said. “There were seven builders in the room, and there were nods all around about people starting to talk to these builders about a home.’’

Harrington said conversations with the home buyers revealed something interesting.

“They were not affected by the tornado, but had been thinking about building a home,” she said. “They decided to wait until their builder wasn’t so busy with tornado work. One of them said: ‘I did not want him building my house when he was doing other houses. I wanted him to focus and put everything he had into my house.’’’

Harrington said the builders were not looking at it from the perspective of the buyer.

“What we are seeing is a delayed reaction because of the tornado. If you look at it from a buyer’s perspective — that they are putting $200,000 to $400,000 in a home — they want the best job they can get,’’ she said.

Helping fuel that construction is an apparent easing of a buyer’s ability to get a mortgage.

“I think we are on the precipice of a huge snowballing effect that could go on for the next 18 months. People are saying: ‘OK, it’s time.’’’

Time and place

Home Builders’ Association Home Show 2013 at the Joplin Holiday Inn Convention Center, 3615 S. Range Line Road, will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $5 per person. Children under age 12 get in free.