Washington State Builders: Do They Walk The Talk?

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Sep 8, 2009

The Homebuilders Association of Kitsap County is unable to "walk the talk" when it comes to the home affordability argument, as they have demonstrated in their September 09 newsletter

On page 3 they issue a "battle cry" to their members to contact the Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC) in order to convince them to remove the home fire sprinkler provision from the code. They say it is because a national study concluded that for every $1,000 increase in home price, 86 qualified buyers will be priced out of the market in the Bremerton/Silverdale area. They also claim that an additional $5,000 will price 800 of these buyers out of the market.

The analysis from their cited study fails to take into consideration important major determinants of housing affordability; prevailing market interest rates, and a buyer's credit standing/debt-credit ratio. House pricing and income alone, which were the factors considered in the study, do not determine housing affordability.

The irony here is that immediately underneath the above-mentioned, there is an advertisement for a custom countertop fabricator offering "the place to go for the best selection of solid surface counters." This is where they lose total credibility.

I conducted my own research into how much custom countertops would cost if I was building a home in Kitsap County. I was told that granite, as compared to other products in today's market, was the most cost effective option at $70-$75 a square foot,installed. Wow! Wonder how many people will be priced out of the  market by that?!

Let's get back to the matter of credibility.The average price for a home fire sprinkler system is $1.61 a sq. sprinklered ft. This price includes all costs to the builder, including design, installation, and any water tap and service fees that apply. That price does not come anywhere near other amenities offered by homebuilders. Therefore, pricing is not the issue. It is the fact that it is an unseen feature and not a "glitter" item. At issue here is not home affordability, it is the "bottom line."

According to Buddy Dewar increase in the price of a home by a fire sprinkler system decreases the amount of "glitter" that the homebuyer will purchase when buying a home. He says that builders know that buyers are willing to spend more per sq/ft. in a home to get amenities. Dewar tells us that "the glitter factor" is what makes homebuilders competitive in the new housing market. So the builder's true worry may not be that buyers will be priced out of the market; it is that the purchaser will not buy so many amenities, thereby reducing their competitive edge. Dewar posits that, in fact, no one will be priced out of the market; they will simply have to shift the combination of features, or the base price in their home selection. Most importantly, he concludes "the ability of homebuilders to remain competitive must never supersede life safety requirements in new homes."

I will leave you with one final thought. The people who "talk the talk" and "walk the walk" are the members of the fire service. Their motive is not driven by "the bottom line" or "competitive edge"; it is driven by years of witnessing the devastation of fire, carrying out the dead, and wishing it would end.

So whom should the WA SBCC believe? I hope they make the right decision for the people of Washington State.