Custom homebuilder John Sumodi expects a banner year for his company.
Legacy Homes of Medina, which specializes in properties that range in price from $400,000 to $800,000, saw a surge in new contracts signed in the fourth quarter last year, and that positive wave is continuing.
The company has 15 houses under construction this year, with more expected.
“This year will be our biggest year ever,” Sumodi said while standing in the kitchen of a model home in Montville Township in Medina County. “Everyone is going to see an uptick across the board.”
There’s plenty of optimism going around when it comes to residential and commercial construction in the Akron area. After years of stagnation, or even no growth, thanks to the Great Recession, many communities reported a jump last year in building permits issued and investment — both for new ventures and for remodeling and renovation projects.
Positive signs seem to be everywhere.
In Medina County, new home-building permits issued by the county last year hit 302 — the most since 2008.
In Summit County, residential construction that the county oversees was valued at $132 million — more than $40 million above the previous year.
In Portage County, the total value of all projects as reported by the permit holders was about $86 million — 14 times higher than the previous year’s total.
Experts say it’s a combination of factors leading to the growth, including lower interest rates and more consumer confidence.
Bob DeHoff of North Canton-based DeHoff Development, which has been doing commercial development for 15 years, said the climate definitely is improving.
“What we’re doing, in addition to the general economy getting stronger, is we’re seeing an uptick in the shale industry. It’s really percolating,” he said.
Not only is there development directly associated with the extraction of oil and gas, “but you have all the affiliated companies that are necessary for these companies to operate coming into the marketplace,” he said.
Stark and southern Summit counties are among the areas benefiting from the industry in search of office, warehouse and truck bay space, he said. “It’s significant.”
Getting financing for new development remains an obstacle.
“The lending requirements today are much, much stronger. The bar is higher than it was pre-recession,” DeHoff said.
The good news, he said, is interest rates are low.
“It may be tough to get through the underwriting, but once you qualify, the rates are very attractive,” he said.
Not everyone is overly exuberant, though, especially when it comes to housing starts.
Macedonia and Wadsworth, for example, saw a slide in new housing starts from a year earlier.
Macedonia dipped from 48 to 42; Wadsworth fell from 45 to 40. Twinsburg matched its same number: 21.
“You can’t make too much of the [improved] numbers because the last two or three years have been at depressed levels, but it might be the first baby step back to reasonable starts,” said Vincent Squillace, executive vice president of the Ohio Home Builders Association in Columbus.
The state saw its last housing boom seven or eight years ago, when there were 45,000 to 50,000 housing starts a year, he said. The past few years, that number has been in the 12,000 range.
For comparison, there were 90,000 housing starts in the mid-1970s.
Ohio has seen some of the worst housing-start numbers nationwide because of its stagnant population, Squillace said.
Still, at least there’s some growth, many community leaders said.
Portage County building director Randall Roberts cautioned that a couple of big projects can skew the overall picture. For instance, the recently opened Newell-Rubbermaid distribution center in Brimfield accounted for about a quarter of the new-construction valuation in the county.
But almost all categories were up across the board, he added, from new homes to commercial and agricultural construction.
Outside the cities of Aurora, Kent, Ravenna and Streetsboro, the county issues permits for everything from new construction and additions to improvement projects that need things like electrical or mechanical work.
Housing construction in Portage is a far cry from its 2005 peak of 804 new homes, but activity is slowly creeping back up. Last year, 102 new homes were built, compared to 71 the previous year.
Meanwhile, the number of new commercial properties rose from 107 in 2011 to 132 last year.
In Summit, the county oversees building projects outside of Stow, Barberton, Twinsburg, Macedonia, Norton, Munroe Falls and Peninsula.
There were 329 permits pulled for new homes, and total residential work was valued at $132 million last year. That was up from 301 permits and $90.8 million in 2011.
The number of commercial permits pulled rose from 3,742 to 3,956, but the value of projects dipped slightly from $283 million to $273 million.
“I think our economy is coming back and probably stronger than in some other communities,” said Connie Krauss, Summit County director of economic and community development. “It’s because we don’t have the big dips. We’re not like Las Vegas. We don’t lose everything and then gain a whole bunch back. Our dips are more moderate.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.