Take a drive around Orange County, and you may see something you haven’t for a long, long time: bulldozers moving earth and carpenters pounding nails. But the sound you may hear is something louder and more profound than heavy equipment at work. It’s the collective sigh of relief coming from the executive wings of residential development companies across the region.
Since the industry collapsed in the mid- 2000s, homebuilders have been closing and consolidating at an unprecedented clip, hoping to hang on long enough for the economic tsunami to recede. Now, it appears, conditions are steadily improving with the talk in boardrooms and around conference tables about the future.
“For the past five or six years, we have been sitting around tables fixing things,” says John Baayoun, Lennar division president. “Now, we are creating things. It’s refreshing.”
Even more important, it is a huge shot in the arm for regional employment, and it’s driving interest and optimism back to an industry that was the lifeblood of the Orange County economy for decades. What was kick-started by the Irvine Co. more than two years ago in northeast Irvine is spreading across the county, from Anaheim and Garden Grove to the rolling hills east of San Juan Capistrano and communities in between. Contributing to the rebound are historically low interest rates, record affordability, pent-up demand and a growing wave of buyers who are bypassing traditional lenders because they are purchasing with cash.
Consumer confidence is the other key ingredient in this equation, industry experts say. Although most builders interviewed by OC METRO believe that the national economy is still fragile, they agree that the psyche and attitude of today’s buyer in Orange County is much brighter today.