Real Estate: Weakened demand for new construction on the North Fork

03/25/2011 5:32 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sub-contractor Peter Klipp of Peter Klipp Drywall of Mattituck spackles the study of a new home as he talks to fellow builder Rob Gabrielsen.

Even at the height of the housing market boom, there was little large-scale new home development on the North Fork. And unlike many other parts of the United States where cheaply constructed cookie-cutter single-family houses were thrown up by the hundreds, new home projects in our area tended toward a limited number of higher end homes like the Highlands in Aquebogue development or vacation condominiums such as the Cliffside resort in Greenport.

But since the bust, even that small amount of spec development has come to a halt, says Rob Gabrielsen of Gabrielsen Builders in Jamesport.

“You just have to drive around the area,” he said. “You used to see ten or fifteen homes going up. That segment of the new home market has definitely been the hardest hit.”

Mark Boeckman, the owner of Boeckman Construction in Mattituck, agrees and says the slowdown has extended beyond subdivision projects to individual homes.

“I haven’t seen a set of plans for a new house for six months,” he said. “People seem to be holding off.”

New construction may have slowed down, it’s not completely moribund, according to Mr. Gabrielsen. His company is seeing more renovation projects than new home building, but they’re still building high-end homes.

Christine Owen of Owen Construction in Baiting Hollow observes that the extremely higher-end home market has not slowed significantly, but she’s noticed a difference in what people are looking for in a new home.

“Average customers are now tending to keep home size in conformity with neighborhood standards,” she said.

The scaling down of square footage isn’t the only significant trend in new home construction since the dip in the housing market took effect.

Mr. Boeckman has noticed that high-end home customers tend to consider environmentally friendly materials, although in his experience, ambitious “green” projects like geothermal heating have not always panned out as cost effective. His company has not yet installed solar panels in any new home construction project, but he expects interest in solar technology to increase in the future.

According to Ms. Owen, customers have shown an interest in adding the necessary infrastructure to allow going solar, but many are waiting for improved technology before they take the plunge.

While North Fork customers may not yet fully embrace solar and geothermal alternatives, there is a healthy interest in energy efficiency, says Mr. Gabrielsen.

“With the price of oil soaring, many customers are looking at natural gas if it’s available,” he said. “They ask about windows and doors. People are getting educated about these issues and it’s forcing manufacturers to come up with more insulation options.”
In addition to a focus on energy-efficient options, Mr. Gabrielsen says the trend towards open areas for working and entertaining continues.

“Even though people may sometimes go off at a tangent in terms of new home design, at the end of the day they come back to a traditional look. We get requests for traditional casings for doors and windows, exposed beams, the whole beach cottage-y look,” he said.

That traditional look can be achieved with some interesting new products that effectively mimic more costly traditional materials, such as wood, stone and cedar shingles.

Ms. Owen said many of her customers like the traditional appearance of a product that has the look and feel of clear premium lumber, but is in fact a maintenance-free cellular PVC trim. If properly installed it does not require painting and is ideal for anything from trim and fascia to detailed mill work.

“People definitely want products that look authentic but don’t require a lot of maintenance,” she said.

Some of the new products also offer significant cost savings.

“Traditional stone fireplaces are very popular and can be very expensive,” added Mr. Gabrielsen. “But you can use a more reasonably priced cultured stone that is a sliced real stone veneer. Products are much better these days than they used to be.”
Mr. Boeckman agrees that North Fork customers want the traditional look and he expects that preference to continue.

“They tend to want homes constructed with materials like granite, marble and tile,” he said. “We don’t do too much out here that’s out of the ordinary.”