There Goes the Subdivision

During the not-so-distant past, when production housing boomed like never before, there were years when nearly 2 million homes were built annually in this country. Perhaps it is because I spent so many years reporting about production behemoths like Pulte, Lennar and Centex, that I often consider the evolution, the cycles and the overall impact of that distant relative to the remodeling industry.

Like growth rings on a tree stump, it is easy to actually see the history of production building, etched onto the landscape of our major cities. Start at the center and drive outward and you will first encounter the prewar apartment blocks and bungalows. Further out you’ll see ranches of the first subdivisions built in the ’50s and ’60s. Then, in quick succession, you’ll pass the cookie-cutter architecture of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. At some point, you’ll hit the edge where home building literally ceased about 12 months ago, when the music finally stopped.

Consider the impact on Riverside and San Bernardino Counties — Southern California’s Inland Empire. In the early 2000s, these two counties shared 27,000-plus new homes annually. Not only has home building stopped there, but the area is now an epicenter in the subprime/foreclosure mess. What will become of these homes? How long will the current downturn continue to affect these communities? How will high gas prices and long commute times impact these homeowners? My contention is that the growing ranks of qualified remodelers and professional home improvement companies, with their ability to innovate and provide solutions, will ultimately play a critical role in how the story of these places unfolds. As long as job growth in these regions remains strong over the long term, remodeling and home improvement companies will be called upon to upgrade and maintain the existing housing supply. And many communities will certainly be more visually appealing as a result.

Our design story that begins on Upfront Remodeling goes directly to this point. A remodeling leader in the San Diego market, Marrokal Construction, completely reinvented a typical late-1960s tract home. This home and the homes on the street surrounding the project offer very similar, garage-oriented architecture. Half of the front elevation of these homes is garage. And the garage is all the more prominent because it occupies the front portion of the lot while the remainder of the house literally takes a backseat. To add an in-law suite, Marrokal created a detached casita in front. They joined the garage and the casita with a delightful and traditional mission-style, arched entry that opens onto a wonderful new outdoor living space — an intimate interior courtyard. Out front the visual center of the home has been shifted from the garage door to a walkway that leads up to a fountain. I’d venture to say that no other house in this production-built neighborhood looks or feels quite like this one. And the best news is that now and in the foreseeable future, these former cookie-cutter homes will provide ample work for remodelers. And while the impact on these communities will not be as swift as the work of production builders, it will certainly be at least as dramatic.