When the national housing market imploded in 2008, Janesville architectural designer Brian Kaiser fled the residential construction business.

For 10 years, he worked instead for his cousin’s company, designing and planning commercial property redevelopments.

Now, after a decade hiatus from the residential construction game, he’s back.

Kaiser set up a booth advertising the re-launch of Kaiser Design/Build, LLC this weekend at the South Central Wisconsin Builders Association’s Home Show at the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville. The home show is an annual, local expo for residential builders and contractors to link up with local consumers.

Kaiser’s return to the world of home building comes as housing starts in Janesville are showing signs of picking up this year. That’s after years of recovery in housing prices after the recession, and a re-emerging demand—or, some might call it a shortage—in local housing on the market.

At the home show on Saturday, Kaiser had blueprints laid out on a desk showing designs for new, 1,500- to 2,500-square-foot homes he plans to build this year. He said they’ll blend some elements of the Prairie style, along with clean elements of commercial construction design he’s picked up over the past decade.

“I came back to home building because residential design is my passion,” Kaiser said. “But also, the time seems right to do it.

“I looked and there were more and more contractors putting holes in the ground. Local industry seems to be making a comeback. Those are tattle-tale signs. The bounce back here, it all seemed to lend itself to jumping back into residential building.”

Builders registered 20 housing starts with the city of Janesville between November 2017 and January 2018—starts slated to be built after first thaw this spring, according to a Gazette review of city permit records for new single-family homes. According to city records, the month of February has brought two more housing starts registered with the city, bringing the total to 22.

That’s more than double the housing starts registered at Janesville City Hall during the same, three-month period a year ago, when builders registered for 11 permits for new homes, according to city records.

Meanwhile, as the number of new-built homes is on the uptick, prices are climbing, too, a snapshot of Janesville housing starts shows.

The average cost for a new single-family home slated to be built this year is $227,000—an 11-percent jump from the $204,000 average cost for a housing start this time last year, according to a city records.

That’s in line with a 14 percent increase Rock County saw in average sale prices for existing homes between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017, according to data from the South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service.

Driving that increase is the relative scarcity of existing homes on the market. Analysts through the Wisconsin Realtors Association have said for months that tightening inventories are causing prices to climb.

As of January 2018, the average sale price for an existing home was $172,000, according to the South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service.

Doug Scott, president of custom builder Advantage Homes, last year bought The Ridges of Rock County subdivision—which is the name now of the former Kennedy Homes subdivision off Highway 26 on Janesville’s north side.

Scott showed The Gazette a map of The Ridges that shows about 60 lots now for sale—33 of which Advantage is selling. Scott said he’s got three homes for sale at The Ridges now, and this year, he plans to build several new homes there on contract, which right now is about a seven-month process.

Scott said the new homes will range in price from $250,000 to $400,000.

Scott thinks existing home sale prices in Janesville and the cost of new-built homes were “imbalanced” for years coming out of the Great Recession. Now, he believes, they have begun to “equalize” at a time when people are navigating a regional housing market that’s become tight as a drum.

Scott said he believes that trend, along with a general climb in the local economy, could boost housing starts here.

“We’ve got a lot of industry coming in town, and we also have a lot of people in Janesville who are from Madison originally and work in Madison. They bought a house here five to 15 years ago, and they can’t find anything in 1,600 square feet on the market for $250,000 in Madison.”

Like Scott, Loren Fellows, a mortgage field manager for Johnson Bank, said because the cost imbalance between new construction and existing homes has lessened compared to a few years ago, lenders are more likely to front loans on new homes, even ones built on speculation.

Rates for mortgages on new homes remain similar to fixed loans for existing homes, Fellows said.

Scott said he’s building homes this year for clients including a Parker High School teacher, an empty-nester couple who is retiring and wanting to downsize to a slightly smaller home.

“These are generally not first-time buyers, although as tight as the market is (for existing homes), I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing some first-time buyers who are two-income families,” Scott said.

Scott said the cost for home building materials has climbed in recent months, in part because of a federal tariff placed last year on Canadian lumber, but moreover because demand for construction materials is on the rise.

He said lumber costs are up about 30 percent right now, and that might be one reason for an increase in the cost of building a home in the last year.

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