South Carolina recently adopted a series of changes to its residential building codes, revising details like wind protection zones and electrical wiring in homes for the first time in six years.
Membership: 300, down from 670 before recession
2013 President: Andy Barber
Group’s mission: Provide members with the ability to ethically and efficiently provide local communities with safe, quality and affordable housing.
The mandate, which went into action July 1, has triggered a flurry of questions from homebuilders in the Lowcountry.
That, in turn, has launched outreach efforts by the Charleston Home Builders Association and Andy Barber, the group’s new president.
Earlier this month, Barber moderated an information session about the new building codes, fielding questions from a standing-room-only crowd in the council chambers at North Charleston City Hall.
“Everyone is so busy nowadays and nobody has time, so that’s why it’s good to have an association like this in place that they can call on for help,” Barber said.
Clarifying the 900-page building code manual is just one of the marching orders for Barber, who also handles component sales at Builders FirstSource in North Charleston. Barber took the leadership post of the 300-member homebuilders association at the start of this year, replacing Steve Kendrick, who held the position in 2012.
The Charleston Home Builders Association is one of roughly 20 such associations in South Carolina, supporting its members through addressing issues such as building codes and legislation.
Barber, 50, graduated from Greenville Technical College with an architectural degree and worked his way through the construction ladder in the Upstate before arriving in the Charleston region in 1989. The Daniel Island resident touts his experience as one of the key tools in his tenure.
“I have either chaired or been involved in some committee for the last 20 years. That was a good primer,” Barber said. “I tell a lot of people this is easier because I don’t have all these committees to run, I just have to take info from them and make a decision.”
Barber also takes the helm as the Lowcountry’s homebuilding market is rebounding from the ills of the housing meltdown.
The Charleston Trident Association reported this month that the number of available homes in the tri-county area is low, fueling the need for more construction.
There were 757 new homes sold between January and April this year, up 19 percent from 2012, according to Real Estate Information Service Inc.
Construction activity also is moving higher. Work began on 1,225 new homes through the first four months of this year, up 22 percent from the same period of 2012, the firm reported.
The Lowcountry’s boom is also triggering a groundswell of new builders, kickstarting operations in the tri-county region, including new names such as Atlanta-based developers Ashton Woods Homes and Brock Built Homes.
The burgeoning roster of developers is a welcome addition for the local homebuilders group, which saw its membership dwindle amid the recession, Barber said.
Today’s roughly 300 members is down by more than half from about 670 members in the group preceding the housing downtown, he added.
Barber said larger membership helps the group influence policy and address concerns among its members.
“When we go to a county councilman or state senator and the more people we can walk through the door with, the better we are,” he said. “Keeping our membership growing is very important to us.”
Barber said the reasons for the decreased membership tally include some company mergers, in addition to builders slow to grow the workforce and some who have simply left the trade.
The Charleston homebuilders association is also actively trying to court a younger generation of homebuilders. The efforts include social events and recently forming a young professionals group with the goal to supply future association leaders.
“You look at the memberships and the (Homebuilders Association) as a whole across the country and the average age is the mid-50s, and there’s nobody coming in behind us,” he said.
Still, today’s landscape of homebuilders is different from the past. Today’s builders are dealing with rising construction costs and a dearth of qualified workers. Other changes include some shoe-leather work replaced by smartphones and other technology.
To match that, the homebuilders association is reshaping itself to mirror its membership needs, Barber said.
That includes offering business classes and information on green technology and smaller-scale homes, an about-face to the McMansions of years ago.
“A lot of people will be searching for what they want their niche to be and exactly what they want their business plan to be,” Barber said. “The association is the same way for what we need to be because we have to follow our membership and as they start to change, that’s where we need to evolve.”
The region’s burgeoning homebuilding market has also fueled some naysayers, who believe the uptick in new home construction is having a negative impact on the Lowcountry.
Barber defends his members, saying they are “simply responding to market conditions.”
“We’re not building houses to get people to move to Charleston, we are just supplying the demand,” he said.
There’s also Lowcountry groups who support the cause of the homebuilders association.
“The (Charleston Trident Association of Realtors) has long enjoyed a good working relationship with the Home Builders Association,” said Owen Tyler, president of the Charleston Trident group. “As the new construction starts continue to increase, builders across the Lowcountry will look to our members for their expertise in marketing and selling the properties.”
Right now, Baker said the largest task for the group is to clarify some of the changes in the building codes.
One of the largest changes affecting builders in the coastal region includes new mapping, requiring homes to be protected from wind-borne debris.
“That’s a big deal,” he said. “Builders may have to greatly expand the way they put wind-borne protection on a house.”
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937- 5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.