Local researcher Foster builds reputation crafting new homes reports for Charleston, fellow cities
By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
Who knows, Brian Foster might be an architect today if it wasn’t for a college professor’s lecture on an analogous yet novel career path.
In his freshman year at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., Foster’s instructor described the overarching command that a real estate developer holds on the market. Whereas an architect designs plans for individual houses and buildings, a developer creates entire communities.
The Atlanta area native had found his calling.
“I like the whole idea of turning a piece of property into a subdivision, where kids go to school and grow up,” he says.
Foster specializes in sales and research analysis for Real Estate Information Service, a Charleston-based company formed in 1985. He joined REIS in 2007, then last year launched his own venture, Lowcountry Research Solutions as a sideline to handle smaller, specific projects for clients.
He’s adept at many types of real estate detective work but his forte is the new homes field. Soon after joining the information service, Foster broached the subject with company president George Seago. He wanted to use his research skills to assist builders when they are mapping out new home sites.
After mulling it over, Seago gave the go ahead. Starting in 2007, the service has published a bimonthly Charleston New Homes report. Today the information service also spins out six-times-a-year studies for Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Beaufort-Savannah, Greenville, Augusta, Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina and most recently, Jacksonville, Fla. Foster also teams with Carolina One New Homes broker-in-charge Will Jenkinson to post a periodic “New Homes Snapshot” for greater Charleston.
That’s not all. REIS provides “real-time” information to its clients, who can access the reports via computer, smart phone and tablet. The client base is sizable. In the Charleston area, “almost 90 percent of the production builders are customers of ours,” Foster says.
As it turns out, Foster worked for builders for a decade before joining Real Estate Information Service.
While in college, Foster would gravitate to a new specialty within Southern Polytechnic’s School of Architecture, studying how entrepreneurs design and build out neighborhoods and business centers. In 1996, he graduated with a degree in environmental development, just the second student at the college to earn such a major.
His first job was handling price analysis for a developer but by the next year, he had joined builder Venture Homes, which constructed houses in northwest Atlanta including the Marietta area and Cobb and Cherokee counties. Foster said he got the job based on a paper he had written in school describing practical uses for a specific piece of local property — one that the builder just so happened was planning to develop. He would stay with Venture for five years.
Then in 2002, Foster received a job offer in Charleston from Portrait Homes, which framed townhome villages as the division of a Chicago-based builder. He spent two years with Portrait, then joined Mount Pleasant-based Meridian Builders in 2004. When the market slowed three years later, Foster was let go.
It didn’t sour him on the real estate business, although he chose a different tack. “I decided I didn’t want to work for a builder but to use my education to help builders.”
Crediting the company president for his foresight, Foster says that REIS is on the leading edge of the information technology curve. “That’s what sets us apart.” The business tries to coordinate data in a user-friendly format that customers can comprehend, “rather than (customers having to) look at the numbers and analyze themselves.”
In his free time, Foster is involved with his friend Laura Olsen in animal adoptions and rescues, recently helping to save 18 puppies stranded in the woods and taking in three stray dogs to join their two pet dogs.
From recent analyses, Foster believes “South Carolina (real estate) markets have seen a resurgence in activity.” Metro Charleston, he says, is among the first to turn the corner and show improvement instead of simply bottoming out.
“I think we’ve gotten to the point of 10 percent growth for the last year in (housing) permits and closings,” he says.
Economists consider 5-8 percent growth to be steady. Lower increases show weakness, but higher gains can be dizzying and lead to big falls. It’s happened before: “We had several years of 38 percent growth in Mount Pleasant,” Foster says.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com.