Rome is enjoying a housing construction boom, with out-of-town developers acquiring several old subdivisions that had languished dormant for years and building them out. Rome-Floyd County Building Inspection Director Howard Gibson said the need for affordable housing and the availability of lots both play a major role in the increased activity.
The Building Inspection Department has issued 85 permits for new single-family residential dwellings through the month of April, up from 50 through the same four-month period a year ago. As is typically the case with the lack of land available inside the city limits, 17 of those 85 permits were for projects in Rome while 68 were in the unincorporated area of Floyd County.
The numbers will show a big spike next month as developers of The Spires at Berry College pulled construction permits for 27 cottages as part of that retirement community project off Redmond Circle at Eagle Lake, the old Florida Rock quarry. All of those have been annexed inside the city limits.
Gibson said he believes that for many years the economy was slow and people just didn’t have the access to financing for new homes.
“Now the market has loosened up a little on the financial end and people are taking advantage of it,” Gibson said. “Of course there are several large companies that deal with their own financing for selling houses.”
Smith Douglas Homes out of Woodstock is in the process of building out the Berwick West subdivision in West Rome.
“They probably looked at the medical sector up there, probably the colleges, we’ve seen a little bit of an increase in the population and we like that area,” said Scott Williams of Smith Douglas Homes. “They saw a need for a good quality, affordable homes in that area.”
The Magnolia Walk is another subdivision that Smith Douglas took on, and they are finishing the last couple of houses in that community. That community, off Smith Road has 37 units.
Prices out in the Berwick West subdivision, a 91-home Smith Douglas project off Burnett Ferry Road, start at $141,665 for a three-bedroom, two-bath home that has 1,202 square feet of living space. A four-bedroom, three-bath home with 2,000 square feet of space is selling for $180,270.
Prices at Magnolia Walk range from $146,290 to $153,636 for a three-bedroom, two-bath home.
Gibson said that new housing in that price range has not readily been available in Rome for some time.
“The high dollar homes were still being built in the slow times. That makes sense,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he feels like the out-of-town developers were attracted to Rome by the availability of lots, and that had a lot to do with their interest in building in Floyd County.
“If you go over to the Canton area where things are still going crazy, the land prices are probably two to three times higher,” Gibson said.
Williams said that Smith Douglas owner Tom Bradbury was one of just a few that stayed active during the housing recession a decade ago.
“His philosophy was just to develop a system with a very tight schedule, very disciplined in the operations on the building side, and he was able to hold costs down and still deliver a well-constructed home,” Williams said.
Of course, a number of the local home builders are as active as ever as well. Dan Childs, Phillip Burkhalter, Patrick Cash, Jeff Brooks, Nevin Baker, Jack Pearson, Ivy Lowrey, Larry Maxey and others are staying busy in the Applewood, Emerald Oaks and Battle Farm subdivisions in the Armuchee area, North Quarters off Kingston Road, and Keystone in Shannon along with the sprawling Garden Lakes community. All have new homes under construction.
So who is purchasing these new homes? Gibson said he was aware of one couple from the Savannah area, just visiting the area, who saw the houses and decided to buy. “It wasn’t a big online, marketing deal. It was just people visiting the area and said, ‘Hey, I like the area,’ which I can understand,” Gibson said. “I think that couple was retiring and not needing such a large home.”
Williams stressed that Smith Douglas was always looking for additional properties.
“We’ve got area managers who are always out and about looking for potential areas to build,” Williams said.
Rome Mayor Bill Collins said that affordable housing has been a critical concern of city leadership for several years.
Collins is hoping that the growth in construction of homes in the under-$200,000 price range, coupled with a renewed emphasis on recruiting more higher wage jobs, will help more people move up in housing stock and attract more new people to Rome.
Gibson said the housing boom has forced his office to do a little better job of planning their day.
“We have to hustle all day long,” Gibson said. When new slab-built homes are built, the inspection office typically inspects for under-slab plumbing, the slab itself, framing, sheathing — the exterior wrap which includes making sure windows are installed properly, electrical and of course a final inspection.
“As a general rule, we end up having to go back and re-inspect because they fail an average of two to three times. Sometimes one subcontractor will create a problem another one had fixed.
“We’re there for another set of eyes for both the home buyers and the builder,” Gibson said.