With new housing starts in Florida up more than 25 percent from 2011, pool contractors in that state who work with home builders have seen substantial improvement in their business as well.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported that there were 3,882 single-family home starts in Florida in July. That compares with 2,904 for July 2011 and 2,487 in 2010, the worst July since the recession began. Another measure, sales of new homes nationally, has improved as well. July sales were up 3.6 percent from June, and 25.3 percent from July 2011.
Builder confidence in the region is up, too. In August, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for the South increased two points to 32.
The index measures current sales conditions, traffic of prospective buyers and sales expectations in the next six months.
“Our direct residential volume is basically the same, but our growth has been in building with home builders,” said Ken McKenna Jr., president of Tampa Bay Pools. “We have one home builder [Homes by WestBay] that we’ll do 50 pools with this year. We have a good relationship with them. Some of the other home builders, like Standard Pacific and Ashton Woods, have begun selling pools with their homes again, and we’re doing their pools, too.
“We’ve gone from heavy residential work to having all the growth on the builders’ side. This year we’ll do about 195 to 200 pools.”
McKenna isn’t the only builder to have seen this trend.
“It was 70 to 80 percent retail, and it’s just the opposite now. We’re probably 70 to 80 percent builders,” said Mike Holland, owner of Holland Pools and Spas in Longwood, Fla.
Holland is doing most of his work with builders Taylor Morrison and Meritage. “Between those two builders, we have probably 150 pools that they will close between now and Dec. 31,” he said.
Business also has increased for Pools by Bradley, which builds pools mostly for new homes in central Florida. “We work with three major builders right now, and have 15 to 20 jobs going at any given time. It’s small in comparison to the way it was six or seven years ago, but it’s actually fun and manageable,” owner Bradley Eaves said.
Eaves prefers to build pools that are tied to new-home sales. “I think the customer really likes the confidence of having the pool contractor tied in with the builder,” he said, adding that there are cost savings for the homeowner in working that way.
“If clients wait to put in pools, they have to get second mortgages, they have closing costs, higher interest rates and they have to have their yards replaced,” he said.
Maurice Johnson, North Florida division president of Taylor Morrison homes, also sees growth in the sector. “Our outlook on selling pools is fairly strong. Every other home we sell, by and large, has a pool in it. As we move up in price points, move-up buyers want pools.”
Business has been so good for McKenna’s Tampa Bay Pools that he’s finding it difficult to hire qualified people for his crews. He said many who worked in the industry before the recession have moved into other fields. “Finding people to help you with that growth has been a challenge for everybody,” he said.
The one thing holding back more growth, most pool builders agree, is the tight credit market. “It would be an improvement if the banks could come up with loan programs that aren’t based on the mistakes they made years ago — something realistic,” Eaves said. “There are a lot of consumers out there with good credit and equity in their homes. They have all the things they’re supposed to have to get loans. Those people don’t get financed, or the rates are unreasonable.”
Holland, however, predicts a lot of growth building pools for the new-home market. “We’ll stick with the builders and increase our business with them. We’ve been putting in a lot of model pools, and the builders are all buying land now,” he said.