After three years of mixed reviews across the country, pool construction in 2013 has seen a nearly consistent uptick, despite troublesome weather in some regions.
“I have evidence of a 10 percent increase, and I’m speculating it’s probably closer to 15 percent,” said Jeff Fausett, CEO of United Aqua Group in Las Vegas. “We won’t know for sure until we get to December.”
That projection is based on United Aqua Group’s purchases so far. Fausett expects the organization to buy more toward year’s end to complete jobs that had been delayed by difficult weather or sold in the 2013 fourth quarter.
Another of the industry’s major buying groups, Carecraft, based in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., also reports an increase of approximately 10 percent, with that number expected to grow with early buys in the last quarter.
And while five years ago, Florida and Phoenix metro were making headlines as two markets hit hardest by the Great Recession, many this year are referring to those regions as success stories.
“They made such a recovery from how far down they were,” Fausett said. “Nevada’s not done too bad, but not quite as good as Arizona.”
Phoenix has seen an estimated 20 percent uptick in construction activity over last year, with reports from the Rider Permit Service showing a total of 4,464 permits pulled by mid-October, compared with 3,710 last year and 3,259 in 2011.
Some area builders credit strong sales at the end of 2012 as priming the pump for this year. “Last November and December were great months for sales,” said Tim Murphy, president of Presidential Pools in Phoenix. “We walked in with a backlog of 125, 150 pool digs going right into the year, which really helps.”
Sales remained fairly consistent in the first quarter, then took off in April. “We couldn’t handle all the volume of work,” Murphy said.
In Florida, approximately 4,671 permits were pulled from June through August this year, an increase of approximately 17 percent from the same time frame last year, according to permit tracker Home Builders Weekly, a service that covers most of the state.
Rapidly developing neighborhoods in the Sunshine State are giving pool builders a boost. Third-quarter housing starts in Sarasota were up 33.3 percent over last year, according to Metrostudy, a housing-market research firm owned by Pool & Spa News’ parent company, Hanley Wood.
Florida’s renovation market also is hot, a trend driven by state building codes requiring anti-entrapment devices and variable-speed pumps. Local builders report that getting homeowners to spring for the upgrades takes little convincing. “Present the energy-efficient (options) and show them the savings, and in virtually every case they’ll spend the money,” said Dan Johnson, owner of Swim Inc. in Sarasota, Fla.
The state’s performance is especially noteworthy because it could easily have gone the other way. While the booming housing market is spurring construction of new pools, wild weather hampered builds throughout much of the region.
“For people in the Midwest, Northeast and along the Eastern Seaboard, the weather in springtime was as bad as they’d seen in 25 years,” said Greg Howard, president of Carecraft.
The U.S. had its wettest summer since 2004, according to the National Climatic Data Center, with much of the East Coast getting soaked by higher-than-average rainfall. Georgia, for example, had its fifth wettest summer on record. “It was pretty catastrophic,” said Shawn Still, general manager of Olympic Pool Plastering in Norcross, Ga.
However, the weather did provide one bright spot: It kept Northeastern pool firms busy. The region is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, and many homeowners now are beginning to refurbish their backyards.
Robert Blanda, owner of Mill Bergen Pools in New York City, attributes three- quarters of his clients this year to this rebuilding. Blanda, past president of the Northeast Spa & Pool Association, estimates he’s fixing six pools for every new one he digs. While the economy is showing some signs of life, he said, “I’m not going to say this is the year we’re back. I’m slightly optimistic, but by no means am I buying a summer home.”
Builders consistently reported increased activity in all areas except California. While some professionals see an uptick over last year, others say construction sales have remained flat in the Golden State.
“As I spend time talking to our members, it’s really only the California guys who have complained about things not getting better,” Fausett said. “Everybody else is talking about an improved situation.”
Central California saw a strong first half of the year, said Mike Geremia, president of Geremia Pools in Sacramento, but the increase didn’t hold. “From what I know anecdotally, we were up about 20 to 25 percent the first half of this year,” he said. “We’re probably flat over the portion of the second half that we’ve been going through. It just shows how weak this recovery really is. It doesn’t have enough juice to it to keep things rolling.”