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