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September 29, 2013
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Several Eagle County architects report better business

EAGLE COUNTY — While the local construction business was still booming a few years ago, work for architects had started to dry up. Today, some of those professionals say they’re starting to get busy again.

Steve Isom runs Eagle-based Isom and Associates, a combination land-planning and architecture company. Isom said his group is a good deal busier than it was three years ago, when not much beyond remodeling jobs and a few additions were being planned.

“There’s been a surprising amount of conversation going on now,” Isom said. “People haven’t built in five years.”

Home prices changing

Isom said he expects the price of new construction to equal, or fall behind, the price of existing construction. The fact that existing home prices have fallen across much of the price spectrum is part of what’s been holding back new construction, he said.

That’s already starting to change, at least in places.

“Down in Gypsum, they’re actually building places cheaper than you can buy one right now,” Isom said.

And, while the high-end real estate market is lagging this year — units priced at $500,000 and less are selling relatively quickly — there is some action at that end of the market.

Isom said his company is working on a handful of high-end projects from the Vail Valley to the Roaring Fork Valley and down toward Rifle. In Vail, architect Kyle Webb said his company — KH Webb and Associates — is also fairly busy.

Return of extravagant

Webb said his company has stayed the same size — seven people — through economic slump. These days, though, the shop is “much busier” than it was five years ago.

“We’ve been much busier the past 18 months or so,” Webb said.

Webb’s company’s work is primarily on homes and remodeling jobs. Most of that work is for owners, but Webb said he’s also starting to see the return of the spec home — houses built by developers who then seek a buyer.

He’s also seeing a slight return in customers who want something a little extravagant in their designs, Webb said.

“The last six years has been pretty budget-driven,” Webb said. Adding that “lean” continues to be a theme in what clients want.

Webb said his clients seem to be more interested in efficiency, too. The company is currently designing a home in Vail that uses just half of what can be built on the lot. That’s a shift, at least in one case, in a market in which owners routinely build every square foot that town regulations allow in order to maximize the potential return on an expensive investment.

Webb said he’s also designing multi-purpose rooms in homes now. Think man cave that doubles as a guest room.

But other architects are still scrambling for work, and still running offices with far fewer employees than during the building boom in the middle of the previous decade.

‘The money is out there’

In 2007, Edwards-based TAB Associates had a staff of about 10. Today, the staff is company owner Tab Bonidy and two others.

“We’re hanging in there — we’re paying the bills, but we haven’t seen (the slump) break yet,” Bonidy said. Bonidy’s small staff does a bit of everything, although there’s a big custom home on the company’s homepage. But right now, the company is working on some renovation work and a school addition in Buena Vista.

Bonidy said he believes political posturing in Washington, D.C., continues to affect what developers and other potential clients are doing.

“The money is out there, but I don’t think people are spending.”

Reflecting Isom’s comments about the costs of building versus buying existing structures, Bonidy said real estate remains a buyers’ market.

Then there’s the sheer number of companies, and individuals seeking work.

Bill Pierce, owner of Vail-based Pierce Architects, has had his own business for more than 30 years. These days, he said, the competition for work and jobs tends to be fierce.

Pierce Architects had a staff of 12 during the boom times, Pierce cut back to just five people. After a summer intern left, he decided to hire one full-time person. He had more than 70 applications.

The competition for clients can be just as daunting.

“People are working cheaper now — I think it undermines the profession,” Pierce said. Even wealthy people are looking for low fees, but the result is often disappointment.”

That competition means Pierce has lost a few jobs the company has bid on recently. Other jobs have been canceled.

While Pierce Architects is fairly busy at the moment, Pierce said business overall remains slow, despite adding another person to the staff.

“I don’t expect it to ever get back to where we were in 2006 or ’08,” he said. “But that’s OK — we were all doing things then that didn’t make any sense.”

“We’ve been much busier the past 18 months or so,” Webb said.


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 14, 2013 03:41PM Published Sep 29, 2013 11:03PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.