Home construction activity picking up in Eagle County

Special to the Daily

EAGLE COUNTY — Joe Bazja could probably use more help at his business, but he’s being cautious.

Bazja is the owner of Joe’s Wallboard, which supplies drywall and supplies to the construction business. When the construction industry nose-dived in about 2008, it took any number of other businesses down with it. Bazja held on, but laid off more than 20 employees and sold two of his trucks. As the boss, Bazja went back to working as he did during his startup days, doing whatever needed to be done, in, or out, of the office.

This year, Bazja has added a truck to his fleet, and has bid for jobs as far away as Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge and Aspen. But there’s also a good bit of business close to home.

For the first time since the valley’s construction industry fell apart, there seems to be a good bit of building up and down the valley.

Early indications are that most of those new homes are being built in Gypsum, with most being built by the Pauls Corp. That company will this year build 10 new homes at Sky Legend, the neighborhood above and to the west of the Cotton Ranch area. The company will also build at least 16 new homes this year at Stratton Flats, just off U.S. Highway 6 on the east end of town. In Eagle, town building official Bob Kohrman said it’s been at least three years since there’s been this much activity in that town, with projects from remodeling jobs to townhomes and single-family homes coming through his office.

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William Gray in Avon told the same story, with a couple of twists — expensive projects in the Mountain Star neighborhood and a handful of “spec homes” — homes built and marketed without a buyer lined up in advance — being sold after the houses were built.

The “spec” home market was one of the first arms of the industry to pull back a few years ago, due to both a drop in demand and banks’ unwillingness to finance homes without a buyer waiting.

As the local economic slump deepened, home financing became more difficult to find. That’s starting to ease, too.

Kohrman said a four-unit townhome building in Brush Creek Village, near the town’s pool and ice rink, had been started, then allowed to languish. But, with a couple of buyers lined up, financing was found for the four-plex project.

Stephanie Roybal of the Gypsum building department said several projects have either started, or re-started in town thanks to a combination of low interest rates and lower prices on lots.

But no one would start a construction project without buyer demand and that seems to be coming back, too.

Local real estate brokers have been talking for the past few months about lack of housing inventory in the valley. That provides the spark to add more housing to the existing stock. Bill Holm, a Realtor who represents Pauls Corporation projects in Gypsum, said the issue goes beyond inventory to “good” inventory. That drives demand for homes with that new-place smell. Besides, Holm said, he’s seeing potential customers who are more confident in their own financial situations than he did just a couple of years ago.

“I haven’t seen anything like in the last seven or eight years, really,” Holm said.

But the demand for housing doesn’t necessarily mean construction and similar companies will start hiring in droves any time soon. While Bazja said he’s always on the lookout for good employees, he plans to be careful in how he builds his workforce.

“When we do hire, I want it to be for the long term,” Bazja said. “Other companies I’ve talked to are the same way.

“No one knows the future,” Bazja added. “You don’t want to hire people now and have to lay them off again in six months.”

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