Nation/World


New Homes In A Hurry Company Builds Affordable Houses In Two Weeks, Finds They Sell Even Faster

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 2, 1995

It’s as if Crescent Homes tosses a magic bean on an empty lot and waters it with a little contractor sweat; then, two weeks later, there sits a piece of the American dream.

An affordable one at that.

Along Pole Line Road lies Harmony Place, where homes spring from the ground at the rate of one a day.

“Each time people come in here, they ask me, ‘What’s the catch - there’s got to be a catch,”’ said Chuck Mehalechko, marketing director for Crescent Homes, who ushers around first-time home buyers.

“They just can’t believe what we’re offering here,” he said. “And they can’t believe how fast it happens.”

Not only can house hunters plunk down as little as $69,000 for a new home at Harmony Place, but they also can be in such a home just two weeks after striking a deal over an empty lot.

The catch is that the house they get probably is smaller than the apartment or home they’re currently renting. That $69,000 gets you 832 square feet at Harmony Place.

Phil Colozzi, director of North Idaho Community Services Corp., hasn’t seen the Harmony Place homes. But he said the drawbacks with affordable housing always will be size and quality. Some first-time home buyers will have to accept smaller homes because of higher land prices that hike the cost of building a home, he added.

For John and Richelle Ramey of Spokane, the idea of owning a newly constructed home hadn’t even crossed their minds. They are renting in the Spokane Valley.

“We heard about this place and thought we had to take a look,” said John Ramey.

Both stopped by to tour the framed walls of their soon-to-be home. Just four days ago, the site was scraped dirt. “It just blew me away when we saw what we could afford.”

The Rameys will gladly drive farther to their Spokane jobs in exchange for the end of renting, a slightly lower cost of living and, in John’s case, “much better hunting and fishing.”

With the average price of any home sold in Kootenai County this year hovering around $110,000, new homes in the $70,000 range raise eyebrows.

“Anything under $80,000 is going to be snapped up,” Colozzi said. His agency’s clients want to own homes but often can’t qualify for enough money at banks.

So far, the Crescent homes are selling briskly. Since June, more than 40 homes of the 100 planned for Harmony Place have been snapped up.

“A lot faster than we ever expected,” Mehalechko said.

Colozzi said the sales pace could encourage other big builders to jump into the affordable-home niche.

“When we looked at doing Harmony Place, we saw that there just weren’t any homes between a mobile home and more traditional construction,” Mehalechko said.

How can Crescent pull this off in a cooling housing market?

Mehalechko said the company saves big bucks through its sheer buying power. Along with Viking Construction, the two make up the largest home builders in North Idaho.

But planning - excruciating planning, down to what time of day the roof goes on - remains the key to Harmony Place’s speedy construction.

From the initial design, to an hour-by-hour checklist of tasks the subcontractors must finish on each home each day, to the tailor-made financing packages on the buying end - Crescent has taken the often languid home-buying and building process and scrunched it down to a fortnight.

OK. But are they cracker boxes?

No, say the people who inspect Post Falls construction. Diane Spano of Post Falls’ planning and building department sees every inspection of a new home built in the city.

“They don’t have any more problems than any other homes out there we look at,” she said. “In fact, any problems the homes have are immediately corrected there, because they meet with our inspectors each week to go over any problems going on with construction.

“What they’re doing out there just flat out amazes me,” she said. “Our inspectors have go out there twice, sometimes three times a day because they’re going up so fast.”

Still, a cheap new home, like a cheap new car, looks nice at first. Five-year-old cheap cars don’t always age well.

Crescent has an answer, Mehalechko said. Harmony Place homes aren’t just boxes with doors. They feature maintenance-free vinyl siding, raised-panel doors and sod laws, instead of the far-cheaper hydro-spraying. Home buyers walking through their new homes have found virtually nothing that needs fixing, he said.

“You won’t have to worry about your neighbor’s paint peeling off when you’re trying to resell your home five years from now,” he said. “This neighborhood is going to look great.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos


 
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