The Housing Chronicles Blog: 2014 IBS: A bigger, better show filled with optimism

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 IBS: A bigger, better show filled with optimism

Back in 2008 when I attended the International Builders Show in Las Vegas, the mood was somber, the exhibit floor was depressing and education sessions were focusing just as much on avoiding bankruptcy and working with lenders as they were about new products, services and trends.

Fast-forward to 2014, however, and this year’s show in early February was entirely different.  Firstly, it was huge:  more than 75,000 attendees filled the convention center for Design and Construction Week, which paired together IBS, the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and International Window Coverings Expo in more than 650,000 square feet of exhibit space.  For IBS alone, exhibit space grew by 24 percent over last year’s totals, which certainly points to the growing confidence for our industry.  Secondly, there was a level of optimism that I’d not seen since the mid-2000s.  And thirdly, the decision to shrink education sessions to 60 minutes meant more time to wander the exhibit floors as well as to squeeze in more sessions.

The cheerfulness certainly has legs, with NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe forecasting 822,000 single-family housing starts for 2014 – likely more than 200,000 over 2013 levels.  His relatively aggressive forecast is due to five main reasons:  consumer confidence has returned, pent-up demand is finally converting from theory to actuality, there is a growing need for new construction as the existing housing stock ages, there are much fewer distressed sales, and builders are increasingly taking advantage of these trends.

Not surprisingly the Housing Market Index, which tracks builder optimism, remained above 50 for eight straight months through January before dipping in February due to severe weather. In addition, 58 of the 350 metro markets tracked by the Leading Markets Index have returned to or exceeded their normal levels of economic and housing activity.  As of February, the national housing market is running at 87 percent of its long-term average.  Still, there do remain significant headwinds between today and a full recovery, such as rising prices for building supplies, tight mortgage credit, ongoing challenges with accurate appraisals for new homes, and constrained supply of developed lots and labor.

For the multi-family housing sector, Crowe is forecasting a level of starts by 2015 that’s just above the long-term average of 340,000 as more young adults prefer renting over buying – at least for now.  The strong performance for this sector is due mostly to starts returning to more normal levels, the need to house Echo Boomers born after 1980 and a higher percentage of households renting until the job market is stronger, careers more stable and mortgages easier to obtain.

In terms of product design, there were also some ongoing trends magnified by the recent winners of the Best in American Living Awards during the show’s run.  For example, we’re seeing a return to using the color white to brighten up rooms, focus on clean lines and project a modern feel.  This is made even more important when selecting a historic architectural style such as Craftsman, Prairie, Mid-Century Modern in order to properly take advantage of today’s building methods.  Dual master baths with a shared shower can still provide a spa-like experience while still being practical.

The great outdoors, long incorporated into a new home’s merchandising in the Sun Belt states, is now going nationwide, with more interior courtyards (especially on side yards), moveable glass walls or more foldable French doors, outdoor kitchens for gourmets chefs and grillers, and even courtyard pools that better bridge the gap between outside and in.

Outside the home, we’re seeing a return to bolder colors on the exteriors, made possible through a mix of paint, cladding materials, doors, windows, porches, shutters and trim.  Importantly, this is also another way for builders to better differentiate their product with the existing housing stock.  Luxury amenities are also returning for the discriminating buyer, such as communal kitchens for cooking classes, pools with their own lazy rivers, electric car charging stations and even pools and parks for dogs.

Yet for sheer brilliance, my vote would go for the Push Pull Rotate Door Locks offered by Brinks Home Security, which won top honors at the second annual Best of IBS Awards.  This new locking system opens in three ways:  by turning the knob the traditional way, pushing inward or pulling outward to release the latch.  It won largely because the judges noted that it both solves the problem of how to open a door when your hands are full as well as helping older residents whose hands have lost dexterity.  I certainly know what’s going on my Christmas list!

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