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Contractors building on earlier growth

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003

New home construction activity struck a strong note in the Pittsburgh region's economy in 2002, ending the year up almost 14 percent from 2001, according to a local industry survey.

Year-end figures released this week by Pittsburgh Construction News, a firm that tracks building permits issued in the six-county metropolitan area, show a total of 4,928 units being built in 2002, an increase of 13.6 percent over 4,338 units the previous year.

The total included a 6.8 percent increase, from 2,861 to 3,055 units, in the larger, single-family segment of the market; and a 26.8 percent increase, from 1,477 to 1,873 units, in the smaller, multifamily segment. The figures cover Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

"The total value of the residential market was just about $720 million; that is a healthy market," said Jeff Burd, the company's president. "The year got off to a very strong start, and the market was up throughout all four quarters.

As was the case when the company issued its third-quarter report in September, Burd said the only soft part of the market appears to be demand for homes $500,000 and up.

"We're seeing more growth in the $200,000 to $300,000 market, even from high-volume, track builders," he said. "Low interest rates are making it very attractive for people to buy homes, and consumers are feeling better about the economy even though businesses aren't."

Burd said the fact that sales of existing homes also remain strong is another encouraging sign for the local housing industry.

However, the company is projecting that single-family construction will level off in 2003, and that multifamily activity may drop to about 1,500 units.

"In the multifamily market, that's really only about one major project less (in 2003 compared to 2002), although the overall rental market appears to be softening," he said.

As for the top local markets for construction activity, Peters Township in Washington County led the way in the single-family segment, with 174 permits, followed by Cranberry Township in Butler County, with 168 permits. Other leaders in single-family activity included Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, with 129; North Strabane Township in Washington County, with 104; and Richland Township in Allegheny County, with 100.

The leader in multifamily building activity again was the city of Pittsburgh, with 504 permits, followed by the Allegheny County community of Castle Shannon, with 224; Adams Township in Butler County, with 165; and Robinson Township in Allegheny County, with 101 multifamily permits.

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