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Builders want incentives enhanced

| Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009

How badly is the credit crunch hurting the local home-building industry?

The Builders Association of Greater Pittsburgh hopes to have a better idea this month, when the trade group gets the results a survey of its 300 members.

It plans to use the results as part of "Fix Housing First," a national program being pushed by a coalition of 600 industry advocates and companies, including 84 Lumber Co. and the National Association of Home Builders.

Fix Housing First wants to convince Congress to rejuvenate the industry racked by declining starts and plummeting sales.

"It may not be to the degree in this area as in other parts of the country, but we are starting to see this problem," said Jim Eichenlaub, the association's director of government affairs.

Local builders could find themselves in dire straights if they can't find financing to continue developments or to start building homes, Eichenlaub said.

That could exacerbate problems for a market that already has seen starts decline by 14 percent through the first nine months of 2009, according to the latest available figures from Tall Timber Group, a construction market and research company in Ross.

Through Sept. 30, home builders started 2,665 units in the six-county region, down from 3,111 in the comparable period a year earlier, said Tall Timber, whose figures cover Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

"We've asked our members if they have been having trouble getting financing for new spec homes (those built in advance of having a committed buyer), or banks asking them to refinance or even recalling loans," Eichenlaub said. "We should have the results by mid-January."

To get the economy moving again, the Fix Housing First coalition is urging Congress to support enhancements to the home buyer tax credit and provide below-market, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for purchases.

According to the plan outlined by the group, they would enhance a current $7,500 tax credit allowed for first-time home buyers with the following steps:

• Extend credit beyond first-time buyers to make eligible all primary home purchases made between April 9, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009.

• Increase the credit amount to 10 percent of the price of the home, capped at 3.5 percent of Federal Housing Administration loan limits, bringing the credit to a range of between $10,000 and $22,000.

• Eliminate the current recapture provision, requiring repayment only if the home were sold within three years.

• Make the credit available at the time of closing, making it easier to be used as a down payment.

A second component of the stimulus plan would provide qualified home buyers with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 2.99 percent on contracts closed until June 30, 2009, and 3.99 percent on closings between June 30 and Dec. 31, 2009.

Real estate notes

• Baule USA has leased about 10,000 square feet in the 60,000-square-foot McClaren Woods 3000 building at McClaren Woods Business Park in Findlay. Lewis-Goetz & Co. occupies the first building, Cameron International Corp. has completed occupancy of all of Building 1000, while Calgon Carbon Corp. is occupying Building 2000, said Bruce Longenecker, vice president of Elmhurst Group, owner of the park. France-based Baule manufactures machinery and chemicals for the cast polyurethane market.

• Dore and Associates of Bay City, Mich., is demolishing nine buildings at Southpointe II -- formerly the Western State School and Hospital -- in Cecil, Washington County, with work to be completed by May 8. The demolition and environmental cleanup includes the general storeroom, old dietary building, Laurel Hall, Holly Cottage, the cannery, gateway, chapel, greenhouse and a building housing the gymnasium and natatorium.

• Expansion of the National Aviary on the North Side has received the approval of Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission. Approval of the $16 million restoration in the 84-acre West Park is contingent on a landscaping collaboration between the designers and the Allegheny Commons Initiative. Plans call for a 25,000-square-foot addition with two stories atop the 56-year-old structure.

• Construction is expected to begin shortly on West Church Street Luxury Condominium Homes, a four-unit, two-story complex in Ligonier. The complex, being developed by Scott Bullens and Marc Anthony of Dennison Investments, has been designed by Montgomery & Rust, a Pittsburgh-based home builder. Glenn Cook Real Estate in Ligonier is the listing agent. Don Kramer Cook, managing broker, said two homes are under contract and a third has been reserved.

• Four new Take Care Health Systems clinics are now in Walgreens drugstores, joining eight others already in local Walgreens. They are at 6906 Universal Blvd., Coraopolis; 4885 McKnight Rd., North Hills; 99 Jefferson Ave., Washington; and 180 W. Main St., Uniontown.

Transactions

• Mapleview Partners, part of Sylvan Investments Inc., has purchased a two-story office building housing medical clinics at 4923 Centre Ave., Shadyside, and a vacant site fronting on Baum Boulevard from Morewood Centre Partnership for $1.67 million, according to a deed filed in Allegheny County.

• A five-story building at 905 Liberty Ave., Downtown Pittsburgh, was sold by Nine 905 Liberty LP to Lofts at Liberty LLC for $750,000. Thomas E. Cummings, second vice president of PHDC Development, general partner of 905 Liberty LP, was identified in the deed filed in Allegheny County; Diane Yecko was the agent for the buyer.

• Pittsburgh Great Southern Co., whose principals are Frank S. Benson III and Stephen A. Skilken, has sold Corporate One West office building at 1195 Washington Pike, Collier, to D&D Holdings LLC for $3.75 million. Dennis L. Crawford signed as president for D&D, according to a deed filed in Allegheny County.

• Five 506 Partners, whose managing general partner is John C. Baun, sold a three-story office building at 8500 Brooktree Rd., Pine, to Eight 8500 Brooktree LLC for $2 million. The buyer is Timothy L. Husni, a member of Five Oaks Development LLC, who purchased the building under the Brooktree LLC name, according to a deed filed in Allegheny County.

Real estate gallery

• Howard Hanna Real Estate Services hired sales associates Tracy Kelly Jr. and Kamila Zagorski in Forest Hills; Ralph Fisher , Condominium/Oakland; Debbie Campbell , Cranberry; Frank Jones , Green Tree; Doston Kish , South Hills; Shannon Gallagher , Peters Township; and Erica Vigrass , Mt. Lebanon.

• Northwood Realty Services hired sales associates Victoria Crain in Coraopolis; Amy Bliss , Beaver; Gena Andreone and Meredith Dailey , Cranberry; Joe Sagnimeni , Grove City; Kathy Friedline and Lorraine DiCecco , Hidden Valley; Donald Ferguson , Latrobe; Kimberly Schneider , North Hills; Robert Arment , Russell Forrest and Patrick Shepard , Peters Township; and Kathleen Cunningham , Melissa Driskill and Jim Steffey , Pleasant Hills.

The Real Estate Gallery is a listing of personnel moves. Submitted items should include contact names and telephone numbers. Photographs should bear the names of the individuals. Items may be mailed to: Real Estate, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, D.L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212 , faxed to 412-320-7921 or e-mailed to business@tribweb.com.

Contributors: Sam Spatter and Laura L. Lenk

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