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Home building quality rises, but number of area builders drops

To builders, a J.D. Power win is better than an Olympic gold medal."

So blogs the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday about J.D. Power and Associates' annual new-home builder customer satisfaction survey. Overall, the poll finds home builders earning higher marks for quality. That's good news but may simply mean builders have fewer houses and more time to build compared with the boom times of 2003-2006, when slapdash construction was more of a problem.

J.D. Power's "gold medal" in the Tampa Bay market this year goes to Standard Pacific Homes. The home builder received a score of 885 out of a possible 1,000, well above the Tampa Bay average of 831. Close behind were M/I Homes (872) and Pulte (868).

Lowest scoring this year in the local market were Taylor Morrison Homes (801), Lennar Homes (804) and Centex Homes (818).

More shocking in J.D. Power's survey are the shrinking "numbers" of home builders still left and active enough in the Tampa Bay area to even qualify for a ranking. The 2010 survey examined just nine home builders. The same J.D. Power survey in 2006 rated 19.

Where did they all go? To be surveyed, builders must have closed 150 or more homes in 2009 in the seven-county Tampa Bay region, a high hurdle in these hard economic times.

And then there's the consolidation. Transeastern, ranked lowest of 19 in the 2006 survey, was folded into Engle Homes in 2007. WCI Communities filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008 and emerged, smaller, last year. Among other builders not considered on the 2010 survey are Beazer, Maronda, Suarez, David Weekley, DiVosta and Tripp Trademark.

In the new survey, J.D. Power looked at nine factors shaping overall customer satisfaction with new-home builders: sales staff; warranty/customer service staff; workmanship/materials; price/value; home readiness; construction manager; recreational facilities; design center; and location.

The survey found tops-in-customer-satisfaction Standard Pacific Homes did best in the Tampa Bay market in three of those nine factors — sales staff, workmanship/materials, and recreational facilities. The California home builder has 15 area housing developments stretching from Gibsonton (Tanglewood Preserve) to Spring Hill (Lone Star Ranch).

Right behind Standard Pacific, M/I Homes did well in the categories of construction manager; home readiness; warranty/customer service staff; and price/value factors.

"Builders that are attentive to customer needs and focus on relationship building stand the best chance of enduring through the market recovery," says J.D. Power's Dale Haines, head of real estate and construction industries practice.

Stand the best chance of enduring? Faint praise indeed.

Construction employment in Florida in July totaled 361,500. That's down 47 percent from the state's peak in June 2006.

Such is the climate of housing construction in Florida these days. Perhaps next year's J.D. Power prize should be a gold medal just for endurance.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Home building quality rises, but number of area builders drops 09/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 10:39am]

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