National conventions tend to reflect the mood of the nation because a cross-section of persons attend the sessions and ancillary social events. And the 33d annual convocation-exposition of the National Association of Home Builders in this Texas metropolis was no exception.
At the outset, the fact that 53,000 were in attendance was an indication that the home building industry is having a good year.
"Obviously, they're out in large numbers because they are making money this year," said NAHB's chief economist, Michael Sumichrast.
More women came this year - partly because more are working in the industry and partly, it seems, because more wives could afford to accompany their homebuilder-husbands. Many may have just wanted to get away from snowy, cloudier climes for a few days to do some shopping. Last year, Neiman-Marcus added 300 new charge cards during this convention here, a Dallas native said.
Meetings were well attended, with one panel on "reducing the cost of housing," conducted by Washington builder Milton Kettler, attracting more people than there were seats. George Sternlieb, of the Rutgers Center for Urban Policy Research, told the group that the risks of development and building have increased because of the long lead time needed to get projects under way.
John C. Hart, outgoing president of the homebuilders group, said he has a surplus of low-priced condominium dwellings in his hometown Indianapolis "because young buyers now seem to want something larger and better." One volume builder here, David Fox, offered houses in a range of $22,500 to the $37,000s and had better luck selling the expensive ones, Hart recounted.
Robert Mitchell, a builder in Montgomery County, was on the exhibit floor to see the newly adapted products. But he had sewers on his mind. "Our problem in Maryland is to get the county governments and WSSC (Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission) to allocate the capacity for new homes so that we can get our programs off the ground. We know there's capacity for more sewers and we know the counties need the economic impact of new home construction. But the decision-making seems to e stalled," he lamented.
An official of Ketter Brothers, developer of Montomery Village, devulged here that the company has purchased eight acres near the Foxhall condominium on Massachusetts Avenue NW and the nearby American University parking lot, where it plans to build 150 townhouses - ther first Kettler project in the District in 20 years. Built in a complex surrounded by a brick wall, the tradition-style townhouses will sell for more than $125,000, he said. The land - zoned for highrise apartments - cost $8 a square foot, the Kettler spokesman added.