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Homebuilder Says Market’s in Good Place

Homebuilder Says Market’s in Good Place

4/3/2006

Doug Fulton, president of Fulton Homes Sales Corp., puts in his time at his desk at the home builder’s Tempe headquarters.

He also flies his helicopter at least three days a week, looking over development sites, and when he wants to de-stress, he likes to skydive. He recently returned from a snowmobiling trip to Colorado.

Fulton, 45, is the son of company founder Ira Fulton. He is single and has five children from a previous marriage. Fulton Homes started in the East Valley, but it is developing property around the Phoenix area. Fulton talked with The Arizona Republic about home building in the Valley and where he sees it going.

Question: How do you see the market now?

Answer: This is just a small correction that needed to happen. The velocity (of sales), the appreciation of the homes, was not sustainable. Last year was a complete anomaly. It’s not normal. You can’t compare last year to anything. When people say, “Gee, last February there were 4,600 houses on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and this March, there’s 3,600,” you’re just comparing apples and oranges. It’s a different marketplace. Completely.

Q: Isn’t that how you typically compare, looking at last year?

A: Go to ’04. Go to ’03. You’ll see that there were 30,000-plus in the same time frame.

Q: We’re at record prices. Have prices gone too high?

A: That’s where it needs to be compared to not just Phoenix, because we were undervalued to begin with. You need to look at Colorado, California, Las Vegas, New Mexico. For our economic health, jobs, the in-migration of people, we were simply undervalued. We caught up to where we needed to be. I think it’s very healthy. It’s a good thing. Last year was scary.

Q: In what way?

A: My analogy of sales in the Phoenix market area in 2005 is “fishing with dynamite.” When the fish – being the customers – floated to the surface, they were still begging to get in the boat. We had a bunch of order takers. That’s all you needed. There were people standing in line begging to give you their money.

Q: Why is that? Supposedly, the home builders weeded out all the investors.

A: Not until probably August, September of ’05. We started doing it because we saw what happened in Las Vegas in the investor market, which was people closing on their homes and competing with the still-open model home complex and undercutting you by $10,000 and still making tons of money. . . . We were creating our own feeding frenzy. People were standing in line because of the increases. If you slowed down your increases, it slowed down sales. Tell me that isn’t scary. . . .The key wasn’t so much the overall price as much as the increasing price. . . . Some people thought the price increases would never stop.

Q: Have investors caused permanent damage to the Phoenix market?

A: No, I think we caught it in time. There was more sustained damage in Las Vegas than there was here. We learned from their mistakes.

Q: You don’t think prices have spun out of control?

A: No, I don’t think it’s going to correct more than 10 percent from where we are today.

Q: How could builders overshoot on the most basic thing: their price?

A: Pure greed. Not only that, but you can get an overzealous sales manager. These guys get paid on commissions and division presidents get paid on units closed.

Q: Are investors mainly out of the Phoenix market?

A: No, the investors are still here. The unsophisticated speculator is gone. I’m still buying property. I still see 10 to 15 percent appreciation on an annual basis. But that’s not enough to turn on the speculators who tell their neighbors they made $100,000 by the time their house closed.

By Glen Creno, The Arizona Republic, April 3, 2006

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