TBA President Bill Halprin and Van Rose at ODU market review

If you build it affordable, they will buy it. That was the message for home builders Wednesday during the Hampton Roads Real Estate Market Review & Forecast at Old Dominion University by its E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate and Economic Development.

The residential market report by Van Rose of Rose & Womble was one of six market reviews on the local economy. Rose reported on a brisk pace of sales of new homes and existing homes in lower price ranges. Unfortunately, short sales and foreclosures made up nearly 20% of those sales, historically high for our region. Still, he also reported new home inventory in those lower price ranges is at an all-time low.

While last year’s panel was cautiously optimistic about 2009, this year’s panel was mainly cautious about predicting anything. That’s likely because many of their 09 predictions fell short as the economy slugged along.

Tidewater Builders Association President Bill Halprin, in his role as a senior vice president of multifamily property at S.L. Nusbaum, reported on the growing rental vacancy rate. At 6.9 percent, it is actually worth celebrating, said Halprin, considering the national average is 8 percent. With more units coming on the market, owners and managers will have to compete with incentives and amenities, he said.

There was a bright spot from David Machupa of Thalhimer/Cushman & Wakefield, who reported the retail sector has held its own, with new companies quickly absorbing prime space vacated by other retailers.

He actually sees positive indicators for 2010, including an increase in retail sales in January and February and expected growth in tourism. With retail sales responsible for the largest component of the U.S. economy, he urged those in attendance to “spend.”