Some Surprising Results

The final tally of housing starts in Pittsburgh found several surprising changes from 2017, and the trends of the previous five years or so. Most notable among these was the steep decline in construction of new multi-family product. After five years of at least 2,100 new apartment or condo units, construction of new multi-family in the metropolitan Pittsburgh market fell 52.3 percent to 1,234 units. As has been true during the past decade, the preponderance of these new units were started within the city of Pittsburgh. There were 584 multi-family units permitted in the city proper, nearly half the total for the region.

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Another trend that broke in 2018 was the output of townhouse or other attached homes. Driven by empty-nesters and first-time buyers, townhome construction has been supported by the demographics of Pittsburgh and the scarcity of single-family detached homes priced under $250,000 to $300,000. Both of those drivers were stronger in 2018, but construction of new single-family attached homes dropped 23.6 percent, or 244 units. There is little or no evidence that demand for townhouses declined, other than anecdotal evidence that younger buyers aren’t entering the market or aren’t interested in entering by the townhouse route. It’s likely that the decline, like with detached homes, stems from the lack of lots and new development.

The bright spot for residential construction in 2018 was the traditional single-family detached home, which saw a 11.3 percent increase to 2,193 units. The 222-unit jump from 2017 nearly offset the decline in attached homes.

There were a couple of other interesting notes in the housing data. In the more active communities, there were more new homes than during the past few years. The municipality with the most new single-family homes, Pine Township, saw 162 new detached homes get underway. That’s the most new homes started in any municipality since before the Great Recession. And there were four communities with at least 100 new homes. There were zero apartments built in any of the top ten communities for single-family homes. And while apartment construction slowed, the City of Pittsburgh still had the most new residential units by far, with 673 units overall and 89 single-family dwellings.

There was a surprise in the public bid market last week as well. Bids were opened for the Franklin Elementary School additions and alterations in North Allegheny. The project was expected to come in around $30 million but the apparent low bidders totals were less than $24 million. That’s a pleasant surprise for the owner, especially if there were alternates that can add to the scope of work for the project. There is a second project out to bid at NA that should be in the $20+ million range and two projects of very similar size out at Franklin Regional School District. The results give an early reading as to how the K-12 market is responding to what is otherwise a busy construction industry. You can view the apparent low bidders at the Builders Exchange.

In unofficial construction news, Massaro Corp. was selected as CM for the $60 million Conemaugh Hospital Building B expansion in Johnstown. Turner Construction was tabbed for the $125 million 1501 Penn Avenue tower and Franjo Construction was successful on the $40 million Arsenal apartments second phase. Construction on the latter two still has a ways to go.

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