Keystone Builders in Bel Air is weathering a slumping housing market by putting up moderately priced town houses in four Harford County developments.
Base prices for the town houses, which have traditional brick fronts, range from $70,000 to $90,000. Floor plans and standard features for the 1,200- to 1,400-square-foot houses vary.
"Overall pricing is lower in Harford County. For people who are value-oriented, they have to look to Harford. Harford isn't perceived as being out in the boondocks anymore. Its a very pleasant lifestyle," says Robert W. McGee, president of Keystone Builders in Bel Air.
Opening next month is a model house at Thomas Run in Bel Air, where prices start at $90,000, and opening in January is the Riverside model, where prices start at $83,000. Mr. McGee said the Thomas Run model is more luxurious and appeals to the more affluent Bel Air market. The houses are 20 percent larger and have more standard features such as an upgraded bath with a double vanity, and a cathedral ceiling in master bedroom.
Housing prices are generally 20 percent higher in Bel Air, and that is why the Thomas Run town house prices start at $90,000, Mr. McGee said.
"We are more likely to have empty-nesters selling a home who are looking to buy a more up-scale town house. Also, move-up buyers who had a condo or smaller town house and want more space or features," he said.
Mr. McGee attributes much of his success to affordability. He said there has been a significant drop in sales of single family homes priced costing more than $150,000.
"There has been a lesser decline in town houses and condos because those buyers don't have a home to sell and are less restrained," he said.
Although there are fewer shoppers in the marketplace, those who are shopping do want to buy houses, Mr. McGee observed. "They are being much more discerning, less impulsive and have a lot of anxiety about the economy," he said.
Those buyers are asking a lot more questions, asking about home warranties and knocking on the doors of potential neighbors and asking about the community and their relationship with the builder, he said.
In this more competitive market, Mr. McGee said, he had to adopt aggressive financing programs such as offering below-market mortgage rates. "Builders have to play the game to sell houses."
He figures that the real estate market has fallen off 30 percent, but "those of us who have a product can do well. The number of active projects has declined in the past six months."
Mr. McGee points to the savings and loan industry problems as one of the causes of the causes of the real estate slump, because developers cannot secure financing for new projects.
"The first six months of the year were very strong, but there is a significant reduction of building lots and a replacement of inventory is not in the pipeline," he said.
"We are looking at shortages in 1992, so our prices will stay firm."
He said he usually has specific building plans a year ahead, and general plans for two years ahead. "At this point I should be able to look in by crystal ball for 1992. The developers I work with aren't able to give us commitments for 1992."
In the Harford County new-town housing market, Keystone Builders has a 25 percent share, just behind Ryland Builders, which has about 28 percent, Mr. McGee figures.
He anticipates that competition will start to decline and that next year he will have 35 percent of the Harford County town house market, with Ryland holding about 40 percent.