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Habitat ReStore has an award-winning 2020.

The crazy pace of the construction business in 2020 affected numerous related businesses, from manufacturing to landscaping. One of those was Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.

The Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity ReStore was number two in the country in 2020, and the Urbandale location was also named Business of the Year for the metro suburb.

“We’re only able to do what we do because of the support of the entire community,” says ReStore Director Dana Folkerts, who celebrated his 15th year with the organization in 2020. “The donations we receive, the customers who shop here, all the businesses who think of us instead of throwing things out—those are the things that make us successful.”

Folkerts joined the staff in 2005, shortly after the first Des Moines ReStore opened.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in business, Folkerts had worked in Kentucky for a while before returning to Iowa. “I’d been working for an organization that led ministry work projects rebuilding and rehabbing houses,” he says. “When we decided we wanted to move back home, I looked into Habitat because of my previous experience.”

In his time with the organization, the original ReStore relocated to its current location on East Euclid, and a second store opened in Urbandale.

Jon Plummer, Urbandale ReStore Manager, followed a similar path. “I’d been living in Seattle while I was getting my Master’s in Theology,” he says. “We wanted to move back to Iowa, and I was looking for a way to put my theology to work on the ground.” Joining the team at Habitat for Humanity gave him the opportunity to combine his work experience and his beliefs about loving his neighbor into action.

During 2020 Folkerts and Plummer successfully led the ReStores through the unique challenges and hurdles to one of their best years ever. Folkerts says, “We had to close for April and May while we waited to see the best way to move forward. One of the things we put into place was an online store with curbside pickup.”

The rapid product turnover makes keeping the stores current a challenge. Folkerts says the response to the online option has been very positive. The organization is looking at ways to expand and fine-tune the service.

“The online store has been especially busy even now, when people can’t get out as much,” Plummer says. “But we see online shopping still being a popular option as things continue to open up just because it’s so convenient.”

Despite closing for two months, clearly the efforts to adapt to the changing situation were successful. The combined sales of Des Moines’ two ReStore locations were the second highest of any ReStore in the country. The only metropolitan area that achieved higher net return with its Habitat affiliates was Los Angeles.

“Everything we do is to support our Habitat affiliates in Polk, Dallas, and Jasper counties,” Folkerts says. “We’re proud of what we were able to do this past year, and we want to continue to grow our reach and expand what we offer to our customers even more.”

That positive attitude is part of what garnered ReStore the 2020 Urbandale Business of the Year award from the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce. According to the Chamber website, “Businesses are evaluated in three areas: how they have given back to the Urbandale community, the number of organizations or causes the organization supports, and how the business’s physical presence impacts the Urbandale community.”

The winner was announced during a virtual event last month. “Normally there’s a dinner and winners are announced that way,” Folkerts says. “But it was virtual this year, so we had all the employees here at the store watching the presentation together, and everyone cheered when they announced we’d won.”

For Folkerts and Plummer and the rest of the Habitat ReStore team, the national sales record and the Urbandale Business of the Year award are just more motivation to continue doing what they already do. “We want to fund even more Habitat homes this year,” Folkerts says. “Every donation we get, every item we sell helps a local family finally get a home of its own. We want to raise enough to fund 16 homes this year. That’s our goal.”

ReStore is doing more than funding building projects. The two stores are providing an opportunity for the greater Des Moines community to do what Folkerts and Plummer do every day—love their neighbor by building a better community for everyone.

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This year’s winning projects showcase a variety of prominent design trends expected to pop up in homes and communities over the next several years.

More than 160 single-family, multifamily, interior design, remodeling and community projects were honored recently at the 2020 Best in American Living™ Awards (BALA) virtual ceremony. The awards are sponsored by Monogram Luxury Appliances, and the media partner is Professional Builder.

Judges awarded nine Best in Region, four Of the Year, three Judges’ Discretionary Awards and one “Wow!” award, given to a project with a one-of-a-kind design moment. New categories, including Healthy Homes, showcased the innovation in the industry over the past year. These projects represent the nation’s best in home and community design, interior design and remodeling.

BALA winners showcase top design trends that home buyers can expect to see in homes and communities over the next several years, among them:

  • Updates to overall styles. Winners this year proved that modern is dominating, and now often paired with traditional elements to add authenticity to design. Contemporary and transitional designs still wow buyers; both styles are more refined than in years past. Traditional design becomes less fussy and rigid.
  • Mindfulness in architecture and design. Homes and communities showcase new layers and depth to design. Design is purposeful and carefully curated. Authenticity is a primary goal in all aspects of design and achieved through embracing existing landscapes, careful editing and paying attention to materiality, proportions and details.
  • Emphasis on streetscapes. Planners, architects and designers showcase a strong understanding on how to design public spaces. Homes feature front-yard gathering spaces to welcome neighbors safely; urban streetscapes prioritize the pedestrian experience over cars.
  • More sophisticated indoor/outdoor connections. Architects and designs are looking for every opportunity to add visual and physical connections to nature. Windows continue to be bigger and more in number; when total windows are limited due to budget, windows are thoughtfully placed to ensure each captures a view, adds natural light and improves the space.
  • Programmed and multifunctional outdoor living. Homes feature multiple outdoor spaces, often creatively layered to respond to changes in weather, gathering size and activity. Multifamily projects are right-sizing balconies for residents to offer personal paradises that are livable and furnishable.
  • Sanctuary spaces. Indoors, buyers crave spaces to decompress and build human connections. “Unplug zones” (no or hidden screens) are becoming popular after much time at home. Owner suites feature spa-like details and finishes. Outdoor living offers cozy and oasis-like spaces, like sunken fire pits, old-growth trees and warm materiality.
  • Home offices and flex spaces. New and remodeled homes offer at least one home office, often with an option or flex space for two. With more kids doing online schooling, separate work spaces are added adjacent to the kitchen that can be used for virtual school, homework, crafting, home command centers, etc. Architects take advantage of forgotten corners and circulation spaces by creating tucked-away flex areas, like small desk nooks off a hallway.
  • Second (messy) pantries and kitchens. If square footage allows, homes include two kitchens: the primary kitchen for entertaining and a second separate but adjacent kitchen for prep. Back alcoves or spacious pantries offer more work space while solving the problem and mess of fully open kitchens in open plans.
  • Updates to materiality. Varied colors, materials and textures don today’s façades and interiors. Playful materiality and maximalism in multifamily spaces, especially shared spaces, is on the rise. Neutrals, primarily white and gray, are paired with pops of color. The character of natural wood, and pairing of contrasting woods side-by-side, is emphasized; warm and natural tones are embraced.

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Demand for outdoor projects remains high.

Like so many other things, the term “staycation” was redefined in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. For families working, schooling, and then vacationing in their own homes, those four walls started to close in well before summer was over.

In anticipation of possibly similar restrictions this summer, many homeowners are taking a long, hard look out that back window and making plans to change their view.

At Archadeck, Harold Cross says the demand for outdoor projects skyrocketed last year. “COVID changed everybody’s lifestyles. The increased business wasn’t really a marketing thing; it was a COVID thing.”

Ted Lare Design Build’s Keegan Lare agrees. “Our new call volume is definitely up,” he says. “We’re not necessarily seeing bigger projects, but definitely more projects.”

“People have been stuck at home with limited vacation options,” says Rob Walker of BLC Projects, “and a lot of them are opting to use their vacation money on projects they’d put off at home. Making their own backyard more usable is often high on that list.”

Homeowners aren’t looking for a basic deck anymore either. They want to create an outdoor living environment that they can enjoy long after the current restrictions are past.“The conventional deck definitely is not the norm anymore,” says Devan Kaufman of Kaufman Construction and KC Handyman. “People want to customize their outdoor spaces to fit their lifestyles, which leads to many, many options.”

Upgraded materials

“The vast majority of our clients are converting decks, either replacing a treated wood product with composite or upgrading from a first-generation composite to the improved options available today,” Walker says.

Kaufman says, “Railings have just as many options as decks: natural wood, cable, man-made, glass, aluminum. And to make it even more fun, many of these products can be mixed and matched to create a unique look for each project.”

“Most of the products we’re installing now are 90% maintenance-free,” says Kimberley Construction’s Troy Sydow. “Homeowners want to spend their time enjoying the deck, not taking care of it.”

For sites better suited to a patio than a deck, the selection is even greater. “We can get natural stone from different parts of the country to get a different color and look,” Lare says. “There are also man-made pavers that have the look of natural stone but require little to no maintenance.”

Upgraded designs

For homeowners looking to reduce the maintenance needs even further, covering the deck or patio to protect it somewhat from the elements is a great way to upgrade the design.

Pergolas are attractive, but they are a less popular feature for several reasons. “They really don’t provide much protection, except from some of the harshest sun if you have the right plants,” says Walker. “They’re a maintenance nightmare. A full roof is much more useful and cost-effective long-term.”

Sydow says, “Covered decks were by far the most popular outdoor project for us in 2020, and we anticipate the same being true in 2021.”

“Homeowners can have a fully covered porch or a partially covered porch and open deck,” Kaufman says. “They can choose screened-in or open-air, walls or solid railings for privacy, or open railings for a less obstructed view.”

Creating several distinct spaces within the plan provides multifunction as well as a transition from home to yard and from one activity to another—cooking, dining, entertaining, and more.

“Even though these projects are outdoors,” says Cross, “privacy can still be a factor if the home is close to the neighboring houses or if the deck is up off the ground where it overlooks neighboring yards.”

Features like walls and windbreaks and even three-season designs can make these sites more comfortable and more usable throughout the year. Cross says Archadeck has worked with clients to adapt existing products in new ways to suit individual homeowner needs.

Upgraded amenities

To help extend the outdoor living season, designers are finding ways to incorporate some less-common elements as well.

“Our clients are usually looking to go to the next level,” says Sydow. “They want to extend the outdoor season and be able to use their deck or patio longer into the fall and earlier in the spring.”

Cross says, “A lot of commercial installation ideas are carrying over into the residential market. They’re things that have been around for a while, but not really implemented for residential projects.” For example, the role of fireplaces in outdoor living projects has grown, he says. “People are looking for ways to heat their outdoor seating area so they can use it later in the season, and a fireplace is one way to do that.”

Another option that’s growing in popularity is infrared heaters. “We have a lot of homeowners installing heaters in the ceiling of their covered deck or screened room,” Sydow says. “Restaurants have been doing this for years, and it’s a fairly easy way to extend the outdoor season as far as you want.”

“We’re seeing about every possible structure you can imagine, with features from grilling areas and firepits to full kitchens and bars,” Kaufman says.

One of Sydow’s favorite elements is incorporating hardscapes into the design. “Built-in stone benches or seating at an outdoor bar is a great way to upgrade the space. For patios, stained concrete can add a lot of creative options for the design.”

“We’ve had a lot of clients who are installing swimming pools,” Walker says, “and they want to incorporate pool features at the same time, maybe a pool house with a bathroom or a small outdoor kitchen area. We offer a different cabinetry line specifically for outdoor projects like that.”

He says another way to extend the outdoor living space for homes with walkout designs is to waterproof the deck off the main level and install a ceiling system on the underside. “We can create a complete outdoor room this way, utilizing the space below the deck instead of letting that area go to waste.”

“Ideally we like to plan the landscaping when we create the initial plan, even if homeowners are doing a multiphase project. The construction of the space is usually the first priority, but the landscaping adds beauty and ambience, and it should be planned with the construction design in mind,” Lare says.

Kaufman says, “Aligning client expectations and desires is important—making sure they understand a product’s durability and maintenance guidelines, making sure the design fits the way they live—so their investment holds value for them.”

As Cross says, “Studies prove that decks and outdoor living projects rank high on the list of cost-to-value investments. Helping homeowners see that their own benefit is just as important as resale value is part of the communication process.”

Another challenge these days is timing.

“It’s going to be hard to source materials in 2021, just like it was in 2020,” Walker says. “Manufacturers thought they were going to have their usual downtime over the winter to build up inventory and meet the demand in the spring. That hasn’t happened. Builders have been so busy this winter, those sourcing issues are carrying over into the 2021 season.”

Walker says patience will be the name of the game this year in all areas of construction. “Six to 10-week lead times are not unusual,” he says. “We have to plan accordingly and communicate that to builders and homeowners as well.”
Sydow says, “Restrictions are driving a lot of projects, but we still have to answer the same question: How can we help our clients make their homes work best for the way they live.”

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Annual Builder & Developer Luncheon looks back at 2020.

In the very immortal words of Jerry Garcia, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Anyone involved in the housing industry over the past year would agree, and that long, strange trip makes it even more challenging to forecast what’s ahead for 2021.

This year’s Builder & Developer Luncheon put together by Peoples Company and Diligent Development reflected the current social restrictions but offered the same detailed look at the market it has always provided.

Held virtually with speakers presenting from Texas, Ohio, and Iowa, the event still boasted attendance of about 350, comparable to 2020’s live event. As always, keynote speakers offered a national perspective on the economy and the housing industry, followed by a look at the local statistics (see “Highlights”).

According to Peoples Company’s Kalen Ludwig, the company decided in the fall that this year’s event would be virtual. “Our Land Expo was a combination of virtual and in person, and it was a great success,” she says. “The virtual option just seemed like it would work well with attendees of the Builder & Developer Luncheon with all the factors that had to be considered.”

Emceed by Eric O’Keefe of The Land Report, the event was held Friday, February 26, and included two national speakers. The first, NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz, was a returning guest, having presented at the luncheon a few years ago.

Dietz offered a look at the housing and construction market across the country, as well as the economy overall. He said the 3½% growth we saw in GDP in 2020 was better than anticipated, considering the length of the required government shutdowns throughout the year.

Despite criticism of the government’s response to the pandemic, the U.S. GDP saw milder financial consequences than most nations did. “Australia and Russia had similar drops, around 3%, but France and the United Kingdom saw the worst change in almost a century,” he said, France losing more than 9% and the UK about 11%.

Looking ahead, Dietz said 2021 should see the economy continue its recovery. “I anticipate a 5% to 7% growth for 2021” as the economy picks up again before it slows down to a more typical pace in 2022.

He said the key challenge for the housing industry is that rising prices are steadily pushing more and more buyers out of the market. “For every $1,000 increase in home price, more than 1,700 buyers are priced out of that median home market in Iowa.”

“Interest rates are still historically low,” he added, which will keep the market strong. However, with prices rising faster than income, that may slow sales eventually, and supply side issues play a major role in that trend. “When surveyed about factors affecting home prices, 96% of respondents said shortages and delays in materials affected their business in 2020,” he said. Delays in processing permits and approvals and the continued difficulty of finding skilled labor meant most construction professionals were faced with record challenges along with their record business last year.

Dietz said rapidly rising material costs, like the 184% rise in lumber costs, has not only added more than $20,000 to the average price of a new home, but it has caused difficulties for appraisers, too. Accurately valuing properties becomes nearly impossible when the cost of materials, the effects of delays, and the low inventory are steadily driving prices up.

With such a rapidly changing industry and the unpredictability of outside economic factors like the worldwide pandemic that will continue to have an effect for years to come, attempting to gauge the future of the market can seem futile, he says.

The afternoon’s second speaker, Texas developer and land use designer Steven Spears, Principal of GroundWork and Momark Development, believes the future of the housing industry lies in finding the right balance when it comes to community development.

He agreed with Dietz’s assessment of rising home prices. “The rule of thumb has always been that purchasing power was three times the annual household income.” Until 2006 the average American’s purchasing power was higher than the median price of a home. That’s no longer the case. And the disparity between median income and home price continues to widen, with income remaining level and home price rising significantly.

Spears said the housing industry has to address this challenge on several levels, all related to community development. “Development needs to provide density and a variety of housing on the most sustainable land. That includes providing ample places for connection, for placemaking,” as he calls it—spaces for residents to gather and enjoy their neighborhoods, especially if developments are going to be designed with a denser population in mind.

He believes that sustainability is about more than being green. It includes connecting with nature—incorporating parks, agrihoods, and other similar features. But it also involves planning communities that are financially sustainable. “Integrating employment and retail that is closer to housing,” he said, draws residents and sustains a community’s growth.

“We have to take the long view when we look at land use,” he explained. Designing communities that meet the needs of residents will ultimately meet the needs of the cities, too. “I believe retail follows rooftops typically, not the other way around. Home buyers choose to live in communities like agrihoods as a placemaking decision. They look at what’s going on there, and they say, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”

Creating communities that offer what home buyers crave—neighborhoods, connection to green space, walkability—and doing that in a way that incorporates a variety of housing options at different price points can only come with the combined efforts of every entity involved. “The government, the investors, the community all have to come together to make these ideas and these communities possible,” Spears said.

As more adults are working from and spending time at home, as homeowners are rethinking their living spaces, and as municipalities are looking at ways to grow that are financially and environmentally responsible, the concept of sustainable community development is more appealing than ever. It seems ironic that a pandemic that drove the world into isolation has also sparked even greater interest in community-oriented development.


Highlights

Kalen Ludwig, new-construction specialist, closed the annual Builder & Developer Luncheon with an overview of the local housing market in 2020. Here are a few highlights. Her full presentation, along with a recording of the event, can be viewed here:

  • Average home price rose to more than $331,000.
  • Based on median household income, only 38% of residents can afford an average-price home in Iowa.
  • Home sales surpassed 10,000 in 2020 (almost double the 2010 home sales).
  • Ankeny and Waukee again topped the list with the number of homes sold.
  • Other communities that continued steady growth included Bondurant, Indianola, Urbandale, and Johnston.
  • In 2020 West Des Moines nearly doubled the number of permits pulled compared to 2019.
  • Lots in development increased at a slower rate than new construction.
  • Demand for townhomes increased in 2020, resulting in a lower supply than at this time last year.

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HBA of Greater Des Moines President Kalen Ludwig looks forward to an active year.

Last month the HBA of Greater Des Moines introduced Kalen Ludwig as incoming president, the second consecutive female president for the association. Ludwig was part of the first all-female leadership team in National Association of Home Builders history, serving as 1st Vice President under Hubbell Realty’s Rachel Flint with Jenna Kimberley of Kimberley Development as 2nd Vice President.

“I’m coming in on the foundation that Rachel and [former president] Adam Grubb set,” says Ludwig. “I just want to keep that momentum going.”

Ludwig says she’s never really seen herself as a natural leader, but her involvement in organizations like the HBA, motivated by a desire to give back and to be a valuable member of her various communities, has resulted in very active professional and volunteer lives.

“Getting on an HBA committee that first time was a turning point for me,” she says. “Being involved in those activities from the planning side helped me see not just what the HBA was doing but what it could do when the members were really involved.”

Because of that experience, one of her goals as president is to encourage broad membership in the HBA with current company members. “I’d love to see each company’s representation grow exponentially this year. For some companies, only the owner or president is an HBA member. We’d like to get employees throughout the company involved because that’s when change happens across the industry.”

Ludwig’s own experience has been a result of that attitude modeled from others. Her senior year at the University of Northern Iowa, majoring in marketing with a minor in real estate, Ludwig was awarded an internship with Peoples Company. That internship laid the groundwork for everything that followed for her professionally, she believes.

“I sold my first house that semester, which was exciting, but meeting Steve [Bruere], owner of Peoples Company and a fellow UNI grad, gave me the opportunity to move to Des Moines and be part of the Peoples team here. Steve has really been a mentor to me, and his philosophy of business—that we only succeed when everyone succeeds, and we only succeed when our industry succeeds—has been so influential in getting me involved with the HBA, with the construction industry as a whole, and with some of the major projects I lead.”

Ludwig has been integral in planning and leading the annual Builder Developer Luncheon hosted by Peoples Company and Diligent Development, as well as her regular blog on home sales and new construction statistics for the Des Moines metro area.

Both of those became ways to strengthen the local industry and provide a tool to help others succeed. Having spent much of her career not just building her own professional reputation but strengthening the industry as a whole, Ludwig says that attitude informs her vision for the Greater Des Moines HBA as well. “I want to see the construction and real estate market do well for everyone in the metro, not just for me,” she says. “One of the ways I hope to promote that is through an emphasis on our core values and mission statement.”

As Peoples Company’s Culture Chair, Ludwig has learned the value of nurturing common values in order to nurture corporate growth. That’s an emphasis she brings to her role at the HBA as well. “We have one-, three-, and ten-year goals at the HBA. So my vision as a president is to make those goals possible, to build on what Adam and Rachel have been doing, and to set Jenna [Kimberley] up for even more growth,” she says.

Events like the Home and Remodeling Show, the HomeShowExpo, and other activities will continue this year—some as virtual events, some in-person, and some in a hybrid fashion—despite restrictions from the coronavirus.

“We created a really nice virtual event for the HomeShowExpo last year, and we got a lot of positive feedback, especially from people who wouldn’t have been able to participate if we had only had an in-person event,” she says. “This year, hopefully we can have a more typical event, but we plan to incorporate many of those virtual aspects that our members and attendees valued.”

She says the vast majority of members surveyed have said they prefer in-person meetings and activities with appropriate precautions and safety measures taken rather than exclusively virtual events.

Responding to members’ needs and interests—and growing that membership—are evidence of Ludwig’s desire to cultivate the HBA’s mission and core values.

“If we only ever see each other as competitors, we won’t get anything done for the industry,” she says. “Our word for the year is ‘engagement.’ We want to get everyone involved. We don’t just want people to join. We want them to be active because that’s how we grow and succeed.


HBA of Greater Des Moines

Mission: To make Des Moines the best community in the world to live, to work, and to raise a family

Core Values: Collaborative, Leadership, Good Communicators, Integrity, Passionate