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Putnam building permits are up, but boom isn’t back

The Devonshire community opened in 2009, promising to eventually expand to more than 800 housing units amid a recession-wracked national housing market.
Workers are building an assisted living and memory care facility at the Scott Depot Devonshire community, which has hundreds of housing units including apartments and town homes.
Workers are building new townhomes at the Devonshire community, in Scott Depot. Building permit approvals indicate Putnam County’s real estate market has improved since the 2008 recession, but the county’s population boom hasn’t returned.

WINFIELD — Building permit approvals suggest Putnam County’s real estate market has been improving since the recession of 2008, but the building boom of the 1990s and 2000s hasn’t returned.

According to the county’s Office of Planning and Infrastructure, there were 221 building permits approved by the county in 2013. That’s the highest number since the 263 in 2008, when the national housing bubble burst.

The planning office’s number includes mostly residential building permits but also tracks permits for commercial/industrial buildings, accessory buildings like garages and other developments like culverts. The office doesn’t track permits issued in Hurricane, Winfield or Nitro city limits.

A U.S. Census database that tracks permits only for new privately-owned residential property recorded approvals for 135 total units in Putnam last year. Like the planning office’s data, that’s the highest number since 2008, when the census recorded 327. A unit can be an entire single-family home or just one apartment.

The number of units approved in the state as a whole decreased from 2,718 in 2012 to 2,575 in 2013, though West Virginia does show a general upward trend since 2008. Both numbers show that Putnam’s building boom —which accounted for roughly 30 percent population growth between 1990 and 2010 — isn’t completely back.

The planning office’s numbers show permit approvals haven’t topped 300 since 2007. Other than in 2006, permits had always been above 300 going back to 1991, peaking at 528 in 1998 amid a four-year streak of over 400 annual approvals.

The census data showed a drop from 327 approvals in 2008 to 120 in 2009. Before 2009, the last time permit approvals were below 200 was 1990.

“Clearly, there was a single-family building boom in the mid to late ’90s, and that has definitely slowed in Putnam County,” said John Butterworth, a county planner. “But I don’t think that slowing has been any detriment to the county, generally speaking.”

Butterworth suggested the slowdown has refocused development on commercial properties. He said residents want to be able to work and play in Putnam County, which has been seen as a bedroom community, rather than just live there.

There were 37 commercial/industrial permits issued last year — the most since 1997, when there were 52.

“At least anecdotally, from talking with property owners and builders in the office ... there does some to be growing interest in commercial development,” Butterworth said.

As for residential development, numbers provided by the Kanawha Valley Board of Realtors for Putnam show 657 homes sold in 2013 for an average price of nearly $200,000 after an average of 63 days on the market. Those are the best figures stretching at least past 2007, the last year the organization provided data for.

Mark Madore, Hurricane-based Family First Realty’s owner and broker, said Putnam County weathered the recession a lot better than other counties, partly because of the boost from a new Walmart and other related construction near the Hurricane exit of Interstate 64.

“It’s amazing how many buildings went up during the recession,” Madore said.

He did say the downturn slowed new construction, adding the cost of building materials has also skyrocketed, allowing one to buy a home for substantially less than building.

However, he added, there’s a good supply of vacant lots in subdivisions ripe for construction and builders are returning to the area. He said Putnam’s existing home inventory is also dwindling, and his company, whose target area is about an hour radius from Hurricane, handled 466 sales last year compared to 418 in 2010.

“I’m not feeling bad,” he said. “I refuse to participate in the recession. I decided that a long time ago.”

Putnam’s comprehensive plan, which the county commission passed in May, does say 90 percent of housing units are occupied and notes a particular lack of affordable and multi-family housing.

Josh McGrath, a co-owner and broker at Real Estate Central and president of the Kanawha Valley Board of Realtors, said his company closed on about 18 percent more properties last year than in 2012. He said, despite a very slow start to 2014 caused by snow and the water crisis, he thinks sales are close to where they were before the recession. “I think the market is very strong right now,” McGrath said.

Reach Ryan Quinn at or 304-348-1254.

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