At Ann Arbor Builders, we're celebrating more than the start of the new year. We're celebrating our 50th anniversary! And we can't help reminiscing about how far we've come in all these years.
Says owner Alex de Parry, "We've certainly seen trends in housing change, but more importantly, we think back with great appreciation on all the wonderful people who have helped us to grow."
He adds, "You never build a home or a business by yourself. Both take a great team. We've built hundreds of homes, but I'm most proud of the relationships we've built - with buyers, bankers, subcontractors, suppliers and everyone involved in the process. They're the people who have made our business so rewarding."
Here's a brief look back on these past 50 years.
1971. Richard Nixon was president. The average price of a new home was $28,300 and the average size was 1525 square feet. Most people thought it was perfectly normal for a family to have one bathroom and for kids to share a bedroom.
That same year, fresh out of college, Alex de Parry launched Ann Arbor Builders and began buying and restoring old homes in downtown Ann Arbor. Throughout the decade, the company expanded its portfolio, managed its own properties, and was hired to restore old and historic properties besides its own. Remodeling and additions soon followed.
In 1976, the company ventured into land development and homebuilding when it bought 65 acres in Hamburg Township, split the land into 17 sites, put in roads and utilities, and began building homes.
It was the decade of big hair, Sony Walkman's, explosive growth in the use of personal computers and the beginning of mobile phones.
But the decade began with rampant inflation and soaring interest rates that topped out at 18.5% in October 1981. The economy, including homebuilding, came to a standstill. In 1982, just 147 building permits were issued in Washtenaw County, the lowest on record.
And so Ann Arbor Builders diversified. In 1981, the company converted an empty warehouse, once a carriage factory, into a European style market - the original South Main Market at 111 E. Moseley before it moved to 615 S. Main and was demolished in December 2016 to make way for new apartments.
Throughout the decade, the company acquired, renovated and managed apartment buildings.
In 1983,the company bought a neglected piece of history in West Palm Beach, Florida - a once elegant Mediterranean style apartment/hotel built in 1926 - and restored and converted the 17,000 square foot building into apartments.
By 1985, interest rates slid down to around 12.4% and dropped to 10.2% in 1986, where they hovered for the next few years.
Lower interest rates brought buyers back, and for the last half of the decade, Ann Arbor Builders was building 50 to 60 homes per year in and around Ann Arbor.
Homes grew in size, and popular features included cathedral ceilings, mirrored closet doors and track lights.
In 1989, the company was selected to be the developer of a mixed use project in partnership with the City of West Palm Beach.
The first web browser went online. Use of the Internet and email soared. Digital cameras became available commercially. Cell phones got smaller and homes got bigger.
So did the demand for two-story ceilings, bigger garages, open kitchens, more and bigger bathrooms, and whirlpools. No matter the size of the home, it seemed that everybody wanted one.
The steady drop in interest rates from around 10% in 1990 to 7% in 1999 kept the demand for housing strong. Ann Arbor Builders was developing land and building new homes and condos in Oakland and Washtenaw Counties - in Loch Alpine, North Delhi Hills, Glen Devon, The Maples of Novi, Sandhill, and Briar Hill, to name but a few subdivisions in which we built.
Early in the decade, in 1991, an opportunity lured Alex to Marco Island, Florida where the company developed land and built homes. By 1997, Ann Arbor Builders had sold all of its Florida holdings.
The Internet got faster and became available on mobile phones. Wi-fi and i-everything became popular. For housing, it was a boom to bust decade.
Early on, steadily declining interest rates and relaxed lending created strong demand, and Ann Arbor Builders was busy developing land and building condos and homes in Sandy Creek, Scio Sunrise, Polo Fields, Mystic Ridge, Brass Creek and Brass Creek Court as well as on scattered building sites throughout Washtenaw County.
But in 2008, the housing bubble burst, and homebuilding all but came to a halt. In 2009, only158 building permits were issued in the entire county, just 11 more than the lowest year on record (1982).
Once again, the company headed south and built homes in coastal Georgia. In Ann Arbor, the company did some remodeling and positioned itself for the end of the Great Recession.
Since recovery began in 2010, buyers kept us busy building custom homes which included "smart" features that enable owners to control or program devices in their homes whether they are in Ann Arbor or London. And the demand for energy efficient homes was greater than ever before.
We also helped buyers design and build a new kind of home that gained in popularity: multigenerational housing in which two or three generations live under the same roof. And we built homes that are fully accessible for people with all abilities and who desire to age in place.
We continued to build homes on land which we developed and on scattered, stand-alone lots in the Ann Arbor area.
We completed The Mark, a building with seven luxury condos, in the summer of 2016. And directly across the street, we converted an old, abandoned gas station into the wildly popular Argus Farm Stop which opened in the summer of 2014. Two years later, we bought an abandoned building on Packard Road and converted it into the second Argus Farm Stop.
In 2014, we acquired the first building - of what was to be several buildings - in Old Town Saginaw and renovated these historic buildings for commercial use.
Late in the decade, we acquired property at the corner of Jefferson and Ashley Streets in Ann Arbor and began developing The Gallery, a 19-unit condominium.
2020 AND BEYOND
As the new decade began, we were busy preparing for construction of The Gallery as well as renovating and managing several buildings in Old Town Saginaw. And then a pandemic descended on the world, changing the way everyone lived and worked. As 2021 begins, we - like everyone - are hopeful that an end is in sight.
Most especially, as we celebrate 50 years, we're enormously thankful for all the people who have contributed to our success and longevity. It's been a great privilege to go to work every day and to help dreams become realities.
We're excited about upcoming projects, and we look forward to the future.
- Betsy de Parry, VP, Sales and Marketing