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Real estate buyers gaining confidence, say industry execs

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at 11:55 p.m.

Home builder Jack Ritchie thinks some consumers are gaining confidence in the economy and their own situation to buy new homes.

Commercial real estate broker Steve Martens is bullish on industrial real estate.

Ritchie, Martens and Intrust Bank executive Gary Schmitt made up a panel organized by the Kansas chapter of the Risk Management Association to discuss the local real estate markets.

Moderated by Stan Longhofer, director of Wichita State University’s Center for Real Estate, the panel’s discussion Thursday night at the Wichita Country Club offered a look at both current real estate conditions and a look ahead.

Asked about issues affecting his sector, Ritchie said the housing industry has been through “four, pretty ugly years” — years that have culled the number of homebuilders in the area. But Ritchie said starting in the summer, he saw confidence beginning to return among home buyers.

“It’s baby steps,” he said. And while some confidence has returned, he thinks tighter credit conditions are making it difficult.

“I think we’ve swung too far and the credit (requirements) are taking some good, potential homebuyers out of the market,” said Ritchie, CEO of Ritchie Development.

Longhofer asked panelists about downtown redevelopment and if a saturation point in housing was being reached.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near the saturation point,” Martens, CEO of the Martens Cos., said. “I think over the next three to five years if you doubled the amount of housing downtown, the market could absorb it very easily. I think the quicker we can develop that … the better the things happen downtown.”

Ritchie added, jokingly, “I think all people should buy in the suburbs.” And then he said “I really believe for Wichita to grow it has to have a strong core.”

The discussion then moved to development and other public incentives for private companies and developers.

Schmitt, Intrust’s division director of commercial banking and real estate lending, said Wichita must compete not only with regional cities, but smaller ones that are close by, when it comes to recruiting and retaining companies.

It’s imperative, he said, for officials to watch what smaller cities bordering Wichita offer companies looking to relocate.

“I think we have to be aware of what our neighbors are doing and make sure that companies that are in Wichita stay in Wichita,” Schmitt said.

Asked by Longhofer to assess the local commercial real estate market, Martens said that industrial “is probably the strongest sector at this point.”

He said the office market was probably the weakest.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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