Location still key in sales of homes

The story of new homes in the Wichita area this summer remains one of location, location, location.

First, the good news: Some developers say the new homes market is perking up, ranging from $200,000 homes to high-six-figure estates, particularly in Wichita and Andover.

That's the rub: Location is key.

"We sold five high-end homes over $800,000 in the past two months," said Kevin Mullen, president of Wichita's Ritchie Development. "I don't think we sold more than two or three in 2009. It's been huge."

And then there's the suburban story, where other developers say they continue to fight a losing battle with the economic downturn.

"Lots aren't moving and builders aren't building," said Haysville developer Ron Meyer.

"Obviously, with the economy and stuff, you can drive around and look at other developments and you don't see anything at all starting unless it's $140,000 or so. There's nothing going on in Haysville at $180,000 and above."

Meyer said he's examining ways to move his lots, including the possibility of new partnerships.

"Nothing's really happening right now," he said. "I'm talking to a couple of builders about partnering up, but nobody's turning anything over."

The reason for the difference is location, said Wess Galyon, president of the Wichita Area Builders Association.

"Location, the developer's trademark, the product they have in good locations," Galyon said. "We're hearing that activity has picked up significantly in June and July, particularly with regard to the higher end."

Generally, new homes are moving best in the Wichita and Andover areas, brokers said.

"There are certainly areas where the traffic has picked up a whole lot," said Gary Walker, residential general manager for J.P. Weigand & Sons.

"There are just certain areas, certain developments, certain developers and certain amenities that are always attractive to people."

Mullen said the number of Wichita-area developers mushroomed as the housing market exploded locally.

"We've been in this for 30 years, and there used to be just a handful of developers, and I mean a handful," he said.

"Now, anybody who wants to be a developer can be a developer. You just own the ground and away you go. Those people are the ones who are struggling."

But any activity in the market is good news, Galyon said.

"It was pretty flat out there for quite a while," he said. "But the banks are cooperating better, and we've got more activity developing. It's starting to get better."