Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First Home Builders of Fort Myers Lays Off 200

Fort Myers-based First Home Builders announced Friday that it will lay off about 200 people across all sectors of the company effective Dec. 28.

“This is a painful action, but a necessary one to right-size the company,” said Tim Graney, vice-president of finance. “We are now positioned to operate more efficiently at a lower volume than we have enjoyed in the past few years.”

Despite the layoffs, First Home Builders will continue targeting first-time buyers for the sale and construction of new homes, according to a company press release.
Company spokesman Ray Casas said the layoffs are a reflection of a sluggish Southwest Florida real-estate market.

“The conditions are what they are, and this action had to be taken to right-size the company,” Casas said, adding that recalls remain a possibility in the future. “Obviously market conditions could change.”

Bill Berry, owner of WB Home Builders in Lehigh Acres, wasn’t surprised by First Home Builder’s announcement.

“The market is down for most builders, and First Home Builders built up so quickly that when the market crashed, I don’t think they were ready for that,” Berry said. “Right now, it’s a buyer’s market, and instead of building, people are snatching up foreclosures because they can buy them $20,000 to $30,000 less than what it costs to build.”

Sluggish market or not, Berry believes business could pick up quickly in Lee County.
“Lee County is such a fast-paced market that I think the market could correct itself pretty fast — stabilize and become normal in anywhere from eight months to two years,” he said.
Though operating on a much smaller scale than First Home Builders, Berry said he also recently had to let two employees go.

“I had to let a trade guy and an office lady go, mainly because work is so slow and there’s no work to give out right now,” he said.

That said, the slow building market hasn’t yet cast its shadow over the world of home-improvement sales, according to John Sandford, manager of the Lowe’s at 14960 S. Tamiami Trail in Fort Myers.

“We’re pretty happy with the way things are going now,” Sandford said. “There have been brisk sales in the remodeling portion of the business, with kitchen upgrades and upgrades of people’s current housing. Overall, the real-estate and building industry is down, but we’re happy with our business, happy with the average homeowner continuing to improve their home.”

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