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TEANECK, NJ-”Obviously, the real estate market reflects the economy, and historically real estate has lagged behind the economy by two or three quarters. That’s changing, and it’s important that we understand where we are.”

The speaker is David T. Houston, Jr., president of Colliers Houston & Co., the real estate services firm based here, with offices in Somerset and Parsippany, NJ. In an exclusive interview with GlobeSt.com, Houston continues on that point: “The market is changing because of information–information is available quicker, and people are better able to adjust. In the past, it would take more time to get a sense of where the economy was.”

Where’s the market right now? “Real estate went into a soft landing,” in Houston’s view. “We haven’t had a recession–statistically we’ve had a slowdown. Usually, we go into recession because we keep building product until somebody looks up and asks how we got all this space.

“We haven’t overbuilt, which is fundamentally different from anything we’ve seen over the past 30 years,” Houston tells GlobeSt.com. “In the past, we’ve gone into downturns because of all the real estate cowboys who never saw a project they didn’t want to do. But they met their Waterloo back in the ’89-’92 debacle. The conservative players were the ones who survived.”

For New Jersey in particular, “it’s difficult to build. If you’re looking to put something up fast, go to Dallas, or to Atlanta, where you can put a project up in a fraction of the time it takes here.”

How does New Jersey’s state-supported growth management plan (encouraging development in urban areas while attempting to curb suburban and rural “sprawl”) affect things? “I’m not quite certain what ‘smart growth’ means,” Houston tells GlobeSt.com. “Everybody likes to use the term, but who really wants ‘dumb growth’?

“We have to face a couple of facts. First, we have a population that grows 1.1% a year–that’s over 80,000 people a year. We have a lot of old housing stock and old buildings that have to be accommodated. The idea that we can’t sprawl into suburban areas, that we can’t extend sewer lines or water lines, is predicated on the idea that we are going to build more densely in emerging urban centers. Nobody has asked these urban centers if they want more building.

“The problem I see with the state master plan is the whole idea of forcing development into certain areas, because you can’t force people to go where they don’t want to go,” he concluded. “If people want to live in the country, they’re going to live in the country. If they want to live in the suburbs, they’re going to live in the suburbs. There was never any marketing input whatsoever to that plan. To this day nobody has asked, ‘what do people want and how can we provide it effectively?’ “

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