SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, CA—The numbers for housing permits issued and job starts as an industry are getting better, not screaming upwards, but they are stable and improving year over year. So says Terry Kent, vice president of sales and marketing at Crestwood Communities and president of the Building Industry Association Baldy View Chapter, which oversees the San Bernardino County region. In this exclusive Q&A, we chatted with indicators Kent watches, the state of housing and what buyers are looking for. What is the state of housing in the County today?

Terry Kent: The housing industry took a real hit in the downturn but now it’s recovering nicely in both for purchase and for rent. It’s a slow process but housing’s comeback translates into a lot of jobs for the County as a whole. Even as the entire Southern California region recovers it drives more job creation in the County because the workforce is here. What indicators do you watch?

Kent: The numbers for housing permits issued and job starts as an industry are getting better, not screaming upwards, but they are stable and improving year over year. Home prices are stabilizing and in a recovery mode. It’s been more stable in the southwest part of the County, the Chino basin. I attribute that to the buyers who are pushed out of Orange County due to a shortage of inventory and higher price point. If you want to buy a large-size house on a good-sized lot, you’ll have a lot more options in San Bernardino County as compared to the coastal regions of Southern California. The recovery trend is now starting to extend to other parts of the County. Someone can buy a house and not necessarily need two incomes to afford it. So price point is a big draw along with location. What are the buyers looking for in County homes?

Kent: People are much more price-conscious and want value and quality. There is a great deal more emphasis on sustainability in homes. People are aware of the impact of green living to their day to day costs. All homes now have sustainable features built into them because the industry as a whole has grabbed hold of the green initiative. We’re seeing everything from solar panels to tankless water heaters to drought tolerant landscaping. While some of this is partly mandated by state law, most of the builders here are going well beyond state standards.

In Ontario’s New Model Colony community the installation of recycled water infrastructure will help with sustainable consumption. The state is currently suffering from drought conditions. The water they use can be recycled and reused to irrigate landscaping. The builders there are also putting in the most efficient kinds of appliances, and setting the standard for what new development can do and how much water a typical household uses. According to news reports, estimates are that the current indoor use is 55 gallons per person per day, and New Model Colony will be closer to 35 or 40 gallons per day. What else is driving the housing trend today?

Kent: Buyers want a good neighborhood, education, amenities, parks, open space.  There are so many new neighborhoods in the County and this is driving development of retail and new schools. Many cities now have newer educational facilities. Rancho Cucamonga doubled its school district. In Ontario the local school district is also in the planning stages for new schools to serve its New Model Colony residents. Location is also a driver and a major advantage. From the County you have access to the beach, mountains, Palm Springs – and there are jobs here. Has the County been a positive factor on the housing’s recovery?

Kent: BIA and the housing industry have a great relationship with the County. The County Supervisors are willing to listen to our ideas and work with us to find more efficient ways to build. Everyone wants to maintain quality of life, so we’re working together to find ways to do that. The County of San Bernardino and SANBAG worked closely with us on their Countywide Vision In Action – Housing Collaborative which continues to provide great opportunity to identify and promote business-friendly practices to all 24 cites.

They are as much my business partner as any of my subcontractors.  If I can eliminate two days off permit processing then I can save dollars and in turn create a more affordable product for the buyer. Even in the downturn they never abandoned the industry. The County instead developed software to help make plan checks more efficient. Now as a builder I can go online to see status of plans in real time. They invested in the technology to help our industry.

The County has continued to reach out to the housing industry because they know that the construction of new homes and commercial development are important drivers for our economy. We can work together to build quality product and make the process less cumbersome. They are being good stewards of the land but remain open to ideas, which is refreshing, and reaching out to us to make the industry better.