Natchez sees housing construction boom

Published 12:13 am Friday, November 9, 2007

NATCHEZ — While construction workers bustle around an almost complete house in downtown Natchez, mason David Claiborne works methodically with his trowel and mortar.

“We have plenty of work,” he said stacking another brick in what will soon become a column on a new house.

And what’s keeping Claiborne busy is a flurry of new house construction in the Natchez area.

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Jody Foster, owner of River Homes, is building the three new homes, on the corner of North Pearl and Madison Street that Claiborne is working on.

Foster’s three houses, he said, will be ready in January and two are already sold.

Foster said he is also planning to purchase what he called a sizeable piece of land downtown to build even more houses. Foster did not say just how many new houses he is planning to build.

With businesses like Rentech and others coming to the Natchez area new houses will be in demand, Foster said.

And Foster isn’t the only one who sees the demand.

“There is an unmet demand for new housing,” said Sue Stedman a local realtor.

Stedman said while Natchez’s older houses are certainly beautiful and desirable, some buyers are leery of the maintenance and upkeep they often need.

And while there will always be a market for older houses, Stedman said, more amenities and less upkeep are attractive to many buyers in the market.

And builders like Dick Thompson and Foster are aiming at just that market.

Dick Thompson, owner of Live Oak Gardens, just off Homochitto Street, is in the beginning stages of what he said will be a long-term construction project in the Duncan Park area. Thompson said he eventually plans to build 20 new houses in the area.

“These homes are made to be low-maintenance,” he said.

Thompson said his houses will feature all new appliances plus smaller yards designed to need little attention.

And while Thompson and Foster are both trying offer similar amenities, both men have similar target groups.

Both builders said they are trying to appeal to the empty-nest crowd.

Thompson said when children move out parents are often left with houses too big for their needs.

Thompson said his houses will range in size from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet.

And Stedman said that size home is a hot commodity.

“There’s always a need for mid-sized homes,” Stedman said.

But when buying and building price always become a primary concern.

Stedman said houses in the $125,000 to $250,000 price range always seem to be in short supply.

And both Foster and Thompson’s houses start around $250,000.

However Foster thinks the product warrants the price.

Foster said houses built in the Natchez area are generally of a higher quality than house is places like Jackson or Atlanta.

And the cost associated with building houses in Natchez is also higher, Foster said.

Since electricians, plumbers and other general contractors build fewer houses than in larger cities they also charge more, Foster said.

Foster said it is not uncommon for a contractor in the Natchez area to charge twice as much as one in Jackson.