By M.L. Dehm
SCBJ Freelance Writer
SNOHOMISH [—] It[‘]s been a rough ride for home builders over the last few years but things seem to be turning around in Western Washington. That is the message that Lynn Eshleman, immediate past president of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, wants people to know.
Eshleman is a third-generation builder. Her grandfather and father were local builders and she followed in their footsteps from a young age.
[“]I started doing things like cleaning houses for my father and later doing his books when I got old enough,[”] Eshleman said during an interview at a model home in the Larimer Crossing subdivision between Everett and Snohomish.
She went to work for other area builders, but about 22 years ago settled into a position with then-land developer Mike Kinney. Kinney, along with his son, son-in-law and a family friend, founded Pacific Ridge Homes about 12 years ago. Eshleman came in to support their team and has been with them ever since.
With a keen interest in government affairs and how they relate to the building industry, it wasn[‘]t surprising that Eshleman got involved with Master Builders.
A few years ago, she was asked if she would be interested in what[‘]s called [“]going through the chairs.[”] This is a process by which an MBA member chairs committees, gains knowledge and experience, and usually ends up as president. Eshleman agreed and became MBA[‘]s chief for the 2011 term.
Looking back over the past year, Eshleman said she had a lot of fun in addition to the work. But what really impressed her was the spirit and generosity of MBA members.
[“]Especially with where the industry has been for the last couple of years,[”] Eshleman said. [“]When the industry is down and so many of our members are struggling, they still go out of their way to do extras for others.[”]
One incident that stood out during her term was when the Professional Women in Building group built a ramp for a family in need. That isn[‘]t unusual. MBA committees frequently build ramps, work on housing for the homeless and do other philanthropic deeds. But this group adopted the family they helped and landscaped their yard and brought them Christmas gift baskets.
The proudest achievement of Eshleman[‘]s term was the return of the MBA[‘]s Sales and Marketing Council, an entity that had been discontinued but that she felt was much needed.
Eshleman downplays the fact that she was named 2011 Builder of the Year, an honor she also received in 2009. It[‘]s just an award that they give to someone who puts in a lot of time, she said.
She is more interested in discussing the state of Western Washington[‘]s building industry, which she believes is in better condition than in other areas of the country. Part of this she credits to the health of local aerospace and high-tech sectors, which are hiring workers.
Another plus is that the region doesn[‘]t have as much distressed home inventory to sell like in California and Arizona, where wide-open spaces tempted developers to build more than they should have before the housing bubble burst when the recession started in 2008.
That isn[‘]t to say the area has no so-called [“]ghost projects,[”] places where houses were built or ground was broken but the development was abandoned when credit got tight. Builders in the area have been doing a good job of buying and completing these communities, Eshleman said.
Pacific Ridge Homes was one company that bought a ghost project with the Belle Meadows development in Lynnwood. People were living in 13 completed homes but another 20 were vacant. Empty lots were overgrown and strewn with trash.
Pacific Ridge Homes bought the remaining lots and met with the homeowners. They established a relationship, apologized for the upcoming construction noise and helped residents re-establish their homeowner[‘]s association.
Other developers have been doing the same. In fact, six national builders came to Snohomish County and took over much of the remaining inventory. Eshleman said once existing inventory is gone, new development should start picking up again bringing jobs, permitting fees and sales tax revenue that benefit the local economy.
Eshleman also said it[‘]s an excellent time to buy or build a home, provided you[‘]re in a position to do so. She recently took advantage of affordable prices and low interest rates and built a new home for herself.
She pointed out that there are a lot of things for buyers to consider before they sign on the line. To that end, Pacific Ridge Homes created an online guide at pacificridgehomes.com/finance to help people figure if this is their time to buy.
[“]What I love about this industry is that we build communities and not just a place to live,[”] she said. [“]If people are going to be comfortable in their homes for years to come, it has got to be a right decision.[”]