Sienna development

Homes are under construction in the fast-expanding Sienna development. Fort Bend County, like many places across the country, is facing a housing shortage amid unprecedented demand for homes. (Photo by Matt deGrood)

A quick glance down a street in Sienna is all one needs to see the full evolution of a neighborhood – a cozy home with trucks parked in the driveway and Christmas decorations across the lawn stands next to two homes with for sale signs out front.

Next to them, contractors are hard at work building brand-new homes that will one day join the group of houses that prospective homeowners will visit.

Developers both in Fort Bend County and across the nation went into the early months of the pandemic expecting that, with a surge of layoffs and an unprecedented decline in business activity, fewer people would be looking for homes. But instead, the opposite has happened.

In conversations with both major developers and elected officials across the county, the Star learned last week that prospective homeowners are facing a major housing shortage, and that builders and developers are working fast to try to meet that unexpected demand for homes.

Residents need access to affordable housing to keep the county at the forefront, according to Fort Bend County Judge KP George’s office.

“Business essentially has been very good,” said Rob Bamford, the general manager at the Cross Creek Ranch development out in Fulshear. “As a residential land developer that primarily serves local new home builders, it’s been incredibly robust the last 18-24 months.”

Experts estimate the United States is short about 5.24 million homes between its supply and demand, according to a September article on CNBC. That shortage has increased from a gap of about 3.84 million in 2019, according to the article.

Locally, that has meant record years for developments across Fort Bend County since the start of the pandemic.

“Last year, we sold over 700 homes in the community,” said Alvin San Miguel, general manager of the Sienna development.

The month’s supply is the ratio of houses for sale compared to houses sold, and is meant to give an idea how long the supply would last under the current sales rate.

In May, that inventory ratio in Fort Bend County dropped to 0.8 months, a low compared to 3.6 months in November 2019, before the pandemic began, according to data from the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University.

And builders are working steadily to meet that increased demand. Just last month, for instance, builders announced they were opening luxury home models priced above or near $1 million in Sienna and presales of a new series of homes starting at $310,000.

As crazy as the market might seem, it’s actually calmer than it was earlier in the pandemic, San Miguel said.

“I would say pricing has suppressed a little bit,” he said. “After selling 700 last year, this year is closer to 600.”

Both Bamford and San Miguel agreed that, while sales are down from a frenetic period earlier this year, this new pace might be more sustainable and speak to long-term growth in home sales.

“It certainly feels the pace we’re on now might be something sustainable for the next couple years,” San Miguel said.

The demand for homes, combined with supply chain issues related to home construction, means residents have also seen a drastic rise in the cost of homes, by about 30 percent over the last year, San Miguel said.

“Within 18 months or so, I think we’ll be able to get out in front of the builders,” he said. “But I don’t have a good sense for how long it will take builders to get out in front of the buying market. They’re dealing with different supply constraints, and are still struggling post-COVID, with materials and appliances.”

Sienna currently has a population of about 36,000 people, and developers estimate it will be another eight to 10 years before the development reaches buildout, said Allison Bond, director of marketing for the development.

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