It's been an unusual sight recently: after the real estate bubble burst in 2008, many Michigan building companies were crippled or went bankrupt, and their workers fled to other states or changed careers. The number of building permits issued in southeast Michigan, which peaked in 2004, had dropped 94 percent by 2009.
The home builders that survived had to dig deep and innovate. "In the last four years, there's been a lot of roundtable brainstorming," says Sean Lefere, Michigan division president for Norfolk Homes. "When your backs are against the wall, you solve the problems."
Chelsea Fairways had its share of problems. When the crash came, the original developer, Stoneleigh Development, ran out of buyers for its remaining lots--and the project ran out of money. "The roads were incomplete, the home owners association had years of back dues owed to them--[there were] lots of moving parts," says Lefere. "We had to come together with the city, the bank, the home owners association and come up with [a] resolution. There was some pain that went around."
Ninety-one homes were already occupied when the financial crisis hit, and the home owners had been dealing with deteriorating, unfinished roads for several years. Not only had the project been abandoned by Stoneleigh, but the City of Chelsea had allowed the bond that held the money to finish the roads to lapse.