With many economists predicting that a housing turnaround might still be a year away, lenders' increasing attempts to get builders to pay down outstanding loans might further delay recovery.

A recent members' survey by the National Association of Home Builders showed that "significant numbers" of builders and developers were under such pressure, especially on loans for land acquisition and development and construction.

"This is just one more reason why builders will continue to cut construction," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

Main Line builder Chip Vaughan of Vaughan & Sautter recalls that in the downturn of 1991, local lenders pressured some builders to pay debt faster.

"They forced builders into bankruptcy, and this only added to their problems when they then had to sell off the asset at even a more distressed sale price," he said.

Vaughan said he believed most lenders today would wait out the downturn.

This low cash flow for developers, exacerbated by their having to pay down loans, can only slow construction more, said Commerce Bancorp Inc. chief economist Joel F. Naroff.

Marshal Granor, principal in Granor Price Homes in Horsham, said that because these loans had specific criteria, including repayment schedules, the only way a lender could demand a faster paydown is if the builder was in default or was "negotiating an extension of a performing loan."

For builders with lines of credit who have more discretionary use of borrowed funds, however, "I can understand lenders being scared and pressuring for more equity in the deals," he said.

"And the big guys are into using other people's money and not their own, for the most part," Granor added.

One of those big guys, Robert I. Toll of Horsham's luxury-home builder Toll Bros. Inc., said yesterday that the nation's housing industry was in a "depression" and predicted that recovery could be "two or three years away."

(Bruce Toll, vice chairman of Toll Bros., is also chairman of Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., which owns The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com.)

South Jersey builder Bruce Paparone agrees with Vaughan that most experienced lenders are too smart "to create problems."

"I'm sure they are working with their clients as much as possible while protecting the assets," he said.

Tighter credit aside, there appears to be plenty of money available for deals if the price and project are right.

Granor Price sold part of its RiverWalk property in Royersford - a completed 24-unit apartment-style building with approved and improved land for 192 dwellings - on May 30 to Oxford Properties of Atlanta.

The sale paid off the construction loan.

"Our lender is thrilled," Granor said.

Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

 

This article contains information from the Associated Press.