Even in the depths of the downturn that followed the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007, veteran South Jersey builder Bruce Paparone remained positive about the industry.
As financial problems kept builders from finishing developments begun in the good times, Paparone stepped in, acquiring the few remaining lots, completing them as infill projects, and selling them at prices less than the original developers had sought but reflecting the realities of the post-bubble market.
His hunch that there were buyers even in bad times was correct.
Today, Paparone's efforts are focused on what he considers another winner: the active-adult market, specifically, the Village of Country Gardens in Mantua Township, Gloucester County.
The active-adult segment stumbled in the years after the 2008 financial meltdown, which bit deeply into the 401(k) funds and home equity of prospective buyers, derailing purchases.
In 2016, the over-55 segment appears to be back on track, observers say.
"The active-adult market is expanding," said Quita Syhapanya, Northeast regional director for Hanley Wood's Metrostudy in Philadelphia.
Of the 460 new-home communities in the region, 60 are active-adult developments, he said, and "builders are actively looking for opportunities to meet this demand in land opportunities."
The overall new-home market has seen growth in activity in both construction starts and closings year-over-year at the end of the second quarter, he said - 14.4 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
The active-adult segment saw a slight decrease of 1.6 percent in starts and but a 3.5 percent uptick in closings, Syhapanya said. Without the depressed South Jersey market, the number would rise, however, he noted.
Already, there are 91 houses and a clubhouse at Country Gardens, built by Paparone's uncle, Tom - who, his nephew said, "did a beautiful job with developing the community."
When Bruce Paparone completes Country Gardens somewhere down the road, there will be 130 more homes, for a total of 221.
"The next phase will be 59 homes," he said.
Visits by prospective buyers "have been very strong so far, with a lot of our former customers from Washington Township coming in to see us," said Paparone, who has built 11 communities in Washington Township over the years, from Angel Hill Court to Wrenfield.
He is not new to Mantua Township, either, having built Chapel Hill between Mount Royal Road and Main Street, and Wensley, off Center Street.
"The community is in a great location, on Lamb's Road, just off of Route 55, with a Target and a Lowe's, as well as a lot of other shops nearby," he said.
Many of the home sites back up to open space, Lamb's Church Field, noted Paparone, who is awaiting permits to start construction of the models for the section of Country Gardens that he will be building.
In the meantime, Paparone is selling properties from the clubhouse at 125 Cottage Circle.
He said the model homes will reflect "the architecture and feel of many of the existing residences."
"It is an extremely attractive community with a great look and a beautiful pond view right from the back of the clubhouse," Paparone said.
Starting prices range from $279,900 to $329,900 for homes ranging from 1,676 to 2,843 square feet.
"The active adult is probably the strongest market in housing today," Paparone said.
The buyers in that market have the money, and a need for first-floor master bedrooms, he said.
A lot of prospective-buyer traffic is coming from other active-adult communities - "new" is always a motivation, Paparone said.
"We feel the demographics are going to carry the strength of that buyer for a number of years into the future."