A Fight to Keep Homes Affordable

The St. Charles County Association of REALTORS® battled local building regulations in Missouri to drastically reduce the cost of home construction and revive the market.

January 13, 2014

In the city of Wentzville, Mo., the cost of home construction was in danger of spiking, threatening to hamper home sales. The St. Charles County Association of REALTORS® made sure to put a stop to it.

Strict city building codes and ordinances were making it more expensive to build single-family homes, thus making home ownership more costly for buyers.

"One of the aldermen told us that if REALTORS® lowered our commissions and developers lowered their profits, there wouldn’t be an affordable housing problem," says SCCAR CEO Mark Stallmann.

The association decided to bring out the big guns to spur change. SCCAR partnered with the Homebuilders Association of Eastern Missouri in 2010, using funds from RPAC to help get new candidates elected to Wentzville's six-person Board of Aldermen. Five of six newly elected members were backed by SCCAR, one of them being SCCAR member Rick Stokes, who chairs the association's Government Affairs Committee.

With a new board in place in 2010, SCCAR and the HBA worked with the aldermen to relax 76 provisions of the city's building codes. According to Stallmann, that reduced home-construction costs anywhere between $18,571 and $36,095, depending on the type of home built.

"This has resulted in a dramatic increase in housing starts in the city," Stallmann says, noting that new-home starts have jumped nearly 60 percent in Wentzville in the last two years.

Armed with new motivation to change local housing policies, SCCAR didn't stop there. Partnering with the HBA again, as well as other Missouri REALTOR® groups, the association went to the state Legislature to fight a proposal to make sprinkler systems mandatory in all new construction.

"That would have increased the cost of a single-family home in Missouri by $9,688 to $22,725," Stallmann says. Missouri REALTORS® eventually won that battle.

SCCAR waged a third campaign — this one again centered in Wentzville — to reduce what Stallmann calls excessive regulations on existing homes. The city had required occupancy inspections and permits on existing homes. But after pressure from SCCAR, Wentzville repealed that provision.

"Wentzville is the first community that I am aware of in our region — and maybe in the country — to not just stop new regulations but to repeal existing regulations," Stallmann says.

Graham Wood
Executive Editor of Digital Media

Graham Wood is Executive Editor of Digital Media for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at gwood@nar.realtor.