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We love satisfied customers

Sables Homes is celebrating 20 years of home building in West Michigan and business is booming. In 2015, we built and sold 126 houses, more than any other year in our history. And 2016 looks to be just as bright. We’re working on 10 different neighborhoods in Kent, Barry and Allegan counties and the demand for housing is very strong as West Michigan’s economy grows.

While all that news is encouraging for our business, we strive to remember we’re not just building houses, we’re building homes for West Michigan families—a place to set down roots and grow. We keep this in mind during all stages of the building and home selling process: our customers are our neighbors and friends.

In this business, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing from a customer who is happy with their Sable Home. We recently received a nice message from Anthony G., who purchased one of our homes in Ada.

Anthony wrote, “We’re loving our place at Sable Valley. You guys do an awesome job!” and provided this photo of his family in their back yard.

Thank you, Anthony for the feedback, and thank you to the hundreds of homeowners in West Michigan who entrusted Sable Homes to build their home.

Anthony G. and his family in the back yard of their Sable home in Ada, Mich. (Dec. 2015)

Anthony G. and his family in the back yard of their Sable home in Ada, Mich. (Dec. 2015)

Report finds a market for homebuyers 55 and up

(Grand Rapids Business Journal) — The 55-and-up homebuyer market is heating up, according to a new report from the National Association of Home Builders.

Sales and prospective buyers increased three points during the past quarter in the 55-and-up market, while expected sales for the next six months rose another point.

Builders across the country are gearing up for the increase, as well, the report said.

55Mortgages_JohnBitely_81015Track_MB“Builders have a positive outlook on the 55-plus housing market,” said Timothy McCarthy, chairman of the NAHB 55+ Housing Industry Council. “In fact, the markets for single-family, apartments and condos are all doing quite well, and we expect that trend to continue.

In West Michigan the trend is holding true, said John Bitely, president of Sable Homes in Rockford.

“Across the nation our population is getting older. There’s the baby-boomer segment — that’s a bunch of us,” he said. “Whether it’s because we’re living longer or staying healthier, a lot are looking for houses.”

A lot of the current housing activity is downsizing from “McMansions” as children move away, Bitely said.

“As kids leave or people look toward retirement, they don’t need as big of a house,” he said.

Sometimes, the older market wants to have a small place in Florida and a small place in West Michigan, instead of a single larger one.

The concept of aging-in-place also factors into the equation. Seniors may prefer buying a house in a retirement community rather than having to go into a nursing home situation later on. Bitely said houses in some developments, such as Sable’s Villas of Rosewood, may run up to $350,000, but the house still offers a lifestyle change. The yards and driveway are taken care of, similar to a condo association. Also, instead of a two-story, four-bedroom house, the houses are likely to be one-story structures with a bedroom on the main floor and maybe one or two in the basement for guests.

“A lot of these buyers are planning ahead and they realize their health may not be perfect in 10 or 15 years,” Bitely said.

Bitely also cited the ability to shrink or eliminate mortgage payments as a reason for downsizing. He said some prospective buyers never expect to pay off a mortgage completely and just view it as a budgeted payment. A lot of times, however, Bitely said the large mortgage on a big house can make up the difference on a downsized house, or at the very least, new buyers can secure a much lower interest rate.

“Some people are smart with their money and say, ‘I’m better off borrowing money at 4 percent and leaving my money in a 401(k) and whatever else,’” Bitely said. “If they start getting a 6 to 8 percent return, they start making money on their mortgage. That’s a very logical thought process.”

He said many in the 55-and-over market are looking toward new, smaller homes, and most do not foresee entering a nursing home.

“It’s not a desirable end,” he said.

Many of the homes built for the demographic are barrier free, without steps and with all amenities on one floor. Extra infrastructure is built into the house, so things like grab bars in the shower can easily be added.

Bitely said Sable Homes has implemented a new product called Freedom Foundation that allows homes to be built on concrete slabs, even in northern climates like Michigan’s. The technology uses a specially shaped foam that protects the slab from frost damage, enabling a house to be built without a basement or crawl space, enabling a zero-step platform. Building on a slab saves money and the houses can be built in the $160,000 to $170,000 range, he said.

“Here in Michigan, everyone thinks you need a basement,” Bitely said, but he said 85 percent of the nation doesn’t have basements. “We’re the weird ones,” he added.

According to the NAHB, sales to those 55 and older are the best since before the Great Recession and should continue for awhile.

“Like the overall housing market, we continue to see steady, positive growth in the market,” NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said.

“With the economy and job growth continuing to improve gradually, many consumers are now able to sell their current homes for a suitable price, enabling them to buy or rent in a 55-plus community.”


Sable Homes Salutes Veterans


November 11, or Veteran’s Day, is a time to pay tribute to the men and woman who have served our nation. We at Sable Homes have had the privilege of building housing for numerous veterans– some of whom returned home from combat with debilitating injuries.

Did you know veterans who are fully disabled have earned rights, such as being exempt from paying property taxes? There are other government programs designed to help veterans, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (VASH). According to the National Association of Home Builders, VASH combines the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to address and support the housing and health care needs of U.S. military vets.

HCV is the federal government’s largest rental assistance program, helping very low-income families, seniors and disabled individuals afford clean and safe housing in the private market. Learn more here:

Sable Homes salutes our veterans, who have sacrificed to protect our country.

New Slab Insulation Making Barrier-free Homes More Affordable

Filed in Home BuildingTechnology on October 7, 2015

A Michigan home builder is creating more options for buyers with tight budgets, and particularly for those who have mobility issues.

Until recently, most bargain-seekers in colder regions of the U.S. had only two options to consider when buying a home: a modular home that offers economy, but usually requires steps or a ramp; or a traditional home built over a basement or crawl space, which is often more expensive.

That short list of options grew recently when Sable Homes in Rockford, Mich., implemented a new method to build barrier-free homes on concrete slabs, despite the region’s colder temps. The technology – called Freedom Foundation – uses a specially shaped foam that works as a form and border to protect the slab from frost damage, even throughout a typically bitter-cold Michigan winter.

Sable Homes is building barrier-free homes at lower costs thanks to the Freedom Foundation technology.

Sable Homes is building barrier-free homes at lower costs thanks to the Freedom Foundation technology.

Barrier-free homes – ideal for the elderly or physically disabled – are often hard to find and costly to build. But Sable Homes owner John Bitely says building on a concrete slab that uses the Freedom Foundation technology can save up to $10,000 over the cost of building a similar-sized home with deep footings or a crawl space underneath. The savings can be as much as $15,000 when compared to a home with a basement.

“Technology-wise, it may seem kind of old school, but it’s got a different twist that makes is so much more consumer and builder friendly to use,” Bitely says. “The shape and design of the foam makes it much simpler to install and build with than if you followed the old method for residential building.”

So far, Freedom Foundation has been successfully used in more than 30 homes. Bitely says nearly all other homes in the region have basements, so the mindset of buying a home without a basement is just starting to catch on.

However, momentum seems to be building as word spreads about the potential cost savings.

“We’re selling these homes pretty much as fast as we can get them done,” Bitely says. “And it isn’t just older folks who are buying them. We’ve seen buyers of all types, including young people who are looking to buy their first home they find this price point to be extremely attractive.”

Inside Track: Blue-collar housing and strong work ethic are nice fit

John Bitely’s ‘never give up’ farmer’s mindset saw his Sable Homes through the Great Recession.

By Grand Rapids Press, Mike Nichols

John Bitely always wanted to be a farmer.

Although his career started out with tilling the land for a living, eventually his life took him on a different journey.

In some ways he’s still a farmer, but the crop he’s harvesting now isn’t corn — it’s houses.

As the owner of Sable Homes, a Rockford-based residential development firm, he’s seen many a plentiful harvest in the last couple of years.

“My crop is development. The crop I plant now is the last plant of that land.

“We’re blue-collar housing. We’re the workingman’s home. We do some entry-level, we’ve done high-end — and we can do it, but our main focus is blue-collar housing.


“We also do development, which we haven’t’ done much of for about six years because everything fell on its ear,” he said, referring to the Great Recession and the bursting of the housing bubble.

“We used to be happy with (building) 25 to 30 homes a year. … We’ll do more than 100 homes this year.”

Bitely grew up in Sparta, the son of a part-time farmer. He graduated from Sparta High School in 1983, by which time he was already renting and working part of his family’s farm.

His parent’s work ethic was one of the best gifts he’s ever received, he said.

“The work ethic — either from my parents or my own internal drive — is probably my biggest break,” he said. “Everything has built on everything else for me. It’s not like, ‘Oh, this thing happened and everything else was gold.’”

Although he was accepted to Michigan State University after high school, Bitely decided not to go to college and to focus on farming instead, although he did attend Kent Skills Center to learn more about the mechanics of farming equipment.

“I liked girls and beer better than education, and I knew all I would have done was chase girls and drink beer,” he said. “I was actually mature — or at least practical enough — that I knew I wasn’t going to waste the money attending college for those purposes.”

After high school, Bitely got a job working at his uncle’s seed farm in Sparta called Post Farms. He loved the work, but eventually he began to realize his passion for farming wasn’t paying off for him.

“Farming’s in your blood. You till the land, you grow things, you’re around livestock. It’s a very noble way to make a living. It doesn’t pay a lot of money, but it’s not a bad thing.

“The problem was the timeframe. Farming was becoming very business-orientated. The family farms were dying left and right, and that’s what I was really trying to come into. And as a family, we weren’t wealthy. We had small landholdings.

“As time went on, I had to do something to generate enough money to make my initial stake ever happen. And with that came (the realization): ‘I’m going to work my whole life to have a decent job if I am stuck in farming,’” he said.

“My whole upbringing was I wanted to be a farmer. I loved agriculture, loved working the land — loved all that stuff. And my total focus right out of high school was growing a small farming operation into something I could make a living at. A couple of years into that, it just wasn’t making sense. It’s a tough way to make a living. It was a slow, tough, long haul.”

Bitely took a second job as a truck driver for Burlingame Lumber, which eventually became Wolohan Lumber, in Wyoming.

He left that company and started working for Standard Lumber in 1985. He had to create his job because the outside sales position he wanted didn’t yet exist.

“I (presented) the pro forma to my manager, and it was truly farm-boy written. It was a hand-written pro forma of business available. … My manager looked at it and pretty much dropped his teeth. I think he was shocked at what I had given him,” he said.

The manager sat Bitely down and told him he was too young and inexperienced and, since the job would be paid by straight commissions, he wouldn’t be able to afford to do it.

But since Bitely still had extra income from part-time farming, he pressed upon his boss that he was prepared to take it on.

“It was one of those weird conversations where I don’t really think I knew what it meant at the time, and I don’t think he really had any idea what it meant. … That might have been the big break because my manager believed in me from that day on.”

“Later on, when I left that company, there was me and one other salesman who, every single month, had the number one volume in sales, and I always had the best margins. So they were writing me some big checks,” he said.

“That job afforded me 10 years of education in the building industry, and you can’t go to any college to get that information and experience,” Bitely said.

During his time at Standard Lumber, Bitely got out of the farming business for good. In a way, he said, the time he spent farming was unfair to his then-growing family because it took him away from them and it really wasn’t helping pay the bills.

“Eventually, it came down to: I could make $5 to $7 an hour farming, or I could go out and put siding on a house for $15 an hour,” he said.

“I still have the heart for farming, but it was a commitment to my family. Maybe growing up (meant) giving up the childish hope of wanting to be a farmer for the reality that I could do so much better for my family and myself.”

In 1995, Bitely and his friend, Kelly Powell, now the owner of the farming tourist attraction Deer Tracks Junction in Cedar Springs, started Sable Homes together.

Ever since, Bitely said his No. 1 frustration is when townships, municipalities and states make rules that do not allow him to “grow as nice a crop for (our) parcels.”

The business grew well but then suffered during the Great Recession like most in the construction industry. Bitely believes it was his farmer’s mentality that helped the company survive those slow years.

“When the whole economy was upside down and everybody said you can’t make money building houses … part of the mindset was ‘farmers never give up,’” he said. “It’s that belief that every spring is going to be better.”

Sable Homes was one of the few builders left standing when the bleeding from the Great Recession finally stopped. In its wake, the business found itself facing a pent-up demand from an industry that hadn’t built houses for about six years.

And although Bitely now has plenty of work to keep himself busy, he still has one hobby that hasn’t fully left him and probably never will: gardening.

Farming is in the blood, after all.

“I’ve always got a garden. No one else in the family has interest in it, and most of it I just give away. (I grow) potatoes, sweet corn, strawberries and pumpkins,” he said.

“I probably walk out to the garden three or four times a week just to look at it — just because.”

Demand is High, Supply is Lagging

By: Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

The demand for homes is expanding in Michigan, however the construction of new homes has been lagging behind. Why is this? City officials note, “construction is about to come to an abrupt halt not for lack of demand –but lack of vacant lots” (Mlive). So then, the demand for homes is still there, but the infrastructure development is costly, and the availability of vacant lots is dwindling.

In Michigan, the cost of developing the sites is an obstacle for many home builders as the municipal requirements are expensive and require extensive permitting.  Home builders and developers are hesitant to jump into infrastructure for lots due to the lack of inventory as well as the risk involved with development.

The costs to build the housing infrastructure can vary. “At the local level, jurisdictions may charge permit, hook-up, and impact fees and establish development and construction standards that either directly increase costs to builders and developers, or cause delays that translate to higher costs” (NAHB).These higher costs translate into hesitation for new constructions and new developments that have the potential to provide more risk than reward.

There is a level of uncertainty involved with the home development market. This risk stems from “competition from sales of distressed existing properties, uncertainty about the health of the overall economy and labor markets, and difficulty in qualifying prospective buyers for mortgages” (NAHB).  However, developers are still interested, but they are paying close attention to commercial and job growth as well as trends in the housing market. The development investments must strike a balance between the cost of the investment, the current housing demand, and the existing government regulations.

Sable Homes took a gamble on the Central Park Property in Sparta, and the market was in our favor as 20 new homes were built on the property to serve the needs of the developing economy and bustling community. There is most certainly a risk that was tied in with the purchase and development of the Central Park Property, but with community ties and help from the village in purchasing the property the risk was well worth it.


Home Maintenance Tips

By Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

Great, you have purchased your first home! Congratulations! Now is the time to keep up on your home maintenance on a routine schedule. This way your home stays up to date, up to code, and well maintained for future use.  Homes that lack proper up keeping end up being a bigger and bigger problem down the road. It is best to stay on top of your home care to nip any potential issues at the bud.


Fire prevention tips help to save your home from a potential disaster. Remember to vacuum out the clothes dryer duct and replace HVAC filters to improve circulation. It is also very important to change the dryer lint screen after each use to prevent buildup which can cause fires. (Popular Mechanics). In terms of electrical, be sure to check your outlets to ensure that they use ground fault circuit interrupters. These devices shut off an electrical circuit at the point when they come a potential shock hazard (NFPA).

Outdoor maintenance is important in protecting the structure and the curb appeal of your home. Routinely check your roof for repair spots or water damage and remember to clean out clogged gutters. Gutters capture water and debris from your roof and drain it away from your home. When they get clogged water and gunk accumulates and can lead to water damage (Popular Mechanics)

Summer is a great time to check the exterior of your home for potential issues. Make sure to take a look at deck or patio to check for any deterioration or safety hazards. A great way to maintain your deck is to clean and seal each year to preserve the wood and appearance. (HFHAC). Also, remember to have your roof inspected by a licensed professional every few years to ensure that there are no leaks or water damages. (Travelers).

Making sure that you stay on top of seasonal home check ups and maintenance will prevent  future headaches that may arise out of poor home upkeep. Many of these tips are quick easy checks or fixes that take less than a weekend to do, and they most definitely will pay off in the long run.


Gamble on swapping park for homes paying dividends for Sparta

By Jeffrey Cunningham | 
Email the author
on July 21, 2015 at 5:09 PM

SPARTA — When the Sparta Village Council voted in July of 2013 to sell the former 4.46-acre Central Park property to developers for new homes, the thought was that it could take up to five years to fully build out the 20 lots.

Central Town Square .jpg

(This home at the corner of Union and Grove streets was built where home plate was in the baseball field of the former Central Park)

It was a gamble village leaders were willing to take at the time to get the stalled housing market moving in Sparta. It was also an opportunity to shed some of the excess property the village owned.

The gamble for the village has paid off. In less than two years, all of the 20 home sites have been sold and houses have been built on the sites.

Many of the new residents to Central Town Square, like Virginia Huffman, said the new homes on the former park were exactly what they were looking for.

The former Rockford resident said her family had been looking for homes in the Rockford area, but couldn’t find what they wanted. “We moved here because we found a home that we liked,” she said. “We knew the village and this is s good location for us.”

Built by Sable Homes of Rockford, the houses have sold for $135,000 to $180,000.

The village hasn’t quite recovered all of the $277,000 it invested in the property since it took ownership in 2009 from Sparta Public Schools, but village leaders say the investment has clearly paid off.

“This is a case where government could do things to help get a development like this built that private industry most likely couldn’t have gotten done,” said Sparta Village Manager Julius Suchy.

Sable Homes president John Bitely said that without the help from the village in the form of being able to purchase the property at below market value, he would not have been able to build the new homes.

The village bought the property in 2009 from Sparta Public Schools after the school district closed the former Central School.

It cost the village $145,000 to demolish the former school and grade the property. The village paid the school district an additional $100,000 in water credits for the property and with other costs associated with the purchase, Suchy said the village had an estimated $277,000 invested in the property.

The agreement with the school district was that if the land eventually sold for a profit, the village and the school district would share the proceeds.

The village sold the property in 2013 to Sable homes for $120,000, leaving the village with a net loss of $157,000.

As the 20 homes were built and hooked to the village’s water and sewer systems, the hookup fees netted the village $93,000, leaving the village $64,000 in the hole.

Fifteen of the 20 new homes were on the 2015 village property tax rolls, which netted the village another $18,000, leaving the village roughly $44,000 left before it had paid off its costs associated with the development.

With the five additional homes on the 2016 tax rolls, the village will take in at least $21,000 annually on the homes in the development.

“It will take another couple of years before we are in the black with this project from a development standpoint, but I think the village is already ahead as the stores and restaurants are already seeing an increase in traffic from having additional residents in the downtown area,” Suchy said.

Fed won’t raise rates yet, but hike could come later this year

Fed won’t raise rates yet, but hike could come later this year

by Ryan Smith | Apr 29, 2015

The Federal Reserve’s soft outlook on rate hikes today means business as usual in the mortgage bond market, according to Bryan McNee, vice president and senior bond analyst for

The Fed today said that with the housing recovery remaining slow and inflation running below its long-term objective, its current 0-one-quarter-percent target range for federal interest rates was still appropriate.

“The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term,” the Fed’s Open Market Committee wrote in a press release.

McNee said that the Fed will probably still raise rates sometime this year.

“The bond market already says the Fed is going to raise interest rates this year. It’s the people in the stock market who don’t think rates are going to rise,” McNee said. “But the bond market has very clearly got a bet that we’re going to see something around September.”

The Fed didn’t specify when rates would rise, however, meaning most bond traders will continue to prepare for a rate hike, McNee said. And since that rate hike is expected, it won’t have a catastrophic effect on mortgage rates.

“It’s not going to be a crazy shift if they do it, because some of it is already in pricing,” McNee said. “There’s no doomsday scenario here. Worst case scenario, it would cause us to move off of some of the best rates we’ve seen this year.”

The Fed’s soft stance on rates may not have come as a surprise to bond traders, but many took precautions prior to the agency’s statement, selling off mortgage-backed securities Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of a more hawkish stance.

“Yesterday, Fannie Mae mortgage-backed security benchmark coupons sold off 49 basis points,” McNee said. That’s a pretty big move lower.”

It’s especially unusual considering the relatively weak recent economic reports, he said.

“Rates usually get a little better on a weak economic basis. But the mortgage-backed securities market shrugged (the reports) off and lost almost 50 points. Mortgage-backed securities traders were taking some money out of the game because they were nervous about the Fed meeting.”

West Michigan home builders struggle with a labor shortage

WYOMING, MI – West Michigan home builders say they need more workers as life returns to an industry that was on the ropes just five years ago.

But finding young people who are willing to put in a hard day’s work on a job site is no easy task, according to members of a “Next Generation Committee” formed by the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

High school counselors are pushing students into college and at the college level, kids are not signing up for programs designed to put them in the construction industry, according to committee members who gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

“We have the programs, but nobody’s going through the training,” said Duane McIntyre, a construction instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, where only five students have enrolled in the school’s residential construction program.

Meanwhile, building trades programs in local high schools are “a thing of the past,” said McIntyre.

John Bitely, president of Sable Homes, said high school guidance counselors are pushing students into college programs to meet “No Kid Left Behind” goals while he’s trying to find carpenters and laborers to fill his construction crews.

“If we do have someone who has drive and ambition, they’re told not to get into our industry. Some of these kids need to see that there are good positions out there,” said Bitely, who said his lead carpenters are paid $35 an hour.

Bitely said the home building industry faltered in its recruitment programs in recent years because the jobs were not available. “We’ve been in survival mode,” he said.

Dave VanBaren, president of Great Lakes Superior Walls of Hamilton, said his company has problems finding young people willing to work. “Basically, we say if you show up every day, you can move up in the company,” he said.

Ryan Nettesheim, a youth services coordinator for Bethany Christian Services, said they preach the same “just show up every day” lesson in their “Youth Build” program.

Nettesheim’s seven-month program helps low-income students between 18 and 24 earn their Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) and gain construction skills while working on Habitat for Humanity homebuilding projects.

McIntyre said many of the students he sees have not been taught the importance of showing up for work every day at home.

“There’s definitely a work ethic problem out there,” McIntyre said. “If you want to find a root cause, it comes down to family.”

Jim Harger

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