Things could be worse

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by Robert C. Powell

The housing bust has taken its toll on Wall Street and Main Street. The CEOs of some of the nation’s biggest financial companies have been forced to step down because of losses caused by subprime mortgages. In states such as Florida and Nevada, foreclosures are mounting and home sales have stalled.

Virginia has not escaped the crisis unscathed. In our cover story, Doug Childers reports that home builders face slowing demand, some projects have been held up because of financing problems, and several real estate-related companies have cut jobs. Nonetheless, there’s still some good news. Median home prices continue to rise and commercial construction remains strong.

The home-selling slump, in fact, might actually offer an investment opportunity. Lisa Antonelli Bacon reports that second-home buyers are finding bargains in some of Virginia’s resort communities.

Other bargains can be found in a seemingly unlikely place, commercial insurance. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, insurance rates are headed down. As Joan Tupponce reports, that means more money in the pockets of small businesses. Insurance brokers expect the trend to continue into 2009 if no catastrophes occur.

In fact, drought has replaced hurricanes as the commonwealth’s major weather worry. Dry conditions are hurting traditional agricultural areas such as Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley. But officials there see promise in a crop of biotech and data center businesses that intend to invest $366 million in the region.

Such deals often are conducted under the highest levels of secrecy. Our Commercial Real Estate Quarterly looks at the cloak-and-dagger nature of corporate deals and the lengths some companies will go to keep their identities secret.

The quarterly section also takes a peek at National Harbor, the $2 billion project being developed by the Virginia-based Peterson Cos. across the Potomac from Alexandria. The development’s signature project, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, opens in April.

This issue also includes our annual Legal Elite list in which 7,000 lawyers throughout the state were asked to vote for the best attorneys in 15 legal categories. This marks a transition in the 8-year-old feature, which next year will open voting to all licensed lawyers in the state.

The 2007 list includes lawyers in construction and real estate law. That could be a valuable resource for companies continuing to cope with the housing slump.

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