Credit: Jason Millstein

Andy Cretal’s morning routine is much like it has been for the past decade. His alarm clock goes off, he grabs some coffee, and he heads for the office. The only difference from when he was a development manager at Dallas-based JPI, or a regional vice president who ran the development business in the Washington area when he was at Atlanta-based Gables Residential, or senior vice president of development at Denver-based REIT Aimco, is that Cretal is heading to an office he rents in Reston, Va. No, he doesn’t have a full-time gig at a Top 50 company, but that doesn’t mean Cretal, who was laid off from Aimco in 2008, isn’t plugged into the business 40 hours a week. He’s staying in contact with people in the business, networking, monitoring the capital markets and the economy.

“I’m in the business full-time,” Cretal says. “I’m just not fully employed. I’m in it every day. I work on making sure I’m up to speed on the markets and who is doing what. At the same time, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities. I’m preparing for a time when my services will be in demand.”

Unfortunately, Cretal isn’t alone. When the industry was buzzing along, builders and developers had expanded their construction capacity to build 315,000 multifamily starts in 2003. That fell to 97,000 units in 2009, according to Census stats.

With that drop came job loss. In the industry, turnover rates peaked in 2008 and 2009. Construction folks were hit even harder. Multifamily-only stats are hard to come by, but the overall construction industry is still 27 to 35 percent below peak employment levels, according to Los Angeles–based consultant CEL & Associates. Between April 2010 and April 2011, construction employment declined in 179 out of 337 metropolitan areas.