We are about to embark on a large home improvement project but have been hearing horror stories about the cost of materials, contractors backed up for months or years to start projects, and that it’s almost impossible to get permits, etc. How should we navigate all of this? Would it be better to wait to see if conditions improve?
Residential construction is currently experiencing substantial challenges. Let’s look briefly into these issues and sort through fact from fiction.
Permitting has been a nightmare for the last 18 months in most jurisdictions. Though residential contractors were generally allowed to keep working during Covid, building departments all went online with not-so-great results. Permits, on average, are taking several months for simple projects, and much longer for complicated ones. Many factors were involved, such as layoffs, employees with Covid, and people retiring that added to the issues, but it was mostly a major communication debacle caused when people were not working in person. We have seen this recently improve, as building departments are now opening to the public and backlogs ratchet down.
Materials and Labor Costs
Lumber prices were highly impacted by Covid. Sawmills shut down just as a housing boom surged, causing massive price increases, as much as 500% or more for things like plywood. Materials from overseas (such as steel, cabinets, tile, etc.) saw large shipping cost increases and huge delays. I waited for 6 months for a tile order (from Spain) which sat for three months in the harbor in New York under quarantine. Demand for labor is at an all time high, with construction workers demanding higher wages and benefits.
Contractor Availability and Pricing
With more home-based work, and more people choosing to work from home when they can, home improvement project requests have skyrocketed. Along with the above-mentioned impacts, prices that contractors are charging for their work are reflected in higher estimates. Since most of us are busy and permitting is delayed, projects are getting pushed farther out into the future. Additionally, estimates that were given even 6 months ago may have to be adjusted to reflect new increases in a multitude of expenses.
Demand for new basement space has grown dramatically.
The Bottom Line
Construction keeps getting more expensive, it’s hard to find a good contractor, and projects are having substantial delays. Though some of this may improve slightly if permitting timeframes decrease, there is no indication that costs or contractor’s workloads will lessen anytime soon. Your best bet would be to try to get your project into your contractor’s calendar as overall conditions will likely remain challenging into the foreseeable future.
Conversations with Your Local Contractor is a new feature by Jim Gardner of Jim Gardner Construction Inc. (with articles finessed by Lisa Gardner). If you have residential, homeowner questions OR ideas for
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Jim is a long-time Piedmont resident and has been doing structural repair and basement renovation in your neighborhood since 1983. To schedule an estimate or for more information please go to our website at jimgardnerconstruction.com.