Our phone is ringing off the hook.
It’s a sign that locally, at least, the economic recovery is in full swing. More phone calls and larger projects mean better job security for everyone in residential construction. But booming business also has a few potential downsides for homeowners looking to start a project right now. Here are few things to keep in mind as you plan your project.
Backlogs When contractors have committed to projects that haven’t yet started, that’s called a backlog. Many contractors (ourselves included) have backlogs many months long right now. It’s a similar situation for the architects and designers with whom we regularly work. They have a full plate of design work already committed and simply can’t start new projects immediately. Some of the them are already working on projects that won’t start until next spring or summer.
You might think that contractors would simply expand their staff to be able to take on new work, but when construction is busy, the number of qualified craftspeople looking for work dwindles to nothing. It’s often better for a contractor to keep the staff they have and deliver a predictable, high-quality product than take the risk of hiring new staff with unknown skill levels.
What that means for remodeling clients is that you may wait longer than you would like to start your project because the contractor you want to hire doesn’t have space in their schedule immediately.
Lead Times Even if you can find an architect to work immediately on your plans and a contractor with space in their schedule in a few weeks, that’s still really not enough time to be ready. Having a good outcome on your project requires starting with careful planning. That means time to consider design and go shopping for everything that goes into your space. That also means giving your contractor enough time to bring out all of the necessary subcontractors and price everything you’ve selected.
There’s also the reality of lead times on items like cabinets and windows. An increase in remodeling activity means suppliers large and small will be extending their lead times on delivery based on the volume of work they have committed. It doesn’t make any sense to start a remodel until you know when your materials will arrive (particularly long-lead items like cabinets and windows), and set your schedule accordingly.
Material Shortages & Higher Prices Industry journals have been reporting material shortages in some parts of the country, and that often means higher prices until supply catches up with demand. We have a seen a big spike locally in the cost of Ipe decking and other tropical hardwoods that we often install for decks. For the last few years, Ipe has been similar in cost to composite decking like TimberTech, but recently jumped up 30% in cost.
Homeowners should expect prices for materials to continue to fluctuate as construction ramps up around the country.
Subcontractors Are Busy Too Just as general contractors have rapidly filling schedules, subcontractors will be struggling to keep up with demand from both generals and homeowners who hire them directly. General contractors tend to get preferred pricing and schedule placements, but if their subcontractors’ schedules are full, they’re full.
At least one of our regular subs is now booked 4 weeks out, so we are now scheduling subcontractors for our projects many weeks ahead of when we need them to make sure they don’t impact our project schedules.
Plan Ahead The big take-away here is to plan well in advance. If you want to undertake a major remodel or build a new home in spring or summer of 2014, it is not too early to hire an architect and get on their schedule for design. If you start design in the early fall, you will likely be able to select a contractor at that time and reserve a space on their schedule in time for your desired start date. If you wait until winter to start planning, you may find that the contractor you really want to hire is already booked until the following fall.
To learn more about the remodeling and custom home building process, consider our Building a Better Home workshop with Architect Kim Goforth of Goforth-Gill Architects. It’s a high-level overview of process, timing, estimating and more. Our next workshop is September 7th at 1:30pm in our West Seattle office. Seating is limited so call 206-932-3009 to reserve your seat.