Wilmington homebuilders struggle to keep up with hot housing market

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Lumber, windows, nails, appliances and roofing all have one thing in common: Home builders in Wilmington — and throughout North Carolina — are having trouble getting their hands on enough of them.

“We are seeing material shortages and delays on about everything that goes into the construction of a house,” said Cameron Moore, the executive officer of the Wilmington-Cape Fear Homebuilders Association. “Whether it be lumber, glues, epoxies, caulk, paints, flooring, appliances, roofing, nails, I could go on and on and on.”

Even as pandemic restrictions have been lifted, builders have struggled to get their supplies. Nationwide, nearly 95% of builders are reporting shortages in appliances and 87% of builders are reporting shortages of windows and doors, according to data provided by the National Homebuilders Association.

The shortages have lengthened the amount of time it takes to build a home in Wilmington and increased overall housing costs for buyers. Homebuilders in the Cape Fear region are struggling to keep up with the area’s hot housing market, Moore said.

“We can’t build enough houses right now because we can’t get enough product,” he added.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to material shortages by limiting some manufacturing production, there are other factors at play.

Craig Smith, the owner of 70 West Builders, said his company, which builds homes throughout Eastern North Carolina, didn’t start seeing shortages and price increases until months into the pandemic.

“It’s not a direct result of when the pandemic started, it’s the ramifications of people buying more houses and the manufacturers can’t keep up,” Smith said. “It’s just compounded month by month by month.”

When the pandemic began last year, there was some uncertainty around how the building industry would be impacted, said Holly Overton, the sales manager and vice president of Charter Building Group, a company that builds homes in the greater Wilmington area. Shortages began gradually, but have gotten progressively worse.

“The shortages started really with just a handful of items but every month it’s getting worse and we’re seeing more and more items get backed up in manufacturing,” she said.

So, what is causing these material shortages and price increases? There are a few factors.

First, people are building more houses. The U.S. saw an approximate 12% increase in the number of new construction starts in last year, according to Robert Dietz, the chief economist and senior vice president for Economics and Housing Policy at the National Homebuilders Association.

The Wilmington area, in particular, has seen a housing boom. The remodeling market is also hot right now, which has increased demand for building materials, Dietz said.

Construction crews work on a new home in the Riverlights neighborhood of Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Developers across the country are facing a shortage of building supplies.

Manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up with that demand, leading to backlogs and delays, and tariffs on softwood lumber from Canada have lead to additional price increases, according to Moore.

“The housing industry is a global industry,” he said. “It’s not just that all these products are made right here in North Carolina or made right here in Wilmington.”

For John Rock, the general manager of American Homesmith, price increases for lumber have been the most substantial. It also now takes the company between 16 to 18 weeks to receive the windows needed for a home. Before the pandemic, they could get windows in four to five weeks.

“Trying to plan what you’re going to build four to five months ahead of time, that’s a lot,” Rock said.

Certain materials are considered “critical path” items that need to installed before a home can be finished, Overton said.

“Things that are critical path like windows, appliances, if you can’t get those materials in a timely manner it really will stop a job site completely,” she said.

More than a year since the pandemic started, some local builders are beginning to wonder when things will return to normal. It’s a question Moore gets frequently from the builders he works with, but there’s still “no end in sight,” he said.

Overton agrees.

“Most homebuilders in our industry thought that as the pandemic restrictions eased that manufacturing would be able to catch up with demand or close to demand and that just hasn’t happened,” she said. “Instead it’s gotten worse.”

Dietz said helping manufacturing keep up with demand and lifting the Canadian tariffs could help, but the situation remains complex.

“There’s a lot of different factors that would help,” Dietz said. “I don’t think there’s a single solution.”

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or edill@gannett.com.

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