Home Renovations Were Always Tough. Now Many Are Giving Up Mid-Project. | Kanebridge News
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Home Renovations Were Always Tough. Now Many Are Giving Up Mid-Project.

Labour shortages and high demand have meant months-long slowdowns for people waiting to fix up their homes

Fri, Mar 24, 2023 9:04amGrey Clock 4 min

USA: A surge of home renovations in recent years combined with a shortage of contractors is turning more repairs and remodels into never-ending nightmares.

New homeowners and those renovating always expect projects to require more time and money than their contractor estimates. But for many, the costs have become so high and the waits so long that some are now abandoning projects midway, forcing them to live among half-finished renovations for months. Others are taking up the drywall themselves.

A renovation now takes 79 days on average, up 259% from 22 days in 2019, according to Jobber, an operations-management company whose software is used by home-service professionals. Remodelling is more expensive: Hourly wages for general construction workers are up 42% over the same period, from $35 to $49, according to insurance analytics firm Verisk. Material costs have climbed, too.

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by another quarter percentage point on Wednesday, a decision that will likely continue to suppress purchases of new homes. More people who had planned to move may now stay put and renovate their existing property, says Abbe Will, a researcher at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Spending on home-improvement and repair projects in the U.S. increased by an estimated 15% in 2022 to a record $567 billion, following an 11% increase in 2021, according to a report issued Thursday by Harvard’s housing studies centre. Historical growth has averaged around 5%, says Ms. Will, the lead author.

Baxter Townsend and David Zlotnick thought buying an outdated Manhattan apartment and renovating it would be more affordable than new construction. Over a year and $250,000 into a remodel quoted to take a maximum of 15 weeks and around $100,000, they say they regret their decision.

The couple had to pay to completely redo the electrical work after Mr. Zlotnick tripped a circuit and sent sparks flying by plugging in a vacuum. The tiles in the primary bathroom are crooked and the sinks askew. Still, they dismissed the design firm they had been working with this month so they could finally move back home.

“We’re like, ‘Pack up and get out. It’s been a year. Please leave,’ ” says Mr. Zlotnick, who works in international shipping logistics. They plan to hire a different firm to finish the project, if they can find one.

New recruits needed

Those renovations and repairs can’t happen quickly without an influx of qualified workers. The construction industry will need to attract more than a half-million additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor, according to Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade organisation.

General contractor Miguel Villamil employs four people in Indianapolis, and says he has struggled to find more workers. His lead time for projects has stretched up to seven months, and he has raised prices for his services considerably to stay staffed. He pays his workers a starting salary of $20 to $25 an hour, up from $12 to $15 in 2020.

He says he is frustrated with contractors who deliver rushed and shoddy work—hurting the industry’s reputation—and with homeowners who don’t always recognise the realities of the marketplace.

“It’s a big, big, big problem,” Mr. Villamil says. “People without experience starting their own businesses, but also big companies who end up hiring subcontractors who have no experience because they have no choice.”

Facing long waits and high prices, some impatient homeowners are taking matters into their own hands—with varying results.

Total homeowner spending on do-it-yourself improvement projects grew 44% between 2019 and 2021, to a record of $66 billion, according to the Harvard report.

Mr. Villamil has picked up jobs from homeowners who tried, and failed, to do it themselves.

“Some of them do a halfway-decent job,” he says. “Some of them don’t.” He adds that one client inadvertently wired the TV to click on every time he flipped the light switch. “They try their best,” he said.

DIY by necessity

Laura Hrusovsky wasn’t trying to save time or money when she became the general contractor on a massive home-repair project. She just didn’t feel like she had a choice.

About a year ago, Ms. Hrusovsky came home from a day out with friends to a sopping entryway carpet and water cascading out of the light fixtures. An upstairs toilet had sprung a leak from the water line, spewing hundreds of gallons of water through her 3,800-square-foot home in Valparaiso, Ind.

When their preferred general contractor said he couldn’t start for another six months, her husband, Jim Hrusovsky, had an idea. “I said to Laura, who is very well organised: ‘Are you willing to try it?’ ”

She took on the 40-hour-a-week project, but isn’t happy she had to. “I just lost a year of my life,” she says. She says she has a newfound appreciation for construction work.

Evan Moody and Autumn Furr bought a second home in New York’s Catskill Mountains in summer 2021. The couple expected the few cosmetic upgrades and repairs on their list would take a couple of months. Almost two years later, the house still isn’t finished.

After getting turned down by every electrician in the area, Mr. Moody ended up pleading with one who was two counties over. On top of a $100 surcharge for travel, he said he could only come on a rainy day when he couldn’t do the outdoor work that made up most of his income. A storm didn’t occur for weeks.

Tired of waiting, Mr. Moody recently took a week-and-a-half away from his job in advertising to build a back deck himself. He knew he was in trouble and needed a professional to finish the job when he had barely gotten the holes for the posts dug by the end of day two.

“I think that going into this, we had the perception that we were very good DIYers,” Mr. Moody says. “I learned that, in fact, I wasn’t.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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RBA Governor explains the rate rises we had to have

Philip Lowe’s comments come amid property industry concerns about pressures on mortgage holders and rising rents

Wed, Jun 7, 2023 2 min

Leaders in Australia’s property industry are calling on the RBA to hit the pause button on further interest rate rises following yesterday’s announcement to raise the cash rate to 4.1 percent.

CEO of the REINSW, Tim McKibbin, said it was time to let the 12 interest rate rises since May last year take effect.

“The REINSW would like to see the RBA hit pause and allow the 12 rate rises to date work their way through the economy. Property prices have rebounded because of supply and demand. I think that will continue with the rate rise,” said Mr McKibbin.  

The Real Estate Institute of Australia  today released its Housing Affordability Report for the March 2023 quarter which showed that in NSW, the proportion of family income required to meet the average loan repayments has risen to 55 percent, up from 44.5 percent a year ago.

Chief economist at Ray White, Nerida Conisbee, said while this latest increase would probably not push Australia into a recession, it had major implications for the housing market and the needs of ordinary Australians.

“As more countries head into recession, at this point, it does look like the RBA’s “narrow path” will get us through while taming inflation,” she said. 

“In the meantime however, it is creating a headache for renters, buyers and new housing supply that is going to take many years to resolve. 

“And every interest rate rise is extending that pain.”

In a speech to guests at Morgan Stanley’s Australia Summit released today, Governor Philip Lowe addressed the RBA board’s ‘narrow path’ approach, navigating continued economic growth while pushing inflation from its current level of 6.8 percent down to a more acceptable level of 2 to 3 percent.

“It is still possible to navigate this path and our ambition is to do so,” Mr Lowe said. “But it is a narrow path and likely to be a bumpy one, with risks on both sides.”

However, he said the alternative is persistent high inflation, which would do the national economy more damage in the longer term.

“If inflation stays high for too long, it will become ingrained in people’s expectations and high inflation will then be self-perpetuating,” he said. “As the historical experiences shows, the inevitable result of this would be even higher interest rates and, at some point, a larger increase in unemployment to get rid of the ingrained inflation. 

“The Board’s priority is to do what it can to avoid this.”

While acknowledging that another rate rise would adversely affect many households, Mr Lowe said it was unavoidable if inflation was to be tamed.

“It is certainly true that if the Board had not lifted interest rates as it has done, some households would have avoided, for a short period, the financial pressures that come with higher mortgage rates,” he said. 

“But this short-term gain would have been at a much higher medium-term cost. If we had not tightened monetary policy, the cost of living would be higher for longer. This would hurt all Australians and the functioning of our economy and would ultimately require even higher interest rates to bring inflation back down. 

“So, as difficult as it is, the rise in interest rates is necessary to bring inflation back to target in a reasonable timeframe.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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