By Marsha Shyer, Co-Owner, Brandes House, Chair, Homeowner Committee

I’m not an economist, but (like most Wright homeowners) have a never-ending list of things to do to keep Brandes House in good working order. My bank account trajectory shows that this is a period in which costs anticipated are not the same as costs paid!

According to what I’ve read, we haven’t seen inflation like this since the 1980s. And the recent hike in inflation occurred before Russia invaded Ukraine, causing already increasing gas prices to shoot up like an oil strike in a movie. Of course, there was no COVID-19 virus back in the ‘80s, when the causes were very different. This time, social distancing, work-from-home, Zoom, self-quarantine (basically, all those new words and phrases that mean trapped inside) created a boom in home remodeling. Add to that the whole world (truckers, shippers, factory workers, etc.) getting sick at once, and everybody else changing their habits at the exact same moment and we got the supply chain crisis. Who knew the world ran on microchips from Asia, anyway?

Cost of Labor

Of course, some experts, who maybe should have told us so before, say that we should have seen it coming. And we as Wright homeowners knew some of it. I have heard from homeowners for years about how hard it is to find the high-level craftspeople needed for our special homes.  Well, it turns out the data supports our suspicions.

Even when, or if, life returns to what we consider normal, there may continue to be a decrease in trained laborers in the fields that we as Wright homeowners rely on. What does that mean for costs?

According to Fortune Magazine, from 2018 to 2020, the percent decrease in the number of trade laborers in various craft fields was as follows:

  • Construction laborers: 3%
  • Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters: 7%
  • Carpet installers: 8%
  • Drywall and ceiling tile installers: 2%
  • Carpenters: 7%
  • Construction trades workers: 1.5%
  • Painters, construction and maintenance: 4.6%

Make what you want of it, and this is generalized and not by geographic area, but it appears that labor costs may not trend down as quickly as other costs that are more directly related to COVID-induced inflation. And if time is money, well, it may just take more time to get things done as workers are stretched thinner.

Materials

In addition to labor, there were incredible price increases in the last several years on certain commodities related to the home maintenance sector, such as wood and stone. The price of lumber was much in the news because it had been stable and then went to the sky. Lumber shortages during the pandemic were common. Even going to the store to buy a sheet of plywood was a learning experience in inflation.

Producer Price Index for Commodities, Forbes

What can the Wright Homeowner Do?

Maintenance Always

Do not put off routine maintenance! Maintenance ultimately reduces overall cost of home ownership. It can prevent major catastrophes! Allow more lead time to set up appointments with professionals. If you have problems finding qualified contractors in your area, contact John Waters at the Conservancy.

Maintenance Vs. Replacement

Need new plumbing fixtures in your bathroom? Consider timing versus the cost. Perhaps maintenance on existing dripping fixtures and leaking toilets will ultimately save money, if replacement costs come down later. Check on material and contractor availability so as to reduce costs, overruns and frustration!

Bids Should Be Detailed

Bids can and should change over time, because of change in the costs of goods, services and other factors. Detailed bidding is really helpful so that you can figure out what is driving the cost of a project. If you get a bid that seems incredibly high and see that 90% of it is in the cost of materials, perhaps you can ask for a new bid at a later time when the cost of goods has retreated. In the meantime, consider other ways, such as maintenance, of making sure that you are being good to your house!

Don’t Despair

There’s not only one way to do something. If you are feeling stuck, give the Conservancy a call. We can help. And remember, this is not forever (although, well… it does kind of feel that way, doesn’t it?).

Posted April 1, 2022