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Five Tips for Hiring a Construction Professional in 2021

Mar 3, 2021 8:00:00 AM / by Don Magruder, CEO RoMac Building Supply

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A decade ago, the construction industry had just begun coming out of the darkest days of the Great Recession and jobs in the construction industry were hard to find. Developers and homeowners had the upper hand in hiring builders and subcontractors regarding selection, terms, conditions, and payment. Many of them took advantage of construction professionals at every turn in order to obtain cheap work.

Ten years later, the tables have turned. The COVID-19 pandemic and the aging out of the workforce has made it very hard to find good, qualified construction professionals. If you do find one, they have little time for people who try to beat them down on price or get them to do extra work for free. Those days are gone and there are no signs of them returning anytime soon.

If you are planning a construction project, remodel, or home repair and you want it to be successful, it starts with hiring a trained construction professional or company. The rules for hiring have changed in the last ten years. Here are five tips for hiring a construction professional in 2021 that you should consider before starting a construction project.

First, know what you want to do and have the details. Construction professionals are extremely busy and short-staffed and most of them do not have the time for continuous consultations and idle conversation. Do not call anyone until you have a clear vision of your project and you can fully communicate what you want with specific details.

Next, if you call a highly trained construction professional and the first thing you start talking about is wanting a deal or paying less than the going rate, chances are you will be disconnected. In the construction world, cherry pickers who go around looking for the best deal on every item or service are having a tough time. Most cherry pickers are being turned into victims as scammers are preying upon their overwhelming desire to save money. Good work is not cheap. Daily, stories are being told of unscrupulous contractors ripping off homeowners because they would not pay legitimate construction professionals the going rate of pay. Honestly, this is one period of time wherein I am more afraid of the lowest price, especially if it is significantly lower. Chances are the contractor made a mistake in his quote for the job, will not finish the job, or about to rip off the homeowner.

Third, do not be a Karen—the person who complains and throws a fit about everything. Construction professionals are too busy to listen to ill-tempered people who use whining as a tactic to get their way. If you throw a hissy fit instead of acting like a mature adult on your jobsite, chances are that everyone will walk off the job and not return. After that, good luck in finding someone to finish the project. If you want the best job, show respect for your construction professional.

In addition, you have to make up your mind. Products from windows and doors to roofing take much longer to get if there is anything special ordered. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically slowed down production and millions are out of the workforce. If you fail to make a prompt decision on items being used on your project, expect a longer amount of time to finish the job and good luck in getting your construction people back on the jobsite. Just like a train moving down the track, if you do not have the supplies on your jobsite, there is another job waiting for that construction professional just down the line. Do not dither in making product selections for your construction project.

Finally, holding up earned money, bank draws, or fair deposits will not get you any work. Once again, construction professionals are very busy. There are other people paying a premium to have work done. In fact, some homeowners and builders are paying construction professionals extra to do their job first and on time. If there is any hint that money will be used as a weapon to leverage free work on a job, then expect an abandoned jobsite.

Please do not leave this column with the wrong impression. Most construction professionals are going to do everything they can to make you happy and get the job completed on time. However, the good ones have too many people putting too much money on the table to deal with a homeowner who has a mentality from 2011.

Good people are hard to find, and over the next year or two they will be even harder to find. Good luck on your next project and hire the best—you will not regret it.

Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply and host of Around the House.

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20-Year Cost Comparison for Local Housing is Troublesome

Feb 24, 2021 8:00:00 AM / by Don Magruder, CEO RoMac Building Supply

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Lake and Sumter Counties are in an affordable housing crisis. In last week’s column, I explored the increased costs of housing and what is impacting these record increases. This week, I look at the hard numbers, which confirm why this is truly an affordable housing crisis.

Let us go back 20 years and look at housing costs in the Orlando, Florida area. According to the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association, the average sales price of a home in January 2001 was $153,464. At the time, the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage was 7.38 percent making the monthly mortgage payment in the amount of $1,060.00. Over the life of the loan, the homeowner would pay $381,766.

Fast forward to December 2020. The average sales price of a home in the Orlando area is $322,622 with a 30-year mortgage interest rate of 2.7 percent. The monthly mortgage payment would be in the amount of $1,309.00. Over the life of the loan, the homeowner would pay $471,077.

At first glance, there are some stunning facts from the average sales price of a home 20 years ago versus today.

Although interest rates are down 64 percent and despite a home that is 110.2 percent higher in price, the average monthly payment only goes up 23.5 percent. This is the power of low interest rates, which is great for the affordable housing equation. However, a home that has doubled in price is not sustainable since wages over the last 20 years have not doubled.

According to the United States government, the net inflation rate from 2001 to 2020 is 46.2 percent. If housing had just followed the standard inflation curve, the home that sold in 2001 for $153,464 should sell for $224,364 today. Based on that extrapolation, when compared to the average sales price of $322,622 in December 2020, housing is overpriced by a whopping amount of $98,258. This is the reason why working families can no longer afford to purchase a home.

If the politicians in Florida truly want to have an effective affordable housing plan for working people, including essential workers, they must take action to shake out approximately $100,000 in costs.

First, a workforce housing designation needs to be set up with significantly lower building and impact fees. Next, a comprehensive land plan must be developed for planned communities, which encourages public and private partnerships with large employers to build workforce housing just as they did in the 1940s and 1950s. Building Codes must be updated with an understanding that affordability cannot be sacrificed because an insurance company calls for a building code. Not everyone can afford a Cadillac when it comes to housing. In line with this, the same Building Codes that apply to a $1 million home should not apply to affordable housing. Finally, communities must strip out burdening building codes that mandate square footage, landscaping, and décor, all of which drive up the cost of housing.

We must rebuild this nation one home at a time, and the country needs a national housing strategy that encourages the middle class to own a home. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of essential workers and developing an affordable housing strategy at all levels of government is essential.

The hard numbers in local housing clearly demonstrate that we have a massive affordable housing crisis.

Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply and host of Around the House.

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Increase in Local Housing Costs Illustrates Affordability Crisis

Feb 17, 2021 8:00:00 AM / by Don Magruder, CEO RoMac Building Supply

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Housing affordability and insecurity is a real issue for millions of working Americans who do not own a home. In this two-part series, I will examine the causes, real numbers, and possible solutions.

These Americans are stuck in a rut of rising housing costs, larger down payments, and a COVID-19 pandemic, which challenges wages and job security. Those who secured housing years ago cannot compare their experience with today’s new crop of potential homeowners, because the housing equation has changed so drastically. Many homeowners who qualified for a home 10 years ago would struggle getting approved for financing as well as finding an affordable property today. Housing affordability is bad and inventory supply is even worse.

According to Florida Realtors®, in December 2020 there was a 1.8-month supply of housing on the market, whereas in 2011 there was a 6.4-month supply. Typically, the sweet spot for buyers is a supply of three to six months and falling too much below three months is a pure seller’s market with multiple offers on a piece of property and much higher pricing. The frightening aspect of a 1.8-month housing supply is this is happening during the worst pandemic in 100 years. Just imagine this summer when people are more mobile and looking to purchase a new home. There are a lot of big-city dwellers who are looking at Florida with a loving eye to relocate after a year of unrest and city-wide pandemic lockdowns. Expect supply to worsen.

Although high demand for housing and low inventories are juicing the price, the cost to build is dramatically increasing in price. Since April 2005, RoMac Building Supply has been tracking the cost of materials needed to build a 2,200 square foot home in Lake and Sumter Counties. This Whole House Commodity Index is shared nationally and reflects real numbers for all materials to structurally build this size home. While the Index does not include electrical, plumbing, HVAC, or décor it accurately predicts the changes in building costs. The Index has increased 39.8 percent in one year (from January 2020) with every item on the list increasing in price. Of course, wood and sheathing commodities have increased the most; however, all the products listed in the Index have incurred significant inflation.

About as bad as the material costs to build a house is the inability to find qualified labor. This shortage of labor has created much higher costs and longer lead times for projects. Many builders have seen timelines to build projects almost double as deliveries of many building products have doubled or tripled in lead times. The labor and supply chain aspects of building are in total disarray.

On top of these cost increases, there is the heavy hand of local governments who are struggling to balance budgets due to the collision of the pandemic and years of overspending. Local building and impact fees are being evaluated to justify an increase. Plus, each year when Building Codes are upgraded, the cost of housing increases. A little reported change in the Building Code for roofing underlayment, which went into effect in January 2021 adds almost $200 in costs to an average-size home. This is a common occurrence in the state of Florida.

In Lake County, before the first shovel of dirt is turned expect to pay $20,000, or more, in building and impact fees. It is hard to justify these fees when a raw piece of land that is improved will provide a 10-fold increase in tax revenue to the county or city for perpetuity. Building and impact fees in Florida are, by far, the biggest contributor to housing insecurity.

In next week’s column, I will examine the real numbers that show runaway inflation in local housing as well as the positive impact of lower interest rates. It is a complex subject with a brutally simple result—people cannot afford to purchase a home or rent a place to live.

Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply and host of Around the House.

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Screens, Fans, and Fresh Air Are Virus Remedies

Feb 3, 2021 8:00:00 AM / by Don Magruder, CEO RoMac Building Supply

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COVID-19 and most of its cousins have a Dracula feature of not liking sunshine and fresh air, and Florida has plenty of each. In fact, if you chart the biggest spikes in cases of the virus, they came at times when it was so hot that people stayed indoors under air conditioning or during the peak of Florida’s winter when folks stayed indoors with their heaters running. All the science seems to indicate that sunshine, fresh air, and humidity are not friends of this virus and most others.

If you look at homes that were designed prior to the days of air conditioning, it seems home designers figured out a well-ventilated home was both cooler and safer. Most homes had double-hung windows and exterior doors with full screens to allow for full breezes and maximized ventilation. In the evenings, the screen porch was a place where everyone gathered to socialize. Houses of the past were ventilated for comfort and health. That along with soap and water is how many people prevented sickness.

Those same lessons can and should be applied to homes in Central Florida. The first thing everyone should consider is trading a little comfort for ventilation. Although air conditioning is great in Florida, homes have become too reliant on them, even in summertime. In the evenings and mornings, many homes could be cooled down comfortably with open windows and fans. Keeping your home aired out and well ventilated will help keep viruses from spreading among family members.

Unfortunately, most of the windows in everyone’s home will not open because they have been closed for so long that the balancers have frozen in place or the dirt and gunk have built up so much in the frame channels that the windows will not move. Windows are meant to be opened. If your windows are unable to do so, get them repaired. Your windows could be the key to keeping your family healthy as well as reducing your energy bills.

The exterior doors of your home offer the biggest and best form of ventilation. Many homeowners have gotten away from screen doors because of their reliance on air conditioning. In many cases, an investment in a new aluminum screen door can enhance a front door opening as the modern styles are very attractive. Plus, the pets in your home will love you.

A screened lanai or front porch with a brisk operating fan can be a haven for socializing and enjoying the beautiful Florida climate nightly. Although open porch areas are nice and can provide great ventilation, without screens these areas are not fully utilized due to mosquitoes that feast at dusk. Porches or open lanais in Florida should be screened to keep out the bugs.

Another great screen idea is a garage screen that can be used when the garage door is open. For those who work in their garage or use their garage for a smoking area or man cave, a garage screen provides wonderful ventilation and can be a haven for family interactions.

As the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out, there is real hope that an end to this pandemic is in sight. However, there are other viruses that could potentially infect you and your family. Designing a home and putting features in place that help prevent the spread of disease is a great investment in your family’s health.

A lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that a generation now understands the dangers of viruses as well as how to mitigate them. Screens, fans, and fresh air will be the new home remedies.

Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply and host of Around the House.

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Top Repair Projects for February

Jan 20, 2021 8:00:00 AM / by Don Magruder, CEO RoMac Building Supply

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Florida is one of the best areas in America with all of its recreational opportunities. Hopefully, as springtime turns warmer the COVID-19 pandemic will subside and life will begin to return to normal. Although the weather in February by Florida’s flip-flop standards is not the best for outdoor activities, it is a great time to catch up on home repairs with cooler temperatures and lazy, slower days. Football season is coming to an end and it is a little too early for beach days.

If you have the money and time, completing a home repair project in February means more playtime during the summer. Here are my top February home repair projects.

First, have your air conditioning unit serviced and make any necessary repairs in February before summertime, which is the worst time for it to fail. Service calls for most air conditioning repair companies are a little slower in February, and they have the time to really evaluate and service your unit. Plus, service and repair work before a breakdown is normally a lot less costly.

Next, consider having your garage door serviced. Cooler temperatures stress springs as well as other parts of your garage door. Adjusting and lubing a garage door may prevent a failure happening later. Plus, it is a good time to ensure the remotes are working and secured. Do not let a failed garage door ruin a summer night.

Then, cut trees and bushes away from your home’s rooftop and awnings. Hurricane season is rough on your roof, especially if limbs are rubbing against your rooftop. Once again, tree service companies receive less calls in February. This makes it a great time to get ready for thunderstorm season in Florida. Plus, if you are doing the work yourself, it is better to cut limbs in cooler temperatures.

After that, repair a leaking roof. Most people wait to have roof leaks repaired when they are leaking the most, which is during Florida’s long and rainy thunderstorm season. If you have a leaky roof, call your roofer today before he gets busy and have him repair it. Most homeowners are shocked by the amount of damage a small leak can do to their home. February is a great time to have your roof inspected and repaired.

I know the grass looks a little yucky in February, especially this year after a few frosts. February is the best time to get out in the yard and adjust your sprinkler system and make needed repairs. Once more, working in the yard during the month of February is much better than a mid-summer day. Most importantly, having your sprinkler system working properly going into springtime will ensure you have a beautiful lawn for the summer.

Do you feel like spring cleaning? I believe February is one of the best months to pressure wash and clean a house, because the dampness of winter is about to end, and the rainy season of summer has yet to start. This is a great time to wash and kill the mildew off your home’s exterior and allow the warm sunshine of spring to cleanse your home. There is nothing like starting your summer with a beautifully cleaned home.

Finally, if you feel enthusiastic, February is one of the best times of year to paint the exterior of your home. Extremely hot weather like Florida experiences during summertime can create spread and hide issues with some paints, so the moderate temperatures in February produce a better exterior paint job than any other time of year. This takes a little more motivation, but it is well worth it.

February, especially this year during the pandemic, is a great time to do home repairs. That way when summer hits, we can all go out and play!

Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply and host of Around the House.

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