Over the last 20 years, building and remodeling in Central Florida has become a lot more complicated and difficult for builders. It is to the point that many of the smaller, local builders are tapping out. Prior to the major Florida Building Code revisions in 2001, a home or remodeling project could be measured from planning to completion in the number of weeks; nowadays, it is measured in months. From the moment a construction project is planned until the day in which the keys are turned over, there are obstacles which can derail your project and cost you money. Ask any long-term builder — it’s just not fun anymore.
If you are considering a construction or remodeling project, you should be aware of these obstacles, so that time and money can be built into the project. The following are my top five obstacles to overcome when building or remodeling.
The No. 1 obstacle is the government approval process, including the zoning department and building department. Due to the Great Recession and many people in this field retiring, there has been a significant brain drain in the departments and personnel approving construction projects. Replacement personnel in these departments are book trained, inexperienced in the field, and have subpar customer service skills. Instead of trying to find a “yes” in approving building projects, they search for a “no.” In some cases, it takes months to get projects approved to build and the interpretation of the Uniform Building Code varies between jurisdictions. Frustration by project owners is boiling over as projects are rejected for one item, then another, and then a completely different one with each resubmittal.
The No. 2 obstacle is the cost of impact fees, building department fees and zoning department fees. There are cities in Lake County in which the total impact fees and related building department fees will top $22,000 for a single-family home. Housing affordability is at a crisis level in Central Florida and these fees are a large reason for the problem. Most areas of the country do not have impact fees. Until a structure is set up, which does not disproportionately burden lower priced homes, the affordable housing crisis will continue to worsen. If you are a new homeowner planning a building or remodeling project, you will be shocked as to how much it will cost you to build prior to the first shovel of dirt being turned.
The No. 3 obstacle is labor. The good subcontractors and craftspeople have more work than they can handle and that flies directly into the construction process of competitively bidding a project. Most new construction project owners are naïve to think they can low-bid good construction professionals and fail to realize their projects depend on finding and recruiting good people. Although labor in the construction industry has loosened up a little in the last few months, labor for good quality subcontractors and craftspeople has not improved — it’s probably gotten worse. Professional builders and remodelers are conceding to the prices of good labor because projects are being delayed or failing.
The No. 4 obstacle is finding good dirt at a fair price. Central Florida is in a period of the building cycle wherein new, good buildable lots are not prevalent and the lots that are available are overpriced. The root cause goes back to the government. The development of raw land used to be a simpler, less costly process. However, evolving government regulations have changed the equation. Development costs for raw land is estimated between $25,000-$40,000 per lot, and this does not include the price of the land. Then add on that most lending institutions are tepid in lending — because of the cost, longevity of the process, and risk factors. This results in a shortage of available lots. Some good advice: before you have the construction plans drawn up on your next construction project, find the property.
The No. 5 and final obstacle is finding the products in time. Pricing has come down significantly since last year and base construction products are plentiful. Since the Great Recession, many manufacturers and suppliers have gone to a “just in time” inventory system with little backup inventory. Additionally, trade tensions and tariffs have made overseas specialty products harder to get in a timely manner. Lead times for specialty items such as doors, windows, fixtures, hardware, and other décor items have extended immensely. Hurricane disruptions, spot demand, and careless mistakes can exacerbate the shipping problems with these products. Unfortunately, many project owners and a lot of builders are not ordering specialty products in time and they are experiencing extended construction delays.
Along with my top five obstacles, there are a countless number of daily obstacles from waste collection to jobsite safety. If you are planning a construction project, try to prepare by knowing your obstacles and having a lot of patience. Building is not as fun as it used to be.
Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply. He is also the host of the Around the House TV show on LSTV and LakeSumterTV.com at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and at 7 a.m., Noon and 6 p.m. Saturday.