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NAHB: Lumber tariffs increasing cost of homebuilding

Costs have increased since tariffs imposed last year

On Thursday, Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, addressed attendees at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference in Las Vegas about current issues that the homebuilding industry is facing amidst the longstanding inventory shortage.

One question the industry is faced with, especially while housing inventory remains low, is why hasn’t there been a larger response from the homebuilding industry and more single-family homes added to the market?

Dietz said that during the last few years he has attributed this to supply-side headwinds, multiple factors that he calls “The 5 Ls” – lending, lots, labor, local regulatory concerns, and more increasingly, lumber.

Dietz highlighted three of these "Ls" in his discussion to conference attendees.

One of the top issues that the homebuilding industry is facing is the growing lumber crisis and its increase in price, which Dietz said is caused by tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber imposed last year by the Trump administration.

“We have an effective 20% tariff rate right now on Canadian softwood lumber,” Dietz said.

“A lumber tariff is very much a tax on homeowners and renters,” Dietz told the panel audience. “In fact, it’s pushed up the price of a typically newly-built home, according to our survey data analysis, by about $9,000. It’s pushed up the price of a typical apartment by about $3,000.”

On his second point, labor, Dietz told attendees that labor has been an issue for the industry for the last four to five years.

“The construction industry, right now, has 230,000 unfilled jobs and that constrains the amount of production taking place in the market.

Another factor Dietz said increases the cost of building new homes is local regulatory costs.

Dietz recalled an analysis that NAHB conducted a few years ago that found that nearly a quarter of the cost in single-family homebuilding went to regulatory costs. He explained that two-thirds of that amount is due during the lot development stage, going to lot fees, permits and other regulatory costs

Dietz also pointed out a new joint survey that NAHB conducted with the National Multifamily Housing Council that shows regulations make up 32% of costs associated with a typical multifamily development. “By increasing the cost of building new homes, we’re essentially contributing to the inventory shortage that exists on both the single-family side and the multifamily side.”

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