Labor Shortages Ease, But Remain Worse Than in the Last Boom


With home building volumes lower, labor shortages have eased considerably since record levels set in 2021 but remain relatively widespread in a historic context, according to results from the latest NAHB/Well Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) survey. The February 2024 HMI survey asked builders about shortages in 16 specific trades. The percentage of builders reporting a shortage (either some or serious) of labor they employ directly ranged from a low of 33% for landscape workers to a high of 65%  for those performing finished carpentry. The finished carpentry shortage was down from 72% in 2023 and an all-time high of 85% in 2021 but remains higher than it was at any time during the 2004-2006 housing boom (when it reached a temporary peak of 58% in July 2005). Most of the labor shortage percentages in the above figure follow a similar historic pattern. In the typical case, most of the physical work required to build a home is performed not by laborers employed directly by the builders, but by subcontractors. As a 2020 NAHB study  showed, builders on average use two dozen different subcontractors and subcontract out 84% of their total construction costs to build a single-family home. The February 2024 HMI survey also collected information about shortages of subcontractors.  The percentage of builders reporting a shortage of subcontractors ranged from 35% for building maintenance managers to 63%  for finished carpenters. For all 16 trades, the shortage percentages for subcontractors and labor directly employed were fairly similar. Averaged over the nine trades that NAHB has covered in a consistent way since the 1990s (carpenter-rough, carpenter-finished, electricians, excavators, framing crews, roofers, plumbers, bricklayers/masons, and painters), the share of builders reporting shortages in February 2024 was 52% for labor directly employed and 51% for subcontractors. The two numbers have not always been this close. After 2012, as housing markets started to recover from the Great Recession, a 5- to 7-point gap opened up between the 9-trade average shortage of subcontractors and labor directly employed by builders, with the subcontractor shortages being consistently more widespread. NAHB’s analysis at the time indicated that workers who were laid off and started their own trade contracting businesses during the Great Recession started returning to work for larger companies—improving the availability of workers directly employed by builders while shrinking the pool of available subcontractors. After persisting for a decade, the subcontractor-direct labor gap finally narrowed in 2023 and disappeared entirely in 2024. The current 9-trade average shortage of 52% for labor directly employed is down from 58% in 2023 and a record-high 77% in 2021 but remains elevated in historical perspective—especially when considered relative to housing starts. During the boom period of 2004-2006, total housing starts were consistently over 1.8 million annually—as high as 2.0 million in 2005. Despite this high rate of construction, the 9-trade shortage percentage never exceeded 45% during the boom. In comparison, the current shortage percentage of 52% occurred against a backdrop of 1.4 million starts in 2023 and an annual rate of 1.3 million recorded so far in January of 2024. ‹ Existing Home Sales Jump in JanuaryTags: carpenters, economics, hmi, home building, housing, Housing Market Index, labor, labor market, labor shortage, subcontractors

Labor Shortages Ease, But Remain Worse Than in the Last Boom2024-02-23T13:18:30-06:00

Builders’ Top Challenges for 2024


According to the January 2024 survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, high interest rates were a significant issue for 90% of builders in 2023, and 77% expect them to be a problem in 2024. The second most widespread problem in 2023 was rising inflation in US Economy, cited by 83% of builders, with 52% expecting it to be a problem in 2024. The cost and availability of labor was a significant problem to only 13% of builders in 2011. That share has increased significantly over the years, peaking at 87% in 2019.  Due to the pandemic, fewer builders reported this problem in 2020 (65%), but the share rose again in 2021 (82%) and 2022 (85%).  Not surprisingly, given the increase in construction job openings, the share eased slightly in 2023 to 74%.  A similar 75% expect the cost and availability of labor to remain a significant issue in 2024.In 2011, building materials prices was a significant problem to 33% of builders.  The share has fluctuated over the years, from a low of 42% in 2015 to a peak of 96% in 2020, 2021, and 2022.  The slowdown in single-family construction in 2023 made this less of a problem for builders last year, as ‘only’ 63% reported it as a significant issue.  Fewer expect it to face it in 2024 (58%). Compared to the supply-side problems of materials and labor, problems attracting buyers have not been as widespread, but builders expect many of them to become more of a problem in 2024. Buyers expecting prices or interest rates to decline if they wait was a significant problem for 71% of builders in 2023, with 77% expecting it to be an issue in 2024.  Negative media reports making buyers cautious was reported as a significant issue by 56% of builders in 2023, and 54% expect this problem in 2024. Concern about employment/economic situation was another buyer issue for 48% of builders in 2023, but 55% anticipate this issue in 2024. Gridlock/uncertainty in Washington making buyers cautious was a significant problem for 42% of builders in 2023, but a larger 54% expect it to be a problem in 2024.  Less than 30% of builders experienced problems in 2023 with buyers being unable to sell existing homes, potential buyers putting off purchase due to student debt, and competition from distressed sales/foreclosures. For additional details, including a complete history for each reported and expected problem listed in the survey, please consult the full survey report. ‹ Employment Situation in December: State-Level AnalysisTags: builders, Building Materials, construction, hmi, home building, housing trends report, inflation, interest rates, labor, single-family

Builders’ Top Challenges for 20242024-01-24T12:17:19-06:00

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