Why Not Just Build More Houses?

  • 4 min read

In the face of a housing shortage crisis, the obvious solution seems clear—build more homes. However, the complexities of the residential housing market make this seemingly straightforward remedy more intricate than one might think. In this exploration, we delve into the nuances of the homebuilding industry, shedding light on the challenges builders face and the various factors influencing their decisions.

The Lead Time Challenge: Why It’s Not Just About Cranking Up Factories

Unlike other industries where production can be quickly ramped up to meet increased demand, the homebuilding process involves a lengthy lead time and sales cycle. From acquiring property, obtaining designs and permits, to the actual construction, this process can span a year to a year and a half for a single home and several years for large subdivisions. This time lag introduces a significant element of uncertainty as market conditions can change between the inception and completion of a project.

Profit Margins and Market Dynamics: The Median Price Range Dilemma

The homes most needed in the market fall within the median price range of three to five hundred thousand dollars. However, building homes in this range poses a challenge for builders as the profit margins are slim. A substantial portion of the home’s value is consumed by fixed costs, including permits, planning, and carrying costs. Consequently, builders find more appealing profit margins in higher-end homes, typically around the million-dollar range.

The Perils of Underpricing: Lessons from a Construction Firm in Pennsylvania

The story of a construction firm in Pennsylvania serves as a cautionary tale. Despite the housing crisis, the company went out of business because it miscalculated the math. Underpricing houses without factoring in the necessary profit to cover fixed business expenses left them unable to sustain their operations. This highlights the critical importance of a balanced pricing strategy for builders to remain viable.

Three Options for Expanding Inventory: Open Land, Infill, and Remodels

The question then arises: how can builders expand the inventory of homes? There are three primary options—developing open land in rural areas, engaging in infill projects in denser regions, or pursuing remodels on existing homes. Each option presents its own set of challenges and benefits. Open land offers vast space but increases commute distances, infill is costlier but closer to job centers, and remodels provide a quicker solution but may not add new units.

Government Influence and Developer Motivations

Government policies and zoning regulations play a crucial role in determining where and how developers can build. Some jurisdictions encourage development to address housing shortages, while others may resist increased density. Developers must navigate these intricacies and align their projects with the prevailing motivations in each jurisdiction.

The Urgency of Addressing the Housing Shortage

While the shortage of houses in the U.S. is estimated to be between five and six million, builders are currently constructing only a fraction of that number. The urgency of addressing this shortage is evident, but the challenge lies in finding sustainable solutions that align with market dynamics, profit considerations, and government policies.

Navigating the Complexity of Homebuilding

The idea of resolving the housing shortage by simply building more homes is indeed a valid one, but the path to achieving this goal is intricate. Builders must carefully balance profit margins, market demands, and government regulations to ensure the viability of their projects. As we explore future videos, we’ll delve deeper into the three options for expanding housing inventory and examine how builders can navigate the ever-evolving landscape of the residential housing market.

Share your thoughts on these challenges and potential solutions in the comments below. Have you encountered similar issues in your local housing market? We look forward to fostering a community discussion on this pressing matter. Stay tuned for more insights into the dynamics shaping the residential housing market.

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