We find ourselves in a most interesting time for homebuilders.
In addition to the persistent challenges surrounding labor scarcities, fluctuating material costs and availability, competition for raw land and finished lots, and regulatory issues that include everything from OSHA’s new silica rules to the never-ending squabble over lumber imports, the recent plethora of extreme weather events (and devastating coastal flooding), merciless wildfires in the West that consumed entire communities, and increasing failures of outdated and fragile infrastructure have combined to stress the industry to perhaps unprecedented levels.
By the time this column reaches readers, we should be close to a decision on what the next version of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will look like and how it will affect the status of existing homes and proposed new construction in flood-prone areas—unless the decision makers back down from the issue and kick that can down the road once again. Additionally, efforts to roll back stricter building codes by some building organizations, especially in the most recently hard-hit regions, are sure to meet strong opposition from those advocating safer, more durable and resilient residential structures across the board.
The insurance and finance industries will surely be powerful players in the outcome of these ongoing struggles, wielding their tremendous influence, though often from behind the scenes. Public officials will continue to attempt to juggle the conflicting demands of multiple constituencies and balance the pressure of special interests with the common good and long-term goals of the residents of their communities.
It is not hard to understand why builders often feel like they are caught in the middle and have lost control of their industry and their own businesses. To some extent, that reaction is justifiable. There is no denying that challenges come from virtually every direction, making it hard to stay on a steady course and even harder to effectively plan ahead.
But there is a lot going for the builder who is up to the challenge as well. The past couple of decades have seen our knowledge of building science and technology matched only by the countless new product solutions and building systems we now have to select from. We are in a position to deliver the highest quality, best performing housing in history and along with it, unprecedented comfort, safety and value to our customers. This is the one thing we do control, and perhaps it is the most important of all.
In spite of the outside influences and unpredictable hurdles that present themselves, what we have complete ownership of is not the externalities, not the complexities of a dynamic industry, but rather our own ethic. We get to choose for ourselves whether to embrace the highest standards of performance we’re capable of. We get to decide how much of that advanced knowledge and improved understanding we’re going to apply to our projects.
Often, it seems that many builders and the groups that advocate on their behalf resort to using the challenges and difficulties as alibis for mediocrity; for meeting the minimum requirement. But it doesn’t have to that way, and builders who hold themselves to a higher ethic deliver the proof every day.