NAHB Seeks Solutions as Lumber Prices Rise

Filed in Economics, Trade by on February 17, 2017 11 Comments

Lumber prices are on the rise, and that’s not good news for home builders and their clients.

Randy Strauss, owner of Strauss Construction in Amherst, Ohio, heard the news from his lumberyard: Lagging domestic supply and increasing tariffs on Canadian lumber mean that Strauss is looking at prices increases this spring as high as 30% by April.

That’s about when he’ll start breaking ground on a home that his client signed a contract for last week – a large custom home that includes a $60,000 lumber package. With an expected $18,000 cost increase, “there goes my profit,” he said.

Negotiations on a new softwood lumber agreement between the United States and Canada ground to a halt at the end of 2016 and likely are stalled pending the results of an investigation into unfair import practices requested by the U.S. Lumber Coalition.

Any further negotiations on a resolution between the two countries are expected to be on hold until confirmations of a new Secretary of Commerce and a new U.S. Trade Representative.

That leaves home builders – and their customers – caught in the middle and probably looking at price hikes: The Random Lengths Framing Lumber Composite price jumped from $366 on Feb. 3 to $391 on Feb. 10, the greatest weekly gain since August 2003. By Feb. 17, it was up to $405.

“Normally, our pricing lags a month or two behind these wholesale prices,” said Jonathan Sukonik, who builds homes in suburban Philadelphia. The lumber budget for a typical Sukonik Building Companies home is about $18,000.

“If it jumps 10% or 20%, you can’t pass on the cost. You have to absorb it – and when lumber gets out of hand, it makes it more difficult to cover your costs.”

Anticipating this volatility, NAHB has been working on a number of fronts to keep supplies steady and prices more reasonable.

Last year, NAHB formed a coalition to encourage policies that promote free trade and a stable supply of lumber without the unpredictable price swings that raise the costs of building and make homeownership less affordable. “The voice of the home builder must be heard, because we are the drivers of the American economy,” said NAHB CEO Jerry Howard.

Meanwhile, NAHB is urging domestic lumber companies to increase production and make it available for U.S. home builders. At the same time, the association leadership is in contact with lumber producers in other countries in an effort to open up new sources of supply.

And the NAHB Construction Liability, Risk Management and Building Materials Committee sent Strauss a sample cost escalation clause contract addendum. It’s too late for this contract, Strauss said, but on Friday morning he sent a copy to his fellow Ohio HBA members so they can keep it in their back pockets.

Track lumber price changes on the NAHB Construction Statistics page. For additional information, contact Felicia Watson or David Logan.


Comments (11)

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  1. Martin Knezovich says:

    So, NAFTA wasn’t so bad after all eh???

    • John Heiman says:

      This has nothing to do with NAFTA. Softwood lumber trade was excluded from NAFTA and instead was covered under the SLA (Sotwood Lumber Agreement) The problem goes back to regulations which have put Federal timber from US Forest Service lands out west off limits to harvesting. Goes back to Clinton administration. Totally unnecessary, resulted in so many Mills closing and lost production.

      • Martin and John,

        John is right about Canadian lumber trade pricing mechanisms being structured under the SLA. However, NAFTA is the governing legal framework under which the long sordid history of failing relations between the US and Canada regarding lumber imports had been argued.
        For some perspective on the current state of the expired Softwood Lumber Agreement and the various decades old trade disputes between the US and Canada, Forbes has published an article shortly after the election last year :

        It would be more accurate to say that the recent 14% rise in the framing lumber composite price has very little to do with a WH administration that ended 16 years ago and much more to do with an expired SLA and the unknowns of how the new Trump administration will handle the long standing trade disputes with Canada.
        And for the record, fortunately, US Forest Lands out west are far from off limits to harvesting.

  2. We need the NAHB to intervene directly w the Whitehouse….now…. before our industry is crippled by these increases costs. I have 7 contracts signed. This will be devastating!

  3. Ms. Wanessa Pence says:

    Solution to higher lumber cost.

    Use a prefab panel system, mainly steel and polystyrene.

    • Pat says:

      Also you guys need escalation clauses in your contracts which state that if the cost of materials increases over a certain amount, say 1-2% they will be charged as an extra. YOU should never bear the brunt of a customers price increase or you will lose your as*!

      • Mark says:

        Most builder have it. But don’t want to use it on lump sum contracts. Don’t want the reputation of being a change order contractor that undersells the client to get contract. Also, banks don’t give more $$ without another closing. You are correct that it needs to be in contract and used. Builders need to set realistic expectations up front so an increase can be an option.

  4. Charlie Ruma says:

    Tell your dumb Democratic Senators to get on with the business of running the country and approve a Commerce Secretary and a Trade Rep. It is time to get overwhelmed the election and get back to doing their job.

  5. We have been wrangling with a prime since July of Last year for a project that asked for one type of wood flooring. when I sent the bill in order to order the floor the Architect changed her mind and now requires us to re-quote the wood flooring to give the prime credit. This work is scheduled to be performed May 2017. Terrible time with the wood prices!!!!

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