From the August/September 2021 Issue  

Conversations with Kate: Moving Targets

 |  Interviewer Ren Miller  |  Architect Dan D'Agostino

Delays and shortages create construction challenges

Being flexible has allowed construction to continue at Kate’s new home despite delays in materials and labor shortages.

Flexibility and patience have become necessary attributes for anyone who is building a new home, including the homeowner. Shortages of materials and labor — and the resulting higher prices — have changed the way homes are built, at least in the short term. The good news is that homes are still being built. We sought some real-time input from Kate Rumson, the founder and creative director of The Real Houses of Instagram (@the_real_houses_of_ig), and the architect of the home she is building in central New Jersey, Dan D’Agostino, a member of the American Institute of Architects and owner of Plan Architecture in Little Falls and Ridgewood. We’ve been following the planning and construction of Kate’s home in this column; in this installment she and Dan explain how they’re dealing with the situation and offer advice to others in the same situation.

CHOOSING COLORS | Kate reviews paint colors using Samplize, a product featuring peel-and-stick samples made with real paint in any color from most major brands. The low-tack samples can be placed on the wall (see behind Kate) to see how a color would work in your room.

REN: Several factors have combined to create delays in construction materials just as demand increases. How has this affected your project and how are you dealing with it?
KATE: Materials availability is what’s driving our construction schedule now. If our interior doors are delayed and we can’t finish moldings and millwork because of it, we’ll move on to tile installation or working with whatever we already have on site. I don’t love preordering materials far in advance because I’m always interested in the latest technology and finishes, but now I have to preorder everything much earlier than I normally would.

REN: Similarly, have you experienced — or do you anticipate — delays in the availability of furniture, appliances and fixtures for your home?
KATE: Yes, we have experienced delays with almost all product categories. We try our best to anticipate product availability, but it’s challenging to keep pace with the ever-changing lead times. I do expect delays in the availability of furniture, and know I should already be looking for furniture, before construction of the house is finished. But it’s very difficult to focus on furniture and decor at this final stage of construction.

REN: Have labor shortages affected the construction industry in general and your project in particular?
KATE: Absolutely. Now it’s not uncommon to wait three to four weeks, or even longer, to get something installed.

OPTIMISM | Dan D’Agostino, the architect for Kate’s house, says some people may find higher prices a deterrent but that “people are still building” when there is a need.

DAN: In my experience, labor shortages are more problematic than the material shortages because you cannot anticipate this. In construction, labor has so many variables — the number of crews, the size of crews, weather conditions and accessibility to the job site. We have some contractors who are working with skeleton crews, or on a nice day their laborers are doing exterior work with other contractors! The most common statement we hear on jobsites these days: “It’s impossible to find help.”

REN: Shortages usually bring higher prices. Has this affected residential construction?
DAN: Yes and no. For the most part, the major cost increase has been lumber. Prior to the pandemic, we would anticipate between $10-$12 per square foot for the cost of lumber, but we are seeing at least $24 per square foot now. Across the board, the cost of building has gone up $32 per square foot based on our independent research.
KATE: I can’t think of any building materials we ordered recently that haven’t gone up in price. In some cases the price increases are 10%; in other cases they’re significantly higher. I definitely find myself rethinking some of the finishes I was planning and now look for more affordable options.

REN: Given all this, if I had planned to expand or build a home now, should I go ahead or wait?
DAN: This is more of a crystal-ball question. Most people do not expand or move into a home because they are bored or have nothing else to do. If there is a true need for the work, we are seeing an increase of 10% for the cost of a home constructed today versus pre-Covid. While some might find that to be a deterrent, it’s also not decimating construction — clearly people are still building. I believe things will shake out when this is over. At the time of writing, the cost of lumber is already dropping, which was the main reason for the increase in construction costs.
KATE: As someone who is currently in the thick of construction and dealing with never-ending delays and price increases, it’s difficult for me to recommend all this to others. I’ve built several homes in my life and know the process can go much smoother and be much more enjoyable, so I would recommend waiting it out if your timeframe allows. Now would be a good time to plan your future build, design a great floor plan and research different building methods.

REN: Have you noticed any changes in the type of houses people want to build in the past 1½ years?
KATE: The most obvious change has been the desire for a home office, but the unanticipated change is the desire for smaller homes. With the increase in construction costs and labor shortages, people are looking to do more with less! There is less desire for dining rooms and formal sitting rooms and an increase in demand for open floor plans with fewer rooms.

REN: Is that because we understand our housing needs better after spending so much time indoors or are other factors at play?
DAN: I think the main factor is the increased cost of construction. People are focused on living comfortably and wanting to travel when things open up. They don’t want to dump all of their money into their home. It also costs a lot more to acquire a home so their budget is limited when it relates to the amount of money they paid for the lot and existing dwelling.

CLOSET | This custom closet, which is nearing completion, is from the Laren line by The Container Store®. The closet will provide for well-organized storage complete with daylight for optimal color coordination of clothing.

GUEST BATHROOM | The first-floor guest suite has textured porcelain tile from Nasco Stone & Tile in
Port Reading.