Across Florida, Custom Homes Are Taking Longer to Build. Here’s Everything You Need to Know.
New home construction remains sought-after across the Suncoast, known the past several years to be one of the best places to live in the U.S. However, this demand has been met with protracted construction timelines, caused by a long-standing generational challenge of finding skilled trades and ongoing supply chain issues. Completion of our custom homes is taking longer – months longer – and it’s an issue that not only Lee Wetherington Homes is currently facing, but the entire home building industry.
As a team, we’re diligently communicating with our home buyers about these circumstances because a tailored customer experience is always our focus. You, like many people across our region, probably have questions about how Lee Wetherington Homes is navigating this latest challenge. Our CEO, David Hunihan, is breaking down how we’re adapting to complete custom homes with the exceptional consistency our customers expect
Q: How have labor shortages affected not just Lee Wetherington Homes but home builders regionwide?
There are multiple layers to the “shortages” that the home building industry is seeing today. A critical labor shortage became noticeable roughly 20 years ago when many trade professionals, who are baby boomers, were aging out and had no one to take over their businesses. Then came the global financial crisis, the effects of COVID-19 both on businesses and the demand for housing, and now millennials entering the real estate market – all putting strain on an already-undersupplied labor pool.
Right now, despite a return to “normal demand,” there is are an abundance of builders vying for too few trades. However, our team is fortunate to have an over 40-year relationship with many of our trades. That loyalty, mutual respect and commitment helps us collaborate with high-quality laborers and trades when other builders may not get the chance. We pay well and pay weekly – and that helps. But even so, we find ourselves waiting for trades on many, if not all, of our jobs. We have decided that it is in our customer’s best interest to wait for the right trade partner and produce our best quality, rather than to just throw bodies at a problem so we can check a box and say it’s done. Our team is committed to providing an exceptional experience, which is why we communicate openly with our customers about these issues
Q: With shipping delays and material shortages, how has the firm ensured custom homes are built with consistency?
The team has decided to move forward with our homes in any way possible, including receiving materials and elements of homes out of the normal sequence. We’re doing everything in our power not to stop construction, and ensure our customers remain satisfied. This strategy makes it more difficult on our construction managers – and may cost us more – but we believe it’s better to take what we can get, when we can get it, and figure out the best way to install it.
Our team adapts when we learn of shortages and discontinued items, but in many cases, we won’t know or can’t know until an order is placed. Custom homes have taken longer to complete than any of us want. However, we refuse to sacrifice on the craftmanship, durability and “consistency” that truly creates a home built to last and achieves a buyer’s incomparable vision. In holding true to our values of building homes for a greater purpose, our team has decided to allow move-ins earlier than normal for customers who have nowhere else to go, sold their existing home or had a lease expiring.
Q: How important is communication and customer satisfaction, especially during these times?
Communication is always important since we take pride in a singular custom home building experience. But it’s critical now. Our team is as busy as we’ve ever been, so we are working on being proactive and reaching out regularly to each of our customers. However, we are not perfect – and we are always trying to be better. To compensate for this, our team has multiple supervisors in the field working with our construction managers to help facilitate communication and expedite the construction process. As CEO, I also have my cell phone number on my business card and regularly meet and speak with customers to address issues and assure them we’re continuing to work to finish their custom homes.
We will stay with every home until they are completed to our standards and will continue to warrant them as we have locally for over 40 years.
Q: What are the biggest concerns you’ve heard from customers and how do you address these issues?
The biggest concern our customers have is how long the process is taking and trying to plan when they will move into their homes. In the past, we were able to build a home in about 10 to 12 months (three months to start from contract, and seven to nine months in construction). Now, with the strain on our truss engineers, energy calculation engineers, and structural engineers, and the increased demand load on our team internally – plus the added permitting time due to the labor shortage in local municipalities – it could take up to six months to start a custom home. And then once the home is started, we could potentially be in construction for a year or more, with the labor and material shortages.
It’s very frustrating for all of us who take pride in creating an experience our home buyers will look back on for a lifetime. But we’ll always do everything in our power to keep customers informed, confident and comfortable throughout the design and building process.
Q: How vital is each member of your team during these times to ensure deadlines are met and customers receive the best experience?
We have had to work more than ever as a team. It is everyone’s job to help the customer have the best experience possible, so I don’t want to ever hear someone say, “it’s not my job,” to do something to move a home or the process forward. Fortunately, we don’t have anyone like that on our team. In fact, I call our team my “brain trust,” and when problems arise, they are the first place I turn for solutions. They’re smart, creative, have many years of experience, and often have great ideas on how to resolve a problem and improve the customer experience.
It takes all of us, together, to design and build someone’s dream into reality – a custom home they will take pride in knowing was built with care.