A shortage of carpenters, brick masons and other construction trade workers continues to slow North Texas home builders as they ramp up for the spring selling season in what has become a very tight regional housing market.
The labor shortage, which started after the last housing crisis when many construction workers left the business for other industries, has lengthened the time it takes to build a new home from about four months to six or seven months, builders say. Combined with strong demand from buyers, it has left the area housing market with just a two-month supply of homes — a thin level that continues to push housing prices higher.
According to Residential Strategies in Dallas, builders last year broke ground on nearly 30,000 new homes in the region, up 5 percent from 2015. This year, area home starts are expected to reach 32,000.
“Were we not constrained by this lack of labor, we’d probably be starting about 35,000 houses,” said Ted Wilson said, principal with Residential Strategies.
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Wilson said few workers migrated back from oil fields to construction jobs even as drilling activity declined the last couple of years. Meanwhile, many immigrant workers returned to Mexico and are now staying south of the border because of a stronger Mexican economy and enhanced efforts to secure the border.
“I’ve been doing this for 23 years and it’s without question the worst labor shortage I’ve ever experienced,” said Nelson Mitchell, president and CEO at HistoryMaker Homes in Grapevine.
A new immigration crackdown initiated by the Trump administration “could make it even more difficult and costly for the industry,” he said.
Kevin Egan, president of American Legend Homes which builds in more than 20 communities including north Fort Worth, said his company has actually limited sales each month to keep a steady flow of work for trade workers. “The worst thing we can do is sell more than we can build,” he said.
With area home prices shooting up about 10 percent a year, affordability has become a primary focus for builders.
Wilson said the strong demand for homes under $250,000 has pushed more development into Tarrant County, including developments along the Highway 287 corridor in north Fort Worth, west of Fort Worth in the Walsh development, along the Chisholm Trail Parkway in southwest Fort Worth and south towards Mansfield.