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Home building in Maine experiences delays, price bumps

The general manager of Ware-Butler Gorham said inflation of delivery truck fuel is raising costs of lumber. He's also experiencing a shortage of labor and materials.

GORHAM, Maine — As options for existing housing become more limited, the cost of existing units increases. Some people looking for a new home hope to build in Maine, but a complicated market means that process has become more challenging.

William Wight is the owner of William Wight Construction. He has been a contractor for more than 30 years and said he has never seen "anything like this" before.

"It's really crazy out here," Wight said. 

Standing in the rain at a property in Gorham Wednesday morning, Wight explained the couple planning to build had pushed off doing so about two years ago, hoping prices would go down. Unfortunately, that gamble did not pay off. Now, the cost of building will be about 20% more than it would have been, a consequence of inflation.

Wight said often, homeowners are locked into contracts that don't have specific price tags or completion dates. That means projects are subject to a changing market. He said projects that should take six months are taking nine or more, and prices can go up by 20 to 30 percent. 

"It's very difficult," Wight said. "It takes a lot of trust to hand over a check to somebody the first day you meet them and say, 'Okay, come into my home. Charge me whatever you want to charge me for my project. It's okay if you stay here for a year or two.'"

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Michael Phinney is the general manager at Ware-Butler Gorham, a lumberyard. He said a surge in demand began about two years ago at the height of COVID-19, and a lot of manufacturers in the industry weren't prepared for it. He said now, they're slowly starting to catch up to that demand, but there are still some issues.

"Certain items are difficult to get," Phinney said. "[That] may be because they can't make it yet because they don't have the vinyl they need to make PVC boards, or it may be [because] they don't have the colorants they need to make certain color decking."

Phinney said additionally, if workers get COVID-19, they often have to stay home, slowing the process even more. Now, the rise in oil prices is also creating problems. Phinney said Ware-Butler Gorham uses big trucks to get materials shipped in and then deliver them.

"We have to now pay two to three times the cost of each delivery for the diesel that goes into the truck," Phinney said. 

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Home accessories, like doors and windows, also are not immune to the wavering environment. Billy Allen, owner of Maine Windows and Doors, said some manufacturers are having trouble getting tempered glass or raw materials for window frames. He said there also aren't enough truck drivers.

"In previous years, you could get new windows in two to three weeks," Allen said. "Now, it's taking anywhere from five weeks to five months."

Allen said there have been times when they've only had enough windows for one job, and he's had to find ways to keep his employees busy.

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David Kantor of Rockport recently purchased a condo under construction in Portland. The good news: this will be a second home for him and his husband, so unclear completion dates aren't as much of a bother.

"[The builder] had hoped to have the building finished in April," Kantor said. "Now, that has slipped until August."

Kantor said the price is pretty much set, since he and his partner bought the last available unit somewhat late in the building process, but the price tag was high enough already.

"It turns out real estate in Portland is more expensive than I might've guessed," Kantor said.

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As for when building costs might go back to normal, Phinney said rates are often seasonal. He said they went down last fall and rose again this spring, so he hopes they will see a dip come summer.