When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to South Carolina back in March, residential builder Thom Chumney expected his company, Southern Traditional Homes, to take a major hit.
“At first, me and my partner decided to tighten the reins,” he said. They asked part time workers to stop coming in and looked at other ways to reduce their overhead costs.
But by May he saw that demand for new homes was starting to increase.
“Now in our third year, we’re on track to beat the projections we set for ourselves when we first started the business,” he said.
Chumney is not alone. As of September, builders in the Midlands received 3,289 building permits, according to data compiled by the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. That’s about a 10% increase from last year. Data from the Consolidated Multiple Listing Service also shows that 279 more units have been sold compared to this time last year.
Earl McLeod, president of the local Building Industry Association, said the industry is primed to have one of its best years since 2006. Rather than being stifled by coronavirus, he said the pandemic may actually be giving builders a boost.
“I think COVID highlighted the importance of having a home because people are spending more time there,” he said. “We’re also seeing more buyers from urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest relocate as they discover we have more room to grow and live here in the South.”
Aside from families looking to upgrade from their cramped starter homes, McLeod said that historically low interest rates have also led to a resurgence of first time homebuyers.
“They’re realizing they can get a mortgage for much less than they’re paying for rent,” he said.
The year has not come without challenges. The cost of lumber is up nearly 170%. There’s been periodic shortages in materials such as appliances, windows and doors as manufacturing plants have been forced to shut down or cut back their output thanks to the pandemic.
Still, Chumney said he believes builders have fared better than many other industries because it was easier for them to incorporate necessary health and safety protocols into their work.
“Because of the nature of our industry, we’re always expecting something around the corner, a new zoning ordinance or changes in code,” he said. “So I think we were quick to adapt.”
Simple fixes included reducing the number of subcontractors allowed on a worksite at one time and partnering with realtors to do virtual showings.
As the pandemic wages on, McLeod said he believes residential builders will be a driving force behind economic recovery in both the region and the country.
“We’re creating jobs, providing people with homes and providing a tax base that gives local governments the money to continue to operate,” he said.