Demand for home improvement work continues to grow, stretching contractors and city staff thin • Long Beach Post News

“We have struck,” said Angelika Mayer, office manager of the upscale house construction company Zieba Builders. The company is currently fully booked until the spring of next year, said Mayer. “I didn’t see any slowing down of the phones ringing.”

When Michael Kolana Kek and his wife Monique received a message from their landlord last year that their building was for sale, they decided to buy a home. Traveling with a baby, the couple went looking for a single-family home and were pushed by the high demand on the residential property market.

With the millennial generation entering the home buying age and mortgage rates at record lows, the single-family home market has boomed in recent months. It’s not uncommon for avid buyers to bid more than the asking price or make other concessions to beat the competition, something Kek and his wife have experienced firsthand.

When the couple finally found a house in Lakewood to afford and close, they began looking for contractors to make it their own – which turned out to be more of a challenge than expected.

Similar to how they affect home buying activity, low mortgage rates have also increased demand for home improvement. Savings through refinanced mortgages or increased equity through rising home prices are causing many homeowners to finally decide to convert the kitchen or to open up the living room.

As a result, like the biscuit in the contractor market, buyers are facing as fierce competition as they are looking for a home.

“It was a bit of a hassle to find good, affordable work,” said Kek.

Contractors would cancel, quote astronomical prices, or simply not call back. Contractors say the increased cost of building materials – from wood to copper cables – has forced them to raise their prices. Materials are scarce as the demand for construction increases and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic leaves supply chains vulnerable.

Business Insider reported in May that over 44% of home improvement plans across the country have been delayed due to delivery bottlenecks and high material costs, citing data from market research firm, which uses transactional data to compile consumer spend reports.

In the end, the biscuits sometimes “pieced up” the work with Taskrabbit – an app designed to help users find workers for their renovation projects in everyday tasks such as cleaning, moving, or handicrafts.

Workers are also in great demand at the moment. The number of job vacancies in the construction industry has increased 43% since the pandemic began, with employers looking for 339,000 workers nationwide, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Los Angeles County created 4,300 jobs over the same period, according to data from the state employment development agency.

Some new homeowners have chosen to do at least some of the work themselves. Rodrigo Fosado, a 35-year-old accountant who recently bought a home in Los Altos, said he taught himself how to put drywall, electrical work and new doors.

“We have become contractors ourselves,” said Fosado of his family of four. Most of his education comes from online tutorials. “The YouTube videos definitely helped,” he says with a laugh.

Through an opening, Markus Pharr is working on an apartment above a detached garage in a home in Bluff Heights, Long Beach Tuesday August 17, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Catching up

Meanwhile, the city bureau, which handles processing and issuing permits for everything from kitchen remodeling to building apartment buildings, is scrambling to modernize its technology while struggling to attract and retain staff.

In a May 11 memo to the City Manager, City Council and Mayor, the Development Services Department, where the office is located, admitted that turnaround times, customer communications and the entire development process are not “the goals of the city or the needs or expectations “corresponded to our customers.”

In response, city council members, led by Councilor Rex Richardson, approved a city initiative to review the city’s hiring practices, review the office’s approval software, and investigate the implementation of a “shot clock” that would establish a timeframe within which applications were submitted need to be processed.

Despite recent efforts to improve the department’s services, human resources and technology remain “primary challenges,” the department identified in a memo released Aug. 10.

For the past three months, the department has been working on staffing the office to replace temporary workers and employees who have been withdrawn from other departments with full-time workers. But finding and retaining staff has been a challenge, construction manager David Khorram said, in part because of competition from surrounding cities that pay higher wages.

“Other cities love to snatch our people,” said Khorram, adding that it is not uncommon for Long Beach to find a qualified candidate only to be poached by another city before even being hired will.

The other challenge, technology, is also still being addressed. The department recently expanded its application portal to accommodate more types of applications from a wider range of applicants digitally; up until now, only large “frequent flyer” contractors could submit online.

While the industry in general has long been using a wide range of digital tools, government agencies are lagging behind, Khorram said. “We stood behind this cycle and are now paying the price.”

In addition to the system update, the office has also resumed in-person appointments for express and over-the-counter approvals, which cover most fundamental changes, such as putting in new windows, roofing over or adding new plumbing.

In the second quarter of this year, which spans April, May, and June, the office processed 2,805 permits and personally attended to 538 applicants, compared to 1,886 permits processed and no face-to-face appointments in the previous quarter. According to Khorram, the backlog of planning review dates for larger projects is currently 3-4 weeks.

The pandemic and its challenges have taught the office a lot and accelerated its modernization, Khorram added. “It will be painful for a while,” he said. But: “I think if we get out of there we’ll be a lot stronger for it.”

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