The global supply chain crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is delaying more than just Christmas presents and semiconductors — it also disrupted the start of a brand new family for Val and Maja Borschevsky.
Before COVID-19, the plans seemed solid: the young couple from Toronto had purchased a pre-built home in the nearby town of Stouffville right before the pandemic hit Canada in February 2020, eyeing a move-in more than a year later in May 2021.
That date was looking increasingly ideal as Maja became pregnant with their first child early in the new year, but the move-in was then pushed back twice: first, due to construction delays related to COVID-19 and a second time due to a bricklayers’ strike.
By the time the couple finally got the keys in September — four months later than originally planned — the couple were hunkering down at Val’s parents’ place with Maja’s due date just days away.
She’s since had the baby and the couple are slowly getting settled into their first family home, but the uncertainty around what would be delivered first, the keys or the new baby, was unsettling, to say the least.
“We were definitely going through some crazy emotions at the time,” Val says.
“The one thing I’ll kind of say as a recommendation, if you’re going to be moving, make sure you’re going to do it before having the birth of a child. That kind of complicates things a bit.”
Canadian builders say pandemic causing delays
They’re not the only ones facing housing delays amid global supply chain disruptions, with homebuilding activity across the country snarled by a lack of readily available materials and labour.
The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) reported in late October that the average home construction project in the country was facing average delays of seven weeks in the third quarter of 2021, a figure that’s only worsened from the previous three months.
Overall, single-family homebuilders surveyed as part of the association’s new Housing Market Index say they’re still relatively bullish on residential construction in Canada, but that confidence has dipped quarter-to-quarter. Builders cited the pandemic’s impact on supply chains and access to labour as the two unsettling influences on the industry.
“There is an additional strain on everything to do with house construction in terms of materials, products … and trouble getting access to skilled workers and trades,” says Kevin Lee, the president and CEO of the CHBA.
“So there’s been a lot that’s come together to really create some big delays.”
While Lee says the “astronomical” prices on lumber that homebuilders were facing earlier in the year have come down somewhat, other materials, especially those sourced from China and other overseas markets, remain in short supply.
He names plumbing fixtures, pipes, electrical materials, windows, flooring, bathtubs and siding cabinets as some of the items homebuilders are struggling to get onto the job site.
“Even garage doors, which is obviously a big inconvenience if you’ve got everything, but you can’t hang the garage door. So it’s across the board,” he says.
Finding ways around supply chain snags
Supply chain snags are a pain that Roy Nandram, president of Ottawa-based RND Construction, knows well.
While one shortage might be easy to mitigate, he says it’s the way these issues have compounded in the homebuilding industry that’s led to weeks of delays in some cases.
One home his company is building in Ottawa is stuck in limbo waiting on a window delivery. He says his workers can’t start working on the exterior finishes until those windows are in place — an example of the start-and-stop process that’s come to mark construction during the supply chain crisis.
“We cannot finish the exterior and no one can occupy the home,” Nandram says. “This has put a major strain on the entire supply chain.”
Nandram says he’s had to change his approach to compensate for delays he now knows to expect after more than a year of disruptions.
Now, the day after his company takes on a new project, he immediately signs agreements with subcontractors and places orders for materials such as flooring that he won’t need for another few months, knowing it’ll take that long to arrive.
It’s also put him in a difficult situation with his full-time staff of 12 workers. Without reliable access to materials, Nandram has had to come up with ways to keep his employees working even if a project is facing supply chain delays.
This fall, he bought a rundown home as a fixer-upper for his employees to work on when there’s a lag in work at a client’s project. Come spring, he’ll sell the home for a tidy profit, more as a ploy to keep his staff busy than a long-term business model.
“The whole industry has changed. We have to think outside the box now because we can’t do the same thing we used to do,” he says.
Homebuilders who spoke to Global News expect supply chain constraints to continue to affect the industry for at least another year, though most cautioned that there’s no certainty to say what things will look like on the other side of the pandemic.
Lee says the best way forward for prospective homebuyers is to set realistic expectations with your builder but have a backup plan for a delayed move-in.
That could look like having a clause to extend a rental agreement in case of delays or, following the Borschevskys’ lead, making sure you can fall back on family.
“The reality is, things can happen. So you will want to plan for that accordingly and make sure … mom and dad have a place for you in the basement to head home for a couple of months,” he says.
—with files from Anne Gaviola