Recently, in my continued attempts at vocation diversification, I interviewed a New Oxford, Pa.-based homebuilder for an article to appear in our local newspaper,The Evening Sun. For more than two hours, Curtis Piper, of CJ Piper Builders, provided insight into the difficulties and delights of homebuilding.
Understandably, he focused most intently on the negatives, as his business over the past four years slumped by more than 60 percent with a similar decline in his operating margins. Said another way, he is making less on less which leaves a lot to be desired. Piper recited the litany of factors responsible for this loss of legal tender (tough competition, depressed sale prices, rising costs, “darn near no demand”) and talked about the trickle down economic effect of his business-“When I make less, everyone makes less.”
This includes drywall contractors, of course. Yet, according to many tradespeople, the influx of low paid workers is largely responsible for wage destruction. Piper, though, insisted all trades make less and do more in residential building and that this trend started several years ago, owing to the historic economic duress.
My thoughts: Drywall skills became commoditized before the homebuilding bust because of abundant, cheap labor. However, once the downturn gathered momentum on its way from peak to trough, it quashed everyone’s pricing power. As Piper noted, “We’re all in this together, just trying to get by anyway we can.”
This includes doing part-time newspaper writing assignments, of course ….
The Final Coat: What it Takes
Sean D. Smith is drywaller and occasional W&C contributor.
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