Building materials, home furnishings hard to come by in the new year

Erin Stetzer had a seemingly impossible job ahead of her: paint the brick exterior of a large River Oaks home and get it done in two weeks during a pandemic.

Her painters visited Sherwin-Williams paint stores all over the city, buying as much untinted paint as each would allow — 135 5-gallon buckets in all — as they waited for the homeowner to settle on a color.

Then they returned to all of those shops to get the paint base tinted the right color. Since the homeowner had a big party planned, there was no flexibility in the deadline.

That would be a big job any time, but when workers have to social distance and a paint shortage renders it impossible to get a high volume of paint all at once from a single store, the task becomes monumental.

“That’s where local knowledge through the trade base matters,” said Stetzer, who began her home-building career with David Weekley Homes and set out on her own with Stetzer Builders in 2003. “The painters thought it through and went to every Sherwin-Williams store they could possibly go to.”

If you’re building, remodeling or refurbishing a home, you’re all too aware of the shortages and delays of nearly everything needed to finish the job. The worse news is, the problems are expected to continue through the end of 2022.

Everything takes longer to get: kitchen appliances can take nine months to a year to arrive and special-order furniture can take six months. Price estimates on lumber might be good for five days; windows can take five months to arrive. Tile is spotty — some brands or styles take a couple weeks to get here, while others can take four to six months.

Adding insult to injury, when things finally arrive, they could be damaged, broken or the wrong item.

While the coronavirus pandemic has prompted more people to redecorate, remodel or even build a new home, pressure on manufacturing and every link in the supply chain has meant there are few happy customers.

For Stetzer, one solution is returning to the more compact format of her days as a production builder, instead of a longer, more spread-out timetable of a custom home builder. That means when she and her clients and their designer meet early on, they make decisions and order everything at the start. Then, if it takes nine months to get a Wolf range or a SubZero refrigerator, that’s OK, because they have plenty of time.

Changes, though, are dicey, because the wait for materials has to start all over again, which complicates other phases of construction.

The problem of delays on kitchen appliances presents itself differently in a remodeling project that should take only a few months. The homeowner has to plan a year ahead, then start construction after appliances arrive, or proceed on an earlier schedule, using a range or refrigerator they know will be temporary until the desired one arrives.

There’s no one industry more affected than the other. Contractors and designers place orders to lock in a price and wait, expecting continued delays and having little to no control over when anything arrives.

Houston interior designer Lucinda Loya and her procurement manager, Mary Choe, of Lucinda Loya Interiors said that it feels like every time they reach out to a client, it’s to deliver more bad news, with projects taking three to four times as long to complete.

“Two to three years ago, 75 percent of the time, we could count on delivery times to land on their expected date. These days, everything is estimated and there are no guarantees,” Loya said.

Client conversations aren’t just about furniture choices but also about lead times, with weekly order reports, shipping progress reports and even sharing tracking numbers when they can. It also means that when some vendors do a better job of delivery, orders are shifted in their direction.

“We’ve never experienced problems in every category as we do today,” Loya said. “From their point of view, clients ask, ‘Do we want to take on this project and spend the money?’ Then the rest just happens easily — right? — except that it doesn’t because of of the logistical issues. The real problem is that it’s everywhere.”

If a client’s first choice will take too long to get in, they can shift to a second choice, but those are often on back order, too.

“Literally, last week, we had an item come in the wrong size — half the size it was supposed to be. It’s not the client’s fault, and it’s not our fault,” Loya said. “It doesn’t even matter whose fault it is, we have to correct it in the fastest possible way. It’s the most challenging experience we’ve ever seen in our careers.”

The same is true for interior designer Nikole Starr of Nikole Starr Interiors, who sometimes offers “loaner” furnishings for clients to use until their own furniture arrives. Instead of delivering furniture in a single, full installation, she may have to take things over in four or five phases.

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