When Charleston became the first city in South Carolina to enact a “stay at home” ordinance in response to the coronavirus pandemic, construction was one of the businesses granted an exemption. And with good reason — shelter is a basic human need, and the area’s stock of affordable housing hinges on a home building industry that keeps sawing and hammering in good times and bad.
“It truly is vital, because every day that we are not putting more units online, every day we are not making more homes available for consumers, the worse we make our housing affordability issue,” says Patrick Arnold, executive director of the Charleston Home Builders Association. “So every day that a house is not built, homes as a whole get more expensive.”
Like those in other industries, home builders have had to adapt to the presence of a highly contagious virus that’s curtailed most social interaction and limited millions of Americans to their homes and front yards. Job sites are often large enough for workers to maintain the necessary six feet of distance between them, with some builders going as far to limit the number of skilled tradesmen working on a project at any given time.
The Charleston Home Builders Association shares with its members recommendations from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as information on best practices such as handwashing protocols, not using a common water cooler, and wiping down with cleaner any surfaces that are touched regularly — from the home’s front doorknob to the door of the portable toilet on the job site.
“As long as they're adhering to those guidelines, and those set by state officials,” Arnold says, “they should be in the clear and be able to weather this storm.”
Repairs and transactions
Even in times of national emergency, home owners still suffer routine problems like roof leaks, burst pipes, and flooding that require immediate attention from members of the construction industry. And on any given day in the Charleston area, there are countless people in the middle of buying or building a home—and if they’ve already sold their previous home, they risk being left without a residence if the building industry is brought to a halt.
“There are hundreds of people that are in the final hours of a transaction process any day of the week,” Arnold says, “so if you stop that today, you could be really putting a lot of families in a bind.”
Builders are complemented by a real estate industry that’s moved largely online, minimizing the need for many personal interactions in the home buying process. Those tools, such as scanning the Multiple Listing Service and taking video tours of available homes, become even more important at a time when much of the world is shut down and even hand-shaking is discouraged.
“The way that our economy has changed to facilitate the home buying process online has really set us up to use those tools right now,” Arnold says. “So you can really do everything you need remotely, except review your home’s punch-outs. Just because we have this lockdown doesn't mean that you can't be using all that time to be doing your due diligence for everything else that you need in order to secure a home.”
Materials, permits still flowing
Even with much of the country shut down and supply chains strained, Charleston has not experienced a disruption in the flow of building materials, Arnold says. And permitting and inspections are still ongoing, thanks to municipalities that have incorporated or switched to online submittals. “That's been instrumental for the industry and for a city staff to be able to operate,” Arnold adds.
Arnold has also seen tremendous cooperation between builders and municipal staffers to ensure everyone is proceeding safely through an uncertain time.
“City staff have truly hit the ground running on this one, and worked fantastically with the private sector. And the builders have done the same,” he adds. “I would say half of the requests I get from builders is, ‘What can I do to help in this process,’ rather than, ‘What can I expect in terms of problems?’ So I think that speaks toward this back-and-forth relationship between the municipalities and the private industry to bring solutions to the table when unprecedented events like this happen.”
And the Charleston Home Builders Association continues in its role as a beacon of information for its members, posting relevant links on its website to help builders continue working safely through the coronavirus crisis. For more information on the Charleston Home Builders Association or to inquire about membership, visit its website at HBACharleston.com.