Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Delays in home inspections leave local builders stressed

A worker wets the undercoat before applying the final layer of stucco to a home being built by Hakes Brothers Construction in the Suez Estates in July 2020. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Aside from labor shortages and supply chain problems, home builders in New Mexico are concerned about another factor they say is slowing the process of getting new homes to buyers: a statewide shortage of home inspectors.

“It’s almost like every restaurant in the state has to wait two hours,” said Chris Hakes, division manager of Hakes Brothers, a home builder with New Mexico offices in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

Due in large part to high demand for new homes, homebuilders across the state have reported longer than usual waits over the past year to schedule necessary home inspections.

Delays vary in different parts of the state, with rural areas that rely on government support hit harder than cities, but some builders have reported delays of up to three weeks, which they say are increasing housing costs and the completion of new ones Delay homes in a very buoyant housing market.

“We have a lot of really good inspectors and they care. It’s just that there’s a lot going on,” Hakes said.

In many New Mexico cities and counties, housing supply has shrunk over the past year as low interest rates and other factors have encouraged more New Mexicans to buy. According to the New Mexico Association of Realtors, the average home spent 17 fewer days on the market in November, the most recent month with statewide data, than a year earlier. As a result of high demand and low supply, the nationwide average retail price through November was $274,000, compared to $239,900 at the same time in 2020, according to NMAR.

Hakes said leaving homes vacant while awaiting inspections comes at a cost he estimates at about $100 a day in the form of interest on home loans, utilities and potential theft of copper wire and other valuables from the home . Ben Beard, former president of the Las Cruces Home Builders Association, added that those costs are passed on to the buyer.

“We already have a pretty tough situation for affordable housing in New Mexico,” Beard said.

In Las Cruces, Beard said the city conducted inspections virtually early in the pandemic, which sped up the process. But after in-person inspections returned, Beard said existing staff shortages contributed to delays, particularly with electrical inspections.

“Unless (the inspectors) learn how to clone themselves, or somehow have more time in the day, we’re all in a bit of a crisis right now,” Beard said.

Miles Conway, executive officer of the Santa Fe Homebuilders Association, which represents home builders in seven counties in northern New Mexico, added that the problem is particularly acute in areas already struggling with housing affordability before the pandemic, including the counties of Santa Fe, Taos and Colfax. Conway said staff shortages are causing delays, particularly in areas of northern New Mexico outside of the Interstate 25 corridor.

“The more rural you get, the harder it is to get the state out of there,” Conway said.

Some homebuilders are pushing for changes at the state level that could include additional funding for the state construction industry department or legislative changes aimed at streamlining the home inspection process. Mackenzie Bishop, past president of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico, said he would like homebuilders to work with the state building department.

“Because the longer it takes to build these houses, the less we can build and the less we can really make meaningful changes in the current and ongoing housing crisis,” Bishop said.

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