Property renovation and repair bills are expected to climb significantly over the coming months as builders warn of a major shortfall in the availability of even the most basic supplies. As a side effect of the UK’s booming housing market, builders are struggling to get hold of everything from roof tiles to timber to bags of concrete.
Many have likened it to entering a supermarket to find empty shelves, with the availability of building essentials having totally dried up in some regions. Rather than relying on a stockpile of products to allow projects to be completed, builders are increasingly buying what they need at the last minute, if and when the products they need are available.
As a result, there has already been an increase of around 10% in the costs of building materials, though those in shorter supply are becoming even more expensive. This means that homeowners considering property improvements or urgent repairs over the coming months can expect significantly higher costs as contractors look to augment the prices of building materials.
Seven months of price increases
Timber and steel prices in particular have reached highs not seen for some time, with the IHS Markit/CIPS UK survey having indicated no less than seven consecutive months of price increases to date.
According to Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association, steel and copper prices have increased by up to 40% over the past six months, while the average price for timber has increased by as much as 80% in some regions.
Even the most basic supplies like varnishes and paints are up to 30% more expensive than they were when compared to the previous year, while the price of polypropylene is up by 60%.
As the vast majority of all building materials used in the construction sector are produced domestically, manufacturers and suppliers have limited on-hand inventory to fall back on.
“You can’t point the finger at anybody because so many different materials have availability issues right now. People who have been in this industry for over 30 years say they’ve never seen anything like it,” commented John Newcomb, the chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF).
Another COVID-19 casualty
Many builders and contractors are now facing the prospect of heavy delays in project completion times, with lead times for concrete having increased to as much as three months. Roofers in particular are expected to struggle for the foreseeable future, with raw material costs having increased by around 50% to date.
The issue has been caused by a variety of contributory factors, though it has been greatly exacerbated by the temporary closures of many factories, mills, and production facilities and throughout three consecutive lockdowns. While the government showed lenience with regard to requirements for the construction sector to cease operations, producers are still struggling to catch up with pent-up demand for materials and supplies.
“We’re fighting hand-to-mouth to make sure materials are getting through. It’s just that people have to wait longer, and, of course, raw material prices are going up, so they are having to pay more,” said Newcomb.
“The jobbing builder has traditionally gone into a merchant and said I want three of this and six of that; those days are gone.”
“The key thing is not to go in expecting you can turn up at the door and just take those materials away, because that is not going to happen.”