Home Maintenance Tips

By Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

Great, you have purchased your first home! Congratulations! Now is the time to keep up on your home maintenance on a routine schedule. This way your home stays up to date, up to code, and well maintained for future use.  Homes that lack proper up keeping end up being a bigger and bigger problem down the road. It is best to stay on top of your home care to nip any potential issues at the bud.


Fire prevention tips help to save your home from a potential disaster. Remember to vacuum out the clothes dryer duct and replace HVAC filters to improve circulation. It is also very important to change the dryer lint screen after each use to prevent buildup which can cause fires. (Popular Mechanics). In terms of electrical, be sure to check your outlets to ensure that they use ground fault circuit interrupters. These devices shut off an electrical circuit at the point when they come a potential shock hazard (NFPA).

Outdoor maintenance is important in protecting the structure and the curb appeal of your home. Routinely check your roof for repair spots or water damage and remember to clean out clogged gutters. Gutters capture water and debris from your roof and drain it away from your home. When they get clogged water and gunk accumulates and can lead to water damage (Popular Mechanics)

Summer is a great time to check the exterior of your home for potential issues. Make sure to take a look at deck or patio to check for any deterioration or safety hazards. A great way to maintain your deck is to clean and seal each year to preserve the wood and appearance. (HFHAC). Also, remember to have your roof inspected by a licensed professional every few years to ensure that there are no leaks or water damages. (Travelers).

Making sure that you stay on top of seasonal home check ups and maintenance will prevent  future headaches that may arise out of poor home upkeep. Many of these tips are quick easy checks or fixes that take less than a weekend to do, and they most definitely will pay off in the long run.


Gamble on swapping park for homes paying dividends for Sparta

By Jeffrey Cunningham | jcunning@mlive.com 
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on July 21, 2015 at 5:09 PM

SPARTA — When the Sparta Village Council voted in July of 2013 to sell the former 4.46-acre Central Park property to developers for new homes, the thought was that it could take up to five years to fully build out the 20 lots.

Central Town Square .jpg

(This home at the corner of Union and Grove streets was built where home plate was in the baseball field of the former Central Park)

It was a gamble village leaders were willing to take at the time to get the stalled housing market moving in Sparta. It was also an opportunity to shed some of the excess property the village owned.

The gamble for the village has paid off. In less than two years, all of the 20 home sites have been sold and houses have been built on the sites.

Many of the new residents to Central Town Square, like Virginia Huffman, said the new homes on the former park were exactly what they were looking for.

The former Rockford resident said her family had been looking for homes in the Rockford area, but couldn’t find what they wanted. “We moved here because we found a home that we liked,” she said. “We knew the village and this is s good location for us.”

Built by Sable Homes of Rockford, the houses have sold for $135,000 to $180,000.

The village hasn’t quite recovered all of the $277,000 it invested in the property since it took ownership in 2009 from Sparta Public Schools, but village leaders say the investment has clearly paid off.

“This is a case where government could do things to help get a development like this built that private industry most likely couldn’t have gotten done,” said Sparta Village Manager Julius Suchy.

Sable Homes president John Bitely said that without the help from the village in the form of being able to purchase the property at below market value, he would not have been able to build the new homes.

The village bought the property in 2009 from Sparta Public Schools after the school district closed the former Central School.

It cost the village $145,000 to demolish the former school and grade the property. The village paid the school district an additional $100,000 in water credits for the property and with other costs associated with the purchase, Suchy said the village had an estimated $277,000 invested in the property.

The agreement with the school district was that if the land eventually sold for a profit, the village and the school district would share the proceeds.

The village sold the property in 2013 to Sable homes for $120,000, leaving the village with a net loss of $157,000.

As the 20 homes were built and hooked to the village’s water and sewer systems, the hookup fees netted the village $93,000, leaving the village $64,000 in the hole.

Fifteen of the 20 new homes were on the 2015 village property tax rolls, which netted the village another $18,000, leaving the village roughly $44,000 left before it had paid off its costs associated with the development.

With the five additional homes on the 2016 tax rolls, the village will take in at least $21,000 annually on the homes in the development.

“It will take another couple of years before we are in the black with this project from a development standpoint, but I think the village is already ahead as the stores and restaurants are already seeing an increase in traffic from having additional residents in the downtown area,” Suchy said.

5 Interior Design Trends in 2015

By Karin Kay

Gone are the days of beige and cream walls, fake plants, gaudy wallpapers, heavy fabrics in burgundy floral designs, and tiled counter tops. The trends of 2015 are timely, easily customized, and they create a space that is both bright and bold, industrial yet cozy, and trendy yet timeless.

1. Gray is the new beige. Gray tones and varying shades of gray are all over the place right now. Gray is the new neutral, and it complements almost anything. Light gray walls replace the beige walls of the past, and they provide a cool and comforting canvas. Bright colors and bold patterns really stand out against the gray backdrop. The versatile gray color palette is allows for customization and it is sure to stand the test of time (HGTV).

2. Industrial-rustic styles are hot right now. This style mixes industrial pieces with the rustic wood. Copper metal accents are especially popular as lighting pieces, accent decor, and storage furniture such as a bar table. Re-purposed wood paired with metal and industrial pieces create a harmony of structure and natural elements (HGTV).

3. Accent Walls (Bold or dark colors) – It is a big commitment to decide which color to paint a particular wall, and if you are anything like me and you cannot choose between colors, accent walls are a great way to go. When they are paired with a neutral complementary wall, accent walls add a splash of color and a hint of depth. My favorite accent wall color is the dark blue-gray paired with gold accent pieces and picture frames. The blue-gray is a deep, elegant way to add a touch of sophistication to an otherwise bright and neutral room (WSJ).

4. Succulents are a growing trend for 2015, even if you do not have a green thumb. These plants add a nice splash of life to a sunny corner of your home. They are relatively easy plants, and require very little watering. Try placing three succulents on a windowsill that receives significant sunlight. The combination of odd numbers and use of greenery are easy on the eyes and give life to a room.

Free Stock Photo of Succulents

5. Minimalism. Less is more with this interior design trend. Say goodbye to fussy design, clutter, and complex home layouts. Minimalism embraces the clean lines, open concept layouts, and simple yet “stand out” accent pieces. A great way to embrace minimalism design is to create a black and white photo wall using simple black frames. Arrange the frames to create a collage of photos on the wall. Each photo creates a piece of art using the wall as the entire art piece.


New Home Sales Trends in 2015

By Ron Austin, Sable Homes General Manager

GRAND RAPIDS, MI, 2015 is a great year for buyers ! There is more inventory on the market and the economy is working its way up. According to the market trends, now is the time for sellers to sell and buyers to buy!

Both the new listings and number of houses sold have jumped over the past 6 months in Grand Rapids, MI. In November 2014 the number of new listings was 260. This jumped up to 449 in May of 2015. The number of homes sold also skyrocketed from 11 homes to 282 homes in May 2015 (Movoto, 2015).

With a high of $159,900 as the  median list price in October 2014, the median list price in Grand Rapids has dropped to 129,900 as of June 2015. Homes have become increasingly more affordable due to the drops in list price and various financing options (Movoto, 2015).

Within the broader scope of Real Estate Trends in the United States, the National Association of Realtors data shows that new home sales were up 1.8% last October 2014 compared to the previous year in 2013. The market shows that builder confidence in newly constructed, single-family homes has been high for six months in a row (Forbes, 2014).

More and more families and young professionals are seeing the value in home ownership. Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow said, “next year we’ll start to see things really turn around. More inventory will continue to come online, putting the competitive pressure on sellers for a change. This more balanced market will be smoother sailing for everyone, both for buyers in search of a competitive advantage, and for sellers who turn around and become buyers themselves.” (Forbes, 2014).

Who are the demographics of new home buyers for the year of 2015? According to Forbes, millennials will take over the Generation X as the next generation of home buyers. Humphries notes, “As this generation (millennials) matures, they will be a home-buying force to be reckoned with.” Rising costs in rent, compounded with the desire to invest in a home to call one’s own drives millennials to purchase a home as an investment and a customizable space.

The demographic changes in home buyers are likely due to the shifts in rent affordability. Humphries said,  “ As renter’s cost keep going up, I expect the allure of fixed mortgage payments and a more stable housing market will entice many more otherwise content renters into the housing market.” (Forbes, 2014). Home ownership and fixed mortgage payments allow for a sense of security and financial control, which is increasingly appealing to the growing generation of young professionals.



Bigger is better for new home buyers in West Michigan

Bigger is better for new home buyers in West Michigan

By Jim Harger | jharger@mlive.com 
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on May 24, 2015 at 8:25 AM

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, MI – When Jason and Jackie LaFontaine looked at floor plans for their new home, they concluded bigger was better.

Their new four-bedroom home, on which they will break ground in Eastbrook Homes’ Stoneshire development later this month, will have a larger kitchen and pantry, a home office for Jason, a formal dining room, a hearth room and “kids retreat” on the second floor.

Compared to the house they bought from Eastbrook Homes four years ago, the LaFontaine’s new house will be about 500 square feet larger at 3,400 square feet.

“Being second time builders, we wanted to be sure this was going to be our ‘forever’ home,” Jackie LaFontaine said.

“Being second time builders, we wanted to be sure this was going to be our ‘forever’ home.” New home buyer Jackie LaFontaine

Their new home has all the features they wished they had put in their first house, she said.

With 1-year-old and 4-year-old daughters, the LaFontaines also want to make room for the possibility of a third child in the future, she said. Their new home also is closer to the Forest Hills school buildings where she works as a speech pathologist.

Larger Homes
Bigger Houses The average size of a home in Kent County has grown by about 500 square feet over the past decade. That’s about the size of a king-sized master suite in a new luxury home – or about 2 1/2 “tiny houses.”miltk

The LaFontaines are typical of many new homebuyers in West Michigan. With the economy back on track and interest rates low, the average new house is getting bigger and more expensive.

According to Builder Track Reports, which follows the West Michigan home building industry, the average size of a new home in Kent County last year was 2,538 square feet, about 500 square feet larger than the average size of a new home in Kent County 10 years ago.

That’s about the size of a king-sized master suite with a full bathroom and walk-in closet in a luxury home.

Homes in Ottawa County showed similar growth, with the average size being 2,412 square feet in 2014 compared to 1,944 square feet in 2009, according to Builder Track statistics. In Muskegon County, the average new home was 2,114 square feet in 2014 compared to 1,758 square feet in 2010.

While the average size of a home is getting bigger, so is its cost. According to Builder Track, 61 percent of the houses under construction in the first quarter of 2015 had a construction value of more than $200,000.

In 2014, 53 percent of Kent County’s new homes were valued at more than $200,000 while in 2011, only 36.5 percent topped the $200,000 price tag, according to Builder Tracks.

Despite the rising costs, homebuilding is booming again in West Michigan after stumbling through the Great Recession.

In Kent County, contractors reported 206 housing starts in the first quarter despite a lingering winter. Last year, Kent County home builders reported 1,088 housing starts, a 7.7 percent increase over 2013.

Bob Sorensen, vice president of sales and marketing for Eastbrook Homes, said homes are getting larger because consumer confidence is improving and interest rates have remained low.

New homes also are getting more luxurious, with high end finishes like granite countertops and larger bathrooms, Sorensen said. Finished lower levels with “man caves” also are growing in popularity, he said.

Mike McGivney, vice president of sales and marketing for Allen Edwin Homes, said low interest rates are giving their customers an additional $25,000 to $50,000 in buying power.

“A lot of that translates into the square footage they can add to their homes,” McGivney said. That additional buying power also is an incentive to build a new house rather than remodel an existing home, he said.

Aaron Schoonover, a regional sales director for Allen Edwin Homes, said the larger homes they are building in the 150-site Stonegate development in Byron Township are designed to be flexible to meet the changing needs of their owners.

The two-story homes in Stonegate, which start at $240,000 and can cost up to $416,640, feature an assortment of upgrades that include “smart space” rooms that be converted into informal sitting areas or home offices.

Kitchens have grown to include larger islands and mudroom areas now have lockers, Schoonover said. While the square footage has grown, so has the overall volume with nine-foot ceilings on the main floors and lower levels.

John Bitely, president and CEO of Sable Homes, said the growing footprint of new houses in West Michigan also is a reflection of township zoning ordinances, which require larger lot sizes to keep the quality of new housing high.

Homeowners who can afford larger lots also are able to afford larger houses, said Bitely, whose company has focused on building mid-level homes. “It’s a legal type of exclusionary zoning.”

“I don’t know of any builder that’s building entry-level homes. You can’t make it work if you’ve got a lot that prices out to $30,000 to $40,000,” Bitely said.

West Michigan’s appetite for bigger houses is not being shared on a national level.

RealtyTrac, a national real estate survey firm, reported the average size of a home was 1,799 square feet in 2014, down from its high point of 1,863 square feet in 2012. The average size picked slightly, to 1,803 square feet, in 2015, RealtyTrac said.

Jim Harger covers business for MLive/Grand Rapids Press. Email him at jharger@mlive.com or follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google+.

Homebuilder promotes new way to build barrier-free houses on concrete slabs

Homebuilder promotes new way to build barrier-free houses on concrete slabs

By Jim Harger | jharger@mlive.com 
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on May 12, 2015 at 5:58 AM


SPARTA, MI – Homebuilder John Bitely says his company has come up with a new way to build a barrier-free house on a concrete slab that’s less expensive than a typical Michigan home with a basement or crawl space underneath.

The new technology uses a thick foam-type border dug into the ground to protect the slab from frost damage, said Bitely, president of Sable Homes LLC. His company’s “Freedom Foundation” saves about $15,000 over the cost of building a house that’s elevated over a basement or crawl space, he said.

“In West Michigan, barrier-free living has not been readily available at an affordable price,” said Bitely, who is currently building a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house in Sparta that will sell for less than $160,000.

Although slab foundations are used in 80 percent of the homes built in the U.S., Bitely said they are not used in northern states because of frost damage that can occur in colder northern climates.

Most builders dig concrete footings down at least 36 inches to get below the frost line with their foundations, Bitely said.

Buyers looking for an affordable one-story home can opt for a modular home that is built off the ground and usually requires steps or a steep ramp for accessibility.

Bitely, who is building the barrier-free home in a neighborhood he has developed on the former site of Sparta High School, said his foundation system offers a more accessible home that’s of higher quality than a typical modular home.

“Using ‘Freedom Foundation’ will save time and money for builders, and makes a shallow foundation install much easier,” said Bitely. “Using these resources, we’re able to provide this style of home at much more affordable costs than ever before.”

Bitely said the foam barriers around his footings provide adequate protection against frost damage without the costs associated with deep concrete footings.

“We feel it is important to offer a safe environment for those who are elderly or disabled. Our new ‘Freedom Foundation’ technology will allow individuals to live safely at lower costs than with traditional building materials.”

David Bulkowski, executive director of Disability Advocates of Kent County, endorsed the barrier-free design in a news release produced by Sable Homes.

“One of the most significant needs for persons with disabilities is affordable housing that is accessible and integrated into exciting neighborhoods,” Bulkowski said. “It’s great that Sable Homes has developed the Freedom Foundation technology to greatly expand the opportunity to purchase the house of their dreams for persons with disabilities.

“With some budgets, home buyers requiring accessible homes are limited to modular homes, or worse, homes that do not fully meet their needs, due strictly to foundation costs,” Bulkowski said in a statement.

Jim Harger covers business for MLive/Grand Rapids Press. Email him atjharger@mlive.com or follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google+.

Fed won’t raise rates yet, but hike could come later this year

Fed won’t raise rates yet, but hike could come later this year

by Ryan Smith | Apr 29, 2015

The Federal Reserve’s soft outlook on rate hikes today means business as usual in the mortgage bond market, according to Bryan McNee, vice president and senior bond analyst for MBSAuthority.com.

The Fed today said that with the housing recovery remaining slow and inflation running below its long-term objective, its current 0-one-quarter-percent target range for federal interest rates was still appropriate.

“The Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when it has seen further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term,” the Fed’s Open Market Committee wrote in a press release.

McNee said that the Fed will probably still raise rates sometime this year.

“The bond market already says the Fed is going to raise interest rates this year. It’s the people in the stock market who don’t think rates are going to rise,” McNee said. “But the bond market has very clearly got a bet that we’re going to see something around September.”

The Fed didn’t specify when rates would rise, however, meaning most bond traders will continue to prepare for a rate hike, McNee said. And since that rate hike is expected, it won’t have a catastrophic effect on mortgage rates.

“It’s not going to be a crazy shift if they do it, because some of it is already in pricing,” McNee said. “There’s no doomsday scenario here. Worst case scenario, it would cause us to move off of some of the best rates we’ve seen this year.”

The Fed’s soft stance on rates may not have come as a surprise to bond traders, but many took precautions prior to the agency’s statement, selling off mortgage-backed securities Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of a more hawkish stance.

“Yesterday, Fannie Mae mortgage-backed security benchmark coupons sold off 49 basis points,” McNee said. That’s a pretty big move lower.”

It’s especially unusual considering the relatively weak recent economic reports, he said.

“Rates usually get a little better on a weak economic basis. But the mortgage-backed securities market shrugged (the reports) off and lost almost 50 points. Mortgage-backed securities traders were taking some money out of the game because they were nervous about the Fed meeting.”

Sable Homes new technology opens the doors to affordable and accessible home ownership

Sable Homes new technology opens the doors to affordable and accessible home ownership


Rockford-based Sable Homes is producing a new type of home in Michigan that provides barrier-free living for individuals who are physically handicapped or seniors at a more economical price.

The homes feature a new technology which allows homes in the northern states to be built on a slab foundation. Although these foundations are used in most southern U.S. states that do not have basements, they are not insulated well enough to be used in northern states with annual frost.

The technology, Freedom Foundation, is essentially a thick, foam barrier which surrounds the slab foundation, insulating it and protecting the cement from frost.

Joanne Feutz, occupational therapist at Disabilities Advocates of Kent County, is delighted with the design but she says these homes follow the precept of“universal design” and they are really for anyone, not just someone with a disability. From her perspective, this type of home fills a big need in the market. “A lot of builders will build a custom home but no one is building homes that are designed to be accessible and affordable,” she says. Feutz says the homes “are beautiful” and are perfect for individuals needing barrier-free living.

Sable is working on organizing an installation team which can assist other builders in setting up these foundations to produce similar model homes to help support this community of buyers.

Sable Homes is one of the few builders that works with Veterans Administration and Rural Development for construction loans for new homes.

To learn more about Sable Homes you can visit their site here.

Technology erases some mobility barriers

Technology erases some mobility barriers

Sable Homes’ process benefits those with physical impairments.

March 27, 2015

The secret to creating hundreds of easily accessible homes for those with mobility impairments was right under John Bitely’s nose all along.

For years, Bitely, president and owner of Rockford-based residential development firm Sable Homes, had been looking for a way to create affordable housing that could be easily accessed by those in West Michigan with mobility impairments, particularly those with disabilities, aging senior citizens and wounded veterans.

His searching eventually led him back to a technology he’s been using since before the Great Recession: foam insulation billets he now calls the “Freedom Foundation.”

“In West Michigan, barrier-free living has not been readily available at an affordable price,” he said. “We feel it is important to offer a safe environment for those who are elderly or disabled. Our new Freedom Foundation technology will allow individuals to live safely at lower costs than with traditional building materials.”

Bitely and his team had originally used the specialized foam to compete with the modular-home industry almost seven years ago.

“One of the frustrating things we’ve seen is we’d been watching what people pay for modular homes,” he said. “They’d drive them in, take the wheels off, slap them on the ground and they were paying an outrageous amount of money for what we thought was a less than adequate product.”

That’s where the foam insulation came in. The foam, which comes from Atlas EPS in Bryon Center, is generally used in Michigan and other northern states to allow homes to be built on a slab foundation while still being well-insulated. The thick, foam barrier surrounds the foundation, insulating it and protecting the cement from frost.

“The first home we built with this project was probably about six years ago. This goes back to when we wanted to compete with the modular (market)… We’ve got this product out and it’s stood the test of time. What is new is how we’re tying this into a market segment that’s underserved,” Bitely said.

“(We asked), ‘Why don’t we just make this out of that type of product?’ In so doing, we developed this piece of foam, which in turn ends up being the form and the base foundation of the house.”

So how does this new Freedom Foundation foam help people with disabilities? It helps because now Sable is using it to build ranch houses with zero steps. Almost all modular homes and traditional homes involve some kind of steps, either inside or by the doors, Bitely said, and that can be trouble for someone in a wheelchair or using a walker. But now Sable is building homes flat enough to the point that raised steps or ramps are no longer required.

Another nice feature about these homes is they can also cost less, Bitely said.

“We have a model home that we built. It’s just under about 1,400 square feet. It’s a ranch style: three bedrooms, two baths. It has an oversize, three-stall garage,” he said. “We will sell that here in Sparta for under $160,000 with the lot,” he said.

Different disabilities require different solutions, and Sable is also customizing its Freedom Foundation homes based on the individual buyer’s needs. One home was created with special door levers and a microwave built into the kitchen island for a woman in a wheelchair with limited hand use, Bitely said.

That’s good news for a number of underserved markets, he said.

“We’re using this technology not only in the world of disability, but also aging … for those who are retiring and they don’t want to ever move from their home, and they know as they get older steps are a problem or they’re going to need a wheelchair. This can eliminate all of those barriers.”

One of the most important affordable housing needs for people with disabilities is that the homes be both accessible and integrated into good neighborhoods. These houses are more likely to be built in areas connected to transportation, including the bus transit system, Bitely said.

“With some budgets, home buyers requiring accessible homes are limited to modular homes, or worse, homes that do not fully meet their needs, due strictly to foundation costs,” said David Bulkowski, executive director of Disability Advocates of Kent County.

“The Freedom Foundation will provide barrier-free living at a more affordable price point for many, many families.”

One individual who appreciates Sable’s new mission on a personal level is Bri Keeshan, owner of a home that features a Freedom Foundation.

“Having a home that is designed to meet my needs impacts my daily life in many ways,” Keeshan said. “Ever since my car accident in 2009, all I’ve ever wanted was to live ‘normally,’ and win my freedom back. Although things aren’t exactly the way they used to be, having this home has put me, and my life, in the right direction.”

Builders discuss lack of skilled workers before House committee

Builders discuss lack of skilled workers before House committee

Youth Employment Standards Act hinders minors from working construction jobs.

By Mike Nichols

Could the lack of available skilled labor currently facing West Michigan’s construction industry be partially solved with a legislation change?

Members of the Home Builders Association of Michigan testified earlier this month before the State House. In a hearing held Feb. 5, they urged the House Workforce Development Committee to enact legislation to help increase the number of people entering the skilled trades.

The hearing comes on the heels of HBAM having completed its annual member survey of about 4,500 members. The survey found most HBAM homebuilders have a positive outlook for 2015, with about 90 percent of survey responders saying they expect business to go better this year than last year. But the issue of finding talent was still a major concern, with about 71 percent of HBAM’s members agreeing the biggest issue facing the industry is a workforce shortage, according to HBAM.

“Homebuilders in Michigan lost 60,000 jobs to the Great Recession. Literally, when the housing industry went south, so too did many of our workers,” said Dawn Crandall, public affairs director for HBAM.

“Fortunately, the industry is coming back, and there are good paying careers ready to be had. We will be working closely with Michigan policymakers and educators this year to increase the number of high school graduates seeking careers in the home-building industry.”

One of the members who testified Feb. 5 was John Bitely, owner of Rockford-based Sable Homes and co-chair of the Home Builders Association of Grand Rapids’ Next Generation Committee.

“The lack of workers going into the skilled trades is the biggest factor impacting the growth of Michigan’s home building industry,” he said. “The shortage of labor is resulting in construction delays and increased labor costs, and it’s dragging on our state.”

There are a couple of Michigan laws that make it unnecessarily “cumbersome” to hire younger workers, Bitely said.

He cited the Youth Employment Standards Act 90 of 1978, which essentially states that anyone under the age of 18 “may not work in any occupation deemed to be hazardous, which includes work on construction sites,” without parent, school and employer signed work permits, he said.

“(The) Youth Employment Standards Act 90 of 1978 defines a minor who is less than 18 years of age, including but not limited to employees, volunteers, independent contractors and performing artists,” according to Michigan.gov. “Minors under 18 years of age must obtain a work permit or have their school complete a training agreement before starting work. Work permits can be obtained from the school the minor attends or the school district where the minor will be employed. If the minor changes jobs, a new work permit is required for the new employer. A work permit may be revoked for poor academic performance. A work permit is required even if the minor does not attend school.”

The Act’s work permit process does more to hinder high-school students and the construction industry than it does to protect students, Bitely said.

“There are lots of high school students who could gain valuable work experience in the building industry over the summer, but the current law forces them into flipping burgers,” he said.

“With that in place, as a residential builder, I cannot hire ‘Johnny B. Tough’ to come carry lumber on my site or come seed the lawn because it’s a construction site. … The common joke I use is Pizza Hut. They will not let you cut the pizza unless you’re 18 years old. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Laws like this hurt the middle class, Bitely said, adding that such laws are a complete deviation from how many of the industry’s current leaders got their start.

“If you go back in years past, a bunch of us started our summer job with ‘Uncle Joe’ or ‘Neighbor Fred,’ and we got in his truck and helped out at a construction job,” he said.

“I cannot put a 16-year-old youth on a sawhorse and teach him how to use it. That’s considered too dangerous. But (they can) at Kent Career Technical Center in a shop class. Why can’t we do it in the field?”

Bitely said he was encouraged by the committee’s response, saying they seemed genuinely interested in working on the issue. He hopes they’ll act in time for his upcoming trade skills event for students, which is being held April 28 at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

The event — Career Quest — will highlight about 25 potential trades for the 2,000 West Michigan students expected to attend, ranging from 7th-12th grade.

Career Quest is being co-hosted by Michigan Works! and the Construction Workforce Development Alliance.

Bitely’s plans to combat the construction industry’s lack of labor goes back to 2013, when local leaders in the industry realized many workers had either aged out or left during the recession, and new talent wasn’t being trained.

Unless the problem is addressed soon, it could begin to slow the growth the area’s been enjoying lately, he said. That would become problematic for everyone.

“It’s going to stagnate us a little bit or greatly diminish the amount of growth and recovery that’s available. I don’t know any residential builder in West Michigan that isn’t ready to hire people or a design firm ready to hire. They cannot find people to fill the positions,” he said.

“(We want to be) telling young people, ‘There’s jobs for you and hope for you. I don’t want to be negative about college, but you can make a good living with us without student debt.’”