How Sable Homes has been adapting amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a seven-week shutdown for home builders in Michigan last spring. Now, nearly four months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave the green light for builders to pick up where they left off, Sable Homes’ General Manager Bryan Burnham shares how the company has adapted during this pandemic.

In early March, Sables Homes experienced lower than normal home inventory due to a sudden regional demand in housing and record-low interest rates between 2-3 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage – the lowest the industry had seen since 2017 due to a federal fund reduction from the Federal Reserve Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).

Then on March 23, just as the West Michigan building industry was entering the “spring frenzy,” Whitmer issued an executive order for non-essential businesses to close in order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

“All home building slows down in the winter anyway, but given the time of year it was, we were doing well,” Burnham said. “Just as things started to ramp up again in early March, we had to shut down. We were allowed to ‘button up’ a few houses that were under construction at that time, but other than that, we had to stop all building.”

While building crews remained idle throughout the next seven weeks, Sable Homes’ real estate side continued to see steady home sales from March through May. But when the construction industry was among the first to re-open in Michigan in early May, home builders like Sable Homes hit a common snag: A shortage of materials, especially treated lumber and cabinets, due to home remodeling remaining open throughout the entire duration of the shutdown combined with the manufacturing sector not re-opening until after the construction industry.

“That sequence of events is what led to the shortage of materials,” Burnham explained. “Every spring, all home builders run into labor shortage – but this was triple the difficulty finding good labor, or any labor for that matter. So not only are we fighting a materials shortage, but because of the unemployment bonus, no one is looking for work in the construction industry – at least not when we were re-opening. It’s a little better now that we’ve been open for a few months.”

Burnham noted the labor and materials shortage, along with supply-chain issues, continues to put an additional burden during the home building process. However, because Sable Homes already had efficient and lean processes in place, they are not experiencing the considerable delays like other builders are currently.

“I understand a buyers’ frustration when they have to choose different materials than what they had initially picked out or because the build process is taking longer than expected,” Burnham said. “We just ask for patience. Everything is going to fluctuate – from materials to the timing of the build process – because we’re often waiting for shipments of the delayed materials.

“This year has been incredibly uncertain. It truly has been an unprecedented situation, but we’re on par with where we should be,” Burnham added. “Before COVID hit, we were projecting a 10 percent growth this year. Right now, in September, we are seeing higher than average monthly sales, so we expect that we’ll hit our end-of-year goal despite COVID-19 and the temporary shutdown.”

As more companies are now downsizing their office spaces and people are envisioning working from home due to COVID-19, Sable Homes is learning what their clients need in terms of in-home office spaces, such as additional ethernet ports and high speed internet. The company’s floor plans feature office spaces, and many include a second family room or loft space, which works well for kids doing virtual schooling.

“Having phone jacks in common areas of a home has now turned into setting up several internet connections throughout a home so people can work and kids can participate in virtual learning wherever that’s convenient for them,” Burnham said. “We are listening to our customers and formulating plans around their new work-from-home needs.”

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