The pandemic has caused a huge surge in renovations, rebuilds and new builds throughout Muskoka, but it has also wreaked havoc on the building industry as a whole. Lead times and the cost of building have both increased significantly.
The high demand has collided with a scarcity of materials that is so broad even simple items like bathroom fixtures and certain types of paint are in short supply, explains Bob Clarke, the owner of Clarke Muskoka Construction and Royal LePage Lakes of Muskoka Clarke Muskoka Realty.
The cost for most lumber is up about 400 per cent and the cost of steel is up 450 per cent, and that’s when – or if – the materials are available, he notes.
“Certain toilets and plumbing fixtures we used to get in three to four weeks, are now taking three to four months, and have doubled in cost,” says Bob. “Hot tubs, sheet metal which is essential for building ducts, BBF pipe for plumbing and PVC pipe for pools … It is literally everything.”
And when you do find what you’re looking for, the wait times to receive the supplies can range from 21 weeks for windows to 12 months for appliances.
The unforeseen situation has led Clarke Muskoka Construction to adapt their processes.
Bob says they’ve started doing pre-orders during the initial design stage because of the long wait to get materials, supplies and appliances.
Usually, they would have a two-step design and build process, focusing on completing the foundation, structure and exterior in the first stage.
“We might then have let them have some time to think about what they want the interior to look like,” says Bob. “Then we sit down and start going room by room to determine what the finished product should look like. But we’ve had to start moving up the decision-making process for both exteriors and interiors to the first design meeting … and asking questions like ‘what flooring would you like?’”
All of these delays and rising costs in materials directly relate to the rising cost of building as well.
Cottages that were built 20 years ago for $150 to $250 per square foot are now looking at $400 and up just for renovations. Completely custom new builds like those done by Clarke Muskoka Construction can run $800 per square foot and up when you factor in high-end finishes and fixtures.
Moving on up
Lack of availability and cost of materials having a strong effect on Muskoka market
To illustrate, Bob points to a recent insurance rebuild after a fire. “Three years ago, they built their cottage for $2.675 million,” says Bob. “And my estimate to replace it now is $4.4 million.”
All of this also translates to the real estate market. Bob, an experienced realtor, says properties are selling faster than ever and listing prices continue to increase.
“People are saying, ‘I’m going to potentially miss two whole seasons while I’m waiting for something to be built due to the material delays,’” says Bob. “So, there is a perfect storm taking place right now in the Muskoka market.”
Another factor this past year has been COVID protocols and procedures slowing down build times due to restrictions on the number of workers allowed at each site. In the past, up to 50 tradespeople and labourers might be working simultaneously on a project; now each step is being done sequentially.
Bob does note an interesting change during the pandemic has been working on projects where the clients are on the property throughout the build. In past years, they often had a lot of other things that kept them occupied and away from the property.
Bob says his Clarke Muskoka Construction team might only see the property owners every month or two for a walkthrough and update, until the project was done.
That hasn’t happened. In some cases it has led to more changes during the building process than has been the standard. And while this may slightly increase build times, there are positives, says Bob.
“The fact that people are on site means they’re far more involved,” he says. “And in the end, the client is getting exactly what they want, making it a good experience for all.”