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Home improvements juice lumber market, industry says

Tim Hearden WFP-hearden-timber-harvest.jpg
Timber processors are still trying to catch up with lumber demand that skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The price of framing lumber rose nearly 250% in a 12-month period, and timber operators are still scrambling to catch up.

West Coast timber operators say they're still trying to catch up with demand for lumber products, which skyrocketed during the pandemic and pushed prices significantly upward.

The price of framing lumber was near $1,200 per thousand board feet in late April -- up nearly 250% since last April when the price was roughly $350 per thousand board feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Demand rose sharply as people who stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic took on home repairs they had postponed earlier, reports the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Timber-market analysts told the Farm Bureau they expect that demand will continue for a few months, but may tail off as stay-at-home orders relax.

Still, the higher input costs are putting a crimp in homebuyers' plans nationwide, industry officials say.

“These lumber price hikes are clearly unsustainable,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke, a custom home builder from Tampa, Fla. “Policymakers need to examine the lumber supply chain, identify the causes for high prices and supply constraints and seek immediate remedies that will increase production.”

Rising home costs

Soaring lumber costs have caused the price of an average new single-family home to increase by $35,872, according to a recent analysis by the NAHB.

This lumber price hike has also added nearly $13,000 to the market value of an average new multifamily home, which translates into households paying $119 a month more to rent a new apartment, the organization noted.

Further adding to housing affordability woes, other building material prices have been steadily rising since 2020 and, like lumber, are in short supply, the NAHB observes.

Another factor pushing up lumber costs is that more Americans are leaving big cities and buying new homes in the suburbs, economist Paul Jannke of Forest Economic Advisors told CBS News.

U.S. Commerce Department data shows that permits for new home construction have grown nationwide this year, the network reports. Western wildfires also contribute to lumber prices, the CFBF explains.

John Andersen, forest policy director and a registered professional forester for Humboldt and Mendocino Redwood Cos., told the Farm Bureau the company closed both of its sawmills for six weeks at the start of the pandemic last year.

"We started getting rid of our inventory of lumber and, after about week five and six of the shutdowns, the lumber was flying off of the shelves," Andersen told the CFBF. "We didn't see that coming, and it's still going on."

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