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Construction slump hits rural communities as good seasons boost demand

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How long would you wait for a builder?

Builders across the country got very busy, very quickly when the federal government’s HomeBuilder program was announced amid the pandemic in 2020.

For rural communities, like Goondiwindi in South Queensland, the influx of construction jobs coincided with rain that broke the worst drought on record and brought about good season after good season.

So the farmers had money to spend.

But with residential construction busier than ever, the motivation for builders to travel out of town for agricultural jobs has disappeared.

Toobeah builder Mckanah Gibson said he focused on rural contracts from his base south of Goondiwindi.

“I’ve probably got 12 months of work ahead of me, not getting any more quotes or anything like that,” Gibson said.

“I don’t think you will find any builders in this area of ​​Goondiwindi who don’t have 12 months of work ahead of them.

“I try to get more [tradespeople] but no one is available. Everyone is so busy.”

Builder Scott Jackson has never seen him so busy.(ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

Goondiwindi builder Scott Jackson said he had never seen the town’s construction industry so busy in his 25 years in the trade.

“It’s hard because we try to keep everyone happy because they’ve looked after us so well over the years,” he said.

Unprecedented price increases

Mr Jackson said he was trying to juggle price hikes and material supply delays while taking into account his year-long waiting list.

He said the price of steel was “out of control”.

“Since the beginning of last year it has gone up every month, you can go anywhere up to 15, 20% increase in one go,” he said.

Just down the street, Mr. Jackson’s local vendors are also struggling to meet their customers’ needs.

Mackenzies Home Timber and Hardware business manager Sam Biesiek said he had never seen anything like it.

He said he recently made a difficult call to Mr. Jackson.

“The steel roof [Mr Jackson] had quoted his client whom we could no longer obtain; it’s been so delayed,” Mr Biesiek said.

“The only gear we were able to get for him is 25% more expensive.”

A man, wearing a high visibility shirt, stands in front of wood in a hardware store
Commercial director Sam Biesiek says there have been problems in the building materials supply chain.(ABC Rural: Alys Marshall)

He said the builder should bear the cost.

“He almost fell out of his chair when we told him,” Mr Biesiek said.

“But he has signed contracts – he has to.”

End to end woes

Builders aren’t the only ones bearing late fees.

Hayes Spraying’s financial controller, Jenny Hayes, said her Goondiwindi-based manufacturing company had been trying to build a new machine shed for 18 months.

“They [the construction company] thought it would now be over,” Ms Hayes said.

“The total impact of the delay could easily reach $200,000, which includes rent [we are] already paying, payments paid on the hangar and partial payments paid to get the machines into it.”

She said it also slowed down production.

“But we’re not mad at anyone because we know what it is because we’re in production ourselves,” she said.

About 70 km west of Goondiwindi, Rob and Tina Rains, like many other farmers in the area, have been trying to renovate their workers’ housing in a bid to attract farm labour.

After years of living on the land, the couple expected to have to wait for a builder a bit longer than those living in metropolitan areas.

But when local builder McKanah Gibson was finally able to begin renovations, it was delayed for another six months by flooding and supply chain disruptions.

“We’ve learned here to be very patient. It’s just far from everything, so we expect things to take a long time,” Ms Rains said.

“But we have an employee who had to move to another house for the builder to complete this job, so hopefully it won’t be too long.”

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New home construction costs and waiting times are skyrocketing(Alicia Barry)

As the duration of the renovation of the workers’ cottage increases, the cost of construction also increases, because the prices of the materials are passed on to the customers of the builders.

“I mean, the builders can’t do anything else,” Ms. Rains said.

“If their costs go up, ours will definitely go up and so that means our projects have to get smaller.”

She said there wasn’t a lot of money that could be spent on the cabins and the costs couldn’t keep rising.

“We just don’t have the money,” she said.