Editor’s [re]Marks
by Drew Vass
December 22nd, 2020

With a Pile of Lumber on Hand, I Aim to Buck the Trend

It’s the year of DYI. Or so say the statistics, as in 2020 more homeowners report they’re tackling their own home improvement projects than ever before. Meanwhile, if you’ve read my past blogs (or happen to know me), then you know that they’re all DIY years for me. But 2020 was going to be different.

When COVID-19 struck, I had just gathered estimates for a fence project—the first I’ve ever considered outsourcing. And like so many, when faced by financial constraints and uncertainty, I called each of the contractors I met and asked them to hold their estimates. Then, one month gave way to the next and—just about the time I decided to proceed, despite the circumstances—something happened.
The cost of lumber skyrocketed.

Just like that—my fence project nearly doubled in price.

When I contacted one of the contractors to inquire about an updated estimate, I’ll never forget the phone call. He eased into the subject by assuring me that he wasn’t trying to take advantage of me, then proceeded to explain how there were already “outrageous” tariffs on lumber, when mills had to shut down amid the pandemic, creating costly shortages.

And when I responded by assuring him that understood, he countered with, “No, I don’t think you do. I mean, it’s bad. The cost of your project has nearly doubled. And that’s if we can even manage to get the materials.”

You can imagine how dumb founded he was when I assured him that I did understand and was even sympathetic (to both of us). I know all about tariffs and disputes over softwood lumber, I assured him, because I’ve been covering them for nearly 15 years. When COVID-19 hit and tariffs loomed at 20%, it was inevitable—prices hit an upward trajectory I don’t think any of us will ever forget.

By the third quarter of 2020, 77% of remodelers reported shortages for framing materials—25% of whom said the shortages were “serious.” Prices had skyrocketed, nearly doubling over a five-month period, according to the producer price index—the largest increase since 1975. Also by third-quarter 2020, 65% of remodelers reported a shortage of doors and windows.

You can imagine how relieved this fence contractor was to have a customer on the other end who understood the dilemma. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like explaining all of this to unsuspecting customers. But for me, there was a stroke of luck that followed.

The project at hand includes a four-rail wood fence, with welded wire, for my Pudelpointer. After I received the bad news about my estimates, I stumbled across something I had forgotten. And I couldn’t believe it.

My mother has a small horse farm, north of where I live, and since my father passed away, I take care of it. About seven years ago we had half a dozen horses left and several rows of fencing that were in disrepair. So, I purchased a load of 16-foot, treated-pine one-by-sixes, and a stack of four-by-four posts, intending to replace them. Long story short, I had a change of mind when I realized that I couldn’t trust several of those animals around my 110-lb., 70-year-old mother. Now there’s just one left—a trusty, old Arab that’s earned my highest level of trust and respect with his impeccable ground manners.

With no need for additional pasture, I stored that lumber in a barn. Raised on skids and covered by sheets of corrugated metal, the materials look as good today as the day I purchased them. I had completely forgot about them! And who would ever have guessed that seven years later, finding them would feel like striking gold?

You can also imagine how surprised the fence contractors were to find out that I had what they needed: materials. So, I loaded them up and took them to my house, where now I have another dilemma.

Here I was, about to hire someone to do what I’ve done a million times over. Well, maybe not a million, but I can tell you that I’ve “run” my share of fencing. As I sat there, contemplating, I snapped a photo and sent it to one of my best friends, with the caption: “You know me. I know me. What do you think the odds are that I can sit here and stare at these materials, waiting for someone else to come and do the work for me?” His response: “Not a chance.”

But this time I’m determined I’ll prove us both wrong. As the world goes DIY amid a pandemic, I’m ready for a break and heading in the other direction. I guess we’ll see if I can do it.

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