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Beyond labor shortages and supply chain issues, New Mexico home builders are concerned about another factor they see slowing down the process of getting new houses to buyers: a statewide shortage of home inspectors.
“It’s almost like if every restaurant in the state had a two-hour wait,” said Chris Hakes, division president of Hakes Brothers, a home builder with New Mexico offices in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
Due in large part to the high demand for new housing, builders across the state have reported longer-than-usual waits to schedule required home inspections over the last year.
Delays vary across different parts of the state, with rural areas that rely on state support affected worse than cities, but some builders have reported delays of up to three weeks, which they say adds to housing costs and delays the completion of new homes in a very busy housing market.
“We have a ton of really good inspectors, and they care. It’s just that there’s a lot going on,” Hakes said.
Many New Mexico cities and counties have seen their supply of housing dwindle over the last year, as low interest rates and other factors have prompted more New Mexicans to buy. In November, the latest month with statewide data, the average home spent 17 fewer days on the market than it did the year prior, according to the New Mexico Association of Realtors. As a consequence of high demand and low supply, the statewide median sale price through November was $274,000, compared to $239,900 at the same point in 2020, according to NMAR.
Hakes said letting houses sit empty while they wait for inspections comes at a cost, which he estimated at around $100 per day, in the form of interest on construction loans, utilities and potential theft of copper wire and other valuables from the house. Ben Beard, past president of the Las Cruces Home Builders Association, added that these costs get passed onto the buyer.
“We already have a pretty tough affordable housing situation in New Mexico,” Beard said.
In Las Cruces, Beard said the city pivoted to doing inspections virtually early in the pandemic, which sped up the process. But after the in-person inspections returned, Beard said existing staff shortages contributed to delays, particularly with electrical inspections.
“Unless (inspectors) learn to clone themselves, or somehow get more time in the day, we’re all in a little bit of a hot spot right now,” Beard said.
Miles Conway, executive officer of the Santa Fe Homebuilders Association, which represents tradespeople in seven Northern New Mexico counties, added that the problem is particularly acute in areas that were struggling with housing affordability even before the pandemic, including Santa Fe, Taos and Colfax counties. Conway said staffing shortages are creating delays, particularly in areas of Northern New Mexico outside of the Interstate 25 corridor.
“The more rural you get, the harder it is to get the state out there,” Conway said.
Some builders are pushing for changes at the state level, which could include additional funding for the state Construction Industries Division or law changes designed to streamline the home inspection process. Mackenzie Bishop, past president of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico, said he’d like to see builders work collaboratively with the state construction division.
“Because the longer these houses take to build, the fewer we’re able to build and the less we’re able to really exact meaningful change in the current and ongoing housing crisis,” Bishop said.