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Residential Department: Q&A: Delton Alderman, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service: December 2017

 

Q&A: Delton Alderman, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service

Housing analysis comes in all shapes and sizes

When it comes to understanding what is happening in the housing industry, originators can turn to numerous information outlets, like CoreLogic, Attom Data Solutions, the Urban Institute and the various trade associations. One outlet many mortgage originators may not be aware of is the monthly Housing Market Commentary, published jointly by Virginia Tech, the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Forest Service.

The publication contains in-depth data and analysis culled from dozens of other reports and is presented in two parts: the main commentary and economic conditions. Scotsman Guide talked with Delton Alderman of the U.S. Forest Service, who prepares the Housing Market Commentary each month along with Professor Urs Buehlmann of Virginia Tech. Alderman discussed the report and current conditions in home construction.

Tell us about the Housing Market Commentary.

Urs [Buehlmann] and I sent out the first one [I worked on] in December of 2012. … I am actually the only person who follows housing full time in the U.S. Forest Service now. There are other people who do snippets of it, but me primarily full time. All I want to do in this is just provide people with basic information. Starts data and stuff like that. Anything that may influence the housing market. Stuff you don’t see on a daily basis.

I just try to give people stuff they can use in their decisionmaking. I don’t think it’s up to me to tell people what to do. Business is different and, quite frankly, I don’t know what people need to do for their particular business. I just lay it out there and let them use it as they see fit.

What are the biggest trends you see in the home construction industry?

If you look at the raw data, and you look at spending data — and I think that’s the bottom line — remodeling is still strong. It probably will be because if you look at our housing stock, it’s just getting older and older and older. You hear the trend that a lot of analysts are saying that the baby boomers have decided that they’re just going to stay, so they are going to be remodeling. What do they call it — aging in place?

In single-family, there are still a lot of people talking about the lack of starter homes. There are not enough starter homes being built. I read a couple of things this week that the builders have said that they see this as future growth. but it’s the upper-end homes that are making them a lot of money.

Will the recent tariffs on Canadian lumber impact home construction?

I can’t answer that one, for two reasons. One, it’s not my area, and two I just don’t know. ... I can tell you that when the housing boom was going great, even with Canadian tariffs, we were seeing lumber here from Estonia, Sweden, Finland [and possibly] Russia.

Will the Texas and Florida hurricanes and California wildfires have much impact?

First, off, we’re going into winter months. In Houston, they can build year-round down there. the northern half of the country is probably starting to go into the winter season, so there’s not going to be a lot of demand pull for lumber because of that reason alone, so it gets back to the labor theme, but I don’t know enough about the labor situation in Houston or Northern California to even make a guess on that.

What other housing-construction trends are you following?

One thing that I think people need to pay attention to is 3D printed housing. … In a couple of days, they can have a house. … A man around San Antonio or Dallas has bought a 3D house-printing machine, and it’s really not that big. You have the cement trucks come in and hook it up and you still have to use forms, but they can do a house in like 48 hours.

I was also at a meeting in Portland [Oregon] last spring, and there were a lot of people there with CLT — cross-laminated timber. There are a few houses in America that have been built from CLT. The problem is cost right now. But if they ever get economies of scale, CLT could be a player in housing. … Basically, it’s two-by-sixes and two-by-eights, and they’re layered like plywood. You glue them together, put them in a press, put it on a truck, take it out to the site and assemble it.

So, I would look for two things: CLT and 3D printed houses. CLT will come faster than 3D.

Delton Alderman is a research forest products technologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. After receiving a Ph.D. in wood science and forest products from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Alderman joined the Forest Service in 2001, where he researches U.S. and international housing markets, urban forestry markets, consumer perceptions of hardwoods and other lumber topics. Each month he produces the Virginia Tech-USDA Forest Service Housing Market Commentary, which is e-mailed to about 2,900 subscribers and associations that distribute the report to their members. Find the Housing Market Commentary at sctsm.in/housingcommentary.


 

Will McDermott is editor of Scotsman Guide Residential Edition. Reach him at willm@scotsmanguide.com or (800) 297-6061.

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