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Building materials market flat for now

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by Steven Diegel

SBJ Contributing Writer

If current figures are an indication of things to come, this spring is shaping up to be a buyer's market for building materials, though suppliers indicate conditions could change with little prior notice.

Retailers report materials costs and sales to be a little flat compared to last year's market ÐÐ a plus for area builders and those shopping for a new home.

"Right now, the market is a little flat," said Tom Maher, manager of the East Sunshine Meeks Building Center. "It hasn't changed much and (some prices) are even going down a bit."

Retailers reported few real increases in building materials costs over last year, and certainly no real upswings in response to higher market demand.

"Wafer board and dimension lumber has dropped a little bit ÐÐ maybe $2 or $3 per 1,000 board feet or so, but that is about it," Maher said.

"So far this year I am seeing about the same prices," agreed Shawn Fink, project manager with Carleton Building Co. "Lumber has remained about the same as last year, (fluctuating) up and down slightly."

The costs of bricks and concrete have remained steady compared to last year, according to retailers, as has siding, insulation and home fixtures.

While builders and contractors may enjoy the current status quo in materials costs, both they and retailers agree that this could change almost overnight.

"I expect some increases," Fink said. "Definitely in labor, as well as in most materials."

A number of suppliers also predict a rise in costs, but expect it will not be too much.

"We are going to probably be up somewhat, maybe 2 or 3 percent, but not that much," said Tony Hitchcock, vice president of operations at Bolivar Insulation.

"Insulation has been flat the past two years, and we are seeing a slight increase there," he said. "Everything else is pretty stable."

Hitchcock said that the slight increases throughout the industry are typical.

"There is always an increase that is just the cost of doing business," he said

Maher said the market usually flattens out somewhat every winter, as what is largely a seasonal business slows because of the snow and cold. Many such changes do not occur until the spring, when the industry picks back up again.

"Traditionally it picks up around the spring," Maher said. "Typically you see a big buying in February and March as people get ready for spring, so you will see the market move up."

Retailers, builders and others in the industry remain optimistic for the market in the upcoming year. While they do not expect it to match the boom years of the early 1990s, all factors indicate another successful season to come.

"I am real optimistic for 1998," Maher said. "Interest rates are down and conditions are ideal as far as refinancing, buying or building ... conditions are pretty healthy all the way around."

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