Lew Sichelman

Say what you want about America’s immigration “crisis,” but we wouldn’t be able to build our houses without immigrants.

For any number of reasons, U.S.-born workers have been reluctant to join the construction workforce, leading to consistent labor shortages. But immigrants want to work, and therefore, the share of immigrants in construction reached an all-time high of 24.7 percent in 2022. Their share was even higher in the building trades, at 31 percent.

In 2022, the construction sector attracted more than 90,000 new immigrant workers, according to the latest numbers from the Census Bureau. Native-born workers joined the industry at a much slower rate.

Overall, some 11.8 million workers, including self-employed ones, worked in construction as of 2022.

And as demand for construction workers remains strong, their pay is going up. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that at the end of November, the average hourly earnings for residential construction workers was $30.71 – up from $29.52 a year earlier. By comparison, the average hourly wage was $26.91 in manufacturing and $28.19 in transportation and warehousing.

Even so, there were roughly 459,000 unfilled construction jobs in the U.S. last November, according to industry analysis of BLS data.

Scam Appraisers

Fraud alert: Fannie Mae reports that a significant number of mortgages produced in the last few years involve appraisals completed by unlicensed people masquerading as the real thing. They unlawfully use the identities of actual appraisers, come up with a valuation and abscond with your money.

Lenders are being alerted to the problem, but sellers, buyers and borrowers should also make sure the person who appraises the property is on the up-and-up. Check their contact information and the address where the lender sends their fees. If something doesn’t line up, report your suspicions to the authorities.

Important Court Case

Banks in more than a dozen states will have their collective eyes glued on the Supreme Court later this month when it hears oral arguments in a New York case – Cantero vs. Bank of America – questioning whether banks have to pay interest on mortgage escrow accounts.

Thirteen states have laws that say banks have that obligation. But the lenders say they are exempted from doing so under the National Bank Act. A district court said they must pay, but a circuit court ruled they don’t. So now it is up to the nation’s highest court to decide.

If the Supremes rule that national banks must comply with state consumer protection laws, not only will they owe a lot of people a lot of interest, but it is likely to trigger a wave of state enforcement actions and consumer lawsuits.

Master-Planned Communities Lose Luster

Master-planned communities (MPCs) remain a popular choice among homebuyers because they have everything – pools, golf courses, tennis courts, clubhouses and plenty of other amenities – spread across hundreds of acres. They also boast options for purchase or rental from multiple builders across all price ranges.

Still, they lost a little luster in last year’s second half at the hands of high mortgage rates. Sales in the top-ranked MPCs were about 15 percent lower for the six-month period ending Dec. 31 than for the previous six-month period, according to the latest report from consulting firm RCLCO.

The bestselling properties are largely confined to two states: Florida and Texas. Of the 50 top-selling MPCs, 40 percent were in the Sunshine State and almost 36 percent were in the Lone Star State, with 22 percent in the Houston metro area alone.

Home Size Another Casualty

Buying power is not the only thing that aspiring homeowners lost last year because of high mortgage rates and prices. Many also lost square footage.

According to listing site Point2, buyers lost so much buying power in some large markets last year – including Detroit, Tulsa and Wichita – that the square footage they could afford dropped by 300 square feet. Point2 says that the average size of a U.S. bedroom is about 132 square feet, meaning that some buyers “lost” the equivalent of two to three bedrooms’ worth of space.

Energy Use a Top Concern

Things, they are a-changing … somewhat. At least when it comes to saving energy.

In the past, consumers have said they would very much love to own an efficient house, as long as they didn’t have to pay for it. Now, though, energy is “at the forefront” of homebuyers’ thinking, according to Green Builder Magazine.

Asked if energy-efficient upgrades are worth the money, the majority of consumers responding to the magazine’s recent survey said yes, due to the long-term savings they offer.

To be clear, they didn’t say they’d ante up the money to pay for these upgrades. But at least their thinking is headed in the right direction.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.

No Immigrants, No New Housing

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 3 min