by CYNTHIA KMETT
Dan MacLeish obviously did not go off to college thinking that one day he’d be the Builder of the Year, President of the Michigan Homebuilders Association or the youngest person ever installed in the Builders Hall of Fame.
We know this because he majored in history in college, earning a BA, and then a master’s from The University of Michigan in American Colonial History. But there was this one site that needed a house and he undertook it with his brothers. It wasn’t easy, they couldn’t find any carpenters, and then their father had to teach them how to shingle a roof. Too bad they didn’t pay close attention to dad’s instructions as the shingles were on upside down and had to come off one by one and be done over.
“I learned the hard way,” MacLeish told the Troy Kiwanis Club last Tuesday. “So today I expect excellent work” from those who help Troy-based MacLeish Building construct the many beautiful homes they’ve provided to families throughout the area in subdivisions like Beach Forest – where MacLeish and his wife Joyce call home – Adams Pointe, Oak River East, The Vineyards and Sanctuary in the Hills, to name a few.
From that first home, MacLeish sold five other basements and his construction business was on its way. Except for the timeout he had to take to serve four years in the Marine Corp, where he was a Captain. He restarted the construction business in 1970.
MacLeish also knows all the problems and roadblocks builders now face in providing you with your dream home. The advent of the Michigan Business Tax, the Single Business Tax, he points out, was not based on profit; it was for the privilege of being in business. It was a tax that devastated our industry, he says. Where once builders were putting up 54,000 houses a year, by 2008 the number was 1,000.
And, yes, he completely understands the cyclical nature of the auto industry. But when higher taxes and lower car sales combined in Michigan, “the skilled trades fled the state” and they have not reappeared.
“The state lost 2 million manufacturing jobs and those are the people who buy starter houses and then move up the line to nicer homes,” he noted.
But that fiasco in the Clinton years, where you could buy a home with no money down and not a very substantial income was a disaster. If they went into foreclosure, they just walked away and left the banks to deal with the fallout.
“In the past, people had to have some skin in the game, but in the Clinton years you had no money at risk so many people stayed there until foreclosure.’ Those homes went into rentals because no one could afford to buy them, MacLeish observed. The cost of land rose from 40 to 60 percent and just sat vacant. In the recent recession, homes lost 40 to 60 percent of their value and haven’t fully recovered.
Not problems enough for builders, MacLeish says changes in the building codes are costing builders and homebuyers thousands of dollars. “Excess regulations are killing builders,” he points out. The sewer, water and paving costs for a home today are about $50,000. He says rules today are pushing that number toward $100,000 and will continue to rise. Lumber, drywall and concrete are all going up a couple of times a year.
MacLeish says the building codebook today is the size of the Yellow Pages. It used to be about a quarter of an inch thick. “None of the things they’re putting into the code benefit the consumer.” He points out that “hurricane strength” construction costs you $8.000, and add $5,000 for new insulation standards and you’ll see why housing prices are so high.