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May Construction Insider: Improved home sales, new OSHA guidance on COVID-19 & more

May Construction Insider: Improved home sales, new OSHA guidance on COVID-19 & more

June 1, 2020

Construction Insider is a monthly roundup of the latest news and insights in construction.

US home sales improved in April

Single-family home sales in the US increased by 0.6% in April. The slight increase was an unexpected improvement as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. CNBC

  • The Commerce Department reported the 0.6% increase in single-family home sales after a seasonally adjusted rate of 623,000 units was recorded in April.
  • The increase in home sales is marginal compared to the 13.7% dip reported in March.
  • April gains are seen to be temporary due to the record unemployment brought about by the coronavirus crisis.

OSHA releases new COVID-19 guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new items of enforcement guidance on reporting COVID-19 cases and on conducting onsite inspections. Construction Dive

  • All employers must now record a case if an employee is diagnosed to be positive for COVID-19, if the transmission is work-related, and if other OSHA criteria are met.
  • A case is likely to be work-related if an employee gets ill shortly after “lengthy and close” exposure to a customer or if the job requires frequent exposure to the general public, according to OSHA.
  • OSHA will also continue to conduct onsite inspections and prioritize coronavirus cases, even in areas where the spread of COVID-19 has decreased. The agency will also be conducting phone, fax, and rapid response inspections as appropriate.
  • The new pieces of guidance are applicable only while the coronavirus public health crisis is ongoing, according to OSHA.

US construction industry calls for greater government assistance

Organizations such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) are advocating greater government assistance while US lawmakers debate about the latest COVID-19 relief package. KHL

  • The new relief package that is part of “phase 4” of the stimulus bill is worth $3 trillion USD. It is set to help the construction industry, among other sectors, that is struggling economically during the pandemic.
  • The AGC notes that there are both positive and negative sides to the proposed relief package legislation.
  • The proposed “phase 4” measure includes relief for state highway programs as well as an expansion of the employee retention tax credit, both of which are positive points, says AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr in a statement.
  • Sandherr also notes that the proposed measures fail to address other problems, such as the need to include a safe harbor that will protect firms from limitless litigation.
  •  The proposal also seeks to repeal the net operating loss carryback provision, which “will punish firms, especially family-owned businesses, that suffered losses of $250,000 or more this year,” according to Sandherr.

22% of builders cut prices in April, says survey

About 22% of builders nationwide lowered home prices in April to boost their sales and alleviate the effects of the ongoing public health crisis, according to a survey by NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. NAHBNow

  • A regional breakdown of the data shows that 26% of builders in the South and 23% in the Midwest most likely reduced their prices in April.
  • The builders who lowered their prices offered an average price cut of 5%, which was a smaller reduction compared to the average price cuts reported in May 2007 (7%) and March 2008 (8%).
  • Only 12% of builders agree that offering discounts are effective in bolstering sales and reducing project cancellations, according to the NAHB survey data.

Lumber group applauds new PPP legislation

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) welcomes the new Payment Protection Program (PPP) legislation, which now has more flexible provisions. HBSDealer

  • The PPP Flexibility Act now allows borrowers to choose the coverage of their loans between 8- to 24-week periods, and it also has a safe harbor language for businesses that make an effort to hire and re-hire qualified employees.
  • Other changes in the PPP include expanding the limitation on non-payroll expenses from 25 to 40 percent and ensuring full access to payroll tax deferment for PPP borrowers.
  • “Providing greater flexibility for PPP will ensure more small businesses are able to effectively utilize the program,” says NLBMDA President and CEO Jonathan Paine.