Adobe Stock / Mikael Damkier

While many cities have classified residential construction as an essential business, other impediments exist, including the availability and willingness of workers at local building departments to perform inspections. According to the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) Eye on Housing blog, some cities are allowing virtual inspections to remedy any bottlenecks caused by inspection delays.

Data on these trends were collected recently through questions on the survey for the April 2020 NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). The first question asked about the classification of residential construction. In response to the advocacy efforts of NAHB and other construction organizations, the Department of Homeland Security has classified residential construction an “Essential Infrastructure Business” in its March 28 guidance. Individual state and local governments are not required to follow the guidance; but, as the HMI survey shows, 78 percent of builders report that residential construction has, in fact, been classified as essential in the areas where they build.

Even if construction activity is permissible during the shutdown, effects of the coronavirus may inhibit it, or at least slow it down, in a number of ways. One possible bottleneck is availability and willingness of workers at the local building department to perform construction inspections. The availability of inspectors can have a significant impact, and 82% of builders recently reported that the virus pandemic has had a noticeable, adverse effect on how long it takes the local building department to respond to a request for an inspection.

The April HMI survey investigated two ways local building departments may try to alleviate the problem: by allowing third-party and virtual inspections. Although some building departments do, in fact, contract with third parties to conduct construction inspections, only 4% of respondents say this has started happening recently in response to the pandemic (compared to 23% who say third-party inspections were already standard operating procedure pre-virus). On the other hand, 20% of respondents say their local building departments have started to allow virtual inspections recently, specifically in response to the current emergency.

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