Case Studies

Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Massachusetts

Promoting a healthy housing climate and building industry

For decades the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Massachusetts (HBRAMA) has been the collective voice of the Massachusetts housing industry, representing more than 1,500 single family and multifamily builders, developers, remodelers, suppliers and other allied professionals in the residential construction industry. Based in Springfield, Massachusetts, HBRAMA is comprised of six local level affiliate associations, including the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts, the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Central Massachusetts, the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod, the Builders & Remodelers Association of Greater Boston, Northeast Builders & Remodelers Association of Massachusetts and the Bristol Norfolk Home Builders Association.

The state organization’s overriding goal is to improve and maintain a positive building environment by staying abreast and involved in government and regulatory affairs that affect affordability. HBRAMA is also influential in offering educational opportunities so members are armed with the latest industry knowledge, and can continue to meet the needs of the housing market in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A nationwide support network

A state-level organization, HBRAMA has national leverage, backed by a charter that dates to 1959 with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Washington, D.C.-based NAHB helps enhance the climate for housing and building while expanding opportunities for consumers to have safe and affordable housing. The NAHB federation is made up of 850 state and local associations such as HBRAMA and about one-third of the members are homebuilders and/or remodelers, with the balance of membership including tradespersons, subcontractors, suppliers, engineers, lawyers, and other persons providing services to the homebuilding industry.

Having the support of an extended network of industry peers is important, especially in a down construction market. Brad Campbell, executive director of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Western Massachusetts, says he has seen membership pull through the downturn and now start to climb back to pre-recession numbers. “About three to four years ago when the market was tough, we had about 1,150 members, and that has grown steadily to more than 1,500 today, which is the reverse of the trend other state-level homebuilding associations have seen. I attribute this positive trend to a significant effort at the local level by our six affiliate organizations,” he says.

Taking regulatory action

Campbell says at its core, HBRAMA’s purpose is to tackle regulatory issues and take action against any unnecessary rules and regulations that restrict members’ ability to do business and which have a negative effect on housing affordability.

“There are a lot of regulatory challenges we’re facing, such as the proposed installation of fire-sprinkler in one- and two-family homes, which are repeatedly proposed by special interest groups as life-safety measures, but data suggests that smoke detectors are a much more effective first line of protection,” says Campbell. “If successfully adopted, this type of measure will only add to the cost of the home without substantial benefit, and hurts the industry by driving up housing costs, and in turn, making less people able to afford homes.”

The proposed fire-sprinkler legislation that would impact one- and two-family homes was recently reported out favorably in a statehouse committee meeting. “We’re going to be working to take action to stop this proposal from becoming law,” says Campbell. “We’re strongly behind the notion that properly working smoke detectors are the real life savers; but sprinklers are designed to protect property and the insurance industry.”

Campbell adds that Massachusetts is making a big push in the energy front, with the goal of making all newly constructed homes Net Zero Energy by 2020. The same is proposed for commercial-zoned buildings by 2030. “While the HBRAMA has always been in favor of making homes more energy efficient, the Net Zero Energy proposal represents a sea change for the homebuilding industry, driving up the costs of housing and creating a huge problem in terms of affordability,” he explains. “Most consumers won’t be able to afford this proposed change, and the result will be more multifamily and apartment construction which can more readily be adapted to such measures.”

Massachusetts has a new building code in the works, including new energy requirements. “If these code amendments are enacted, all newly constructed homes will need to have a 600-square-foot roof deck for solar panels,” reveals Campbell. “This is great if you want solar panels, but it just adds yet another incremental cost to housing construction, and in turn, makes housing less affordable. The so-called energy consultants advocating for these changes are not factoring in the costs of new electrical components, such as a dedicated solar electrical line. The consumer is going to have to pay for all of this upfront, whether they want it or not.”

Addressing affordability

Another proposal in the new energy code is a mandate that every garage, two-car or greater must be retrofitted with an electrical vehicle plug-in to service electric or hybrid vehicles. “Energy advocates suggest the incremental cost is only $75 for the hardware for the charging station circuit, but that position fails to account for the fact that the electrical panel that will intoned to be installed in the basement represents an additional cost of between $1,500 to $2,000 or more,” notes Campbell. “This notion of energy efficiency at any cost further increases the affordability gap between relatively stagnant wages and increasing housing construction costs.”

Campbell says many of the new rules and regulations have extended beyond consumer life safety and just don’t make financial sense for the typical homeowner. “We’re all for offering these various options to the prospective homebuyer if they want them. It’s great if they want solar panels or charging stations, but there is no place for a mandate for these options which many homebuyers neither want or need —  especially in Massachusetts which has the distinction of being one of the most expensive states to own a home in already,” he says.

HBRAMA has seen affordability as an issue in an increasingly expensive Massachusetts real estate market for many years. “About 10 years ago, before the downturn hit, we developed a plan to boost new starter home construction for the middle market with some suggested initiatives,” says Campbell. “This plan sat idly through the last state governor’s administration, and now the new governor and lieutenant governor immediately recognized the value of the plan, and included this starter home initiative as a key component of their pending economic development legislation. We saw the need to build the starter home inventory and tried to get the affordability issue recognized early on. Though some feel it might be too little too late, we believe there is still significant opportunity and value in expanding middle market opportunities.”

Campbell says it’s not any single change, new regulation or rule, but rather a cumulative effect of many different rules and regulations that have a significant impact on housing affordability. “Consumers need to be able to buy new homes — we’re becoming a state where only the wealthy can afford housing and that’s not where we want or need to be if we want to attract new industries, or maintain growing industries, all of whom have employees that need housing at all income levels,” he says.

Accessible continuing education

Continuing education is a major focal point in HBRAMA’s mission because Massachusetts is one of the only New England states with continuing education requirements for builders and remodelers. “We pushed for this legislation about 10 years ago because we believe very strongly that builders and remodelers need to upgrade their skill sets in order to keep up with the latest industry and code trends and be effective in the marketplace long term,” says Campbell. “Of course, there was some pushback on this proposal, because it takes time, energy and money for builders to keep up with the latest building requirements, but the legislation was enacted which validates the desire of licensed contractors to doing things the right way.”

Today, Campbell says HBRAMA gets very little pushback on this issue of continuing education, and most builders that come through association programming, or outside training programs, really feel as though they are acquiring important skill sets and view the program in a positive light.

Campbell places the importance of this ongoing training into perspective. “We build the most expensive thing a consumer will every buy, and it’s a life changing decision for them,” he says. “As a trade association, we want to ensure from a safety and quality standpoint that our builders are leaders in the industry and our homebuyers deserve nothing less.”

In Massachusetts, a licensed construction supervisor must participate in a certain number of continuing education hours every two years, the level of which is based upon the following categories: unrestricted construction supervisors license (12 hours); restricted construction supervisors license (10 hours); specialty construction supervisors license (e.g., anyone in masonry, roofing, windows/siding, demolition or insulation trades)(six hours).

To make continuing education more accessible, HBRAMA is working on an online portal, which offers college-level courses. “The program we’re developing is in Western Massachusetts, but we will extend access to this program on a statewide basis to all members through the HBRAMA’s six local association chapters. In fact, any builder with a Massachusetts license can access the portal for high-quality education,” says Campbell. “Our goal is to provide these kinds of educational opportunities to builders, which in turn, are really going to help them.”

After working with members to maintain certifications, HBRAMA helps to link members with consumers and potential customers. The ‘For Consumers’ tab on the HBRAMA website makes it easy for customers to search for a qualified HBRAMA contractor in just a couple of clicks. The membership directory is broken down by region and by service, to make it convenient for those buying a home, building a home, looking for energy savings, home maintenance and safety upgrades or remodeling a home.

Through these combined efforts, the HBRAMA has sought to enhance building industry standards in order to ensure quality, consistency, safety and affordability in housing for the greater good. The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Massachusetts continues to strive to improve the quality of services and products delivered by its members, which in turn, enhances the overall quality of the most important investment a consumer will ever make: their home.

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Spring 2018



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