People Can’t Find Homes So They’re Building New

Builders are having a hard time keeping up with increased demand.


With resale homes in short supply, new construction offers an attractive option. 

But coming off a surprisingly lively year, the local home-building industry is confronting obstacles, including potentially daunting supply chain disruptions related to the pandemic, in the scramble to meet the pressing demand for single-family homes.

Key factors, such as low interest rates, have sparked the home-building market, particularly in suburban areas far from Downtown Milwaukee.

“But builders are running out of space to develop,” Metropolitan Builders Association of Greater Milwaukee Executive Director Kathy Raab explains.



The pandemic has changed the way people view their homes, Raab says.

“It’s no longer just a place to rest your head at night,” she says. “It’s where you work and where you are all day long. That has driven the market for existing home sales as well as new home construction.”

This has many home builders scrambling to find land. “Any piece of vacant farmland that developers can put their hands on, if it’s in a relatively decent location, they are grabbing it and turning it into residential subdivisions. I’m as guilty as anybody,” says developer Bill Zach, of Zach Building Co., a Pewaukee custom home builder. “I’m developing a large piece myself out in Oconomowoc. Much of what you are seeing is because of COVID. If I don’t have to go to Downtown Milwaukee to go to work, then I’m going to build a nice place out here and work from home.”

Zach has been busy building homes in suburban areas well west of Milwaukee. “Housing starts aren’t what they were in 2004, but I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again,” Zach says. “But housing starts are in a halfway decent spot right now.”

Builders’ optimism in the market is tempered by rising land costs and their ability to meet the demand. Lead times have grown longer and simply having access to certain products and building materials has created challenges.

“Garage doors right now are five months out,” Zach says. “I almost have to order that garage door when I break ground on a home if I want it to show up on time. Aluminum gutters, too. You can’t get them.”

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s March issue.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.