These are boom times for the builders. Just try and find a contractor to work on your house. They’ll slot you in — maybe late summer of 2022 if you’re lucky.
So, with the construction industry services in hot demand, perhaps it’s not surprising that two of the Upper Valley’s premier building and design firms announced an ownership change and major acquisition within a couple weeks of each other.
Trumbull-Nelson Construction Co., the 104-year-old legacy firm that has raised many of the landmark buildings in the Upper Valley, has been acquired by the company’s longtime No. 2 and No. 3, Tony Instasi and Christian Ufford.
And WHS Homes Inc., the Claremont-based company to emerge out of the combination of prefab homebuilders Real Log Homes and Timberpeg, has bought Jamaica Cottage Shop, a South Londonderry, Vt., company that specializes in manufacturing tiny homes, cabins and storage buildings.
From home renovation to homebuilding, adding a room to putting up a barn, the pandemic economy has been good for construction.
“The last 18 months we have seen a huge increase in the Upper Valley, people moving away from the city and up here,” Instasi said. “We’re booked three quarters into 2022.”
Instasi’s remarks about demand for building services — Trumbull-Nelson is currently building Ed Kerrigan’s 26-unit apartment complex on the former Blodgett’s Sash & Door site on Mechanic Street in Lebanon as well as several $1 million-plus homes in Orford, Pomfret and Barnard — echoes the frenzy for Upper Valley real estate and mania over homes prices.
Instasi and Ufford’s acquisition of Trumbull-Nelson came through an inside track: They purchased the company from Christian’s father, Larry Ufford, who ran Trumbull-Nelson for decades and is now retired. Instasi and Christian Ufford, however, in effect have been running the company for the past couple years and oversaw its recent relocation from its longtime home in Hanover on Route 120 to West Lebanon.
Still, Trumbull-Nelson has evolved and is a much smaller company than it was in its heyday of the 1960s when it had 500 employees and staffed for every step of building, from excavation to painting. Today, the company has about 40 employees.
“So much of what we once did in-house is done by subcontractors now,” said Ufford, who said the company handles about 10 “large” projects a year.
But workers’ pay is good — and getting better: Laborers start out at $18 per hour; carpenters, depending upon experience, earn between $25 to $35; and supervisors can earn $75,000 to $100,000.
“If someone wants to get into the trades, now’s the time to do it ,” Ufford urged. “Most of our supervisors started out as laborers.”
When Bill Silverstein purchased manufactured homebuilders Real Log Homes and Timberpeg in 2011, the country and region were still in the wake of the mortgage crisis and recession of 2007 to 2009, with homebuilding in the trough and real estate values pushed down to where they had been a decade earlier.
Now, a decade later, the home sales and building markets have rebounded, and today Silverstein sells about 100 manufactured homes a year — he added a third brand called American Post & Beam in 2012. The pieces of the homes are designed and made in Claremont, and then put in trucks and shipped to locations around the country, where they are assembled by local contractors.
Silverstein’s homes, all now under the WHS Homes banner, are not cheap: they can cost $1 million or more, from purchase through building.
The pandemic, Silverstein said, increased the desire of people to relocate to rural areas and, thanks to the ability to work remotely, demand for his company’s distinctive country-style homes.
There has also been a concurrent rise in the demand for more modest dwellings, such as cabins and “tiny homes” and “auxiliary” structures like sheds and storage units, which are all the specialty of Jamaica Cottage Shop. Founded in 1995 by Domenic Mangano, the company sells nearly 2,000 buildings a year that are delivered fully assembled or can be built from DIY kits.
“This is really a new space for us,” Silverstein said. “We’re used to building million-dollar homes, but Jamaica Cottage opens up a new range of options.”
Besides, apart from the price range, Silverstein said Jamaica Cottage is really no different from WHS Home’s core business.
“At the end of the day we build things out of wood,” he said.
Contact John Lippman at email@example.com.
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