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Visualizing the Recent Explosion in Lumber Prices

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Lumber Prices Explosion

Visualizing the Recent Explosion in Lumber Prices

Lumber is an important commodity used in construction, and refers to wood that has been processed into beams or planks.

Fluctuations in its price, which is typically quoted in USD/1,000 board feet (bd ft), can significantly affect the housing industry and in turn, influence the broader U.S. economy.

To understand the impact that lumber prices can have, we’ve visualized the number of homes that can be built with $50,000 worth of lumber, one year apart.

A Story of Supply and Demand

Before discussing the infographic above, it’s important to understand the market’s current environment.

In just one year, the price of lumber has increased 377%—reaching a record high of $1,635 per 1,000 bd ft. For context, lumber has historically fluctuated between $200 to $400.

To understand what’s driving lumber prices to new heights, let’s look at two economic elements: supply and demand.

Shortened Supply

U.S. lumber supplies came under pressure in April 2017, when the Trump administration raised tariffs on Canadian lumber. Since then, lumber imports have fallen and prices have experienced significant volatility.

After a brief stint above $600 in April 2018, lumber quickly tumbled down to sub $250 levels, causing a number of sawmills to shut down. The resulting decreases in production capacity (supply) were estimated to be around 3 billion board feet.

Once COVID-19 emerged, labor shortages cut production even further, making the lumber market incredibly sensitive to demand shocks. The U.S. government has since reduced its tariffs on Canadian lumber, but these measures appear to be an example of too little, too late.

Pent-up Demand

Against expectations, COVID-19 has led to a significant boom in housing markets, greatly increasing the need for lumber.

Lockdowns in early 2020 delayed many home purchases until later in the year, while increased savings rates during the pandemic meant Americans had more cash on hand. The demand for homes was further amplified by record-low mortgage rates across the country.

Existing homeowners needed lumber too, as many Americans suddenly found themselves requiring upgrades and renovations to accommodate their new stay-at-home lifestyles.

How Many Homes Can You Build With $50K of Lumber?

To see how burgeoning lumber prices are impacting the U.S. housing market, we’ve calculated the number of single family homes that could be built with $50,000 worth of lumber. First, we established the following parameters:

  • Lumber requirements: 6.3 board feet (bd ft) per square foot (sq ft)
  • Median single family house size: 2,301 sq ft
  • Total lumber required per single family house: 14,496 bd ft

Based on these parameters, here’s how many single family homes can be built with $50,000 worth of lumber:

Date*Lumber PriceTotal Lumber PurchasedTotal Homes Built
2021-05-05$1,635 per 1,000 bd ft30,581 bd ft2.11
2020-05-04$343 per 1,000 bd ft145,773 bd ft10.05
2015-05-01$234 per 1,000 bd ft213,675 bd ft14.74
2010-05-01$270 per 1,000 bd ft185,185 bd ft12.77

*Exact matching dates were not available for past years.
Source: Insider

As lumber prices continue to set record highs, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has reported that the cost to build a single family home has increased by $36,000. Most of this cost can be passed down to the consumer, but extremely tight supplies mean homebuilders are unable to start more projects.

The Clock is Ticking

Despite their best efforts to increase output, it’s likely that sawmills across the U.S. will continue playing catch-up in 2021.

“There was a great fear among sawmills to prepare for a downturn. When home buying surged, they could not open up capacity quickly enough.”
– Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors

Analysts are now warning that lumber prices could reach a flashpoint, where affordability becomes so limited that demand suddenly falls off. This has led the NAHB to ask the Biden administration for a temporary pause on Canadian lumber tariffs, which currently sit at 9%.

U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber were first introduced in 1982, and represent one of the longest lasting trade wars between the two nations. The U.S. is currently appealing a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that states its 2017 tariff hike was a breach of global trading rules.

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Mapped: The World’s Least Affordable Housing Markets in 2024

See which housing markets are considered ‘impossibly unaffordable’ according to their median price-to-income ratio.

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The World’s Least Affordable Housing Markets in 2024

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Many cities around the world have become very expensive to buy a home in, but which ones are the absolute most unattainable?

In this graphic, we highlight a number of housing markets that are deemed to be “impossibly unaffordable” in 2024, ranked by their median price-to-income ratio.

This data comes from the Demographia International Housing Affordability Report, which is produced by the Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy.

Data and Key Takeaway

The median price-to-income ratio compares median house price to median household income within each market. A higher ratio (higher prices relative to incomes) means a city is less affordable.

See the following table for all of the data we used to create this graphic. Note that this analysis covers 94 markets across eight countries: Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

RankMetropolitan MarketCountryMedian price-to-income
ratio
1Hong Kong (SAR)🇨🇳 China16.7
2Sydney🇦🇺 Australia13.8
3Vancouver🇨🇦 Canada12.3
4San Jose🇺🇸 U.S.11.9
5Los Angeles🇺🇸 U.S.10.9
6Honolulu🇺🇸 U.S.10.5
7Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia9.8
8San Francisco🇺🇸 U.S.9.7
9Adelaide🇦🇺 Australia9.7
10San Diego🇺🇸 U.S.9.5
11Toronto🇨🇦 Canada9.3
12Auckland🇳🇿 New Zealand8.2

According to the Demographia report, cities with a median price-to-income ratio of over 9.0 are considered “impossibly unaffordable”.

We can see that the top city in this ranking, Hong Kong, has a ratio of 16.7. This means that the median price of a home is 16.7 times greater than the median income.

Which Cities are More Affordable?

On the flipside, here are the top 12 most affordable cities that were analyzed in the Demographia report.

RankMetropolitan MarketCountryMedian price-to-income
ratio
1Pittsburgh🇺🇸 U.S.3.1
2Rochester🇺🇸 U.S.3.4
2St. Louis🇺🇸 U.S.3.4
4Cleveland🇺🇸 U.S.3.5
5Edmonton🇨🇦 Canada3.6
5Buffalo🇺🇸 U.S.3.6
5Detroit🇺🇸 U.S.3.6
5Oklahoma City🇺🇸 U.S.3.6
9Cincinnati🇺🇸 U.S.3.7
9Louisville🇺🇸 U.S.3.7
11Singapore🇸🇬 Singapore3.8
12Blackpool & Lancashire🇬🇧 U.K.3.9

Cities with a median price-to-income ratio of less than 3.0 are considered “affordable”, while those between 3.1 and 4.0 are considered “moderately unaffordable”.

See More Real Estate Content From Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Ranked: The Most Valuable Housing Markets in America.

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