The NWFA Wood Flooring Expo will take place July 7-9, 2021 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. The opening session and reception will include an industry update, NWFA Wood Floor of the Year highlights, and networking opportunities. Attendees will also hear from Chuck Fowke, 2021 chairman of the National Association of Home Builders.
Fowke is a custom home builder with 40 years of industry experience. As founder and president of Homes by John C. Fowke Inc., he has built hundreds of luxury homes throughout the Tampa Bay area and was inducted into the Florida Home Builders Association Hall of Fame in 2019. He is actively involved in his community, including completing a project for the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program.
Hardwood Floors caught up with Fowke to ask about his experiences in the home building industry and what Expo attendees will hear from him during the opening session.
How did you get started in the home building industry?
When I was in high school, they taught all kinds of different trades. The mechanical drawing classes I took then gave me a passion for drawing and designing. I had a brief professional baseball career (for the Texas Rangers) and when I left baseball, I had to go get a “real” job. I interviewed to do drawing and designing for Art Andrews’ civil engineering firm. At the time, he was not ready to hire, but he did introduce me to Charles Lamont, a long-time builder who was slowing down his business and I went to work for him. He was looking for a young person who could assist him in some of the daily activities. This ended up being a great way for me to learn about the home building industry.
What is one of your most memorable home projects?
I’ve built well over 200 custom homes, and I don’t think I’ve ever repeated the same home twice. There is a story behind every home – something interesting, funny, or exciting that happened. The most memorable thing throughout my career has been the interaction with the people. Most of the people I’ve built homes for have become friends. I built homes for people who promoted concerts, and I got to go backstage with Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, and Diana Ross. I’ve built homes for professional baseball players, all kinds of successful people, and wonderful families.
Tell us why being actively involved in the community is so important to you.
You should always give back to your community. You learn when you start out in business that your community offers you so many opportunities. As time goes on, you have the chance to do things for people that need help. I got to be friends with Dick Vitale in his endeavors for children and pediatric cancer. It’s an honor and pleasure to be able to do those things. There are so many wonderful things the Tampa community does for people in need, and I enjoy being a part of that.
Why is participating in an association beneficial to those who work in the trades?
I could never imagine anyone in the home building industry not being a part of NAHB. In the home building industry, we are continuing every day to battle regulations, rules, zoning, building permits, licensing, and everything that is related to home building. When I first joined, I had submitted for a building permit and I went to pick up the permit and usually the fee was $150, and that day it was around $1,500 to $2,000. I assumed it was a mistake because I was only getting one permit, but they said the impact fees were included. I was told to join the Tampa Bay Builders Association because they would keep me apprised on things like that. You are given a heads up about what’s coming down the pipeline for your industry, as well as education, and networking.
In what ways does the NAHB have an impact on the hardwood flooring industry?
We are out there fighting for homebuilding and housing affordability. As chairman of the board, I’ve had discussions with members of Congress and cabinet members. We are fighting for housing and all types of regulations that we deal with. The residual of that comes back to wood flooring. Home building and the hardwood floor industry really work in tandem. NAHB’s members build approximately 80 percent of the housing built every year in the U.S. many of those homes include finishes like hardwood floors. In fact, in the 2020 NAHB Survey, What Home Buyers Really Want, hardwood floors were in the top features that home buyers want – both first time home buyers and repeat buyers alike.
In addition, NAHB and the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) have worked together in the past to share information and resources to promote proper flooring installation standards and best practices. In 2015, as part of this collaboration, NWFA made its Wood Flooring Installation Guidelines available to NAHB members at no cost. Everything that we do has an effect on your industry and NWFA. We are out front and we’re fighting for anyone that provides materials and labor to new homes and remodeling.
What are some of the ways NAHB is seeking solutions for lumber prices and shortages?
I have met with many people in Congress; I met with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge, the chief of staff for Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. We are trying to help them understand how these lumber prices can very quickly bring the economy to a standstill. When COVID started, we were deemed an essential industry, and the home building industry was able to bring the economy back to prosperity. A lot of people believed the pandemic would hurt housing, but just the opposite happened.
That said, lumber prices are up over 250-300 percent from a year ago. And unfortunately, for every $1,000 increase in price for a home, it displaces 154,000 families from having the opportunity to own a home.
There’s a tremendous demand right now, but we’re seeing where builders are not starting houses. They’re waiting until lumber prices come back to somewhat normal. If you look at old housing stock/resell houses, a healthy market is a six-month supply. Right now, there is less than a two-month supply. Prices are going to skyrocket and this cools the economy. When housing stops, everything else stops.
Finally, what can NWFA Wood Flooring Expo attendees expect to learn from you during the opening session?
I’ll share what’s going on with lumber prices because that has a tremendous impact on your industry. The info I share will help them better understand how to navigate their businesses over the next six to 12 months. The home building industry and the wood flooring industry are very intimately connected and rising tides raise all ships. We are all in this together and I’m hoping that I will be able to share some things that are interesting and be of some help to your members.