Robert Dietz, Ph.D. is the Chief Economist for NAHB, where he leads a team of 11 economists, whose responsibilities include forecasts of housing and economic trends, survey research, and home building industry and policy analysis. Dr. Dietz has published academic research on the private and social benefits of homeownership, federal tax expenditure estimation, and other housing topics, and he is the nation’s leading analyst of the residential construction industry.
Robert will present two programs at the 2022 NAHB International Builders’ Show® (IBS): “Residential Construction Industry & Materials Outlook” and “The 2022 Housing & Economic Outlook.”
We caught up with Robert to get a sneak peek into his programs and to get to know him better.
NAHB: Without giving too much away, what will people learn at your sessions?
ROBERT: The Housing & Economic Outlook is our annual forecast event where we present our expectations for the year ahead. The uncertainty for the housing industry is larger than usual, with rising inflation, ongoing supply-chain issues and declining housing affordability. But the housing market is hot and demand remains strong.
My favorite part of this session is the Q&A section. I think most economists enjoy facing questions—and some pushback—on their data. And attendees at this session are always sharp and engaged.
NAHB: While attending IBS, what are you looking forward to the most?
ROBERT: I enjoy walking the IBS show floor each year and talking to as many people as possible. The NAHB Economics team presents at several education sessions, and we’re also involved in the NAHB meetings. But the opportunity to walk the floor, talk to builders we meet at local associations, and talk to suppliers about what they see for our industry is something I look forward to each year.
NAHB: What advice would you give someone who’s attending the Builders’ Show for the first time?
ROBERT: Make time to attend some education sessions and be sure to talk to the speakers after their presentation. It’s amazing what you can learn at IBS.
NAHB: What’s the most interesting industry trend for 2022?
ROBERT: Since the coronavirus crisis started in the spring of 2020, the NAHB Economics team has been reporting on the changing geography of home building. In 2020, single-family home building and apartment development were growing faster in lower-density markets. However, this performance gap closed during the second half of 2021. We’ll be watching in 2022 to see if the exurbs or inner suburbs grow faster as the American workforce adapts to hybrid work models and changes in commuting.
NAHB: Where do you think industry changes will happen in the next five years?
ROBERT: Given the ongoing labor shortage, we’re going to see changes in the workforce itself and a real industry commitment to innovation, whether that be in training, off-site construction, changing geography of construction or other evolutions that will increase housing supply.
NAHB: What do you see as being the biggest challenge the industry faces now?
ROBERT: The cost and availability of building materials is the most immediate challenge. However, as supply chains heal, the availability of skilled labor will become the top challenge, particularly as the overall unemployment rate declines. And of course, the industry faces significant regulatory cost burdens, which is why membership in your local, state and NAHB builders’ association is so critical from an advocacy perspective.
GET TO KNOW OUR SPEAKERS
In this series of questions, Robert shares a bit more about himself.
What do you work toward in your personal time? I played guitar in college, but I’ve not had much time for that hobby in the last 20 years. Now I’m trying to re-learn again with my kids.
The best concert you ever attended: The Pink Floyd “Division Bell” tour in 1994. Hearing the song, “Comfortably Numb” live was amazing!
Last book you read: “The End of the Bronze Age,” by Robert Drews. It’s a detailed book examining the causes of the dark age that occurred roughly around 1200 B.C. The period that followed gave rise to the events and stories later written down in the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Old Testament.
The coolest thing you are working on right now: Every day brings something new in the world of housing economics.
If you could do another job for one day, what would it be? I fly all the time to speak at housing events across the country. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to airline pilots over the past few years and would love to learn to fly a plane.
In your refrigerator right now? Not a lot! I just returned from a week-long trip to two local HBAs and need to stock up.
If you could visit anywhere in the world you’ve never been to, where would you go? I like reading about ancient history. I think you can learn a lot from what prior civilizations and institutions faced. So, I would like to visit the Forum in Rome. My wife and I were set to go in 2020, but then that did not happen.
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see? The signing of the Declaration of Independence. The establishment of the United States of America was arguably the most important historical event since the Renaissance. 1776 saw both the birth of the United States and Adam Smith’s publication, “The Wealth of Nations,” which gave rise to the field of economics.
Your favorite football team: The Ohio State University
If you had to work but didn’t need the money, what would you do? Write history books
Random industry fact: The share of off-site construction (modular, panelized) was twice today’s rate of 3% in the late 1990s. There’s room for growth.
NAHB: In three words or less, what’s your prediction for the building industry in 2022? Expansion, but slower.
Robert’s sessions occur on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 8 and 9. Plan to join us in person at IBS 2022, February 8–10 in Orlando, where you can take advantage of top-notch IBS education. Learn more at BuildersShow.com.