Steve Hewins clearly remembers the February 2021 meeting with contractors to build his retirement dream home overlooking Rangeley Lake.
Huddled behind a pickup truck in a McDonald’s parking lot, they reviewed plans for the 2,580-square-foot log cabin. It signaled the start of the project, and Hewins and his wife, Kathy, were excited as they entered a new phase of their lives.
By early April, good weather allowed the foundation to be dug, with the house expected to be up by the end of September. But a shortage of cement halted the project for a month. More supply disruptions, workers out sick with COVID-19 and other hiccups delayed the completion by another six months.
It is an example of a scenario playing out across Maine’s hot real estate market. Contractors are booking out jobs up to a year or more, delaying work on all types of homes and other projects, even for well-connected people with the best-laid plans and the means to pay.
“Everybody has been so straight out that there’s not enough people available to build the homes here,” said Steve Hewins, who had plenty of planning experience in his former job as CEO of the restaurant and lodging industry group HospitalityMaine, from which he retired in February.
A delay on one part of the project rippled down to others. Extra costs mounted, including when they had to find places to live in April after selling their Falmouth home in one day on the market for 20 percent over the asking price. Starting in their daughter’s basement in what they thought was a temporary move, they ended up living in 22 different places.
The Hewins would have preferred to find a cabin to fix up, but none were for sale in the tight market. Rangeley is one of the boom towns here that drew out-of-staters seeking safety early in the COVID-19 pandemic and Mainers including the Hewins.
Their interest in the area was not new, however. Kathy Hewins’ family had been camping there since she was a child. She was eager to retire in the Franklin County town of just over 1,200 residents that is known for its beauty and four-season outdoor activities.
Rangeley Lake from the inside of Steve and Kathy Hewins’ new cabin. The view is part of the reason they moved there and endured many building delays; The Hewinses in the kitchen area of Steve and Kathy Hewins in the kitchen area of their still-unfinished retirement cabin. Credit: Courtesy of Steve Hewins
Hewins was lucky to hire a building and contractor team and lock in a price for the logs by the end of 2020. Builder Cecil Phillips, who has put up 200 homes over the last 38 years in Maine, said he is so booked now that he cannot take any more business until spring 2023. Pandemic sick days and waiting for appliances and materials have also caused delays.
“I turned down 15 houses in the last year,” said Phillips, who owns Phillips Construction in Phillips. “It’s hard to find any help whatsoever. I went through six guys last week who worked but didn’t last.”
When the cement truck finally arrived, it could not get up the Hewins’ steep driveway. They needed to hire a special truck with a 100-foot cantilever that could pump the cement up the hill and pour it into the foundation, which was an unexpected added expense.
Logs for the Hewins cabin in Rangeley arrived wrapped up until they were ready for assembly; A pump truck lifts cement to pour into the log cabin home’s foundation. The Hewins’ driveway was too steep for the cement truck to drive up it, so they had to wait to hire a pump truck to do the task. Credit: Courtesy of Steve Hewins
The biggest and most costly delay came in July, when they discovered the cabin company had not ordered the windows. It caused a two-month delay during prime building season. When the windows showed up in the fall, four were missing and had to be picked up in Massachusetts.
“It was an unfortunate error that they slipped through the cracks,” said Kathy Hewins, a retired caregiver.
Because of the steep hill, the Hewins had to add another cement wall to support the porch, which had to be built before the roof was attached. Fall turned into winter and the delayed roof was covered with ice shield paper and only part of the metal roof could be attached. It was too late to stain the house before winter. That meant more money to strip, clean and stain it in the spring.
The changes caused Steve Hewins many sleepless nights. With delays, different materials and plan changes along the way, Steve Hewins figured the couple will top their $500,000 budget by about 20 percent.
“I would caution people that building is a very stressful thing,” he said. “You fret about everything.”
After two months in their daughter’s basement, they went to a friend’s condominium at Sugarloaf and then stayed with friends in Vermont, his parents on Cape Cod, the Rangeley Inn and finally a 120-year-old log cabin at the Saddleback Lake Lodge, where overnight temperatures dropped to minus 26 degrees.
Most recently, a box truck delivering appliances could not get up their driveway and had to be towed by a tractor. They are now waiting until mid-April to try to move in their furniture.
But they finally moved into the unfinished cabin on March 18 with two beach chairs and a borrowed inflatable bed. Some inside trim work and a staircase need to be finished. Most of the remaining work is outside, including completing the metal roof, exterior staining and laying down crushed shale on the driveway.
Looking back, he said they could have stayed longer in Falmouth and delayed one year, but they were making major life changes and the timing was right to build the cabin.
“My favorite thing at the end of the day is relaxing and watching the sun cross the sky,” Steve Hewins said. “And at 150 feet above Rangeley Lake, we can see eagles roosting in the trees nearby.”