There is no shortage of issues concerning home improvement leaders these days, according to Michael O’Brien, president and CEO of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA).
But housing trumps all of them. “Housing has always been first into recession and has always led the economy out of recession,” O’Brien said. “Until this is dealt with, the economy will suffer.”
As the Obama administration prepares for the Jan. 20 inauguration, the NLBMDA is in the final stages of crafting its 2009 government agenda, which will be the most comprehensive in organization history and will encompass housing, energy, transportation, product delivery and other issues. “We will be specific but broad as well,” O’Brien said, adding, “A lot of people in Washington expect November and December to be quiet around here, but it certainly hasn’t been that way for us.”
While housing may be the biggest issue facing the home improvement industry, it is not the only one on the radar. Here is a snapshot of other pertinent issues that could affect the industry in 2009 and beyond.
The NLBMDA said it plans in 2009 to reintroduce the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 989), which provides product liability protection for product sellers. The NLBMDA claims that unfounded and unfair lawsuits are increasingly having a negative impact on the ability of lumber and building material dealers to run their business. A winter 2005 survey of NLBMDA members found that more than 1 in 4 has been the subject of product liability lawsuits within the past five years; 65 percent of those have been involved in more than one. The high costs of defending such lawsuits ($50,000 to $100,000, according to the Small Business Administration) typically force building material dealers to settle, regardless of the merits of the case. “We don’t think it is fair to hold someone liable who had nothing to do with the manufacturing of the product,” O’Brien said.
Other issues of concern for building material dealers include health care, immigration reform, affordable energy/green initiatives and transportation. But heading that list is housing.
“Anything that is going to stimulate the housing economy is going to be a top priority,” O’Brien said. “There’s definitely going to be various forms of stimulus packages that will come forward in January, and what we are encouraging is to educate members of Congress about the need of the housing stimulus proposal.”
NLBMDA is also urging Congress to stimulate the economy by extending the so-called Section 179 bill for another year. Section 179 allows small businesses to deduct from income as much as $112,000 for one year through 2010 and increases the maximum deduction to $125,000, indexed for inflation after 2010. Moreover, the NLBMDA is asking Congress to extend net operating loss carry-back provisions from two years to five to allow building material dealers to discount current losses against past profits.
O’Brien said that while it is great that industry groups want to help the people who are losing their homes, the housing issue is more expansive than that. “We need to look at the broader picture,” he said.