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This past year has been a lot. But in the midst of COVID-related challenges and a red-hot housing market, you worked with your agent to write the best offer in a crowded field and were able to get a house under contract at last. You’re finally starting to exhale with many of the hurdles behind you.
But now, the seller is asking to take certain appliances with them. Is that small-seeming thing really an issue that stands to tank your deal?
Normally, no — more likely, it would barely register among high priorities. But these are unusual times all around. And low inventory isn’t just an issue when it comes to available homes these days, but to home appliances as well. There’s just less stock ready to ship, it takes longer to get it, and what you can get your hands on will likely cost you more.
So now more than ever, you’ll want to try to get those essentials included in your home purchase if possible. And if you can’t, then knowing your options and creating a strategy for getting the major appliances you need is your next-best move.
For guidance, here’s an expert-backed deep dive into the reasons for the home appliance shortage and what it means for homebuyers.
What’s causing the home appliance shortage?
A National Association of Home Builders survey polling single-family homebuilders in February found that nearly 90% had experienced difficulty securing appliances — 51% to a major extent, and 38% to a minor extent. Let’s go through the reasons why it’s happening.
Demand is up
First, there’s more demand for home appliances right now. The real estate market is ultra-hot, and home sales have been high, driving up the demand for appliances.
“Architecture companies are reporting twice the demand they had before the pandemic, and we’re seeing unprecedented approvals for licenses for new home construction,” explains Thomas Jepsen, CEO of the residential house planning company Passion Plans. “This unusual demand is vastly pushing up the consumption of home appliances, as well as their prices.”
Even homeowners staying put have been remodeling in large numbers, further contributing to a major drain on inventory.
Heavier pandemic use wears appliances out faster
Beyond that, COVID forced more people to work from home, do their schooling at home, work out at home… and generally spend way more time at home than would otherwise be typical.
That much more time at home means more wear and tear on the house itself, and appliances under greater usage demands are simply wearing out faster. (Remember all that sourdough bread in your Instagram feed? The nation’s ovens were working overtime behind the scenes!)
Local markets are starting to feel the pinch
“The trend toward new appliance shortages national and international news has covered is starting to manifest in my local markets,” explains Paul Berry, owner of Mr. Appliance of San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
“Last week, a homebuilder in my neighborhood told me that finishing their construction was being held up because the appliances needed were so backlogged.”
He says his team is “busier than ever,” addressing a huge increase in calls for “the whole gambit of appliances [that are] working overtime with so many people spending more time at home due to COVID-19 closures.”
A supply miscalculation
To make a perfect storm even more acute, then there are the shortages on the supply side.
Whether you’re operating a car, a PlayStation 5, a washing machine, or a smart refrigerator, you need microchips to power your technology. But there are not enough microchips to go around right now. (You aren’t imagining things: the wait for that specific gaming system really is worse than others.)
The shortfall, which began in December, happened in part because manufacturers thought that demand for microchips would fall in a pandemic-driven economic depression, and they initially scaled back production accordingly. Instead, we know now that demand skyrocketed — and so did consumer spending on electronics.
Pandemic production challenges
Another factor: COVID ran rampant through factories last year, straining or altogether stalling production.
“Smart appliances have been the standard for several years now,” explains Gadget Review CEO Rex Freiberger. “Without the processing power, the crucial functions of these appliances just don’t work.”
Compounding the problem, microchips aren’t the only material that’s required to make these products but is in short supply right now: Stainless steel and other raw materials are both sparse and expensive under current market conditions.
Another issue that can affect appliance delivery and installation is a labor shortage, explains James Strum, a Richmond-based agent who works with 86% more single-family homes and sells properties 16% faster than the average agent in the Richmond, Virginia area.
“The problem that we’re running into is that the tradespeople don’t show up — they’re overworked and they’re missing deadlines,” he says.
“The trades are just so backed up because of the volume of work out there, and they can be a lot more selective in the jobs they want right now. It’s not necessarily the goods, but it’s the labor.”
So what should you do about the appliance shortage as a buyer?
Whereas appliances might once have been an afterthought as part of a new home purchase, now is a time to be proactive and think strategically.
Freezers and fridges are in the highest demand right now — and you’re unlikely to want to live without one for even a day — so prioritize securing those first if you can. Request that the sellers leave as many appliances in the home as possible.
Some good news: This is highly common practice, anyway.
“It’s very typical for the appliances to stay,” Strum says. “If a seller has just bought a brand new washer and dryer, and they’re very partial to it, that might be a bit of a different story — but generally in our market, the kitchen appliances usually stay every time.”
Plus, he says, in such a hot market, the appliances might just not mean that much to a seller in the bigger picture — so they’ll be happy enough to just let them go.
“Most of the offers are having to go well over the asking price, waiving contingencies, so the sellers are getting 5, 6, 7, 8 or even 10% over the asking price — they have a strong deal and couldn’t care less about the appliances at that point,” he says.
If you can’t get appliances in the deal with your new home, plan to take your own appliances with you if that’s possible. (Even if they’re dated or you don’t love them, they’ll help you bridge the gap until you can secure new ones.)
Repair, don’t replace
Whether you’re getting the appliances with your new home or bringing them with you, plan to keep them around longer than you might have otherwise while inventory issues sort out: If you can repair a problem with an aging or malfunctioning appliance, do that first rather than try to replace it right away.
And many people are following the same advice: The total number of repairs completed on ovens during March 2021 was up by more than 66% from the total completed during the same month of the previous year. That’s 57%, 30%, and 33% for stove ranges, refrigerators, and washing machines, respectively, according to Mr. Appliance.
“I’ve heard customer anecdotes of trying to buy a new refrigerator, or washing machine, and being told it will not be available for delivery for six to eight weeks, or longer,” Berry says. “Families do not want to go that long without a working appliance, so they are choosing to look at repair versus replace.”
When weighing the options of going this route, consult this Mr. Appliance guide on deciding whether repairing or replacing is the most cost-effective option, based on the type and age of the appliance.
The “50% rule” is a simple rule of thumb for guidance in the presence of both options: If the cost of the appliance repair is more than half of the value of buying a new one, think about replacing it. Otherwise, opting for the repair makes sense.
Finding needles in haystacks
If you are shopping for new appliances and encountering obstacles, think creatively: Ask for floor models, which retailers might make available for sale even when (or especially when) there’s no inventory in the stock room. (And this approach might help you score a good deal, too!)
You can also try shopping for used appliances. If you’re going this route, Consumer Reports recommends buying from a used-appliance store or local repair shop instead of online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist — or even from neighborhood yard sales. You’ll likely find lower prices this way, but more importantly, you’re also likelier to get a warranty to protect your purchase.
And don’t forget to use your own friends and family as a resource: Ask if they might want to unload any appliances that they no longer need. (You might even be doing them a favor if you arrange the hauling on your end.) Do make sure you ask for the service and repair history so you have context on your hand-me-down appliance.
And while you might not be getting much for your money when you buy a pair of designer jeans, seeking a name brand can be useful in sourcing major appliances. Even if you have to pay more for a more reliable brand, you’ll likely find your investment pays off with a dependable device over the long term.
But even well-established, longstanding brands do offer models that are clunkers sometimes: Before making your purchase, do some research online on how often the model you’re eying breaks, and how easy it is to repair when that happens. Trusted consumer review sources and buying advice guides like Wirecutter and Consumer Reports are good places to start.
Home appliance shortage sound scary? Don’t panic.
All this news of a home appliance shortage may seem daunting — even downright nerve-racking — to a buyer amid so much other uncertainty. But there’s really no cause for panic, Strum says.
“There’s still availability,” Strum notes. “You can still go to a store like Home Depot and find appliances readily.”
He’s aware of some delays in the marketplace but generally finds the threat overblown, comparing it to the run on gas stations due to a regional pipeline disruption in spring 2021 that resolved quickly.
“We work with several builders, and we have seen prices go up for sure,” he says. “But I do think you’re getting a lot of fear and panic across the board.”
He recently worked on a flip requiring an order for a suite of all-new appliances — and learned he could get everything he needed right to the door in a reasonable three-and-a-half weeks.
His overall advice? Keep calm, have a strategy… and you’ll probably get the appliances with the deal, anyway.
Header Image Source: (Sidekix Media / Unsplash)