HUNTER-founded home builder McDonald Jones has just entered the South Australian home market on its ambitious path to being a national operator.
But its Maitland-raised, Newcastle-based chief executive Andrew Helmers doesn't mince words about his fears of the impact of Covid-19 on his industry.
"I expect that in 18 months' time, construction will be operating at 60 per cent of today's level," he says.
"Governments have acted sensibly and swiftly, I understand they need to get the spread of the virus under control, and the faster that happens we can get back to normal in life and business.
"I am concerned how long it is going to go for. We are all going to feel the pain from this thing, the billions being spent on stimulus which needs to be done but must be repaid, taxes will go up, businesses will fold, livelihoods will be lost, it will be worse than the Global Financial Crisis."
The largest builder in NSW and fourth biggest nationally, McDonald Jones builds in every state but Victoria and West Australia. It just bought Adelaide's Weeks Building Group (WBG) and aims to double is business in SA within a year. In 2017, it allowed Japanese homebuilder Asahi Kaseri to acquire a 40 per cent stake.
MJH saw a bumper sales period in February before Covid-19. As jobs are shed, Mr Helmers understands a new home build is not "high on the agenda" for some: "You just need a steady job, to feel confident and be able to afford it. I think we'll all be suffering economic hardship for a long time."
MJH has a "strong pipeline", but remains cautious.
"Hopefully we will be all back at work relatively quickly but we are expecting people to put a house on hold for an extended period. What percentage, we don't know," he said, adding the company offers incentives to pay the interest on customers' loans during construction.
Mr Helmers, 55, who quit university before starting at MJH in 1993, remains passionate about his job.
"We get the privilege of building homes for people, handing over the keys at the end of the day, there's no better job," he said.