The past two years have been tough for most sectors of the economy, and home renovations are no exception, plagued by material shortages and soaring costs. But customer demand has certainly been a positive story, as people suddenly spending more time at home have found plenty of reasons to call a contractor. Now, however, with inflation not receding and the economy still on the move, the question is whether those phones will continue to ring with such regularity.
By Mark Morris
Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic and a sudden shift to remote working caused people across the country to return home, and they didn’t always like what they saw. So instead of spending money on vacations or luxuries, many people have chosen to tackle long-ignored projects around the house. It was a good year for the home improvement industry.
“Because so many people were working from home, they decided to tackle the problems instead of continuing to push them away,” said Ger Ronan, president of Yankee Home Improvement in Chicopee. “The pandemic has definitely changed people’s shopping habits.”
The problem today is that these patterns have continued and in some cases clients have had to wait for their contractor to start catching up on all the work they had scheduled – while professionals are still facing price hikes and material shortages caused by global sourcing – chain issues.
“Because so many people were working from home, they decided to tackle the problems instead of continuing to push them away. The pandemic has definitely changed people’s shopping habits.
Siervo Jimenez, owner of ProBuilders Home Improvement (ProBHI) in Springfield, said some of his current customers first called when the pandemic began. “We are still finishing the projects we received from that time.”
As area contractors told BusinessWest, project owners have been asking about the full range, from flooring and bathrooms to entire additions. “People have told us that the housing market is so expensive right now, that they want to expand their house instead of buying a new one,” Jimenez said.
At the start of the pandemic, there was a time when people were nervous about having outside workers in their homes. Jake Levine, design partner at Advanced Rug and Flooring Center, said this phenomenon drove down orders for a while in 2020 — but it didn’t last long.
“We’ve come full circle and now the phone won’t stop ringing,” he said, noting that the most popular floor coverings these days are luxury vinyl planks (LVP), which are interlock and look like hardwood floors.
Over the past two years, weather has taken its toll in Western Massachusetts as the amount of rain has increased each year. Fixing drainage issues for homeowners has been a big part of Kyle Rosa’s recent business. Rosa is the owner of Infinity Construction Corp., which manages the development of commercial and residential sites.
“People who had been living in the same house for 20 to 30 years suddenly discovered leaks in the basement and cracked concrete walls due to dampness,” he said. “That’s the number one problem we help people solve.”
The most popular home improvement project for Ronan is getting rid of his bathtub for a dedicated shower installation. While this has been a strong trend for retired and older owners, Ronan said they aren’t his only customers.
“I’ve seen people make more practical choices. We see projects where the focus is less on beauty and more on practicality. »
“Our younger clients are doing shower conversions because they’re just not using their tub,” he explained. “For many people, the idea of sitting and lounging in a bath just isn’t as popular as it once was.”
Ronan was able to circumvent some of the supply chain issues, as his production manager had anticipated there might be shortages last year and ordered a considerable amount of tub and shower materials to have under the hand to the warehouse.
“While most people had to wait three to six months for a shower conversion, we could do the job in a week,” he said. “We were able to circumvent many supply chain issues because we had materials in stock.”
Sometimes a simple home renovation can change someone’s life. When the child of one of Yankee Home Improvement’s construction managers suffered a crippling accident, the old shower and tub installed in his home was no longer feasible. Even before Ronan could offer, his crews came to him with a plan to help the family.
“In their spare time, our teams have sprung into action and converted the bathroom to make it easier for the child to shower,” he said. “I encouraged them to take all the gear they needed, and in no time they got rid of the tub and installed a wheelchair-friendly shower setup.”
Like many contractors, Ronan admits that finding replacement windows has been difficult. He will only work with suppliers who can guarantee they have stock, and that is what he offers to customers.
“I will only market products that I can get,” he said. “If there’s a long waiting list for a product, I won’t offer it because I don’t want to inflict that on the owner.”
Jimenez uses a similar strategy of sourcing when items are available. When prices dropped a while ago on electrical outlet boxes used for outlets and switches, he bought them in bulk.
“These are hard to come by now, and when you can, they cost two or three times more than before,” he said, adding that every cost saving makes a difference when calling d offers for new works. “If you have to keep increasing your estimates from project to project, you risk losing jobs because your prices are too high.”
Unsurprisingly, hardwood floors got a lot more expensive when wood prices went up everywhere. While supply of the popular LVP flooring has remained steady, so have price increases, with manufacturers raising prices by 20-30% over the past year.
“As a result, traditional laminate flooring is making a comeback,” Levine said. “It has remained affordable as an option that hasn’t gone up 30%.” Laminate floors are known for their durability, but are prone to water damage, making them a poor choice in kitchens and bathrooms.
Ceramic flooring is a product in short supply. Levine said consumers who want durable flooring face limited choices. “A lot of these companies are still operating at half capacity, so they’re churning out their most popular picks, and that’s it.”
Rising inflation over everything in the economy is causing customers to change their attitude when they sign up for a home improvement.
“I’ve seen people make more practical choices,” Ronan said. “We see projects where the focus is less on beauty and more on practicality.”
“These days. I definitely see more people who are careful about spending their money.
Rosa noted that her customers have stopped asking for add-ons. “Back when people were getting stimulus checks, they wanted aesthetic projects like retaining walls, and they often asked for an additional project like hydroseeding their lawn. Now that the going gets tough, a lot of people are pulling out the extras, and I understand.
Levine believes there are two types of customers, those who watch what they spend and those who get what they want, no matter the cost.
“These days,” he said, “I definitely see more people who are careful about spending their money.”
Up and down
Jimenez and his teams continue to take care of the projects of their current clients, but lately his phone has been ringing less. “I’ve seen a decrease in calls from new customers,” he noted.
While he expects the business side of his business to stay busy, Rosa predicts high prices will cause residential construction to slow as consumers delay home renovations such as regrading their yards.
Sometimes, however, when one side of the business goes down, the other goes up. Rosa may be working less on older homes, but he’s planning new homes “like they’re going out of style” and doesn’t see that trend slowing down anytime soon. He believes that high established home prices make new construction more desirable.
“New homes sell before they even hit the market,” he said. “In fact, people are bidding to buy the houses we’re building while we’re still on the job.
Overall, even in this rocky business environment in many sectors of the economy, home improvement contractors remain busy and always on the lookout for what will generate new business.
“We follow market trends,” Ronan said — although they can change unexpectedly.