Who is renovating during the pandemic?
During the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, some Americans are counting every penny to ensure a roof over their heads, while other homeowners are using this time to renovate their homes.
“For some, this recession, like any, is also a good time to get good deals on many desirable consumption goods and services if [they] have the money and ability to do so,” said Marcus Casey, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
As a result, some local renovating companies have not seen a decrease in clientele during the pandemic. Many high-earning workers haven’t lost their jobs due to the pandemic and thus are able to fund renovation projects, according to Casey.
Design company Cosgrove and Sons, for example, has maintained its high-earning clientele, mostly in the Greater Washington area. In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the firm postponed a few jobs, but it has since bounced back.
“I’m surprised [the house renovation market] is as buoyant as it is,” said Lisa Cosgrove, principal designer and managing partner. “This is disposable income people are spending on their homes.”
Working from home
Many workers have been fortunate to be able to work from the safety of their home during the pandemic, unlike those with essential jobs that can’t be done remotely and are often lower-paying, Casey noted. So, many with disposable income are spending the whole day in their house, noticing the aspects they want to change.
“They’re seeing the same old stained bathroom sinks and crummy kitchen cabinet,” Cosgrove said. “It makes them want to make their home more beautiful.”
Troy Slifer has been making homes beautiful for more than 30 years. He’s the owner of the 30-year-old T&L Construction Services in Reisterstown.
Slifer said his business has stayed consistent during the pandemic. “We’ve seen steady business,” said Slifer, who operates two companies. “I haven’t seen an uptick.”
Of course, his team is taking precautions against the virus. “I wear a mask at the client’s request. If our workers are outside, we don’t wear one.”
In the same way, Cregger Construction Inc., based in New Windsor, Maryland, has had to make adjustments due to the virus. Its clients in Carroll, Baltimore and Frederick counties occasionally have to put their projects on the back burner because of safety precautions.
“Everything is kind of crazy at the moment,” said Natalie Solomon, Cregger’s office manager. “Obviously with all the COVID going on, we don’t have the same procedures and protocols as we usually do…so there are some jobs we can’t do.”
No matter what project Cregger’s team tackles, workers wear gloves and masks and stay six feet apart, she said.
The company isn’t lacking for business. “We’re at a good steady pace, but we aren’t slammed,” Solomon said.
Some are being cautious
While the pandemic has made some contractors busier than ever, other companies weren’t as lucky, especially last spring. One, Case Architects and Remodelers, based in Bethesda, Maryland, experienced a decrease in business in March. “We’ve definitely slowed down,” said Samantha Klickna, director of project management. “We didn’t lose projects, but we saw a lot of projects be put on hold.”
In response, Case emphasizes the safety measures its workers and staff have implemented, including virtual meetings, face masks and protective booties, air filters and daily sanitation.
“It’s a lot of extra work, but our focus is to keep everyone safe,” Klickna said. “Our clients have been very appreciative.”
Partly because of these measures, many Case Design clients who originally wanted to wait decided to restart their projects in May.
“I think a lot of people have been sitting around in their homes, and they got tired of waiting and wanted to improve the space they spend time in,” Klickna said.
In fact, Klickna agrees with Casey’s analysis of recession consumers: When the economy rebounds, renovation costs will likely rise.
“With the climate of everything going on, the price increases are headed our way,” she said. “Now’s a really good time to get this done.”
Of course, no one knows when the economy will bounce back or when social-distancing guidelines won’t be necessary. The one consensus: “We’re probably going to be in this situation for longer than we thought,” Klickna said.
Margaret Foster contributed to this story.