Home Posts tagged Contractors
Home Improvement Special Coverage

Space Race

Infinity Construction Corp.

Infinity Construction Corp. has stayed busy with excavation and site-preparation work.

The past two years have been challenging for most sectors of the economy, and home improvement is no exception, beset as it has been with material shortages and soaring costs. But customer demand has certainly been a positive story, as people suddenly spending more time in their homes found plenty of reasons to call a contractor. Now, however, with inflation not receding and the economy still in flux, 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 work drove people across the country into their homes, and they didn’t always like what they saw. So, instead of spending money on vacations or luxury items, many people chose to address 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 problems instead of continuing to put them off,” said Ger Ronan, president of Yankee Home Improvement in Chicopee. “The pandemic definitely changed people’s buying patterns.”

The problem today is that those patterns have continued, and in some cases, customers have had to wait for their contractor to start catching up on all the work they scheduled — while professionals are still dealing with price hikes and material shortages caused by global supply-chain issues.

“Because so many people were working from home, they decided to tackle problems instead of continuing to put them off. The pandemic definitely changed people’s buying patterns.”

Siervo Jimenez, owner of ProBuilders Home Improvement (ProBHI) in Springfield, said some of his current customers first called when the pandemic started. “We’re still finishing the projects we received from that time.”

As area contractors told BusinessWest, the projects homeowners have been asking about run the gamut from flooring and bathrooms to whole additions. “People have told us the housing market is so expensive right now, they want to make their house bigger instead of buying a new one,” Jimenez said.

Early in the pandemic, there was a time when people were nervous about having outside workers in their homes. Jake Levine, design associate with Advanced Rug and Flooring Center, said this phenomenon caused orders to decline for a time in 2020 — but it didn’t last long.

“We’ve come full circle, and now the phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he said, noting that the most popular flooring these days is luxury vinyl planks (LVP), which click together and look like hardwood floors.

Ger Ronan says his company has avoided some supply-chain issues

Ger Ronan says his company has avoided some supply-chain issues by anticipating shortages and buying a considerable amount of materials in advance.

For the last two years, weather has taken a toll on Western Mass., as the amount of rain each year has increased. Fixing drainage issues for homeowners has been a big part of Kyle Rosa’s recent activity. Rosa owns Infinity Construction Corp., which handles commercial and residential site development.

“People who have been living in the same home for 20 to 30 years were suddenly finding leaks from the basement floor and concrete walls cracking from moisture,” he said. “That’s been the number-one problem we’ve been helping people solve.”

The most popular improvement project for Ronan involves people getting rid of their bathtub for a dedicated shower installation. While that’s been a strong trend for retired and older homeowners, Ronan said they are not his only customers.

“I’ve been seeing people make more practical choices. We’re seeing projects where the emphasis is less on making it beautiful and more on what’s practical.”

“Our younger customers are doing shower conversions because they just aren’t using their tubs,” 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 get around some of the supply-chain issues because his production manager anticipated there might be shortages last year and ordered a considerable amount of tub and shower materials to have on hand at the warehouse.

“When most people had to wait three to six months for a shower conversion, we could do the job within a week,” he said. “We were able to circumvent many of the supply-chain issues because we had materials in stock.”

 

Life Improvements

Sometimes a simple home improvement can change someone’s life. When the child of one of Yankee Home Improvement’s construction managers suffered a paralyzing accident, the old shower and tub set up at his home was no longer feasible. Before Ronan could even offer, his crews came to him with a plan to help the family.

Siervo Jimenez

Siervo Jimenez says the cost of new homes has caused many homeowners to invest in additions instead.

“On their own time, our crews jumped into action and converted the bathroom to make it easier for the child to shower,” he said. “I encouraged them to take whatever materials they needed, and in short order, they got rid of the tub and installed a shower setup that would accommodate a wheelchair.”

Like many contractors, Ronan admits that finding replacement windows has been tough. He will work only with vendors who can assure they have stock, and that’s what he offers to customers.

“I will only market products that I can get,” he said. “If there is a long wait list for a product, I won’t offer it because I don’t want to inflict that on the homeowner.”

Jimenez uses a similar strategy of stocking up when items are available. When prices dropped a while back on electrical outlet boxes used for plugs and light switches, he bought them in bulk.

“These are now hard to find, and when you can, they cost two or three times more than before,” he said, adding that every cost savings makes a difference when bidding for new work. “If you have to keep increasing your estimates from project to project, you might lose out on jobs because your prices are too high.”

Not surprisingly, hardwood floors became much more expensive when lumber prices everywhere increased. While the supply of the popular LVP flooring has been steady, so are price hikes, with manufacturers increasing prices 20% to 30% in 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 one product in short supply. Levine said consumers who want the durable floor are faced with limited choices. “Many of these companies are still running at half capacity, so they are producing their most popular selections, and that’s all.”

Rising inflation on everything in the economy is causing a shift in customer attitudes when they sign up for a home improvement.

“I’ve been seeing people make more practical choices,” Ronan said. “We’re seeing projects where the emphasis is less on making it beautiful and more on what’s practical.”

“These days. I’m definitely seeing more people who are careful about spending their money.”

Rosa noted that his customers have stopped asking for add-ons. “Back when people were receiving stimulus checks, they wanted esthetic projects like retaining walls, and they would often request an extra project like hydroseeding their lawn. Now that things are getting tight, lots of people are pulling back on the extras, and I get it.”

Levine believes there are two types of customers, those who watch what they are spending and those who get what they want, no matter the price.

“These days,” he said, “I’m definitely seeing more people who are careful about spending their money.”

 

Up and Down

Jimenez and his crews continue to stay busy with projects from their current customers, but lately his phone is ringing less. “I have seen a decrease in calls coming from new customers,” he noted.

While he expects the commercial side of his business to remain busy, Rosa predicts that high prices will cause a slowdown in residential work as consumers delay home improvements such as re-grading their yards.

Sometimes, however, when one side of the business decreases, the other increases. Rosa may be doing less work at older homes, but he has been preparing building sites for new homes “like they are going out of style” and does not see that trend slowing down anytime soon. He believes the high prices of established homes are making new construction more desirable.

“New houses are selling before they even hit the market,” he said. “In fact, people are making offers to buy the homes we’re building while we are still on the job site.”

Overall, even in this up-and-down business environment in many sectors of the economy, home-improvement contractors remain busy and always on the lookout for what will drive new business.

“We follow the market trends,” Ronan said — however unexpectedly they may shift.

Home Improvement Special Coverage

Summer Special

Andrew Crane says the Home Show helps contractors fill their pipeline with future work.

Even though they’re busy now, Andrew Crane says the Home Show helps contractors fill their pipeline with future work.

By Mark Morris

In the old days — prior to the pandemic — when homeowners wanted to make improvements to their property, they called several contractors for competitive bids. Once a contractor was selected, the job would start shortly after that.

Since the pandemic, those days are long gone. Contractors are busier than ever, and building materials have been affected by worldwide supply shortages and price hikes. Now, homeowners seeking a contractor can leave a phone message, but may not receive a call back.

For those reasons and many more, the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Massachusetts is staging a “special summer edition” of the Western Mass Home & Garden Show, usually held each March.

Andrew Crane, executive director of the association, told BusinessWest that, even though contractors are busy, the event (scheduled for Aug. 20-22) fills an important need.

“Many people will research their home project online, but at some point they need to see and touch the products they want and speak to professionals who can get the job done,” Crane said. “The Home Show allows them to move the project forward and not wait for a callback.”

The Home Show also works for contractors because it allows them to fill their project pipeline with future work.

“While most contractors are straight out right now, many don’t know what their business will be like in the coming fall and winter months,” Crane said.

By labeling it a “special summer edition,” Crane made it clear this is intended to be a one-time event. Plans are full speed ahead for the 2022 Home Show in its traditional late-March timing. The summer show is a way to fill the void left when COVID-19 forced cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Home Show.

The special edition will be a scaled-down version of the full show, running only three days instead of four and setting up in only one building at the Eastern States Exposition grounds. The smaller event will still look similar to past shows, with booths set up in the Better Living Center and several outdoor displays.

Chris Grenier, owner of Grenier Painting & Finishing, said he appreciates having any version of the Home Show this year.

“I’m very busy right now, but it’s well worth it for me to be at the show because I still need a steady stream of work that I can plan for in the months ahead,” he explained.

Chris Grenier says even a scaled-back show brings value to vendors.

Chris Grenier says even a scaled-back show brings value to vendors.

BusinessWest spoke with a few contractors who have found both short-term and long-term benefits from participating in the show.

Frank Webb Home in Springfield sells a wide range of kitchen and bath fixtures, as well as lighting. Manager Lori Loughlin said taking a booth at the Home Show is well worth the investment.

“We often see a 40% increase in business right after the Home Show,” Loughlin said. “Even though we’re in a busy time right now, that can change, so we want people to keep us in the loop when they plan their kitchen and bath projects in the future.”

For the last five years, Gisele Gilpatrick, project manager for Pro-Tech Waterproofing Solutions in Chicopee, has chaired the Home Show organizing committee. Her company has always done well at the event.

“It’s a chance to meet people one on one and for them to collect business cards,” she said. “People will often call us six months to a year after the show to say they are ready to fix their wet basement.” She also said it’s not unusual to hear from people up to five or six years later.

When Gilpatrick meets people at the Pro-Tech booth, they often share photos with her, but they are not of children and pets. “They bring us pictures of their basements and say, ‘this is what my nightmare looks like,’” she said, adding that an interesting dynamic happens when someone describes the specifics of their wet-basement problem.

Gisele Gilpatrick says the lingering pandemic has forced show organizers to constantly reassess safety protocols.

Gisele Gilpatrick says the lingering pandemic has forced show organizers to constantly reassess safety protocols.

“One person might be telling us their story, and others who overhear become interested in the conversation because they have similar problems in their basements,” she said. “The next thing you know, a group of people are gathered around our booth.”

 

Safety First

While gathering at a booth can be good for business, this year, people will need to take social distancing into consideration when they congregate. The emergence of the Delta variant of COVID has show organizers making constant adjustments to their safety protocols.

“In planning the show, we’ve gone back and forth from wearing masks to not wearing masks as mandates keep changing, so it won’t be a surprise if they change again,” Gilpatrick said.

The maintenance staff at the Exposition grounds have boosted their protocols with more frequent surface cleaning during the show. They have also strongly encouraged people to wear masks. Crane advised, “if you are at all uncomfortable, wear your mask.”

Despite all that, Gilpatrick believes it’s worth attending the show, and for some, the scaled-down version might be easier to navigate.

“The crowds at the March Home Show can be overwhelming for some people,” she said. “This edition of the show will be easier to get around, and we will still have lots of quality exhibitors.”

Lori Loughlin says finding a contractor can be difficult right now

Lori Loughlin says finding a contractor can be difficult right now, and the Home Show can help make those connections.

As people have stayed closer to home for the last 18 months, many have set aside the money they would normally have spent on vacations and going out, and are using those funds instead to make improvements to the inside and outside of their homes, a trend Loughlin said is far from over. “People who are planning home projects now have been looking at their houses for a year and a half, and they are ready to make some changes.”

Crane emphasized the importance of planning and noted that the combination of busy contractors, shortages of certain building materials, and difficulty finding enough laborers all contribute to projects taking more time than in the past.

“Plan as far ahead as you possibly can,” he said. “I don’t want to scare anyone from doing a project, but planning is more important than it’s ever been.”

Grenier said good planning starts with recognizing that everyone is busy right now. “If folks go to the Home Show looking to make an interior improvement, they should plan it as a winter project. If it’s an exterior project, plan for next spring.”

Crane agreed. “The days of getting prices from four or five contractors are going away. If you talk with a contractor who gives you a reasonable price and you have a comfort level with them, sign them up.”

Loughlin said just finding a contractor to start a project is now more challenging. “The Home Show gives people an opportunity to meet contractors they might not have known about who can help them. It’s a chance to meet contractors in person and establish a point person to contact.”

The real opportunity is moving past thinking about a project, to making it happen, she added. “I believe people will come to the Home Show because many are at the point where they’ve done all they can online, and now it’s time to broaden what’s actually possible.”

Crane also emphasized how the Home Show has become a social event. For a $10 admission, it gives people an inexpensive time outside the house. It also allows people to see and touch new products.

“For the low cost of getting into the Home Show,” he said, “you might see that one thing that completes the puzzle of putting together your project.”

Construction

Something to Build On

By Joe Bousquin

The term ‘construction’ appears 636 times in the $908 billion pandemic relief package and $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump at the end of December.

In other words, while the relief package was less than half the size of last spring’s $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, there’s still plenty in the overall bill for contractors to be happy about.

“Lots of construction spending is always a good thing, as long as everyone has access to it,” said Kristen Swearingen, vice president of Legislative and Political Affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors. Her cautionary tone refers to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which many non-union contractors oppose, potentially being passed in the 117th Congress after Democrats regained control of the Senate earlier this month.

But in general, construction advocates said the new pandemic relief package should be viewed as a win.

“This bill for the construction industry has a lot of good things overall,” said Jimmy Christianson, vice president of Government Relations at Associated General Contractors of America. “I would say, on the list of the many things we were asking for, we got probably 80%.”

“This bill for the construction industry has a lot of good things overall. I would say, on the list of the many things we were asking for, we got probably 80%.”

Nevertheless, one lament is that the package doesn’t include liability protection for employers against lawsuits from employees who were exposed to or became infected with COVID-19 at work.

Here’s a closer look at some of the provisions that should help contractors in 2021:

• Paycheck Protection Program. There are several wins for contractors in the the legislation’s renewed PPP funding, including a provision to ensure expenses paid for with forgiven PPP loans are tax-deductible, an issue many contractors were wringing their hands over last fall.

• Expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit. This gives qualifying employers a $5,000 credit per worker for employees not paid with PPP funds in 2020, as well as a $7,000 credit per worker per quarter in the first half of 2021.

“That’s a huge deal for construction companies and employees to help manage the continuing uncertainty that’s still happening,” Christianson said.

• State transportation funding. One of the headline numbers for contractors is the $10 billion earmarked for state DOTs, many of which saw their funding decline in 2020. That should provide relief for road and other civil builders who have increasingly felt the impacts of stalled projects.

“It will help mitigate the impact of bid-letting delays and project cancellations that we saw in 2020 throughout the country,” Christianson said. “And the fact that it’s dedicated funding means that states can’t use it for other things.”

• School construction. The package also includes $82 billion for education, at least some of which can be used for construction and renovations post-COVID-19, when students return en masse to classrooms.

 

Joe Bousquin reports on the construction industry for Construction Dive.

Construction

People Pipeline

Eighty percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to a national, industry-wide survey released last week by Autodesk and Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Association officials said the industry was taking a range of steps to address the situation but called on federal officials to assist those industry efforts.

“Workforce shortages remain one of the single most significant threats to the construction industry,” said Stephen Sandherr, AGC’s CEO. “However, construction labor shortages are a challenge that can be fixed, and this association will continue to do everything in its power to make sure that happens.”

Of the nearly 2,000 survey respondents, 80% said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions, Sandherr noted. All regions of the country are experiencing similarly severe craft-worker shortages, with 83% of contractors in the West and South reporting a hard time filling hourly craft positions, slightly higher to the 81% rate in the Midwest and 75% rate in the Northeast.

Seventy-three percent of firms report it will continue to be difficult, or get even harder, to find hourly craft workers over the next 12 months. One reason for their worries is that contractors are skeptical of the quality of the pipeline for recruiting and preparing new craft personnel. Forty-five percent say the local pipeline for preparing well-trained and skilled workers is poor. And 26% say the pipeline for finding workers who can pass a drug test is poor.

Labor shortages are prompting many firms to boost pay and compensation. Two-thirds of firms report they have increased base pay rates for craft workers. And 29% report they are providing incentives and bonuses to attract craft workers. Firms are also taking a greater role in developing their own workforce. Forty-six percent say they have launched or expanded in-house training programs, and half report getting involved in career-building programs.

“Construction workforce shortages are prompting many firms to innovate their way to greater productivity,” said Allison Scott, head of Construction Integrated Marketing at Autodesk. “As the cost of labor continues to increase and firms look to become even more efficient, technology can enable better collaboration and ultimately lead to more predictable outcomes. There is also opportunity in untapped pools of talent such as tradeswomen, veterans, and young people looking for an alternative to the traditional four-year university.”

Scott noted that 29% of firms report they are investing in technology to supplement worker duties. One-quarter of firms report they are using cutting-edge solutions, including drones, robots and 3-D printers. Meanwhile, 23% of firms report they are taking steps to improve job-site performance by relying on lean construction techniques, using tools like building information modeling and doing more off-site prefabrication.

Association officials called on the federal government to boost funding for career and technical education. They also called on federal leaders to allow more immigrants to enter the country to work in construction, let construction students at community and career colleges qualify for federal Pell Grants, and make it easier for firms to establish apprenticeship and other training programs.

buy ivermectin for humans buy ivermectin online buy generic cialis buy cialis payday loans online same day deposit 1 hour payday loans no credit check