YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — From suppliers to contractors, companies in the home improvement industry are reporting that business hasn’t slowed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they navigate the supply chain. supply and labor challenges.
Homeowners continue to invest money in their homes to make them more livable as a tight real estate market makes it difficult to move to another home.
To Youngstown World Window at Boardman, co-owner Pat Moran reports that activity this year is up at least 15% over last year. “It’s crazy,” he said.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Moran says he didn’t know what to expect, and it turned out to be a banner year. He wrote this as a fluke, then 2021 sales beat 2020. “So we’re in 2022 and we’re beating 2021,” he remarks.
Reservations are for 10 months to Duncan’s Bath and Kitchen Center in Poland, says Jason Duncan. “It’s the busiest we’ve ever been,” he says. Like Moran, he reports that his company has been “crazy busy” during the pandemic.
“People have started doing or having a lot of work done in their homes,” he says. Now, due to the state of the real estate market, people can’t find anything and are renovating their homes.
“Since the pandemic, we really haven’t slowed down,” says Joe Koch Jr., owner and construction manager of Joe Koch build in Austintown. The contractor has about half a dozen renovations and 18 new construction works, Koch says. Renovations are up from 2020 and 2021. But that’s not a “crazy, crazy difference,” he says.
One of Koch’s projects is a renovation of a couple’s entire home in Columbiana that involved a master suite, a first-floor laundry room and two bathrooms, he says. Additionally, the project included an exterior renovation that included the addition of a deck at the back of the house, as well as updates to the hot water and furnace systems.
A Craig Beach project, which kicks off in May, will involve a total renovation of the house and the creation of three bedrooms out of a two-bedroom layout.
“We did another very similar project in Cortland last year which has spread this year,” in which the master suite and kitchen were remodeled and a family room and composite deck were added, says- he.
“People who were maybe on the verge of building new ones but just couldn’t find what they wanted ‘decided instead to ‘just transform [their] house in the house that [they] want it to be,” Koch says.
“Today’s real estate market is driving people away from selling their homes,” says Window World’s Moran. “They’re fixing their houses because of the cost of real estate today.”
In many cases, owners make their own updates.
Many people who took on projects in the past two years when the pandemic confined them to their homes — or at least limited their travel — are returning to hardware stores like Handyman Supply of Niles to stock up on new projects.
They mainly take on simple DIY projects like painting, installing new blinds and updating cabinet hardware.
“It’s been a big problem here lately,” Handyman general manager Kevin Stredney said.
Starting plants in the house before the weather breaks for planting outdoors started earlier than he remembers before, he adds.
Window sales remain strong at Window World, but doors and siding are gaining ground. “It never ceases to amaze me,” Moran says.
Duncan reports that people are mostly doing kitchen and bathroom jobs.
“We are removing tubs and installing full walk-in showers. People get older and don’t want to step over the tub,” he says. In kitchens, customers are having soffits removed and cabinets extended to the ceiling for a more open look, as well as the installation of larger islands and bar seating.
Cabinet orders are around 16 weeks, according to Duncan.
“It’s getting better and better,” he said. “But none of our suppliers can tell us when we receive anything.”
Window World is having supply issues, especially for painted items such as windows and patio doors, Moran says. Coating products in certain colors have been temporarily discontinued.
Unlike other companies, Window World’s supply issues do not stem from waiting for product to be loaded from shipping containers on the West Coast, but rather from domestic disruptions.
Production of raw materials used in vinyl has been halted “since that Texas freeze” in 2021, Moran says.
Supply chain issues appear to have eased for Handyman Supply, but some product lines and items remain difficult to obtain, Stredney says. These include propane and “anything made with PVC plastic resin,” such as plastic bottles and buckets.
“Awards are always ubiquitous,” he adds. “Every day there are more and more cost and price changes.”
Koch characterizes it as a “hyperinflation environment,” with building materials inflation reaching double or triple the 7% or 8% reported for the general economy.
Material availability is also down, he says. Products that would normally take four to six weeks to arrive now arrive in 16 weeks. Garage doors that are not 16 feet by 7 feet and are white take at least four months to arrive.
“If you’re doing a wood-grain garage door, you’re definitely looking at at least six months,” Koch says. “We have houses that we started in November, and we shouldn’t have a garage door on them until June. And it’s just not sustainable.
The biggest problem in the home improvement industry is finding skilled labor, Moran says.
“We’re always looking for great installers,” which prompted Window World to raise its labor rates, he says.
Duncan Bath & Kitchen is also having difficulty finding trained, quality carpenters.
“I’m paying a lot more than ever” for labor, says Duncan. That, and higher fuel costs, led to price increases across the board.
Pictured: Pat Moran, co-owner of Window World of Youngstown, in his Boardman store.