YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – From suppliers to contractors, businesses in the home improvement sector report activity hasn’t slowed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they navigate supply chain and labor challenges.
Homeowners continue to invest money into their houses to make them more livable, as a tight real estate market makes moving to another house difficult.
At Window World of Youngstown in Boardman, co-owner Pat Moran reports business this year is up at least 15% from last year. “It’s crazy,” he says.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Moran says he didn’t know what to expect, and that turned out to be a record year. He wrote that off as a fluke, then 2021 sales beat 2020. “So here we are in 2022 and we’re beating 2021,” he remarks.
Bookings are 10 months out at Duncan’s Bath & Kitchen Center in Poland, says Jason Duncan. “This is the busiest we’ve ever been,” he says. Like Moran, he reports his company got “crazy busy” during the pandemic.
“People started doing or having a lot of work in their houses done,” he says. Now, because of the state of the real estate market, people can’t find anything and are remodeling their houses.
“Since the pandemic, we really haven’t slowed down,” says Joe Koch Jr., owner and construction manager of Joe Koch Construction in Austintown. The contractor has about half a dozen remodeling jobs and 18 new construction jobs, Koch says. Renovations are up from both 2020 and 2021. But it isn’t a “crazy, crazy difference,” he says.
One of Koch’s projects is a whole house renovation for a couple in Columbiana that involved a master bedroom suite, first-floor laundry and two bathrooms, he says. Additionally, the project encompassed an exterior renovation that included adding a deck on the back of the house, as well as updates to the hot water and furnace systems.
A Craig Beach project, which is getting underway in May, will involve a total house remodel and creating three bedrooms out of a two-bedroom setup.
“We did another project that was very similar in Cortland last year that spilled into this year,” in which the master bedroom suite and kitchen were being remodeled and a family room and composite deck were added, he says.
“People that maybe were on the cusp of building new but just couldn’t find what they wanted” decided instead to “just transform [their] house into the house that [they] want it to be,” Koch says.
“The real estate market today is making people decide not to sell their homes,” affirms Window World’s Moran. “They’re fixing up their homes because of the cost of real estate today.”
In many cases, homeowners are doing their own updates.
Many people who did undertake projects during the past couple years when the pandemic kept them confined to their homes – or at least restricted their travel – are returning to hardware stores like Handyman Supply of Niles to stock up for new projects.
They mainly are taking on simple do-it-yourself projects like painting, putting in new blinds and updating cabinet hardware.
“That’s been a big one here, lately,” Handyman general manager Kevin Stredney reports.
Starting plants in the house before the weather breaks for outside planting got under way earlier than he recalls happening before, he adds.
Sales of windows remain strong at Window World but doors and siding are gaining. “It never stops amazing me,” Moran says.
Duncan reports people mainly are having kitchen and bath work done.
“We’re taking out tubs and putting in full, walk-in showers. People are getting older and don’t want to step over the tub,” he says. In kitchens, clients are having soffits removed and extending cabinets up to the ceiling for a more open look, as well as installing larger islands and bar seating.
Cabinet orders are about 16 weeks out, according to Duncan.
“It keeps getting better and better,” he says. “But none of our suppliers can tell us when we’re getting anything.”
Window World is encountering supply issues, particularly on painted items such as windows and patio doors, Moran says. Siding products in certain colors have been temporarily discontinued.
Unlike other businesses, Window World’s supply problems don’t stem from waiting for product to be loaded off shipping containers on the West Coast, but rather because of domestic disruptions.
Production of the raw materials used in vinyl has been disrupted “ever since that freeze in Texas” in 2021, Moran says.
Supply chain issues appear to have eased for Handyman Supply but some product lines and items remain difficult to get, Stredney says. These include propane and “anything made with PVC plastic resin,” such as bottles and plastic buckets.
“Pricing is still all over the board,” he adds. “Every day there’s more and more cost and price changes.”
Koch characterizes it as a “hyperinflation environment,” with inflation in construction materials running at double or triple the 7% or 8% reported for the general economy.
Availability of materials also is declining, he says. Products that normally would take four to six weeks to come in are now arriving in 16 weeks. Garage doors that aren’t 16 feet by seven feet and white are taking 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, that we’re not due to have a garage door on until June. And that’s just not sustainable.”
The biggest problem in the home improvement industry is finding qualified labor, Moran says.
“We’re always looking for great installers,” leading Window World to raise its labor rates, he says.
Duncan Bath & Kitchen similarly is experiencing difficulties finding trained, quality carpenters.
“I’m paying a lot more than ever” for labor, Duncan says. That, and higher fuel costs, have meant price increases across the board.
Pictured: Pat Moran, co-owner of Window World of Youngstown, in his Boardman store.