Warm Winter Gives Builders, Remodelers Jump on Spring

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Home builders, remodelers, outdoor recreational businesses, suppliers and landscapers say they have a jump on the building season because of this winter’s relatively mild weather.

Aside from a nasty blast of snow the third week in February, temperatures have remained unusually mild, allowing builders to keep busy during a time that normally has them waiting out a frigid northeastern Ohio winter.

“Right now it’s looking to be a very strong year,” observes Jennie Brewer, director of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of the Valley. “A lot of the contractors have been able to continue their business. Roofers have done roofs when they would normally be laying people off for the winter.”

Sam Pitzulo, owner of Sam Pitzulo Homes & Remodeling, Canfield, reports the last three years have been the best three years in his company’s 26 years in business. “I’m not the only builder that’s busy,” he adds. “All of us are.”

This points to a continuing recovery from the Great Recession, which devastated the housing market and took many – as many as two-thirds – of the home building and remodeling companies with it, Pitzulo estimates. Those that did survive, he relates, are doing very well in this market now.

That confidence is supported by a new housing development Pitzulo plans to begin later this spring in Canfield. The development, called Founders Glen, sits on the east side of Broad Street opposite St. Michael Catholic Church. “We’re going to put a street in and build 20 additional coach homes there.”

These single-family houses range between 1,700 and 2,100 square feet, depending on whether the owner purchases a unit with a loft, Pitzulo says. He has received four commitments to buy houses in the development.

“I think things are moving in the right direction,” Pitzulo says.

Sam Pitzulo Homes & Remodeling completes about 50 remodeling jobs and 10 new housing starts every year.

“We’re a custom home builder,” he says. Younger buyers building new houses tend to look at bigger dwellings while baby boomers consider downsizing. Founders Glen, for example, targets the boomer generation because such residences are single-story.

“What you’re finding in all homes, however, is the open floor plan,” Pitzulo continues. “They want to make sure if you’re in the kitchen, or in the great room, it’s all open and you can see everyone – especially if you’re entertaining. It’s bigger than ever, and we can’t sell a house without an open floor plan.”

Building suppliers and remodelers are also seeing a strong start to the year.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of shoppers looking,” says Chuck Booth, president of Don Booth Co., North Jackson.

The Booth company, in business since 1954, provides and installs floor coverings of all types to residential and commercial building projects. “It looks like it’s going to be a busy spring,” he says.

Consumers have recently shifted from carpet in favor of hard surfaces as their floor covering of choice, Booth reports. “There’s a lot of ceramic tile, hardwood surface. Carpeting is now reserved for areas such as the master bedroom.”

Products such as luxury vinyl tile, or LVT, are really catching the eye of homeowners this year, Booth notes. “It’s taking the place of the laminate. It’s durable, warm, and all of the manufacturers are getting into it. It’s the fastest-growing floor product in world right now.”

Carpet sales still represent the majority of the company’s business, Booth says, while area rugs are an important part of its inventory. “We’re the largest supplier of area rugs in the tri-county area,” he says.

Don Booth Co.’s custom work and installation service is also a vital part of the business. “We try to have everything available in every style and price point for a budget,” he says.

Buttressing all this activity is what appears to be a better housing and remodeling market nationwide, according to the latest data. Housing starts across the country are holding steady, reports the U.S. Bureau of Census.

The nationwide seasonally adjusted annual rate in January – that is, the total number of projected housing starts based on one month’s activity – stood at 1,099, better than the 1,080 posted for the same month in 2015.

Meanwhile, construction employment increased by 18,000 in January, of which 8,000 was attributed to residential building, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specialty trade contractors in the residential market also added 13,000 to employment figures during the month, data show.

“There are a lot more contractors working right now,” confirms Bill Traynor, sales representative for Masonry Materials Plus in Youngstown, which supplies masonry for commercial and residential construction projects in the region. “Out of the gate, we’re doing the best we’ve done in a while – weather depending. If it’s not a real wet spring, we look forward to having a lot of projects.”

This year, trends point to more homeowners building outdoor “hardscapes” such as stone patios or fireplaces, Traynor says. “There are a lot of people who are setting up their backyards so they can go back and enjoy it all summer long.”

Overall, the landscaping industry has witnessed systemic growth over the past several years, according to the National Association of Landscape Professionals. In 2015, the industry boasted national revenues of $76 billion with an annual growth rate of 3.6%

What consumers want in their outdoor plants and shrubs goes in cycles. Of late, they’ve been looking for vegetation that needs less maintenance, says Harry Kale, general manager at Tabor’s Landscaping and Garden Services Inc. in North Lima.

“A lot of the cultivations today are what they consider dwarf varieties,” he says. “So there’s very little maintenance to them at all.”

Given the promising start to 2016, companies looking to provide indoor remodeling services are confident that this year will be robust.

“It’s been solid,” says Tom Duncan, president of Duncan’s Bath and Kitchen Center, Poland. “January was good. It was one of the best Januarys on record.”

Duncan Bath and Kitchen, marking its 60th year in business, provides remodeling services for the residential market. Today, many homeowners stay in their houses longer and have chosen to remodel rather than buy a new residence, Duncan observes.

Among the first rooms to be redone is the bathroom, Duncan adds. “A lot of our bathrooms entail taking out the tub and replacing it with a walk-in shower” to remove a trip or fall hazard, he adds.

Others looking for a full remodeling of their bathroom choose to tear out a closet to gain more floor space, Duncan says. And, amenities such as heated floors, bathroom televisions, gas-fired heaters that heat water on demand, and motion-activated spigots are becoming more popular, he observes.

“It’s been a very good start to the year,” Duncan says. “It used to be [homeowners] wanted to fix up to sell. Now they want to fix up to stay.”

Pictured: Sam Pitzulo and Tonia First greet visitors Feb. 19 at the Home Builders & Remodelers Association’s annual Home and Garden show.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.